New Wave of Terrorist Groups Adapting Faster Than U.S. Military and Intelligence Community, Former CIA Deputy Director
Mach 7, 2014
Are We Losing the New War on Terror?
The American Interest
March 3, 3014
t looks increasingly likely that the changes in Islamist terrorism over the past five years will be as consequential in that realm as those that came about in the broader geopolitical sphere after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Back then, the international system moved rapidly from a bipolar world to a unipolar one. In the narrower sphere of terrorism, the changes of recent years have taken us from the unipolar and hierarchical world of the 9/11-era al-Qaeda to the multipolar, and highly if unevenly networked world that is Islamic terrorism today.
Many of the terms bandied about to describe this change, like al-Qaeda 2.0 or 3.0, are too glib to be useful, but they do, at least, indicate that change has taken place. Such terms can’t denote the stages that this brand of Islamic extremism has moved through over the past twenty years. Al-Qaeda 6.0, if one insists on the software metaphor, comes closer to capturing these stages, which might be defined as follows:
- Financing terror: the 1993–96 period when bin Laden stayed mostly in Sudan, providing inspiration and money to support operations;
- Going operational: the 1996–98 period when bin Laden, having moved to Afghanistan, shifted into direct action, directing attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa;
- Classic al-Qaeda: the 1998–2001 period featuring the attempted millennial attacks, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole and the 9/11 plot;
- Plotting on the run: the 2001–06 period, when al-Qaeda scattered from Afghanistan but managed to inspire and help plan a series of attacks ranging from the 2005 London subway bombings to the foiled 2006 plot to blow up airliners crossing the Atlantic;
- Spinning off affiliates: the 2006–09 period when a number of powerful affiliates gained prominence or crystallized, especially in Yemen and North Africa; and
- Network of networks: from 2009 to the present, when affiliates began to cooperate and communicate among themselves. Some still look to al-Qaeda’s core leadership for inspiration or direction, but most are internally driven and, to the extent they cooperate, they do so without recourse to any central organizing platform.
So today’s al-Qaeda is fundamentally different from the one we knew a dozen and more years ago. There are three key differences. First, al-Qaeda’s center of gravity no longer rests in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, if indeed it has a center of gravity at all. Second, it is caught up in debates over tactics, goals and leadership that we always thought would come in the wake of bin Laden’s death. Third, al-Qaeda’s dedicated adherents and those merely inspired by it are harder to locate, contain and penetrate because they lack a central organizing apparatus to work back from. Meanwhile, they remain radical, militant, anti-Western, violent and dangerous.
So we are at a highly fluid moment of transition in international terrorism—a moment when we can confidently discern trends but cannot predict end-states with any assurance. What are these changes, what are their consequences, and what uncertainties do they present? Most of the answers can be captured by studying comprehensively three major trends.
The first of these trends involves fundamental changes in the physical field of battle, precipitated by the U.S. departure from Iraq and the ongoing drawdown, possibly even to zero, in Afghanistan. For the past decade, the most visible fights have been in those countries and their borderlands, and the presence of allied forces has constricted terrorists’ freedom of maneuver and provided intelligence platforms for the collection of very granular data on jihadis operating there. The future evolution of both countries can only be a matter of speculation. But even if neither becomes a major terrorist safe haven, it seems fair to surmise that terrorists will be able more easily to move, train and communicate there than they could under constant pressure from numerous and highly maneuverable U.S. and allied forces. Meanwhile, the United States, together with its partners in counterterrorism, must devise new ways to monitor, detect and combat radical Islamists, either remotely or from a much smaller number of fixed platforms in theater.
Clearly, this will be much more difficult if the United States fails to finalize a bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan that keeps a significant U.S. force there. (As of this writing, just across the frontier into 2014, that outcome is still unclear.)
Moreover, in Iraq, a combination of factors has raised questions about that country’s long-term cohesiveness: Shi‘i Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki’s authoritarian style, Sunni attraction to the plight of brethren in neighboring Syria, and the hardening commitment to autonomy among Kurds.1 More immediately, these factors have opened up new opportunities for al-Qaeda in Iraq and given it a new lease on life. With sectarian strife sharply on the rise, violent deaths are now at their highest point since the sectarian civil war of 2006. Meanwhile, the border separating western Iraq from eastern Syria no longer exists for all practical purposes; local tribes straddle it, and the pipeline current that once carried foreign fighters into Iraq via Syria has now been effectively reversed.
The suggestion that Syria and Iraq could each come apart was once considered a worst-case scenario. But given the sectarian violence in Syria and the centrifugal pressures in Iraq, it is no longer so hard to imagine, particularly if ongoing efforts fail to convene the warring Syrian parties for successful negotiations in Geneva or, should those fail, somewhere else in due course. The weakening of Iraq and Syria as states also bodes ill for the capacity of neighboring states to control their borders and maintain internal stability, especially Jordan but also Lebanon. If the worst-case scenario were to come about, the map of the Middle East would have to be redrawn, both literally and intellectually. Not since the arrival of Ottoman power to the region in the early 16th century will there have been so vast a no-man’s land in the region in terms of basic governance. And all this would take place in circumstances brought about in part by terrorist groups, who would then have the means to influence the outcome.
A scenario along these lines has long been a “best case” for bin Laden’s often underrated successor Ayman al-Zawahiri. One of al-Qaeda’s original and central aims all along has been to bring down what its leaders consider apostate Arab regimes, the boundaries of which were imposed by the West. It is easy to imagine al-Zawahiri somewhere in his hideout relishing the prospect, earnestly seeking to bring it about, and taking pleasure in the fealty of so many of the most effective rebel combatants in Syria.
In Afghanistan, the danger is not just that U.S. withdrawal will weaken a deterrent to terrorism. It is also likely to stimulate the neighboring countries’ habit of treating Afghanistan as a pawn in a regional chess game. India, for example, is likely to become more active in the country in order to deny Pakistan the strategic depth that a weak or easily influenced Afghanistan has always represented for Pakistan on its western border. This, in turn, would work against any rapprochement between India and Pakistan in their long-running regional feud. And when India and Pakistan are at odds, opportunities aplenty open up for terrorists.
Possible contingencies in the wider region composing the Middle East proper, North Africa, the Sahel and the vast western reaches of South Asia are now so prolific that few predictions can confidently be made. The only certainty is that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will in the future be less easily monitored, and trends there less easily shaped by U.S. power and that of its associates.
In many ways these are the least complicated ways in which the context of terrorism is changing. More complex and probably more consequential in the long run is a second trend: the changing pattern of governance in the areas of greatest concern. Starting with the advent of civilian rule in Pakistan in 2008 and continuing with the so-called Arab Spring two years later, the region encompassing South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa entered an era of transition, marking the end of predictable estimates of terrorists’ fortunes there.
Leaving aside Turkey and a couple of the Gulf countries, it is hard to disagree with Robert Kaplan’s observation that only two countries in this area today exercise full sovereignty over their territories: Israel and Iran. In most other countries, governments do not exercise confident control outside their urban capitals. This is certainly the case in North Africa, where borders are scarcely patrolled at all and where the terrain is marked by militant camps and corridors etched in long stretches of desert, mountain passes and remote valleys. To be sure, not all states face the same degree of powerlessness. Algeria is far tighter a ship than post-Qaddafi Libya, but even in Algeria the In Amenas raid of January 16, 2013 and the country’s restive Berbers speak to the volatility of the situation.
In sum, many of the political changes of recent years have dramatically enlarged the region’s ungoverned or sparsely governed space. While political leaders in this area still worry about terrorism, it is no longer the driving concern it was when greater stability reigned in the region, mostly under authoritarian governments. Instead, regional regimes are focused on the following concerns:
- managing the aftermath of a coup and creating a new constitutional order (Egypt);
- surviving sectarian strife (Syria, Iraq);
- managing protest in the midst of precarious democratic transition (Tunisia);
- ensuring the durability and effectiveness of civilian rule (Pakistan);
- supplanting tribal differences with a semblance of central authority (Libya);
- forging a balance between secular and religious forces (Turkey); and
- riding out the recent, region-wide political storm (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Algeria).
In this region, terrorists gain when sovereignty is in question and governments are distracted by issues more central to their near-term survival. So intelligence services there that once focused on a granular understanding of societies in the service of authoritarian regimes are today either absent or shifting attention from terrorism to higher-priority concerns. As with the governments they serve, intelligence agencies and security organizations more generally are trying to find their way under new political circumstances with new masters (Egypt, Tunisia); seeking to establish themselves in competition with powerful militias (Libya); or helping established governments ride out growing pressures for change (Jordan and Saudi Arabia).
Taken together, these first two trends—along with terrorists’ gains in financing and operations—mean that al-Qaeda and its affiliates now have a larger area for safe havens and bases than they have had in more than a decade. Syria is Exhibit A.
The ongoing effort to reduce or eliminate chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria has yet to diminish the Syrian civil war as the engine driving the extremist movement, just as Iraq’s sectarian strife did in the mid-2000s, or as the mujahideen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan did in the 1980s. The country is now a magnet for foreign fighters from as near as Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and North Africa, and as far away as Bangladesh, Britain, Chechnya and even Australia. Martyrdom reports and other data on the internet suggest that as many as 6,000–10,000 foreign fighters have shown up in Syria, comprising perhaps as much as 7–10 percent of the rebel force.
There are good reasons for this. First and foremost, their enemy in Syria—the ruling Alawi minority—is tailor-made bait for the most radical Sunni Islamists, who consider it a heretical sect. They will be doubly motivated if, as is very likely, a political succession plan cannot be forged diplomatically anytime soon, for that will probably lead to intensified fighting. If in due course that fighting should lead to Assad’s demise, a bloodbath of comparable or greater magnitude may follow. That will likely open the spigots of terrorist funding even wider. The Alawis who staff Syrian ministries are unlikely to survive such a transition, meaning that there will be no administrative continuity if current arrangements come undone. That is a recipe for chaos, perhaps even greater in magnitude than we saw in post-Saddam Iraq.
It is also a circumstance in which those who are best armed, organized and disciplined are likely to prevail, not least the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. As they consolidate the terrain they hold in the Syrian northeast, we must be mindful that territorial gains like this are a long-cherished dream of al-Zawahiri and, in time, could provide a launching pad for plots aimed at U.S. targets—including in the homeland—comparable to the one that existed in Afghanistan before 9/11.
As was the case at the end of the Afghan war in the 1980s, fighters trained in Syria are likely to filter back to their homelands, many of them now undergoing transitions that were unimaginable in the aftermath of past insurgencies. These fighters will be hoping for opportunities to use their skills to advance jihadi causes there. This is nowhere more the case than in North Africa, where the weakness of many central governments combines with geography to create some of the world’s most poorly governed spaces. It is worth noting in this regard the possibility that itinerant jihadis might at some point flow into and out of Egypt. In the past, the “blowback” phenomenon proceeded from the fact that only one kinetic insurgent front was active at any one time. Things may not be so simple in the future.
Heralding the likely future, and emblematic of the opportunities this opens up for extremists, is the aforementioned January 2013 raid on the In Amenas natural gas facility in southern Algeria. This raid has been much less discussed than the September 2012 attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, but it bears significantly greater importance in what it tells us about the evolving nature of the threat.
Directed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a first-generation al-Qaeda veteran and fighter for the breakaway al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the attack was carefully planned for weeks and carried out with precision. Illustrating the freedom with which extremists can move in this area, Belmokhtar was able to use networks across the region to acquire weapons and recruit fighters from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Mauritania. He was clearly able to tap into other networks; some of Belmokhtar’s Egyptians had also taken part in the Benghazi attack. Although the occupying force of terrorists at the facility was brutally suppressed by Algerian security forces, nearly 40 civilians were killed along with close to 30 militants. Belmokhtar’s stated objectives were to avenge the French intervention against extremists in northern Mali and to exert pressure on the Algerian government, by any measure the most authoritarian government still standing in the region.
Meanwhile, events farther south in Africa have underlined both the durability of other al-Qaeda-like groups and their capacity to work together. If Syria, Iraq and North Africa have problems with sub-sovereign conditions, they are modest compared with those on display in the vast stretches of the Sahel running from Mali through Niger, northern Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic and the South Sudan all the way to Somalia. The Nigerian federal government is clearly struggling with an extremist-inspired uprising in its northeast. And there is evidence that the local group, Boko Haram, has been able to recruit fighters from outside Nigeria, even while developing ties with other regional groups such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab and the larger al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
For its part, al-Shabaab in September defied predictions of its demise with the devastating attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. It is not yet clear whether this was an act of desperation by a group that an African peacekeeping force had severely degraded, or whether it shows the group’s resilience and a new determination to attack international targets—a shift urged by one of its leading factions. Regardless, the attack demonstrated an ability to plan, surveil, deploy heavy weapons and attack a vulnerable target in a major African capital.
The region as a whole is likely to see more incidents like the In Amenas, Nairobi and Benghazi attacks, largely due to the combination of porous borders, weak security environments, populations 60–70 percent under the age of thirty and broadly sympathetic to jihadi causes, and terrain marked by historic and well-traveled smuggling routes. These kinds of threats do not necessarily implicate the U.S. homeland, although, left unchecked, one day they might. But they clearly do implicate U.S. diplomatic and commercial targets and, of course, targets belonging to U.S. allies, partners and associates.
The third major trendin the evolving terrorist movement is the heightened degree to which terrorists are now debating future strategy. They are learning from and adapting to the circumstances flowing from the death of bin Laden, the “Arab Spring”, and the instances in which they have either been defeated by counterterrorism forces or rejected by other Muslims. On strategy and targets, a robust debate is underway. There are undoubtedly some in the al-Qaeda core and in the stronger affiliates, such as Yemen’s al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who still relish the prospect of another major attack on the U.S. homeland—and have not given up on it. Most experts believe their chances of bringing this off have diminished, but it is prudent to recall that each time we discover one of their methods, they surprise us and often impress us with their ingenuity: the underwear bomb, the package bomb, the surgically implanted bomb. It is hard to believe that they have given up trying to surprise us with innovations designed to penetrate our defenses.
We should be especially mindful of this given the uncertain status of WMD material in the chaotic Syrian conflict. Additionally, among the AQIM documents recovered in northern Mali is a professional training manual for SA-7 surface-to-air missiles—in other words, the nerve-wracking MANPADS problem. This could be in contemplation of using such weapons against the regime in Syria, or against a civilian airliner somewhere else, something terrorists have tried but failed to do in the past.
Moreover, we have been taken by surprise when smaller, less well-understood groups have taken it into their heads to point an attacker toward a U.S. homeland target, as Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban did with Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square truck bomber of 2010. And bin Laden’s simple and basic message—that the Islamic faith and territory are under attack, that the West is inherently anti-Islam, and that followers are duty-bound to fight back—continues to reverberate on the internet and among radical preachers, ensuring that an inestimable number of Boston-style jihadis will pop up with various schemes inside the United States. Indeed, al-Zawahiri himself is known to have on occasion favored smaller targets outside the U.S. homeland in contrast to bin Laden’s fixation on the U.S. “far enemy.” And one theme we are seeing among the affiliates now is their attraction to local targets associated with weaker local government in places like Tunisia, Libya and Jordan.
So the jihadi movement is now pulled in many directions. It is not abandoning altogether the idea of a U.S. homeland attack, but is drawn more immediately to “softer” U.S. and partner targets abroad, and intrigued by the possibility of scoring gains in a region now characterized by weaker and more distracted local governments. Related to this is the degree to which the movement is now learning from its mistakes. We see this particularly in the way it is reflecting on the fact that populations have resisted jihadi rule when they have gained control of specific localities. There is a growing realization that they cannot gather many adherents when they treat populations harshly and fail to provide any useful services. This is spelled out explicitly in revealing documents recovered from AQIM safe-houses after the French chased them from northern Mali. In one lengthy document AQIM leader Droukdel is sharply critical of fighters and commanders for having been much too hard on locals, especially women, and seeking to rush adoption of sharia; he says they must bring people along slowly, as they would “babies.”
There is a similar dawning among the jihadis of Yemen, Iraq and especiallyal-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra affiliate in Syria, which has had to deal with the challenges posed by an even more extreme self-styled al-Qaeda clone, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Accompanying this change of attitude is a new trend of providing practical services to populations that fall under their sway. And in the Maghreb, the Ansar al-Sharia movement, particularly strong in Tunisia and Libya, is encouraging adherents to integrate into society as opposed to isolating themselves with like-minded extremists. This brand of Islamist extremism may be on its way toward a kind of Hizballah model; the Iran-inspired group has long been noted for provision of social services that help bring populations to its banner. Of course, the same has long been true of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Incorporating a social service appendage to its portfolio would make it still harder to detect terrorist activities, separate them sufficiently from populations, and root them out.
In sum, al-Qaeda today may be weakened, but its wounds are far from fatal. It is at a moment of transition both in terms of its internal deliberations and its external opportunities. Some of those opportunities hold the potential to energize the movement and give it new momentum. And should it gain in those ways, it will not be the al-Qaeda we knew in the past. It is likely to be a more variegated and less hierarchical adversary that would still hold the potential to do significant harm to American and allied interests. It would be an adversary more difficult to categorize, detect or contain.
In light of the death of Osama bin Laden and the absence of any attack comparable to that of 9/11 over a dozen years, most Americans think we have won the War on Terror. But we have not won the new war that terrorism poses, and unless we are vigilant we could even lose it. We must therefore pay close attention to all of these trends, and to what the extremists themselves tell us about their aspirations. As we do, we would be well served to bear in mind the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien, whose character Éowyn says in the Lord of the Rings: “It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two…”
1For more on the latter, see Ofra Bengio, “The Elephant in the Room”, The American Interest Online, December 12, 2013.
John McLaughlin is distinguished practitioner-in-residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He was Deputy Director and Acting Director of the CIA from 2000–04.
March 7, 2014
U.S. Special Forces Sent to Train Iraqi Special Forces in Jordan
March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON — The United States recently sent a small number of special forces soldiers to Jordan to train with counterparts from Iraq and Jordan, a new step in the Obama administration’s effort to help Baghdad stamp out a resurgent al Qaeda threat, a U.S. defense official said on Friday.
The U.S. contingent was dispatched to take part in a training exchange with counterterrorism forces from Iraq and Jordan, allowing the administration to provide a modest new measure of support to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
"The training will bolster skills in counterterrorism and special operations tactics, techniques and procedures," a U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity.
The training, which includes less than 100 elite soldiers from the three countries, began last weekend. It will continue through the end of April, although the Iraqi soldiers will only take part through the end of this month, the official said.
The new training complements stepped-up sales of U.S. weaponry to Maliki’s government, and reflects increased concern among U.S. officials about Iraq’s security trajectory more than two years after all American troops departed.
Reuters was first to report in January that U.S. officials were considering supporting training of elite Iraqi forces in a third country.
In the past, U.S. officials had said that they were considering training the Iraqi forces at a privately run special operations training center near Amman.
Jordan, grappling with the mounting impact of the grinding conflict in neighboring Syria, is one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East.
The U.S. response to mounting sectarian tensions and surging violence in Iraq has been limited by reluctance to further empower Maliki, a Shi’ite Muslim leader increasingly at odds with Iraqi Sunni Muslims, and a widespread desire to ensure U.S. soldiers aren’t involved in another Middle Eastern conflict.
Because U.S. soldiers cannot conduct military activities in Iraq without a Status of Forces Agreement, training with Iraqi forces outside of Iraq is one way the Obama administration can try to help Iraq beat back a surge in militant attacks over the last year.
Since early 2013, suicide bombings and other sophisticated attacks have once again become more common in Iraq, seeming to break the lull in violence that coincided with the final years of the U.S. military presence that began in 2003.
U.S. anxiety about Iraq skyrocketed when militants from an al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with the help of other Sunni groups, overran Iraq’s city of Falluja in largely Sunni Anbar province.
March 7, 2014
Tensions Ease After Crimean Military Post Standoff: Local PM
March 7, 2014
SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine — Armed men thought to be Russians drove a truck into a Ukrainian missile-defense post in the Crimea region on Friday but a standoff was resolved without a shot being fired, witness said.
Initial reports said the truck had smashed through the gates of the base in the port city of Sevastopol and that it was being stormed, but a Reuters reporter on the scene could not see any signs of major damage to the gates and the base was quiet.
Crimea’s pro-Russia premier, Sergei Aksyonov, was asked about the incident during a political chat show shown live on Ukrainian television and said all was calm at the military post.
Referring to the armed men as “self-defense units, he indicated the standoff was over, adding: “Now the self-defense units are surrounded by journalists. There are no attempts to attack.”
A Ukrainian military official told Reuters at the post that the armed group inside had not seized any weapons.
Russian forces have taken over some military installations and other buildings on the peninsula, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has a base, but both sides have held their fire.
Pentagon Says There May Be 20,000 Russian Troops in the Crimea; Ukrainians Say 30,000 Russians in Crimea
March 7, 2014
Pentagon Says 20,000 Russian Troops May Be in Crimea
March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Friday estimated as many as 20,000 Russian troops may be in Crimea but acknowledged its information was imperfect, as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised the restraint of Ukrainian forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denies that the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command. The West has ridiculed his assertion.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, asked about the number of Russian forces in Crimea, cited estimates of up to around 20,000 of them. Pressed on the 20,000 figure, Kirby said: “That’s a good estimate right now.”
"But it’s just an estimate. And as I said, we don’t have perfect visibility on the numbers," Kirby said at a Pentagon news conference.
Ukraine’s border guards have put the figure far higher.
Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the border guards’ commander, said 30,000 Russian soldiers were now in Crimea, compared with the 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.
In a telephone conversation with Ukraine’s Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh on Friday, Hagel praised Ukraine’s armed forces for not allowing the situation to escalate, Kirby said.
"(Hagel) stressed the firm commitment of the United States to support the Ukrainian people and to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," Kirby said.
The United States has shown no interest in pursuing military options in the dispute with Russia over the Crimea, but it has taken other actions, such as cutting off military exchanges with Russia on Monday.
The United State has also moved to reassure NATO allies, sending six more F-15 fighter jets this week to NATO’s policing mission over the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Poland on Thursday announced the U.S. military would send 12 F-16 fighter jets and 300 service personnel to Poland next week for a training exercise.
Kirby stopped short of confirming those figures, saying the U.S. military was still working through details.
"No decisions have been made yet, and soon as we have a mutual decision between us and Polish authorities … of course, we’ll make that public," Kirby said.
March 7, 2014
Saudi Arabia Names Brotherhood a Terrorist Group
March 7, 2014
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia identified the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group along with al-Qaida and others Friday, warning those who join them or support them they could face five to 30 years in prison.
A Saudi Interior Ministry statement said King Abdullah approved the findings of a committee entrusted with identifying extremist groups referred to in a royal decree earlier last month. The decree punishes those who fight in conflicts outside the kingdom or join extremist groups or support them.
The king’s decree followed the kingdom enacting a sweeping new counterterrorism law that targets virtually any criticism of the government.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been targeted by many Gulf nations since the July 3 military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, himself a Brotherhood member. Saudi Arabia has banned Brotherhood books from the ongoing Riyadh book fair and withdrew its ambassador from Qatar, a Brotherhood supporter, along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
In a statement, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned Saudi Arabia’s decision.
"It is one of the founding principles of the group not to interfere in matters of other states, and this new position from the kingdom is a complete departure from the past relationship with the group, since the reign of the founding king until now," the statement read.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Attie praised the decision, saying it “reflects the coordination and solidarity” between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He said he hopes that other countries make the same decision.
"We expect other countries to fulfill their responsibilities in the fight against terrorism," Abdel-Attie told journalists Friday.
The Saudi statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, identified the other terrorist groups named as al-Qaida’s branches in Yemen and Iraq, the Syrian al-Nusra Front, Saudi Hezbollah and Yemen’s Shiite Hawthis. It said the law would apply to all the groups and organizations identified by the United Nations Security Council or international bodies as terrorists or violent groups. It said the law also would be applied to any Saudi citizen or a foreigner residing in the kingdom for propagating atheism or pledging allegiance to anyone other than the kingdom’s leaders.
The counterterrorism law bans meetings of the groups inside or outside of the kingdom and covers comments made online or to media outlets.
The unprecedented and harsh prison terms seem aimed at stemming the flow of Saudi fighters going to Syria, Yemen or Iraq. The Syrian civil war is believed to have drawn hundreds of young Saudis, worrying some in the kingdom that fighters could return radicalized and turn their weapons on the monarchy.
Influential Saudi clerics who follow the kingdom’s ultraconservative religious Wahhabi doctrine encouraged youths to fight in the war and view it as a struggle between Syria’s Sunni majority and President Bashar Assad’s Alawite, Shiite-backed minority.
Saudi officials and some clerics have spoken out against young Saudis joining the war. However, the Saudi government backs some rebel opposition groups in Syria with weapons and aid.
The new law is also believed to reflect pressure from the U.S., which wants to see Assad’s overthrow but is alarmed by the rising influence of hard-line foreign jihadists — many of them linked to al-Qaida — among the rebels. U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia and meet King Abdullah this month.
Meanwhile in Qatar, outspoken Egyptian cleric Youssef el-Qaradawi did not deliver his usual sermon on Friday. The reasons for his absence were not made immediately public. His past sermons, in which he publicly criticized the UAE and other Gulf countries for their support of Egypt’s new government in its crackdown on the Brotherhood, led to outrage among Qatar’s neighbors who saw the comments as an attack on their sovereignty.
March 7, 2014
Fact-Finding Envoys in Crimea Face Hostility
New York Times
March 7, 2014
UNITED NATIONS — As the United Nations sent an eight-member human rights fact-finding mission to Ukraine on Friday, an envoy with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said she had faced noisy, threatening crowds chanting pro-Russian slogans in the Crimea regional capital of Simferopol earlier this week and had been forced to cut short her visit.
The envoy, Astrid Thors, the O.S.C.E.’s high commissioner for national minorities, said that her team had been able to hold some meetings in Crimea, as planned, but not others. Word spread that she was in the city. Crowds gathered. She said she could not see if they were armed. Her team decided to cancel the rest of the meetings and return to Kiev.
Ms. Thors said she could have faced the predicament that confronted a senior United Nations diplomat, Robert H. Serry, earlier this week, when he was chased out of Crimea by unidentified gunmen.
“There was a risk the same could happen, that our movement could be hindered by the crowds,” Ms. Thors said in a telephone interview from her Amsterdam office. “We took precautionary principles. We shortened our stay.”
Mr. Serry, who flew from Simferopol to Kiev, was scheduled to leave Ukraine this weekend, the United Nations said. The assistant secretary general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, is in Ukraine now. A spokesman for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Martin Nesirky, said he hoped the United Nations diplomats there would be allowed free movement throughout the country.
In her four-day mission, Ms. Thors said she could establish that there were no imminent threats to the rights of Russians, nor to Ukrainian Jews. “They don’t feel their existence is threatened by other communities,” she said.
March 7, 2014Russian fleet at heart of Ukraine crisis is central to PutinReutersMarch 7, 2014
Gently bobbing up and down in the sheltered waters of the Bay of Sevastopol in Crimea, Russia's storied Black Sea Fleet has an air of decay about it.
Paint peels from low-slung dockside buildings, a solitary submarine sits dolefully alongside a pontoon, and the fleet’s boxy grey ships date back to the Soviet-era with many soon destined for the scrap heap.
But appearances can be deceptive. The fleet, its base, and the sprawling military infrastructure that go with it, are vital to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military and geopolitical ambitions and one of the main reasons the Kremlin is now eyeing complete control of Crimea.
Nor will the fleet be outdated for much longer. It is soon to be restocked with billions of dollars worth of hardware. Lee Willett, editor of Jane’s Navy International, said six new submarines and six new frigates were scheduled for delivery in the next few years.
It is also expected to take delivery of other vessels such as the giant Mistral helicopter carrier, currently being built in France, as well as new attack aircraft.
For Russia, the fleet and its Sevastopol base are a guarantor of its southern borders and a platform for projecting power into the Black Sea and from there into the Mediterranean. Its base is also a docking point for Russian oil tankers bound for the Bosporus and the fleet will be tasked with protecting Russia’s South Stream gas pipeline once it is finished.
Russian analysts say Putin’s decision to intervene in Ukraine was in large part driven by his desire to safeguard the Sevastopol base as he feared the country’s new government would cancel a lease deal allowing the fleet to stay until 2042.
"Putin had every reason to think that would happen," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Moscow-based Russia in Global Affairs journal. “The new government in Ukraine wants to move closer to the European Union and NATO. Their agenda would have meant the fleet would have to leave.”
Such a withdrawal, from a base that carries huge emotional and symbolic significance for Russians because of Sevastopol’s role in the Crimean War and World War Two, would have been a serious geopolitical defeat for Putin, said Lukyanov.
It would also have left Moscow without a viable Black Sea naval base.
First purloined by Russia at the end of the eighteenth century by Empress Catherine the Great, Sevastopol’s deep water port, sheltered bay, and the fact that it never freezes over, make it the best natural harbour in the Black Sea.
Russia’s only alternative, its port at Novorossiysk, is buffeted by winds, is sometimes forced to shut because of bad weather, and would need billions of dollars of investment to house the Black Sea Fleet.
If Crimea, as seems likely, opts to become part of Russia in the face of opposition from the West and from the Ukrainian government, the Black Sea Fleet and its around 16,000 servicemen will become even more important.
Experts say the fleet currently has around 40 frontline warships including a submarine, two cruisers, a destroyer, eight frigates, 11 corvettes and attack craft, nine mine warfare vessels and eight amphibious ships which can be used to insert troops anywhere in the region. It also has a naval aviation arm.
All agree the fleet has seen better days.
"Putin has used the fleet regularly in the Mediterranean to show that Russia is still a world power," said Willett of Jane’s Navy International. "But it’s always the same two or three ships, such as the fleet’s flagship Moskva, or the destroyer Smetlivy. That suggests that only a small number of the fleet’s assets are in service."
Operational or not, its commanders actively deploy what they have.
Some of its ships took part in the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, others have been used to deliver equipment to Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and some have been involved in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.
The fleet has played an important role in the Ukrainian crisis so far, blockading Ukrainian navy vessels in the port of Sevastopol so that they can’t set sail, and scuttling a ship to block the entrance to a Ukrainian naval base further along the Black Sea coast.
Ukrainian military officials also believe the fleet helped bring in extra Russian troops from Sochi after they finished providing security for the winter Olympics there.
One of four fleets operated by Russia, the Black Sea Fleet dwarfs the Ukrainian navy in size and firepower since it inherited around four fifths of the Soviet navy’s ships in the region when the USSR collapsed in 1991, with the Ukrainians getting the rest.
The fleet and its base have given Moscow an important bridgehead in Ukraine since the Soviet collapse with officers from Russia’s FSB security service actively working there.
Former pro-Western Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko wanted the fleet to leave Sevastopol because he said it was an agent of instability.
Ukrainian critics say Russia has for years used the fleet to wage a propaganda and intelligence war to promote separatist sentiment in Crimea and to counter what it sees as hostile Ukrainian meddling.
The fleet has used its own newspaper, Flag of the Motherland, and its own TV production studio which makes programmes for local channels, to wage that war, they say.
But local residents in Sevastopol, many of whom are related to current or past Russian servicemen, say they cannot imagine the fleet anywhere else.
"Sevastopol was created for the Russian fleet," said Yulia, a 44-year-old housewife, helping pro-Russian activists blockade the Ukrainian navy’s headquarters.
"Sevastopol without the fleet would just be a bit of land. The fleet is Sevastopol. Where would the fleet go if not Sevastopol?"
Under an agreement with Ukraine, Russia cannot base more than 25,000 men in Sevastopol and must negotiate with the Ukrainians if it wants to add new ships.
The advent of a Kremlin-controlled Crimea would allow Russia to expand and modernise the fleet as it wished.
"The Ukrainians were dragging their feet in talks about modernising the fleet," said Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defence expert. "But if Russia gobbles up Crimea it can do what it wants".
A spokesman for the fleet said he was unable to comment “on anything” at the moment, while officers approached in Sevastopol
declined to discuss the fleet’s work.
Vladimir Anatolyevich, a retired captain 3rd class who served on the Soviet Union’s nuclear submarines and who declined to give his surname, said the fleet would be safer if Crimea became part of Russia.
"Almost everyone in Crimea wants to become part of the Russian Federation," he said. "I just hope Russia doesn’t now betray us and reject us."
March 7, 2014Suspected Russian spyware Turla targets Europe, United StatesReutersMarch 7, 2014
A sophisticated piece of spyware has been quietly infecting hundreds of government computers across Europe and the United States in one of the most complex cyber espionage programs uncovered to date.
Several security researchers and Western intelligence officers say they believe the malware, widely known as Turla, is the work of the Russian government and linked to the same software used to launch a massive breach on the U.S. military uncovered in 2008.
It was also linked to a previously known, massive global cyber spying operation dubbed Red October targeting diplomatic, military and nuclear research networks.
Those assessments were based on analysis of tactics employed by hackers, along with technical indicators and the victims they targeted.
"It is sophisticated malware that’s linked to other Russian exploits, uses encryption and targets western governments. It has Russian paw prints all over it," said Jim Lewis, a former U.S. foreign service officer, now senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
However, security experts caution that while the case for saying Turla looks Russian may be strong, it is impossible to confirm those suspicions unless Moscow claims responsibility. Developers often use techniques to cloud their identity.
The threat surfaced this week after a little known German anti-virus firm, G Data, published a report on the virus, which it called Uroburos, the name text in the code that may be a reference to the Greek symbol of a serpent eating its own tail.
Experts in state-sponsored cyber attacks say that Russian government-backed hackers are known for being highly disciplined, adept at hiding their tracks, extremely effective at maintaining control of infected networks and more selective in choosing targets than their Chinese counterparts.
"They know that most people don’t have either the technical knowledge or the fortitude to win a battle with them. When they recognize that someone is onto them, they just go dormant," said one expert who helps victims of state-sponsored hacking.
A former Western intelligence official commented: “They can draw on some very high grade programmers and engineers, including the many who work for organized criminal groups, but also function as privateers.”
Russia’s Federal Security Bureau declined comment as did Pentagon and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials.
On Friday, Britain’s BAE Systems Applied Intelligence - the cyber arm of Britain’s premier defense contractor - published its own research on the spyware, which it called “snake.”
The sheer sophistication of the software, it said, went well beyond that previously encountered - although it did not attribute blame for the attack.
"The threat… really does raise the bar in terms of what potential targets, and the security community in general, have to do to keep ahead of cyber attacks," said Martin Sutherland, managing director of BAE Systems Applied Intelligence.
NATO NATIONS TARGETED
Security firms have been monitoring Turla for several years.
Symantec Corp estimates up to 1,000 networks have been infected by Turla and a related virus, Agent.BTZ. It named no victims, saying only that most were government computers.
BAE said it has collected over 100 unique samples of Turla since 2010, including 32 from Ukraine, 11 from Lithuania and 4 from Great Britain. It obtained smaller numbers from other countries.
Hackers use Turla to establish a hidden foothold in infected networks from which they can search other computers, store stolen information, then transmit data back to their servers.
"While it seems to be Russian, there is no way to know for sure," said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer with Helsinki-based F-Secure, which encountered Turla last year.
Security firms that are monitoring the threat have said the operation’s sophistication suggests it was likely backed by a nation state and that technical indicators make them believe it is the work of Russian developers.
European governments have long welcomed U.S. help against Kremlin spying, but were infuriated last year to discover the scale of surveillance by America’s National Security Agency that stretched also to their own territory.
AGENT.BTZ, RED OCTOBER
Security experts say stealthy Turla belongs to the same family as one of the most notorious pieces of spyware uncovered to date: Agent.BTZ. It was used in a massive cyber espionage operation on U.S. Central Command that surfaced in 2008 and is one of the most serious U.S. breaches to date. While Washington never formally attributed blame, several U.S. officials have told Reuters they believed it was the work of Russia.
Hypponen said Agent.BTZ was initially found in a military network of a European NATO state in 2008, but gave no details. F-Secure is credited with naming that piece of malware in 2008, though researchers believe it was created already in 2006.
Kaspersky Lab researcher Kurt Baumgartner said he believes Turla and Agent.BTZ are related to Red October, which suddenly shut down after his firm reported on it in January 2013.
"Unusually unique artifacts link Red October, Agent.BTZ and Turla," he said, referring to strings of text contained in the code and functionality of the malware.
Eric Chien, technical director with Symantec Security Response, described Turla as “the evolution” of Agent.BTZ. “They are a very active development group,” Chien said.
Finland said its Foreign Ministry computer systems had been penetrated by an attack last year but would not elaborate.
Sweden’s National Defence Radio Establishment said cyber espionage was “more common than people think”, adding that it had discovered multiple attacks against authorities, governments and universities, some only detected after several years.
Government sources in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland and Romania said Turla had not affected them directly. Other European governments contacted by Reuters declined comment.
Although computer security researchers have been quietly studying Turla for more than two years, public discussions of the threat only began after G Data published its report.
G Data spokesman Eddy Willems declined to name any victims or identify the author of the report, saying the firm was concerned the group behind Turla might attempt to harm him.
Jaime Blasco, director of AlienVault Labs, said that Turla was more of a “framework” for espionage than simply malware.
The malware is a “root kit” that hides the presence of the spying operation and also creates a hidden, encrypted file system to store stolen data and tools used by the attackers, he said. Those tools include password stealers, tiny programs for gathering information about the system and document stealers.
The operators can download specialized tools onto an infected system, adding any functionality they want by including it in the encrypted file system, Blasco said.
They have used dozens of different “command and control” servers located in countries around the world to control infected systems, according to Symantec, whose researchers have helped identify and shut down some of those systems.
Researchers say Turla’s code is regularly updated, including changes to avoid detection as anti-virus companies detect new strains. BAE said it had two samples created in January 2014.
Chien said that in some cases when a command and control server was taken offline, Turla’s operators have quickly pushed out new versions of the malware that directed infected computers to new command and control servers.
"They have a super active development team," he said.
March 7, 2014
Judge rejects Justice request on phone records
March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a Justice Department request to keep telephone records collected by the National Security Agency beyond a five-year limit, saying that to do so would further infringe on the privacy interests of U.S. citizens.
The Justice Department says it must preserve the records in case they are needed as evidence in lawsuits against the government.
Reggie Walton, chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, noted in his ruling that none of the groups suing the government over the NSA’s phone data program had asked for the records to be preserved.
The judge said that the phone data loses its foreign intelligence value after five years and that extending the period would increase the risk that information about U.S. citizens might be improperly used.
March 7, 2014
Africom Commander: Terror Threat Remains Across Africa
American Forces Press Service
March 6, 2014
WASHINGTON, Mar. 6, 2014 - Helped by the Arab Spring, terrorist groups in North and West Africa have expanded their operations, increasing threats to the United States and its interests, the commander of U.S. Africa Command told Congress today.
"These revolutions, coupled with the fragility of neighboring states, continue to destabilize the region," Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee in prepared testimony.
"The spillover effects of revolutions include the return of fighters and flow of weapons from Libya to neighboring countries following the fall of the Gadhafi regime and the export of foreign fighters from North Africa to the Syrian conflict," the general said.
Rodriguez described the security situation in Libya — where a NATO-backed air campaign in 2011 aimed at protecting civilians from pro-Gadhafi forces eventually led to the leader’s overthrow — as volatile and tenuous, especially in the east and southwest. “Militia groups control significant areas of territory and continue to exert pressure on the Libyan government,” he said.
Africom, he said, is working to help build Libyan security forces, but in the meantime, terrorist groups including those affiliated with al-Qaida have taken root in vast, lawless areas of the country and are using the region as a base to extend their reach across northwest Africa.
Farther west, though, Rodriguez pointed to success the United States and its French and African allies have had in stabilizing Mali, where Islamic extremists took control of a large swath of the desert country’s north following a coup two years ago. “U.S. support has enabled [United Nations forces] and French operations to secure key cities and disrupt terrorist organizations,” he added.
Rodriguez described challenges facing the United States and Europe across the continent, from the Sahael region in West Africa to Somalia in the east.
"The collective aftermath of revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, including uncertain political transitions, spillover effects, and exploitation by violent extremist organizations of under-governed spaces and porous borders are key sources of instability that require us to remain vigilant in the near term," he said. While multi-national efforts are disrupting terrorists, he added, "the growth and activity of the violent extremist network across the African continent continues to outpace these efforts."
Rodriguez ticked off a list of security challenges facing the continent and his command.
Despite programs and exercises with Nigeria, the terrorist group Boko Haram continues to attack civilian and government facilities and has extended its reach into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon. In Somalia, after having no presence in the country for years, the U.S. military now has three people on the ground, he said, to coordinate with U.N. and other partnered forces to disrupt and contain al-Shabaab forces and expand areas under the control of the nominal government in Mogadishu.
He described the efforts as playing “limited, but important roles” in weakening the militant group, which controls portions of the country and claimed responsibility for a massacre at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September that killed more than 60 people.
Rodriguez reported significant progress in reducing piracy.
"In 2013, zero ships were hijacked in nine attempted attacks in the region," he said. Just two years earlier, there had been more than 150 attempted hijackings.
While Rodriguez said Africom is using military-to-military engagements, programs, exercises and other operations to respond to crises and deter threats, he emphasized that these efforts are geared toward enabling African partners to handle these problems.
"We believe efforts to meet security challenges in Africa are best led and conducted by African partners," he said, efforts that ultimately will depend on African nations developing effective partner-nation security institutions that respect civilian authority.