1. ThisYear’s Top Five Scariest Cyber Attacks

    August 27, 2014

    This year’s five scariest cyber attacks, including “Italian Job” traffic light hack

    Yahoo News UK

    August 27, 2014

    Security researchers often surprise the world with the surreal things they can hack into, such as the electronic toilets which are popular in Japan - but a recent hack on a city traffic light system was truly terrifying.

    The hack, which required little technical skill, could bring cities to standstill, and was demonstrated on a traffic-control system used in 40 American cities. Hackers could even use the technique for heists where they turn lights green at will, then red, to slow police pursuing them.

    “These types of systems often have safety in mind but may forget the importance of security,” the University of Michigan researchers wrote.

    The problem is that almost everything is now “smart”: from traffic systems to fridges to home lighting, many systems which previously had no computing power, are connected, and “smart”. The buzzword is “the Internet of Things” - but we’re realising that the “things” are not always as safe as we’d like.

    Unlike the Windows operating system, for instance, which constantly updates its defences, a baby monitor or Wi-Fi light bulb is a cheap device, and may never have its protection upgraded at all.

    Both of those have been hacked, with one disturbing case where a hacker yelled abuse at a toddler via a “connected” baby monitor.

    Cybercriminals are usually motivated by money, and credit card details and other personal information will remain a main target for most, but the “way in” may not be through our PCs, but through other systems that are easier to hack into. Here are this year’s top five scariest hacks…

    The hack, which required little technical skill, could bring cities to standstill, and was demonstrated on a traffic-control system used in 40 American cities.The hack, which required little technical skill, could bring cities to standstill, and …Attack of the green men

    Think of the chaos caused when a set of traffic lights gets stuck on red or stops working altogether. Now imagine if hackers were able to take over an entire city’s traffic light system. Mayhem.

    Earlier this year, Argentinian researcher Cesar Cerrudo conducted a controlled test to take control of Manhattan’s traffic system using the sensors which feed information about road use to traffic light controllers.

    Vulnerabilities in the system meant that it was possible to hack, monitor and change data, turning lights on and off at will. The test was carried out using an airborne drone, enabling hackers to work remotely to infiltrate and send bogus data to the traffic light system.

    “An attacker can also control lights for personal gain. Lights could be changed to be green along the route the attacker is driving,” the researchers wrote.

     “Since these attacks are remote, this could even be done automatically as she drove, with the lights being reset to normal functionality after she passes through the intersection.”

    The U.S. government issued a warning this weekend that hackers had infiltrated shop tills - point-of-sale terminals, at 1,000 companies in America. In one attack, one in four Americans had their card details stolen by software covertly inserted into tills in the store Target.The U.S. government issued a warning this weekend that hackers had infiltrated shop tills …Shop tills can steal your card details

    Ever wondered how safe your card details are every time you pop your flexible friend into a shop’s point-of-sale (POS) machine to make a payment? The answer, unfortunately, is not very, particularly in America.

    The U.S. government issued a warning this weekend that hackers had infiltrated shop tills - point-of-sale terminals, at 1,000 companies ini America. In one attack, one in four Americans had their card details stolen by software covertly inserted into tills in the store Target.

    One restaurant, PF Chang’s, reverted to using carbon paper card machines, Seventies-style, after staff realised their systems had been meddled with.

    The sheer volume of credit card details being swiped through POS machines make them highly desirable to hackers and, you’ll be alarmed to hear, they are relatively insecure.

    Criminals have written malicious software which specifically targeted POS machines, cycling through credit card numbers from the POS’s memory and trying PIN combinations until they hit the jackpot. The credit card numbers are then sold online.

    Attacks range from the sophisticated to the fairly low tech, where hackers disable a POS machine and then call the retailer pretending to be from the bank to grab individual customer details.

    Tesla is investigating how the Chinese team did it, but the general consensus is that while onboard technology is advancing at a frantic pace, the measures to protect us may be falling short.Tesla is investigating how the Chinese team did it, but the general consensus is that …The first wireless hack against a car in motion

    The risk of hackers tapping into the sensors used in our vehicles and taking control has been talked about for years. But this month, a team of Chinese students did it. The team were able to successfully hack into a Tesla Model S and control the headlights, horn and even open the doors and sunroof whilst the car was in motion.

    Tesla is investigating how the Chinese team did it, but the general consensus is that while on-board technology is advancing at a frantic pace, the measures to protect us may be falling short. Specifically,

    Up to 40% of the price of cars today is down to the software: a figure unimaginable even a decade ago.

    Nowadays on-board sensors and satellite navigation systems give vital data such as on-road position, provide maps, communication systems and even control simple car functions such as windows, doors, headlights and windscreen wipers.

    The future will see vehicles that wirelessly communicate with the internet and, as a result, the vulnerability of our cars to attacks will increase dramatically.

    Anything with a camera is a particular threat: and these days, that includes many television models.. Security researchers were able to access a Samsung Smart TV's on-board camera and watch video recorded through it.Anything with a camera is a particular threat: and these days, that includes many television …Is your TV watching you?

    Most of us have more “smart devices” in our homes than we realise. From internet TVs, heating systems and even connected digital photo frames, the list is only getting longer.

    It is their always-on, connected nature that makes these devices  easy to infiltrate, allowing hackers to spy on their victims using their own gadgets.

    Anything with a camera is a particular threat: and these days, that includes many television models. Security researchers were able to access a Samsung Smart TV’s on-board camera and watch video recorded through it.

    Smart home security systems could also be turned on their owners. The cameras we buy to protect ourselves could instead be used to spy on us.  With cheap electronics, such as webcams, there’s little motivation for manufacturers to secure them, unless forced to by government regulations.

    Imagine your hotel room door unlocking itself during the night, and all the lights in your room suddenly going out at once. Worse still, your attacker is not even nearby: he is attacking via the hotel's network. Imagine your hotel room door unlocking itself during the night, and all the lights in …Hotel of horrors

    Imagine your hotel room door unlocking itself during the night, and all the lights in your room suddenly going out at once.

    Worse still, your attacker isn’t even nearby: he’s controlling your room via the hotel’s network.

    This month, a Chinese hacker used an iPad to show off how easy such hacks actually are. He took over 200 suites at once in a five-star hotel in China which used an ageing network system (still used in a few hotels in Europe), and was able to change the channel, adjust the thermostat, and even raise the blinds as well.

    Jesus Molina, the researcher, said he did it because he was “bored”. “I thought about looking to see if a similar system controlled the door locks but got scared,” says Molina. Instead, he switched off all the “Do Not Disturb” signs on the doors.

    13 minutes ago  /  1 note

  2. CENTCOM Reports New Airstrikes Against ISIS targets Near Kurdish Capital of Irbil

    August 27, 2014

    Military Conducts Airstrikes Against ISIL Near Irbil

    From a U.S. Central Command News Release

    WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2014 - U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in support of Iraqi security force operations, using attack aircraft to conduct two airstrikes in the vicinity of Irbil yesterday.

    The two strikes destroyed two ISIL armed vehicles and damaged another near Irbil. All aircraft exited the strike area safely.

    This strike was conducted under authority to support Iraqi security force and Kurdish defense force operations, as well as to protect critical infrastructure, U.S. personnel and facilities, and support humanitarian efforts.

    Since Aug. 8, U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 98 airstrikes across Iraq.

    17 minutes ago  /  1 note

  3. China Developing New Nuclear Weapons Systems

    August 27, 2014

    On land and sea, China’s nuclear capability growing

    Erik Slavin

    Stars & Stripes

    August 26, 2014

    Earlier this month, a minor Chinese environmental office broke some of the biggest news in nuclear missile technology since the end of the Cold War.

    The Shaanxi Province Environmental Monitoring Center posted a work summary of its projects, which included site monitoring for research into the Dong Feng-41 missile. The Department of Defense told Congress earlier this year that China was developing the DF-41, a road-mobile, next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile capable of launching multiple nuclear warheads.

    The missile had been conceptualized for years, well before China’s military modernization of the past decade began. However, no Chinese governmental agency was willing to confirm its development until the provincial environmental office’s website did so. The post was quickly taken down, but only after it had been reported by the China Communist Party-affiliated Global Times.

    The DF-41 news comes amid reports that China also conducted tests this month of its current land-based missile standard, the DF-31A.

    RELATED: Stars and Stripes coverage of the Pacific pivot

    U.S. officials also expect China to have operational nuclear missile-equipped submarines this year. The HK-6 bomber, a nuclear-capable aircraft with a range of about 2,000 miles, became part of the Chinese arsenal last year.

    Collectively, it represents a nuclear triad, the decades-old standard that the United States still counts on for surviving a global nuclear war.

    The Chinese triad remains heavily imbalanced in favor of land-based missiles, since its aircraft can’t fly very far and its submarines may not be all that reliable, according to analysts.

    However, the bigger question remains: Why is China, a country with a “no first-use” policy, upgrading its nuclear arsenal at a time when the United States and Russia are reducing their stockpiles?

    No one in power in the United States, China or any other nation seen as a rational actor is advocating a nuclear strike in today’s global environment. That said, military planners get paid to consider worst-case scenarios and keep open their options.

    Chinese military leaders have contended they are so far behind the United States that their current nuclear posture isn’t an effective deterrent to being attacked. Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, China’s director of the Center of America-China Defense Relations for the Academy of Military Science, explained that position in a letter last year to the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.

    “The Ballistic Missile Defense systems that the United States and its allies have deployed, or are planning to deploy, are capable of intercepting residue Chinese nuclear weapons launched for retaliation after it has already been attacked, thus potentially negating the deterrence effect of the Chinese nuclear arsenal,” Yun wrote.

    Furthermore, U.S. conventional missile strike systems in development could strike China’s nuclear arsenal, “which, if adopted as an official doctrine, would discredit China’s No First Use policy,” Yun wrote.

    China’s nuclear arsenal is thought to total about 250 warheads, compared with 2,104 operational U.S. warheads and thousands in reserve, according to Federation of American Scientists figures.

    If Chinese leaders think their stockpile is in danger of being wiped out by U.S. aircraft, missiles and other conventional means during a hypothetical war, it leaves them with two broad options to protect their nuclear capability: strengthen their potential attack, or abandon the no first-use policy in favor of something more threatening.

    For now, they appear to have chosen the former option.

    China has built three Jin-class nuclear submarines capable of carrying the JL-2 missile, which has an estimated range of 4,600 miles.

    “This will give the China its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent, probably before the end of 2014,” Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear said during congressional testimony in March.

    Although the deterrent is considered credible, its survivability is debatable.

    Jin-class subs are noisy — noisier than the Russian Delta II-class submarines built 30 years ago, according to an Office of Naval Intelligence report published in 2009. Noise is a submarine killer, and the U.S. has several ways of listening for them.

    Although China could develop a noise solution, multiple U.S. analysts think that design flaws in the missile compartments and hatches have left the Jin-class fundamentally flawed. China also has no experience with commanding and controlling nuclear-equipped submarines.

    However, it does have extensive experience with land-based missiles, which are also the only option capable of striking the continental United States after being launched from somewhere near China.

    “So from that perspective, modernizing the land-based missiles makes some sense,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor at MIT and author of a recently published book on nuclear strategy.

    Besides any conventional strikes, a Chinese nuclear response in a hypothetical war would have to overcome three major U.S. defenses: the Aegis ballistic missile defense, significant parts of which are maintained on ships based in Japan and patrolling the Western Pacific; the ground-based midcourse defense; and a high-altitude area defense.

    The U.S. missile defense has destroyed 65 of 81 targets in tests conducted since 2001, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

    China’s DF-31A has a range of about 7,000 miles and includes Multiple Independently targeted Re-entry Vehicles, or MIRVs, according to Defense Department reports. Most analysts say it can carry up to three MIRVs, which can scatter like the nuclear equivalent of shotgun pellets.

    Reports on the DF-41 are far less reliable, since China’s defense ministry has never acknowledged it. However, Chinese media have reported the missile’s existence in recent years.

    A 2012 CCTV report said the missile has a range of 8,700 miles. Some reports say it can travel at Mach 25, which would make it very difficult for a defense system to destroy it during its initial boost phase.

    A Jane’s Defense report from 2010 speculated the missile could carry up to 10 MIRVs and could include decoys, chaff and penetration aids.

    “In the exoatmosphere, numbers are the way to saturate a working missile defense system,” Narang said. “So from that standpoint, the MIRV’ing of the 31 and whatever the 41 looks like is, I think, the way to do that.”

    Both the U.S. and Russia have developed MIRV-capable missiles, but each side considered them dangerous enough that they tried to ban them in the START II arms agreement signed in 1993. However, because of problems in the U.S. Senate and Russian Duma, the treaty was never implemented.

    Although China and the U.S. haven’t approached anything like the hostility of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, divisions remain that could lead to armed conflict.

    Taiwan-China relations have improved markedly, but the U.S. is still obligated by law to defend Taiwan, and China maintains that it cannot remain separate forever.

    The U.S. also has said it would defend the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, claimed as the Diaoyu Islands by China. The islands have been the center of repeated air and sea incidents between Japan and China, though none ever turned into firefights.

    Even if an armed conflict did occur, there are positive indications that it wouldn’t escalate to a nuclear scenario.

    China hasn’t developed the types of early-warning system and advanced intelligence capability indicative of a nation that wants something more than a retaliatory deterrent, Narang said.

    That means unless the U.S. or another country attacked with nuclear weapons first, China wouldn’t be in a favorable position to use its arsenal.

    “A shift away from a basic ‘assured retaliation’ posture does not yet seem to be occurring,” Narang said.

    18 minutes ago  /  0 notes

  4. With Few Soutrces on the Ground, U.S. and NATO Experiencing Problems Monitoring Soviet Activities in the Ukraine

    August 27, 2014

    Ukraine crisis: Nato plans east European bases to counter Russia

    Ian Traynor

    The Guardian

    August 26, 2014

    Anders Fogh Rasmussen
    Anders Fogh Rasmussen: ‘We have to face the reality that Russia does not consider Nato a partner.’ Photograph: Niels Ahlmann Olesen/EPA

    Nato is to deploy its forces at new bases in eastern Europe for the first time, in response to the Ukraine crisis and in an attempt to deter Vladimir Putin from causing trouble in the former Soviet Baltic republics, according to its secretary general.

    Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the organisations’s summit in Cardiff next week would overcome divisions within the alliance and agree to new deployments on Russia's borders – a move certain to trigger a strong reaction from Moscow.

    He also outlined moves to boost Ukraine’s security, “modernise” its armed forces and help the country counter the threat from Russia.

    Rasmussen said: “We will adopt what we call a readiness action plan with the aim to be able to act swiftly in this completely new security environment in Europe. We have something already called the Nato response force, whose purpose is to be able to be deployed rapidly if needed. Now it’s our intention to develop what I would call a spearhead within that response force at very, very high readiness.

    "In order to be able to provide such rapid reinforcements you also need some reception facilities in host nations. So it will involve the pre-positioning of supplies, of equipment, preparation of infrastructure, bases, headquarters. The bottom line is you will in the future see a more visible Nato presence in the east."

    Poland and the three Baltic states have been alarmed at the perceived threat from Russia and have been clamouring for a stronger Nato presence in the region. They have criticised what they see as tokenism in the alliance’s response so far.

    But the issue of permanent Nato bases in east Europe is divisive. The French, Italians and Spanish are opposed while the Americans and British are supportive of the eastern European demands. The Germans, said a Nato official, were sitting on the fence, wary of provoking Russia.

    The Cardiff summit is likely to come up with a formula, alliance sources said, which would avoid the term “permanent” for the new bases. But the impact will be to have constantly manned Nato facilities east of what used to be the iron curtain.

    "It can be on a rotation basis, with a very high frequency. The point is that any potential aggressor should know that if they were to even think of an attack against a Nato ally they will meet not only soldiers from that specific country but they will meet Nato troops. This is what is important," said Rasmussen.

    The only Nato headquarters east of the old cold war frontier is at Szczecin, on Poland’s Baltic coast. Sources said this was likely to be the hub for the new deployments. Air and naval plans had been completed, but the issue of international land forces in the east was proving trickier to agree upon.

    Asked whether there would be permanent international deployments under a Nato flag in east Europe, Rasmussen said: “The brief answer is yes. To prevent misunderstanding I use the phrase ‘for as long as necessary’. Our eastern allies will be satisfied when they see what is actually in the readiness action plan.”

    Rasmussen said the forces could be deployed within hours.

    Nato has clearly been caught napping by the Russian president’s well prepared advances in Ukraine since February and is scrambling to come up with strategies for a new era in which Russia has gone from being a “strategic partner” of the alliance to a hostile actor perfecting what the alliance terms “hybrid warfare”.

    Rasmussen, whose term as Nato chief is coming to an end, said: “We have to face the reality that Russia does not consider Nato a partner. Russia is a nation that unfortunately for the first time since the second world war has grabbed land by force. Obviously we have to adapt to that.” In an interview with the Guardian and five other European newspapers, he said: “It is safe to say that nobody had expected Russia to grab land by force. We also saw a remarkable change in the Russian military approach and capability since, for instance, the Georgian war in 2008.

    "We have seen the Russians improve their ability to act swiftly. They can within a very, very, short time convert a major military exercise into an offensive military operation."

    Rasmussen reiterated that the Russians had massed in their thousands on Ukraine’s eastern borders, and had been firing artillery into Ukraine. His information was based on Nato’s own intelligence and “multiple reports”.

    But Nato officials admitted that the intelligence was impaired by a lack of solid information from the ground. “We can only watch from 23 miles up,” said an official.

    Rasmussen said: “We have reports from multiple sources showing quite a lively Russian involvement in destabilising eastern Ukraine.

    "We have seen artillery firing across the border and also inside Ukraine. We have seen a Russian military buildup along the border. Quite clearly, Russia is involved in destabilising eastern Ukraine … You see a sophisticated combination of traditional conventional warfare mixed up with information and primarily disinformation operations. It will take more than Nato to counter such hybrid warfare effectively."

    If western leaders have been surprised and also impressed by the sudden display of Russian military prowess, Ukraine, by contrast, is in a pitiful condition militarily, according to Nato officials.

    "If we are two steps behind the Russians, the Ukrainians are 16 steps behind," said a Nato source recently in Kiev. "Their generals just want to blow everything up. But it’s not a shooting war, it’s an information war."

    In further moves certain to rile Putin, Nato is to step up its aid to, and collaboration with, the Ukrainian military.

    Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, is to attend the Cardiff summit and will be the sole non-Nato head of state to negotiate with alliance leaders. Four “trust funds” are to be established to finance Ukraine’s military logistics, command and control structures, and cyber defences, and to pay the armed forces’ pensions.

    "Ukraine follows its own path. That will be demonstrated at the summit because we will have a Nato-Ukraine summit meeting," said Rasmussen. "It is actually what we will decide to do at the summit, to help them build the capacity of their security sector, modernise it."

    The summit will also grapple with the perennial question of reduced European defence spending at a time of intense instability on the continent’s eastern and southern borders as well as the growing US exasperation with Europe’s reluctance to fund its own security properly.

    "Since the end of the cold war we have lived in relatively good weather. Now we are faced with a profound climate change. That requires more investment," said Rasmussen. "Politicians have tried to harvest the peace dividend after the end of the cold war. That’s understandable. But now we are in a completely new security situation."

    22 minutes ago  /  0 notes

  5. The Obstacles to U.S. Aerial Reconnaissance Operations Over Syria

    August 27, 2014

    Why it might be difficult to fly surveillance aircraft over Syria

    Thomas Gibbons-Neff

    Washington Post

    August 26, 2014

    With U.S. airstrikes in Iraq continuing, President Obama has authorized surveillance flights into Syria in an effort to gather intelligence on Islamic State forces.

    The move marks an escalation against the radical Islamist group, and some observers have suggested that the flights are a precursor to airstrikes like those being carried out across the border in northern Iraq. But sending surveillance flights into Syria would be complicated and potentially dangerous for both manned and unmanned aircraft.

    As our colleague Greg Miller noted over the weekend, any U.S. aircraft in Syria could be seen by the government of President Bashar al-Assad as a threat, in part because they could gather valuable intelligence on his forces. Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, has already signaled that Damascus would not tolerate unilateral U.S. strikes against the extremists.

    Drones such as Predators, Reapers and even the high-flying Global Hawk could be easily shot down by both the Syrian air force and the country’s air defense grid, according to a former drone operator.

    While the U.S. military has penetrated Syrian airspace on at least one occasion over the past year — during the failed bid to rescue journalist James Foley and other Americans being held by the Islamic State — that raid involved the use of modified Black Hawk helicopters. The helicopters are designed to fly into hostile air space and conceivably could have been flown at very low altitudes to avoid radar detection.

    Surveillance aircraft, however, operate high and slow.

    “These aircraft are not built to go into denied airspace,” the pilot said, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity surrounding his former employment. “If the Syrians wanted to send up a MiG 23 and shoot down a Predator, they could easily do it.”

    In addition to fielding a moderately capable air force, Syria possesses advanced surface-to-air missile systems like the SA-22 Greyhound, according to Military Balance, a publication issued by the International Institute of Strategic Studies that documents foreign military capabilities.

    The SA-22 can hit targets up to 65,000 feet, which coincidentally is believed to be the maximum altitude of the Global Hawk.

    Other high-flying U.S. military assets include the RQ-180, a stealth drone that could avoid radar-guided surface-to-air systems, and the U2 spy plane, which flies well above 70,000 feet. But those aircraft are usually used to monitor larger targets and could have a difficult time tracking small groups of militants, particularly if they are intermingled with the civilian population.

    That doesn’t mean U.S. forces aren’t trying. The former pilot speculated that any U.S. aircraft that successfully made it into Syrian would be given a number of tasks to gather intelligence about the Islamic State, sometimes referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

    The former pilot noted that surveillance missions could involve a number of distinct “scan” patterns.  A point scan would involve identifying individual targets, like fighting positions and battle formations, while a raster scan would involve sweeping large swaths of territory.

    “If they wanted to do strikes, they could do it right now,” the former pilot said. “But I think they’re trying to get a sense of how powerful ISIS is.”

    26 minutes ago  /  2 notes

  6. Air Bases in the Persian Gulf Being Used to Conduct Majority of U.S. Airstrikes in Northern Iraq

    August 27, 2014

    U.S. relies on Persian Gulf bases for airstrikes in Iraq

    Craig Whitlock

    Washington Post

    August 27, 2014

    The U.S. military is relying on bases in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in the Middle East to carry out airstrikes in Iraq but is masking the locations and other details about the units and aircraft involved to avoid embarrassing partners in the region.

    The Persian Gulf monarchies have long hosted U.S. forces­ to bolster their own security. But most have shied away from acknowledging the American presence and are even more reluctant with U.S. warplanes attacking targets in Iraq.

    The arrangement is especially delicate given long-standing accusations from Washington that wealthy donors in the gulf underwrite terrorist groups, including Islamic militants being targeted by the Pentagon.

    Public records and U.S. military statements about the types of U.S. aircraft deployed over Iraq indicate that they are primarily drawn from three major bases in the gulf: al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Ali al Salem Air Base in Kuwait and al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.

    In addition, Predator drones and possibly other U.S. aircraft are flying from Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, a NATO ally.

    Targeting Iraq from next door

    Those bases are responsible for launching about two-thirds of the airstrikes in Iraq since Aug. 8, as well as a similar proportion of the thousands of surveillance sorties that have been conducted since June, according to U.S. military commanders.

    The remainder have been launched from the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, and other ships in the carrier’s strike group, according to Navy commanders.

    The Pentagon has become increasingly dependent on the tiny gulf states to host the bulk of its forces­ in the Middle East since it withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and vacated several large bases there.

    Mustafa Alani, director of security and defense studies at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva, said that gulf countries generally support U.S. military action against the Islamic State, the jihadist movement that has taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria. But he said gulf rulers are wary of directly linking themselves to U.S. military operations, fearful of a popular backlash should airstrikes result in civilian casualties.

    An ambiguity

    “These countries try to protect themselves by not knowing and not asking,” Alani said. Washington has its own reasons to cloak the extent of its military presence in the region, he added. “It is an ambiguity that both sides think they have an interest to maintain.”

    The most strategically important U.S. base in the region is al Udeid in Qatar, home of the Air Force’s command center for all air operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

    The U.S. military released video of targeted airstrikes in northern Iraq. (YouTube: CENTCOM)

    An outgrowth of the war in Afghanistan and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, al Udeid is home to about 9,000 U.S. troops and contractors. Its principal unit is the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, which has more than 90 combat aircraft and support planes.

    Even though the base’s existence is an open secret, for years the U.S. military would refrain from uttering its name, saying only that aircraft and personnel there were stationed somewhere in “Southwest Asia.”

    That changed, briefly, in December when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Qatar to sign a 10-year lease extension for the base and publicly acknowledged the presence of U.S. troops. Base officials began issuing statements and news releases mentioning al Udeid.

    But since June, when President Obama ordered troops to return to Iraq in small numbers and the skies over the country became thick with U.S. warplanes, military officials have imposed a blackout on information about where those forces­ are coming from.

    “Due to host nation sensitivities and operational security, we are not detailing locations of specific bases­ of origin, aircraft or ordnance types,” said Maj. Curtis J. Kellogg, a spokesman for Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East.

    Another base that the Pentagon will only identify as being located in Southwest Asia is Ali al Salem Air Base in Kuwait. Nicknamed “the Rock” by U.S. ­forces, it is the closest drone base to Iraq. Predator drones from the Air Force’s 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron have to fly only about 40 miles to the border.

    Occasionally, military commanders provide hard clues about where U.S. warplanes are flying from. On Aug. 11, Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters that among the planes carrying out airstrikes were F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons. Squadrons of both fighter jets are routinely deployed to al Udeid.

    On Aug. 17, Central Command announced that U.S. bomber aircraft had joined the air campaign. Although it did not give details, officials acknowledged that the statement referred to B-1 bombers, which are also based at al Udeid.

    Leverage over U.S. policy

    While the stationing of American troops in the Persian Gulf and Turkey has given the Obama administration flexibility, it has also given governments in the region political leverage over U.S. policy.

    For instance, the administration has effectively conditioned its military intervention in Iraq on the removal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite leader who resigned this month under pressure. His resignation this month made the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State more politically palatable for the Sunni rulers of the gulf states and Turkey, who didn’t want Washington to take any action that might help keep Maliki in power.

    “From a gulf perspective, there are good interventions and bad interventions,” said Shadi Hamid, a Middle East scholar with the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Maliki was anathema to them and seen as distinctly sectarian.”

    At the same time, Hamid said, leaders in the gulf are unlikely to acknowledge their military cooperation with Washington even if they favor the mission. “There will continue to be strong suspicion of anything the U.S. does in terms of intentions and motive,” he said. “It also would be admitting a kind of dependence on the U.S. that would not sit well with the public.”

    The suspicion can be mutual. Many officials in Washington and Europe have accused Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates of turning a blind eye to fundraising in their countries by clerics and others who support the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.

    Last week, a German government minister, Gerd Mueller, accused Qatar of financing Islamic State militants and helping to arm them. Although the Qatari Foreign Ministry denied the charge and the German government apologized, some in Washington have questioned whether the Qataris have accumulated outsize influence because of their military cooperation.

    “They play a good game with us,” former vice president Richard B. Cheney said in June on “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS. “And the reason is supposedly because we have that big base up there, in al Udeid. . . . So it’s leverage for the Qataris to, in effect, get away with kind of the activity they do with respect to supporting the more radical elements of the jihadi movement.”

    Similarly, in Kuwait, even as Ali al Salem Air Base has taken on added importance for U.S. military operations, other branches of the U.S. government have expressed increasing concern about local support for extremist groups. On Aug. 6, the Treasury Department blacklisted three Kuwaitis for allegedly financing the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

    31 minutes ago  /  3 notes

  7. Daily Iraq Situation Summary

    August 27, 2014

    Iraq Situation Report

    Institute for the Study of War

    August 26, 2014

    Read this update online

    2 hours ago  /  0 notes

  8. A Military Post-Mortem on the 50 Day War Between Hamas and Israel

    August 27, 2014

    Déjà Vu In Gaza


    August 26, 2014

    In July 2014 Hamas thought they could risk another war with Israel and come out the winner (to the Arab world at least). Despite public warning from Israel that the Israeli armed forces were much better prepared to deal with Hamas tactics, Hamas went to war anyway, confident that they had enough new tricks to stay ahead of the Israelis. Hamas quickly discovered that the Israelis were a lot quicker and better coordinated than in the past. This has happened before, to both the Israelis but mainly to the Arabs.

    Case in point was a Hamas attempt to use their scuba equipped “naval commandos” to make an underwater assault on an Israeli seaside base just north of Gaza. The Hamas commandos were quickly spotted by Israeli sensors monitoring offshore waters, which automatically sent the contact information to the new Israeli computerized command and control system. This automatically sent the alert (along with location and other data) to land, naval and air vehicles within range. That meant that before the Hamas men hit the beach they were being tracked by an Israeli tank gunner, an armed UAV overhead and a nearby warship. The closest infantry unit sent troops to the beach the Hamas men appeared to be moving towards. The five Hamas men refused to surrender to the Israeli troops waiting for them on the beach and in a brief gun battle all five were killed. One Israeli soldier was wounded and this (and the fact that the Hamas men made it onto the beach) was, by Arab standards a victory. A week later Israel released details of what had happened to the Hamas frogmen.

    At that point Hamas was discovering that many of their other new tactics, like dozens of deep tunnels into Israel and numerous new ideas for hiding and launching rockets from residential areas and public buildings (schools, hospitals and mosques) were not only known to the Israelis but were captured by Israeli aerial video cameras. Hamas also discovered that the Israelis had better information on where the Hamas leaders were hiding out and a lot more of these fellows were getting killed than during past conflicts. Hamas also found that their attempts to force Israel to kill a lot more Palestinians during efforts to halt the rocket attacks were compromised by Israeli warnings to civilians (often via telephone) to get out when the rockets hidden in their building were about to be destroyed by smart bombs or missiles. The saddest aspect of all this was that Hamas had been warned.

    Months before the July war began Israel revealed that because of new technology and weapons the air force could now hit more targets in 24 hours than it did in 33 days (during the 34 day war with Hezbollah in 2006). For Hamas Israel pointed out that it would now hit in less than 12 hours the number of targets it took seven days to find and attack during the week-long 2008 war with Hamas. This was all part of a technological revolution the Israeli armed forces has been undergoing since the 1990s. Since the 2006 war with Hezbollah those changes have been accelerating.

    Israel always had some formidable intelligence collection capabilities. Israel satellites, UAVs and manned recon aircraft collect data that leads to the identification of enemy bases and weapons storage sites. This, for example, enabled the Israeli Air Force to quickly destroy most of the long range rockets in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2008. The Israeli Air Force demonstrated a lot of changes less than two years after the 2006 war when, in Gaza, dozens of targets taken out within three minutes by Israeli warplanes. That was an impressive example of precision bombing. But when the Israeli ground troops entered Gaza ten days later, other air force innovations were largely invisible to the public. This included post-2006 reforms in which the Israeli military made radical changes in the way it coordinated its operations. The new automated systems included everyone (air, ground and naval). In addition to using more sensors (ground, air and naval) all these were linked together electronically so that when a potential threat was detected every tank, infantry unit, artillery, aircraft or ship within range was alerted and provided access to video or other sensor data. Israel has long been the leading developer and supplier (for their own forces as well as export) sensor and computerized command and control systems.

    In addition the air force mobilized dozens of older (some retired) fighter pilots and used them to staff air support coordination detachments at army brigade headquarters. These officers were trained to quickly use the real time video from UAVs and aircraft and the ability to quickly get firepower applied to target after it was identified. The objective of all this was to increase the speed and accuracy of smart bombs and missiles hitting targets the army wanted taken out. In the last few years this has meant new display technology and software that enables a commander to identify and designate a target with a few taps on a touch screen. Israel is also using cell phone size devices for this and constantly upgrading the crypto (that keeps the enemy from making sense of these communications) used. The goal now is to further streamline and speed up so ten times as many targets can be hit as was the case in 2006. Since 2008 the standardization and communications have been further improved so that you no longer need air force officers with ground units to get air support quickly.

    After the 2006 war Israel realized two things; its military was still superior to Arab forces and its military was not as superior as Israel believed it was. The major Israeli deficiency was communications. What the Arabs, or at least Iran-backed Hezbollah, had done was learned to move faster and more resourcefully than the Israelis expected. What really shocked the Israelis was that although they could spot and track these Hezbollah moves they could not get artillery, aircraft or ground troops moved quickly enough to take out a lot of identified targets before the enemy managed to change position. All the different levels of Israeli headquarters and combat units could actually communicate with each other, but not fast enough to hit a target that had been identified and located but was not staying put long enough for the completion of all the procedures and paperwork required to get the strike order sent to the unit best able to carry it out.

    The solution was new technology and procedures. Since 2006 Israel has built a new communications system that is faster and able, according to Israeli claims, to hit a lot more targets than the 2006 era forces could manage. Much of the solution had nothing to do with radical new hardware but to simply standardizing the procedures everyone had long used to call for fire, or to deliver it. Now commanders at all levels can see the same data and call for and receive fire support quickly. Thus when a target is identified the bombs, shells or ground attack follows quickly. Everyone was shown how easy, and damaging it was to underestimate the enemy. In training exercises the “enemy” is controlled by Israeli troops with ordered to be imaginative and try real hard to not get spotted and hit. It’s been amazing what these “enemy” troops come up, and necessary to keep this secret so that the real enemy does not find out.

    In 2014 the Israelis suffered more military deaths (over 60) but only four Israeli civilians died. Hams won’t admit what damage was done to its military resources but it was far greater than in the past and that included nearly a thousand Hamas personnel and an extensive network of tunnels under Gaza that was supposed to limit Hamas casualties. The Hamas leadership took much heavier loses than Hamas expected and the losses to key Hamas people (leaders, technical experts) were also much higher. Hamas can declare victory all they want, but compared to past battles with Israel, Hamas got the worst of it this time. To make the defeat even more painful, many former Arab supporters (like Egypt) cheered the damage done to Hamas.

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  9. The Mossad Officer Who Saved the Life of the Leader of Hamas

    August 27, 2014

    Mossad officer who saved Hamas leader’s life appeals for moderation

    Ian Allen


    August 26, 2014

    Mishka Ben David
    An Israeli intelligence operative, who in 1997 saved the life of the leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, has published a letter calling on Hamas to show moderation in the dispute with Israel. In 1997, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, like today, was Israel’s prime minister, authorized an ambitious operation to assassinate the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashal. The operation was carried out by the Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, which sent several of its members to Jordanian capital Amman, where Mashal was living at the time. On September 25, two Mossad assassins were waiting for Mashal to arrive at his office, ready to dispense a fast-acting poison in the form of an injection. But as the Hamas leader entered the premises, his young daughter called his name, causing him to turn his head in the opposite direction. As a result, the needle with the deadly poison landed on his ear, as opposed to his neck, and much of it was spilled. Mashal started yelling and before too long the two Mossad assassins had been captured alive by Hamas security guards. Mashal was then rushed to hospital and was about to die, when a furious King Hussein of Jordan contacted Tel Aviv with an ultimatum: either an antidote would be provided to save Mashal’s life, or the captured Mossad agents would be speedily tried and most likely sentenced to death by execution. The director of the Mossad operation then contacted a support officer, Mishka Ben-David, who was awaiting orders in an Amman hotel, and asked him to deliver a vial of antidote to a Jordanian security officer who would be waiting at the lobby of the hotel later that evening. Ben-David did as he was told and handed to the Jordanians the vial of antidote, which the Mossad had prepared in case one of their operatives was inadvertently injected with the poison. The antidote saved Mashal’s life and enabled him to continue to lead Hamas, the organization that is now in command of the Gaza Strip. Last week, Ben-David published an open letter addressed to Mashal, the man whose life he once saved, in which he calls on the Hamas strongman to stop taking his cues from “the most extreme side” of his organization. In a subsequent interview with British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, Ben-David said his intention in authoring the letter was to “appeal to the rational side of Khaled Mashal”, and urge him to “accept a compromise” in order to “end the war with Israel”. Ben-David was also critical of Israel, saying that some of its actions in Gaza were “damaging the country’s standing”. But he predicted that sooner or later the more moderate wings of Hamas will predominate over Mashal, and “put forward another position, which will be softer than his”. When asked by The Telegraph whether Israel would try to kill Mashal again, he responded that “if the prime minister [of Israel] decides to kill him, it will happen”, even though Mashal currently lives in Doha under the protection of the Qatari regime. “For the Mossad I don’t think there is a ‘mission impossible’”, said Ben-David.

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  10. U.S. and France Sending 2 Warships to the Black Sea to Watch Russian Activites

    August 27, 2014

    Two NATO Ships to Return to Black Sea

    RIA Novosti

    August 26, 2014

    France’s Commandant Birot frigate

    MOSCOW, August 26 (RIA Novosti) - An American destroyer and a French frigate will enter the Black Sea on September 3, an international military source told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.

    “Two NATO vessels will arrive in the Black Sea on September 3: the USS Ross destroyer and France’s Commandant Birot frigate,” the source said.

    Only one NATO ship is currently stationed in the Black Sea, the Dupuy de Lome, a French intelligence vessel. Recently, the USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) cruiser, operating in the Black Sea since August 7, was restationed.

    As soon as the vessels reach the Black Sea, scheduled for September 5, the Dupuy de Lome is to return to regular station, the source said.

    The source also noted that the rotational presence of NATO ships in the sea does not help maintain stability in the area.

    According to the Montreux Convention, naval vessels of non-Black Sea nations can stay in the Black Sea no longer than 21 days. Earlier this year, the USS Taylor (FFG-50) violated the convention, exceeding the time limit by 11 days, Turkey’s DHA news agency said in May.

    The group of NATO ships in the Black Sea reached a record number of nine vessels in July, the most significant presence in recent decades. The group included the USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) cruiser, France’s Surcouf frigate, Greece’s Macitis corvette and Italy’s Elettra intelligence vessel, among others. Additionally, in July Bulgaria held the Breeze 2014 naval drills, involving the ships of the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2.

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