Sunday, 22 August 2010

Terrorist Tactics and Blackberry Battles

Very interesting piece looking at how slow intelligence agencies can be at adapting to new and emerging technologies. Here they highlight how the LeT terrorists, which undertook the Mumbai attacks in 2008, built a global battlefield communication system from a few mobile phones and some commercial software. Yet the knee-jerk reaction of simply demanding access to these systems means that they are discarded by terrorists for something else long before monitoring can even begin. The author offer suggestions that deal with the legal and ethical issues around the monitoring of suspected terrorists and that it can be done with some thought, while also not giving the game away to the terrorists. This seems to be the better direction to go in and may even be the path of least resistance, but I would worry that budgetary constraints will have the final say.


Amplify’d from
The war on terror came closer to home this month, when the Indian government pressured Canadian company Research in Motion to hand over encryption keys for its popular Blackberry device. New Delhi claims terrorists are using the company's secure networks for covert communications. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia—all of which face significant terror threats—have also expressed concern. But such moves may do more harm than good.
According to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center's Worldwide Incident Tracking System, Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), perpetrator of the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, is responsible for over 700 fatalities in India during the last five years.
But publicly browbeating RIM into providing its encryption keys is a Pyrrhic victory. Terrorist organizations can only survive if they study the capabilities of their adversaries and adapt. Terrorist organizations backed by intelligence agencies tend to be even more sophisticated. If terrorists know that Blackberries are monitored, terrorists will not employ them—or will do so only in combination with other channels of communication in order to evade intelligence agencies. The much-publicized nature of India's threat to Blackberry thus may well have compromised potential operational gains.
According to the publicly released portion of an Indian intelligence dossier, the LeT terrorists were in continuous communication with their Pakistani handlers using a mix of mobile phones and an obscure Voice over Internet Protocol provider called Callphonex. Handlers based in Pakistan were able to monitor Indian security efforts, providing real-time intelligence to the terrorists that prolonged the attack for three days and provided the terrorists with the media exposure they craved. In other words, using readily available commercial technology, the Mumbai terrorists created an effective battlefield communication system.
Intelligence agencies, on the other hand, are often slow to develop the monitoring mechanisms needed for new communications media.
The technical and analytical requirements of monitoring Voice over Internet Protocol, for example, are very different from those needed to monitor photo-sharing sites. Monitoring mechanisms must be grounded in systematic research about how people actually use communications media and how new forms of communication can be monitored.
The development of monitoring mechanisms is a technical issue, distinct from the legal and ethical question of when a nation should monitor electronic communications. However, well-designed monitoring mechanisms can help intelligence agencies operate ethically and within the laws and discern appropriate targets for surveillance from legitimate, legal online activity.
While there are legitimate security needs that require communications companies to provide access to their systems, simply obtaining more data without developing both a process and technology to monitor emerging communications media is a losing proposition even for the most capable intelligence agencies. As new communications technologies proliferate, smarter intelligence strategies are needed to get ahead of terrorists and prevent rather then react to the next attack.
Mr. Subrahmanian is the director and Mr. Mannes is a researcher at the University of Maryland's Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics.Read more at

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Is Obama Muslim? Increasing numbers of Americans think so

Since 2008 there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Americans who say that Obama is Muslim. I note that this is what people are 'saying', especially from the Republican side. Part of me suspects that they probably know what religion Obama is but it is more 'PC' to call him Muslim then black. While I suspect others have been convinced otherwise as this issue is simply not going away and of course by those determined to sway opinion against Obama. All this comes at an interesting time with Obama's remarks regarding the 9/11 mosque site in NYC over the weekend, which in turn may further taint opinion against him of the issue of his religious beliefs. Note also those that would like to see the church keep out of politics, but members of congress should be religious. I would have liked to have seen a poll of what religious beliefs are acceptable for those members to have, but maybe that is being saved for later.


Amplify’d from

A substantial and growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim, while the proportion saying he is a Christian has declined. More than a year and a half into his presidency, a plurality of the public says they do not know what religion Obama follows.

The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers.

The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009).

he survey also finds about half of the public (52%) says that churches should keep out of politics, while 43% say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political questions.
Despite the growing opposition to political involvement on the part of churches, most people continue to say they want political leaders who are religious. About six-in-ten (61%) agree that it is important that members of Congress have strong religious beliefs.Read more at

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Obama and The License to Kill US Citizens

I commented on this earlier this year, that the Obama administration had continued the Bush policy of allowing the killing of US citizens abroad who are allegedly associated with terrorist groups. Now this already distasteful scenario has gotten murkier as the Treasury Department has made it illegal to have lawyers represent these US citizens in court. Imagine the scenario, having been mistakingly been but on the Obama assassination target list, you have no legal way to get your name off, nobody can even try to do it for you. It reads like a bad movie, a plot you would dismiss as too Orwellian, but here we have it. This being the country that started a revolution for having to pay taxes...

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” ~Benjamin Franklin, February 1775


Amplify’d from
A major legal challenge to one of the Obama administration's most radical assertions of executive power began this morning in a federal courthouse in Washington, DC.  Early last month, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights were retained by Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of Obama assassination target (and U.S. citizen) Anwar al-Awlaki, to seek a federal court order restraining the Obama administration from killing his son without due process of law.  But then, a significant and extraordinary problem arose:   regulations promulgated several years ago by the Treasury Department prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with individuals labeled by the Government as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist," and those regulations specifically bar lawyers from providing legal services to such individuals without a special "license" from the Treasury Department specifically allowing such representation.
ACLU, CCR seek to have Obama enjoined from killing Awlaki without due process
A 2008 file photo shows Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.
On July 23, the two groups submitted a request for such a license with the Treasury Department, and when doing so, conveyed the extreme time-urgency involved:  namely, that there is an ongoing governmental effort to kill Awlaki and any delay in granting this "license" could cause him to be killed without these claims being heard by a court.  Despite that, the Treasury Department failed even to respond to the request.
It's also possible that a federal judge will be highly reluctant to restrain the President from targeting alleged Terrorists, or will view the AUMF as constituting Congressional authorization for the President to kill anyone who is allegedly associated with Al Qaeda no matter where they are found (on the ground that the whole world is a "battlefield"), particularly if they're alleged (without proferred evidence) to be involved in ongoing, imminent Terrorist plots
But whatever anyone thinks of those issues, it should offend every American that the Government purports to have the power to ban lawyers from representing citizens without its permission, which (as it's doing here) it can withhold without explanation and in its sole discretion.  Does any American want the Government to have that power with respect to citizens:  to bar lawyers, under the threat of criminal prosecution, from representing you if the Government calls you a Terrorist?  That's the power the Obama administration is asserting and, in this case, actively wielding.  A court will now decide if it has the legal authority to do that, and if the court decides it does not, the next step will be a lawsuit brought on behalf of Awlaki contesting Obama's authority to order American citizens killed without any criminal charges or due process.
The Obama administration should be very proud of itself.Read more at