AMU Intelligence

Global Security Brief: 4-24-08

A daily, open source, around the world tour of international security-related news.
By Professor Joseph B. Varner

Global War on Terror
Pakistan has protested to NATO and Afghan authorities over a skirmish that killed at least nine people. In a pre-dawn battle Wednesday, militants attacked an Afghan border post across from Pakistan’s Bajur tribal area. During the melee, Pakistani and Afghan troops also traded fire. A Pakistani soldier and at least eight suspected militants died. On Thursday, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said NATO forces provided small arms fire and air support to Afghan forces. Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq has said NATO and Afghan forces were told not to repeat such incidents. (Source: AP)

Pakistan’s government is reportedly seeking a peace deal with the tribe of a Taliban commander suspected in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Zahid Khan, a senior official in one of the parties of the ruling coalition, said government envoys were in talks with elders of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. The tribe includes Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s top Taliban leader who is accused of ties to Al Qaeda. Mehsud is wanted for a string of suicide attacks in Pakistan. The previous government has accused him of Bhutto’s assassination in December. Mehsud has reportedly denied involvement and Bhutto’s party has not repeated the assertion. (Source: AP)

Four men jailed for life for their part in attempted suicide bombings in London in July 2005 had their appeal bids turned down on Wednesday after the judge branded their crimes “merciless.” The men, who were sentenced each to spend at least 40 years behind bars for a plot to bomb three underground trains and a bus two weeks after 52 people were killed in similar attacks, argued they had merely been taking part in an elaborate hoax. (Source: Reuters)

Fifteen terrorist plots have been foiled in the three years since the London bombings, Bob Quick, Scotland Yard’s new head of anti-terrorism, has disclosed. Britain was said to be the primary target for Muslim extremists, ahead of America and other European countries. (Source: Telegraph-UK)

U.S. Federal prosecutors announced Wednesday that they will try for the third time to convict six men accused of plotting to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower and attack other buildings. In arguing for a new trial, prosecuting attorney Richard Gregorie pointed to taped conversations obtained by the FBI in which the leader of the “Liberty City Seven,” Narseal Batiste, made threatening comments about citizens of the United States. The defendants, of whom six remain under threat of prosecution, were arrested June 23, 2006, at a warehouse in Miami’s low-income Liberty City neighborhood, where FBI informants posing as Al Qaeda operatives persuaded the men to pledge an allegiance to the terrorist organization and offered them $50,000 to take part in a terror plot. Among the activities some the men engaged in were taking pictures of federal buildings around Miami. During both of the previous trials, Batiste testified that he and his followers agreed to the informants’ proposal only because they thought they could con them out of the money. (Source: Washington Post)

According to a CIA official’s statement in court documents filed yesterday the CIA concluded that criminal, administrative or civil investigations stemming from harsh interrogation tactics were “virtually inevitable,” leading the agency to seek legal support from the Justice Department. The CIA said it had identified more than 7,000 pages of classified memos, e-mails and other records relating to its secret prison and interrogation program, but maintained that the materials cannot be released because they relate to, in part, communications between CIA and Justice Department attorneys or discussions with the White House. (Source: Washington Post)

Britain’s Foreign Secretary held talks Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as at least 13 people were reported killed in the ongoing fighting between Shiite militiamen and Iraqi and U.S.-led forces. The British Embassy confirmed that Foreign Secretary David Miliband had arrived on a previously unannounced visit but refused to release any other information due to security concerns. Britain has about 4,500 troops in Iraq, most of them based at an airport camp near the southern city of Basra. Britain suspended plans to withdraw about 1,500 troops this spring after fighting broke out last month between Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen. (Source: AP)

Iraqi security forces claim they have captured Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the Vice-Chairman of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party. Duri tops the Iraqi government’s current list of most-wanted fugitives and is considered an operational leader with close ties to anti-U.S. insurgents. In remarks to the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat published on Wednesday, Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie said Duri was in Syria from where he led the insurgency in Iraq. (Source: Telegraph-UK)

In the latest clashes, five people died and 28 were wounded early Thursday in Baghdad’s embattled Sadr City district, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. (Source: AP)

Another eight people were killed and two wounded during fighting in the capital’s Husseiniyah area, another base of Shiite militants. (Source: AP)

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said Thursday that two of its soldiers were killed in an accident in Salahuddin province when their vehicle rolled onto its side. (Source: AP)

Another American soldier died in a single-vehicle accident on a highway in neighboring Kuwait. A soldier was injured in the crash. (Source: AP)

Coalition forces have reported Iran may be supplying medium-range rockets to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. On April 19, Iraqi troops, as part of Operation Charge of the Knights, discovered a cache of munitions that included a 240 mm high-explosive warhead in Basra. The warhead, which contained Iranian markings, was said to be the most advanced weapon found in the possession of the Mahdi Army. Officials said the warhead appeared to be part of the Fajr-5 medium-range rocket produced by Iran and transferred to Hizbullah in 2006. So far, they said, Shi’ite militias were not believed to have fired a 240 mm rocket in Iraq. Other weapons found in the Shi’ite militia cache in Basra included 160 mortars, 25 artillery shells and a large quantity of explosives. Officials said the weapons contained Iranian markings and appeared less than a year old. Officials said Teheran was believed to have supplied missiles with a range of at least 70 kilometers to the Mahdi Army, Special Groups and other militias in 2008. They said the rockets were meant to be used against the U.S.-led coalition and Baghdad government. (Source: World Tribune)

The United States
The case of an 84-year-old New Jersey man charged with passing secrets to an Israeli agent a quarter-century ago has created speculation that more Americans may have been serving Israeli intelligence than previously thought. Jonathan Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, was arrested by FBI agents in Washington D.C. in 1985 and pleaded guilty to spying charges, receiving a life sentence. Now, retired U.S. military engineer Ben-ami Kadish faces similar charges. The link between Pollard and Kadish is a now-defunct Israeli intelligence agency enigmatically known as the Scientific Relations Office. The office was run by Rafi Eitan, a former officer of the Mossad spy agency who is now an octogenarian Israeli Cabinet minister in charge of pensioners’ affairs. Kadish and Pollard allegedly had the same handler, Yosef Yagur, “an intelligence agent under diplomatic cover” serving as an attache in Israel’s New York consulate but covertly attached to Eitan’s office. Yagur is now retired and lives in Tel Aviv. (Source: AP)

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Aryeh Mekel said Wednesday that “Since 1985, the prime ministers’ orders to refrain from engaging in this kind of activity (espionage) have been strictly followed. The U.S.-Israel relationship has always been premised on true friendship as well as shared values and interests.” (Source: Ynet News)

Several U.S. officials have downplayed the arrest of a former U.S. army engineer on charges he spied for Israel, and suggested fears of blowback are unjustified. They pointed to the lengthy amount of time, 23 years, since the espionage is alleged to have occurred and the understandings that emerged between the two states after the arrest of Jonathan Pollard. Bruce Reidel, a former CIA official and Middle East analyst, said, “given the passage of time, I think both governments will not want this to upset the already many difficult issues they have to deal with.” (Source: Jerusalem Post)

General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, was tapped Wednesday to lead U.S. Central Command in a major shift in the military command at a time of growing tensions with Iran. (Source: AFP)

The U.S. Defense Department said it has appointed a new head of the Air Force Materiel Command. After a nomination by President George Bush, Defense Department officials announced that Lieutenant General Donald Hoffman has been named to the spot. Hoffman is currently serving as a military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Air Force Secretary for Acquisition at the Pentagon. (Source: UPI)

General Michael V. Hayden, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, announced Wednesday that he would retire from the Air Force this summer but continue running the agency as a civilian. (Source: New York Times)

Speaking to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey offered praise for the successful efforts by Robert F. Kennedy decades ago to break the back of the Italian American mafia but told listeners that the current threat from international syndicates poses even greater challenges. (Source: Washington Post)

Britain is reportedly circulating a draft UN resolution calling for the United Nations to move its Somalia political operation to the conflict-wracked nation, step up efforts to restore peace, and keep planning for a UN takeover of peacekeeping from the African Union. (Source: AP)

State media said on Wednesday that a unity government led by President Robert Mugabe may be the best way to break Zimbabwe’s post-election deadlock as the first result from a recount of votes was declared. (Source: AFP)

A shipment of weapons meant for Zimbabwe but which neighboring countries refused entry to will return to China because there was no way to deliver it to the landlocked country in political turmoil, China’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday. The shipment, including mortar grenades and bullets, was to arrive amid a standoff in Zimbabwe over elections held more than three weeks ago. (Source: AP)

Children in flood hit Tanzania face greater danger from the deadliest disease in Sub Saharan Africa, as the rest of the globe prepares to mark the first ever World Malaria Day. Forced to flee the floods, leaving behind their homes, livelihoods and possessions, Tanzanian children are now returning to an increased threat from the Sub Saharan serial killer, malaria. Receding waters have left stagnant pools, which act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Plan, the leading international children’s organization is the only international NGO to have responded providing bed nets and other emergency relief to the worst affected families. (Source: Reuters)

Denmark has invited high-ranking officials from Norway, Russia, the United States and Canada to meet in Greenland next month to discuss competing claims to the Arctic, it said on Wednesday. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller and his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Stoere will join representatives from other countries bordering the Arctic Ocean on May 27-29 in Ilulissat, a town in the Danish autonomous territory. The countries plan to discuss territorial claims in the Arctic, as well as cooperation on accidents and oil spills and native peoples’ issues, the Danish Foreign Ministry said. They expect to issue a declaration at the end of the meeting. (Source: National Post)

The Bush administration said Wednesday it was tentatively planning to sell Canada six Boeing Co CH-47D heavy-lift transport helicopters that could boost the ability to operate together in the U.S.-declared global war on terrorism. The proposed sale, including 12 Honeywell International Inc (HON.N: Quote, Profile, Research) T-55 turbine engines, plus two spare engines and related gear, could be worth up to $375 million if all options are exercised, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice to Congress. (Source: Reuters)

A chorus of anti-U.S. leftist Latin American leaders issued a strong show of support Wednesday for Bolivia where the government believes it is threatened by a breakaway bid from wealthy regions. President Evo Morales faces a referendum vote May 4 on regional autonomy, sought by the relatively prosperous eastern regions of his impoverished nation, South America’s poorest. Those regions largely oppose La Paz’s socialist policies. Chavez called Wednesday’s urgent summit meeting of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a regional group set up to counter U.S. trade and diplomatic efforts in the region. The group includes Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Dominica. (Source: AFP)

Lawmakers in Haiti are urging President Rene Preval to name a new prime minister by the end of the week, after several days without a head of government following the forced exit of Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis. (Source: AFP)

The death toll from a dengue outbreak in Rio de Janeiro state has reached 92, topping what was previously the state’s deadliest bout with the disease, Brazil’s government news agency said Wednesday. (Source: AP)

It was reported that Brazil’s discoveries of what may be two of the world’s three biggest oil finds in the past 30 years could help end the Western Hemisphere’s reliance on Middle East crude. Saudi Arabia’s influence as the biggest oil exporter would wane if the fields are as big as advertised, and China and India would become dominant buyers of Persian Gulf oil, said Peter Zeihan, Vice President of analysis at Strategic Forecasting in Austin, Texas. Zeihan said Brazil may be pumping several million barrels of crude daily by 2020, vaulting the nation into the ranks of the world’s seven biggest producers. (Source: Bloomberg)

North Korea expressed optimism Thursday over talks this week with a U.S. delegation on its nuclear program, raising hopes of breaking the impasse that has deadlocked arms negotiations. The nuclear talks have been mired since last year over what the North will include in a declaration of its nuclear programs. The communist nation missed a year-end deadline to complete the declaration, which it had agreed to provide to the other countries in the negotiations. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday it had discussed technical matters with the Americans for moving forward on that and other agreements from the arms talks. (Source: AP)

A French lawyer known for his provocative style and infamous clients has taken center stage at the tribunal for Cambodia’s former Khmer Rouge leaders, challenging the judges and adding to the woes of an already troubled court. The aggressive stance taken by Jacques Verges at an appeal by former Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan for release from pretrial detention augurs possible new hurdles for the tribunal, plagued over the past few years by political wrangling, corruption scandals and inadequate financing. (Source: AP)

Indonesia does not want money for its samples of a deadly bird flu virus, a health official said Wednesday after the U.S. criticized his country for refusing to share the samples with the international community. (Source: AP)

Former communist rebels won the most seats in Nepal’s new governing assembly, taking more than double the number of their nearest rival, an election official said Thursday.
The former insurgents, known as the Maoists, are now expected to form the backbone of Nepal’s new government and usher in sweeping changes to the impoverished Himalayan nation, although they will not have an absolute majority in the 601-seat Constituent Assembly. Among the biggest likely changes is the expected abolition of Nepal’s 239-year-old monarchy, which the Maoists have repeatedly said must go. (Source: AP)

Tamil Tiger rebels and Sri Lankan troops fought one of their fiercest battles in years Wednesday, battering each other with small arms and mortars in a confrontation that the military said killed 100 guerrillas and left 76 soldiers dead or missing. The rebels claimed they killed more than 100 soldiers and lost only 16 of their fighters in a 10-hour firefight they characterized as a rout of the heavily armed government forces. Either way, the battle was a serious blow to the government’s promise to capture the Tamil Tigers’ de facto state in the north, crush the rebel group, and end the 25-year-old civil war in this Indian Ocean island nation by the end of the year. The military said fighting broke out just before dawn when rebel forces overran government positions in the rugged Muhamalai region of the Jaffna peninsula, north of rebel-held territory.

Government troops fought back with small arms, mortars and tanks, eventually driving off the assault and launching a counteroffensive that pushed 500 yards into Tamil Tiger territory. Soon after the ground fighting, air force jets and helicopters destroyed two rebel artillery positions and hit rebel bunkers in the area, the military said in a statement. The military initially said 15 soldiers died, but later increased that toll to 38. By early Thursday, it said 43 were dead, 33 were missing and 120 were wounded. The toll was the worst suffered by the military in months and would make it one of their deadliest battles since renewed fighting started here more than two years ago. Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said the rebels counted more than 100 dead soldiers and about 500 wounded troops. Both sides routinely inflate casualty figures for the other side and underreport their own losses. (Source: AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his predecessor Boris Yeltsin for bringing freedom to Russia, as he attended a graveside ceremony on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of Yeltsin’s death. Putin’s critics accuse him of betraying Yeltsin’s legacy by rolling back democratic freedoms, concentrating too much power in his hands and restoring many of the attributes of the Soviet Union that Yeltsin helped overturn. In a symbolic moment at the memorial ceremony, a military band played a few bars of the national anthem introduced by Yeltsin, then switched to the Soviet melody that Putin reinstated as Russia’s official anthem. (Source: Reuters)

Russia has rejected a call by key Western powers to rescind its plan to strengthen ties with two breakaway Georgian regions, insisting it only wants to promote their economic development and not annex them. Diplomats from the United States, Britain, France and Germany, who are supporters of Georgia, said they were “highly concerned” about Russia’s strengthened ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia said Wednesday it would not change its plans. Tensions between Russia and Georgia have escalated over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have close ties to Moscow and have been independently run since the early 1990s, when fighting with Georgian troops ended. Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze said his government has seen “very alarming signs of creeping annexation” of the two regions by Russia. In the latest incident, Georgia claimed a Russian fighter jet shot down an unmanned Georgian spy plane Sunday as it flew over Abkhazia, a claim Moscow denies. Georgia asked for a UN Security Council meeting following the incident and Bakradze flew to New York to put the country’s case before its members. Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin lamented that a representative of Abkhazia was not invited to address the council as well. (Source: AP)

Middle East
A letter that President Bush is reported to have personally delivered to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four years ago has emerged as a significant obstacle to President Bush’s efforts to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians during his last year in office. Ehud Olmert, the current Israeli Prime Minister, said this week that Bush’s letter gave the Jewish state permission to expand the West Bank settlements that it hopes to retain in a final peace deal, even though Bush’s peace plan officially calls for a freeze of Israeli settlements. In an interview this week, Sharon’s Chief of Staff, Dov Weissglas, said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed this understanding in a secret agreement reached between Israel and the U.S. in the spring of 2005, just before Israel withdrew from Gaza.

In a key sentence in Bush’s 2004 letter, the President stated, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Weissglas said he then negotiated a “verbal understanding” with Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams that would permit new construction in those key settlements; Rice and Sharon then approved the Weissglas-Abrams deal. U.S. officials have said no such agreement exists, and in recent months Rice has publicly criticized construction on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which Israel does not officially count as settlements. National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, at a news briefing in January, suggested that Bush’s 2004 letter was aimed at helping Sharon win domestic approval for the Gaza withdrawal. (Source: Washington Post)

Israel Thursday accused Hamas of causing a “fabricated crisis” by refusing to distribute one million liters of fuel delivered to Gaza. Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said the million liters of fuel, which he said was enough for humanitarian needs, that Israel transferred three weeks ago, is still waiting to be collected on the Palestinian side of the Nahal Oz fuel crossing terminal.Gaza residents said Hamas officials have taken fuel for their own purposes and given it to high-ranking officials, government employees and its own students, but has not distributed the remainder to the population at large. (Source: M&C)

The White House is reportedly preparing to make public on Thursday video evidence of North Koreans working at a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor just before it was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on September 6. Senior officials in Israel and the U.S. have said the target was a nascent nuclear reactor that had been under construction for years, modeled on the reactor North Korea used to obtain the fuel for its small nuclear weapons arsenal. The video, believed to have been obtained through Israeli intelligence services, shows Korean faces among the workers at the Syrian plant. (Source: New York Times)

Sources familiar with the video, taken last summer, said that it shows that the Syrian reactor core’s design is the same as that of the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon, including a virtually identical configuration and number of holes for fuel rods. (Source: Washington Post)

Peace overtures between Israel and Syria moved up a gear on Wednesday when a Syrian cabinet minister said that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel had sent a message to President Bashar al-Assad to the effect that Israel would be willing to withdraw from all the Golan Heights in return for peace with Syria. (Source: New York Times)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Monday for the disarmament of Hizbullah’s well-armed militia. In his six-month report to the Security Council, Ban warned that Lebanon will not be a fully sovereign, democratic state until Hizbullah is disbanded. (Source: AP/USA Today)

In the report Ban also warned that “Palestinian refugee camps continue to pose a major challenge to stability and security in Lebanon, in particular due to the presence of a range of non-state actors in the camps. I remain concerned that threats from al-Qaeda-inspired militias in Palestinian refugee camps continue.” (Source: Daily Star-Lebanon)

The U.S., France and Britain walked out of a UN Security Council debate on the Middle East on Wednesday after Libya compared the situation in Gaza to that of Nazi “concentration camps.” French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert plucked off his translation earpiece and walked out, followed by his two colleagues, after Libyan Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi made the statement. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

Iran has been kicked out of an international defense show in Malaysia for exhibiting missile equipment in violation of UN rules. Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said Iranian companies were ordered out of the Defense Services Asia show Tuesday because their exhibition was deemed “offensive.” Najib said the exhibit was in defiance of UN resolutions that ban Iranian arms exports and forbid countries from providing Iran with technical and financial assistance that could contribute to its alleged nuclear weapons program. Iran is under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and meet other council demands designed to ease fears that its civilian nuclear program is a cover for attempts to make atomic weapons. (Source: AP)

Joe Varner is Assistant Professor and Program Manager for Homeland Security at American Military University.

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