Updated: 5/16/2006; 2:46:54 PM.

Current events
Post-9-11 events and analyses

daily link  Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Australian: In Iraq's wasteland, total chaos looms: Aussie and British journalists are pessimistic.  "Over the past three days Iraqis have found themselves plunged back into the front lines of a full-scale guerilla war, with the thin-stretched forces of the US-led coalition attempting both to maintain order in Baghdad and to conduct offensive campaigns in rebel cities such as Fallujah.   There have been attacks on American soldiers and Iraqi troops and police as far north as Kirkuk, and in the southern city of Hilla, while Baghdad itself has exploded, with unrest near-continuous in the Sadr City district and the central Haifa Street neighbourhood.

Much of this upsurge stems from the fact that both sides in the fight want to press their advantage now: the Americans so as to prevent a disaster before their presidential elections, the insurgents because they feel they have gained the critical advantage.  This has become clear from the increasingly bold pronouncements by the key figure behind the terror, Musab al-Zarqawi, who has even begun claiming responsibility for attacks through internet statements in his own voice.

Over the past two months, the scale and nature of the unrest has changed. Previously, even at the height of the bombings in Baghdad, there was an improvised feel about the attacks. Many observers now see a more concerted kind of direction to the terror, and the ability of the attackers to move freely is striking. ..

What lies behind the bleak picture is a catastrophic failure of intelligence – one so deep as to cast doubt on the viability of the US-backed Baghdad Government.  US and Iraqi forces and their coalition allies neither know where the next attacks against their interests will fall, nor who is conducting them – nor who is carrying out the hostage-kidnapping operations. The Allawi Government has been alternately trying to stifle its enemies and to reach out to them with offers of ceasefires and local deals.

According to Middle Eastern intelligence websites and Western officials, one of the central initiatives of the Baghdad Government and the US, aimed at stopping the conflict in the Sunni triangle around Fallujah, has just foundered after prolonged negotiations. The aim had been to broker a peace deal with Sunni rebels and prominent figures from the old Baathist regime. Extensive talks progressed on several fronts but collapsed over Sunni demands for more power in the Baghdad Government. The murky security climate is matched by constant political infighting in the capital, where Western diplomats are becoming frankly pessimistic about the capacity of the present Government to keep the country together. "

and, Autumn in Iraq, when death grows on trees: "Against this sound and fury, pro-war critics complain that good news is being ignored, and they are right. So, too, is a lot of bad news. Kidnapping, looting, criminal opportunism and xenophobia make it simply too dangerous for Western journalists to visit many areas. 

As recently as last (northern) spring we could travel relatively freely throughout Iraq, even to hotbeds of Sunni resistance such as Fallujah or Ramadi. We could eat in Baghdad's restaurants and shop in its markets. We lived in a suburban house until the day we received death threats. Today, we live in fortified hotels and move around the capital with extreme caution.  A year ago every fatal attack on coalition forces, or suicide bomb, made news. Today they are so common we report only the really big ones.

Diplomats and officials remain as upbeat as they can. One thing on which everyone agrees is that, in the skeleton that holds Iraq together, the security bone is connected to the election bone, the election bone is connected to the legitimacy bone and the legitimacy bone connects right back to the security bone. "

  11:55:53 PM  permalink  

The Man in the Snow White Cell: Interesting short history of the interrogation and torture of a key prisoner in the Vietnam War.  9:14:44 AM  permalink  

A Model for When Disclosure Helps Security: "Open Source and encryption [communities] view that revealing the details of a system will actually tend to improve security, notably due to peer review. In sharp contrast, a famous World War II slogan says loose lips sink ships. Most experts in the military and intelligence areas believe that secrecy is a critical tool for maintaining security ..  this Article provides the first systematic explanation of how to decide when disclosure improves security, both for physical- and cyber-security settings..

many computer and network security problems appear different from the traditional security problems of the physical world. The analysis focuses on the nature of the first-time attack or the degree of what the paper calls uniqueness in the defense. Many defensive tricks, including secrecy, are more effective the first time there is an attack on a physical base or computer system. Secrecy is far less effective, however, if the attackers can probe the defenses repeatedly and learn from those probes. It turns out that many of the key areas of computer security involve circumstances where there can be repeated, low-cost attacks. For instance, firewalls, mass-market software, and encryption algorithms all can be attacked repeatedly by hackers. Under such circumstances, a strategy of secrecy - of security through obscurity - is less likely to be effective than for the military case."  It seems to me this model also applies to many types of public facilities where probes and attacks can be rehearsed.

  8:53:47 AM  permalink  

BRUCE SCHNEIER on the no-fly list: "Imagine a list of suspected terrorists so dangerous that we can't ever let them fly, yet so innocent that we can't arrest them - even under the draconian provisions of the Patriot Act. This is the federal government's "no-fly" list. First circulated in the weeks after 9/11 as a counterterrorism tool, its details are shrouded in secrecy.  .. It has been a complete failure, and has not been responsible for a single terrorist arrest anywhere. ..

People can be put on the list for any reason; no standards exist. There's no ability to review any evidence against you, or even confirm that you are actually on the list. ..
security is always a trade-off .. the problem is that the no-fly list doesn't protect us from terrorism. It's not just that terrorists are not stupid enough to fly under recognized names. It's that the very problems with the list that make it such an affront to civil liberties also make it less effective as a counterterrorist tool. ..

Any watch list where it's easy to put names on and difficult to take names off will quickly fill with false positives. These false positives eventually overwhelm any real information on the list, and soon the list does no more than flag innocents - which is what we see happening today, and why the list hasn't resulted in any arrests. .. Watch lists can be good security, but they need to be implemented properly. It should be harder than it currently is to add names to the list. It should be possible to add names to the list for short periods. It should be easy to take names off the list, and to add qualifiers to the list. There needs to be a legal appeals process for people on the list who want to clear their name. For a watch list to be a part of good security, there needs to be a notion of maintaining the list.

This isn't new, and this isn't hard. The police deal with this problem all the time, and they do it well. We do worse identifying a potential terrorist than the police do identifying crime suspects. Imagine if all the police did when having a witness identify a suspect is ask whether the names "sound about right"? No suspect picture book. No lineup."

  8:38:09 AM  permalink  

Vote Drives Gain Avid Attention of Youth in '04: "After dismal turnout by young voters in 2000, surveys this year show that interest in the election among the young is near the highest level it has reached at any time since 18- to 20-year-olds were given the vote in 1972. And state election officials say registration of new young voters is coming in at levels they have not seen in years.

Over 30 years, there has been a steady decline in youth turnout, with one big uptick, in 1992. The last presidential election featured a particularly low showing for those 18 to 24 - just 37 percent voted, compared with 64 percent for those 25 or older, surveys of voters leaving the polls say...

The pool of potential young voters is substantial - about 40.6 million Americans ages 18 to 29, or one in five eligible voters .. larger by 25 percent than the generation that preceded them..

Young voters, who split evenly between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush in 2000, are also notoriously fickle, according to those who study them... Young voters flocked to Ronald Reagan. In 1992 - the year of Bill Clinton's "boxers or briefs" answer in a youth voter forum - they swung to Democrats. In 1996, Mr. Clinton beat Bob Dole among young voters by nearly 20 percentage points."

  8:04:54 AM  permalink  

Slippage of control in Iraq makes a mockery of power hand-over: "To see how the situation has deteriorated one only needs to be reminded of the bullish confidence of coalition commanders in Iraq a year ago. Back then reporters were admonished if they talked of "no-go zones": the coalition presence, and with it the rule of law, extended to every corner of the country.   Nowadays, by comparison, even British troops in the relatively quiet southern sector have all but conceded certain hostile towns.

The prospect of a "super rogue state", as raised in recent days by Iraq’s new UN ambassador Samir Sum-aida'ie, is no longer a distant nightmare but an approaching possibility.

Alas, it is no use expecting "ordinary Iraqis" - the God-fearing, Saddam-hating, violence-abhorring majority to whom the coalition constantly appeals - to rally round to stop the worst-case scenarios unfolding.  As the falls of Fallujah, Najaf and Samarrah have shown, Iraqis’ popular support - explicit, tacit or otherwise - tends to go to whoever wields the biggest sticks in town.  For the first year after the fall of Saddam, that pretty much meant the United States Army.  Now, however, as the half-way point of year two approaches, it is a role that is increasingly up for grabs."  12:48:15 AM  permalink  

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Copyright 2006 © Ken Novak.
Last update: 5/16/2006; 2:46:54 PM.