No SpaghettiO’s for you, Kim Jong Un

Why the most recent temper tantrum of the explosive young dictator of North Korea is not a big deal, and why he still won’t be getting what he wants

Kim Jong Un

By Tedumas (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

You can keep screaming and kicking. Hell, cry your heart out and shout at the top of your lungs until an avalanche erupts on Mount Everest. You still won’t get what you want.

For the past month now, Kim Jong Un has been floundering in his own seething anger as he continues to drag out his usual outlandish temper tantrum akin to one thrown by a child over a can of SpaghettiO’s in the canned foods section of the supermarket. Desperate for attention, the dictatorial tyrant has spewed yet another nuclear threat at the annual Foal Eagle military exercises between the United States and South Korea that he disapproves of so immensely. Consequently, two DPRK mid-range ballistic missiles originating from Pyongyang soared overseas for about a few hundred kilometers before plummeting into the ocean. This outburst takes place as the leaders of the U.S. and South Korea met with the president of Japan at the Hague,

Well, Mr. Kim, you’ve certainly grabbed the attention you were seeking. With unusual haste, the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday emerging with a unanimous condemnation of the missile launches. The Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee is also investigating the possibility of expanding the U.N. blacklist to encompass more North Korean nuclear entities in addition to those already listed, although it will most likely take several weeks for an agreement on the action to be reached.

While South Korea, the United States, and the UN are interpreting his most recent antics as an international threat, this seems little more than another one of Kim’s outlandish outbursts of inconsequential aggression that will quickly blow over as Foal Eagle operations approach their close in April. One may recall last year’s Foal Eagle operations when Kim publicized threats of hurling nuclear missiles at the United States in retaliation to its warm relations with the South. To this threat, Washington responded by hurriedly deploying a series of missile interceptors to Guam, complementing those already stationed at Fort Greely, Alaska. But this action was intended only to warn North Korea that the United States is certainly capable of matching its bombastic rhetoric. Needless to say, no defensive action was necessary as Foal Eagle activities came and went without any intervention from the ballistic dictator. This year’s scenario is a carbon copy; we can safely assume that Kim’s most recent threats are as hollow as ever.

Unless Kim’s threatening actions transcend mere intimidation, we know well enough that there is no real threat at hand here. Each year, North Korea becomes enraged by these annual military drills ensuing in the South, and each year reacts with threats of nuclear action that dwindle to oblivion with the culmination of the exercises. Although it is estimated that the missiles launched Wednesday are capable of being launched to Japan, Pyongyang will stop short of sending the missiles over the Japanese islands. Moreover, everyone knows that even Psy’s “Gangnam Style” has more hits than North Korea’s faulty missiles ever will. So no need to take cover from the illusory war threat – Kim will surely simmer down as the coming weeks pass.

Is it worth considering that perhaps the troublesome leader has some new antics up his sleeve? Every year, there is the possibility that if Kim does not elicit the immediate reaction he wants from his enemies, he may attempt to launch a small-scale ground attack against the South. Knowing very well from previous tantrums that the playpen fence barring him from South Korea is far too strong to tackle, Kim may try throwing the ball over this time. What that ball would be – a missile, propaganda balloon, etc. – is anybody’s’ guess.

Even still, it is highly unlikely that Kim will match his rhetoric with reality. The plan is an ugly backfire waiting to happen. Chances that North Korea’s actions would be met with a response of equal nuclear force from the international community are slim to none. So the way that I look at it, as Kim’s outlandish pouting and grumpy attitude drags on, there are really only two options that the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, and the U.N. can take; these states can either look past his tantrums and troubling rhetoric or, in the case that North Korea does end up pursuing a ballistic strike, take military action forcing Kim into a timeout.

Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear capacity remains limited. The world will most likely yet again witness the disappearance of North Korea’s meandering threats with the culmination of Foal Eagle in early April. The annual military exercises will continue, despite Kim’s belligerent disapproval. The most to take away from this entire situation is that the only “explosive” thing at play here is Kim’s infantile temperament. We’ve seen this childish temper tantrum erupt and wane one too many times already. So stop banging your fists and causing a scene, Kim – you’re still not getting your SpaghettiO’s.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

How the Internet Works and Why the Answer is Alarming

A map of the global oceanic telecommunications network. Potential vulnerabilities of the Internet’s physical infrastructure are extensive and largely unknown. (Wikimedia Commons/Rarelibra)

Where does the Internet come from?

Think about this question for a moment. While the answer may seem obvious, the John Q. Public will likely stumble through an explanation of satellite technology and “Wi-Fi clouds” as though the Internet were some fantastical intangibility. In a way it is; the Internet is a remarkable human invention – used by 81% of Americans on a daily basis – yet our understanding is remarkably limited. This je ne sais pas quoi that makes the world go round is in fact a physical architecture; 500,000 miles of undersea fiber-optic cables connect the US and Singapore, Egypt and Brazil, Japan and India. These cables, which carry 90% of Internet data around the world, are vulnerable.

How do these cables work? On a micro scale, the email you send from a coffee shop in San Francisco to your colleague in Beijing travels overland to an Internet exchange facility operated by a telecommunications company, then through their facility, across the Pacific Ocean in two-inch fiber-optic cable laid along the ocean floor, out through another exchange facility in Shanghai, and overland to your colleague’s computer. And by the way, minute strands of glass carrying data via light at different wavelengths transmit that very email. For the technologically naïve, the process of sending an email certainly is magical, but it is also tangible.

What are probable threats to the cable system?

(1) Natural disasters. One would think that telecommunication cables are secure; however, the vast majority of cables lie on the ocean floor, exposed to everything from shark bites to cyclones. In 2006, an underwater landslide between Taiwan and the Philippines inflicted damage on 19 of 20 nearby cables. 90% of the region’s Internet capacity was cut for a period ranging from one to thirty days.

(2) Accidents. The most common cause of cable damage is an accident. For instance, fishing vessels often rip lines when removing cages and nets. Larger vessels slice cables with their anchors, accounting for 70% of all incidents. However, even the most innocent damaging of a cable can have major ramifications. For instance, a 75-year-old woman in Georgia (the country) severed an underground Internet cable while digging for copper in her backyard. The result? The entire state of Armenia was without Internet for five hours.

(3) Attack on the underwater cables. The image of an Al-Qaeda operative in scuba gear cutting wires off the shores of New York City is as fantastical as it is frightening. The cables transmit such high voltage that an attempt to snip the cable with wire cutters would be suicidal. However, the threat of a terrorist attack on cables is still very real. Terrorists could drag a ship’s anchor, deploy a bomb, or use some other means to impair the cables. The location of every cable is publicly available information (because ships and fishermen need to know where not to drop anchor), and thus targeting the cables becomes a matter of creativity and execution.

(4) Attack on the exchange facility. Cables typically emerge from the ocean at private telecommunication exchange facilities, which, despite being heavily guarded, are vulnerable to attacks. For instance, Verizon Terremark’s headquarters in Miami contain 90% of the telecommunication cables between North and Latin America, servers for Facebook and the US Department of Defense, and vital infrastructure for global financial transactions. Were Terremark’s facilities to be compromised, everything from your bank account to US national security would be threatened. In short, global operations on a micro and macro scale would be compromised.

Left: The New York Stock Exchange. (Kevin Hutchinson/Wikimedia Commons) Right: A Google server facility (Sivaserver/Creative Commons). An attack on the Internet’s physical infrastructure affecting either system would have disastrous global consequences.

Left: The New York Stock Exchange. (Kevin Hutchinson/Wikimedia Commons) Right: A Google server facility (Sivaserver/Creative Commons). An attack on the Internet’s physical infrastructure affecting either system would have disastrous global consequences.

How can American Internet security be bolstered?

Shortly after his first inauguration, President Obama highlighted the potential risks of a web-operated world: “America’s economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity. And this is also a matter of public safety and national security. We count on computer networks to deliver our oil and gas, our power and our water. We rely on them for public transportation and air traffic control. Yet we know that cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid and that in other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness.”

An attack on oceanic cables could cripple infrastructure and threaten national security plunging the nation into darkness. So how can the US limit attacks? For one, the US must increase cyber security funding in both the physical and network dimensions of the Internet system. The US government is aware of threats of cyber attacks, such as malware infiltrating nuclear facilities or worms penetrating electrical infrastructure. However, physical attacks, though less likely, could be far more damaging. Thus, the protection of cables must be a priority, and at least the partial responsibility, of the US security community rather than private telecommunication companies. Second, redundancy of the cable system will limit the potency of any terrorist attack. Currently, when one cable is severed, telecommunications are routed around the crippled zone. Though Internet service may be delayed, the global system remains fully operational. At certain “choke points” throughout the world, such as near the Suez Canal where only three cables connect the Mediterranean to East Africa and South Asia, a series of cable breaks would be catastrophic. Thus, greater cable redundancy across a variety of geographic zones is imperative in an effort to eliminate the “choke point” threat.

In sum, the US government must pay greater attention to physical Internet security. As it stands now, an enemy with a boat may be the greatest single threat facing domestic – and global – operations.

A Look Back at Snowden in the Press

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland

NSA HQ, Fort Meade, Maryland. NSA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a worthwhile thought exercise: considering China and the United States only, which state’s media would be the most aggressive in criticizing a foreign government for suppressing individual liberty and stifling free domestic press coverage? Before the Edward Snowden case, the United States would likely be the answer. Interestingly when articles from China Daily, People’s Daily, and New York Times are examined, a distinctly different narrative emerges. The Snowden Case has provided the Chinese media with a golden opportunity to champion individual liberties and criticize US surveillance policies. Conversely, the US press coverage has been more reactionary, framing the Snowden case as a statist US-China confrontation rather than a domestic political debate gone global.

The reaction of the Chinese press has focused on the controversial NSA policies illuminated by the Snowden files; US press coverage instead covered the reactions of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments’. “Surveillance programs reveal U.S. hypocrisy,” reads the headline of a June 14, 2013 article from the People’s Daily – the word “hypocrisy” is borrowed from a Snowden quote referenced in the article. Calling for a “serious self-examination” of US government policies vis-à-vis the NSA, the article deftly uses American voices to construct its argument citing comments from The New Yorker and USA Today. This stands in diametric opposition to comments from the American press that automatically regard Chinese press criticisms of American policies as party-line rhetoric, or as New York Times columnist Joe Nocera writes “another classic response.”

The dichotomy should be clear; Chinese media emphasizes the theme of liberty and ethics while US coverage of Snowden attempts to shift the debate to one of security. Nocera’s piece addresses the problem of US cyber espionage policy linking it to China’s own cyber espionage programs noting that the Snowden scandal will make it “far more difficult to force the Chinese to get serious about sopping their own hacking.” This commentary remains firmly grounded in the ideological camp which condones hacking behavior. Chen Wiehua of the China Daily takes a far more comprehensive view asking:

In the US, (…), the discussion in the mainstream media is often limited to whether the surveillance program has violated US citizen’s rights. Very few seem to question whether such invasive surveillance programs on governments, institutions and citizens of other countries are legal or, for that matter, ethical.

Mr. Wiehua’s article presents solid evidence to back this claim; evidence that is noticeably absent in Nocera’s discussion. Meanwhile, the US media response underscores the vast gulf in tone and substance between Chinese and American reporting surrounding the Snowden case. Indeed, rather than addressing the criticisms raised by their Chinese press, an article in the New York Times simply dismissed the Chinese media response as “snide.”

While both the US and Chinese press considered the Snowden imbroglio within the US-China diplomatic frame, US commentary has consistently played up a confrontational tone between the two states. The Chinese media response has not been beyond reproach in all areas. In fact, the Chinese have overlooked their cyber espionage capabilities by waving the bloody shirt noting, “the United States has a matchless superiority and ability to launch cyber attacks around the globe.” Fact: the United States has met its cyber match with China. Regardless, press coverage on both sides viewed the governments as having a monopoly on decision-making power.

The Snowden Case has provided the Chinese media with the rare opportunity to levy ethical, moral, and policy criticisms against the United States. It is disheartening to see that the Snowden coverage in major American newspapers lacks the moment of national self-reflection that Snowden likely hoped to unleash by releasing the NSA files. Both China and the United States carry a clear policy bias, however, coverage of the Snowden case gets at the broader theme of how globalization does guarantee that no two international takes on one story are the same.

A Response to the Pentagon’s Arctic Strategy

Last month, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued an “Arctic Strategy” white paper along with a positioning statement by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Major newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times ran stories summarizing the strategy, but the authors of this response feel that those analyses lacked context and stake. The Pentagon release on an Arctic strategy is not a hot news item, and the terms “Arctic security” do not figure much in public discourse. Arctic security encompasses the international agreements for search and rescue, environmental and ecological security, international agreements on border delimitation, Arctic military capability, as well as the economics resource extraction and the potential for trans-Arctic maritime trade. While a good start, the policy paper produced by the Pentagon is lacking substance. The authors of this piece seek to apply our diversity of knowledge studying Arctic politics – in the field – to provide context and recommendations in response to the Department of Defense. While we will discuss the politics of political and military security, the other issues of ecological security and Arctic governance will be addressed in kind.

International Security Cooperation Forum Proposal:

Although the Pentagon emphasizes the need for greater international cooperation as a way to prevent the Arctic from becoming a militarized zone, it falls short in identifying effective means of multilateral security cooperation. The Pentagon’s Arctic strategy document supports cooperative efforts via the Arctic Council as well as regional military training exercises as ways to maintain peace. However, there still does not exist a multilateral forum for the five Arctic littoral states to discuss hard security issues. The Arctic Council is prohibited from engaging in security discussions, and Arctic nations seem reticent to mention these sensitive issues. Given the fact that each littoral Arctic state is gradually increasing its military presence in the region, it is crucial for the U.S. to engage Arctic nations on hard security issues to prevent a conflagration that could result in an arms race – one the public would likely not notice. Although conversations on hard security issues have occurred bilaterally, it is time to discuss these issues multilaterally. A potential forum could be a recurring Arctic security summit where both civilian and military representatives from each Arctic state meet to discuss the role of each nations’ military in the Arctic. This summit would be a step toward preserving the Arctic as a peaceful zone through meaningful dialogue and addressing the sensitive issues head-on. Without an honest and recurring dialogue on both hard and soft security issues, the possibility of the Arctic becoming further militarized would increase dramatically.

The Arctic, a region that has only recently seen a spike in interest and development, requires fresh governing structures. The proposed security summit and other potential means of hard security cooperation could serve as models for existing international security governance structures that do not function as effectively. In this regard, the Arctic represents an opportunity for the international community to explore more effective and transparent ways to conduct international security cooperation.

UNCLOS and Arctic Governance

The decision by the US Congress to postpone, delay, and ignore the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) is beyond counterproductive. UNCLOS is de facto law in the Arctic Ocean since the US is the only state in the region that has yet to ratify the law. Ratifying UNCLOS will allow the US to make larger maritime claims in the Arctic. It will also allow the US to contest and petition Article 76, which allows nations to extend their maritime borders on the basis of how far their continental shelf extends. The Russian Federation currently has an outlying claim that would extend their claims as far as the North Pole. Considering an estimated 15% of the world’s oil and 30% of the world’s natural gas is in the Arctic region, it would be wise for the US to join other states in signing on to this international law. Furthermore, the potential opening of the Northern sea route to shipping means that the designation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) now has expanded political-economic significance.

Arctic Claims

This map shows current borders in the Arctic as well as claims made by Russia. Recently, Canada made claims that extend as far as the North Pole. Map by Ahnode (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ecological Security and why it should matter to the Pentagon:

In the twentieth century, global air temperatures rose an average 1-2°C. This is nothing compared to the Arctic where temperatures rose 5°C. This comparison illustrates the importance of the Arctic environment as a climate change barometer. In 2012, scientists measured a 97% surface melt of Greenland’s ice sheet. This exceeded most accepted models and scientists are re-evaluating at what point in this century we may expect no summer Arctic ice. The questions of whether we will witness the disappearance of the polar caps is not one of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ Since Arctic ecosystems are impacted more rapidly by climate change, understanding these changes is crucial to managing the effects on the world’s interdependent ecosystems. While climate change might not affect the DoDs daily operations, a dialogue between scientific research and political-military objectives should inform the overall strategy. The Arctic Council is an institution that already seeks to bring dialogue to the vast array of information, scientific or otherwise, relevant to the Arctic region and climate change discussions in general. Heightened dialogue between the Department of State and the Arctic Council would be a good place to start.

Need for Investment in Arctic Capabilities:

Although the Pentagon states its intention of increasing its presence in the Arctic, it also makes clear that the current fiscal environment may stunt further investment. Not asserting American interests would be a mistake insofar as an image of disinterest will be perceived as American weakness in the Arctic. Indeed, other Arctic nations already perceive a strong US disinterest in the region. The lack of an American presence in the region would also prevent US military and law enforcement entities such as the Navy and Coast Guard from protecting the integrity of territorial claims, carrying out search and rescue missions, executing law enforcement functions, and responding to environmental disasters. As of now, the US lacks sufficient dedicated Arctic resources for security and humanitarian purposes. While other US military equipment, such as nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, have the capability of traversing the Arctic, the US does not have Arctic-specific resources to effectively respond to a disaster or other threats.For example, the US possesses only 5 icebreakers in its fleet and has had to lease icebreakers from Russia and Sweden in the past.This small number of icebreakers stands in stark contrast to Russia’s 37 vessels. Even small Sweden outdoes the US with 7 icebreakers. Due to climate change, the region will likely see increases in resource extraction, shipping, fishing, and tourism. This increase in activity in the Arctic would likely be accompanied by an increase in emergency situations. The US currently lacks effective Arctic capabilities severely limiting the ability to respond to emergency situations or security threats.

In order to mitigate these threats and to enhance US military and rescue personnel in the region, the US needs to invest more in developing Arctic-specific technology and infrastructure. For starters, the US should build a dedicated Arctic icebreaker fleet to better navigate the frigid terrain. Additionally, the US should explore the option of pursuing joint search and rescue exercises with all of the littoral Arctic states, especially Russia. These search and rescue and/or environmental disaster relief exercises would not be as controversial as conventional military exercises and would allow each nation’s military/law enforcement services to become more familiar with one another. Actively working to break the divisions of yesterday by building collaborative relationships today could ameliorate the potential for conflict in the Arctic.

Concluding Remarks:

The US is faced with the enormous challenge of increasing its Arctic presence while convincing other Arctic states that its intentions are peaceful. The US cannot afford to see the Arctic escalate into a zone of conflict and thus must handle this situation very delicately. The DoD’s Arctic strategy is a welcome policy document to a country that has historically lacked a significant interest in the region when compared to the other littoral Arctic states. However, the Pentagon’s strategy needs to incorporate more pragmatic and effective means of international cooperation to accomplish its objectives. In addition, the current fiscal environment should not influence the US’ ability to help secure and develop a region that will likely see a heavy increase in activity due to climate change. Both US military and civilian units need to invest more resources into developing superior Arctic capabilities to better respond to disasters while protecting American interests in a region that is growing in significance and accessibility.

In the 19th century, the established nations of Europe met in Berlin to carve up Africa with the intent of extracting from it resources and riches upon which empires were built. The social, political, and human costs of this are still being felt today. In the 21st century, the established nations of the Europe, Asia, and North America are prepared to, and in certain instances already have, descended upon the Arctic for similar motivations: resource wealth, trade, and power. It would be foolish to think that because Arctic states are politically stable or economically developed that somehow this translates into regional stability. If history is any indication of what is to come, we should actually be all the more alarmed that “established” states are scrambling for the Arctic. Granted, the “Scramble for Africa” involved a large landmass and the intent of colonizing large populations, thus the forthcoming “Scramble for the Arctic” will not be a carbon copy of the past. In sum, there is an opportunity for the Arctic to be used to and for the benefit of all nations, and this begins with a sustainable governance regime.

Neo-Colonial Capacity Building at its Finest: The U.S. in Libya

How the Department of State entered Libya and exacerbated yet another post-revolutionary crisis

Although you probably did a double take when news broke that the politician who lost to George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election is now handling our volatile international affairs, Secretary of State John Kerry has already proved to be a defter politician than expected.

John Kerry (Wikimedia Commons)

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a presidential rally at the St. Louis Community College during the 2004 presidential race. Kerry, then a Democratic Massachusetts senator, lost to incumbent Republican President George W. Bush in the election. (Wikimedia Commons)

While the post-Gadhafi state of Libya remains in shambles, Kerry’s actions as Secretary of State have already contributed to an upsurge in Islamic militia groups contending for power amidst the State Department’s “capacity building” project within the region. In what was supposed to be a top-secret discussion between the U.S. and Libyan governments, interim Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan agreed to a U.S. commando raid in Tripoli to capture al-Qaeda figurehead Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (Abu Anas al-Libi) who was accused of orchestrating the attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The mission was designed to call no attention to al-Libi’s disappearance.

US Embassy Bombing 1998 (Wikimedia Commons)

The 1998 Al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya claimed more than 200 lives. Abu Anas al-Libi, who was recently captured, is believed to be the chief orchestrator of the Nairobi bombing as well as the nearly simultaneous bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Wikimedia Commons)

But the impatient State Department took it upon itself to improve the relationship; Kerry jeopardized the security of Libya’s nominal leader when his administration leaked that the Libyan government was aware and supportive of the al-Libi pursuit. After Zeidan expressed concerns regarding the operation to al-Libi’s family, Zeidan was “escorted” out of his luxury Tripoli hotel by a group known as the Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries. Within hours, he was returned unharmed. While this bizarre six-hour kidnapping prompted by Kerry’s words may have seemed more like a coerced play-date than anything else, it is indicative of far graver problems.

Secretary Kerry Shakes Hands With Libyan Prime Minister Zeidan (Wikimedia Commons)

United States Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with interim Libyan Prime Minster Ali Zeidan following a press conference at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. The Department plans to work closely with the Libyan government in an effort to build regional state capacity. (Wikimedia Commons)

Coming out of this imbroglio, an initial concern is that al-Libi’s capture will only serve to further fuel al-Qaeda’s incalculable scorn for the West. This will drastically heighten security risks facing U.S. embassies and other American assets in the region.

Moving beyond the obvious missteps, most groups within Libya view the Prime Minister’s abnormal and unexpected kidnapping as a sign of an acute weakness within the government. Because the interim leader of the country could not even avert being kidnapped – regardless of the fact that it was only for a few hours – there is consensus among Libyans that he is not capable of leading the country forward. Zeidan is now considered to be something of a cancerous cyst to the already debased government; and with that now being the primary sentiment, we are likely to see the strongest push yet by Islamic militia groups quarreling for political power to orchestrate a coup. As unfathomable as it may seem, Libya will inevitably fall into a further state of degeneration and chaos because of this fiasco.

via Wikimedia Commons

Armed rebels and civilian onlookers gathered at a main gateway into the eastern city of Ajdabiya to cheer on fighters heading onward to the fighting. At one point, rebels drove a tank back from the front, received loud cheers, left, and returned again with more people riding on top, 1 March 2011. (Wikimedia Commons). Since Gadhafi’s ousting, Libya has struggled to establish and maintain a stable government.

Now that Zeidan’s capture (along with plans of another capture of another al-Qaeda operative) are public knowledge courtesy of White House releases, it will be infinitely more difficult for the State Department to carry out additional commando operations in pursuit of key al-Qaeda members. Had Zeidan’s detention remained under wraps, there would have likely been little suspicion of his whereabouts as brief disappearances are common fare in Libya. But because the operation became public, al-Qaeda is now aware of the fact that the U.S. is on the hunt. Subsequently, al-Qaeda is now likely to take care in covering its tracks and severing any communications that may provide intelligence agencies with a hot trail in their chase.

Ali Zeidan at US State Department 2013 (Wikimedia Commons)

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaking at a press conference at the U.S. Department of State on March 13th, 2013. Zeidan was kidnapped briefly by a militia group early last Thursday on the grounds that he had cooperated with the U.S. government and its invasion of Tripoli in its al-Qaeda hunt. (Wikimedia Commons)

So in his supposed focus on “building capacity” within Libya, John Kerry has managed to heighten the security risks posed by al-Qaeda and make the pursuit for key terrorist leaders abysmally more challenging all while plunging Libya deeper into a state of pandemonium. Bravo, Mr. Kerry – it seems as though you are the right man for the job after all!In sum, the brilliant leak from the White House, which seemed to have been something of a trial balloon released out of ignorance, greatly undermined the neo-colonial regime established in Libya by Washington and its NATO allies following the overthrow Gadhafi in 2011. The flop highlighted the incompetence of the U.S. in artificially establishing regimes within unstable regions such as Libya. However, this is not the only instance in which Washington’s intervention has proven itself to be futile and damaging. Consider other neo-colonial endeavors such as operations in Afghanistan and Iraq – both ended in seemingly endless states of war and state capacity remains frighteningly low.
Soldiers push against al-Qaeda remnants (Wikimedia Commons)

United States forces in Iraq counter remaining al-Qaeda forces in 2008. Now that future al-Qaeda-targeting plans have been leaked, Washington will face heightened difficulty in pursuing terrorist targets within Libya and the greater region. (Wikimedia Commons)

Although it is only Zeidan’s kidnapping that is at the center of national discussions at the moment, the repercussions will no doubt begin to unfold in the near future. Perhaps Libya’s impending situation will strike a chord within Washington and officials will finally come to realize that such neo-colonial interventionist efforts have, and always will, lead to heightened disdain for the West and more rapid and severe degeneration of the country being occupied. Given the White House’s track record, it seems more likely than not that nothing will be learned from the mistake. Going forward, American national security interests will face greater challenges in the region and, if the winds continue to blow in the same troubling direction, the State Department will continue to make diplomatic fumbles as it harms both itself and its “allies.”

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

America’s Reign of Terror?

Victims of drone attacks readied for burial in Miranshah, North Waziristan.

Victims of the January 23, 2009 American drone strike in Miranshah, Pakistan readied for burial. A recent Amnesty International/Human Rights Watch report criticizes President Obama’s drone policy for killing innocent civilians and under-reporting collateral damage. (Creative Commons/Mohammad Mujitaba)

Between September 1793 and July 1794, the National Convention of France operated a “Reign of Terror” defined by the mass execution of potential counterrevolutionaries in the name of national peace. One of the proponents of governing through terror, Maximilien Robespierre, argued: “terror is nothing else than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible [and that] the government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.” In other words, the government may suspend the inalienable rights of its citizens in times of crisis. The ends (peace) justify the means (terror).

On September 14, 2001, the United States Congress expanded the constitutional powers of the executive branch to include the legal authority “to retaliate against any person, organization, or State suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign States suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations. Finally, the President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11.” Post-9/11 national security laws have allowed for a permanent retaliatory war with unclear operational and legal boundaries.

The “Global War on Terror” certainly requires an extraordinary military response; the list of “legal” military responses has grown to include drone strikes and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) missions on potential terrorists in foreign states, states which Congress has not declared war on. The president may suspend the constitutional rights of citizens (by Amendments V and VI of the US Constitution ) and non-citizens (by Articles 3 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), in the name of peace. Once again, the ends justify the means.

Criticism of this “paramilitary arm of the administration” is well publicized. However, a new report released last week by Amnesty International in conjunction with Human Rights Watch has brought the Obama administration’s policy on global terrorism into the spotlight. The organizations claim that several drone strikes have been a “clear violation of international humanitarian law,” citing the failure to apply due process before applying the “capital punishment” administered by a Hellfire missile. Further, “Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions,” and that those responsible for ordering the aforementioned attacks (presumably President Obama and his military-intelligence team) should stand trial. (Note: The White House has challenged Amnesty International’s latest report, reiterating that all counterterrorism operations are “precise, lawful, and effective.”)

Drone strikes and JSOC missions are both morally and legally questionable as evidenced by the intentional killing of American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year old civilian living in Yemen, who was killed as punishment for his father’s (Anwar al-Awlaki) crimes and for who he might become—a terrorist made in his father’s image. Furthermore, these missions have a negative impact on America’s ability to effectively engage in diplomacy because of the anti-American distrust and resentment that grows in targeted regions.

I anticipate three defenses of President Obama’s drone policy and subsequent internal law and human right’s violations: (1) drone and JSOC strikes are effective in eliminating terrorist threats; (2) “terror” implies a murderous policy; and (3) war is ugly and why should the US government be indicted for trying to suppress terrorism? I would respond as follows:

(1) Yes, US drones possess deadly accuracy on selected targets and spare the endangerment of US troops in volatile regions such as the Afghani-Pakistani border. However, despite their precision, drone strikes, night raids, constant aerial surveillance—and most dramatically, the killing of innocent civilians—only fuel greater anti-American sentiment. Terrorism is as rampant and threatening as ever. Al-Qaeda and its global affiliates are expanding in spite of successful US operations to kill top commanders. America needs to “win hearts and minds”—drone strikes do not accomplish this goal.

(2) True, President Obama has never advocated the killing of civilians. In fact, he has publicly expressed regret about civilian causalities in war zones. But as in every conflict, civilians have died and the constant threat of a bellicose America is terrorizing people around the world. Exploded missile fragments can be found near kill sites in Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan; to those finding these ordinances, the “Made in America” message is clear. Children in Pakistan have grown accustom to drone flyovers and are left wondering “am I next?” The CIA’s East African kill list has been contracted to Somali warlords. Perhaps the mother of all surprises has stemmed from Obama’s willingness to detain foreign journalists who speak out about errant American strikes. This is not a covert “Global War on Terror.” Citizens of Mali, Thailand, Panama, Yemen, and more than 70 other countries know all too well that they may become the next in a long line of unsuspecting victims, and from their perspective, America is to blame.

(3) Yes, war is ugly. Soldiers and civilians die at the hands of Allied and insurgent forces. Millions have been displaced. However, murdering—via drone strikes—over 400 innocent civilians in Pakistan is unacceptable, as is the murdering of American citizens abroad. And committing murder in the name of ending murder is nonsensical. But killing without oversight is undermining the very moral and legal fiber of the United States (not to mention bilateral relations with countries in which drone strikes have occurred) and international institutions such as the United Nations—the very institution established to end unchecked killing.

Civilians in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border refer to American JSOC forces as the “American Taliban.” In their eyes, America has become the very monster they promised to destroy. America has scarred and radicalized an entire generation, and as a result the number of “terrorists” will only grow. America’s “despotism of liberty against tyranny” must end, but how does a war like this end? Perhaps Yemeni political activist Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani’s advice is best: “In the fight against al-Qaeda and the extremism it represents, we can do it the easy way, by killing, and thus have to do it again and again, or the hard way and really solve the problem. To truly fight al-Qaeda and similar groups, we must deal with the root causes of its growth—poverty, injustice, lack of rule of law…and drone strikes.”

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Update 11/4/13: correction made to the caption for accompanying photograph.

Islamic Radicalization in Our Own Backyard

The Westgate Mall Attack and What it Means for al-Shabaab Influence Within the United States

Photo by Anne Knight [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last Monday, a dense plume of smoke could be seen following a loud explosion that erupted in the heart of the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Al-Shabab militants had held hundreds hostage that day, with at least sixty-two confirmed killed, after storming the mall with guns. Though the grisly attack may seem akin to another terrorism attack in a volatile region, the strike uncovers a few critical considerations regarding the terrorist group responsible and its plans for international expansion.

Al-Shabaab, a Somali militant group (the Arabic name translates to “The Youth”) came into existence in 2006 as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts. The coalition began as a faction fighting Ethiopian forces who entered Somalia to back the country’s interim government. During this period, foreign jihadists flocked to Somalia to help al-Shabaab in its fight gradually establishing a link between the group and al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab has seen its influence dwindle in recent years, beginning with its forced-removal from Mogadishu in 2011 and then again its loss of control of the region after leaving the port Kismayo a year later. These losses deprived them of the ability to levy taxes and acquire supplies in areas under their control.

Given its diminishing hold on regional power, it comes as little surprise that al-Shabaab decisively chose to strike beyond its borders and launch a fatal assault on the popular Nairobi mall; Westgate shopping center is a major tourist hub attracting western foreigners and affluent Kenyans. The attack sends a clear message to radicals and other extremist al-Qaeda-linked organizations stating, “We’re still here, and we’re still in serious business.”

But al-Shabaab’s propagandistic attack was not meant to radicalize Islamists exclusively in the region. The group of fighters that day was comprised not only of Somali nationals, but also of international recruits – most significantly at least two fighters have been confirmed to have come from Minnesota and Missouri. In other words, a number of these recruits who were involved in this gruesome Jihadist strike were United States citizens loyal to al-Shabaab.

Why is this significant? Consider the following factors in conjunction with one another: (1) the choice to attack a site of this sort rather than one with government or military affiliation was largely a publicity-driven move, (2) both the targets and the al-Shabab recruits were an amalgamation of foreigners originating from an array of western countries. The attack was more than just another anti-west assault launched by Islamists; it was meant to serve as an initiative in capturing the attention of Somalis and Muslims – specifically within the United States – for recruitment to the group’s militant forces.

The American-Somali population saw a spike in numbers following immigrants escaping the country’s 1991 civil war . An estimated 50,000 to over 150,000 Somali naturalized citizens reside within the United States today, living in concentrated groups, the largest of which is situated in Minnesota. And although the majority of Somalis have assimilated to American culture, the adjustment of the population has been met with interruptions by the Islamic radicalization of its youth that has been occurring since at least 2004. In 2007, al-Shabaab began openly calling for foreign fighters around the world to come join their extremist forces – and a number of American-Somalis began taking heed to their calls, leaving for Somalia to train in the name of jihad.

While there is nothing new about Americans being recruited and trained to fight for Jihadist terrorist organizations, al-Shabaab and its Nairobi propaganda attack not only increased the probable numbers of radicalized Americans migrating to the region but also highlighted an acute new domestic security concern within the United States. Through recruiting, radicalizing and training, al-Shabaab is able to extend its extremist goals directly into the United States through Somali citizens who leave for Somalia as Islamists and return to the States as new Jihadists. U.S. intelligence forces need to begin focusing on al-Shabaab’s recruitment among the swelling American-Somali population, as it will soon prove itself to be among the next major threats to the borders of this nation. If the government is to minimize the effects of al-Shabaab’s recruitment campaign, it must take initiative to locate both the locals responsible for radicalizing these Somali-Americans, as well as those who have left the country to receive training, to ensure that they do not reenter the country equipped with ambitions of Jihadist destruction.

Not only must it track and locate recruiters and militants who are nationals, but the United States must also keep a close watch as to where in Somalia its dollars are being wired. In addition to the number of recruits the group receives from this country, al-Shabaab’s supporters have maintained direct contact with its leaders; recorded transactions indicate that the group has received at least tens of thousands of American dollars through money transfer businesses over the years to the organization. Since al-Shabaab was added to the State Department’s list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2008, the providing of money, communications, weapons, human capital, etc., to the group has been deemed illegal, which has appeared to have had somewhat of a preventative effect with twelve individuals convicted in 2011. Regardless of this initiative and the seemingly negligible reported amount of funds channeled to the organization, there still exists the prominent threat of “under-wraps” al-Shabaab recruitment and funding that occurs entirely undetected within the United States.

Perhaps in spite of all these considerations, al-Shabaab’s horrific, newsworthy assault on the Westgate Mall was a mere cry for attention – an act of desperation to reclaim what little is left of its legitimacy as a serious terrorist organization. After all, the group’s primary aim has always been to maintain ironclad control over Somalia, and with that gone, al-Shabaab has little to its name within the region. Some argue that the attack will fail to create a substantial wave of radicalization and influence potential recruits in such a dramatic manner. However, the truth still indicates that the threat is grave. The attack shows that al-Shabaab is still serious about its exploits, and the Americans involved prove that the group’s recruitment is still effective and in full swing within the States. Moreover, the White House must marshal its intelligence services in cracking down on domestic recruitment, and perhaps most importantly monitoring the reentry of American-Somalis returning from Somalia, in order to ensure that domestic grounds are kept secure from the new security threat posed by al-Shabaab and its terrorist outlets on U.S. soil.

Is NATO Still Relevant?

 

For the last two decades, NATO has been conflicted about how and where to act. This identity crisis has led to inter-alliance strife, messy operations, and inaction. Currently, NATO is paralyzed in responding to the Syrian Crisis due to—among other reasons—an uncharacteristic rift between the American and British governments. In light of such shortcomings, along with a perceived United States pivot away from Europe, increased European Union security engagement after the Lisbon Treaty of 2010, and shifting methods of warfare (i.e., drones and computers in place of land forces), pundits and politicians have disputed the continued relevance of NATO.

Yet NATO is unquestionably relevant today. First, NATO provides a forum for world leaders to discuss matters of global defense and security. Second, NATO is currently engaged in operations around the world from anti-piracy missions in the Horn of Africa to nation building in Afghanistan, the alliance is directly connected to today’s issues. Third, NATO actively shapes transatlantic—and consequently global—foreign policy. For instance, Article V of the NATO treaty (‘an attack on one is an attack on all’) serves as a deterrent to those considering harming a member of the alliance. Most recently, the intervention in Libya exemplified how NATO’s military involvement has real ramifications, serving as a partial catalyst for the subsequent full-scale revolution seen in the state.

NATO’s relevance is incontrovertible. However, proving relevance seems unsatisfactory to pundits and politicians. Perhaps, the crux of the dispute is NATO’s continued value.

NATO’s value lies in the absence of an alternative. NATO is the most formidable and sophisticated military organization in the world, thanks in large part, but not exclusively, to the US. As Ambassador Ivo Daalder and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Stavridis explained: “Some countries have significant military reach. But when a group of countries wants to launch a joint intervention as a coalition—which confers political legitimacy—only NATO can provide the common command structure and capabilities necessary to plan and execute complex operations.” Moreover, the EU has shown an inability to pool the security and defense resources of its member states. If the alliance were to disband, no member state besides the US would be able to assume full responsibility for their national defense.

The future for NATO will certainly be challenging. NATO faces various threats, from shrinking budgets to intra-alliance friction and changing political environments. Further, the coverage of Article V is unclear. Consider a hypothetical Russian cyber attack on the British banking sector. Would this constitute an act of war? NATO has this and other critical questions to answer. Can and should NATO act without unanimity? Should the Europeans establish military autonomy or continue to rely on the equipment and chaperoning of the US? And most fundamentally, is NATO an alliance that truly wants to act outside of its borders? NATO must answer these questions in order to stay relevant in the 21st century.

To address modern security challenges, NATO must embrace non-military capabilities. As Afghanistan revealed, terrorism cannot be eradicated with missiles. Errant drone strikes only further incentivize people to join terrorist organizations, and brigades of troops cannot dismantle global wireless organizations. Piracy too requires a more comprehensive approach. The best way to fight crises such as terrorism and piracy is to deal with the root causes, such as food insecurity, lack of access to education, and corrupt state leadership. This holistic theory for crisis management is not revolutionary, yet NATO (especially the US) has forgotten that war is a long-term humanitarian and security project. To NATO’s credit, reforms are in place to fuse civilian and military crisis management capabilities. These reforms must continue, as well as continued cooperation with the UN and EU.

A retreat of NATO to its historical role of defending European territory is outdated and ignores the global and diverse nature of 21st century conflict. Non-state global issues such as cyber and energy security, piracy, and climate change require a response for which NATO is uniquely prepared. Armed with demonstrated military capabilities and global transnational partnerships, NATO is already well positioned for carrying out integrated “hard security” and “soft security” operations. If NATO can unite under a new strategic framework, and stand determined to tackle the “hard” and “soft” security challenges presented in today’s environment with more than military force and surveillance, the alliance will remain both relevant and valuable.

On America’s “Culture of Leaks”

 

Those individuals who believe Edward Snowden is a hero who exposed Big Brother should think twice. It may be easy to support an increasingly popular culture of Internet leaks and freedom of information for all things sensitive, but it is more difficult to examine the long-term consequences and implications of Snowden and other leakers’ actions for U.S. national security. While leaking has occurred long before Snowden and Manning, a new culture of internet freedom in which every tech-savvy person can be a world hero by disclosing government secrets seems to be growing in the U.S. I am very wary of this misguided “culture of leaks.” The leaking of sensitive information, even if well-intentioned, exposes some of our nation’s most sensitive sources and methods to terrorist organizations and foreign intelligence services, which makes us all less secure.

Let’s start with Snowden. This man did not merely blow the whistle, he trumpeted a storm. Snowden could have chosen to carefully release only the documents that succinctly showed violations of NSA surveillance policy and a potential overstepping of government surveillance, but instead he opted to flee to Russia and Hong Kong with multiple computers filled with highly-classified NSA security programs and other sensitive data. I am still dumbfounded that a man who preaches privacy and freedom would scurry away to Russia, one of the most oppressive great powers in the world today. In addition to this highly questionable circumstance, Snowden’s seemingly indiscriminate release of sensitive information cost the U.S. government dearly in research and development, resulted in a loss of international prestige, turned attention away from regimes that actually oppress their people, and damaged U.S. national security capabilities. Responsible whistleblowing takes restraint, thoughtful planning, and thorough exhaustion of internal channels, standards that are seemingly absent from Snowden’s actions.

Now that we understand Edward Snowden is no Deep Throat, I want to touch on Wikileaks, one of the biggest players on the receiving end of our leak culture. I am astonished that an organization dedicated to the mass transmission of our state secrets to all peoples and governments commands respect among so many fellow citizens. If these were the days of the Cold War when America faced the more discernable threat of a nuclear-armed “Evil Empire,” I doubt as many Americans would be supportive of a global databank of U.S. sources and methods ripe for the picking. My generation seems to forget that it is not just terrorists in the Middle East that threaten our national security, but also foreign governments. Just about every competent nation is constantly seeking to penetrate our private industry and government to steal sensitive trade information and government secrets. Indeed, there is no such thing as a “friendly” intelligence service. These foreign intelligence services and hostile transnational groups have already scoured Snowden’s leaked data and have adjusted their methods accordingly. I would not be surprised if Snowden was already debriefed by Russian intelligence officers. U.S. citizens should be more wary of global institutions that eagerly await more leakers to approach them for “assistance.” Organizations like Wikileaks, unlike the Intelligence Community, do not have a loyalty to our country and are working to further their own interests, which can vary from world fame to fulfilling certain ideological goals.

As Snowden relaxes and drinks Russian vodka at a dacha (cottage) near Moscow, U.S. national security professionals are in damage control mode. Now more than ever, our adversaries have a better understanding of how our national security apparatus operates and have adapted their operations accordingly. These groups include both terrorist cells that are constantly planning to attack U.S. and Allied targets, as well as foreign intelligence services that seek to steal our industry trade secrets and sensitive government information to gain an economic, political, and military edge. Indeed, I would be very hesitant to readily praise Snowden, Manning, Anonymous, and other distressing groups or individuals. As a concerned citizen, it’s up to you to counter this malice with two easy actions. First, read a few books and/or articles about our security services and the threats facing our country to gain a more complete understanding of current global challenges and the proper function of our Intelligence Community. To start, I would personally recommend Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy by Mark Lowenthal and a student subscription to The Economist. Second, and most importantly, consider finding ways to become involved in our government in order to responsibly facilitate the improvements you may wish to enact. This involvement could range from grassroots advocacy activities such as writing letters to your Congressman to interning for an Executive branch agency, an NGO/think tank, or Congress. We should not have to wait for unlawful and misguided security leaks for calls to activism and civic involvement. Our generation needs to make a more robust effort to become involved in the governmental process, and perhaps even work directly for the institutions that run our government in order to face these challenges. Our country deserves no less from our generation, and mere armchair activism via social media will not suffice.

The Emerging Threat of Cyber Espionage Against US Economic Interests

Major Issues and Recommendations for a Stronger US Cyber Defense Capability

A comprehensive report recently released by Mandiant, a private information security firm, has confirmed China’s expansive cyber espionage operations against US private industry. This report has aroused debate in the public sphere regarding US cyber vulnerabilities. However, state-sponsored cyber espionage has been well documented as early as 2006 and has resulted in at least hundreds of terabytes of data theft (Mandiant 2013, 20). The main perpetrators have been identified as China, Russia, France, Israel, and most recently, countries in the Middle East such as Iran (Booz Allen Hamilton 2012, 8). Due to the increasing number of monthly cyber attacks on US economic interests, information security professionals in the private and public sectors have criticized the US Government’s inability to effectively address this growing concern. While the threat of catastrophic cyber warfare is often overhyped, the threat of economic espionage through cyber attacks is not, and public criticism of US cyber security vulnerabilities is valid.

Cyber espionage endangers America’s global economic prowess and national security. China, Russia, and other states continuously steal many years worth of R&D from private US companies to expedite their economic development. It is estimated that these efforts to increase political and military power via cyber espionage have resulted in the loss of tens of billions of dollars from US firms (Nakashima 2013). If left unaddressed, this growing threat could result in the theft of sensitive trade secrets that would severely impact national security, especially if the companies and data involved contain sensitive military secrets such as classified aircraft designs.

One of the greatest challenges in addressing cyber espionage is the current lack of effective attribution methods. This critical absence of sufficient detection techniques allows both state and non-state actors to conceal their roles in cyber espionage and therefore avoid public reprimands from the US Government and the international community (Economist 2012). In Russia, for example, the unique nexus between government, organized crime, and business makes Russian cyber attacks very difficult to track, especially since the government purportedly employs underground youth hacking networks to achieve its cyber espionage objectives (Smith 2012, 3). The US Government needs to increase its coordination efforts with private industry to develop more sophisticated cyber attack attribution techniques in order deter state actors from committing further economic espionage.

Efforts at collaboration between US Government entities and the private sector are hampered by a secretive and inconsistent US cyber policy. The Obama Administration has apparently begun drafting internal cyber security policy and has directed certain agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to allocate more funding for cyber security initiatives (Sanger and Shanker 2013). However, many outside experts have indicated that the US Government and the private sector are not sufficiently collaborating to ameliorate the cyber threat (Wolf 2012, 11). The US Government cannot expect private businesses to defend themselves against the penetration efforts of foreign intelligence services. Therefore, policymakers and private industry leaders need to forge closer relations, develop a more coherent cyber defense policy, and share information regarding current threats and trends to provide for a stronger US cyber defense capability.