Thursday, November 29, 2018

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Four times more Sunni Islamist militants today than on 9/11, study finds

Al-Qaeda in Yemen


There are four times as many Sunni Islamist militants today in the world than on September 11, 2001, despite an almost 20 year-long war campaign by the United States and its allies, according to a new report. Washington launched the ‘global war on terrorism’ in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that were perpetrated by al-Qaeda. In the ensuing years, American and other Western troops have engaged militarily in over a dozen countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and the Philippines. But a new study by the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) suggests that the West’s efforts to combat Sunni militancy are failing —and may even be making the problem worse. The report by the Washington-based think-tank states that the number of active Sunni Islamist militants today is as much as “270 percent greater than in 2001, when the 9/11 attacks occurred”.
Entitled “The Evolution of the Salafi-Jihadist Threat”, the 71-page report is one of the most extensive ever undertaken on this topic, drawing on information from data sets that date back nearly 40 years. It warns that, despite the rapid loss of territory suffered by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, armed Sunni militancy is “far from defeated”. The number of Salafi-jihadists —active proponents of armed fight against perceived enemies of Islam— has slightly declined in comparison to 2016, but it remains at near-peak levels over a 38-year period, says the CSIS report. It estimates that there are today as many as 230,000 Salafi-jihadists in almost 70 countries. Most of them are based in Syria (as many as 70,500), Afghanistan (as many as 64,000), Pakistan (up to 40,000), and Iraq (up to 15,000). Nearly 30,000 more are in Africa, primarily in Somalia, Nigeria and the Sahel region.
These fighters, and the groups they fight under, are far more resilient than Western antiterrorist strategists tend to assume, claims the report. They are also inadvertently aided by successive policy failures by the US and its closest Western allies. The latter focus primarily on the military aspects of counterterrorism campaigns, while ignoring the importance of improving local governance in territories where Sunni Islamism is rife, argues the report. Therefore, as the US and its allies continue to engage “in a seemingly endless [military] confrontation with a metastasizing set of militant groups”, they face seemingly endless waves of militants, who are becoming increasingly capable of resisting Western conventional military force. The report is available online in .pdf form, here.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis

Huawei: Why has UK not blocked Chinese firm's 5G kit?

Huawei graphic


New Zealand government's move to prevent Huawei supplying a local mobile network with 5G equipment has raised questions about why the UK appears less concerned about use of the Chinese company's technology.
A press release from Spark, the New Zealand company involved, said it had been deemed that the deployment posed "significant security risks" - a polite way of saying that Beijing might use the technology to spy on the country or disrupt its communications in a future dispute.
The US and Australia had already closed the door on Huawei's involvement in their next-generation mobile networks.
That means three members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance have now acted against the Shenzhen-based company. And one other member, Canada, is carrying out a security review of its own.
So, there's a prospect that the UK could soon be the sole holdout, allowing Huawei to play a key role in delivering the data that everything from self-driving cars to smart city sensors will rely on.
"There are two factors at play here: 5G will be connected to everything as we go to the internet-of-things," said Ewan Lawson, from UK defence think tank Rusi.
"And concerns about foreign-sourced hardware were less intense than they are now."
For its part, Huawei has said: "[We are] aware of Spark's statement and we are looking into the situation.
"As a leading global supplier of telecoms equipment, we remain committed to developing trusted and secure solutions for our customers."

Is the UK just being complacent?

Huawei logoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
The government argues not.
"This government and British telecoms operators work with Huawei at home and abroad to ensure the UK can continue to benefit from new technology while managing cyber-security risks," a Cabinet Office spokeswoman told BBC News.
That work includes a facility nicknamed the Cell, in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where staff employed by Huawei but answering to GCHQ hunt for security flaws in the company's products.
It has not uncovered evidence of hidden backdoors or other deliberate attempts of subterfuge. But its last report did identify shortcomings that led it to warn that it could offer only "limited assurance" that the company posed no threat.
The UK government is also thought to have fired a shot across the bows last month, when it wrote to telecoms companies warning that a review of their infrastructure could lead to "changes in the current rules" that should be taken into account during "procurement decisions".
Huawei was not mentioned by name, but the Financial Times - which revealed the letter's existence - said some industry executives interpreted it to mean a ban was still possible.
But others have their doubts, noting that other political factors are at play.
"The letter did go out but the issue remains that in the absence of any definitive evidence of a problem, an unspecific security risk has to be weighed against trade opportunities," said Mr Lawson.
"If Huawei was banned, we don't know the extent to which China might well refuse to do business with us in other fields - and the timing for that would not be great with so much attention on the potential economic impacts of Brexit."

How strong are Huawei's existing UK ties?

HuaweiImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Huawei opened its first office in the country in 2001 and soon had its equipment adopted by BT and Vodafone, which used it to support 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services as well as "superfast" fibre and other types of broadband connections to homes and businesses.
Its kit includes mobile phone radio antennas and the routers and switches found in kerbside cabinets.
Most of the country's mobile networks - Vodafone, EE and Three - are now working with Huawei to prepare their 5G offerings.
O2's parent Telefonica has also tested its new equipment elsewhere and signalled that it might use it in the UK.
In addition, Huawei says it has developed research and development partnerships with many of the country's leading academic institutions, including the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Cardiff and Imperial College.
Its UK board of directors includes Lord Browne, the former chief of BP, and Sir Andrew Cahn, a former high-ranking civil servant.

Does Huawei pose a real threat?

HuaweiImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
The company is keen to portray itself as a private company owned by its employees with no ties to the Chinese government beyond those of a law-abiding taxpayer.
It can also lay claim to being one of the biggest spenders on research and development - it invested more than $13.2bn (£10.3bn) last year and has said the figure will be even higher for 2018.
But critics like to point out that its media-shy founder, Ren Zhengfei, was a former engineer in the country's army and joined the Communist Party in 1978.
Furthermore, they question how free any major Chinese business can be from Beijing's influence.
"It's accepted practice in China that relationships between Chinese companies and the state have to be extremely close," said Prof Anthony Glees, director of the Buckingham University Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies.
"Many other countries have said no [to Huawei over 5G].
"We've come to the matter late as we have already let them through the door."
Another leading cyber-security expert agreed that Huawei could be co-opted into incapacitating the equipment it had sold.
"The obvious concern with 5G is whether there is a material risk of the Chinese being in a position to run a big denial-of-service attack on Britain in the event of a time of international tension," said Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge.
"There is obviously a risk. China plays hardball and we have been hoping in vain for years that it would get nice as it got richer but that hasn't happened."
For now, Beijing has been reticent to be seen to be too forceful in leaping to Huawei's defence.
The Chinese government did warn against "protectionism" when a deal to sell Huawei's phones in the US fell through and then "discriminatory practices" when Australia banned local networks using its 5G equipment.
But Chinese officials are already preoccupied with President Trump's threats of more trade tariffs and might see any effort to try to help Huawei as likely to backfire.
Even so, eyebrows have still been raised by a decision to exclude its founder from a list of 100 key contributors to China's economy over the past 40 years recently published in the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper.
Whether that is because Mr Ren is viewed as being too close or not close enough to the government is unclear.

Norwegian spy service seeks right to break law during espionage operations

Royal Norwegian Ministry of Defense



Norway’s supreme legislature body is considering a bill that would offer immunity from prosecution to intelligence officers and informants who are authorized by the country’s spy service to conduct espionage. The bill has been proposed on behalf of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Defense, which supervises the operations of the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS), Norway’s primary intelligence agency. The NIS operates primarily abroad and is the only institution of the Norwegian state that can be authorized by the government to break laws in foreign countries. However, supporters of the new bill point out that NIS overseas operations can also break Norwegian law. That is something that the proposed bill addresses, they argue.
The proposed bill offers immunity from prosecution to NIS case officers and their assets —either informants or foreign spies— who may commit offenses under Norwegian law, as part of authorized espionage operations. In its consultation note that accompanies the proposed bill, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense admits that a number of NIS operations “already violate existing Norwegian laws”. That is inevitable, argues the Ministry, because officers and informants who engage in espionage operations will often “act contrary to the stipulations of criminal law […] as part of their assignments”. They may, in other words, “do certain things that would be illegal if they were done not on behalf of the intelligence service”, states the consultation note.
The document does not provide details of the types of offenses that are committed in pursuit of intelligence operations, arguing that “the offenses that the NIS commits, as well as its methods, must remain secret”. It does, however, suggest that intelligence officers may make use of “false or misleading identities, documents and information”. They may also “smuggle large amounts of cash from the country”, which they will use to pay foreign assets. Given that these assets receive Norwegian taxpayers’ funds, and that some of them end up settling in Norway, it is important that their proceeds not be considered taxable income under Norwegian law, according to the Defense Ministry. By reporting their revenue to the Norwegian Tax Administration, these assets would make their NIS connection known, and thus blow their cover, the document states.
The Defense Ministry notes that the new bill “will have little legal significance”, as NIS espionage operations are generally shielded from prosecution under Norway’s existing legal codes. It will, however, formalize the NIS’ legal scope and allow the agency to assure its case officers that they can perform their missions without fearing arrest or prosecution, so long as they act within the parameters of their authorized missions. The spy agency will also be able to recruit more “informants, sources and contractors”, says the document.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis

European Union agrees to establish joint intelligence training school

PESCO EU


Twenty-five members of the European Union have agreed to establish a joint intelligence training academy, a move interpreted by some as a concrete effort to deepen inter-European security cooperation following Brexit. The announcement came just hours after leading EU heads of state spoke in favor of establishing a joint EU defense force. Calls for tighter cooperation between EU members in the areas of defense and security have been issued for decades. But the upcoming departure of Britain from the EU —popularly known as Brexit— has prompted Germany and France to propose deeper integration as a response to the rise of anti-EU sentiment across the continent.
The decision to establish a joint intelligence training school was approved on Monday by the ministers of defense and foreign affairs of 25 EU members. It was part of a wider agreement involving 16 other joint defense and security projects under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) pact. The pact was first agreed on in September of 2017, and has since been functioning under the supervision of the European Defense Agency and the External Action Service —the diplomatic service of the EU. Nearly 20 projects of a military or security nature have since been signed under PESCO. Monday’s agreement virtually doubled the PESCO projects in existence. The new EU intelligence academy initiative will be led by Greece —an EU member since 1981— and will be headquartered in Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004. When it becomes operational, the academy will provide “education and training in intelligence disciplines and other specific fields to EU member states’ intelligence personnel”, according to a joint PESCO communique issued on Monday.
The new intelligence school will work in cooperation with the individual intelligence agencies of the 25 co-signatory states, along with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and with other regional security bodies, said PESCO. However, three EU states, namely Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom, refused to support the project. Denmark and Malta are not participants in PESCO, while the United Kingdom is expected to leave the EU in March of next year. However, even before Brexit, London had vetoed the idea of closer EU intelligence cooperation, which it saw as a potential competitor to the so-called Five Eyes alliance, a postwar intelligence pact between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Additionally, despite the overwhelming support for the intelligence academy by EU officials, it remains to be seen whether it will be realized. Observers told Politico on Monday that many other PESCO projects have “yet to get much beyond the drawing board” since their announcement last year.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis

Fourth battalion of S-400 systems assumes combat duty in Crimea near border with Ukraine



DZHANKOI /Republic of Crimea/, November 29. /TASS/. The fourth battalion of S-400 air defense missile systems has assumed combat duty in Crimea near the Russian-Ukrainian border, the Black Sea Fleet’s press office reported on Thursday.

"Today, the combat teams of S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems from a large air defense unit of the Southern Military District’s Air Force and Air Defense Army have assumed combat duty to provide for Crimea’s air defense," the press office said in a statement.

The S-400 crews moved to their positions, deployed launchers, determined their location and guidance on the ground and started detecting and tracking targets in their combat mission on Thursday for the Crimean Peninsula’s air defense.

As was reported earlier, the third S-400 battalion assumed combat duty in Crimea’s Yevpatoria in September to protect the Russian airspace. The similar air defense missile systems went on combat duty in Feodosiya in January 2017 and in Sevastopol in January 2018 to protect the Russian airspace in Crimea.

The S-400 Triumf mobile multi-channel air defense missile system is designed to defend vital military facilities and infrastructural installations and features better capabilities compared to its S-300PM predecessor.

Russia’s S-400 Triumf is the latest medium-and long-range surface-to-air missile system that went into service in 2007. It is designed to destroy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, and can also be used against ground installations. The S-400 can engage targets at a distance of 400 km and at an altitude of up to 30 km.



Russia to Build New Missile Early-Warning Radar Station in Crimea



Russia plans to build a new missile early-warning radar station in Crimea next year, the Interfax news agency reported on Thursday, citing a Crimean security source.
News that a new military facility will be built in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, follows Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian navy vessels off the coast of the peninsula on Sunday.
The new radar station — which will be able to track ballistic and cruise missiles from a long distance — will be built near the port of Sevastopol where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based, the source told the news agency.
Interfax reported earlier on Thursday that Russia was also working on a new technical system to allow it to better track shipping around the peninsula in order to protest its maritime borders.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday it would deploy a new battalion of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems on the Crimean peninsula by the end of the year.