Monday, October 27, 2014

ISIS takes Internet asymmetry to a new "low", crossing a "Rubicon"

I take offense when enemies make threats that seem to be directed at “ordinary civilians” in the homeland.  That’s true whether the threats come from ISIS tweets, or North Korean bluster.
Although we tend to talk about conflict in the political abstract as dealing with “them”, the danger to civilians is, of course, repeated throughout history.  The Russian revolution involved expropriation and confiscation on “bourgeois” lands with great delight in driving the idle rich into poverty, to bringing them low.  I can recall, when spying on the “People’s Party of New Jersey” in late 1972, that a middle class professional like me was seen personally as a potential “enemy”.  The North Vietnamese, and later the Khmer Rouge, made a great show of targeting civilians seen as counter-revolutionary (and some of that was used to justify the 60s era draft).  During the 1980s, the idea of a low-level Communist subversion by infiltration with radioactive weapons was known, if rarely discussed publicly (it’d an idea that occurs in one of my novel manuscripts dating to 1982).  [That idea, of the lone saboteur, had been known since before WWII and inspired more than one Hitchcock film.] Of course, the “Cultural Revolution” in Maoist China in the 1960s got very personal, requiring almost every intellectual to take his turn becoming a peasant.  It sounds like it was all about karma. There is something about “capitalism” and “individualism” that seems to “exploit” the unseen sacrifices of others – balanced by the fact that the innovation that comes with capitalism gradually raises average living standards for everyone, even if wealth inequality increases on paper. 
After 9/11, and on the day (Sunday October 7, 2001) that President Bush announced operations in Afghanistan, media outlets played video of Osama bin Laden addressing Americans, saying individually they would not feel safe at home, because their government had occupied holy Arab lands.
Yet, the train of rhetoric was somewhat contained, and the biggest fear was large attacks, on other airliners, or even with WMD’s.  Conservative columnists have repeatedly opined about the possibility of radical Islamic terror with nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, and even electromagnetic pulse, even inspiring several novels (like “One Second After”) and maybe one or two upcoming films. 
ISIS or ISIL seems to have taken a totally different tack, that takes asymmetry to a new level, while reducing existential threats to the homeland.  New York Magazine explains “the new normal” here in a piece by Benjamin Wallace-Wells.  In the New York Times, in an Oct. 24 piece, David D. Kirkpatrick describes rhetoric that crosses a “Rubicon” in advocating public savagery against police officers, journalists, their families, or employees of tech companies, or sometimes randomly just anyone, depending on which tweet one read or which plot was broken up (as with recent arrests in Britain and Australia).  The president says that there is “no ideology”, and it seems designed to appeal to psychopaths, almost inviting the zombie attacks of horror movies (which the hatchet attack in Queens, NY looked like).   It’s clear that the brainwashing can trip up those with certain kinds of personality disorders (including OCD, which needs more attention from law enforcement than it now gets), merely beyond those simply not doing well in a competitive, individualistic society (the so-called “disenfranchised” who can play the race card, too).  There is an ideology of sorts, but it goes beyond the expropriation or even “purification” preached by the commie left (although ISIS will play the “exploitation” card when it sees fit).  This one is predicated on the idea that the whole world is evil, so if must be cleansed of non-Muslims ("infidels" or "apostates").  Then future generations can enjoy an Islamic paradise, where sin is impossible.  The psychological tactics of some slick ISIS propaganda seem to shame Muslims at home for non-action when their “brethren” are attacked in Syria or Iraq, and it seems that Obama’s decision to “go in” with airstrikes certainly aggravates the rhetoric. In radical Islam, there is no independent sense of self apart from the future of the whole body of believers.  So young men must give themselves up. 

A lot has been made about a mystery FBI bulletin, warning of attacks amateur lone-wolf attacks against military personnel, their families, and likewise with cops and some media personalities.  Whether the danger is mostly “far” overseas depends on which tweet or video you saw.  Breitbart published the bulletin with a Scribd embed, link here.  It would seem that kidnappings in Turkey, bringing journalists or cops back into Syria sound possible, unless Turkey gets its own act together.  But these warning shave been circulating since the end of August.  Fox News has a reaction to all of this, by John R. Lott Jr. that is quite predictable, here (saying we're all "sitting ducks" unless we learn to defend ourselves personally, like grownups). 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cato hosts book forum on "A Dangerous World?"; brief notes on Canada shooting, North Korean prisoner release

Today, I attended a Cato Book Forum at the Cato Institute in Washington DC for the new paper anthology “A Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security”, edited by Christopher A. Preble (Cato Foreign Policy Studies) and John Mueller (Ohio State), with multiple contributors.  The link for the event is here
The forum, at noon, was held in the larger auditorium on the main floor, the “red room”.  All previous forums there that I had attended had been held in the “blue room” in the basement.  This forum, like many at Cato, was free but required advance registration.
Just before the presentation started and we were asked to turn off our cell phones, the reports about the terror attack in Ottawa, Canada at and near Parliament appeared in the news, but only a few of us knew about it until lunch afterward.  That incident will be covered here later in a subsequent post.
The four panelists, besides moderator John Samples (a Cato Vice President) , included the two editors, as well  as Frank Hoffman (National Defense University) and James Fallows (National Correspondent for The Atlantic). 
I will read the book and give it a formal review on my Book Reviews Blog later.  But it’s well to note a few trends in the remarks.
Preble, for example, noted that most Americans are statistically safer than they have ever been.   The media draws attention to every possible threat (including now Ebola).  But the world of a century ago was a much more dangerous place than it is today.  Mueller noted that the United States has few if any credible threats to its gross national security.  The most dangerous event in history was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  But during the rest of the Cold War, there was no realistic chance that the United States and the Soviet Union would get into nuclear war.   He also doubted that involvement in World War II had been absolutely necessary from a national security perspective.  A Hitler-controlled Europe would be a humanitarian disaster, not a direct one to the US, he argued.  Mao killed seven times as many people in China as the Japanese did.  Similar facts have been cited about Stalin opposed to Hitler.  He viewed ISIS as a terrible threat in Iraq and Syria but not here.
However, Hoffman played “devil’s advocate” with the two book editors.  
There were several questions from the audience.  Many were centered on foreign policy, but one question stimulated a discussion, with unclear outcome, as to whether enough is done to screen cargo at ports for nuclear or other WMD materials  I asked a question about the “personalization” of threats as if they were addressed to individual Americans at home through the media, a practice which seemed to start with Osama bin Laden with his appearances after 9/11 in 2001 but which has been known from both the extreme Left and extreme Right before, and the discussion got into the matter of resilience, that private industry, especially utilities, needed to do much more to protect its infrastructure from solar space weather and severe storms (like Sandy) which would provide more protection from terrorists.

During the catered gourmet sandwich lunch upstairs (complimentary -- for Anthony Bourdain??), one person at my table noted that "leveraging" of terror threats (essentially the subject of my question) didn't start until the 1970s with highjackings related to Palestinian causes. He also noted that the vigrorous contact tracing by CDC for people who have maybe one chance in one million of exposure to Ebola (as in Ohio), disrupting businesses and lives, is due to the fact that Obama can't afford the political consequences of even one more missed case.   
One other quick item:  North Korea has released one of its three American prisoners, Jeffrey Fowle, who had been arrested in May for leaving a Bible in his hotel room, CNN story here. More on the other two prisoners will probably be forthcoming.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

WHO articles seem to self-contradict on the 21-day Ebola incubation period

The World Health Organization is still saying that the official incubation period for Ebola is 2 to 21 days, despite the idea that it takes 42 days for a country to be declared Ebola-free.  The basic link is here
However, in another link , WHO explains the “42 days” concepts for countries, and suggests that there is an asymptotic drop off of probability of disease after 21 days.  Symptoms are still possible, if unlikely after 21 days.   One concern is that low exposures might lead to longer incubations.

There are also some reports that some, perhaps many, people in west Africa develop protective antibodies without ever becoming ill, and that milder cases or low-symptom cases may actually occur naturally. 

An important advance would be the ability to detect infection before symptoms with very low virus loads, perhaps by detecting infected monocytes, or maybe with some sort of “Andraka test” (the medical equivalent of a “Turing test”).  With HIV, Western Blot was more effective than Elisa in detecting early infection back in the 1980s.  The same idea might work here.  Patients (usually health care workers or possibly family caregivers) with early infection could be aggressively treated with anti-viral drugs to prevent symptoms.  Could this work? 

As soon as a vaccine is available, it should be given to health care workers and to residents of West Africa first.  

Richard Preston, author of "The Hot Zone" in the 1990s, has explained how the virus mutates quickly, but so far the diagnostic tests seems to be keeping up with it.
The US government now plans to require travelers from West Africa to land at one of five airports with medical screening, which seems porous.  Should VISAs be revoked temporarily?  I think a modified travel ban could work in the short run until the epidemic has crested.  

Wikipedia attribution link for Ebola epidemic map. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

US military, media inadvertently help encourage ISIS propaganda (former Army intelligence officer)

A former US intelligence officer (apparently while in the Army when serving in Iraq), says that US detention camps in Iraq apparently became the breeding ground for recruiting many of today’s ISIs fighters.  CNN has the story and video here, link.  Many detainees were innocent, simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.  But many were radicalized by other prisoners, who could fool the US Army into increasing punishments in the camps into radicalizing them.  Similar radicalization may happen in prison populations and ghettos in the US, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.  
CNN’s Brit Baldwin interviews Stephanie Elam about more material on threats by ISIS to attack police, journalists, and military members’ families, video link here.  Elam points out that the coverage of the Frein case in Pennsylvania sends the idea overseas that attacks on police get media attention, and that the media has a “balancing act”.  The ISIS capabilities of mapping possible targets in social media was presented by former CIA operative Tony Shaffer at the News Channel 8 forum “Your Voice, Your Future: The New Terror Threat” on Oct. 18;  see the coverage that day on my “cf” blog (“Films on threats to freedon”), or look here.

or other WJLA videos.  . 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

ISIS advancing quickly despite US air strikes

ISIS seems near to capturing the town of Kolbani, in Syria near the Turkish border (Fox story) and the province of Anbar (CNN story), approaching Baghdad outskirts and threatening the airport.  The US has tried to delay the attack with low-level helicopters.

It still seems likely that ISIS can take the entire city itself, but it can fire into the city and cause disruption with sleeper cells.
It's clear that when Obama withdrew from Iraq, he left a power vacuum, and a corrupt government and military that could not defend the country.  There are more calls that US ground troops will have to return.

This has been a horrible time for Obama's foreign policy, which could undercut the advances he has made in equality areas like gays in the military and the end of DADT.    Obama's administration "overestimated" the capabilities of Iraq's armed forces, to put it mildly,.

As the world becomes more dangerous again, individual rights of people everywhere are put in peril, supposedly for the "common good" and "the future".  
The Washington Post has a most chilling report by Griffe Witte on the recruiting tactics and "message" of British extremist Anjem Choudary, who stays barely within the law as he recruits impressionable young men into a vision of Islamist world domination, link here

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cuban migration suddenly surges, echoing issues from 1994 and even 1980

Cuban migration by raft or amateur boat to south Florida is increasing markedly, according to a front page story in the New York Times Friday by Frances Robles, link here.  The last big surge of migration had occurred in 1994.
The story catches my eye because there was a surge in 1980 when I was living in Dallas.  There was a plea, made to sound urgent, in the LGBT community then, to house gay refugees – at the time, many of the refugees had been thought to be gay.
Now, there are major issues of immigration from many parts of the world – the child migration from Central America, illegals from Mexico, and people seeking asylum from Africa, the Middle East, and Russia, due to persecution on either religious (Muslim against Christian) or social (often LGBT) grounds.  
However, the administration seems very reluctant to make an issue of the availability of hosts here to sponsor people who do not already have relatives to support them.  One reason is that the asylum process could itself be abused to allow terrorists to come to the country covertly.  Another is simply that the government does not want to encourage illegal migration.  This is an issue with a lot of moral tension.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Many children orphaned in West Africa by Ebola (as well as previous wars); new story about ISIS fighters caught at US-Mexican border from conservative congressman (denied by administration).

The Washington Post reports on the problems or orphans in Liberia (as well as Sierra Leone), in a front page story by Lenny Bernstein and Gail Sullivan, “A new generation or orphans: Liberia, still recovering from civil war, now has a wave of children left without parents by Ebola”, here

Other people who have recovered and have antibodies to Ebola are now expected to care for them.
One of the caregivers who took care of mother in 2009-2010 had come from Sierra Leone 20 years before.  Sebastian Junger covered civil war in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s, as I recall.
Another coworker, in the 1990s, took a management position with the Liberian Ship Registry (run from northern Virginia) when I worked for the parent company (then USLICO).  It’s likely she would have had to travel there for her job.

It has been reported that Thomas Eric Duncan has died of Ebola in Dallas early Wednesday.  

There is another story on CBS, Rev. Duncan Hunter claims that at least ten ISIS fighters have been caught trying to come into the US (Texas) across Mexico, link here.  The Department of Homeland Security denies it now.  The story first broke on Fox News (known for "conservative coverage").  

Media reports also indicate that Scotland Yard arrested four men in London on suspicion of an Australian-style "beheading" plot.  They can be held for 13 days.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Arrest of "radicalized" teen at O'Hare in Chicago stimulates more examination of radicalization in the West

There is a lot of attention to the arrest of an American 19-year-old Mohammed Hamzah Khan, arrested at O’Hare airport with a round-trip plane ticket to Turkey through Vienna.  Authorities believe he would not have come back, and probably would have been put on the front lines in Syria, probably dying in combat soon. Khan, however, says he intended to do humanitarian work.  He was in court today.  The ABC News story with Brian Ross is here.   It was not immediately known what contact bought the plane ticket.
Investigators looked at physical evidence in his parents’ home, where Khan left a letter saying that the didn’t want his own kids to grow up in “moral filth” and thought that Americans who pay taxes to support oppression of Muslims share in the guilt.  Again, he seemed oblivious to the brutality of the war in Iraq and Syria. 
Peter Bergen and David Sterman have an important piece on CNN, “When Americans leave for jihad”, link here.   Stevan Weine has a CNN column “Stop ISIS from recruiting Americans”, here where he discusses community CVE (countering violent extremism) efforts as well as a program called :Safe Spaces”. I discussed a particularly compelling story about a British jihadist and what he said about "selfishness" here.  
One thread is particularly evident, with a lot of aggressive behavior by young males, either in Islamic jihad or vigilante squads hunting down gays in Russia.  They claim that they have to “clean up the world” for their future children, an idea I could not experience.  Radical Muslims often claim they are part of a larger body of belief and must respond to attacks on any of that body.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Authorities disturbed at how social media is used by overseas radical Islam to inspire crude homeland attacks as well as recruit fighters

Various news sites of a tabloid or conservative nature have been reporting on ISIS forums that encourage “lone wolves” to target popular meccas in the US like NYC and Las Vegas, and have tended to emphasize simple, crude weapons made with everyday materials, such as made for the Boston Marathon attack.  A typical such site is “vocative”, link here

The material in the forums has been widely known for decades and used to be widely printed before the Internet.  What’s alarming to authorities is the way social media is being used to interest susceptible young men in conducting crude, unpredictable attacks. 

Of course, material on who to make nuclear weapons is also on the Web, but would be much harder for an ad hoc group to pull off.  High-tech attacks (and cybeattacks) presumably would be much more likely to be detected by intelligence and law enforcement and therefore more preventable. 
The possibility of “asymmetric” attacks by well-motivated extremists really did exist during the Cold War, even the Vietnam era.  I was aware of some of this when I was in the Army mself.  Most of the attention in earlier decades was turned on radical groups like the Weathermen or extremely criminal groups like Manson. But the motivation among extreme radicals from the far Left in the 1970s especially was probably much more “personal” than it is with radical Islam today.  

Update: Oct. 6

CNN has a chilling story of a female school teacher who joined the women's ISIS brigade, and then regretted it, link

Friday, October 3, 2014

Hong Kong unbrella protests really do center on the right to elect representative government

The right to vote for candidates that your own people have vetted seems to be at the heart of the protests in Hong Kong, as China, which took over Hong Kong in 1997, says any candidates must be chosen by Beijing.  This would apply to the 2017 election.
Oct. 1 was a national holiday in China.
CBS news has a video from three days ago, at this link (embed code doesn't work). 
What comes to mind personally, is pleas from others, especially local candidates, for me to become more personally involved in their campaigns.
US News reported that Hong Kong “umbrella” protesters threatened to call off crisis talks, recent story here.  Protesters want the current leader to step down.   

HK’s legal name is “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. 
The Washington Post has an important op-ed on p A15 Friday, "What China promised Hong Kong" here.
Wikipedia attribution link for Hong Kong photo here