Monday, March 28, 2016

New York Times offers editorial on stopping nuclear terror; ISIS "leader" Baghdadi incorrectly reported as deceased for a while by search engine summary

The New York Times ran a very welcome or at least overdue and necessary editorial Monday “Keeping Nuclear Weapons from Terrorists” .

The editorial notes the nuclear waste around the world, particularly former Soviet republics, a concern that has drawn the laser focus of former GA Senator Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Institute. Recently escalating stories in the media about security lapses and incidents around a nuclear power plant in Belgium add to the concern.
It is considerably more likely that a terrorist could build a dirty bomb than an actual atomic bomb, although handling of the raw materials is quite difficult and would normally cause radiation sickness for perpetrators quickly, a horrible way to die (as with the polonium assassination of a Russian Putin competitor in London, a mini dirty weapon which may have set a precedent).

But the consequences for a western society could be irreversible, especially in a large urban center like NYC.  It would not be immediately medically dangerous to most adults, but it would make large areas of real estate worthless and uninhabitable, sending a lot of people into instant poverty.  There is no real precedent in a western country for handling this kind of event – except maybe Fukushima in Japan (or Chernobyl, in the Ukraine when it was a Soviet republic).  Motivation for such an event would be more likely secular politics than religious, as comporting to the thinking of “expropriation” by the radical Left in the early 1970s (or by the Bolsheviks themselves.

The other biggest practical existential threat remains EMP, which does not require nuclear weapons (contrary to common belief).  And there are long term technical solutions which require attention from policy makers, without respect to partisanship.  But Ted Cruz did us a favor in bringing it up.

Today, when you did a search in Google for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for a while the right column on a computer (not phone) listed him as deceased March 22, the day of the Brussels attacks.  That has since been corrected on Google. Wikipedia notes his death has been incorrectly reported numerous times.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

NBC updates report on possible plot by ISIS in Europe to build radioactive bomb

NBC News has a major update on the apparent plot by two ISIS brothers who killed themselves in the Brussels attack, to obtain materials to build a dirty bomb.  

The plot seemed to involve kidnapping of a relative of a nuclear scientist. Details are sketchy, and sound like the plot of a spy novel. And some of the details seem to come from a taxi driver in Brussels.  A posting March 22 gives earlier stories about a possible plot which the media had softpedaled.

Experts on NBC said that it is very unlikely this plan could have been carried out.

I did tweet this report out from the NBC site moments ago, and it copied to Facebook.

In France, another major arrest was made today, unrelated. 

Hillary Clinton rehearses logical plan for defeating ISIS in CA speech; some call her text a "tautology"

Hillary Clinton delivered a fundraising speech in California Wednesday where she outlined a plan for defeating ISIS, in three parts.  I couldn’t find the exact speech, but the outline seems to be here.  (Blake Neff).

Clinton believes there has to be a logical solution to the Apple-FBI debate (where Tim Cook has characterized what the government wants would be the equivalent of capability for eavesdropping on any private conversation in the pre-tech era, KGB style)

Clinton’s speech says: take down, dismantle, and harden defenses.  That sounds like a tautology, many said on Twitter.

But the most nettlesome problem is why so many young people are easily recruited online, which is a bit like asking why people join gangs.  On the other side of things, there is a determined enemy willing to turn western indulgences upon themselves with incredible irony.  How can you submit to God and simultaneously be so alienated from real people?

Time had carried an earlier speech on defeating ISIS.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Brussels attacks follow arrest of Paris suspect by only a few days.

My own cell phone pinged a few times early this morning, before I checked, and quickly learned what had happened in Brussels.  The three explosions, in at least two areas, appear to have been suicide bombings , but that is not certain yet.

The media has been asked by authorities in Belgium (and France, the Netherlands, and the UK) not to publish details about the police suspect investigations going on in Brussels.  NBC does report very recent progress in a residential investigation.   In most cases, only the established press is likely to learn any of these details anyway.  But sometimes ordinary people learn of things by happenstance, so if anything like that were to show up in my own social media feeds, I would honor it.   Everyone I know in that part of the world is OK and has checked in on social media.

The Wall Street Journal is already discussing the reply of the presidential candidates.  As I reported late last night, Ted Cruz made an unusually provocative remark about WMD to Wolf Blitzer last night. Just a few hours, it turns out, before these attacks.  The broad brushed combative tone of Donald Trump’s remarks is not the appropriate response.  Oddly, Trump has suggested that he might reduce the US commitment to NATO.

Peter Bergen's analysis of the forensics on here,
There are disturbing reports of evacuation of a nuclear power plant in Belgium.  CBS followed this story with a detailed account by Tucker Reals, indicating that Belgian authorities feared kidnapping of a nuclear plant officer to try to get access to materials to make a dirty bomb. The story sounds bizarre, like a Dateline or 48 Hours mystery. In the US, Taylor Wilson, Peter Thiel and others have proposed that the power grids could be make safer by building and using small backup underground fission reactors with new safety features.  All of this fits into Ted Cruz's remarks about a different WMD Tuesday night when talking to Wolf Blitzer, if someone has the imagination to connect the dots -- and that needs to be someone other than a fiction or movie screenplay writer.

There is material coming out in the media about "mother of Satan" explosives (acetone peroxides), easily purchased raw materials but difficult for "amateurs" to handle without blowing themselves up in the lab; highly unstable (reducing agent) chemicals needing oxygen.

In fact, ABC News reported in the evening of March 24 on apparent "spying" on a nuclear power plant scientist in Belgium, and the New York Times had reported on this matter as early as Feb. 18, with little notice from most of the media or the candidates, here (Milan Schreuer and Alissa Rubin).  And Foreign Policy has a blunt story on Feb 29 by Patrick Malone and Jeffrey Smith, "The Islamic State's plot to build a dirty bomb", here. It was not mentioned in major news broadcasts.

This story will evolve quickly.

Wikipedia attribution link for Brussels picture by Ssolbergj,

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ted Cruz mentions EMP threat on CNN to Wolf Blitzer tonight, first time ever for a presidential candidate

Tonight, in a 1:1 on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, in which all five surviving presidential candidates spoke, Ted Cruz specifically mentioned the EMP (electromagnetic pulse) threat, in conjunction specifically with Iran and possibly Obama’s deal.  Cruz mentioned Frank Gaffney as an expert on the issue.  He said that the East Coast could be in the most danger, with tens of millions of lives lost.  I will look further into the details behind the remarks.  But this is the first time any of the presidential candidates have mentioned any of the specific WMD threats as such to my knowledge.  Real estate interests (Trump) would be most concerned about radioactive dispersion devices.

Blitzer and Cruz also discussed Saddam Hussein, and the idea that Hussein’s possible access to WMD’s (and possible involvement in the 1993 WTC incident) may have been more eminent than generally reported (after Bush’s war, which supposedly reported in no WMD’s, although I remember some specific reports of one or two).

Cruz also indicated that Ukraine is very dangerous, as if to say that a nuclear or EMP threat could come from Vladimir Putin's Russia instead of from radical Islam. North Korea needs to be factored into this concern, especially for Alaska and the Canadian and US Pacific Northwest.

Trump, to his credit, did mention infrastructure problems tonight.  No more “Lying Ted”.

Stay tuned on this one.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Northern Virginia resident returns through Kurdish connection, regrets attempt to join ISIS, says he was totally wrong and misled

Matt Zapotosky has a disturbing narrative, in the Washington Post, of a 26 year old man from northern Virginia, Khweis, who flew to the Mideast and crossed into Syria and tried to join ISIL, gradually realizing he did not believe in their ideology.  He spent time in Raqqa and Mosul.
The young man describes his ordeal to a Kurdish TV station and has been arrested in Iraq.  He will be deported, and it is not yet clear what federal charges may be brought when he returns.

He said that he had the impression that Americans would be treated better by Kurds, who first attracted attention as a people in 1991 during the first Persian Gulf War.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that GOP candidate Donald Trump stands out among candidates in opposing President Bush’s Iraq war, maintaining that the world would have been safer with a weakened Saddam Hussein still in power (since he would catch terrorists) rather than with a complete power vacuum that allowed ISIS to move forward. He seems to have made a similar comment about Gadadffi in Libya.  I still remember watching the "shock and awe" in the theater of the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis one night almost exactly thirteen years ago.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Suspect in Paris 11/13 attacks captured in Brussels today; had apparently visited gay areas before attack

Fugitive Salah Abdeslam has been captured alive but wounded in an apartment in the Molenbeek section of Brussels today.  His whereabouts had been determined from a DNA match.

He had been wanted in connection with the Paris attacks on Nov. 13. 2013 and was one of the most wanted men in Europe.  The attempt to find him had resulted in shutting down the entire city of Brussels the weekend after the attack.

CNN’s detailed story is here.

However, Michael Weiss, discussing the capture on CNN, noted reports that Abdeslam had been seen visiting a gay area of Brussels, including some clubs, in the days and weeks before 11/13.  There had been some reports to this effect in European media, like in the Mirror, shortly after the attacks.  Authorities think he might have been trying to commit pickpocket crimes and get false id cards, but he could have been scouting targets for attack.  I had not heard this aspect of the story back in November.  No other members of the community are reported as “knowing” him in the media yet. 

The situation in Brussels is still active with other raids in progress.

Abdeslam had been stopped once by authorities after the attack, and authorities did not realize he was a suspect.

The Washington Post reports that the suspect is in court in Belgium now, awaiting extradition to France, where he could face life in prison.
Street picture (Ninove St) by Aktron, Wikipedia attribution link  under CCSA 3.0.  I have been in Brussels only once, in May 2001.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thailand harasses siblings of professor who criticizes monarchy while abroad; DPRK's warheads

Oavin Chachavalpongpun, of Kyoto University and a visiting scholar at Cambridge, London, wrote in the Washington Post on Thursday March 10, 2016, p. A19, “How the Thai monarchy is trying to silence me” .  Apparently, for lecturing about the future of the Thai monarchy in the UK, his sister living in Bangkok is harassed by police. 

It strange to me for governments to hold individuals responsible for siblings or other family members besides their own children or descendants – for other for whom they bear no responsibility for bringing into the world.  It doesn’t seem that the definition of “family values” in these cultures is clear-cut or depends on personal decisions.

He also explains how he was summoned when teaching in Japan and forced to seek refugee status in Japan.  This all relates to the lese-majeste law, Article 112 of Thai criminal code.
In a separate matter, we’ve all heard about North Korea’s claim that it can mount a nuclear warhead on its missiles now.  We can’t afford to get this wrong. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

CNN reports UK police warning about impending enormous attacks likely to be attempted in UK, Europe

CNN has just reported, in a story by Max Foster and Tim Hume, that UK police are warning of “enormous” potential ISIS attacks, story here. The story leads to another CNN story giving global maps, color coded, of where ISIS and ISIS-inspired attacks have occurred.  The story indicated concerns over soft targets, as opposed to military and governmental. It is also based on the large number of people who have been to Syria returning to Europe.   It’s odd that the story comes out that the absurd film “London Has Fallen” (Movies blog, March 6) opened. It's unclear if "enormous" implies WMD use, like chemical or perhaps biological or radioactive or EMP.
There is increasing recognition that the theories of Eric Hoffer, published in the 1950s ("The True Believer", Books, March 7), help explain why young men will join a mass movement like ISIS and long for a “group mind” belonging experience.

Friday, March 4, 2016

South Korea's biggest boy band could break apart due to military draft

On a day that North Korea has ordered that its nuclear weapons (whose effectiveness is dubious and unknown) be put into a high readiness state, the Washington Post, in a “Style” section story by Anna Fifeld, reports “The military draft threatens to break up (South) Korea’s top boy band”.  That group is called Bug Bang, probably not well known to westerners.

South Korea requires that all able-bodied men complete 20 months of military service by age 32, and for some members, time is getting short.  In the US, the draft age used to expire at 26-1/2 (until it ended in 1973, where there had been a lottery since 1969, which had replaced the controversial system of student deferments.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Facebook executive in Brazil detained because WhatsApp subsidiary could not provide decryption for a drug investigation; a bad omen for the FBi-Apple fight here?

Brazil arrested but now just freed a Facebook executive in Brazil when the company’s WhatsApp subsidiary could or would not intercept messages connected to a drug investigation. Dom Phillips and Ellen Nakashima report here early Wednesday.

WhatsApp operates separately from Facebook, so the arrest sounds even more problematic.  So are the temporary shutdowns. And Brazil has also been trying to demand encryption breaks for investigations in child pornography.

So the feud between the US DOJ and Apple is symptomatic of a problem likely to occur all over the world.  Wouldn’t European and the British governments want the same back door to investigate terror attacks?