Security Strategy — New Book Arrives on Kindle

Technology security visionary Stephen Bryen has published a new collection of pivotal essays on national security and cyber security to help policy makers and citizens understand the real threats to America’s security.

            “These interesting, colorful and engaging essays demonstrate deep   understanding of what led to exacerbate the technological, foreign policy and national security challenges facing America today”   –Rachel     Ehrenfeld, Director of the American Center for Democracy and author  of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, Bonus  Books, 2003, 2005

Cover of Kindle Edition

Essays in Technology, Security and Strategy targets important questions including: 

  • Is the United States still a Great Power? 
  • Will NATO and Europe fight? 
  • Will Japan build its own nuclear weapons? 
  • Why Iraq is a national security disaster. 
  • After an Iran deal will there be a Saudi-Israeli alliance? 
  • Why spying is out of control. 
  • Sharing our defense budget with China. 

On domestic affairs: 

  • Why the Stingray police spy tool will end up in the Supreme Court. 
  • The day S. critical infrastructure goes up in smoke. 
  • And U.S. Policy and Cyber Attacks—time for a Byte for a Byte. 

Readers will be find new information and move through a unique landscape of original ideas and practical solutions to an ever increasing threat to our security and our way of life. 

Contributing co-authors include Peabody and Edward R. Murrow award winning producer, journalist and author Rebecca Abrahams and Shoshana Bryen, an internationally recognized expert on defense policy and Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington DC. Mrs. Bryen is editor of inFocus Quarterly

Rebecca Abrahams

Rebecca Abrahams

Stephen Bryen

Stephen Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

For Rebecca Abrahams 

For Shoshana Bryen

About the Author: Dr. Stephen Bryen served as a senior Defense Department official responsible for technology security and has headed a major international corporation in the United States.  He brings 45 years of experience in government, international politics, business and policy expertise into focus in this important new book.

Dr. Bryen twice was awarded the Pentagon medal for Distinguished Public Service. 

For more information visit


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No Confessions in North Korea, Just Bloody Revenge Killings

by Stephen Bryen

In December 2013 I wrote for this blog an article called “What really Happened in North Korea.”  I was focusing on the hasty seizure of Jang Song Thaek off the floor of the North Korean assembly, a sort of trial and his immediate execution.  Since then the executions at the leadership level in North Korea have grown, with Jang Song Thaek’s colleagues and family members, and now his prominent wife Kim Kyong-hui, the daughter of North Korea’s founder Kim il Sung reportedly poisoned, although unnamed North Korean officials say that is not true. The latest atrocity was the execution using anti-aircraft weapons of North Korea’s Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol around April 30th.  The Defense Minister was accused of falling asleep on some official occasions and also using harsh words in speaking to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. There is no official word yet on the actual charges against Hyon Yong-chol but the South Korean intelligence agency reports that the execution was witnessed by more than 100 people.  This is in the well-known pattern of North Korean state executions where families of the victim or victims are forced to watch the killings.

The North Korean pattern of official murders is rather different from the technique used in China and in the Soviet Union.”In China and Stalin’s Russia the purpose of the purges and trials was primarily the consolidation of power. The trials served the purpose of discrediting political factions and movements, creating a justification for the action of the state in making the arrests, and produced an aura of fear among those would-be opponents of the regimes. In Russia the purges of the old Bolsheviks morphed into the massive Great Purge that led to millions of deaths and a chain of prisons known as the Gulag Archipelago (the title of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous book).”

The North Korean leader unlike his Soviet and Chinese analogues, is in much more desperate shape than either Mao or Stalin were.  They were using show trials to consolidate power: Kim Jong-un is using executions to try and hold onto power.  There is a huge difference, and the outcomes also are likely to be quite the reverse of what happened in Russia and China.

North Korea’s leader may not survive much longer. Assuming that he will soon wind up dead, most likely by assassination since that is the most “neutral” way to get rid of him, it is worth assessing what will happen next.

It is likely that a military leader or a group of military leaders will initially take control of North Korea.  Probably their first step will be to liquidate the Kim il Sung dynasty, meaning to kill off any remaining family members and relatives.  This, in turn, will set the stage for a power struggle over who the actual successor will be.  The factions will look for outside support.

There are three candidates for outside support.  China will be pushed to play a role, but there are risks should China line up with the loser in any power struggle.  Russia also is a candidate, and even though Putin has an expansionist mind, there is little he can gain from engaging in North Korea.  The candidate with the strongest interest is South Korea, but South Korea has to be extremely careful lest it get involved in a civil war in North Korea.

South Korea’s long term interest is Korean unification.  Korean unification would immediately make Korea (north and south combined) into a significant nuclear power.  But it would be a very costly and tricky process of reintegration, far more difficult than the dissolution of East Germany and its integration into a unified German state.

One of the dangers of a long period of instability in North Korea is the risk that a war could break out between North and South.  An emerging North Korean leader might find it useful to start a war as a way of galvanizing the North Korean state and creating a useful emergency.  Externalizing internal conflicts is a familiar tactic.  Such a war would be highly destructive to both sides, would not be a rational action, but nevertheless is a real possibility under circumstances of extreme stress.

US Policy makers should be dusting off their contingency plans now.  One step that seems almost a requirement is to put enough deterrent in place in South Korea such that any thought of starting a war will lead to dire consequences for any North Korean future leader.

Unfortunately the United States has been in such a great global retreat, that thinking about proactively preparing against the risk of destabilization on the Korean peninsula is unlikely to be a priority in a supine US government,. But the dangers for the United States also are significant.  Should a disastrous war break out in Korea and America stand back unprepared, America’s position in Asia will be significantly diminished and her allies will have no choice but to make bad deals with China as the price for survival.

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Hillary’s Phone and the True Security Risk to the United States

By Stephen Bryen

Larry Klayman’s Judicial Watch has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to obtain the release of documents regarding Hillary Clinton’s efforts to gain approval for use of an iPhone or iPad to conduct official business while she was secretary of state (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:15-cv-00646)).  The notion is that no such documents exist –that is, during the time she was Secretary of State Ms. Clinton was allegedly using an iPhone, iPad or both and allegedly never asked for clearance.

Unfortunately there is widespread use of smartphones and tablets by US officials, mostly without permission.  While these are supposedly for private use and not official business (the latter would entail getting an approval), not much has been made of the use of these devices.  But the truth is they constitute a huge security risk for two important reasons: smartphones and tablets are unsafe; officials conduct business on them notwithstanding the risks and in spite of regulations that would require approval to use them.

While the practice no doubt has led to the compromise of sensitive information, most of the time we don’t hear about it.  A foreign intelligence service with access to a senior official’s phone would not want to disclose they were listening in, because that would give away an intelligence gold mine.  We do know, of course, following disclosures by Edward Snowden, that the US on its own and in cooperation with foreign intelligence services such as GCHQ in the United Kingdom and the BND in Germany, routinely spy on the smartphones and tablets of foreign officials.  Indeed, it appears the BND cooperated with NSA in spying even on Chancellor Merkel’s smartphones (over the years at least five of her smartphones were compromised in this way).  Even so, anxious not to come up against her own intelligence services or to lose American support on issues of paramount importance to Germany, Mrs. Merkel has defended the BND and tempered her anger over NSA-led spying in Germany aimed at German officials and corporations.

Nuland’s Phone

With Ukraine in an uproar in 2013, violent protests in the street, Victoria Nuland called Geoffrey Pyatt, the US Ambassador in Kiev. A full transcript of their conversation was leaked to the press.  Here is just one small part of what Nuland and Pyatt had to say:

“Voice thought to be Pyatt’s: I think we’re in play. The Klitschko [Vitaly Klitschko, one of three main opposition leaders] piece is obviously the complicated electron here. Especially the announcement of him as deputy prime minister and you’ve seen some of my notes on the troubles in the marriage right now so we’re trying to get a read really fast on where he is on this stuff. But I think your argument to him, which you’ll need to make, I think that’s the next phone call you want to set up, is exactly the one you made to Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk, another opposition leader]. And I’m glad you sort of put him on the spot on where he fits in this scenario. And I’m very glad that he said what he said in response.

“Nuland: Good. I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”[1]

Our two genius diplomats, working on an open line, spoke in uncomplimentary terms about Ukrainian leaders.  Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt made it even worse by acting as if they were the decision makers on who would take over leadership in the Ukraine.

It isn’t clear what type of phone, landline or cellular, Pyatt was using, but Nuland’s call seems to have been made on a mobile phone.  Had she called from her office and had Pyatt been in his, they would have used a secure telephone.

As for the wiretap, that was the easiest part.  The Ukrainian telephone system was put there by the Russians before Ukraine became independent.  Its trunk lines passes through Moscow.  While Nuland’s phone conversation call could have been leaked by anyone, the Moscow connection seems the most likely source.  The Russians would surely gain from embarrassing the United States.[2]

A Danger to State Department Employees

State Department officials posted overseas are at significant risk using commercial smartphones and tablets.  Most of the time they are on diplomatic assignments with their families, meaning that the already blurry line between “official” business and personal affairs dissolves into nothingness, especially if the host country is unwelcoming or dangerous.  Even assignments to posts in such “safe” places as European capitals is a risk, because there are moles in the local intelligence services and police and because terrorists today use sophisticated intercept tools as part of their arsenal of weapons to track targets. A good example is France where Islamic radicals exploited social media connections, especially Facebook, to identify targets in the Jewish community. When you think about the vulnerability of families of diplomats using smartphones equipped with accurate GPS the fact of their personal vulnerability is easy to understand.

Who is Responsible?

It is easy to say that public officials are responsible for their behavior, and if they are using smartphones and tablets without government approval, they create a security risk.  But what if they got approval to use these devices from their agency?  Does that make it acceptable?[3]

The truth is that using commercial smartphones by government officials is extraordinarily risky and dangerous.  It means, as already noted, that conversations can be intercepted, contacts identified, and locations pinpointed.

While convenient to say that officials are acting improperly, or agencies have given approval thoughtlessly, it is even more the case that proper security policy is lacking, not just in the State Department, but throughout the US government. The Pentagon, for example, or the military are no better than State, neither is the White House any safer than the Department of Homeland Security.

We are bombarded these days by different cyber plans concocted by the US government, most of which are unmitigated garbage that achieve nothing. If our government just got smart about smartphones it would be a significant achievement.  That our government security experts have failed, and failed dismally, should tell you more than you may want to know about our lack of security and preparedness.



[2] Excerpted from my forthcoming book, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Publishers, 2016).

[3] The Defense Department has recently “approved” three smartphones as “secure,” which is a reckless and unjustified step that enhances the danger of using smartphones and tablets in official business.

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Has Putin Blundered in Iran?

By EllsworthSK (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

By EllsworthSK (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

By Stephen Bryen

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia may have finally blundered in his latest move supplying Antey 2500s, an upgraded version of the air and missile defense S-300 system to Iran.

The Antey is a capable, mobile air defense missile system and can fire two types of missiles known respectively as the SA-12A Gladiator and the SA-12B Giant (NATO terminology).

Iran obviously wants the Antey system to protect its nuclear weapons program, especially its large underground facilities including Fordow and Parchin. Fordow is one of Iran’s underground uranium enrichment facilities; Parchin is a military complex that produces conventional weapons and is used for testing implosion devices for nuclear weapons.

Iran will also need to protect its long range missile bases because it is likely that Iran is moving in the direction of mounting nuclear warheads on missiles.

Clearly neither Putin nor the Iranians have any expectation that the Iran nuclear deal will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, leading to the obvious conclusion that Iran will need to protect its nuclear assets from an attack either from Israel, Saudi Arabia or the United States.

Many thought that Israel and Russia had reached a tacit agreement a few years ago whereby Russia would not supply any advanced air defense system to Iran. In turn Israel would not supply weapons to Ukraine. It is, therefore, far from surprising that in Putin’s comments on the missile deal he went out of his way to warn Israel not to supply weapons to Ukraine.

This is not the first time that the Russians have played roulette with Israel. On a number of occasions the Russians supplied missiles to Syria (some destined for Hezbollah) and these shipments were destroyed by Israel. The Russians never openly complained about the Israeli countermeasures.

Putin’s decision to send missiles to Iran is not a cost-free exercise for Russia. While Putin has been energetically exploiting the vacuum in US leadership and the weakness of NATO, he should know that this is a finite problem. The infamous American “sleeping Giant” will awaken, and the Russians will pay a price for their adventurism.

In the short term, Russian credibility as an arbiter in any brokered deal with Iran on nuclear weapons has now gone from positive to strongly negative. Taken in measure with Russian military operations in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, threats to former Russian Republics such as Latvia and extreme nervousness in Poland, the Russian “forward” posture could expose rather quickly the limited capability of Russia’s armed forces. Even in the Ukraine the Russian “separatists” and the Russian army behind them has not been nearly as successful as Putin must have hoped. Somehow the Ukrainians have rallied and at least are holding their own against a much better equipped opposition supported by a logistics chain and intelligence gathering system far more sophisticated than anything in the hands of Ukraine.

So far neither Europe or America has provided military equipment to Ukraine. Israel too has been hands off. But if the Saudis, for example, understand that Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine isn’t much different than Russia’s support of aggression from Iran in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, the Saudis may put the Ukraine on their “must help” list. There is virtually nothing the Russians could do about Saudi support to Ukraine and it would confer on Saudi Arabia substantial leverage over the Russians vis a vis Iran. The under-the-table relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel could assure the right pipeline, the right planning and the right intelligence support to bolster the Ukrainians.

In short, Russia has stuck its nose out pretty far, and backtracking won’t be either easy or pleasant.

There are already signs of rebellion inside Russia. The erosion of the economy and the loss of life of Russian soldiers seconded to the “separatists” in Ukraine does not sit well with the majority of Russians. Are er at the start of a repeat of Afghanistan in Ukraine? It is foolish to believe that the Russian people are really behind Putin’s aggression: in fact, all the signs point in the reverse direction. The murder of Putin’s top political challenger Boris Nemtsov, the crackdown on journalists, and other repressive actions inside Russia are signs of a frightened leadership, not a confident one. Everything suggests Putin is in increasing trouble. His recent disappearance for reasons still unexplained suggest that he is living on borrowed time.

Most of all, there is very little concrete reason for Putin to support the radical regime in Iran, anymore than there is any reason for Obama to do so. One of the modern mysteries is how two world leaders could bet so much on such a repressive and dangerous regime. It is especially tragic for the United States that could have easily and purposefully supported the Iranian opposition that could have led to a pro-Western government.

In strategic terms, Russian supply of missiles to Iran and Russian support for Syria and the parallel Iranian military intervention in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq (with a new one developing in Yemen) does not make Iran safe for Russia. In fact it is a pit that will suck up Russian resources with no discernible return on investment. If the only purpose of Russia’s game is to give the United States a black eye and damage America’s prestige in the Middle East, the Russians need not have bothered. Washington is doing a more than competent job of it all by itself.

While Russia is desperate for money and will do almost anything to get it, supplying missiles to Iran combined with her other aggressive activities in the end will bleed Russia’s economy even more and set back any progress to the normalization of Russia in the world community. Once again the Russians will have squandered their wealth and resources in unprofitable and dangerous ventures.  Finally Putin has stumbled and his missile deal is the capstone of a series of blunders that in the end will chase him from office.


Twenty four hours after the above article was written Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper, carried the following headline: “Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says ‘a political and legal decision’ needs to be reached before the missiles can be shipped.” He added that the missiles would not be shipped “anytime soon.”
So the Putin has found out that he went too far and has intelligently backed away with an appropriate face saving gesture

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The Fish in Peace and War

by Stephen Bryen*

The British learned about it from a spy working in a New York Congressman’s office who informed the British governor of New York by sending a coded message. The message said that the colonists would launch a new weapon in Boston Harbor where the British fleet was then based in 1775. Thus warned the British tried to take precautions, but at that point nothing happened.

The secret weapon was a near-underwater vehicle equipped with a drill screw and a barrel bomb. The purpose of the screw was to drill a hole into the submerged side of a British warship. Then, using a timing mechanism designed by a New Haven watchmaker named Isaac Doolitle, a flint-lock trigger would set off gunpowder packed into a barrel. On September 6, 1776 the semi-submersible, dubbed The Turtle, was taken out into New York harbor near Governor’s island where the British fleet flagship HMS Eagle was moored. The drill could not penetrate the Eagle’s hull because, while it was wooden, it was covered with copper sheathing. When British soldiers caught on to the attempt to attack the Eagle, the barrel bomb, which was then called a Torpedo, was released and floated down-river where it exploded. The Turtle managed to escape.

The Turtle, designed by Yale student David Bushnell, was the first submersible system used in combat. That it failed was rather an intelligence failure more than anything else, since the copper sheathing of the Eagle and other British vessels had only recently been introduced. While the presence of copper sheathing was new for the British fleet, other historians claim that the HMS Eagle didn’t have it, but that the crewman manning the Turtle either hit an iron bolt or some other iron plate and not the copper.

Bushnell was a creative inventor. While he used the Turtle to go after the British flagship, he went on to set off a floating keg mine aside the HMS Cerberus in 1777. It killed four sailors but the ship survived until it was captured by the French in 1778 and burned. Bushnell’s adventures with floating keg bombs not only earned him the admiration of many colonists, but a popular ditty was written to cheer the troops and encourage the public to keep the revolutionary faith. (Listen to the song Battle of the Kegs here  )

The Turtle was one of a number of early submarines built in the United States and Europe from the mid-1600’s until the latter part of the 19th century. All of them followed an important principal learned from fish: the ability to raise and lower themselves in water by adjusting ballast.

A fish does this by use of its bladder, called a swim bladder. Not all fish have swim bladders, but those that do can use them to raise or lower themselves in water.

The swim bladder has had value to humans for many centuries.** Today the collagen derived from the fish bladder from cooking is used to produce Isinglass that is used to clarify beer (and making Isinglass-cleared beers problematic for vegetarians). More recently Isinglass is being used to treat wounds without the need for additional dressing. Thus an ancient material is playing a new role in the rapid treatment of wounded soldiers.

The same material was used centuries back for condoms. It was also used in court plaster because of its glue like character. But most importantly it was used to produce much strong weapons in ancient times.

The bow and arrow is a very ancient weapon, known for more than 10,000 years. It was essential for hunting as well as for war. But, as archers surely knew, there were problems that plagued this weapon. The bow was subject to breakage, either snapping or cracking which made it worthless. So too was the bow string, made of animal gut, likely to fail at the most inopportune moment. Fighting range was limited and accuracy was poor because of the shock to the structure when the bow string was pulled back hard and released. The “snap” was moderated by transversal forces on the string, creating twist in the released arrow that would throw it off course unless compensated by an experienced archer.

The invention of the composite bow improved archery and was a key to giving the chariot archers greater range, better accuracy, and more killing power since an arrow launched from a composite bow at a target could penetrate a hard target up to three inches.

There is debate about the origin of the composite bow; whether it initially was a Sumerian or Akkadian invention, or whether it was Canaanite. It was surely a vital weapon for the Hyksos who, along with their chariots, overpowered Egypt’s military forces around 1650 BC.

The composite bow is made from wood, horn sinew and fish bladder. The secret is the fish bladder which, when prepared and cooked down, forms durable glue, the epoxy of the ancient war fighter.

The bladder itself is primarily a collagen material, and the best fish bladders for the collagen glue are found in carp, sturgeon, catfish and cod.

The advantage of glue based on the fish bladder is that it is stronger and can stand more torsion effects than glue made from beef sinew scrapings either from an animal’s gut or from the surface of leather. We don’t know whether bow makers in the Middle East produced their own Isinglass, or if it was imported. Certainly, for chariot and composite bow making, many of the woods needed to manufacture the bow had to be imported. The production of a composite bow was a slow process. Wealthy property owners paid by tribal chiefs managed bow and arrow production and used slave labor to do the manufacturing. Some believe that the production of a good composite bow could take a year’s work. This suggests there were many hands involved in bow and arrow making and that production was a vital part of a well organized and disciplined community that was hierarchically organized. The system provided everything for the foot soldier; uniforms, food, weapons, transportation and medical care.

If fish bladders could be used to help produce more accurate, more lethal and longer range bows for warfare, other parts of the fish can also serve in peace and war.

At the Tokyo Institute of Technology Junzo Tanaka and Toshiyuki Ikoma are using collagen derived from fish scales to help elderly people regenerate bones that have been weakened by tumors. They chose Tilapia for their experimentation and found that bone regeneration can be accomplished in as little as three months using this “new” fish technology.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Technion in Israel fish scales are the inspiration for a new generation of body armor. The Technion team has “created a composite material that consists of stiff, overlapping outer ‘scales,’ combined with a layer of soft and flexible material underneath. The addition of the scales boosts the softer material’s penetration resistance by a factor of 40, while reducing its flexibility by a factor of only five.”

Of course Samurai warriors’ armor also took advantage of the design of fish scales in the form of  overlapping curved enameled iron plates sewn into their armor garments. So the latest from MIT and the Technion inventions owe a lot not only to the fish, but also to the skilled artisans in Japan in the Sengoku period who fashioned the Samurai’s protective gear.

While we all know that fish are an important source of protein and nutrients for mankind, the fish is also an inspiration for inventors and for innovations that stretch over countless centuries, uniting our past with our future.
*part of this essay is derived from my forthcoming book, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Press: 2016)

**fish bladders are also tasty and used in Chinese and Asian cooking where they are known as Fish Maws. For a recipe click here.

Germanwings Flight 9525

The tragic crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 has aviation experts trying to figure out what happened. While the French government is treating the crash as an accident, the possibility of terrorism has not been formally ruled out. What is known is that the aircraft cruising at altitude began an 8 minute descent staying on course until it crashed into the mountains. There was no distress signal and no call from the pilots.

There are four possible causes of this kind of plane crash. Three of the four causes involve depressurization.

The first cause is a catastrophic structural failure. This seems to be the least likely scenario because it is highly unlikely a plane would stay on course and descend so slowly if something terrible happened to the aircraft’s structural integrity, such as a wing failure or a lost rudder. The plane would in most circumstances have deviated from its course, and plunged down to the ground. The pilots would probably have had time to send a distress call.

The second cause is an external catastrophic event. This event would be a plane that was hit by an object of some kind, causing depressurization. If the plane was hit in the forward section or in the cockpit, there would not have been time for any emergency call. Since the weather at the time was fairly clear, such an object could be either a meteorite or some other kind of space junk that hit the airplane (a one in a billion chance) or the airplane was hit by another airplane or by a missile. At this time there is absolutely no evidence either for a “natural” or man-made cause of this kind. It is possible the recovered, but damaged, flight voice recorder may tell us something. But it is just as likely we may not learn anything.

One of the theories being put about is that there could have been a windshield (windscreen) failure. There is one significant example of a windshield failure where maintenance workers installed the glass with the wrong type bolts. While this theory could account for rapid depressurization and disabling one of the pilots, it is hard to account for knocking them both out. In any case there is not information as yet that would lead to a windscreen failure, and the altitude of the plane would mitigate against any possibility of a bird strike.

The third cause is an internal catastrophic event such as a debris from a disintegrating engine, an explosion caused by the airplane’s batteries, or a bomb. Neither an engine failure, a bomb or an explosion has been ruled in or out. An engine failure could create debris that might penetrate the aircraft skin and lead to depressurization. While pilots have little time to react, there is enough to send a distress call. It does not seem that an exploded engine was the cause. The possibility of a bomb is an entirely different matter, depending on where the bomb was placed. If it was in the passenger compartment or in storage, the plane probably would not have stayed on course, the pilots would have been able to react and try and control the plane. This does not mean there was not an explosion and it could be that the voice recorder will indicate that. The explosion of a battery also can cause a catastrophic event and might have shut down the electrical system. Battery explosions are a known risk. But a battery explosion almost certainly would not have stopped passengers from making cell phone calls.

The fourth case is a terrorist attack where the cockpit is immediately overwhelmed and the plane headed to the ground, in other words a suicide terrorist event. The voice recorder will probably tell us that such an event took place. It is surprising that the French view, which has not been disputed, is this was not a terrorist suicide attack. The French authorities have not assigned their counter-terrorist investigators to Flight 9525. It is important to note that there have been no claims by terrorist organizations that they were behind the destruction of Flight 9525.

Airbus aircraft are designed differently from Boeing passenger airplanes. In Boeing aircraft, the pilot can override automatic controls. In the Airbus design this is much more difficult because the software that controls the aircraft does not allow deviation from safe maneuvers. There are reports that Airbus aircraft have been difficult to manage under extreme conditions. Whether this applies to Flight 9525 is impossible to determine, since presently we have no evidence that the pilots tried to control the plane and no evidence whatever that the plane ever went off course. This means there was nothing to override and the pilots were not in positive control of the aircraft in any event.

The best we can say now is that some event rendered it impossible for the pilots to communicate to aircraft controllers or send any emergency message or to steer the aircraft to some kind of safe landing. It would also seem that the passengers had little realization the plane was in trouble because there are no known cellular phone calls. While the area was remote, there probably were cellphone towers capable of receiving calls. As the plane descended gradually passengers may not have been aware of any event in the cockpit, but this seems very unlikely. In fact, unless there were no cell towers anywhere near where the aircraft was flying, this is an even bigger mystery than the cockpit failing to send a warning.

The flight data recorder case has been found but not the innards. The search is on to see if any of the internal parts can be found. The aircraft is in many small pieces strewn over a fairly wide area. It will take time and some good luck to find the remains of the recorder’s components.

Airplanes do not just fall out of the sky. Generally speaking flight at cruising altitude is generally the safest part of flying; more accidents occur on take off and landing. This is why most of the experts are strongly of the opinion there was cabin and cockpit depressurization and that no one had control of the airplane. A slumped over pilot pushing the aircraft into a descent is probably what happened. The question is what caused the pilots to black out and the plane to go down. Or even if the pilot deliberately crashed the plane, also a possibility.

The latest information is that one of the pilots, probably the captain, had left the cockpit and could not get back in. The door was locked, as it is supposed to be, and the other pilot did not open it. The reason why remains a mystery. Had something happened in the cockpit to incapacitate the copilot? A stroke, heart attack, black out? Was it a suicide event?

Under Airbus procedures there is a code that the chief stewardess can use to unlock the door. However the pilot or co-pilot can override this attempt. This tells us that the co-pilot in the cockpit had to be alive and capable and prevented the pilot from entering.

The latest news is dramatic. The Marseille prosecutor said the plane was crashed deliberately by the co-pilot. “The German citizen, left in sole control of the Airbus A320 after the captain left the cockpit, refused to re-open the door and pressed a button that sent the jet into its fatal descent, the prosecutor told a news conference carried on live television.”

Encryption is Only Half the Story

By Stephen Bryen

There is growing enthusiasm and interest in encryption for smartphones and tablets in order to protect privacy.  But encryption is only half the story, and probably not the most important half.  What really matters is platform security.

A smartphone is a powerful computer and communications tool harnessed to a number of radios that link to the outside world.  Those radio links can be compromised fairly easily.  People worry about how they can keep their phone calls secure and private and are looking at alternatives such as secure phone APPS.

A secure phone APP encrypts the connection between one phone and another. In some cases the encryption works in a phone to phone scheme; in others the encryption and connections are managed by a server.  Either scheme can deliver some security for phone calls.  In elaborate set ups with servers, they can try and protect emails and text messages.  While encryption folks promise a lot, there are two main pitfalls to using encryption that are not so well understood.

The first pitfall is that a determined adversary, such as a competitor or enemy or government agency, can bypass your encryption without too much effort.  That is to say, any of these intruders can install spyware on your phone.  Spyware can record your conversation or transmit it no matter if you are using encryption or not.  That’s because your microphone and cameras are accessible to programs that might be secretly running on your phone being put there by the intruder. In these circumstances you may think that you are protected, but you are not and your risk is even greater since you are unlikely to be cautious and circumspect in what you say on your phone.

The second pitfall is that the platform’s vulnerability will be there with encryption installed, meaning that offline conversations can be “overheard” by an intruder without you knowing it.  This kind of malware is generally sophisticated and difficult to detect, making matters worse.  Think about it: you are in a meeting in your office and every word is being recorded secretly and will be sent over the internet to an intruder without you knowing it.  This can give a spy or competitor a tremendous amount of sensitive information.  He can use it for commercial advantage, or to bribe you or your colleagues, or sell it to other parties.

Encryption does not help against either Pitfall #1 or Pitfall #2.

Some people think the best thing to do is to turn off one’s phone when serious conversations take place.  To be sure, there are few people who actually do this, because they are always waiting for some phone call or text message to arrive. They “need” the information fix that the smartphone promises to give them on a minute by minute basis.

Even worse, turning off a phone does not really mean that it is safe. There are good quality spyware tools that can turn your phone back on without you knowing it.  The screen won’t illuminate, but the phone’s microphones will be on and the phone can record and stream out information.  One tip off that the phone might be so infected is that it seems oddly warm, even hot when you pick it up.

Are there solutions that can protect a phone’s platform and avoid the two pitfalls?

I will be talking about that in my next column.

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America’s Retreat and Japan

by Stephen Bryen

Japan is not much of a military power today, a mere shadow of what it was before World War II.  Since her defeat in 1945, Japan has relied on the United States for security.  The US keeps a large number of bases on Japan and Okinawa, and also shares facilities with Japan.  Below is a list, courtesy of Wikipedia, of American bases by service:[1]

The U.S. military installations in Japan and their managing branches are as follows:

USFJ Facilities
Admin Code
Name of Installation Primary Purpose
Air Force FAC 1054 Camp Chitose
(Chitose III, Chitose Administration Annex)
Communications Chitose, Hokkaido
FAC 2001 Misawa Air Base Air Base Misawa, Aomori
FAC 3013 Yokota Air Base Air Base Fussa, Tokyo
FAC 3016 Fuchu Communications Station Communications Fuchu, Tokyo
FAC 3019 Tama Service Annex
(Tama Hills Recreation Center)
Recreation Inagi, Tokyo
FAC 3048 Camp Asaka
(South Camp Drake AFN Transmitter Site)
Wako, Saitama
FAC 3049 Tokorozawa Communications Station
(Tokorozawa Transmitter Site)
Communications Tokorozawa, Saitama
FAC 3056 Owada Communication Site Communications Niiza, Saitama
FAC 3162 Yugi Communication Site Communications Hachioji, Tokyo
FAC 4100 Sofu Communication Site Communications Iwakuni, Yamaguchi
FAC 5001 Itazuke Auxiliary Airfield Air Cargo Terminal Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
FAC 5073 Sefurisan Liaison Annex
(Seburiyama Communications Station)
Communications Kanzaki, Saga
FAC 5091 Tsushima Communication Site Communications Tsushima, Nagasaki
FAC 6004 Okuma Rest Center Recreation Kunigami, Okinawa
FAC 6006 Yaedake Communication Site Communications Motobu, Okinawa
FAC 6022 Kadena Ammunition Storage Area Storage Onna, Okinawa
FAC 6037 Kadena Air Base Air Base Kadena, Okinawa
FAC 6077 Tori Shima Range Training Kumejima, Okinawa
FAC 6078 Idesuna Jima Range Training Tonaki, Okinawa
FAC 6080 Kume Jima Range Training Kumejima, Okinawa
Army FAC 2070 Shariki Communication Site Communications Tsugaru, Aomori
FAC 3004 Akasaka Press Center
(Hardy Barracks)
Office Minato, Tokyo
FAC 3067 Yokohama North Dock Port Facility Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3079 Camp Zama Office Zama, Kanagawa
FAC 3084 Sagami General Depot Logistics Sagamihara, Kanagawa
FAC 3102 Sagamihara Housing Area Housing Sagamihara, Kanagawa
FAC 4078 Akizuki Ammunition Depot Storage Etajima, Hiroshima
FAC 4083 Kawakami Ammunition Depot Storage Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima
FAC 4084 Hiro Ammunition Depot Storage Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 4152 Kure Pier No.6 Port Facility Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 4611 Haigamine Communication Site Communications Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 6007 Gesaji Communication Site Communications Higashi, Okinawa
FAC 6036 Torii Communications Station
(Torii Station)
Communications Yomitan, Okinawa
FAC 6064 Naha Port Port Facility Naha, Okinawa
FAC 6076 Army POL Depots Storage Uruma, Okinawa
Navy FAC 2006 Hachinohe POL Depot Storage Hachinohe, Aomori
FAC 2012 Misawa ATG Range
(R130, Draughon Range)
Training Misawa, Aomori
FAC 3033 Kisarazu Auxiliary Landing Field Air Facility Kisarazu, Chiba
FAC 3066 Negishi Dependent Housing Area
(Naval Housing Annex Negishi)
Housing Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3083 Naval Air Facility Atsugi Air Facility Ayase, Kanagawa
FAC 3087 Ikego Housing Area and Navy Annex Housing Zushi, Kanagawa
FAC 3090 Azuma Storage Area Storage Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3096 Kamiseya Communications Station
(Naval Support Facility Kamiseya)
Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3097 Fukaya Communication Site
(Naval Transmitter Station Totsuka)
Communications Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3099 United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Port Facility Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3117 Urago Ammunition Depot Storage Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3144 Tsurumi POL Depot Storage Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3181 Iwo Jima Communication Site Communications
Ogasawara, Tokyo
FAC 3185 New Sanno U.S. Forces Center Recreation Minato, Tokyo
FAC 5029 United States Fleet Activities Sasebo Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5030 Sasebo Dry Dock Area Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5032 Akasaki POL Depot Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5033 Sasebo Ammunition Supply Point Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5036 Iorizaki POL Depot Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5039 Yokose POL Depot Storage Saikai, Nagasaki
FAC 5050 Harioshima Ammunition Storage Area Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5086 Tategami Basin Port Area Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5118 Sakibe Navy Annex Hangar Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5119 Hario Dependent Housing Area
(Hario Family Housing Area)
Housing Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 6028 Tengan Pier Port Facility Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6032 Camp Shields Barracks Okinawa, Okinawa
FAC 6046 Awase Communications Station Communications Okinawa, Okinawa
FAC 6048 White Beach Area Port Facility Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6084 Kobi Sho Range Training Ishigaki, Okinawa
FAC 6085 Sekibi Sho Range Training Ishigaki, Okinawa
FAC 6088 Oki Daito Jima Range Training Kitadaito, Okinawa
FAC 3127 Camp Fuji Barracks Gotenba, Shizuoka
FAC 3154 Numazu Training Area Training Numazu, Shizuoka
FAC 4092 Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Air Station Iwakuni, Yamaguchi
FAC 6001 Northern Training Area
(Incl. Camp Gonsalves)
Training Kunigami, Okinawa
FAC 6005 Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield Training Ie, Okinawa
FAC 6009 Camp Schwab Training Nago, Okinawa
FAC 6010 Henoko Ordnance Ammunition Depot Storage Nago, Okinawa
FAC 6011 Camp Hansen Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6019 Kin Red Beach Training Area Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6020 Kin Blue Beach Training Area Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6029 Camp Courtney Barracks Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6031 Camp McTureous Barracks Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6043 Camp Kuwae (Camp Lester) Medical Facility Chatan, Okinawa
FAC 6044 Camp Zukeran (Camp Foster) Barracks Chatan, Okinawa
FAC 6051 Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Air Station Ginowan, Okinawa
FAC 6056 Makiminato Service Area (Camp Kinser) Logistics Urasoe, Okinawa
FAC 6082 Tsuken Jima Training Area Training Uruma, Okinawa

Overall the United States has more than 50,000 military personnel stationed in Japan and Okinawa and employs around 5,500 civilians.  There are over 40,000 military family members associated with America’s presence.

Japan is the home base at Yokosuka for the US Seventh fleet and also the home of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.  Along with troops, helicopters, ships and submarines the US Air Force has 130 fighters based in Japan.

The American presence is the successor to the US occupation of Japan at the end of World War II.  While the number of bases, facilities, training centers and storage facilities is large, the US also closed down close to the same number of facilities and bases over the years.

Japan pays the United States around $2 billion as compensation for America’s presence.  While this seems like a large number, the actual cost to the United States for the deployment is many billions more than the Japanese contribution. Japan therefore benefits from the American presence because it can keep a small defense budget even where potential threats in the region are growing.

And they are.  North Korea is already a nascent nuclear power and is likely in future years to use its missiles as a means of getting concessions from Japan. The Japanese have had a rocky relationship with Korea.  In 1905 Japan forced Korea to become a protectorate.  In 1910 Japan annexed Korea (then a unified peninsula).  Under this annexation Japan dealt harshly with the Korean people and exploited its resources.  Before and during World War II the northern part of Korea was an industrial center supplying Japan with armaments and ammunition. It is also one of the places where Japan worked on building an atomic bomb.

Along with roughly treating Koreans, using them as conscripts and forced labor, thousands were transferred to Japan and use as laborers there.  When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hit by atom bombs, thousands of Koreans working in those cities were killed.  Adding to the misery of the Korean people was the use of young Korean ladies as “comfort women” for Japanese troops and administrators.  Bitterness over this issue still remains.

China, too, is turning into a true superpower, and confrontations between Japan and China over disputed islands has risen in the past few years. Their disagreement is over some uninhabited small ”rocks” in the East China Sea (known in Japan as the Senkaku islands).  These “rocks” are under Japan’s control, but the Chinese want them.  Their location is strategic, affecting China’s ability to control the sea lines of communication, and are positioned near important oil and gas reserves.

But much more is involved as China grows stronger.  China thinks of its perimeter as two imaginary boundaries, the inner boundary already clearly under China’s control; the outer one coming under its control as China expands its navy and develops new weapons that can challenge America’s aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

The United States has been trying to beef up its Pacific presence.  The bases in Japan offset, to a degree, China’s growing military power, but will that be enough?

The last test of military power in the region took place in the Taiwan Straits from July 21, 1995 to March 23, 1996.  In that period China carried out an “exercise” that included closing sea and air traffic in and around the Taiwan straits as China launched missiles, mobilized its land forces, and prepared its naval forces to support what looked like an invasion of taiwan itself.  Would the US respond to China’s provocation? Would China challenge the United States or back off?

The evidence shows that America delayed responding and finally put two aircraft carrier task forces on patrol near the Straits.  China, if it really planned to strike Taiwan, backed away and the crisis ended.  China blinked.

It is far from clear whether a repeat performance would be met resolutely by Washington. Even if America did move its naval and air forces to face China,   China might not cut and run.  There are many scenarios that could trigger a confrontation:  disputed territories, Taiwan, conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Americans tend to forget that we faced Chinese “volunteers” in the Korean War, and proxy wars involving China and Russia in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Which brings us back to Japan and the dilemma Japanese policy makers’ face.

Can Japan depend on the United States for its protection?  Should a confrontation unfold that directly impacts Japan, there is reason to believe, based on the worsening geopolitical posture of the United States and the drawdown of defense assets, that the United States might dawdle, seek diplomatic remedies, and try not to engage.

There have already been a number of incidents between China and Japan (see for an excellent review by Sheila A, Smith, a senior fellow for Japan at the Council for Foreign Relations).  So far they have been small scale and contained, but these were probes by China to judge not only Japan’s behavior, but to understand what America might do.  So far at least, the Japanese have worked to contain any incident and the United States has not needed to take any direct role.  But this can change at any time.  If China wants to do so she can ratchet up trouble at any time.

Japan is caught in a dilemma. Its military forces are weak compared to China and there is little chance much can be done to strengthen it in the next five years. Japan can compensate a little by buying new weapons. Japan has agreed to procure F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.  But these airplanes are years away from delivery, and they are tactical aircraft and will not be regarded by China as any sort of deterrent.  Japan really wanted the F-22, a true stealth penetration bomber capable of long range operations. The United States rejected Japan’s attempt to buy them.

Japan, therefore, has few options.  But there is one direction Japan can go, and it has the resources, know how, and delivery systems to get there.  That is to build nuclear weapons.  Doing this will surely antagonize the United States, China and North Korea, but Japan could nevertheless decide it is worth it.  Some suspect Japan may be laying the foundation for such a step. For example Japan has been energetically building long range rockets. It is hard to believe Japan would invest so much effort in rockets and space unless the investment was regarded as an important part of a future strategic system.

Japan had an atomic bomb program in World War II divided into two main programs, one run by the Army and the other by the Navy.  It had major facilities throughout Japan, and the Navy ran a secret operation in northern Korea that was taken over by the Russians at the end of World War II.  That facility, which produced thorium for the Russians, was bombed by B-29’s in 1950 in the early days of the Korean War.   In addition, Japan had a highly capable scientific community with excellent nuclear physicists and chemists. Major Japanese companies built equipment including cyclotrons and gas centrifuges for Japan’s atomic program and some participated in uranium extraction and enrichment.

Would Japan return to nuclear weapons after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the strong anti-nuclear feeling that permeates Japan’s politics?  That would depend on whether Japan felt sufficiently threatened by North Korea and China to do so.  A few islands are probably not enough to cause a major change in policy.   But minor clashes can turn into bigger ones, and the United States, its prestige in tatters and in retreat around the world, may not be able to play a role as Japan’s defender.  Then we will see.


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Lenin is in Poland

by Stephen Bryen

There is an old and rather awful joke that goes like this. The Russian Revolution has succeeded and the Communists are now in Power. Lenin is feeling very good about his great success and thinks there is a chance to convince some other countries to go Communist. He decides to go to Poland.

Meanwhile the Kremlin wants to honor the momentous occasion and commission a painting celebrating Lenin’s trip. The day arrives to unveil the painting and all of official Moscow has assembled. But alas, when the shroud over the painting is dropped there is a picture of a man in bed with a woman.

“What’s this exclaim the top Russian leaders? This,” the painter says, “is a painting of Trotsky, in bed with Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife.” And the painter explains, the title of the picture is “Lenin is in Poland.”

Today Lenin, in the form of Putin, is in the Ukraine, somewhere he surely does not belong. No one would dare to make a painting honoring the occasion.

Meanwhile the Western allies are in some turmoil. The Europeans are threatening more sanctions unless Putin pulls his forces out and wholeheartedly supports a peace effort (whatever that means). The United States is threatening to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons, as if there is some other kind of weapon useful to the Ukrainian military.

The country is in a mess. Ukraine is no match for Russia’s army, who are better trained and well equipped; there is not much chance that the Ukrainians can prevail without outside help.

Technically Ukraine is not a NATO problem because the Ukraine was never admitted to NATO membership. In fact the Ukraine’s bid for such membership was one of the contributing causes (but not the only one) to the Russian-sponsored war that is enveloping the country.

What is worse, NATO is far from having a single mind about the subject of Ukraine. Right now Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are taking the lead as European leaders, not necessarily as NATO leaders, arguing for a cease fire and a peace process. Their chance for success is very small.

NATO itself is not what it used to be. NATO is a collective security system which was organized as the Soviet Union turned Eastern Europe into Communist puppet states under Communist Russia’s full control. The NATO idea and part of the Treaty agreement is that any attack on a NATO member can be met by collective force. But for NATO to act, all members must agree. When the United States asked NATO to join it after 9/11 to take down the Taliban, NATO could not agree. Keeping in mind that it was the same European states that pressured America into entering the war in Bosnia, NATO’s refusal to use collective defense on behalf of one of its members, in fact its most important member, was an especially rude slap in the face.

NATO also is paltry as a military operation. Many of the NATO countries reduced their armed forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union and major armor units were disbanded with land war equipment either sold or scrapped. Today NATO countries have an ability to launch a fight against the Taliban, but no ability to win the fight. That is the real reason Obama is pulling the US out of Afghanistan.  The British are doing the same and most of the others are only providing humanitarian aid.

Years ago in a meeting in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over problems in Lebanon one of the Senators asked Dr. Henry Kissinger about French insistence to have a role in the affair. Where is their Navy, opined Kissinger, or their Army? Without a military capability and willingness to commit it, Kissinger had no interest or regard for the participation of the French, even though years ago they ran Lebanon for the League of Nations under a Mandate (1923-1946).

Today we have a rather parallel situation. Neither Germany nor France will commit one single soldier to any fight in the Ukraine. So their intervention with Putin lacks credibility. Putin’s only conceivable interest compelling his attention is European sanctions, but he has cards of his own he can play if he wants (like cutting off natural gas supplies to Germany or threatening other countries such as Poland or Estonia). For this reason Europe cannot risk war, and neither can the United States, because our country, like the rest of NATO, is woefully unprepared. Had America delivered on its promises to the Ukraine years earlier, after Ukraine got rid of Backfire bombers and other strategic assets, the situation today might have been different. But it isn’t and no one knows how to change history or make hindsight into a constructive tool.

There is also the problem that the NATO partners, aside from the bombastic statements by President Obama and Vice President Biden on Ukraine, do not see eye to eye. Greece has a new leftist leader friendly to the Kremlin. Will Greece be willing to vote for more sanctions on the Russians? From the Greek point of view they already have enough sanctions laid on themselves by European bankers. Or will Italy want to get into this quagmire, with Russia an important trading nation? Or for that matter will the Germans back up Mrs. Merkel?  Russia is a very important trading partner for Germany, the source of a significant flow of energy, and trades important raw materials in exchange for German manufactured goods. Merkel’s flexibility has to be extremely limited and her political future is far from assured.  Loss of jobs may well trump applying sanctions.

AS a result, these are not happy times either for Europe, for the United States, and certainly for the Ukrainian people who have been treated to a tap dance by the West’s leaders in place of a functional alliance. There is only so much of this sort of thing before things turn even more tragic.

Interestingly, despite the fissures and extreme problems with NATO, all the Western players are marching around and around without getting to some core issues that must be addressed for the future. At risk today is not only NATO survival, but peace in Europe. Putin is not Hitler, notwithstanding the rhetoric that has been coming from the United Kingdom. But Putin is an aggressive minded Russian leader who is filling a vacuum. He already learned he could get away with aggression in Georgia. And now he is taking advantage because he knows NATO has mutated into a paper tiger.

We need to wake up.  We don’t want Putin in Poland.

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Greece Will Need a New Currency

by Stephen Bryen

The new Greek government, mainly composed of former Communists and other leftists, with a dash of a far right political party giving Syriza enough support to form a government, faces a huge task in trying to reform Greece’s economy.  The idea that it can be done in negotiations with the European Central Bank and the key economic power, Germany, is wishful thinking at best.

The German government has already made clear it is not prepared to write off Greek debts.  Furthermore the Germans and the bankers expect Greece to pay back its loans and to retain an austerity program in order to squeeze enough resources out to make the required payments.

It is unlikely Greece can, or will comply.  What is more certain is that the new government will raise salaries, cut some taxes (but not to the rich), and hire back many unemployed State workers.  Of course this is impossible if the euro remains Greece’s currency.

Once the government gets organized and starts imposing its “cure” Greek repayments will have to cease, bond prices will escalate and will be chasing investors who will be running for cover, and the situation will rapidly become quite explosive.

At this point both the Greeks and the Europeans will have to make choices.  In such an environment, the most likely result is that Greece will have to replace the euro with a local currency.  For our purposes let’s call it the “New Drachma.”

Greece can get along with the New Drachma.  But a better solution for Greece is a hybrid approach: if possible retaining the euro and support a New Drachma –in other words, two currencies.

There are two ways this can be done.  One is a formal agreement with the European banks that will give Greece room for maneuver by stretching out loan repayments and making other credit provisions that are reasonable.  With a second, “local” currency Greece can pay its civil servants and encourage private business to also use the local currency for all internal transactions. André Cabannes, a professor at Stanford University, outlined this approach for Greece a few years ago, and his proposal remains the best one for Greece and for other weak players in the euro community such as Spain and Italy.

A New Drachma will start off in parity with the euro, but won’t stay there for long.  Unless the government exercises some discipline and restraint and builds confidence in the banking and business community, the New Drachma will rapidly lose value.  The real challenge for a radical Greek government is whether it can come up with a program that can be managed properly, kept sensible, and will be able to have the support of the financial community.

Europe cannot really afford to write off Greece.  Nor can the new Greek government survive if it is reckless or obnoxiously ideological.  It would help both sides in the argument to find independent experts who can structure a workable program for a second currency while keeping the euro alive.

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