Category Archives: Technology and Security

Order Arming of Domestic Troops Now!

by Stephen Bryen

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is a pretty good secretary of defense in an administration that is intent on weakening the Pentagon by reducing troops, truncating defense programs, and tying the hands of our front line forces.  Carter has been trying to navigate through this wall of White House disdain and he has managed to do so fairly well under the circumstances.

Having said what is nice, Carter is not going to win any award for Profiles in Military Courage.  Nor are his commanders, generals, Joint Chiefs or any of the others going to earn the plaudits of the American people.  Why?  Because all of them, individually and collectively, have refused to allow our armed forces on domestic duty to be armed.  That is why Carter, who spoke on August 15th in a service honoring the five slain service members, did not do what he should have done and what his commanders should already have done, namely to order all soldiers on duty in the United States to be armed.

America should be rightly proud of her military servicemen and women.  They have willingly and courageously put themselves in harms way to defend their country, even at time when the mission was far from ideal or even wise.  American troops are well trained in how to use firearms, and carry them to war.

But the war has clearly come to America.  This is known to the US intelligence services and to the FBI.  Everyone knows that domestic military installations and individual service members are being targeted by terrorists, especially ISIS which has made clear its intent to kill as many as possible.

That is why it is unconscionable to allow our service members to walk around unarmed, and to serve in highly exposed places such as recruitment centers, which often are in strip malls and shopping centers.

I know a little about this because my son-in-law, prior to getting his medical training, served in recruiting centers in the Army. And my daughter, who recently retired as a Lt. Colonel with a combat badge and bronze star, felt more at risk on a US base in Texas than a FOB in Iraq.

According to the latest news report Carter has asked for a review of the situation and “urges military leaders to consider the option of adding armed personnel and to submit an “action plan” by August 21.”

Huh?  While the 21st is not far off, arming our domestic troops is a no brainer entirely supported by intelligence information. Leaving our troops exposed even for another single day is irresponsible.

Secretary Carter should not wait for his commanders to report to him. They have already shown they have little interest in sticking their necks out politically and bucking the White House.  But Carter is safe and Obama won’t fire him because he can’t without risking impeachment.  It is time for Secretary Carter to buck up and do the right thing. Now.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

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The Writing is On the Wall for the U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf

By Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

FIRST APPEARED IN AMERICAN THINKER 8 AUGUST 2015

The long U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt is likely drawing to a close. What once worked to assure stability in the region and keep the oil flowing will not work in the face of Iranian nuclear capability, and the administration is disinclined to rethink a workable strategy. The United States will likely reengage, but only when the resulting chaos spreads to our shores, as it surely will.

How different it was twenty-five years ago this month, when President Bush (41) said Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait “would not stand.” American and allied forces rushed to the battlefield despite concerns about Iraq’s unconventional weapons — primarily poison gas, which had already been used against the Kurds in the north. But Israel provided a counter-threat to Saddam, letting him know that if Israel were threatened with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons it would join the war. It was a threat Saddam took seriously, as his nuclear program at Osirak had been destroyed by Israel a decade earlier.

Israel’s counter-threat worked. Iraq fired some 80 Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia. None had chemical or biological warheads; and, of course, none were nuclear.

Without actually fighting, Israel proved to be a key security asset that allowed American troops to operate with relative freedom against Iraq.

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, on the other hand, will similarly constrain American military planning, but this time Israel will not be able to offer a counter-threat. In the simplest terms, the U.S. facing a nuclear Iran will either have to significantly change how it deploys to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, or get out of harm’s way. The weakening of the overall American military posture under sequestration makes the latter most likely.

There are a number of factors that need explication:

(1) Prior to the Israeli strike on Osirak, Iran had sent its own Phantom jets to try to knock out Iraq’s centrifuge facility adjoining the reactor; reports have it that the Iranians also shared photo reconnaissance with Israel of their raid to help Israel pinpoint the right targets and finish the job. Israel’s strike caused a firestorm in American policy circles because Washington had a secret relationship with Saddam Hussein and was turning a blind eye to the transfer of nuclear technology to that country. But Iraq could never be sure whether/when Israel would strike again. Thus Israel created an enforceable red line. The U.S. has none with Iran.

(2) The Shah of Iran was after nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The work started by the Shah simply continued under the Mullahs. As with Iraq, technology from many countries, Western and otherwise, flowed into Iran and is still pouring in. The scope of the Iranian nuclear drive dwarfs anything Iraq attempted.

(3) All “wannabe” nuclear powers follow multiple paths to weapons development. No country can afford to risk everything on a single solution that could fail for technical reasons, be blocked politically, or destroyed by a hostile force. Iran may be unique because it has positioned some of its nuclear weapons development capabilities outside the country, most notably in Syria where there were at least three sites, one of which was destroyed by Israel, and North Korea. Iran also has a very sensitive relationship with South Africa, which has highly enriched weapons grade uranium, enrichment facilities, and knows how to build nuclear weapons.

(4) Once Iran reaches nuclear weapons operational capability, if the United States wants to continue as the guarantor of regional stability it will have to introduce active nuclear forces into the region as a deterrent. Or, alternatively, it can decide to pull back from the area. But no responsible American planner can overlook the fact that Iran can achieve an operational capability in perhaps as little as five years. Not for nothing did the Obama administration keep the Pentagon out of the Iran negotiations. President Obama and Secretary Kerry were seeking a political — not a military — deal. The JPCOA is not an arms control agreement.

(5) This leaves Iran as an emerging nuclear power facing Israel, which is also a nuclear power. What isn’t clear is whether the Israelis can risk a nuclear Iran or whether Israel has to conjure a way to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities. Prime Minister Menachim Begin acted on multiple fronts to kill the Iraqi program: before Osirak was taken out, Saddam’s nuclear accomplices in Europe were raided and bombed and at least one top Iraqi scientist was killed in France. Iran is much farther down the road than Iraq was and it has moved some of its assets offshore — in some cases to points outside Israel’s reach, i.e., North Korea. Europe will likely step up its cooperation with Iran to supply nuclear knowhow, just as the Russians are upping the ante.

(6) An American pullback from the Gulf is not anathema to the Obama administration or to the American public, and one can argue it has already happened. The U.S. is gone from Iraq and nearly so from Afghanistan. It is no longer either the protector of European and Asian energy supplies or the strategic partner of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Israel. Middle Eastern oil is no longer essential to the United States, which is nearly energy independent. Americans generally see no reason to protect oil resources for other countries, and are horrified by a culture war in the Middle East that is entirely alien to American values. The American public may be inclined to accept a decision that the U.S. can reduce its posture in the Gulf and not seek to play a significant military role in the area.

This is an uncomfortable and dangerous situation and without some dramatic intervention does not augur well for the future. The spread of chaos under Iran’s nuclear shield will ultimately require a return of U.S. power, but it will happen under conditions far less favorable.

The long U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt is likely drawing to a close. What once worked to assure stability in the region and keep the oil flowing will not work in the face of Iranian nuclear capability, and the administration is disinclined to rethink a workable strategy. The United States will likely reengage, but only when the resulting chaos spreads to our shores, as it surely will.

How different it was twenty-five years ago this month, when President Bush (41) said Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait “would not stand.” American and allied forces rushed to the battlefield despite concerns about Iraq’s unconventional weapons — primarily poison gas, which had already been used against the Kurds in the north. But Israel provided a counter-threat to Saddam, letting him know that if Israel were threatened with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons it would join the war. It was a threat Saddam took seriously, as his nuclear program at Osirak had been destroyed by Israel a decade earlier.

Israel’s counter-threat worked. Iraq fired some 80 Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia. None had chemical or biological warheads; and, of course, none were nuclear.

Without actually fighting, Israel proved to be a key security asset that allowed American troops to operate with relative freedom against Iraq.

Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, on the other hand, will similarly constrain American military planning, but this time Israel will not be able to offer a counter-threat. In the simplest terms, the U.S. facing a nuclear Iran will either have to significantly change how it deploys to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, or get out of harm’s way. The weakening of the overall American military posture under sequestration makes the latter most likely.Osirak

There are a number of factors that need explication:(1) Prior to the Israeli strike on Osirak, Iran had sent its own Phantom jets to try to knock out Iraq’s centrifuge facility adjoining the reactor; reports have it that the Iranians also shared photo reconnaissance with Israel of their raid to help Israel pinpoint the right targets and finish the job. Israel’s strike caused a firestorm in American policy circles because Washington had a secret relationship with Saddam Hussein and was turning a blind eye to the transfer of nuclear technology to that country. But Iraq could never be sure whether/when Israel would strike again. Thus Israel created an enforceable red line. The U.S. has none with Iran.

(2) The Shah of Iran was after nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The work started by the Shah simply continued under the Mullahs. As with Iraq, technology from many countries, Western and otherwise, flowed into Iran and is still pouring in. The scope of the Iranian nuclear drive dwarfs anything Iraq attempted.

(3) All “wannabe” nuclear powers follow multiple paths to weapons development. No country can afford to risk everything on a single solution that could fail for technical reasons, be blocked politically, or destroyed by a hostile force. Iran may be unique because it has positioned some of its nuclear weapons development capabilities outside the country, most notably in Syria where there were at least three sites, one of which was destroyed by Israel, and North Korea. Iran also has a very sensitive relationship with South Africa, which has highly enriched weapons grade uranium, enrichment facilities, and knows how to build nuclear weapons.

(4) Once Iran reaches nuclear weapons operational capability, if the United States wants to continue as the guarantor of regional stability it will have to introduce active nuclear forces into the region as a deterrent. Or, alternatively, it can decide to pull back from the area. But no responsible American planner can overlook the fact that Iran can achieve an operational capability in perhaps as little as five years. Not for nothing did the Obama administration keep the Pentagon out of the Iran negotiations. President Obama and Secretary Kerry were seeking a political — not a military — deal. The JPCOA is not an arms control agreement.

(5) This leaves Iran as an emerging nuclear power facing Israel, which is also a nuclear power. What isn’t clear is whether the Israelis can risk a nuclear Iran or whether Israel has to conjure a way to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities. Prime Minister Menachim Begin acted on multiple fronts to kill the Iraqi program: before Osirak was taken out, Saddam’s nuclear accomplices in Europe were raided and bombed and at least one top Iraqi scientist was killed in France. Iran is much farther down the road than Iraq was and it has moved some of its assets offshore — in some cases to points outside Israel’s reach, i.e., North Korea. Europe will likely step up its cooperation with Iran to supply nuclear knowhow, just as the Russians are upping the ante.

(6) An American pullback from the Gulf is not anathema to the Obama administration or to the American public, and one can argue it has already happened. The U.S. is gone from Iraq and nearly so from Afghanistan. It is no longer either the protector of European and Asian energy supplies or the strategic partner of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Israel. Middle Eastern oil is no longer essential to the United States, which is nearly energy independent. Americans generally see no reason to protect oil resources for other countries, and are horrified by a culture war in the Middle East that is entirely alien to American values. The American public may be inclined to accept a decision that the U.S. can reduce its posture in the Gulf and not seek to play a significant military role in the area.

This is an uncomfortable and dangerous situation and without some dramatic intervention does not augur well for the future. The spread of chaos under Iran’s nuclear shield will ultimately require a return of U.S. power, but it will happen under conditions far less favorable.

Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/08/the_writing_is_on_the_wall_for_the_us_military_in_the_persian_gulf.html#ixzz3iY2ZQqzv

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NATO WEAKENS EVEN MORE IN FACE OF RUSSIAN PROVOCATION

By Stephen Bryen

NATO has weakened even more in the face of Russian provocations in the Baltic Sea.  According to the Free Beacon, NATO has decided on a unilateral basis to reduce its air patrols challenging the incursion of Russian military aircraft into the Baltic area.  NATO countries have been using F-16′s and European Typhoon jet fighters to deter the Russians who have used fighter aircraft and Tupolev Bear strategic bombers flying near the coast of the Baltic Nations, Norway and the UK.  In 2014 NATO intercepted over 150 Russian military penetrations in the Baltic; overall NATO jets have scrambled over 250 times.

TU-95 Bear Strategic Bomber

TU-95 Bear Strategic Bomber

Until the latest decision, 16 jet fighters have been assigned to the NATO intercept mission.  That number is being reduced to 8 aircraft,  NATO claims that this is a reasonable reduction.

Given the persistence of the Russians and the concern raised among the NATO allies that face the Baltic, the argument is simple nonsense and a coverup.

The Baltic area includes Denmark, Germany, Poland,  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and on out into the North Sea Norway and France and the UK, plus the neutral nations of Sweden and Finland.  Deploying only 16 aircraft to the job of protecting the airspace of the region given the length of the coastlines involved, was stretching the point.  Dropping to 8 aircraft is virtually to have no continuous coverage and no ability to shadow Soviet operations.

From the Russian standpoint, Putin has received a gift of inestimable value. It will reaffirm in the minds of Moscow planners that NATO is not only a gutless wonder, but that its leaders are deliberately pulling back and allowing Russia to flex its muscles.

Of course this should come as no surprise. It is one thing for NATO to beat up on hapless and alliance-meaningless countries such as Afghanistan and Libya, it is an entirely another matter to behave like a serious defense alliance.

Nor can this message be lost on the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland, who are already under intense Russian pressure. How this will play out is anyone’s guess, but one can anticipate serious political destabilization, changes of government, and more accommodation to Russia.

One gets the impression such an outcome may be fine in the minds of the bigger NATO players, namely the US, Germany and the UK. (I exclude France because the French have never played a serious role in NATO, just a polemical one.)

Why then are the bigger NATO countries disinterested in playing a strong role in upholding NATO’s security interests?

Surely leaders like Merkel and Cameron “get it” when it comes to the challenge Russia poses.  But they obviously are going along with the voluntary slashing of NATO’s defensive patrols.  One detects an American hand in this: the United States is a country in full retreat and intends to do little or nothing to support its “new” NATO allies.  This has already been clear by the pittance of support to Poland and to the Baltic countries as the Russian challenge began to materialize. With America’s military seriously gutted and weakened from a strategic point of view, the Pentagon is not in much of a mood to press its civilian leaders to take the Russians seriously.  Indeed, the complete non-participation of the Pentagon in the Iran negotiations underscores the emasculation of the US military: which is, for those who look at ideology, a goal of the far left of the Democratic Party and the White House.

The problem with all this is that maintaining a balance of power is a fundamental issue in geopolitics.  Anytime a vacuum is created, it is open to exploitation.  And while it may look for a while as if nothing has happened, sooner or later the other foot drops and real trouble starts.  It could be a skirmish on the border of Poland, or a shoot down of a Russian bomber over Latvia, or countless other possible missteps that will lead to war.  Where military force postures are balanced, skirmishes and blunders can be managed; where there is an imbalance it is an invitation to increase military activity and square accounts.

Looking at the current situation, NATO’s reduction of aircraft is a blunder with long term, serious consequences.  Are we at the start of the unwinding of the NATO alliance that has preserved peace since the end of World War II?

[Photo Credit: http://www.airliners.net/photo/Russia—Air/Tupolev-Tu-95MS/1328519/L/]

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No High Level Military Participation In Iran Deal

by Stephen Bryen

It is glaringly obvious that the US military played no role, or only a minor role, in the recently concocted Iran deal.  The absence of any senior military officials in Geneva illustrates better than anything else that the deal is an entirely political one which is designed to mainly be window dressing on a restart of relations with the Iranian regime.  For this pleasure the United States and its allies in Europe are contributing massive amounts of high technology and releasing money so Iran can buy products from them.  Ironically, the fact is that Iran will probably spend the bulk of the money on armaments, mostly from Russia, China and North Korea, and on underwriting the costs of its nuclear and missile programs.

The absence of the Pentagon from the negotiations is not, of course, lost on America’s allies in the Middle East. Because the deal is political and has no solid national security component, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the smaller Persian Gulf states have reason for alarm.  And the United States, aware fully that the agreement is wallpaper on a trade and political deal, has sent its Defense Secretary off to the area to offer weapons du jour to them as some form of compensation.

Clearly no one in the region can afford not to be prepared against a formidable ambitious Iran equipped with nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

That is why Israel is beefing up its ballistic missile defense systems.  The newest of these in the last stage of development is called David’s Sling.  It will compliment the existing Arrow and Iron Dome systems already deployed.

“David’s Sling is designed to intercept medium-range ballistic weapons, especially highly accurate missiles and large rockets such as Hezbollah’s M-600,” according to the left wing Israeli paper, Haaretz.  A number of US companies led by Raytheon and ATK are working with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems on this new system, which will replace the aging Hawk and Patriot systems deployed in Israel.

But as the experts know fully well, there is no 100% missile defense system.  The excellent Iron Dome, for example, did not defeat all of the missiles fired by Hamas onto Israeli territory; it did however focus on the missiles most likely to hit civilian and defense targets.  Similarly, David’s Sling is optimized so it can distinguish between real threats and dummy warheads, something important in reducing the threat profile to something more manageable.  But with atomic weapons on Iranian missiles, even an off target rocket threatens this small and vulnerable country.

So it can be expected that Israel will significantly upgrade its early warning capability and its offensive nuclear strike capacity.  Meanwhile Saudi Arabia is nearly defense-less against an Iranian threat.  Will it rely on the US for protection? Or even secretly on Israel?  Or will the Saudis try and accommodate the Iranians, if any real accomodation is possible. One cost for Saudi Arabia will be halting support for Sunni rebels and pulling out of Yemen.  The Iranians will also demand political changes in Egypt as the price of any deal.  Because the Saudi dream is closely linked to its leadership of Sunni muslims, this will be a serious blow to their political ambitions and could imperil the regime at home.

Israel will bolster its first strike capability by adding satellite capability to detect any preparations for an attack on Israel and by building its nuclear strike ability.  Because the new Stealth F-35 is questionable as a nuclear weapons platform, it is likely Israel will embark on a modernization program for its F-15’s by working to minimize radar profiles and improve its counter measure systems, especially to counter Russian supplied S-300 air defenses.  One can imagine the role of the F-35 will be to take out the S-300 while the F-15’s take out the Iranian missile site with tactical nuclear weapons.

David_sling_missile

There is little doubt Iran has been working with North Korea on both its nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. This include missiles and other means, perhaps mini submarines.  The North Koreans have developed mini submarines which are hard to detect and, on suicide missions, could try and enter Israeli harbors.  In addition, Iran is putting some of its nuclear assets off shore: they have three sites in Syria plus the work done in North Korea, which probably includes weapons testing.  US intelligence is half blind when it comes to North Korea, but there is no doubt the Iran-Syria-North Korea linkage is very deep. In 2004 there was a massive train explosion in Ryongchŏn North Korea. The North Koreans said it was an accident and it was at first thought the explosion was designed to occur when a train carrying the North Korean dictator was passing by.  But later and credible reports consider the explosion an Israeli Mossad operation designed to take out Syrian nuclear scientists on board. Iranian scientists may also have been among them.

Unfortunately none of these subjects nor their implications were part of the Iran negotiations.  Whether the Pentagon raised any objections to the deal, or tried to take part in the process, remains unknown.  While the Pentagon’s budgets are being slashed and troop strength reduced, the Pentagon has not shown much courage about anything.  Even so, had the Pentagon participated the lousy deal we have would never have been agreed, and Iran would not have been cut loose with billions of dollars to pursue its nuclear program.

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Aircraft Carriers and the Future of US Security

by Stephen Bryen

Do we need aircraft carriers and can they fight in a modern war? These are important questions that trouble many defense analysts. While aircraft carriers have proved useful in power projection and recently supported US operations in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, in Syria, the role of aircraft carriers against a well-armed and capable adversary is very much in doubt.

China has developed an anti-ship ballistic missile called the DF-21D, also known as the CSS-5 Mod 4 missile. The missile can be guided against moving ships, including aircraft carriers, and works in tandem with satellites and UAVs for target acquisition. Once this missile reaches full operationaldf21 status no one should be surprised to see it proliferating around the world with countries like Iran and Pakistan first in line to buy them.

Missiles like this make aircraft carrier operations in sensitive areas such as the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf risky, if not impossible. The DF-21D is a mobile ballistic missile, meaning that neutralizing a DF-21D threat is a very big challenge. Without being able to assure the 21 D’s elimination, carriers and their associated fleets can’t be moved into harms way.

Today’s American aircraft carriers are nuclear powered mega-ships with a crew size of some 5,000 sailors and specialists and with air wings on board. The newest aircraft carrier currently under construction will cost $13 billion just to build not counting the aircraft on board which represents easily another $20 billion. Are these aircraft carriers too big to use?

Some argue that a better approach is to rely on smaller aircraft carriers to do the job. But what is the job?

The aircraft carrier was developed originally more than 100 years ago. The first flight off the deck of a ship was in 1910; the first purpose built aircraft carrier started construction in 1918 and was completed in 1922.

During World War II the aircraft carrier played an important role in supporting American forces trying to push the Japanese off critical island chains. Carriers also played a major role in the Battle of Midway and other attacks where US launched carrier based aircraft challenged Japan’s carriers.

In 1942 the United states lost four Fleet aircraft carriers to Japanese attacks, mainly torpedoes launched by Japanese aircraft or, in the case of the CV-7 Wasp, to a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. In addition the US lost a number of Escort and Light carriers in the war.

Japan lost 15 aircraft carriers of all types between 1942 and 1945.

The British also took heavy carrier losses starting in 1939 with the sinking of the Courageous, 1940 with the destruction of the Glorious, 1942 with the devastating loss of the Ark Royal and in 1942 and with the additional losses of the Eagle and Hermes. Britain also lost three escort carriers in the war.

If World War II gives any clue, it is that aircraft carriers in major wars are vulnerable to enemy attack.

The same would seem to be true today, perhaps even more so because without anti-ballistic missile defenses, aircraft carriers face a very uncertain future.

While aircraft carrier technology continues to advance in certain respects, can we protect the carriers both from missiles and from underwater attack? As of 2014 the US had no plan to build a ballistic missile defense system (BMD) focused on the Chinese missile threat. While the US does have Aegis cruisers equipped with SM-3 missiles and capable radars, these platforms probably can’t successfully intercept and destroy the DF-21D. The question needs to be asked, why invest so much in carriers if we are not going to spend to defend them?

It may be that the role of aircraft carriers is mostly to do power protection against weak countries that cause trouble in places, as in the Middle East. But, as we have noted, even that could change overnight if China starts exporting the DF-21D or the Russians start supplying stealth aircraft to countries of concern,particularly Iran. Already the Russians have supplied quiet and dangerous diesel-electric submarines to Iran in the form of 4,000 ton Kilo class submarines. And they are selling the S-300 anti aircraft missile system to the Iranians, a threat to carrier based aircraft. With Iran on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, the Russians will have to keep feeding the beast, and it is likely they will do so both willingly and profitably.

While the aircraft carrier remains the pride of the American fleet, its future is uncertain and, to a degree, threatened. Its usefulness in big wars and even in sensitive areas such as the Persian Gulf or the Mediterranean, today is in doubt.

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Technology and Security Podcast on Itunes

Washington DC, June 26, 2015
For Immediate Release

Technology and Security has launched a new podcast series by the same name.  Episodes will be available at

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/technology-security/id1012525063

Users will need iTunes to download the new podcast series.

Look for this cover in Itunes

Look for this cover in Itunes

While having an audio version is somewhat of an experiment for us, there have been enough requests for a podcast series that we decided to go ahead and make the programs available.

Some of the podcasts will be based directly on our well-regarded blog, Technology and Security.  Others will be available only in podcast format.

Technology and Security aims to relate the importance of technology to national security and national power. The blog’s author, Dr. Stephen Bryen’s recent books include: Essays in Technology, Security and Strategy and the forthcoming Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers.

America has long enjoyed being the world’s technology leader.  But in some sectors that is starting to change as American technology increasingly has gone off shore, fueling China’s rapid growth and military expansion, and as other countries have closed the technology gap with the United States.  These changes and shifts represent a challenge for the future, and for the most part America’s guard still remains down.  Should this persist, America will find its ability to maintain its standard of living and safeguard its security increasingly difficult.

Technology and Security explores these issues and more.  Part of the blog’s focus is on cyber security, an area where adversaries are having their way harvesting American technological information and undermining governmental and infrastructural functions.  Technology and Security helps to explain why this is happening and proposes ways to cope with the situation or strengthen the protection of vital computer networks.

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The Real Cybercrime

by Stephen Bryen

[A version of this article appeared in the Huffington Post with Rebecca Abrahams]

It now seems that the Office of Personnel Management, which had outsourced its data storage to other Federal agencies, has lost an astonishing 18 million personnel records, including most of those involving security clearances.  The information is now in the hands of unknown hackers who almost certainly have bartered the stolen information to willing buyers.  Most experts think that the buyer is most likely China, with Russia running a close second.

When a prospective employee applies for a job that requires a security clearance he or she fills out a form called an SF-86 which is called a Questionnaire for National Security Positions. The Questionnaire is extensive and demanding and requires so much information to be handed over to the government that there is virtually nothing left one could dream of adding to it.  Your friends, colleagues, bosses, neighbors are all included along with all your personal information. In the wrong hands this document at minimum guarantees easy identity theft. Worse, in the hands of a determined adversary, a person’s vulnerabilities can be exploited including tracking the employee and making sophisticated “phishing” operations possible.  Phishing is a technique where a false email or message can be sent to an employee that, when opened, puts spyware on the employee’s computer.

You would think given the explosive importance of the SF-86 form that the government would take strong steps to protect the information.  Perish the thought.  Nothing like that has been done: in fact, the government passes around these forms to other agencies (such as the FBI) and gives them to contractors for “processing.”

Our government has consistently failed at computer security from the beginning. The first Computer Security Act was passed in 1988, and there have been many subsequent legislative initiatives since then along with Executive Orders and pronouncements from agencies including NSA and the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), the latest one just this week.

None of them understand the problem or demonstrate any real willingness to solve it.  All of them have the wrong cart in front of the wrong horse.

The truth is that unless special steps are taken to protect sensitive unclassified information the game is lost from the start.

What are those steps?  Most fundamentally there are two: compartmenting information and encrypting it.   For unclassified information which is what the SF-86 is considered to be, the government neither compartments nor encrypts. NSA won’t let them because the information is not classified: our government security experts keep thinking they can do it another way.  No they can’t.

NIST has just put out a new directive for contractors.  It is worthless.  Why?  Because it does not require either compartmentalization or encryption.

Compartmentalization means that not everyone can access everything.  It is as simple as that.  It can be made weightier by adding a “need to know” requirement, meaning that you are only entitled to look at what is absolutely necessary for your job.  Properly administered need to know and compartmentalization protects any major theft of information particularly if the data itself is stored in an encrypted format.

081203-N-2147L-390 NORFOLK, Va. (Dec. 3, 2008) Sailors on the watch-floor of the Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command monitor, analyze, detect and defensively respond to unauthorized activity within U.S. Navy information systems and computer networks. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis/Released)

081203-N-2147L-390
NORFOLK, Va. (Dec. 3, 2008) Sailors on the watch-floor of the Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command monitor, analyze, detect and defensively respond to unauthorized activity within U.S. Navy information systems and computer networks. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis/Released)

The real crime is the failure of both the administration and the Congress to put in place a higher standard of information protection applying these known and effective tools.  While everyone is running around thinking about firing the head of the Office of Personnel Management, perhaps they should think about firing themselves for the crimes against privacy they have perpetrated.

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Attacks on Religious Institutions is a Global Problem: Is there a solution?

by Stephen Bryen

Church attack in New Delhi

Church attack in New Delhi

Attacks on religious institutions, churches, schools, community centers and offices, is far from only an American problem, although the United States has had plenty of it.

In our country churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have been attacked and worshippers going to and from these places have been murdered. Whether we are speaking about Christian churches, Catholic churches, Sikh Temples, Mosques or Synagogues, all of them have been hit by terrorists. I strongly prefer the term “terrorist” to racist or anti-Semite because it best describes what we are up against.

Around the world terrorism against religious institutions is rampant. Whether we talk about Pakistan where religious school children are wantonly murdered, or India, or Iraq and Syria we find such atrocities. In Europe there have been attacks on synagogues and churches and murders of citizens for example in France, Belgium and Denmark among many others.

While some of the attacks are clearly by radicalized individuals, others involve state backing or, state complicity. The bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina which killed 85 people in the building and wounded more than 100 others, there is little doubt, outside of the corrupt politicians of Argentina that the bombing and murder was accomplished by Iranian operatives perhaps in a conspiracy with Argentinian politicians or police.

State sponsored attacks are a growing threat. Outfits like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and Boko Haram can operate because they are sponsored and supported by nation-states, providing them with equipment, intelligence and even naming targets. Coptic Christians would not be murdered in Egypt without the help of the Moslem Brotherhood, which the Obama administration befriended. Chechen terrorists in Russia have got backing from Saudi Arabia either directly or through religious cutouts.

For Americans the question is how to confront the problem. It is one thing to try and build community support against terrorism and racism, but at the end of the day there isn’t any empirical evidence that this is a sufficient strategy to combat such crimes. In fact it may act as a deterrent to hard headed preventive strategies that are badly needed. But there is one thing the community writ large can be encouraged to do: when they see a threat either because someone says something or writes something or threatens someone, people do need to respond and bring it to the attention of the larger community and make law enforcement aware. Here we can talk about the importance of social responsibility and the need to act against terrorists, racists and anti-Semites.

Most religious institutions in the United States are unprotected. The same is true in other countries. Their doors are open to terrorists and externally their perimeters are easily penetrated by bombers, either on foot or in vehicles. Few have active surveillance or even passive barriers to prevent such attacks.

There is no single technology that can guarantee complete protection against a fanatic or group of fanatics, and particularly against professional killers like the ones in Buenos Aires. Even so, protection helps reduce the frequency of successful attacks, helps to identify the perpetrators, and can save lives.

The most important first step is to understand the nature of the threat and to have critical intelligence if the risk level is high. More importantly, real time intelligence may help identify the person or persons who plan an attack.

It is no secret that a lot of this information can be found on social media. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old man charged with the murders at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, had a Web page with his outrageous rantings posted since last February. No one paid any attention. Law enforcement can easily track social media, but they need to be more proactive and not only warn about risk but also confront those threatening the community. Had information on Dylann Roof been distributed to churches and synagogues (he hated Blacks and Jews and many others), they would have been on the lookout for him and maybe the tragedy could have been prevented. Just distributing his photos (from his web site) could have alerted the folks at the A.M.E. Church.

This is a far better strategy than opining about gun control. Gun control is not going to stop a fanatic any more than it is going to stop a determined criminal.

Once you have information that is useful, you must implement a proper organization to aid in protecting a religious institution. Technology can help, but without a good organization and equally vital good training, the risk remains.

While some synagogues have put in place perimeter protection because of their exposure to constant threats, and some have hired guards, there is not much in the way of organization or training of lay people. There is even less at churches.

The Department of Homeland Security has provided funds here and there to buy defensive equipment such as surveillance cameras or alarm systems, but the Department has not thought to provide organizational training. Some police departments do make an effort to help, but usually they have to be asked to do so and often they themselves are not trained to provide perimeter protection services.

Unfortunately the ball has mostly been dropped, which is why alleged terrorists like Dylann Roof can operate and why the greater threat of state sponsored terrorist attacks on religious institutions in the United States is not far from us.

Surely we can do better.

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What Happened to Snowden’s Files

The London Sunday Times reports that Britain and the US have pulled agents out of China and Russia because information contained in encrypted files stolen by Edward Snowden have been decrypted.

“”His documents were encrypted but they weren’t completely secure and we have now seen our agents and assets being targeted,” a source told the Sunday Times.

What can we understand from this disclosure?

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. There is little doubt that the damage caused by Edward Snowden’s disclosure of highly classified information has been immensely damaging to US and British intelligence gathering, setting aside the latest allegation.  Techniques of modern spying have been extensively exposed making intelligence gathering much more difficult if not impossible in some cases.  The bottom line is that Snowden caused harm to the national security of both countries and also to the friends and allies of the US and Britain.
  2. Snowden’s access to such a wide range of sensitive intelligence while he worked as a contractor to the US government makes clear that most of the standard rules of protecting classified information were not followed and that this sloppiness and poor administration made possible the bulk of Snowden’s criminal activity.  Above all, compartmentalization of classified information, essential to minimize an insider threat, was not properly implemented.
  3. If government files contain the names of spies and agents then our intelligence collection system is badly broken (notwithstanding Snowden), since putting this information into accessible files revealing sources and methods is an incredible systemic blunder.
  4. The idea that a contractor would have access to files containing lists of agents and spies is unimaginable.  It is impossible to be sure that it truly happened, but the statements by highly placed “sources” that this occurred is truly frightening. By now anyone connected with assisting Western intelligence has to be on the run.
  5. Cracking encryption codes takes super computers and a lot of effort especially if files are encrypted with large key sizes and use advanced secret encryption algorithms. The chance of breaking such code is very small even if a potential adversary has unlimited resources to go against the problem.
  6. A related possibility is that key materials were handed over by Snowden or by others to the Russians, Chinese or both.  This is what happened in the John Anthony Walker, Jr.case. He was a United States Navy Chief Warrant Officer and communications specialist convicted of spying for the Soviet Union from 1968 to 1985.  Walker gave the Russians key material enabling them to descramble US Navy coded messages.  Walker exposed a lot of sensitive information because many State Department and DOD messages were passed on through to the Navy and hence were exposed.
  7. There is also the possibility, not to be discounted, that no such compromise of encrypted information has happened but that the story has been leaked to cover up other spying operations that may have been compromised.  The evidence?  It seems a little far fetched that the government would keep any list of its spies and agents in one place, or even put such information into digital files in the first place.  But if there was a mole in one of the spy agencies, the mole could have got this information.  Saying it was Snowden’s fault could have been a motive on either side of the fence: that is, it could have been the Russians or Chinese putting out a false story to hide their mole or moles; it could have been the British or U.S. intelligence putting out a story to cover revealing an inside threat they have fingered.  At the moment the best that can be said is that there is a state of alarm in US and British intelligence and they are deeply concerned about their assets (agents) being rolled up by the Chinese and/or Russians.
  8. Finally there is the possibility that the reports about pulling agents out of harms way are false and that all of this is an attempt to do more damage to Snowden.  I don’t believe this to be the case, however, because putting out an alarm of this kind would automatically damage all the secret relationships the intelligence community has with its operatives.
  9. If encrypted files were compromised then it is vital to find out how. There are a number of serious cryptographers in the United States and the UK who need to be brought in to determine whether US and UK secret encryption is properly implemented.  It would be an error to rely solely on the suppliers of encryption materials or in-house experts.  An objective evaluation is an urgent task.
  10. While we should assume that the glaring mistakes of managing secret intelligence have already been fixed, procedures and methods need another look by qualified experts who are independent and objective. It is frightening to think that our national security is still at risk.
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God’s Iron Griddle

by Stephen Bryen

There are four basic ways to cook food –in a pot, in the oven, over a fire and in a pan or griddle.  In ancient Israel, all four ways were in use, but the single most common cooking utensil was the griddle.

The ancient Israelite diet was largely vegetarian and was composed of wheat and barley, lentils, dried grapes and dates (often formed into cakes), honey, milk from goats and some vegetables, most commonly onion. Wheat and barley could be cooked up as a gruel and mixed with some dried grapes or other fruits; or formed into pancakes or flatbreads and cooked on a griddle made of clay or iron.

We can read in Deuteronomy chapter 8:  “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills;  a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey;  a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.”

Because Israelite tribes were semi-nomadic, often following food sources, the griddle was one implement that was handy to use and could be placed over hot stones and a small fire. Flat Cakes, sweet or savory, could be made and eaten right away or carried by hunter-gatherers wherever they went.

Ancient wheat was either a variety called Einkorn, Kamut or Emer (today called Farro). Farro has gained popularity as a healthful grain that can be used like wheat being ground into flour or cooked just as rice would be prepared.  Kamut (known as Khorasan wheat) was rediscovered in Egypt in 1949 by two US airmen and is today grown in Montana. It is used in bread making and excellent pastas.

Emer was rediscovered at the turn of the 20th century by the famous Palestinian agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn.  Aaronsohn discovered Emer (triticum dicocoides) growing in the wild and it caused a sensation in Europe and the United States.   Thought of as the “mother” of all wheat, Aaronsohn was invited to the United States to give lectures on his scientific work in the Holy Land.  Later, as a founder of Nili, he and his sister Sarah and their friends provided vital intelligence to the British facing the Ottoman empire in Palestine. Sarah would later die by her own hand to avoid torture by her Turkish captors. Aaronsohn himself would die in a plane crash off the coast of France in 1919.

The Bible has a great deal to say about food starting with strong food prohibitions (no pork for example). As is found in Leviticus 11 “And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.” This prohibition was kept by ancient Israelites as archeology confirms. At  Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel, which was a heavily fortified city at the time of King David, no pig bones were found. Although hundreds of bones were found at the site, none of them were from pigs (in contrast to surrounding sites), since those animals were not to be eaten according to the Old Testament laws. According to archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel, “Over the years, thousands of animal bones were found, including sheep, goats and cattle, but no pigs.”

In ancient Israel clean and unblemished animals were sacrificed to propitiate God or to serve as a sin offering.  While Temple sacrifices disappeared after the second destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD by the Romans, some elements survive today both in the imagery of Christianity (Christ as the Paschal lamb) and in Jewish practice (the lamb shank on a platter symbolizing the Passover sacrifice).  Sacrifices included not only animals but also offerings of bread and cakes.  As we read in the book of Exodus 29, Chapter 1-3, “This is what you are to do to consecrate them, so they may serve me as priests: Take a young bull and two rams without defect.  And from the finest wheat flour make round loaves without yeast, thick loaves without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves without yeast and brushed with olive oil. Put them in a basket and present them along with the bull and the two rams.”

The griddle played a role in offerings and is mentioned a number of times in Leviticus 6:21 such as “It (the grain offering) must be prepared with oil on a griddle; bring it well-mixed and present the grain offering broken in pieces as an aroma pleasing to the Lord,” or (Leviticus 2:5) “If your grain offering is prepared on a griddle, it is to be made of the finest flour mixed with oil, and without yeast.”  If it had been made with yeast, the yeast would derive from wild yeast spores.  The bread would be sour (ancient sourdough) and presumably would not be a sweet savory offering to the Lord.

The griddle also plays an important part in Ezekiel where he is instructed by God to take certain actions against the people of Jerusalem.  The Orthodox Jewish Bible translates the key passage this way: “Moreover take thou unto thee a machavat barzel (iron griddle), and set it for a kir barzel (wall of iron) between thee and the Ir; and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be an ot (sign) to Bait Yisroel.”  Here is an alternative translation from Ezekiel by I. Teilband (translated from the German by Walther Zimmerli): “And you take an iron plate [a griddle] and place it as an iron wall between you and the city [of Jerusalem]; and set your face against it, and let it be besieged, and you shall besiege it. This is a sign for the House of israel.”

Iron was the great symbol of power in Ancient Israel.  The importance of Iron is brought out most clearly in the David story where the Philistines controlled the region, including Israelite tribes, by controlling the production of metals, especially iron.   As 1 Samuel 13 tells us: “Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, ‘Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.'”   There is good circumstantial evidence that David, escaping King Saul and hiring himself out to the Philistine King Achish, used his service to learn how to smelt iron and forge it into weapons.  Iron’s importance is reported in Leviticus 26:19 in admonishing the Israelites thusly: “If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of your land yield their fruit.”  The stiff necked stubbornness of the Israelites permeates the Biblical text: Ezekiel’s iron griddle symbolizes how God deals with malefactors.  Even today, especially on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), one of the sins that needs to be forgiven is being stiff necked.

The ancient Iron griddle exists today and is used in many places around the world.  The best tortillas are made on an iron griddle in Mexico over hot coals.  Round in shape with a lip around the edge, the griddle is both handy, portable and if made of iron, long lasting.  By rubbing it with oil, such griddles don’t rust if regularly used and heat more quickly than clay griddles.

But the ancient griddle was also God’s griddle, because God could use it to symbolize how to surround sinning Jerusalemites with an Iron griddle wall.  Don’t you think Winston Churchill got the same idea of God’s griddle and used it in his famous speech in 1946 at Fulton, Missouri, where he said:  “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent”?

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