19 October 2015

Engaging with an aspirational Africa

October 19, 2015

Africa is no longer just about resources.

India’s attitude towards Africa cannot remain imprisoned in the ‘dark continent’ stereotype. Neither can it be defined solely by the legacy of the colonial era. Our language of engagement needs to create a new edifice defined by an aspirational Africa’s quest for a good life

The views of most Indians, including the educated ones, about Africa are still largely trapped in stereotypes. The episodic reportage in the media perpetuates some myths: Africa is still the land of jungle safaris; the place of Mahatma Gandhi’s first satyagraha; the continent of Ebola, HIV and tribal conflicts; the home-place of both Idi Amin and Nelson Mandela. We also see news items on Nigerian students peddling drugs and the hosting of fancy wedding ceremonies for India’s nouveau riche in South Africa. In short, a ‘dark continent’ with some bright spots. Some new stereotypes have also come to shape contemporary views of Africa — it is a growing market for Indian companies but the Chinese have stolen a march over the Indians.

*** A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities. 

Oct. 16, 2015

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

What stops me from loving Pakistan

Has the neighbour fulfilled the promises it made after being defeated in wars of 1965 and 1971?

My parents were born in modern-day Pakistan, father in Lahore and mother in Bhopalwala (district Sialkot). Dad was studying at Lahore Medical College when Partition forced him to move on. During childhood, Ma told us stories of the large amounts of land owned by her grandparents and the great times she had as a child in Pakistan.
Thus, I subconsciously grew up with some emotion for the land where most of my forefathers lived, although Nayyars hail from Jalandhar. I must add that my parents had zilch affection for their place of birth.

As I entered college and more so in the last 30 odd years, these emotions have vanished. Here are some reasons why:

1946: Direct Action to achieve Pakistan. "The worst Holocaust took place in Calcutta as the Muslim League government took a direct part in organising the Muslim attack against Hindus who were caught unaware but retaliated later. According to a rough official estimate, nearly 5,000 died, over 15,000 injured and about one lakh were rendered homeless".

I am yet to fathom how the grandson of Poonja Gokuldas Meghji (ie Mohammad Ali Jinnah) could give the go-ahead for these killings. 

1947: Partition, the killing of half a million people and the displacement of 14 million.

During a 2014 visit to Jammu, I got to know of Balidan Bhawan in Rajouri. In November 1947, Kabayalis (Pakistani tribesmen) etc attacked this area killing app 20,000 people from Rajouri and nearby villages. The Bhawan was created in their memory and displayspictures of martyrs.

1947-48: The Kabayali action was followed up by an Army-backed occupation of large parts of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir that had acceded to India. Gilgit, Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir were permanently annexed. Pakistan violated the terms of the UN Resolution, failing to withdraw its forces from the occupied territories.

Why Peace with the Taliban Is a Bad Idea What Needs to Happen Instead

On 27 September, 2015, on the first anniversary of the National Unity Government, the Taliban took over the city center of Kunduz, Afghanistan. Kunduz has since been reclaimed by Afghan Government forces, proving the Taliban’s inability from conducting a proper static defense necessary for holding a large amount of territory. The battle of Kunduz is yet another sign that there can be no reaching peace with the Taliban. The notion that the Taliban and the current Afghan government can coexist peacefully is a myth. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the Taliban’s recent attack on Kunduz, their violence has been well documented by Amnesty International.

Earlier this year a Chinese and Pakistani initiated attempt at détente with the Taliban unraveled quickly in the aftermath of the news of Mullah Omar’s death. Let us not forget that the Taliban adhere to a barbaric code of a religion they claim is Islam. Their convoluted interpretation of Islam makes the Saudi based Wahhabis look like the men of the European Enlightenment. Establishing peace with the Taliban is both morally objectionable and illogical because it will be tantamount to legitimizing a proxy force subservient to Pakistan’s interests. It will continue to impose barbarity on the people of Afghanistan while causing regional instability, and promoting international terrorism — as was seen in the 1990s.
Pakistan’s Irregular Warfare Campaign

In 2013, with the backing and urging of Pakistan’s then Army Chief Parvez Kayani, the U.S. agreed to enter into peace talks with the Taliban.[1] The arrangement orchestrated by Pakistan made the U.S. appear weak and flailing; resulting in a strategic victory for the Taliban. One of the principle reasons why peace with the Taliban will not be achieved is because they remain a proxy force used by Pakistan to weaken the Afghan state; thereby ensuring that Islamabad’s equities are intact. Pakistan has waged an unconventional war against the Afghan State since the early 1960s. U.S. Army Special Forces Officer Douglas Livermore’s essay, “Pakistani Unconventional Warfare Against Afghanistan,” outlines this case at great length.[2]

Obama’s Right Not to Quit Afghanistan


The Taliban and Al Qaeda were counting the days until a U.S. troop withdrawal, and getting stronger as a result.

President Obama’s wise decision to abandon his self-imposed deadline for thewithdrawal of most American troops from Afghanistan needs to be linked to a wider strategy pressing Pakistan to halt its support for the Taliban hardliners and press it’s client to engage in a serious political process. 

The deadline set by Washington to draw down American and NATO troop strength in Afghanistan to under a thousand by the end of 2016 only encouraged the Taliban and its patrons in the Pakistani army to believe their victory was only a matter of time. Convinced that America was planning to abandon the Kabul government, the Taliban leadership and its Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) advisors have been planning a series of terror attacks and ground offensives to weaken the Afghan army and President Ashraf Ghani’s government. The takeover of Konduz, a major northern Afghan city outside the Taliban’s usual strongholds, was carefully planned and prepared for months in the Taliban’s headquarters in Quetta, Pakistan. 

The Afghans loss of Konduz last month, albeit temporary, and the disastrous bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in the city were the final wake-up calls. No provincial capital had fallen to the Taliban since 2001 before Konduz. It’s fall briefly threatened to start a broader collapse of government control across northeast Afghanistan. It looked like a repeat of the collapse of Iraqi forces in Mosul in 2014. 

Indian Government to Declassify Secret Files About Subhas Chandra Bose, Who Collaborated With Germany and Japan in WWII

October 17, 2015

Modi to open 70-year-old secret files in challenge to Gandhi dynasty

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will seek to unravel one of India’s most enduring mysteries surrounding the independence struggle, the latest salvo in a growing history war that could undermine the opposition Congress party.

The fate of Subhas Chandra Bose, leader of the Indian National Army which collaborated with the Japanese and Germans against the British in World War Two, has remained a riddle for seven decades.

Successive Indian governments have kept hundreds of files related to his death secret, saying the release of the information could prejudice relations with foreign nations, fuelling conspiracy theories about how he died.

Modi’s decision this week to declassify all files on India’s most enigmatic nationalist hero may finally end the controversy.

The findings could also embarrass India’s most famous political dynasty, because of the role played by first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the aftermath of Bose’s death.

Obama’s Afghan Blind Spot


President Obama has been the most half-hearted war leader the U.S. has had since the days of Woodrow Wilson. He orders troops into battle but imposes artificial, politically motivated restrictions on how many personnel can be sent and for how long. And he always makes it clear that his primary desire is to withdraw, not to win; victory not being a word that he has ever (insofar as I can remember) uttered as a war aim.

His decision to maintain the current level of troops, 9,800, in Afghanistan through the end of 2016 falls squarely into this pattern. He could have simply said that his initial plan to pull out all the troops was ill-advised — as has been made crystal clear by the temporary Taliban capture of Kunduz and as some of us have been arguing from the beginning. He could then have announced that he would maintain at least the current number of troops through the end of his presidency or even send more if military commanders deemed it wise (they do). But no. Instead, he said he was suspending the drawdown and would not pull all the troops out but he still planned to cut force levels to 5,500 before leaving office.

That’s going to be in 15 months. How could anyone — even someone as smart as Barack Obama — possibly know what on the-the-ground conditions in Afghanistan will look like in 15 months? There is simply no way of knowing that. So announcing a priori what the troop number is going to be in early 2017 is utterly disconnected from battlefield reality. It is simply a political gesture so that Obama can leave office claiming that the “tide of war is receding,” even though long experience has taught us, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, that premature U.S. troop withdrawals simply lead to a surge in fighting.

China to subdue India by building up a strong Pakistan


Pakistan‘s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrives for the official photograph of the Commonwealth heads of states during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo November 15, 2013

Subduing your enemy by stratagem is the best; subduing by diplomacy is second best; subduing by battles in the field is the third alternative; subduing by attacking enemy cities is the last alternative.–The Art of War by Sun Tze

Fighting and winning each and every battle is not the best of the best; subduing the enemy without fighting is the best of the best.–ditto

Amid a surge of nationalism due to maritime territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, a naive girl Li Qiuye wrote an article entitled “Six Wars China Is Sure to Fight In the Next 50 Years”. Unexpectedly, the foolish article was quite popular and lots of Chinese media accept Li’s views. 

The battle for Kunduz

Vikram Sood, 17 October 2015

A reference to events in Kunduz in September-October 2015 invariably draws a comparison to what happened in this Afghan province towards the end of 2001. 
The Taliban had been on the offensive there, but were ousted by a massive US counter-offensive accompanying a Northern Alliance onslaught. 

In 2001, the Taliban had been assisted by a large number of Pakistani regulars from the army and intelligence. This contingent consisted of retired military and intelligence officers, civilians and trained serving military operatives, but not in uniform. Estimated to be about 2-3000, these trapped "advisors" were flown out in Pakistani aircraft and with US approval from Kunduz in haste before the Northern Alliance could lay their hands on them. 
The fleeing advisors also took some Taliban with them for safe custody and future use. Fourteen years later, the latest Taliban take over seemed to be temporary as battles in northern Afghanistan continue. 
By December 2001, Taliban commanders, keenly watched by Pakistani military commanders and intelligence officers, met in Peshawar. This war council comprised about 60 men, including those from Pakistani militant and religious organisations and discussed the future course of action. 

They were not wasting any time and did not feel they had lost the war, but had only suffered temporary setbacks. Among those attending this war council were Lt. Gen. Abbasi, sacked earlier for plotting the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and a former ISI operative who had helped organise the Mujahedeen resistance against the Soviets; Col Imam (real name Brigadier Sultan Amir) who had been trained at the US Special Forces training centre at Fort Bragg and who had trained the Mujahedeen in the 1980s; Taliban Ambassador Zaeef, who later ended up at Guantanamo; and, Mohammed, son of Jalaluddin, leader of Haqqani Networks, considered a veritable arm of the ISI. 

Dysfunctionality of Afghan Government Blamed In Part for Revival of Taliban

October 18, 2015

US troop extension hands Afghanistan a lifeline - for now

The United States’ decision to extend its military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2016 has thrown the war-ravaged country’s government a much needed lifeline even as its dysfunctionality, blamed for the Taliban’s revival, shows no signs of abating.

It has been just over a year since Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president as part of a US-brokered unity government with his main election rival, former anti-Soviet fighter Abdullah Abdullah, as chief executive.

While the deal was hailed as a breakthrough that had averted a possible ethnic civil war, experts blame the political deadlock it created for allowing the Taliban to regain momentum and unleash a wave of violence not been seen for years.

The insurgents’ seizure of the northern regional capital Kunduz last month, though brief, was a stinging blow to Western-trained Afghan forces as they struggle to maintain security after the end of NATO’s mission in December.

US President Barack Obama’s decision to keep 5,500 troops beyond 2016 has therefore been met with widespread relief by officials and residents, who hope it will prevent the country from becoming a regional hub of terror and violence like Syria.

Afghan Government Expanding Local Militias Because of Recent Failings of U.S.-Trained Army and Police

October 17, 2015

Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns

Mujib Mashal, New York Times, October 17, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan — With the Afghan security forces gravely challenged by Taliban offensives, the government is moving to rapidly expand the troubled Afghan Local Police program by thousands of members, Afghan and Western officials say. 
The move to expand the police militias, prompted by the disastrous loss of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban almost three weeks ago, is being described by officials speaking privately as an attempt to head off panic in Afghan cities threatened by the insurgents.

But the expansion also amounts to an open admission that the United States’ main legacy in Afghanistan — the creation of nationalized police and army forces numbering more than 350,000 members — is failing under pressure even before any final American military withdrawal. On Thursday, President Obama called off that pullout, originally due at year’s end, leaving 9,800 American troops in the country for at least another year.
Further, the plan would involve a sudden, and potentially poorly vetted, expansion of the Afghan Local Police, an American-created force that in many areas of the country has become synonymous with human rights abuses even when directly supervised by the American Special Forces. Some of the NATO countries involved in Afghanistan have already expressed concerns about the move.

Until recently, requests for funding an expansion of that police force, a collection of local militias with around 30,000 total members, were repeatedly turned down by the United States military. While the forces have performed well in some parts of the country, in other parts, like Kunduz, they are seen as a source of chaos and banditry rather than security.
“The Taliban have all of a sudden felt a rush after Kunduz — they are abandoning plans for districts and making runs on cities,” said a senior Afghan official, who like others interviewed about security spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid political risk.

Obama Must Act On Syria Or Putin Runs The Show


By ROBBIN LAIRD and ED TIMPERLAKE on October 16, 2015 

The U.S. and its allies must immediately engage at the strategic, diplomatic and tactical military levels in Syria and Iraq. The focus for that action should be uncomplicated; defeat ISIL while supporting the Kurds in reshaping our position in Iraq; put the Iran nuclear agreement in the rear view mirror.

There is a clear and present danger of miscalculation, which needs to guide US and our allies to work directly with the Russians in the deconfliction of air space. We need as well to come to terms with the end of the latest age of unmanned aerial vehicles. Not only are the Russians putting our UAVs in risk, but the information war is being lost to Russia as new documents have been leaked which put the United States into a moral abyss.

With the publication of what The Intercept has called the Drone Wars, “US drone operations in Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan, including the mechanism of targeting suspects slated for assassination” have been highlighted as virtual crimes against humanity, which provides the Russian leader with more than enough apparent justification to operate in the Syrian airspace to deal with US drones operating in Syrian airspace.
Russia has had a significant stake in Syria for a long time, and Syria is part of Putin’s Mediterranean resurgence. For Secretary of State John Kerry when looking at Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, Putin was declared to be so 19th century. In reality, Putin is using military power in a 21st century way – to support a strategy of influence and strategic positioning.

Saudi Arabia's Oil War With Russia


OCT 16, 2015 , By Leonid Bershidsky

As President Vladimir Putin tries to restore Russia as a major player in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is starting to attack on Russia's traditional stomping ground by supplying lower-priced crude oil to Poland.
At a recent investment forum, Igor Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil company, complained about the Saudis' entry into the Polish market. "They're dumping actively," he said. Other Russian oil executives are worried, too. "Isn't this move a first step toward a redivision of Western markets?" Nikolai Rubchenkov, an executive at Tatneft, said at an oil roundtable Thursday. "Shouldn't the government's energy strategy contain some measures to safeguard Russia's interests in its existing Western markets?"

European traders and refiners confirm that Saudi Arabia has been offering its oil at significant discounts, making it more attractive than Russian crude. And, even though most eastern European refineries are now technologically dependent on the Russian crude mix, Russia's oilmen are right to be worried.

In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia sent half of its oil to Europe, but then the Soviet Union built export pipelines from its abundant West Siberian oil fields, and the Saudis switched to Asian markets, where demand was growing and better prices could be had. The Saudi share of the European crude market kept dropping; in 2009, it reached a nadir of 5.9 percent. Russia's share peaked at 34.8 percent in 2011. In recent years, Saudi Arabia slowly increased its presence, reaching a 8.6 percent share in 2013, but it had never tried its luck in Poland.

Like most of central and eastern Europe, Poland has long been a client of Russian oil companies. Last year, about three-quarters of its fuel imports came from Russia, with the rest from Kazakhstan and European countries. Poland, however, is at the center of efforts to reduce the European Union's dependence on Russian energy. Since Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine last year, Poland, Ukraine's neighbor, has increased military expenditures and other efforts to shore up its security. It's working with its smaller neighbors, too. On Thursday, it announced an agreement with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to build a natural gas pipeline to and from the Baltic States, ensuring their future independence from Russian gas supplies. 

Putin shows his realism in Syria


A lack of moderate Syrian opposition forces has forced Washington to give tacit consent to Russian intervention.

16 Oct 2015 
Russia's strategy is based on both realism and the experience of two decades since the fall of communism, writes Lieven [AP]

Anatol Lieven is a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar and a visiting professor at King's College London.

The Russian government has a number of different motives for its intervention in the conflict in Syria. Among these are the desire to help an old ally, to be seen once more as a great power on the world stage, and establish a position that will force US and European leaders to treat Russia's views with greater respect, especially over the Ukraine crisis.

Russia's strategy, however, also stems from a particular analysis of the situation in Syria based on a mixture of hard-headed realism and the experience of over two decades since the fall of communism. The Russian analysis is that the US strategy of arming and building up the Syrian "moderate opposition" never stood any chance of success and has now been recognised by the Pentagon as a failed strategy. Also, under these circumstances, if the Baath state in Damascus is overthrown, the result will be, at best, long-term anarchy; and at worst: a takeover by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.

Moscow has, therefore, decided to provide the Syrian state and its Hezbollah and Kurdish allies with a Russian air force, in the same way (in the view of Russian officials) the US provided an air force for the Libyan opposition in 2011, the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001, the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999, and the Croatian army in 1995.

Henry Kissinger: Good or Evil? 10 historians assess the controversial statesman’s legacy.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/10/henry-kissinger-history-legacy-213237#ixzz3oqXEpkks 

 it sparked a new discussion about the controversial statesman’s role in shaping the history of the 20th century: When Niall Ferguson’s Henry Kissinger, 1923 to 1968: The Idealist (excerpted here in Politico Magazine) came out last month

Whether Henry Kissinger—for so long considered an iconic realist of our era—all this time has been, as Ferguson suggests, a misunderstood idealist. But the book also reinvigorated another, more timeless debate: Is Kissinger, idealist or not, worthy of the continued praise that gets heaped on him in certain Washington and international circles?

Politico Magazine decided to ask top historians and Kissinger experts to evaluate the statesman, his role in history and his legacy. Is he best characterized as America’s greatest statesman, capable of making smart sacrifices for the greater good? Or has he been a careless and callous leader, responsible for perpetuating war and great crimes against humanity to the detriment of U.S. national security? Is Kissinger simply a vastly overrated diplomat—no more original in his ideas than any other Cold War intellectual? And, ultimately, has he been a force for good—or for evil? Here’s what they had to say.
‘Henry Kissinger is one of the worst people to ever be a force for good.’

By Nicholas Thompson, editor of newyorker.com and author of The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the History of the Cold War
Henry Kissinger is one of the worst people to ever be a force for good. He manipulated colleagues and nations. He faked the beginning of a nuclear war in order to advance some perverse personal game theory. He callously perpetrated international crimes. But he was a man of ideas at the center of an American strategy that ultimately benefited the world in some grand sense. His China policy was one of America’s great Cold War achievements. He deserves to be honored and to be given a medal—but one with the image of a man who is scowling and holding a knife. Henry Kissinger was a success—a true, American success—but he can only be called an idealist if he can be called despicable too.

The Em Space Widens

Mobile wallets are the new big players in the transactions push. And it’s clicking.

Mohan Raj, 24, a BPO employee in Noida near Delhi, begins his day by paying for a taxi. He pays his electricity bill en route to work. Later, he buys lunch and recharges his mobile phone. In the evening, he books movie tickets and takes his friend to a cafe. Routine day, right? Except that Mohan did not even once use physical cash or his credit or debit card. He made all the payments using a mobile wallet. Another young media professional put it more bluntly: “Seriously. Do people still use credit cards anymore?” she asks, only semi-joking.

For people who have limited money and need small transactions—that’ll be an overwhelming majority of the country—m-wallets are a no-brainer. Using these, one can keep money and can make payments online or at retail stores. A user has to charge the wallet by putting money in it, which can be done online through a credit or debit card or a bank transfer or through a physical outlet. Many feel the simplicity of this means it will soon overtake other forms of payment.

Led by the young and upwardly mobile, across India there is a conscious shift to m-wallets as people take to digital money. It’s changing the way people make payments, shop or pay their bills. It’s altering people’s habits of carrying loose cash to carrying money in digital wallets tucked inside mobile phones which can be flashed anywhere and everywhere or online to buy that book or a pizza or to transfer money to a relative. “People always need to buy things and they may forget their wallet, but no one forgets their mobile phone,” says the owner of a large retail store in Noida.

How is NSA breaking so much crypto?


There have been rumors for years that the NSA can decrypt a significant fraction of encrypted Internet traffic. In 2012, James Bamford published an article quoting anonymous former NSA officials stating that the agency had achieved a “computing breakthrough” that gave them “the ability to crack current public encryption.” The Snowden documents also hint at some extraordinary capabilities: they show that NSA has built extensive infrastructure to intercept and decrypt VPN traffic and suggest that the agency can decrypt at least some HTTPS and SSH connections on demand.

However, the documents do not explain how these breakthroughs work, and speculation about possible backdoors or broken algorithms has been rampant in the technical community. Yesterday at ACM CCS, one of the leading security research venues, we and twelve coauthors presented a paper that we think solves this technical mystery.
The key is, somewhat ironically, Diffie-Hellman key exchange, an algorithm that we and many others have advocated as a defense against mass surveillance. Diffie-Hellman is a cornerstone of modern cryptography used for VPNs, HTTPS websites, email, and many other protocols. Our paper shows that, through a confluence of number theory and bad implementation choices, many real-world users of Diffie-Hellman are likely vulnerable to state-level attackers.

How the NSA can break trillions of encrypted Web and VPN connections

Researchers show how mass decryption is well within the NSA's $11 billion budget.

by Dan Goodin - Oct 15, 2015 

For years, privacy advocates have pushed developers of websites, virtual private network apps, and other cryptographic software to adopt the Diffie-Hellman cryptographic key exchange as a defense against surveillance from the US National Security Agency and other state-sponsored spies. Now, researchers are renewing their warning that a serious flaw in the way the key exchange is implemented is allowing the NSA to break and eavesdrop on trillions of encrypted connections.

The cost for adversaries is by no means modest. For commonly used 1024-bit keys, it would take about a year and cost a "few hundred million dollars" to crack just one of the extremely large prime numbers that form the starting point of a Diffie-Hellman negotiation. But it turns out that only a few primes are commonly used, putting the price well within the NSA's $11 billion-per-year budget dedicated to "groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities."
Consolidated Cryptologic Program has 35,000 employees working with crypto."Since a handful of primes are so widely reused, the payoff, in terms of connections they could decrypt, would be enormous," researchers Alex Halderman and Nadia Heninger wrote in a blog post published Wednesday. "Breaking a single, common 1024-bit prime would allow NSA to passively decrypt connections to two-thirds of VPNs and a quarter of all SSH servers globally. Breaking a second 1024-bit prime would allow passive eavesdropping on connections to nearly 20% of the top million HTTPS websites. In other words, a one-time investment in massive computation would make it possible to eavesdrop on trillions of encrypted connections."

The NSA and Weak-DH

By Nicholas Weaver Thursday, October 15, 2015, 1:43 PM

The authors of the weak Diffie-Hellman work are almost certainly correct that the technique they describe is used by the NSA, in bulk, to perform a massive amount of decryption on Internet traffic. This is perhaps the biggest technical revelation about NSA capabilities in the past few years, as it reveals a potential huge capability possessed by the NSA. In particular, the IPsec Virtual Private Network (VPN) protocol used by businesses, governments, and individuals around the world is particularly vulnerable to this weakness.

The point of Diffie-Hellman public key exchange (DHE) is for two parties, commonly referred to as "Alice" and "Bob", to agree on a secret value in a way that someone listening in can’t determine this value. This process begins with two public prime numbers, p and g. Then Alice creates a random number a that she keeps secret and Bob creates b. Through some math, they agree on a number, which represents the shared encryption key that Alice and Bob can use to encrypt their traffic. This is why this protocol is termed a "key exchange" protocol.

Adrian et al, the authors of the CCS paper, observed a subtle detail. It is computationally very hard to compute the agreed number if someone doesn’t know either a or b (which is why this is a "public key exchange" protocol, it assumes that the adversary can see all the communication between Alice and Bob). But this work actually consists of two parts, a huge amount of work that applies to any a and b using the same p and g and a very small amount of work for the next a and b using the samep and g. They further observed that most servers using this for IPsec, a major Virtual Private Network protocol that encrypts a large amount of business traffic, commonly use the same p and g, and most of these systems are using 1024b Diffie-Hellman. 

DISA’s evolving fight to defend DoD networks

Amber Corrin, Senior Staff Writer October 15, 2015

As can be inferred by the organization’s name, the Defense Information Systems Agency is in the business of defending IT security. But that job has taken on new meaning, especially in the recent months after a reorganization and a major push to regionalize cybersecurity.

DISA’s biggest cybersecurity push at the moment is the Defense Department’s Joint Regional Security Stacks, a security and network visibility program being rolled out from the first site at Joint Base San Antonio to military bases worldwide. DISA’s work, however, goes far beyond the broad reaches of JRSS — and much of it centers on the DoD Information Network, or DODIN.

Earlier this year the Pentagon stood up Joint Force Headquarters-DODIN, which is commanded by DISA’s dual-hatted director, LTG Alan Lynn. JFHQ-DODIN’s leadership and location — at Fort Meade, Maryland, alongside the headquarters of DISA, the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command — is no accident.
“When you talk DISA [cybersecurity], this is DODIN as well, and our Number 1 cybersecurity piece that we’re working today is JRSS. It’s our Number 1 priority to field; it’s the regional security capability that allows us to defend from within the DODIN what we call the east-west traffic,” said John Hickey, DISA’s risk management executive and CIO. “The ability to change signatures, the enemy’s ability to change how they’re coming at us — that’s high on our list from a priority standpoint. We look at everything all the way down to the endpoint.”

Morning Cybersecurity A daily briefing on politics and cybersecurity


The threat of hacker-terrorist team-ups

By TIM STARKS,  10/16/15 
With help from Joseph Marks and David Perera

A HACKER-TERRORIST TEAM-UP AND PROSPECTS FOR MORE? – In a case that could represent a scarier evolution in the consequences of hacking -- a variant aimed at creating real-world violence — a Kosovo man was charged by the Justice Department for allegedly stealing the personal information of over 1,000 U.S. military members and federal employees and handing it over to ISIL. The DOJ called the indictment the “first of its kind” in its announcement Thursday night. The suspect, Ardit Ferizi, is said to be leader of the Kosova Hacker’s Security group.

The fear is that this is one step beyond what hackers have done to date, or even what terrorists have done on the Internet to date. Hackers have been more concerned about making money or political points, while terrorist groups have primarily used computers for social media recruiting or other less overtly dangerous gestures. “The hacking-terrorism combination could be far more lethal,” as Devlin Barrett writes for The Wall Street Journal:http://on.wsj.com/1VVP4D3
But the combo has not proven too grave a threat — yet. Much of what Ferizi allegedly obtained was widely available and not official. Ferizi allegedly shared his information with Junaid Hussain, thought to be leader of the Cyber Caliphate who was killed by a drone strike this year. The Cyber Caliphate had counted as one of its biggest successes breaking into the social media accounts of U.S. Central Command. http://nyti.ms/1UfISzv
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CIA Drone Strike Program Is Dependent on SIGINT and Other Intelligence Sources

October 17, 2015 

Firing Blind: Flawed Intelligence and the Limits of Drone Technology 

Cora Currier and Peter Maass , The Intercept , October 15, 2015 

The Obama administration has portrayed drones as an effective and efficient weapon in the ongoing war with al Qaeda and other radical groups. Yet classified Pentagon documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the U.S. military has faced “critical shortfalls” in the technology and intelligence it uses to find and kill suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia. 

THOSE SHORTFALLS STEM from the remote geography of Yemen and Somalia and the limited American presence there. As a result, the U.S. military has been overly reliant on signals intelligence from computers and cellphones, and the quality of those intercepts has been limited by constraints on surveillance flights in the region. 

The documents are part of a study by a Pentagon Task Force on Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. They provide details about how targets were tracked for lethal missions carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, in Yemen and Somalia between January 2011 and summer 2012. When the study was circulated in 2013, the Obama administration was publicly floatingthe idea of moving the bulk of its drone program to the Pentagon from the CIA, and the military was eager to make the case for more bases, more drones, higher video quality, and better eavesdropping equipment. Yet by identifying the challenges and limitations facing the military’s “find, fix, finish” operations in Somalia and Yemen — the cycle of gathering intelligence, locating, and attacking a target — the conclusions of the ISR study would seem to undermine the Obama administration’s claims of a precise and effective campaign, and lend support to critics who have questioned the quality of intelligence used in drone strikes.

The study made specific recommendations for improving operations in the Horn of Africa, but a Pentagon spokesperson, Cmdr. Linda Rojas, declined to explain what, if any, measures had been taken in response to the study’s findings, saying only that “as a matter of policy we don’t comment on the details of classified reports.” 

Return of the Oil Weapon


Forty-two years ago this week, Arab petroleum exporters banded together to impose an oil embargo on Western consumers in retaliation for their support of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The five-month-long embargo by OPEC's Arab member states spurred an almost immediate energy crisis in the United States, leading to gasoline lines, odd-even rationing, and violence.
Although the parallels between now and then are inexact, experts and energy traders increasingly agree that oil is once again being used as an economic weapon on the global stage.

Indeed, reports this week that Saudi Arabia has begun making inroads in the traditional Russian energy market of Eastern Europe suggest that oil markets have become just the latest front in the ongoing proxy war over the future of war-torn Syria. And with the Saudis now providing oil at what traders are calling "dumping prices" to buyers in Poland, Riyadh may be sending a message to Moscow through the markets.
"Oil is being used as a weapon because the Saudis want to undercut the Russians in their own backyard," and punish Moscow for its role in the Syrian civil war, said Andrew Scott Cooper, geopolitical risk analyst and author of the forthcoming book, "The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran."

For Saudi Arabia -- a country currently flexing military muscle across much of the Middle East -- oil is a far more familiar means to an end. Time and time again -- in 1973 against the United States, in 1977 against the Shah of Iran, and in the late 1980s against the Soviets and unruly OPEC states -- Riyadh turned to energy manipulation as a geopolitical weapon.
"There's a blueprint for this," Cooper told the Mideast Memo, and the past year suggests that Riyadh has dusted off its old designs for energy warfare.

What Would We Lose By Winning? The Mission vs. Morality

Nathan A. Wike

This post comes in response to the recent post on The Bridge by Michael Lortz, titled “National Security Goals and the Dancing Boys of Afghanistan”. 
While I was deployed to Afghanistan, my First Sergeant (1SG) and I swapped stories while sitting in our CP. As a man with more than 20 years of experience his anecdotes about the “old” army of the 90s, the trouble he got into or witnessed, and the places he had been were usually fun and exciting to listen to.

But not always. As a man with more than 20 years of experience, he had witnessed his fair share of tragedies and morally questionable episodes. Like all such stories, they caused me to think and reflect. And lately one has become frightfully relevant. 
One such event he relayed came from his time in Haiti while on a disaster relief mission. At the perimeter of an American compound encircled by concertina wire, he and the other soldiers would gather to hand out bottled water and various foodstuffs to the locals who wandered up. They had weapons but no ammo, and were under strict instructions that they were not to take any sort of action against a Haitian national. Instead, if an incident occurred they were to notify one of the U.S. Marshals who also resided at the camp.

One day the soldiers were confronted with a situation that caused them each to make a decision about what was more important, their mission as they understood it, or their own morality.
While lounging about the perimeter, one of the soldiers looked up and shouted. A very short distance from where the perimeter ended, a Haitian man had a young Haitian girl pinned to the ground, crying and screaming.
He was about to rape her.

TRADOC lays groundwork for multimedia, mobile classrooms

Adam Stone, Contributing Writer October 14, 2015

Hand in hand with its drive to create enriched electronic versions of its core documents, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) also is moving ahead with efforts to make those documents available on mobile devices.

An ongoing wireless push will give students access to basic Army documents while also opening up access to multimedia, interactive classroom materials.

In recent months, TRADOC has built out wireless infrastructure at eight sites representing a total of 227 academic buildings. This encompasses 28 of 36 TRADOC schools. After a bit of further testing, TRADOC says, these wireless networks should go live by year’s end. (The remaining eight schools either have a wireless backbone already or have no programmatic need for wireless.)

The advent of wireless academics responds to changes in the way younger soldiers interact with study materials. “There is an expectation today that people will be able to access content when and where they need it, and there is an expectation that it is more than just textbooks, more than just the written word,” said LTC Joseph Harris, TRADOC Capability Manager (TCM)-Mobile, Fort Eustis, Virginia. “That is what we are trying to achieve.”

The UN doesn’t work. Here’s a fix

October 15, 2015 | Boston Globe

After 70 years, the United Nations has become a vast, sprawling conglomerate, overwhelmed by unsustainable ambitions, inadequate capacities, and plain reality. Characterized by speeches, meetings, reports, resolutions, and endless ways to spend money, the UN has managed to construct a large carbon footprint. What else it actually accomplishes is a different issue.

None of this is new. In his Oct. 22, 1961, diary entry, Arthur Schlesinger, close adviser to President John Kennedy and good friend of then UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, wrote, “I cannot resist the feeling that the UN world is really an immense and picturesque form of make-believe and that its problems and crises are remote from the serious issues of the day.” Although Schlesinger hoped he was mistaken in the long run, that day is not yet in sight.

Undoubtedly, many UN specialized agencies do important work in fields as diverse as maritime affairs, civil air transport, and telecommunications. Almost from their creation, however, the UN’s political decision-making entities — the Security Council, the General Assembly, and the various “human-rights” organizations — have largely been failures.

CIA Drone Strike Program Is Dependent on SIGINT and Other Intelligence Sources

Cora Currier and Peter Maass
October 17, 2015

Firing Blind: Flawed Intelligence and the Limits of Drone Technology

The Obama administration has portrayed drones as an effective and efficient weapon in the ongoing war with al Qaeda and other radical groups. Yet classified Pentagon documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the U.S. military has faced “critical shortfalls” in the technology and intelligence it uses to find and kill suspected terrorists in Yemen and Somalia.

THOSE SHORTFALLS STEM from the remote geography of Yemen and Somalia and the limited American presence there. As a result, the U.S. military has been overly reliant on signals intelligence from computers and cellphones, and the quality of those intercepts has been limited by constraints on surveillance flights in the region.

The documents are part of a study by a Pentagon Task Force on Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. They provide details about how targets were tracked for lethal missions carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, in Yemen and Somalia between January 2011 and summer 2012. When the study was circulated in 2013, the Obama administration was publicly floatingthe idea of moving the bulk of its drone program to the Pentagon from the CIA, and the military was eager to make the case for more bases, more drones, higher video quality, and better eavesdropping equipment.

Report Finds That Foreign Government Purchases of Commercially-Available Spyware Rising Rapidly

Andrea Peterson
October 18, 2015

Spyware sold to governments still spreading despite hacks against vendors 

Cyberattacks against firms that sell digital spying tools to governments with questionable human rights records have given researchers greater insight into the murky world of commercial surveillance. But that hasn’t slowed the spread of such tools around the world, according to a new report from Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

The report, released Thursday, found 33 “likely government users” of FinFisher – a well-known spyware program – in 32 countries, including Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Egypt. The company did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

This type of spyware has the potential to take over a target’s computer, capturing every keystroke and even gaining control of the computer’s microphone and camera to turn the device into a sophisticated eavesdropping tool. Its spread puts surveillance tools once thought only to be within reach of advanced nations available to practically any country willing to pay, according to critics. Such hacking tools have allegedly been used to target people within the United States, including journalists and dissidents.

IBM Allows China and Other Countries to See Its Source Code

October 18, 2015

IBM says some governments allowed to review its source code 

Oct 16 (Reuters) - International Business Machines Corp said on Friday it allows certain countries to review, under strict control, portions of the U.S. technology company’s product source code to detect any security flaws in its software.

China is among those countries, a person familiar with the company’s policy there said. The reviews must be done using an IBM security application and the company “does not let people take the code out of the room,” the source said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Without mentioning China, IBM said in a statement that “strict procedures are in place within these technology demonstration centers to ensure that no software source code is released, copied or altered in any way.”

“IBM does not provide government access to client data or back doors into our technology,” the company added.

Don’t let the Nobel prize fool you. Economics is not a science


‘A Nobel prize in economics implies that the human world operates much like the physical world.’ 
Sunday 11 October 2015 1

Business as usual. That will be the implicit message when the Sveriges Riksbank announces this year’s winner of the “Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”, to give it its full title. Seven years ago this autumn, practically the entire mainstream economics profession was caught off guard by the global financial crash and the “worst panic since the 1930s” that followed. And yet on Monday the glorification of economics as a scientific field on a par with physics, chemistry and medicine will continue.

Nobel prize in economics won by Angus Deaton - as it happened
Economists are applauding the decision to recognise Edinburgh-born microeconomist Angus Deaton for his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare.

The problem is not so much that there is a Nobel prize in economics, but that there are no equivalent prizes in psychology, sociology, anthropology. Economics, this seems to say, is not a social science but an exact one, like physics or chemistry – a distinction that not only encourages hubris among economists but also changes the way we think about the economy.

A Nobel prize in economics implies that the human world operates much like the physical world: that it can be described and understood in neutral terms, and that it lends itself to modelling, like chemical reactions or the movement of the stars. It creates the impression that economists are not in the business of constructing inherently imperfect theories, but of discovering timeless truths.

Test of New Indian Nuclear-Capable Cruise Missile Goes Awry

October 18, 2015

Nuke-capable Nirbhay cruise missile fails again, flight aborted 

The indigenous surface-to-surface subsonic cruise missile Nirbhay once again failed as it nose-dived midway after it was test fired Friday morning.

The nuclear capable missile was test-fired from the Integrated Test Range at Chandipur in Odisha’s Balasore district at 11.38 am Friday. After its blast-off from a mobile launcher, the missile developed technical glitches and could cover only 129 km in 11 minutes when the flight was aborted.

The missile was then put on self-destruct mode. The missile, which is supposed to be India’s answer to US missile Tomahawk, was to fly nearly one hour.

DRDO sources said the launch was aborted midway after the missile’s guidance system and it could not take the necessary turn. In its first attempt on March 12, 2013, the missile behaved in a similar way and was destroyed midair. The second test on October 17 last year was a partial success as it could not maintain a low altitude.