Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

Theresa May wants new security treaty with EU next year

February 17, 2018

British PM seeks treaty on post-Brexit military, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation

Theresa May delivers her speech at the 2018 Munich Security Conference.
 Theresa May delivers her speech at the 2018 Munich security conference. Photograph: Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

Theresa May has called for a new security treaty with the European Union that should be up and running next year to ensure military, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation after London leaves the bloc.

“The key aspects of our future partnership in this area will already be effective from 2019,” the British prime minister told top European and US officials at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

“The partnership that we need to create is one that offers UK and EU way to combine our efforts to greatest effect where this is in our shared interest,” May said.

She called on her country’s European Union partners not to let “rigid institutional restrictions” get in the way of a wide-ranging post-Brexit security partnership and warned that there will be “damaging real-world consequences” if none is agreed.

May told the conference that “the UK is just as committed to Europe’s security in the future as we have been in the past”.

May said the challenge is to put together a “deep and special partnership” with the EU to retain cooperation. She said: “This cannot be a time when any of us allow competition between partners, rigid institutional restrictions or deep-seated ideology to inhibit our cooperation and jeopardise the security of our citizens.”

May ruled out a second vote on the country’s membership of the European Union, saying there was no going back on the result of the June 2016 vote.

“We are leaving the EU and there is no question of a second referendum or going back and I think that’s important,” May said.

“People in the UK feel very strongly that if we take a decision, then governments should turn not round and say: no, you got that wrong,” she said when asked if Britain would consider a second referendum.

Ahead of Saturday’s speech, May appeared at a joint press conference with Angela Merkel in Berlin at which the two leaders spoke in conciliatory terms about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, with Merkel saying that she was “curious” but “not frustrated” with the British government’s slow progress in outlining its plan.

May’s critics will argue one key problem is her rigid adherence to a red line in the Brexit negotiations of leaving the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, which has made continued cooperation more difficult.



Qatar Airways to comply with TSA’s tougher cargo screening

January 24, 2018

A Qatar Airways cargo plane waits to be loaded. (AFP)

DUBAI: Qatar Airways said on Wednesday it is in talks with the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to comply with their request for their cargo to undergo enhanced screening.

The TSA announced on Monday it would require six Middle East airlines, including Qatar Airways, to toughen cargo security at their hub airports in the region.
“Qatar Airways is aware of the new Air Cargo Advance Screening requirements and is liaising with TSA and … regulators to ensure regulatory compliance,” an airline spokeswoman said in an email.
The carriers and airports are Qatar Airways operating out of Doha’s Hamad International Airport, Emirates operating out of Dubai International Airport, Etihad Airways out of Abu Dhabi International Airport, Saudia operating out of Jeddah’s King Abdul-Aziz International Airport and Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, EgyptAir operating out of Cairo International Airport, and Royal Jordanian operating out of Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport.
All cargo originating from those airports will have to be screened and secured under Air Cargo Advance Screening protocols. The TSA said most of the requirements were already being voluntarily applied by airlines around the world.

Philippines: Huge Pay Raise for Killer Cops

January 13, 2018
 / 05:18 AM January 13, 2018

Beginning this month, the chief of the Philippine National Police, Director General Ronald dela Rosa, will enjoy a 79-percent increase in his basic monthly pay—from P67,500 to P121,143. That’s the combined result of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law that reduces personal income tax rates and Joint Resolution No. 1 that mandates a hike in the salaries of uniformed personnel. Both laws were signed by President Duterte this January.

Dela Rosa’s increase is only the third highest in the PNP ranks under the new scheme; police officers 1 will enjoy a 100-percent salary hike, from P14,834 to P29,668, while police officers 2 will get an 82-percent increase, from P16,934 to P30,867. All other police personnel will also see their pay increase by an average increase of 58.70 percent beginning Jan. 15, the PNP spokesperson, Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos, announced in a press briefing.

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Philippine National Police Director  Director General Ronald dela Rosa

A similar 100-percent increase in salaries will apply to military personnel, with new monthly rates now ranging “from P18,587 for candidate soldier and P29,668 for private or police officer 1 to P34,761 for chief master sergeant or senior police officer 3,” as this paper has reported. For higher-ranked personnel: “The rates range from P35,456 for first chief master sergeant or senior police officer 4 to P121,143 for a general or police director general starting Jan. 1. Their pay will be adjusted upward to the range of P38,366 to P149,785 starting Jan. 1, 2019.

The hefty increases amount to a significant change in the compensation structure of police and military personnel, who, for far too long, have lived with meager pay, substandard materiel, lack of provisions, and many other privations. There is no question that soldiers who have performed heroically in Marawi City and elsewhere deserve to be compensated fairly and provided robust support.

And the PNP? Under Dela Rosa’s watch, the country’s civilian national police force has swiftly been degraded into an organization whose name has come to be associated with the routine abuse and killing of suspects; the perversion of the government’s war on drugs (such as the abduction and murder by cops of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo on the pretext of a drug raid); and widespread public doubt on its methods and motives, as borne out by surveys. As it is, dismayed observers note, Dela Rosa’s 79-percent increase in pay amounts to an undeserved reward for continually botching his job.

And as entry-level police personnel are now about to receive P30,000 in monthly pay, the basic salary of a  teacher 1 is only P21,000. The hefty pay increases for uniformed personnel inevitably raise questions about distortions in the government’s compensation structure. A recent Senate resolution specifically calls on the Department of Budget and Management to look at likewise readjusting the basic salaries of civilian personnel to ensure that, as Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon points out, if a rookie policeman receives P40,000, an entry-level teacher, a lawyer at the Department of Justice, and a health worker should also be entitled to the same pay.

President Duterte is committed to and has “ordered everyone to study how to increase the salary of teachers,” his spokesperson Harry Roque said last Thursday. But a day earlier, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno swatted down the idea, flatly saying it is “not our priority at this time.” The administration’s priority, according to Diokno, is its “build, build, build” program, the expenditures for which are projected to amount to P9 trillion until 2022. Doubling the salaries for some 600,000 public schoolteachers nationwide would mean shelling out an additional half a trillion pesos, Diokno said.

But against the huge outlays so far for infrastructure, intelligence and pay increases for favored sectors, is not improving the welfare of teachers, who bear the awesome responsibility of educating the hope of the motherland, as urgent as that of cops and soldiers?

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The grandmother of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, Violeta, cries beside his casket yesterday in Caloocan City. Relatives and concerned neighbors of the teenager slain by police are calling for justice. MICHAEL VARCAS

U.S. Turns Military Focus to Afghanistan as ISIS Battles Ebb

January 11, 2018

Pentagon plans to dedicate new combat advisers, drones and other hardware in 2018

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon is planning to double down on the Trump administration’s new approach in Afghanistan by reallocating drones and other hardware while sending in approximately 1,000 new combat advisers, according to U.S. and military officials.

The idea is to bulk up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by the time the traditional fighting season begins in the spring. The military will send a larger number of drones, both armed and unarmed, to Afghanistan for air support as well as for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The Pentagon also plans to bolster capabilities such as helicopters, ground vehicles, artillery and related materiel, according to U.S. officials, moves made possible by a reduction of combat operations in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State extremist group.

Adding to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, the administration will deploy as soon as next month members of an Army security-force assistance brigade from Fort Benning, Ga., to work as combat advisers to Afghan National Security Forces, expanding the U.S. training commitment, the officials said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, right, is briefed by U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, in Doha, Qatar, in April 2017. Photo: BRIGITTE N. BRANTLEY/PLANET PIX/ZUMA PRESS

These moves all accelerate President Donald Trump’s decision last August to approve some 4,000 additional troops in Afghanistan, bringing the number of American personnel to about 14,000. The additional security-force assistance units could push that number higher, although other forces could be withdrawn at the same time.

The emphasis on Afghanistan is part of a broader shift that ultimately is expected to shrink America’s military footprint in the Middle East as it refocuses its capabilities in East Asia.

That shift grew out of a request by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that Army Gen. Joseph Votel, chief of the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, recommend ways to rethink the military capabilities those countries will require over time.

Mr. Mattis, in a video teleconference late last year, asked Gen. Votel to consider how to use military resources for Afghanistan and to counter Iran, while also giving up military capabilities in other parts of the world, particularly in Asia, where the U.S. faces North Korean hostility and Chinese assertiveness.

The collapse of territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria led to calls to shift some of the resources dedicated to that war. But past lessons loom large, and U.S. military planners have said they don’t want to remove troops helping to fight Islamic State and risk allowing an insurgency.

How Islamic State’s Caliphate Crumbled Maps tell the story of the terror group’s violent rise and fall in Syria and Iraq—and show where the homecoming of ISIS foreign recruits poses the next challenge.

One military official described the dilemma by noting how the Pentagon expends massive resources to eliminate tactical threats—say two suspected terrorists riding a motorcycle inside Iraq or Syria—while lagging in some aspects of competition with China.

Mr. Mattis didn’t put a deadline on drawing down resources from Central Command, the military official said. His direction was premised on the need to allocate resources elsewhere around the globe, including the Pacific Rim.

The Pentagon is preparing to release a national defense strategy Jan. 19, building on the White House’s own national security strategy released last month.

Top military leaders publicly hinted at the shift toward Afghanistan late last year. “As assets free up from Iraq and Syria and the successful fight against [Islamic State] in that theater, we expect to see more assets come to Afghanistan,” Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander in Afghanistan, told reporters Nov. 28.

U.S. military planners hope to reduce the number of ground troops in Iraq and Syria over the next year, as local forces increasingly take the lead, U.S. military and defense officials said.

The remaining U.S. forces would focus on counterterrorism operations and security for diplomats and contractors, another U.S. military official said. There now are more than 5,000 American troops in Iraq and Syria, according to the Pentagon.

A U.S. Marine looks on as Afghan National Army soldiers raise the Afghan National flag on an armed vehicle during a training exercise at the Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, in August 2017.Photo: WAKIL KOHSAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

In Brussels, allied officials said they have sensed a shift in U.S. priorities as well, with less pressure from the Americans for contributions to the coalition fight against Islamic State in the Middle East. Instead, the officials said, there is more of a focus by the U.S. on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization effort in Afghanistan. Allied diplomats say that reflects the gains the coalition has made in retaking territory from Islamic State, and the new troop requirements necessitated by the administration’s strategy for Afghanistan.

U.S. Central Command has enjoyed the lion’s share of Pentagon resources as it has fought wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but officials there recognize many of those resources may need to go elsewhere.

“We are going to use them as long as we have them,” one defense official said. “The clock could be ticking. We don’t know.”

Mr. Mattis’s Pentagon, however, is aware that drastic troop reductions in Iraq and Syria could allow militants to return.

“The real caution, the thing that’s being discussed, is that we cannot make the mistake of taking our eye off ISIS too quickly,” a military official said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “We don’t want to make the same mistake we’ve made before, we don’t want to allow that to happen.”

—Julian E. Barnes in Brussels contributed to this article.

Write to Nancy A. Youssef at and Gordon Lubold at

Shin Bet Warns Israel’s Ministers: Death Penalty for Terrorists Will Lead to Kidnappings of Jews Worldwide

January 3, 2018

Despite the warning, Netanyahu backed the bill in a preliminary Knesset vote: ‘A person who slaughters and laughs should be put to death’

Chaim Levinson Jan 03, 2018 5:12 PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, October 24, 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset, October 24, 2017. Olivier Fitouss

UPDATE: Knesset gives preliminary backing to death penalty for terrorists bill

The Shin Bet security service has voiced its objections to the death penalty bill, which it suspects will trigger a wave of kidnappings of Jews around the world to use them in negotiations.

Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman has shared his negative opinion of the bill with the inner security cabinet. The security service will be presenting its opinion to the cabinet when it convenes to discuss the bill, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it would.

The bill received preliminary backing from the Knesset on Wednesday and still needs to pass three rounds of voting in order to become a law. Despite the warning, Netanyahu backed the bill and, in unusual remarks ahead of the vote, said that, “a person who slaughters and laughs should not spend his life behind bars but be put to death.”

The Shin Bet is predicting abductions of Jews not only in Muslim countries, but in the West as well. It also has other objections to the bill. In 2011, when some – including Central Command General Avi Mizrahi – were advocating the death penalty for Amjad Awad for murders of five members of the Fogel family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, the Shin Bet objected and the idea fell through.

Ahead of the bill’s preliminary reading, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said in a private conversation that he is not bound by the cabinet’s position – and that is just one of many considerations. Mendelblit had also opposed the death penalty as chief military prosecutor, and his position has not changed.

Present military law allows the death penalty to be handed down for murder committed as part of a terror act, but it is conditional on the unanimous support of the sentence by the judges. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who sponsored the bill, proposes that an ordinary majority of judges should suffice to sentence a terrorist to death. The bill also bans leniency after a final death sentence has been handed down.

Chaim Levinson
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China, Russia slam US and Donald Trump’s ‘imperialist’ and ‘Cold War mentality’

December 19, 2017


© AFP / by Ryan MCMORROW with Maria PANINA in MOSCOW | US President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy says China and Russia are ‘attempting to erode American security and prosperity’


China and Russia on Tuesday decried President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy — which pilloried both nations as challengers to US power — as a “Cold War mentality” with an “imperialist character”.

The two global powerhouses hit back hours after the Trump administration unveiled its approach to the world with biting language framing Beijing and Moscow as global competitors.

“We urge the United States to stop intentionally distorting China’s strategic intentions and to abandon outdated notions such as the Cold War mentality and zero-sum game, otherwise it will only harm itself or others,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

Moscow issued its own denunciation moments later.

“The imperialist character of this document is obvious, as is the refusal to renounce a unipolar world, an insistent refusal,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The report’s tough tone contrasts sharply with Trump’s friendlier face-to-face encounters with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity,” the document says.

– ‘Malicious slander’ –

Accusing China of seeking “to displace the United States” in Asia, the 68-page strategy is a litany of US grievances, from the Chinese stealing data to spreading “features of its authoritarian system.”

“Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others,” it says.

Beijing launched a vigorous defence of its “peaceful development”, saying any report “which distorts the facts, or maliciously slanders will only do so in vain”.

“China will never pursue its own development at the expense of other countries’ interests,” Hua told a regular news briefing.

“At the same time we will never give up our legitimate rights and interests.”

Trump received a lavish welcome during his first state visit to Beijing in November and was full of praise for Xi.

But the two countries have been locked in an increasingly acrimonious battle over trade issues, with Washington taking unprecedented steps to investigate and add tariffs to Chinese-made goods.

There are also lingering US concerns over China’s military activities in the disputed South China Sea, while Washington has angered Beijing with its arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan.

– Softer on Russia –

Speaking on Monday after the report’s release, Trump took a strikingly softer tone on Russia, lauding the benefits of counterterror cooperation with Moscow.

Trump claimed that a recent CIA tip-off about a terror attack on a cathedral in Putin’s home town of Saint Petersburg had prevented deaths “in the thousands”.

“They were able to apprehend these terrorists before the event with no loss of life and that’s a great thing, and the way it’s supposed to work,” Trump said, offering the prospect of better ties.

Trump’s presidential campaign is being investigated for possible collusion with Russia in the run-up to his shock 2016 election win — allegations the 45th president has dubbed “fake news”.

His security strategy warns that Russian nuclear weapons are “the most significant existential threat to the United States”.

It also describes the Kremlin as a power that “seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders”.

“Russia aims to weaken US influence in the world and divide us from our allies and partners,” it warns.

The Kremlin’s Peskov responded that Russia “cannot accept” being described as a threat to US security.

But Peskov praised “modest” positive features in the report, pointing to what he said was Washington’s readiness to cooperate with Russia in areas such as an exchange of security information.

– ‘Two administrations’ –

The national security document — 11 months in the making — is required by law and is designed to form a framework for how America approaches the world.

Previous national security strategies have been released without much fanfare and served as guideposts, rather than doctrinal commandments.

But in this unorthodox administration, the document had taken on extra significance.

Foreign officials in Washington often complain that there are effectively “two administrations” — one that they hear from day-to-day in contacts with the State Department and Pentagon and another coming from Trump, often via Twitter in 280 characters or fewer.

Trump and his advisors often publicly differ starkly on fundamental security issues from the Middle East to talks with North Korea.

But allies looking for clarity about the intentions of the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power are likely to be confused by Trump’s mixed messages.

Where the strategy warns Russia is using “subversive measures” to undermine “transatlantic unity,” Trump again claimed that European allies were “delinquent” in paying for security “while we guarantee their safety and are willing to fight wars for them”.

Where the strategy warned of Moscow’s “destabilizing cyber capabilities” and interference in domestic political affairs, Trump made no such reference.

by Ryan MCMORROW with Maria PANINA in MOSCOW

Trump officially removes climate change from list of global threats — Lists China and Russia as competitors

December 19, 2017

‘America is in the game, and America is going to win’

By Alexandra Wilts Washington DC
The Independent

In another departure from his predecessor Barack Obama, President Donald Trump has removed climate change as a global threat in his new national security strategy – a plan that prioritises economic and military might and paints China and Russia as competitors that want to shape global events to match their interests.

Echoing his 2016 presidential campaign message, the President declared in a speech introducing his strategy: “America is in the game, and America is going to win.”

The remarks at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington were largely another reiteration of his “America First” doctrine, which emphasises national sovereignty and the economic implications of global participation. Officials have said the core principles of the strategy have already been put into practice.

While discussing his strategy, Mr Trump seemed to envision nations in constant competition and brushed aside Obama-era warnings on climate change. The President also stressed that the US would defend its sovereignty at all costs, even if that meant ripping up existing agreements.

The strategy focuses on four main themes: protecting the homeland, promoting American prosperity, demonstrating peace through strength and advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world.

Along with listing off the threat of rogue regimes like North Korea, Mr Trump said, “We also face rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth.”

“We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner that always protects our national interest,” he added.

He then noted how Russian President Vladimir Putin had called him the previous day to thank America for intelligence the CIA had provided regarding a planned terror attack in St Petersburg.

“Many people, perhaps in the thousands, could have been killed,” Mr Trump said. “They were able to apprehend these terrorists before the event, with no loss of life. And that’s a great thing, and the way it’s supposed to work. That is the way it’s supposed to work.”

He continued: “But while we seek such opportunities of cooperation, we will stand up for ourselves, and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before.”

Both China and Russia have sought to “change the status quo”, according to Trump administration officials, in a manner the US opposes and could challenge American interests. As examples, an official cited Chinese military expansion and island-building in the South China Sea and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Mr Trump also made the decision to exclude climate change from a list of global threats in his strategy. The Obama administration had first included the phenomenon, said to be a major cause of the recent massive wildfires in California, in its own national strategy in 2015.

The strategy sets a goal of being an “energy-dominant nation” but does say the US “recognises the importance of environmental stewardship”.

In his speech, the closest Mr Trump came to mentioning the topic of climate change was in his reference to his decision to pull out of the landmark Paris climate accord, which was aimed at fighting global warming.

The move was criticised by world leaders, but the US President maintains that the agreement is “very expensive and unfair” for the US. Opponents of Mr Trump’s decision have said the President is forsaking America’s role as a global leader by withdrawing from the deal.

But Mr Trump on Monday faulted previous US leaders for failing to look out for the nation’s citizens.

Mr Trump stressed his “serious plan to defend our homeland”, again calling for the construction of a border wall with Mexico and pledging to end “chain migration” of immigrants’ relatives and to close “loopholes that undermine enforcement” of immigration restrictions.

He also said that for the first time, American strategy recognises that economic security is national security. This calls for cutting taxes and rolling back unnecessary regulations, he said.



Donald Trump frames Russia and China as ‘competitors’ in new America First security strategy

Donald Trump has outlined a new Cold War-style approach to US foreign policy by framing Russia and China as competitors and stressing the importance of nuclear weapons.

The US president’s first national security strategy, published on Monday, chastised previous administrations for their “complacency” since the Soviet Union’s fall.

It said American nuclear weapons were “the foundation of our strategy to preserve peace and stability” and called for new “significant investment”.

The strategy document said Russia and China were trying to “challenge American power, influence and interests” and “erode American security and prosperity”.

And it warned against “engagement” with rivals, saying the belief they could be turned into “benign actors and trustworthy partners” had been proved wrong.

Climate change was also dropped as a national security concern – a change from Barack Obama’s presidency.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, left, and Donald Trump, the US president
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, left, and Donald Trump CREDIT: AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI

Mr Trump said: “With the strategy I’m announcing today, we’re declaring that America is in the game and America is going to win.”

The 56-page document – an attempt to gather Mr Trump’s campaign promises and policy beliefs into a coherent strategy – has been a year in the making.

It is the first time the strategy, which every president is bound by law to produce, has been published within the first 12 months  of a new administration.

At times, lines in the strategy clashed with Mr Trump’s own behaviour in office, leaving it unclear how closely the strategy will be followed.

Russia is said to be “using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies” – an assessment which Mr Trump has often hesitated from repeating.

It also states that “the rule of law is the shield that protects the individual from government corruption and abuse of power”, yet Mr Trump has been criticised for seeking to influence judicial decisions.

Speaking about the strategy, Mr Trump said that “for years Washington politicians presided over one disappointment after another”.

The US president criticised both Mr Obama and Republican president George W Bush as he attacked “disastrous” trade deals and the “short-changing” of US soldiers.

He pointed to early foreign policy wins including battlefield victories against Isil, stronger sanctions on North Korea and more defence spending amount Nato allies as proof that things were changing.


“The entire world has heard the news and already seen the signs: America is coming back strong,” Mr Trump said.

The document outlined four “pillars” of security: Protect the American people; promote American prosperity; preserve peace through strength; advance American influence.

The strategy read: “Following the remarkable victory of free nations in the Cold War, America emerged as the lone superpower with enormous advantages and momentum in the world.

“Success, however, bred complacency. A belief emerged, among many, that American power would be unchallenged and self– sustaining.

“The United States began to drift. We experienced a crisis of confidence and surrendered our advantages in key areas.

“As we took our political, economic, and military advantages for granted, other actors steadily implemented their long-term plans to challenge America and to advance agendas opposed to the United States, our allies, and our partners.”

On rival countries, it read: “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.”

One section read: “Nuclear weapons have served a vital purpose in America’s National Security Strategy for the past 70 years. They are the foundation of our strategy to preserve peace and stability by deterring aggression against the United States, our allies, and our partners.”

Putin Wants to Win, But Not at All Costs

December 6, 2017
His military strategy is far more calculated than his predecessors.
By Leonid Bershidsky
Breaking the Soviet mold.

 Photographer: Maxim Marmur/AFP/Getty Images)

As Russia has worked to convince the world that its military power is growing, it has concealed its costs in terms of blood and treasure. But newly revealed statistics show surprisingly low casualties despite engagements in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria.

It was the latest evidence that President Vladimir Putin’s military strategy is far more calculated than his predecessors, who were willing to win at all costs. Boris Yeltsin’s losses in Chechnya gutted his public support and the Soviet Union’s costly, failed Afghanistan adventure helped speed the end of an empire. Putin’s position is far more secure, which makes his approach to war all the more difficult to explain.

Russia has not reported active duty casualties since 2010 even as it expanded its military operations on several fronts. In 2015, Putin was accused of trying to hide losses in eastern Ukraine, where Russia stubbornly denies military involvement, by classifying data on losses incurred in “peacetime military operations.”

This week, the daily newspaper Vedomosti discovered the casualties figures on the Russian government procurement website. In October, Sogaz, an insurance company owned by a group of investors close to Putin, won the tender to insure Russian military personnel against death and injury. Everyone in active service — conscripts, professional contract soldiers, officers — is insured. In 2016, that meant 1,191,095 people.

Along with the requirements and probability tables, the Defense Ministry, which organized the tender published the number of insurance claims made in 2012 through 2016. Of these claims, 3,198 were related to deaths. The deaths didn’t necessarily occur the same year as the claims were made, but the count should be close enough to the actual number of casualties.

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Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber released bombs over Syria

These fall far short of earlier losses, these are small. In 2000, for example, the Russian military lost 1,310 people in Chechnya, according to official statistics.

In 2014, Ukraine accused Russia of sending troops to stop it from crushing two pro-Russian, separatist “people’s republics” in its eastern part. Regular Russian troops apparently did show up in eastern Ukraine at crucial moments of the conflict, such as when the Ukrainian military was surrounded at Ilovaysk in August and September, 2014, and when they were crushed at Debaltseve in January and February, 2015. According to the Ukrainian defense ministry, it lost 432 service members in these two battles. If the small peak of Russian casualties in 2014 indicates the Ilovaysk episode, and if about 650 deaths a year in 2012 and 2013 are standard peaceful-year numbers, Russia lost about 170 service members in the Ilovaysk intervention. The Debaltseve casualties were statistically negligible.

So clearly were the regular military’s losses in Syria, where Russia began a largely aerial operation in support of President Bashar Al-Assad in September, 2015.

When Putin came to Assad’s rescue, many Russians — including some Putin supporters — feared he might get bogged down there, as the Soviets did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviet Union lost more than 15,000 people in the 10-year war — enough for the deaths to register on most Russians’ radars. Nobel prizewinner Svetlana Aleksievich described the grief and the anger in her 1989 novel, Zinc Boys. In terms of military casualties, however, Putin’s Syrian campaign has cost his regime remarkably little, and now that the fighting is almost over, any damage to his domestic standing is highly unlikely.

The Russian military tradition — at least in the 20th century wars — wasn’t about keeping soldiers alive but about achieving goals at any price. The current numbers indicate a change — but perhaps not an entirely positive one. Under Putin, Russia fights its wars in a different way.

In Ukraine, the separatist forces, consisting of Ukrainian nationals, Russian nationalist volunteers and mercenaries, bear the brunt of the losses in a war that has already killed more than 10,000 people. In Syria, the Russian boots on the ground — as opposed to planes in the air — weren’t, for the most part, regular service members but fighters of the Wagner Group — a private military company run by Dmitri Utkin, a former Russian military intelligence lieutenant colonel. Its 6,000-strong mercenary force, not all of it Russian, has reportedly taken part in the Ukrainian action, too, including the Crimea takeover. There’s only anecdotal information about Wagner’s losses, though they would have far less political significance, of course.

As Putin increased and rearmed the Russian military, he has also embraced the concept of hybrid war, shifting much of the burden onto the shoulders of irregulars. In part thanks to that shift, Russia’s military losses in 2014, the worst of the last five years, only reached 68.8 per 100,000 — significantly less than the 88.1 service members per 100,000 the U.S. lost in 2010, the last year for which data are publicly available from the Defense Casualty Analysis System.

Image may contain: ocean, water and outdoor

Contrary to its well-established practice, the Russian defense ministry didn’t try to deny the casualty numbers after Vedomosti unearthed the tender documentation. So perhaps the leak wasn’t accidental: Putin is preparing to announce his bid for a fourth term as president, and the relatively small losses should help him show off his prowess as commander-in-chief. Still, they won’t justify Russia’s participation in the destruction of Ukraine or the human, economic and diplomatic cost that disastrous Putin decision has imposed on Russia itself.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Leonid Bershidsky at

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Realpolitik: Israel and Saudi Arabia Share Intelligence

November 20, 2017


 NOVEMBER 19, 2017 23:19

Iran and the Saudis are putting pressure on Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri to either officially resign as prime minister (the Saudis) or remain in office to help legitimize Hezbollah (Iran).

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Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir address the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 19, 2017. (photo credit:ARIEL HERMONI/DEFENSE MINISTRY/REUTERS)

You could sense mouths dropping across the world on Thursday.

Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the head of the Israeli Army, had just said publicly in an interview with a Saudi journalist that he is ready to share (read: probably already has shared) intelligence with Saudi Arabia.

It is shocking, that a country which not that long ago was a mortal enemy of Israel – and still in many conversations, such as regarding the Palestinians, is ready to condemn Israel – could be on the receiving end of some of the Mossad’s and the IDF’s greatest secrets.

Maybe we are all still sleeping and dreaming? No, it is very real. And according to two top intelligence and national security experts, Ram Ben-Barak and Yaakov Amidror, this bombshell is far more a confirmation of a clear and continuous trend than might appear to the untrained eye.

Ben-Barak is the former deputy chief of the Mossad and the former director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry.

Amidror is a former national security adviser, major-general, and is currently at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.

Ben-Barak said Eisenkot’s announcement was “not a surprise. The Saudis are struggling against terror, Islamic extremism and Iran’s extending itself throughout the region. This worries us and them. When you have unity of enough interests, it is natural to work together – more on a partnering basis than just on one isolated interest.”

He said, “If we can stop someone or if we can give intelligence to them to stop [a common adversary]” and “also collect intelligence and work together on bigger things related to the Shi’ites and to processes related to Judea and Samaria,” these are all worthwhile endeavors.

Asked about reciprocation, the former deputy Mossad chief said, “Cooperation is always a two-way street,” explaining that Eisenkot’s statement should be taken to mean Israel is “ready to both give and receive. This is how it works with all intelligence organizations.”

Of course, this still leaves open what the intelligence-sharing parameters will be. Even with its closest allies, a country usually does not share every piece of intelligence.

Trump: Saudi Arabia has a “very positive” feeling toward Israel (credit: REUTERS)

Ben-Barak said that the “system for setting parameters of sharing is very organized and exact about what can be shared and how it can be shared.

It is not at the discretion of a lower- level agent. There are decisions about what is important and what is not. When information is shared it relates to something happening,” and to a goal that the state focuses on achieving.

In terms of how information is shared, he said that “sensitive information is usually given over orally,” as opposed to large amounts of less-sensitive intelligence that the US and Israel share on an automated, electronic basis. Still, Ben-Barak did not think that one could assume that the new level of publicly-endorsed intelligence cooperation meant that Israel would necessarily, for example, get the green light from the Saudis to fly through their airspace to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

He did not discount such a possibility if “relations get warmer over time,” but said that overflights were a “very advanced level” of cooperation.

Amidror echoed some similar messages, but also emphasized key points of his own.

He said, what was important about the event was not so much that Eisenkot said he was ready to share intelligence with the Saudis, but more importantly that Saudi Arabia had permitted or even sent one of its journalists to publicly travel to Tel Aviv to meet with the current IDF chief.

The former National Security Council chief said Saudis had met with other former top Israeli officials like Amos Yadlin, Dore Gold and himself (he met with former head of Saudi intelligence Turki bin-Faisal al-Saud in Washington, DC, last year), but not with current ones, at least in public. “Someone in Saudi Arabia understands that relations with Israel need to change… they have crossed the Rubicon,” he said.

He added that, “The IDF has never had a problem with giving intelligence to actors [who] are fighting with Iran or ISIS. Any actor in the world who comes to fight Iran and says I need something to fight them,” Israel would be likely to cooperate “to fight such a common enemy.”

Amidror agreed that Israel giving intelligence to the Saudis does not mean it has gotten something back, like the right to fly through Saudi airspace toward Iran. But he went even further, saying that “there could be a condition of exchanging intelligence, but not necessarily.”

Meaning, Israel helping another country fight Iran is its own reward for Israeli interests, possibly even without immediate reciprocity.

Neither Ben-Barak nor Amidror said that Eisenkot’s statement was directly connected to the current proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Lebanon, although the timing coincided closely with the conflict over former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri.

Iran and the Saudis are putting pressure on Hariri to either officially resign as prime minister (the Saudis) or remain in office to help legitimize Hezbollah (Iran).

Amidror said Hezbollah had used Hariri to make Lebanon “appear to be a normal state when really there is an organization there called Hezbollah without whom you can do nothing.”

He said Hariri’s move “had shown there is not really a state of Lebanon separate from Hezbollah… they have lost their camouflage.”

This was a view which Israel had long expressed and which, he said, the Saudis and Hariri’s move had now proven to be correct.

He added with some flare that if Hariri goes back to Lebanon, “he should have good life insurance.”

Likewise, Ben-Barak said he thought that Hariri faced “a serious threat” from Iran and Hezbollah and that the Saudis had not held him hostage, even if “there was Saudi pressure on him to do what he did.”

He said, “Hezbollah wants to be a legitimate part of the political process in Lebanon. In fact, Hariri’s father [Rafik Hariri, one of Lebanon’s previous prime ministers] disturbed them, and now the son has revealed their true selves – that they are not part of Lebanon. It is very embarrassing” for Hezbollah.

Ben-Barak was also unsure whether Hariri would really come back to Lebanon.

He said that the Saudis’ actions in the affair show “they are ready for conflict and not [for] compromise” with Iran.


Israelis Arming the World With Sophisticated Cyber-Weapons

October 26, 2017


The NSO Group, founded by graduates of Israel’s prestigious military intelligence unit, sells surveillance tools to governments around the world – which occasionally use them for political persecution

By Nathan Lipson
Oct 26, 2017 3:53 PM

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— Israeli spyware firm embroiled in Mexico mobile hacking scandal. Flynn was its adviser
— Spyware Sold to Mexican Government Targeted International Investigators Seeking Missing Students
— Blackstone ends talks to buy a 40% stake in Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO

The use of electronic surveillance by intelligence and law enforcement agencies has flourished, and the Herzliya-based NSO Group from has become a leading player in this industry. Its product, Pegasus, entices users to click on links that allow almost unlimited access to their cell phones. The intrusion is also very hard to detect.

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It’s easy to see why government agencies would want such a tool. It lets them monitor criminals or people who might pose a threat to national security. It can help prevent terror attacks, drug deals, murders and other undesirable activity.

NSO has good contacts within the industry, as revealed by a wealth of email correspondence that was leaked in 2015. That year, in a display of poetic justice, an Italian company called Hacking Team, whose tools are similar to NSO’s, had its own database hacked. An enormous trove of its internal documents was made public.

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One was an email sent in June 2015 by Hacking Team’s vice president for business development, Philippe Vinci. It contained a comparative analysis of each company’s products, apparently for use in sales pitches, thereby revealing the fierce competition between Hacking team and NSO. But in another email, sent in August 2014, Hacking Team CEO David Vincenzetti referred to NSO as “our friends” while discussing a Wall Street Journal article about the Israeli firm.

NSO is aware of the danger that Pegasus might fall into the wrong hands. To avoid this, it decided to sell the product only to government agencies. So as long as those agencies act legally, which NSO insists on when making the sale, there’s no reason to worry. But if they break the law, NSO has a problem – but more on that later.

Logo of the Israeli NSO Group company in Herzliya, Israel, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.Daniella Cheslow/AP
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Like many other Israeli startups in the security field, NSO was founded in 2010 by three veterans of the army’s premier signals intelligence unit, 8200: Niv Carmi, Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio. They started work on Pegasus, which remains NSO’s only product, immediately after founding the company.

What happened next is nothing less than astounding. Pegasus was a hit and NSO was able to charge exorbitant prices for it.

According to an article in The New York Times last year, NSO charged $650,000 to monitor 10 iPhone users, plus set-up costs of $500,000 – a total of $1.15 million. Simple arithmetic shows that to monitor 50 mobile phones, NSO would charge around $4 million; its fee for monitoring 100 could rise to $7 million – and that’s just in one country. Big countries that are targeted by drug dealers and terrorists would obviously have a much longer list of targets.

NSO raised money only once, when it was first starting out. The $1.5 million in funding came from investors such as Eddy Shalev, founder of the Genesis Partners venture capital fund.

The company apparently started earning significant sums very quickly. Estimates – which two executives called overblown – indicate that it has revenues of $250 million a year. One indication of its profitability is the $230 million dividend it recently disbursed, a sum that the two executives don’t deny.

These figures are huge. Even if the actual revenue and dividend are much less – say, $50 million a year – a growing company with such revenue would easily be valued in the billions of dollars.
But that’s not what happened. In 2014, NSO’s shareholders sold 70% of the company to U.S. private equity giant Francisco Partners for an estimated $110 to $130 million, which would put the company’s full market cap at $170 million. And in July, the business newspaper Calcalist reported that BlackRock, the world’s largest investment management company, was in talks to invest in NSO at a market cap of $1 billion. NSO has denied the report, but all indications point to it being accurate.

There may be two main explanations as to how NSO can be so profitable but have such a low market cap in relative terms: its growth may be slow or inconsistent, or potential buyers and investors just aren’t willing to pay full price.

Since NSO is exporting a defense-related product, it is subject to oversight by the Defense Ministry’s department of security exports, whose approval is mandatory for such exports. NSO apparently also demands that its customers receive approval from the regulatory bodies in their own countries before using its tools. An ethics committee that reviews sales before they are finalized, said a corporate executive. The executive said some of the committee members are NSO employees, but declined to name those who are not, saying the company has no legal obligation to do so.

But what happens when the government buying the service lies? What happens if it uses the product for unapproved uses? That’s what happened in Mexico. In September 2014, 43 students disappeared in the city of Iguala and were presumably kidnapped and murdered, with the assistance – or at least the nonintervention – of local police. Three years later, The New York Times reported that Mexico uses NSO’s Pegasus to track several of Mexico’s leading human rights lawyers, who have been investigating the students’ disappearance. It also tracks an academic who has helped draft anti-corruption legislation and two leading journalists who investigated allegations of sexual assault by Mexican policemen. None of these individuals are suspected of criminal wrongdoing or terrorism, but rather of embarrassing the government. According to the report, Mexico has spent $80 million on NSO’s technology since 2011.

In Mexico, as in many other countries, the kind of surveillance made possible by NSO requires a judge to approve the specifics. The New York Times interviewed former Mexican intelligence officials and concluded that the government had not received permission to tap the phones.

NSO is aware of its public reputation, and these types of cases do it great damage. It’s not clear whether BlackRock’s decision not to invest in NSO was due to The Times report, but incidents such as the one in Mexico may explain why the company’s market cap is so low compared to its excellent financial results. Had the company known that this would happen, would it still have sold its product to the Mexican government? “No,” says the executive.

Is it reasonable to expect that NSO will verify that its customers meet all legal obligations within their home countries? Perhaps. But no other defense exporter is held to that standard. Weapons and defense system manufacturers – and certainly the government – have selective sales policies. They can be relaxes or strict, but once the buyer receives the products, it’s impossible to know how they’ll be used, or what a third party might do with them. A machine gun sold to a government could be used to disperse political rallies, or could find its way into the hands of terrorists. Local arms manufacturers can’t even know what happens to every gun sold to the Israel Defense Forces – and no small number of guns used in terror attacks against Israelis originated with the IDF. NSO, too, is at risk of such damaging incidents.

Nathan Lipson
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