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China F-35: Secrets Stolen From US Show Up in Its Stealth Fighter.


China obtained F-35 secrets through an extensive cyber spy operation carried out in 2007 against U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, U.S. officials and defense analysts said, and they have shown up China’s new stealth fighter jet.

Codenamed Operation Byzantine Hades, the multiyear cyber-espionage operation yielded sensitive technology about the United States’ latest fighter jet which in turn was incorporated into the development of China’s new J-20 fighter, the Washington Times reported.

According to Defense officials, a Chinese military unit known as the Technical Reconnaissance Bureau (TRF), located in the nation’s Chengdu province, was behind the cyber-espionage. Once the data had been acquired, the TRF is said to have transferred it to the state-run Aviation Industry Corp. of China, which then used that stolen data in building the J-20 fighter jet, the Washington Free Beaconreported.

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Having started 10 years ago, the F-35 development program is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon that has cost $392 billion, making it the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program ever. The program’s original price tag was $233 billion; however it ballooned due to delays brought on by cost overruns.

Referred to as a “fifth-generation” warplane, the F-35 fighter jet will be replacing the popular F-16 and more than a dozen other warplanes that are currently in use by the United States and foreign governments around the world.

As of late 2013, the U.S. partner countries of Britain, Canada, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and Denmark, Israel, and Japan have already ordered F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin.

Also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35 is said to be the most technically-advanced plane in the United States’ arsenal with 7.5 million lines of computer code controlling its weapons system, which is triple the amount of coding currently used in the top Air Force fighter, the Government Accountability Office told The Wall Street Journal.

“You’ve seen significant improvements in Chinese military capabilities through their willingness to spend, their acquisitions of advanced Russian weapons, and from their cyber-espionage campaign,” James A. Lewis, a cyber-policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Washington Post. “Ten years ago, I used to call the [People’s Liberation Army] the world’s largest open-air military museum. I can’t say that now.”

In addition to the apparent cyber theft of secrets pertaining to the F-35’s development, China has also reportedly accessed other U.S. weapons systems, including the Patriot missile system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and the Army’s ballistic missile interceptor program.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Michael Mullins

World Braces for Retirement Crisis.


A global retirement crisis is bearing down on workers of all ages.

Spawned years before the Great Recession and the 2008 financial meltdown, the crisis was significantly worsened by those twin traumas. It will play out for decades, and its consequences will be far-reaching.

Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65. Living standards will fall and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people’s rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can’t afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents.

The problems are emerging as the generation born after World War II moves into retirement.

“The first wave of under-prepared workers is going to try to go into retirement and will find they can’t afford to do so,” says Norman Dreger, a retirement specialist with the consulting firm Mercer in Frankfurt, Germany.

The crisis is a convergence of three factors:

— Countries are slashing retirement benefits and raising the age to start collecting them. These countries are awash in debt since the recession hit. And they face a demographics disaster as retirees live longer and falling birth rates mean there will be fewer workers to support them.

— Companies have eliminated traditional pension plans that guaranteed employees a monthly check in retirement.

— Individuals spent freely and failed to save before the recession and saw much of their wealth disappear once it hit.

Those factors have been documented individually. What is less appreciated is their combined ferocity and global scope.

“Most countries are not ready to meet what is sure to be one of the defining challenges of the 21st century,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington concludes.

Mikio Fukushima, who is 52 and lives in Tokyo, worries that he might need to move somewhere cheaper, maybe Malaysia, after age 70 to get by comfortably on income from his investments and a public pension of just $10,000 a year.

People like Fukushima who are fretting over their retirement prospects stand in contrast to many who are already retired. Many workers were recipients of generous corporate pensions and government benefits that had yet to be cut.

Jean-Pierre Bigand, 66, retired Sept. 1, in time to enjoy all the perks of a retirement system in France that’s now in peril. Bigand lives in the countryside outside the city of Rouen in Normandy. He has a second home in Provence. He’s just taken a vacation on Oleron Island off the Atlantic coast and is planning a five-week trip to Guadeloupe.

“Travel is our biggest expense,” he says.

UNDER SIEGE

The notion of extended, leisurely retirements is relatively new. Germany established the world’s first widely available state pension system in 1889. The United States introduced Social Security in 1935. In the prosperous years after World War II, governments expanded pensions. In addition, companies began to offer pensions that paid employees a guaranteed amount each month in retirement — so-called defined-benefit pensions.

The average age at which men could retire with full government pension benefits fell from 64.3 years in 1949 to 62.4 years in 1999 in the relatively wealthy countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“That was the Golden Age,” Mercer consultant Dreger says.

It would not last. As the 2000s dawned, governments — and companies — looked at actuarial tables and birth rates and realized they couldn’t afford the pensions they’d promised.

The average man in 30 countries the OECD surveyed will live 19 years after retirement. That’s up from 13 years in 1958, when many countries were devising their generous pension plans.

The OECD says the average retirement age would have to reach 66 or 67, from 63 now, to “maintain control of the cost of pensions” from longer lifespans.

Compounding the problem is that birth rates are falling just as the bulge of people born in developed countries after World War II retires.

Populations are aging rapidly as a result. The higher the percentage of older people, the harder it is for a country to finance its pension system because relatively fewer younger workers are paying taxes.

In response, governments are raising retirement ages and slashing benefits. In 30 high- and middle-income OECD countries, the average age at which men can collect full retirement benefits will rise to 64.6 in 2050, from 62.9 in 2010; for women, it will rise from 61.8 to 64.4

In the wealthy countries it studied, the OECD found that the pension reforms of the 2000s will cut retirement benefits by an average 20 percent.

Even France, where government pensions have long been generous, has begun modest reforms to reduce costs.

“France is a retirees’ paradise now,” says Richard Jackson, senior fellow at the CSIS. “You’re not going to want to retire there in 20 to 25 years.”

The fate of government pensions is important because they are the cornerstone of retirement income. Across the 34-country OECD, governments provide 59 percent of retiree income, on average.

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS MAKES THINGS WORSE

The outlook worsened once the global banking system went into a panic in 2008 and tipped the world into the worst recession since the 1930s.

Government budget deficits swelled in Europe and the United States. Tax revenue shrank, and governments pumped money into rescuing their banks and financing unemployment benefits. All that escalated pressure on governments to reduce spending on pensions.

The Great Recession threw tens of millions out of work worldwide. For others, pay stagnated, making it harder to save. Because government retirement benefits are based on lifetime earnings, they’ll now be lower. The Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, estimates that lost wages and pay raises will shrink the typical American worker’s income at age 70 by 4 percent — an average of $2,300 a year.

Leslie Lynch, 52, of Glastonbury, Conn., had $30,000 in her 401(k) retirement account when she lost her $65,000-a-year job last year at an insurance company. She’d worked there 28 years. She’s depleted her retirement savings trying to stay afloat.

“I don’t believe that I will ever retire now,” she says.

Many of those facing a financial squeeze in retirement can look to themselves for part of the blame. They spent many years before the Great Recession borrowing and spending instead of saving.

The National Institute on Retirement Security estimates that Americans are at least $6.8 trillion short of what they need to have saved for a comfortable retirement. For those 55 to 64, the shortfall comes to $113,000 per household.

THE ASIA CHALLENGE

In Asia, workers are facing a different retirement worry, a byproduct of their astonishing economic growth.

Traditionally, Chinese and Koreans could expect their grown children to care for them as they aged. But newly prosperous young people increasingly want to live on their own. They also are more likely to move to distant cities to take jobs, leaving parents behind. Countries like China and South Korea are at an “awkward” stage, Jackson says: The old ways are vanishing, but new systems of caring for the aged aren’t yet in place.

Yoo Tae-we, 47, a South Korean manager at a trading company that imports semiconductor components, doesn’t expect his son to support him as he and his siblings did their parents.

“We have to prepare for our own futures rather than depending on our children,” he says.

China pays generous pensions to civil servants and urban workers. They can retire early with full benefits — at 60 for men and 50 or 55 for women. Their pensions will prove to be a burden as China ages and each retiree is supported by contributions from fewer workers.

The elderly are rapidly becoming a bigger share of China’s population because of a policy begun in 1979 and only recently relaxed that limited couples to one child.

China is considering raising its retirement ages. But the government would likely meet resistance.

THE END OF TRADITIONAL PENSIONS

Corporations, too, are cutting pension costs by eliminating traditional defined-benefit plans. They don’t want to bear the cost of guaranteeing employees’ pensions. They’ve moved instead to so-called defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, in the United States. These plans shift responsibility for saving to employees.

But people have proved terrible at taking advantage of these plans. They don’t always enroll. They don’t contribute enough. They dip into the accounts when they need money.

They also make bad investment choices — buying stocks when times are good and share prices are high and bailing when prices are low.

Several countries are trying to coax workers to save more.

Australia passed a law in 1993 that makes retirement savings mandatory. Employers must contribute the equivalent of 9.25 percent of workers’ wages to 401(k)-style retirement accounts.

In 2006, the United States encouraged companies to require employees to opt out of a 401(k) instead of choosing to opt in. That means workers start saving for retirement automatically if they make no decision.

EASING THE PAIN

Rebounding stock prices and a slow rise in housing prices are helping households recover their net worth. In the United States, retirement accounts hit a record $12.5 trillion the first three months of 2013.

But Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research says the recovery in housing and stock prices still leaves about 50 percent of American households at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

When they look into the future, retirement experts see more changes in government pensions and longer careers than many workers had expected:

Cuts in government pension programs like Social Security will likely hit most retirees but will probably fall hardest on the wealthy

Those planning to work past 65 can take some comfort knowing they’ll be healthier, overall, than older workers in years past. They’ll also be doing jobs that aren’t as physically demanding. In addition, life expectancy at 65 now stretches well into the 80s for people in the 34 OECD countries — an increase of about five years since the late 1950s.

“My parents retired during the Golden Age of retirement,” says Mercer consultant Dreger, 37. “My dad, who is 72, retired at 57. That’s not going to happen to somebody in my generation.”

 

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Obama Spy Chiefs Face Congress Amid Spying Rift with Europe.


Top U.S. intelligence officials appeared at a congressional hearing on Tuesday amid a public uproar that has expanded from anger over the National Security Agency collecting the phone and email records of Americans to spying on European allies.

But the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, warned that collecting foreign intelligence was important to protecting Americans and allies from terrorism.

“Every nation collects foreign intelligence. That is not unique to the United States,” he said in opening remarks at the committee’s hearing. “What is unique to the United States is our level of oversight, our commitment to privacy protections, and our checks and balances on intelligence collection.”

At the hearing, lawmakers will have a chance to question NSA Director General Keith Alexander, NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

They are appearing against a backdrop of angry European allies accusing the United States of spying on their leaders and citizens.

The most prominent target appears to have been German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government said last week it had learned the United States may have monitored her mobile phone.

More than any previous disclosures from material given to journalists by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the reports of spying on close U.S. allies have forced the White House to promise reforms and even acknowledge that America’s electronic surveillance may have gone too far.

“We recognize there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

Congress’ top Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, told reporters there should be a review of NSA spying on allied leaders. He said the United States must balance its obligations to allies with its responsibility to keep Americans safe.

Two lawmakers from different political parties introduced legislation to end the government’s “dragnet collection” of information. The bill also calls for greater oversight, transparency and accountability for domestic surveillance.

Democratic U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner, the primary authors of the USA Patriot Act implemented after Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to improve the government’s ability to protect its citizens, now want to make sure information gathering does not go too far.

“No one underestimates the threat this country continues to face, and we can all agree that the intelligence community should be given necessary and appropriate tools to help keep us safe,” said Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But we should also agree that there must be reasonable limits on the surveillance powers we give to the government.”

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate’s intelligence committee, joined the ranks of critics on Monday, expressing outrage at American intelligence collection on allies, and pique that her committee was not informed.

“With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of U.S. allies – including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany -let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed,” said Feinstein, who has been a staunch defender of some of the NSA programs leaked by Snowden.

The White House is conducting a review of intelligence programs prompted by disclosures about top secret spying programs to the media by Snowden, who is living in Russia, out of reach of U.S. attempts to arrest him.

The testimony of the spy chiefs will cover NSA programs and potential changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which regulates electronic eavesdropping.

The Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a similar hearing in September at which Feinstein said proposals included putting limits on the NSA’s phone metadata program, prohibiting collection of the content of phone calls, and legally requiring that intelligence analysts have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that a phone number was associated with terrorism in order to query the database.

Rogers said some of the proposals being considered in Congress “would effectively gut the operational usefulness of programs that are necessary to protect America’s national security.”

And he warned, “We cannot go back to a pre-9/11 mindset and risk failing to ‘connect the dots’ again.”

The allegations of U.S. spying on Merkel and other leaders are likely to have a lasting impact on relations, said Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In the last several years, Europeans have been disappointed with the Obama administration over its failure to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and its use of drone strikes to kill terrorism suspects. The spectacle of the recent federal government shutdown also dented U.S. prestige in Europe.

“It’s just raising really big doubts, uncertainties and question marks about not only the president’s leadership but whether the United States is a reliable ally,” said Conley, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Hagel at DMZ: NKorea Watching Syria Developments.


Image: Hagel at DMZ: NKorea Watching Syria Developments

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listens to U.S. Army Col. James Minnich as a North Korean soldier takes a photograph through a window at a UN truce village building that sits on the border of the DMZ in Panmunjom on Sept. 30.

Standing just steps from the heavily armed border with North Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that Pyongyang is closely watching the international response to Syria‘s use of chemical weapons against its own people.

And, with North Korean soldiers eyeing his every move, Hagel told reporters traveling with him that the U.S. has no plans to reduce its military presence in South Korea, despite the ongoing budget crisis.

Hagel’s visit is timed to the 60th anniversary of the signing of the mutual defense treaty between the U.S. and South Korea, and to reinforce America’s commitment to the security of the peninsula and the Asia-Pacific region.

“There is no margin for error up here,” Hagel said after a stop in one of the three small blue conference houses that sit on the border of North and South Korea. “This is probably the only place in the world that we have always a risk of confrontation. Where the two sides are looking clearly and directly at each other all the time.”

Inside the house, Hagel stepped briefly onto the North Korean side. And when he moved back outside to speak to a crowd of reporters, North Korean soldiers stepped up to the border just alongside the building and watched from about 40 feet away.

Hagel said it’s been pretty clear that North Korea, which also has a large stockpile of chemical weapons, has been monitoring the unfolding international effort to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal. And while he’s not sure what message the North may take from the latest Syrian developments, U.S. officials suggest that the unanimous U.N. resolution could send a warning shot to Pyongyang.

China, which has been North Korea’s only major ally, and Russia both backed the U.N. resolution on Syria. And China has struck a more critical tone regarding North Korea in the past year, cooperating with the U.S. on tightening U.N. sanctions following Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in February.

Other experts, however, caution that America’s failure to follow through on its threats earlier this year to launch airstrikes into Syria to stop further use of chemical weapons there, could be interpreted by the North as a sign of weakness.

“If we had used force, I would guess that from North Korea’s point of view that would be seen as potentially more threatening, because it would demonstrate a real willingness for the US to use force,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There is the potential, she said, for other nations to conclude that, at the end of the day, “the United States is just not as strong as it used to be.”

Just 10 miles south of the North and South Korean border, however, U.S. and Korean troops went through a training exercise Monday as Hagel watched, all aimed at showing that the military is ready to respond if needed.

At the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex, U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division demonstrated an offensive maneuver with Apache helicopters, tanks and armored vehicles, filling the training ground with a haze of smoke and blasts from mortar fire. The exercise was part of the military certification for one of the U.S. platoons serving in South Korea.

From there, Hagel went to Observation Post Ouellette, one of 77 guard posts that line the South Korean side of the border. He then stopped further down the road at Freedom House, where the blue conference buildings stand largely unused these days as a chill has once again settled over North and South Korean communications.

Since March, the North Koreas have refused to answer the routine phone calls from the South’s side of the border. On Monday, however, Hagel and his staff attracted a bit of attention from the North as the group toured the South’s border facilities.

In addition to the ever-present North Korean guards standing both at the border and a bit further up the hill at their larger outpost, a small group of tourists also stopped to stare down at the group of Americans. According to officials, the tours come through as many as seven to 10 times a day.

Hagel is expected to meet with South Korean officials over the next several days, including events and a parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the alliance as well as Armed Forces Day.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Obama Seeks Support for Syria Strike at G-20.


Image: Obama Seeks Support for Syria Strike at G-20

Facing roadblocks at home and abroad, President Barack Obama this week plans to urge reluctant world leaders to back an American-led strike against Syria even though the prospects for military action depend on the votes of a fractured U.S. Congress.

The uncertainty surrounding Syria will hang over the president’s three-day oversees trip, which includes a global summit in Russia and a stop in Sweden. So will Obama’s tense relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the world leader who is hosting the Group of 20 gathering and has perhaps done the most to stymie international efforts to oust Syria’s Bashar Assad.

“It’s been like watching a slow-moving train wreck for nearly two years,” Andrew Kuchins, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said of the Obama-Putin relationship. “Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama don’t like each other at all. I think there’s a deep degree of disrespect.”

That’s not Obama’s only headache as he embarks on the long-planned trip.

The timing of it pulls him away from Washington just as he’s urgently seeking to rally lawmakers to support military action in Syria in response to what the administration says was a chemical weapons attack. And his unexpected announcement over the weekend that he would punt the decision to Congress on whether to strike Syria may have stoked doubts among world leaders about his willingness to make good on his threats to rogue nations.

While Syria isn’t officially on the agenda at the economy-focused G-20 summit, Obama administration officials say the president sees the gathering as an opportunity to press his counterparts to support military action against the Assad regime. World leaders also will seek guidance from the U.S. president about whether he plans to proceed with a strike if Congress rejects his proposed resolution — a question Obama’s aides have refused to answer.

Votes in the House and the Senate are expected next week, just after Obama wraps up his trip.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been pushing for stronger action in Syria, said he expected Obama to continue his outreach with Congress even while traveling.

“It’s harder when you’re overseas,” McCain said after meeting with Obama at the White House on Monday, “but he’s been manning the phones here the whole time and he’ll continue to do that. He’s all in on this, obviously.”

“We have to make it clear that a vote against this would be catastrophic in its consequences,” now and in future international crises, McCain told reporters outside the White House following the hour-long private meeting he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., had with Obama.

Obama is to arrive in Stockholm on Wednesday morning after an overnight flight from Washington.

The White House hastily added the Sweden visit to Obama’s schedule after he scrapped plans to meet one-on-one with Putin in Moscow ahead of the G-20. That came in response to the Kremlin granting temporary asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, defying Obama’s requests to send the former NSA systems analyst back to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

Snowden’s leaks to American and foreign news organizations about secret government spying programs have sparked outrage overseas, particularly in Europe. Obama is likely to face questions about the scope of the programs while overseas, as he did earlier this summer during meetings with the Group of 8 industrial nations.

Even before the Snowden incident, relations between the U.S. and Russia were already on the rocks amid American concerns over human rights and differences on missile defense and nuclear weapons programs. Putin also has appeared to relish blocking American and Western European efforts to weaken Assad throughout Syria’s 2½-year civil war. Russia remains one of Syria’s strongest military and economic backers.

In a pointed jab last week, Putin asked Obama to reconsider a military strike, saying he was appealing to Obama not as a world leader, but as a Nobel Peace laureate.

“We have to remember what has happened in the last decades, how many times the United States has been the initiator of armed conflict in different regions of the world,” Putin said. “Did this resolve even one problem?”

Administration officials insist the U.S. and Russia can still work productively together during the G-20, though in a slight to Putin, the White House has gone out of its way to characterize the trip as less of a visit to Russia than a trip to the G-20 that happened to be taking place there.

The White House also has ruled out a one-on-one meeting between Obama and Putin on the sidelines of the summit, though the two leaders certainly will spend time together in the larger summit sessions.

Obama is expected to have formal bilateral meetings with other leaders during the two-day summit. While those meetings are yet to be announced, the president may sit down with counterparts from Britain and France, two nations whose deliberations about Syria have affected his own.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has backed Obama’s calls for a retaliatory strike against Syria. But seeking broader global consensus, Britain pushed for a U.N. Security Council authorization that flopped last week. A day later, Cameron suffered a stinging humiliation when Britain’s Parliament voted against endorsing military action, all but guaranteeing Britain won’t play a direct role in any U.S.-led effort.

But France provides Obama an opportunity to show it’s not just the U.S. that’s convinced it’s time to act on Syria. French President Francois Hollande has said his country can go ahead with a strike, and the French constitution doesn’t require such a vote unless and until a military intervention lasts longer than four months. France’s parliament is scheduled to debate the issue Wednesday, but no vote is scheduled.

Obama’s stop in Sweden on Wednesday will focus on issues such as climate change, security cooperation and trade. The trip marks the first time a sitting U.S. president has made a bilateral visit to Sweden.

While in Stockholm, Obama will hold private meetings with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and King Carl Gustav, and will break bread with Nordic leaders from Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Norway. He also will highlight Sweden’s technical research programs and celebrate Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited for saving at least 20,000 Jews during the Holocaust before mysteriously disappearing after being detained by authorities in the Soviet Union near the end of World War II.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: NEWSmax.com

France Studies How to Track Arms for Syrian Rebels.


PARIS — France’s government is investigating high-tech methods to prevent terrorists from using any weapons that Western governments send to Syrian rebels, such as gadgetry that tracks the movement of anti-aircraft missiles or shuts them down from a distance, officials say.

Such controls could be crucial to overcoming fears about arming the rebels — and to shifting the balance in Syria’s civil war, which has left tens of thousands of people dead.

A major fear of the United States and its allies is that terrorists could get hold of any missiles delivered to the rebels and use them to target commercial planes.

Experts and officials say that no technological tricks to remotely track shoulder-fired missiles will be 100 percent fail-safe, and it may be a while before they’re ready to use. Still, studying them is one more indication that France is moving closer to supplying arms and getting the West more deeply involved in the war.

Pressure has been mounting for a more robust response to the Syria crisis this week, after President Bashar al-Assad‘s army captured the strategic town of Qusair and France and Britain announced they have proof that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons.

The two European allies pushed the EU to lift its arms embargo last week.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke Wednesday of “a weapons imbalance because Mr. Bashar Al-Assad has planes, etc., and the resistance fighters don’t have the same means.”

“As much as we are working for a political solution,” he told France-24 TV, “on the ground things have to be rebalanced.”

One way could be through delivery of shoulder-fired MANPADs — man-portable-air-defense-systems — like the Stinger missiles that the United States sent to Afghan fighters during their 1980s war against the Soviet Union. But the missiles are tough to track, and could be troublesome if they fall into the wrong hands. Some are small enough to fit into a golf bag.

Speaking before a parliamentary panel last week, Fabius said: “There is, in some cases, a technical possibility, because there are such-and-such types of arms that can be . . . triggered in some conditions, and neutralized in other conditions.”

He didn’t elaborate, and — like some other diplomats grappling with the crisis — could simply be posturing to try to give a jolt to prospective peace talks.

But a French diplomatic official, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told The Associated Press that three main options are being considered when it comes to possibly arming the rebels: weapons that stop working after a specified time; weapons traceable by GPS; and weapons that can be “deactivated at a distance.”

“We’re studying everything we can to have good traceability,” the official said. “We’re quite aware it’s a risk … but at the same time, 100,000 people have been killed, Hezbollah has increased its involvement, and we aren’t adding risk to risk. It’s already a calamitous situation, and the question is how we get out of it.”

French Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry spokespeople declined to comment on weapons-tracking technology, saying it’s a sensitive national security issue. British officials declined to comment on the types of weapons that could be provided, because they say no decision has yet been taken on whether to arm the opposition.

British and French diplomats are looking toward U.S.- and Russian-mediated peace negotiations planned in the coming weeks in Geneva.

A representative of MBDA, one of Europe’s top missile makers, said that missiles aren’t manufactured with such controls, but once sold, the buyer — usually governments — could carry out such alterations. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of company policy.

Matt Schroeder, director of the arms sales monitoring project at the Federation of American Scientists, said that technology known as “controllable enablers” could restrict the use of anti-aircraft missiles, including limited-duration weapons and GPS-based systems that could limit the missiles’ range.

He said putting controllable enablers in missile systems is feasible in terms of existing technology, and that it could amount to “an effective control measure.”

Some technological limits could involve equipping the missiles with batteries that run out of power after a certain time, requiring a code to activate them, and even being outfitted in such a way that the weapons would be disabled if Western military planes or civilian aircraft were nearby, according to analysts and defense officials.

“But if you are really concerned about diversion [of weapons into the wrong hands], none of them alone is sufficient,” Schroeder said. He suggested that some savvy terrorists could outsmart the smart controls.

Anthony Cordesman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says governments would likely be quiet about any technological tinkering that could help keep MANPADs from falling into criminal hands.

“As far as I know, the actual production of such systems has certainly not taken place in the U.S.,” he said by phone from Washington. “But this is an area where if it is done, the activity, the production and the design would be kept classified. . . . You don’t want to give the slightest indication to anyone in advance of what technology you use, because there are always countermeasures.”

Syria is awash with weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles that have already reached rebel fighters — though it is not clear if they know how to use the weapons, or even if they work.

The idea behind the controls that France is studying would be to monitor who receives the weapons, track when and how they are used, and disable them if they are acquired by terrorists.

Some MANPADs are believed to have made their way out of the arsenal of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi into the open market, and the CIA has sought to keep the weapons away from al-Qaida sympathizers throughout the region, including the Al-Nusra Front in Syria — the most potent force fighting Assad’s troops.

French authorities have already “tested” a number of networks through which France has funneled non-lethal equipment — medical gear, protective equipment, and means of encrypted communications — to the rebels, “requiring the recipients of our help to account for the use of what we give,” said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday defended the push to lift the EU arms embargo. “There are clear safeguards to ensure that any such equipment would only be supplied for the protection of civilians, and in accordance with international law,” he said.

The Western-backed umbrella group of rebel brigades known as the Free Syrian Army says it needs anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to better challenge Assad’s firepower. The rebels, and many Syrian civilians, have faced a pounding from Assad’s air power.

One concern would be if extremists use anti-aircraft missiles against commercial planes, a potentially vulnerable target in a chaotic Middle East.

Al-Qaida-linked terrorists are believed to have fired two SA-7 missiles that narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002. Schroeder, of FAS, said some SA-7s are known to be in Syria.

The fresh memory of Libya’s war in 2011 also weighs on European diplomats. Some weapons delivered to resistance fighters battling Gadhafi’s regime two years ago later ended up “in the hands of terrorist groups fought by French troops in northern Mali” after France’s intervention this year against al-Qaida-linked militants in that West African country, Lalliot said.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Al-Qaida’s Money Trail More Elusive than Bin Laden.


Tracking, finding and killing Osama bin Laden required unusual skill, intelligence and courage. Tracking al-Qaida‘s financial conduits through cyberspace is infinitely more difficult.

Network forensics is one of the world’s most challenging assignments — explained in vivid, dramatic detail by Juan C. Zarate, a former super sleuth in the U.S. government’s long campaign to find and disrupt al-Qaida’s terrorist funding in the Worldwide Web.

A former assistant secretary of the treasury and deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser, Zarate’s “Treasury’s War” is a griping electronic whodunit in a constantly changing environment where inequalities are widening and where technology is destroying more jobs than it creates.

Terrorists and organized criminals use cyberspace speed, secrecy and anonymity in a borderless electronic universe where everything moves at the speed of light — from self-radicalization and fraud to cyber weapons training and illicit financing.

Al-Qaida and its associated movements around the world raise money online where cyberfraud is a global criminal enterprise.

They manage criminal syndicates that acquire thousands of credit cards, withdraw small amounts from each one, ranging from $10-$50, then return them as if they had never been stolen.

The victims invariably keep quiet, only too happy to get their electronic credit cards back on line. Millions of customers don’t even notice the loss.

A recent demonstration moved 100 terabits per second through ether-space. Detecting who’s doing what to whom at such speeds and then redirecting traffic to foil cyberterrorists is the challenge that cyber sleuths face round the clock, 365 days a year.

Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is a chief architect of modern financial warfare for the U.S. government.

His “Treasury’s War” takes the reader into the shadowy world where banks and U.S. Treasury tools come together to foil terrorists and to influence geopolitical outcomes.

From his Treasury and White House offices, Zarate, with a dedicated group of Treasury officials, designed and then led a secret financial war against America’s enemies.

This is the first book that lifts the veil of secrecy on the financial power they marshaled against America’s enemies.

The financial and cyber warriors, says Zarate, “created an international financial environment in which the private sector’s bottom line dovetailed directly with U.S. national security interests — with the goal of isolating rogues from the legitimate financial system.”

The global terrorist funding and illicit financial networks range from the slaughter of elephants (tusks go for $50,000 and up) and rhinoceros (a single horn fetches up to $30,000) in Africa to the heroin trade in Afghanistan.

The United States and its closest allies are also engaged in a new kind of electronic warfare against the financial networks of rogue regimes — everything from nuclear proliferators to criminal syndicates and their links with transnational terrorist networks.

Zarate takes the reader behind the scenes to explain how the group he led redefined the U.S. Treasury’s role, “and used its unique powers, relationships and reputation to apply financial pressure against America’s enemies.”

The goal was — and is now 24/7 — to isolate rogues from the legitimate international financial system. And in so doing, created “a new brand of financial power (that) leveraged the private sector and created an international financial environment in which the private sector’s bottom line dovetailed directly with U.S. national security interests.”

Treasury and its new tools, Zarate explains in “Treasury’s War,” soon became critical in all the “central geopolitical challenges facing the United States, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and regimes in North Korea, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Cuba.”

In addition to CSIS, Zarate is senior national security analyst for CBS News and is a visiting lecturer of law at the Harvard Law School. He was the first assistant secretary of the Treasury for terrorist financing and financial crimes.

Zarate then moved to the White House (under George W. Bush) where he served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism and contraband finance.

He is one of very few speakers who can address immensely complex issues of high-level strategic concern coupled with the intricacies of the financial methods of fighting terrorism.

Zarate is still using the skills he took to the White House — for the private sector as a consultant.

There is still one critically important part of the electronic puzzle that eludes the combined forces of the electronic Kojak/Columbo/Poirot/Scarpetta/Holmes network. It’s the informal, handshake ways of moving money, including Hawala. And Hawala’s origins are found in texts of Islamic law that date to the eighth century.

In more recent times, Hawala is a round-the-clock system from scores of pay phones or mobiles in Pakistan, Yemen or any Persian Gulf country at predetermined times to say, for example, “Uncle Jack will airfreight your new suit Friday.” Translation: The man who introduces himself as Uncle Jack is good to go with $10,000.”

Similar amounts will be conveyed anonymously from these same countries to U.S. numbers. By the end of the year, the amounts usually balance out. If not, the discrepancy is carried over to the next year.

It’s money transfer without money movement by word of mouth from one cellphone to another thousands of miles away. Mutual trust is the key ingredient.

After more than a decade of counter-terrorist and anti-money laundering efforts, it is clear that the Hawala code of secrecy survives countless attempts to dismantle it.

The U.S. government tried to regulate and infiltrate Hawala through hawaladars, the bearded ones who sit cross legged on a small rug behind a wooden stand in a dusty unpaved street.

In Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan in Pakistan, friends escorted this reporter to a long line of Hawala stalls. In one of them, different currencies, including dollars, stood in neat stacks next to the hawaladar’s baggy pants. Armed guards stood on either side.

Hawala honor system transactions move a lot faster than cashing a check in a Pakistani bank. The old and new methods of moving money may be converging, making the challenge of countering terrorist and illicit finance all the more challenging in the 21st century.

Noted editor and journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave is an editor at large for United Press International. He is a founding board member of Newsmax.com who now serves on Newsmax’s Advisory Board. Read more reports from Arnaud de Borchgrave — Click Here Now.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Arnaud De Borchgrave

Arnaud de Borchgrave: US Hands ‘Tied’ All Over Volatile Middle East.


The future of the Middle East is totally unpredictable — and the hands of the United States “are tied pretty much everywhere” there, award-winning journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave tells Newsmax TV in an exclusive interview.

“With so many conflicts going on, it looks bad on all fronts now,” de Borchgrave, the longtime Newsweek journalist, tells Newsmax.

Urgent: Is Obama Telling the Truth on IRS, Benghazi Scandals? 

He cites, for instance, the possibility of a “regional war” breaking out in Iraq because of the strength of al-Qaida and its affiliates.

“It’s become the new headquarters for al-Qaida and its associated movements and it’s the jumping-off base for the civil war in Syria,” de Borchgrave says. “It doesn’t look good and it hasn’t looked good for a long time. It just keeps getting worse.

“What most people have forgotten is that what we did when we intervened in Iraq in effect strengthened Iran’s ties with Iraq after a long period of hostility between Iraq and Iran,” he adds.

“When we thought everything had been cleaned up in Iraq, we didn’t realize that the government that was installed through free elections was the one that was going to take the country closer to Iran than to the United States.”

There’s also Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ties to the Taliban in Iran, he notes.

“He has the ability to do something but not very much — and the army doesn’t respond automatically to whatever orders he gives,” de Borchgrave tells Newsmax. “The army has become a state within a state, in effect.”

Story continues below the video.

Besides serving Newsweek for 30 years, de Borchgrave is now director and senior adviser of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, editor at large at United Press International, and a frequent Newsmax contributor.

And, then, there’s Syria — and the brutal civil war led by President Bashar al-Assad that has so far killed more than 70,000 people — and Assad’s unwavering support from Russia.

“Russia is standing by its ally,” de Borchgrave tells Newsmax. “It’s made several over many years — and they’re not about to ditch their man there. It’s a very unstable country.”

But with the war in Afghanistan hanging overhead — and the $1 trillion the United States has so far spent in the nation’s longest war — neither American boots nor NATO forces is likely to be put on the ground in Syria, de Borchgrave says.

“The U.S. could conceivably get sucked in on a small scale, which would quickly develop into a larger scale. There’s no avoiding it at this stage. But there’s also a little math of how much all these things cost. I don’t think that there is much of an appetite for a third conflict.”

Turning his attention to the elections in Iran next month, de Borchgrave tells Newsmax that, regardless of who wins, Iran will continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“They will still have the determination to produce their own nuclear weapon. It gives them some kind of nuclear capability. I don’t think that anything will change that.

“The Israelis, of course, could decide to bomb, which would automatically drag the United States into another conflict,” he says, “Frankly, I don’t see that happening. What I do see happening is an acceptance of Iran as a nuclear power, much the way we did under the shah. We knew that Iran was going to become a nuclear power.”

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It is simply a question of when Iran has nuclear arms, de Borchgrave tells Newsmax.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood continues to create a stronghold in Egypt.

“The Muslim Brotherhood’s endgame is, obviously, absolute power,” de Borchgrave says. “Elections at one time but no more. Elections have already been held and gave them a majority. You’ve got an absolute majority and they’re going to consolidate that power.

“The one thing that could lead to their undoing are the loans that they are seeking from international institutions — and the international institutions have set certain conditions and those conditions will be very hard to meet.

“But it’s not for that reason that I expect that anything will change,” de Borchgrave tells Newsmax. “The Muslim Brotherhood is in power and will stay in power as far as I can see into the future.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Todd Beamon and John Bachman

Obama Drone Policy Leaves Ambiguity in Place.


President Barack Obama left plenty of ambiguity in new policy guidelines that he says will restrict how and when the U.S. can launch targeted drone strikes, leaving himself significant power over how and when the weapons can be deployed.

National security experts say it’s imperative to leave some room in the guidelines, given the evolving fight against terrorism. But civil rights advocates argue too little has been revealed about the program to ensure its legality, even as the president takes steps to remove some of the secrecy.

“Obama said that there would be more limits on targeted killings, a step in the right direction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “But a mere promise that the US will work within established guidelines that remain secret provides little confidence that the U.S. is complying with international law.”

An unclassified version of the newly established drone guidelines was made public Thursday in conjunction with Obama’s wide-ranging address on U.S. counterterrorism policies. Congress’ Intelligence committees and the Capitol Hill leadership have been briefed on the more detailed, classified policies, but because those documents are secret, there’s no way to know how much more clarity they provide.

The president has already been using some of the guidelines to determine when to launch drone strikes, administration officials said. Codifying the strictest standards, they argue, will ultimately reduce the number of approved attacks.

Among the newly public rules is a preference for capturing suspects instead of killing them, which gives the U.S. an opportunity to gather intelligence and disrupt terrorist plots. The guidelines also state that a target must pose a continuing and imminent threat to the U.S.

However, the public guidelines don’t spell out how the U.S. determines whether capture is feasible, nor does it define what constitutes an imminent threat.

Former State Department official James Andrew Lewis said Obama must retain some flexibility, given the fluid threats facing the U.S.

“The use of force and engagement of force always require a degree of discretion,” said Lewis, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We don’t want to change that.”

The guidelines also mandate that the U.S. have “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed in a strike. Civilian deaths, particularly in Pakistan, have angered local populations and contributed to a rise in anti-American sentiments in the volatile region.

Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who has filed many court cases on behalf of drone victims’ families, said that while he appreciated Obama’s concern about civilian casualties, he wasn’t confident the new guidelines would change U.S. actions.

“The problem remains the same because there is no transparency and accountability for the CIA because it will remain inside the system and not be visible to outsiders,” he said.

Obama, in his most expansive discussion of the drone program, said in his speech Thursday to the National Defense University that he is haunted by the unintentional deaths. But he argued that targeted strikes result in fewer civilian deaths than indiscriminate bombing campaigns.

“By narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life,” Obama said.

Administration officials said the new guidelines are applicable regardless of whether the target is a foreigner or U.S. citizen.

Polling suggests the American people broadly support the use of drones to target suspected terrorists in foreign countries, though support drops somewhat if the suspect is a U.S. citizen. A Gallup poll in March found 65 percent of Americans favor using drone strikes in other countries against suspected terrorists, while only 41 percent favored the use of drone strikes overseas against U.S. citizens who are suspected terrorists.

Despite the public support, Obama has come under increased pressure from an unusual coalition of members of Congress of both parties who have pressed for greater transparency and oversight of the drone program.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who serves on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said he would review the guidelines to ensure they keep “with our values as a nation” but indicated lawmakers may ask for additional overtures.

“I commend the president for his effort to define the boundaries of U.S. counterterrorism operations and for stating a commitment to increased accountability,” Udall said. “While this is helpful and important, more needs to be done.”

Relevant congressional committees are already notified when drone strikes occur. But it’s unclear how the administration, under Obama’s new transparency pledge, will handle public notifications, particularly when Americans are killed.

The public only knew about the deaths of three Americans by drone strikes through media reports and the fourth when Attorney General Eric Holder disclosed it in a letter to Congress on the eve of the speech.

Under current policy, the official U.S. figures of number of strikes and estimated deaths remain classified.

According to the New America Foundation which maintains a database of the strikes, the CIA and the military have carried out an estimated 416 drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, resulting in 3,364 estimated deaths, including militants and civilians. The Associated Press also has reported a drone strike in Somalia in 2012 that killed one.

The think tank compiles its numbers by combining reports in major news media that rely on local officials and eyewitness accounts.

Strikes in Pakistan spiked in 2010 under Obama to 122, but the number has dropped to 12 so far this year. Strikes were originally carried out with permission of the Pakistani government of Pervez Musharraf, though subsequent Pakistani governments have demanded strikes cease.

The CIA and the military have carried out some 69 strikes in Yemen, with the Yemeni government’s permission.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Goal of Nuclear-Free NKorea Tests US, China Ties.


Bound by threats from North Korea, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to rid the bellicose nation of nuclear weapons in a test of whether the world powers can shelve years of rivalry and discord, and unite in fostering global stability.

Beyond this latest attempt to restrain North Korea, the burgeoning nuclear crisis has so frustrated the U.S. and China that they are forming a new and tentative bond with the potential to carry over into areas that have vexed them for decades.

But they will need to overcome the longstanding prickly relations between Beijing’s communist government and Washington’s free-market democracy. The two are economic competitors, and China is far more reluctant than the U.S. to intervene in international military conflicts.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday described a “synergy” between the two countries to achieve worldwide security and economic stability.

“We have a stake in China’s success. And frankly, China has a stake in the success of the United States,” Kerry told reporters in the Chinese capital. “And that became clear in all of our conversations here today. A constructive partnership that is based on mutual interest benefits everybody in the world.”

Kerry met with the new Chinese leaders to discuss a range of issues, most notably the persistent and increasingly pitched threats that North Korea has issued against the U.S., South Korea and Japan the over the past several months.

North Korea appears to be readying a missile test, in what the U.S. says would be its third since December, and there are varying opinions in Washington as to whether the North is able to develop and launch nuclear-tipped missiles.

One U.S. intelligence assessment suggested North Korea had the capacity to put a nuclear warhead on a missile, even if any such weapon would have low reliability.

Kerry and the Chinese foreign policy chief, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, said the two nations would work together to create a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, effectively forcing North Korea to give up its arsenal.

The reclusive North Korean government and its young leader, Kim Jong Un, are more likely to listen to China, its main economic and diplomatic partner and lifeline to the outside world, than anyone else.

Yang, through an interpreter, described China’s stance on North Korea as “clear cut” and called for resuming the six-nation talks that fell apart four years ago and are aimed at ending the nuclear threat.

“China is firmly committed to upholding peace and stability and advancing the denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula,” Yang told reporters. “We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue. … To properly address the Korean nuclear issue serves the interests of all parties.”

But Kerry made clear that the U.S. would keep close watch on how China continues to deal with North Korea to “make sure this is not rhetoric but that this is real policy.”

North Korea was but one issue that was high on the priority list of discussions, Kerry said.

China and the U.S. have the two most powerful economies and are two of the largest energy users. They agreed to hold high-level talks on climate change and to ease business investment cooperation.

Kerry also raised the possibility of scaling back America’s military presence in the Asia-Pacific region once the Korean nuclear crisis is resolved. Beijing has been disgruntled about U.S. missile defense systems in China’s backyard.

“Obviously, if the threat disappears,” meaning a nuclear-free North Korea, “the same imperative does not exist at that point in time for us to have that kind of robust, forward-leaning posture of defense,” Kerry said. “And it is our hope in the short run that we can address that.”

Western experts predict that China will move slowly and cautiously, if at all, toward becoming a more reliable U.S. ally. China remains deeply skeptical of President Barack Obama’s policy shift to Asia, which Beijing views as U.S. attempts to contain its economic might.

It’s also unlikely that China will sever its long ties with North Korea. The Chinese dramatically have boosted trade with their neighbors and maintain close military relations some six decades after they fought side by side in the Korean War. They provide North Korea with most of its fuel and much of its food aid.

China has a history of quickly reversing course after talking tougher with North Korea. In late 2010, as American officials were praising Beijing for constructive efforts after the North shelled a South Korean island, a Chinese company agreed to invest $2 billion in a North Korean industrial zone.

“The U.S. has to be cautious in expecting a major breakthrough on North Korea out of the new Chinese leadership,” said Christopher Johnson, a former CIA analyst who is now a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “There’s a risk of too much exuberance on the U.S. side. … The Chinese just can’t turn the battleship as quickly as we might like.”

But Johnson said even minor progress on North Korea could translate into a warming between Washington and Beijing, which appears now to be “at least willing to talk.”

“If we can talk on an issue that is as sensitive as North Korea, we can talk about other issues,” Johnson said. “It speaks very well for other touchy issues in the relationship at the moment.”

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

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