Nuclear Weapons Are Not a Game Dan Rather / Facebook
(December 23, 2016) — Nuclear weapons are not a game. They are not a toy for the petulant and ill-informed to boast about on off-handed tweets. They are not gaudy hotels and apartment buildings to line up to make yourself feel stronger and more important. They are a direct shortcut to the very end of life on earth as we know it.
I suspect Donald Trump knows very little about our nuclear posture, its history, and the delicate balance our presidents have been walking since the early days of the Cold War. This was a man who in a primary debate didn’t seem to understand our nuclear triad. And that’s “Nukes for Dummies” level.
Now recent tweets and comments suggest he’s thinking of a new arms race. When Mr. Trump suggested that countries like Japan and Saudi Arabia develop nuclear weapons during the campaign his apologists told those of us who were worried, he didn’t really mean it. Where are those voices now? Because whether he means what he says, or even knows what he means, really doesn’t matter at this point. Just by Trump saying it, the world order that we have known is at risk.
He’s not even president yet and he’s plunging us into a potential crisis that no one really thought would come. Surely there are many Republican Senators and foreign policy experts who understand the dangers of his rhetoric.
Because the stakes with nuclear weapons are so high, that even slight changes in their status are cause for great concern. What Donald Trump is suggesting is at a level that would have us return to one of the most dangerous chapters in history.
(December 23, 2016) — In a series of impromptu statements about nuclear weapons, Donald Trump is threatening to upend longstanding US nonproliferation policy, even as his advisers contradict him and muddy his intentions.
The president-elect had alarmed and perplexed some experts and others in Washington when he pronounced, without offering more details, via Twitter on Thursday that the US “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
He further escalated his call on Friday, telling the MSNBC program “Morning Joe” that he is fine with the country taking part in an “arms race” if it puts the US in a stronger position against foreign adversaries.
“Let it be an arms race . . . we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Trump said in an off-air conversation on Friday.
After the remark was reported on MSNBC, though, incoming Trump press secretary Sean Spicer pushed back and insisted that the remarks came from a “private conversation” with “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski. While he told the “Today” Show’s Matt Lauer that “there is not going to be” an arms race, he told CNN that Trump is not going to “take anything off the table,” either.
It remains unclear where the president-elect stands, but given longstanding bipartisan support for preventing nuclear escalation, if followed through Trump’s statements would represent an extraordinary shift in how the US approaches the role of weapons of mass destruction in its own defenses and throughout the world.
President Barack Obama has advanced a vision of “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
At first, after his Thursday tweet, Trump’s own supporters had tried to downplay what it meant. It was unclear, for example, whether Trump was advocating the US increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal, which would be a major change, or if he was speaking of modernizing it. Such a suggestion would be in line with ongoing efforts and not necessarily controversial.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager who was recently named incoming counselor to the president, told an irate Rachel Maddow on Thursday night that Trump may have meant the latter. Regardless, Conway insisted during the heated exchange on MSNBC, the tweet did not necessarily represent a policy change, but Trump “talking about keeping us safe and secure.”
“There are a lot of people hiding under the bed right now because it doesn’t seem like he knows what he’s talking about on this issue,” Maddow said.
“That’s not fair,” Conway responded, later adding, “He’s not making policy on Twitter . . . . Again, perhaps he is also echoing what President Obama himself has tried to do here, which is get upgrades to our nuclear systems.”
Jason Miller, a Trump spokesman, had also said on Thursday that the president-elect was talking about expanding nonproliferation efforts, not stoking an arms race.
“President-elect Trump was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it — particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes,” Miller said in a statement. “He has also emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength.”
Trump’s comments Friday, of course, seemed to directly contradict that.
The controversy started after Russian President Vladimir Putin called on his country to “strengthen” its nuclear forces. “We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems,” he said earlier this week, according to multiple news reports.
But Putin at an annual news conference on Friday said Russia has no interest in a nuclear arms race and seemed to normalize Trump’s statements, calling his tweet unsurprising.
“Of course the US has more missiles, submarines and aircraft carriers, but what we say is that we are stronger than any aggressor, and this is the case,” Putin said, adding, “As for Donald Trump, there is nothing new about it, during his elections campaign he said the US needs to bolster its nuclear capabilities and its armed forces in general.”
During the election season, Trump made contradictory statements about nuclear proliferation. He suggested that some countries — including Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia — should be allowed to develop them, despite efforts to prevent more countries from doing so. But he also told The New York Times in March that “it’s a very scary nuclear world.”
“Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation,” Trump said at the time.
Trump’s more recent comments about expanding America’s nuclear capability go against decades of policy to reduce the stockpile of nuclear warheads and could potentially violate an arms control treaty with Russia. The US has a stockpile of roughly 4,500 nuclear warheads and nearly 1,500 deployed warheads (Russia’s armaments are nearly identical, as both nations account for more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads).
The US and Russia are due to meet nuclear reduction targets by February 2018 under the New START Treaty, which can be extended for another five years in 2021.
Experts remain confused and in some cases unnerved by the nature of Trump’s foray into the nuclear weapons discussion. On Thursday, John Tierney, a former Democratic congressman and current executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, presented Trump’s tweet as perilous.
“It is dangerous for the President-elect to use just 140 characters and announce a major change in US nuclear weapons policy, which is nuanced, complex, and affects every single person on this planet,” he said in a statement, warning that an expansion threatens a nuclear arms race.
“The potential consequences of changing US nuclear weapons policy so drastically are simply unimaginable,” he warned. “Current plans already call for spending $1 trillion over the next three decades to modernize and maintain the US nuclear arsenal, which the Pentagon has expressed concern about being able to afford. The President-elect will have to explain why any increase is necessary both financially and strategically.”
Joseph Cirincione, the president of the global security foundation Ploughshares Fund and a nuclear weapons expert, called Trump’s actions “bizarre, unprecedented and completely out of bounds behavior for a president-elect.”
Incoming presidents usually wait until they take office to make pronouncements on a topic like nuclear policy, Cirincione said. Beyond that, he said he is alarmed by the cavalier attitude Trump seems to have toward as enormously sensitive an issue as weapons of mass destruction.
While Trump might see Twitter as a means to convey strength to his constituents at home, Cirincione said, “the rest of the world is watching,” and other countries could respond with actions of their own.
“You can’t use Twitter to make nuclear policy,” Cirincione said. “Look, you should at least wait until you’re president. But this is why — this kind of view that he’s breaking with convention, he wants to shake things up, I understand that, but not on nuclear policy. There are reasons why people spend days crafting the language of nuclear policy.”
“These things can be very complicated,” he continued, “and every word matters.”
World War Three, By Mistake Eric Schlosser / The New Yorker
(December 23, 2016) — A similar false alarm had occurred the previous year, when someone mistakenly inserted a training tape, featuring a highly realistic simulation of an all-out Soviet attack, into one of NORAD’s computers. During the Cold War, false alarms were also triggered by the moon rising over Norway, the launch of a weather rocket from Norway, a solar storm, sunlight reflecting off high-altitude clouds, and a faulty AT&T telephone switch in Black Forest, Colorado.
My book “Command and Control explores how the systems devised to govern the use of nuclear weapons, like all complex technological systems, are inherently flawed. They are designed, built, installed, maintained, and operated by human beings. But the failure of a nuclear command-and-control system can have consequences far more serious than the crash of an online dating site from too much traffic or flight delays caused by a software glitch. Millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, could be annihilated inadvertently.
Command and Control focuses on near-catastrophic errors and accidents in the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union that ended in 1991. The danger never went away. Today, the odds of a nuclear war being started by mistake are low — and yet the risk is growing, as the United States and Russia drift toward a new cold war.
The other day, Senator John McCain called Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, “a thug, a bully, and a murderer,” adding that anyone who “describes him as anything else is lying.” Other members of Congress have attacked Putin for trying to influence the Presidential election.
On Thursday, Putin warned that Russia would “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” and President-elect Donald Trump has responded with a vow to expand America’s nuclear arsenal. “Let it be an arms race,” Trump told one of the co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
The harsh rhetoric on both sides increases the danger of miscalculations and mistakes, as do other factors. Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict.
Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate those systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has firsthand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare.
The greatest danger is posed not by any technological innovation but by a dilemma that has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?
“The pattern of the use of atomic weapons was set at Hiroshima,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, said in November, 1945, just a few months after the Japanese city’s destruction. “They are weapons of aggression, of surprise, and of terror.” Nuclear weapons made annihilation vastly more efficient. A single bomb could now destroy a target whose elimination had once required thousands of bombs.
During an aerial attack, you could shoot down ninety-nine per cent of the enemy’s bombers — and the plane that you missed could obliterate an entire city. A war between two countries with nuclear weapons, like a Wild West shoot-out, might be won by whoever fired first. And a surprise attack might provide the only hope of national survival — especially for the country with an inferior nuclear arsenal.
During the same month that Oppenheimer made his remarks, Bernard Brodie, a political scientist at Yale University, proposed a theory of nuclear deterrence that has largely guided American policy ever since. Brodie argued that the threat of retaliation offered the only effective defense against a nuclear attack.
“We must do what we can to reduce the advantage that might accrue to the enemy if he hit first,” Brodie wrote, after the Soviet Union had obtained its own nuclear weapons. Despite all the money spent on building nuclear weapons and delivery systems, their usefulness would be mainly psychological. “What deters is not the capabilities and intentions we have, but the capabilities and intentions the enemy thinks we have,” a classified Pentagon report explained. “The mission is persuasion.”
The fear of a surprise attack and the necessity for retaliation soon dominated the strategic thinking of the Cold War. Every year, technological advances compressed time and added more urgency to decision-making. At a top-secret briefing in 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was told that a Soviet surprise attack on just five targets — the Pentagon, the White House, Camp David, Site R, and High Point, a bunker inside Mount Weather, Virginia — had a good chance of wiping out the civilian leadership of the United States.
By striking an additional nine targets, as part of a “decapitation” attack, the Soviet Union could kill America’s military leadership as well. The Soviets might be able to destroy America’s nuclear command-and-control system with only thirty-five missiles. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Kennedy Administration sought ways to maintain Presidential control over nuclear weapons. The Pentagon deployed airborne command posts, better communications and early-warning systems, Minuteman missiles that could be quickly launched, and a large fleet of ballistic-missile submarines.
Many of these elements were put to the test during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a series of misperceptions, miscalculations, and command-and-control problems almost started an accidental nuclear war — despite the determination of both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to avoid one. In perhaps the most dangerous incident, the captain of a Soviet submarine mistakenly believed that his vessel was under attack by US warships and ordered the firing of a torpedo armed with a nuclear warhead. His order was blocked by a fellow officer.
Had the torpedo been fired, the United States would have retaliated with nuclear weapons. At the height of the crisis, while leaving the White House on a beautiful fall evening, McNamara had a strong feeling of dread — and for good reason: “I feared I might never live to see another Saturday night.”
Today, the United States has four hundred and forty Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, sitting in underground silos scattered across the plains of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. The missiles are kept on alert, at all times, ready to take off within two minutes, as a means of escaping a surprise attack. Each missile carries a nuclear warhead that may be as much as thirty times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
The Minuteman III was first deployed in 1970 and scheduled for retirement in the early nineteen-eighties. The age of the weapon system is beginning to show. Most of the launch complexes were built during the Kennedy Administration, to house an earlier version of the Minuteman, and some of the complexes are prone to flooding. The command centers feel like a time capsule of late-twentieth-century technology.
During a recent visit to a decommissioned Minuteman site, I was curious to see the big computer still used to receive Emergency Action Messages — launch orders from the President — via landline. The computer is an I.B.M. Series/1, a state-of-the-art machine in 1976, when it was introduced. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” a report by the Government Accountability Office said last May, with some understatement, about a computer that relies on eight-inch floppy disks. You can buy a smartphone with about a thousand times the memory.
The personnel who command, operate, and maintain the Minuteman III have also become grounds for concern. In 2013, the two-star general in charge of the entire Minuteman force was removed from duty after going on a drunken bender during a visit to Russia, behaving inappropriately with young Russian women, asking repeatedly if he could sing with a Beatles cover band at a Mexican restaurant in Moscow, and insulting his military hosts.
The following year, almost a hundred Minuteman launch officers were disciplined for cheating on their proficiency exams. In 2015, three launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, were dismissed for using illegal drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines.
That same year, a launch officer at Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for heading a violent street gang, distributing drugs, sexually assaulting a girl under the age of sixteen, and using psilocybin, a powerful hallucinogen. As the job title implies, launch officers are entrusted with the keys for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Minuteman III is a relic of the Cold War not only in design but also in its strategic purpose. The locations of the silos, chosen more than half a century ago, make the missile useful only for striking targets inside Russia. The silos aren’t hardened enough to survive a nuclear detonation, and their coordinates are well known, so the Minuteman III is extremely vulnerable to attack. The President would be under great pressure, at the outset of a war with Russia, to “use them or lose them.”
The missiles now have two principal roles in America’s nuclear-war plans: they can be launched as part of a first strike, or they can be launched when early-warning satellites have determined that Russian warheads are heading toward the United States. After being launched, a Minuteman III cannot be remotely disabled, disarmed, or called back. From the very beginning of the Minuteman program, the Air Force has successfully fought against adding a command-destruct mechanism, fearing that an adversary might somehow gain control of it and destroy all the missiles mid-flight. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” an Air Force officer told 60 Minutes a few years ago.
The dangers of “launch-on-warning” have been recognized since the idea was first proposed, during the Eisenhower Administration. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara advised Kennedy that the United States should never use its nuclear weapons until a nuclear detonation had occurred on American soil, and could be attributed to an enemy attack.
The first Minuteman missiles had already become a great source of stress for McNamara. The control system of the original model had a design flaw: small fluctuations in the electricity entering the command center could mimic the series of pulses required by the launch switch. An entire squadron of fifty missiles might be launched accidentally without anyone turning a key.
“I was scared shitless,” an engineer who worked on the system later confessed. “The technology was not to be trusted.” McNamara insisted that the control system be redesigned, at great expense. The destruction of fifty Soviet cities because of a mechanical glitch, a classified history of the Minuteman program later noted, would be “an accident for which a later apology might be inadequate.”
The launch-on-warning policy became controversial during the nineteen-seventies, once it was publicly known. The hundreds of missiles based on American submarines, almost impossible to find in the depths of the ocean, seemed more than adequate to deter a Soviet attack.
During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in 1979, Fred Ikle, a conservative Republican who later became a top Pentagon official during the Reagan Administration, said, “If any witness should come here and tell you that a totally reliable and safe launch-on-warning posture can be designed and implemented, that man is a fool.”
The Pentagon repeatedly denied that launch-on-warning was American policy, claiming that it was simply one of many options for the President to consider. A recent memoir, Uncommon Cause, written by General George Lee Butler, reveals that the Pentagon was not telling the truth. Butler was the head of the US Strategic Command, responsible for all of America’s nuclear weapons, during the Administration of President George H. W. Bush.
According to Butler and Franklin Miller, a former director of strategic-forces policy at the Pentagon, launch-on-warning was an essential part of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), the nation’s nuclear-war plan. Land-based missiles like the Minuteman III were aimed at some of the most important targets in the Soviet Union, including its anti-aircraft sites. If the Minuteman missiles were destroyed before liftoff, the SIOP would go awry, and American bombers might be shot down before reaching their targets.
In order to prevail in a nuclear war, the SIOP had become dependent on getting Minuteman missiles off the ground immediately. Butler’s immersion in the details of the nuclear command-and-control system left him dismayed. “With the possible exception of the Soviet nuclear war plan, [the SIOP] was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life,” Butler concluded. “We escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”
The SIOP called for the destruction of 12,000 targets within the Soviet Union. Moscow would be struck by 400 nuclear weapons; Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, by about 40.
After the end of the Cold War, a Russian surprise attack became extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, hundreds of Minuteman III missiles remained on alert. The Cold War strategy endured because, in theory, it deterred a Russian attack on the missiles. McNamara called the policy “insane,” arguing that “there’s no military requirement for it.”
George W. Bush, while running for President in 2000, criticized launch-on-warning, citing the “unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.” Barack Obama, while running for President in 2008, promised to take Minuteman missiles off alert, warning that policies like launch-on-warning “increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.”
Twenty scientists who have won the Nobel Prize, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists, have expressed strong opposition to retaining a launch-on-warning capability. It has also been opposed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and former Senator Sam Nunn. And yet the Minuteman III missiles still sit in their silos today, armed with warheads, ready to go.
William J. Perry, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Clinton Administration, not only opposes keeping Minuteman III missiles on alert but advocates getting rid of them entirely. “These missiles are some of the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Perry wrote in the Times, this September. For many reasons, he thinks the risk of a nuclear catastrophe is greater today than it was during the Cold War. While serving as an Under-Secretary of Defense in 1980, Perry also received a late-night call about an impending Soviet attack, a false alarm that still haunts him. “A catastrophic nuclear war could have started by accident.”
Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer, heads the anti-nuclear group Global Zero, teaches at Princeton University, and campaigns against a launch-on-warning policy. Blair has described the stresses that the warning of a Russian attack would put on America’s command-and-control system. American early-warning satellites would detect Russian missiles within three minutes of their launch. Officers at NORAD would confer for an additional three minutes, checking sensors to decide if an attack was actually occurring.
The Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack System collects data from at least two independent information sources, relying on different physical principles, such as ground-based radar and satellite-based infrared sensors. If the NORAD officials thought that the warning was legitimate, the President of the United States would be contacted. He or she would remove the Black Book from a briefcase carried by a military aide. The Black Book describes nuclear retaliatory options, presented in cartoon-like illustrations that can be quickly understood.
Missiles launched from Russia would give the President about twenty minutes to make a decision, after consultation with the head of the US Strategic Command. The President might have as few as five minutes, if missiles had been launched from Russian submarines in the western Atlantic. A decision to retaliate at once, to launch Minuteman missiles before they could be destroyed, runs the risk of killing millions of people by mistake.
A decision to wait — to make sure that the attack is for real, to take no action until Russian warheads began to detonate in the United States — runs the risk losing the ability of the command-and-control system to order a retaliation. In that desperate situation, with the fate of the world in the balance, the temperament of the President would be less important than the quality of the information being offered by the system. Could you trust the sensors?
At about one-thirty in the morning, on October 23, 2010, fifty Minuteman III missiles deployed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, in Wyoming, suddenly went offline. Launch officers could no longer communicate with their missiles. The letters “LFDN” appeared on their computer screens: Launch Facility Down.
Every so often, an underground control center would lose contact with missiles, briefly. It wasn’t a big deal. But having an entire squadron go down at once — and remain offline — was a highly unusual event. For almost an hour, officers tried to regain communication with the missiles. When it was reestablished, remotely, by computer — the control centers are miles away from the missiles — closed-circuit-television images from the silos showed that the fifty missiles were still down there. As a precaution, Air Force security officers were dispatched to all the silos in the early-morning hours.
The Air Force denied that someone had hacked into the computer network and disabled the missiles. A subsequent investigation found that a circuit card, improperly installed in a weapon-systems processor, had been dislodged by routine vibration and heat. The misalignment of the circuit card sent messages to the missiles in the wrong timing sequence. The Minuteman III’s complicated launch procedures were designed to allow the missiles to be fired even if some command centers were destroyed, and to prevent rogue officers from firing them without proper authorization.
As a result, the 50 missiles in each squadron are connected by coaxial cable to ten control centers, assuring redundancy and enabling one center to veto another’s launch decision. Throughout the day, at designated times, each control center sends a signal to the missiles, checks their status, and receives a reply. By disrupting the time sequence, the misaligned circuit board created a cacophony of signals and blocked all communication with the missiles. The system jammed itself.
Although the Air Force publicly dismissed the threat of a cyberattack on the nuclear command-and-control system, the incident raised alarm within the Pentagon about the system’s vulnerability. A malfunction that occurred by accident might also be caused deliberately. Those concerns were reinforced by a Defense Science Board report in January, 2013. It found that the Pentagon’s computer networks had been “built on inherently insecure architectures that are composed of, and increasingly using, foreign parts.”
Red teams employed by the board were able to disrupt Pentagon systems with “relative ease,” using tools available on the Internet. “The complexity of modern software and hardware makes it difficult, if not impossible, to develop components without flaws or to detect malicious insertions,” the report concluded.
In a recent paper for the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, Andrew Futter, an associate professor at the University of Leicester, suggested that a nuclear command-and-control system might be hacked to gather intelligence about the system, to shut down the system, to spoof it, mislead it, or cause it to take some sort of action — like launching a missile. And, he wrote, there are a variety of ways it might be done.
During the Cold War, as part of an espionage effort known as Project gunman, Soviet agents managed to tamper with the comb-support bars in sixteen I.B.M. Selectric typewriters at the US Embassy in Moscow and the US Mission in Leningrad. Between 1976 and 1984, every keystroke from those typewriters was transmitted by radio to nearby Soviet listening posts. The tampering was so ingenious that it took twenty-five engineers at the National Security Agency (N.S.A.), working six days a week for several months, with X-ray equipment, to figure out how it was done.
Today’s integrated circuits contain billions of transistors. As the Defense Science Board notes in its report, a “subversive” chip “could destroy the processor and disable the system by simply shunting power to ground, change the processor output to incorrect results for specified inputs, or allow information leakage to the attackers.” A subversive chip would look identical to a normal one.
The cybersecurity of the Minuteman III, aging and yet still on alert, is also questionable. About five thousand miles of underground cable link the control centers to the missiles, as part of the Hardened Intersite Cable System. The cable mainly traverses privately owned land.
“One of the difficult parts about fixing missile cable is . . . that the wires are no longer in production,” a newsletter at Minot Air Force Base explained a few years ago. The wires are copper, like old-fashioned telephone lines, surrounded by pressurized air, so that attempts to tamper with the cable can be detected. But in the early nineteen-seventies, during Operation Ivy Bells, the United States attached recording devices to similar underwater cable used by the Soviet Navy, tapping into it without piercing it.
The mission was accomplished using divers and a submarine, at a depth of 400 feet, in the Sea of Okhotsk. Digging up part of the Hardened Intersite Cable System in the middle of the night, three to eight feet under a farmer’s back yard in Wyoming, would be less challenging. (The Air Force declined to comment on the specific vulnerabilities of the Minuteman III.)
Even if the hardware were pristine, malware could be inserted into the system. During Operation Orchard, in September, 2007, Israel may have hacked into Syria’s early-warning system — either shutting it down completely or spoofing it into displaying clear skies — as Israeli fighters entered Syrian airspace, bombed a nuclear reactor, and flew home undetected.
In 2012, the Stuxnet computer worm infiltrated computers running Microsoft Windows at nuclear sites in Iran, collected information about the industrial process there, and then issued instructions that destroyed hundreds of centrifuges enriching uranium. A similar worm could surreptitiously enter a nuclear command-and-control system, lie dormant for years, and then create havoc.
Strict precautions have been taken to thwart a cyberattack on the US nuclear command-and-control system. Every line of nuclear code has been scrutinized for errors and bugs. The system is “air-gapped,” meaning that its networks are closed: someone can’t just go onto the Internet and tap into a computer at a Minuteman III control center. At least, that’s the theory.
Russia, China, and North Korea have sophisticated cyber-warfare programs and techniques. General James Cartwright — the former head of the US Strategic Command who recently pleaded guilty to leaking information about Stuxnet — thinks that it’s reasonable to believe the system has already been penetrated. “You’ve either been hacked, and you’re not admitting it, or you’re being hacked and don’t know it,” Cartwright said last year.
If communications between Minuteman control centers and their missiles are interrupted, the missiles can still be launched by ultra-high-frequency radio signals transmitted by special military aircraft. The ability to launch missiles by radio serves as a backup to the control centers — and also creates an entry point into the network that could be exploited in a cyberattack. The messages sent within the nuclear command-and-control system are highly encrypted. Launch codes are split in two, and no single person is allowed to know both parts. But the complete code is stored in computers — where it could be obtained or corrupted by an insider.
Some of America’s most secret secrets were recently hacked and stolen by a couple of private contractors working inside the N.S.A., Edward Snowden and Harold T. Martin III, both employees of Booz Allen Hamilton. The N.S.A. is responsible for generating and encrypting the nuclear launch codes. And the security of the nuclear command-and-control system is being assured not only by government officials but also by the employees of private firms, including software engineers who work for Boeing, Amazon, and Microsoft.
Lord Des Browne, a former UK Minister of Defense, is concerned that even ballistic-missile submarines may be compromised by malware. Browne is now the vice-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit seeking to reduce the danger posed by weapons of mass destruction, where he heads a task force examining the risk of cyberattacks on nuclear command-and-control systems.
Browne thinks that the cyberthreat is being cavalierly dismissed by many in power. The Royal Navy’s decision to save money by using Windows for Submarines, a version of Windows XP, as the operating system for its ballistic-missile subs seems especially shortsighted.
Windows XP was discontinued six years ago, and Microsoft warned that any computer running it after April, 2014, “should not be considered protected as there will be no security updates.” Each of the UK subs has eight missiles carrying a total of forty nuclear weapons. “It is shocking to think that my home computer is probably running a newer version of Windows than the UK’s military submarines,” Brown said.
In 2013, General C. Robert Kehler, the head of the US Strategic Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the risk of cyberattacks on the nuclear command-and-control system. He expressed confidence that the US system was secure. When Senator Bill Nelson asked if somebody could hack into the Russian or Chinese systems and launch a ballistic missile carrying a nuclear warhead, Kehler replied, “Senator, I don’t know . . . I do not know.”
After the debacle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union became much more reluctant to provoke a nuclear confrontation with the United States. Its politburo was a committee of conservative old men. Russia’s leadership is quite different today. The current mix of nationalism, xenophobia, and vehement anti-Americanism in Moscow is a far cry from the more staid and secular ideology guiding the Soviet Union in the nineteen-eighties.
During the past few years, threats about the use of nuclear weapons have become commonplace in Moscow. Dmitry Kiselyov, a popular newscaster and the Kremlin’s leading propagandist, reminded viewers in 2014 that Russia is “the only country in the world capable of turning the USA. into radioactive dust.”
The Kremlin has acknowledged the development of a nuclear torpedo that can travel more than 6,000 miles underwater before devastating a coastal city. It has also boasted about a fearsome new missile design. Nicknamed “Satan 2” and deployed with up to 16 nuclear warheads, the missile will be “capable of wiping out parts of the earth the size of Texas or France,” an official news agency claimed.
The bellicose pronouncements in Moscow suggest that Russia is becoming a superpower again, modernizing its nuclear arsenal and seeking supremacy over the United States. In fact, Russia’s arsenal is more inferior today and more vulnerable to a surprise attack than it was forty years ago.
The Kremlin’s recent propaganda brings to mind some of Nikita Khrushchev’s claims from 1959: “Now we have such a stock of missiles, such an amount of atomic and hydrogen warheads, that if they attack us we could raze our potential enemies off the face of the earth.” The Soviet Union did not have a single intercontinental ballistic missile when Khrushchev made those remarks.
At the moment, Russia has newer land-based missiles than the United States does, but it also has about a hundred fewer. During the Cold War, Russia possessed hundreds of mobile missiles that were hard to spot from satellites; today, it has only a hundred and fifty, which are rarely moved from their bases and more readily detected by satellite. Russia’s ten ballistic-missile submarines now spend most of their time in port, where they are sitting ducks. An American surprise attack on Russian nuclear forces may have the best chance of success since the days of the Kennedy Administration.
During the Cold War, as many as five warheads were targeted at each enemy missile to assure its destruction. In an age of cyber warfare, those missiles could be immobilized with just a few keystrokes. The United States Cyber Command — which reports to the US Strategic Command — has been assigned the mission of using “cyber operations to disrupt an adversary’s command and control networks, military-related critical infrastructure, and weapons capabilities.”
Russia’s greatest strategic vulnerability is the lack of a sophisticated and effective early-warning system. The Soviet Union had almost a dozen satellites in orbit that could detect a large-scale American attack. The system began to deteriorate in 1996, when an early-warning satellite had to be retired. Others soon fell out of orbit, and Russia’s last functional early-warning satellite went out of service two years ago.
Until a new network of satellites can be placed in orbit, the country must depend on ground-based radar units. Unlike the United States, Russia no longer has two separate means of validating an attack warning. At best, the radar units can spot warheads only minutes before they land. Pavel Podvig, a senior fellow at the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research, believes that Russia does not have a launch-on-warning policy — because its early-warning system is so limited.
According to Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear-policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, the deficiencies in Russia’s command-and-control system feed the country’s long-standing fears of encirclement by enemies ready to strike. During the twentieth century, Russia was attacked with little warning by both Germany and Japan.
“I think the Russian leadership is terrified of a decapitation strike,” Lewis told me recently. “Perhaps some of that is paranoia, but, on the other hand, the United States opened Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003, by striking Dora Farm — a failed decapitation strike against Saddam Hussein.” Russia’s fierce opposition to an American missile-defense system in Europe is driven by fear of the role it could play in a surprise attack.
During a crisis, Russia’s inability to launch on warning could raise the pressure on a Russian leader to launch without any warning. The logic of a first strike still prevails. As John Steinbruner, a renowned nuclear theorist, explained more than thirty years ago, shooting first “offers some small chance that complete decapitation will occur and no retaliation will follow. . . . [It] is probably the only imaginable route to decisive victory in nuclear war.”
Vladimir Putin now wields more power over Russia’s nuclear forces than any leader since Khrushchev. Putin has displayed great boldness and a willingness to take risks in foreign affairs. A surprise attack on the United States, given its nuclear superiority and largely invulnerable ballistic-missile submarines, would probably be suicidal. And yet the alternative might appear worse. Putin has described an important lesson he learned as a young man in Leningrad: “When a fight is inevitable, you have to hit first.”
For the past nine years, I’ve been immersed in the minutiae of nuclear command and control, trying to understand the actual level of risk. Of all the people whom I’ve met in the nuclear realm, Sidney Drell was one of the most brilliant and impressive. Drell died this week, at the age of ninety. A theoretical physicist with expertise in quantum field theory and quantum chromodynamics, he was for many years the deputy director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator and received the National Medal of Science from Obama, in 2013.
Drell was one of the founding members of JASON — a group of civilian scientists that advises the government on important technological matters — and for fifty-six years possessed a Q clearance, granting him access to the highest level of classified information. Drell participated in top-secret discussions about nuclear strategy for decades, headed a panel that investigated nuclear-weapon safety for the US Congress in 1990, and worked on technical issues for JASON until the end of his life. A few months ago, when I asked for his opinion about launch-on-warning, Drell said, “It’s insane, the worst thing I can think of. You can’t have a worse idea.”
Drell was an undergraduate at Princeton University when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed. Given all the close calls and mistakes in the seventy-one years since then, he considered it a miracle that no other cities have been destroyed by a nuclear weapon — “it is so far beyond my normal optimism.” The prospect of a new cold war — and the return of military strategies that advocate using nuclear weapons on the battlefield — deeply unnerved him. Once the first nuclear weapon detonates, nothing might prevent the conflict from spiraling out of control. “We have no experience in stopping a nuclear war,” he said.
During the recent Presidential campaign, the emotional stability of the Commander-in-Chief became an issue, with some arguing that a calm disposition might mean the difference between peace on Earth and a nuclear apocalypse. The President of the United States has the sole power to order the use of nuclear weapons, without any legal obligation to consult members of Congress or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ideally, the President would never be short-tempered, impulsive, or clinically depressed. But the mood of the Commander-in-Chief may be irrelevant in a nuclear crisis, given the current technological constraints. Can any human being reliably make the correct decision, within six minutes, with hundreds of millions of lives at stake?
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin confront a stark choice: begin another nuclear-arms race or reduce the threat of nuclear war. Trump now has a unique opportunity to pursue the latter, despite the bluster and posturing on both sides. His admiration for Putin, regardless of its merits, could provide the basis for meaningful discussions about how to minimize nuclear risks.
Last year, General James Mattis, the former Marine chosen by Trump to serve as Secretary of Defense, called for a fundamental reappraisal of American nuclear strategy and questioned the need for land-based missiles. During Senate testimony, Mattis suggested that getting rid of such missiles would “reduce the false-alarm danger.”
Contrary to expectations, Republican Presidents have proved much more successful than their Democratic counterparts at nuclear disarmament. President George H. W. Bush cut the size of the American arsenal in half, as did his son, President George W. Bush. And President Ronald Reagan came close to negotiating a treaty with the Soviet Union that would have completely abolished nuclear weapons.
Every technology embodies the values of the age in which it was created. When the atomic bomb was being developed in the mid-nineteen-forties, the destruction of cities and the deliberate targeting of civilians was just another military tactic. It was championed as a means to victory.
The Geneva Conventions later classified those practices as war crimes — and yet nuclear weapons have no other real use. They threaten and endanger noncombatants for the sake of deterrence. Conventional weapons can now be employed to destroy every kind of military target, and twenty-first-century warfare puts an emphasis on precision strikes, cyberweapons, and minimizing civilian casualties.
As a technology, nuclear weapons have become obsolete. What worries me most isn’t the possibility of a cyberattack, a technical glitch, or a misunderstanding starting a nuclear war sometime next week. My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world.
These machines have been carefully and ingeniously designed to kill us. Complacency increases the odds that, some day, they will. The “Titanic Effect” is a term used by software designers to explain how things can quietly go wrong in a complex technological system: the safer you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it is becoming.
Eric Schlosser is the author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, from 2013, and the producer of the documentary “Command and Control,” from 2016.
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Ancient Heritage Sites in Nimrud Destroyed by ISIS AlShahid (November 15, 2016)
3,000 Years Ago, It Ruled
The Mideast, Now Blown to Pieces Lori Hinnant / Associated Press
(December 31, 2016) — The chilly December wind whipped rain across the strewn wreckage of a city that, nearly 3,000 years ago, ruled almost the entire Middle East. Rivulets of water ran through the dirt, washing away chunks of ancient stone.
The city of Nimrud in northern Iraq is in pieces, victim of the Islamic State group’s fervor to erase history. The remains of its palaces and temples, once lined in brilliant reliefs of gods and kings, have been blown up. The statues of winged bulls that once guarded the site are hacked to bits. Its towering ziggurat, or step pyramid, has been bulldozed.
The militants’ fanaticism devastated one of the Middle East’s most important archaeological sites. But more than a month after the militants were driven out, Nimrud is still being ravaged, its treasures disappearing, imperiling any chance of eventually rebuilding it, an Associated Press team found after multiple visits in the past month.
With the government and military still absorbed in fighting the war against the Islamic State group in nearby Mosul, the wreckage of the Assyrian Empire’s ancient capital lies unprotected and vulnerable to looters.
“When I heard about Nimrud, my heart wept before my eyes did,” said Hiba Hazim Hamad, an archaeology professor in Mosul who often took her students there.
In three of the AP’s four visits, its team wandered the ruins alone freely for up to an hour before anyone arrived. No one is assigned to guard the site, much less catalog the fragments.
Toppled stone slabs bearing a relief that the AP saw on one visit were gone when it returned.
Perhaps the only vigilant guardian left is an Iraqi archaeologist, Layla Salih. She has visited multiple times, photographing the wreckage to document it and badgering militias to watch over it. Walking through the ruins on a rainy winter day, she pointed out things that were no longer in place.
Still, Salih finds reasons for optimism.
“The good thing is the rubble is still in situ,” she said. “The site is restorable.”
To an untrained eye, that’s hard to imagine, seeing the destruction caused by the Islamic State group. Salih estimated 60 percent of the site was irrecoverable.
The site’s palaces and temples were spread over 360 hectares (900 acres) on a dirt plateau on the edge of the Tigris River valley.
A 140-foot-high ziggurat once arrested the gaze of anyone entering Nimrud. Now there is only lumpy earth. Archaeologists had never had a chance to explore the now-bulldozed structure.
Past it, in the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II, walls are toppled into giant piles of bricks. The palace’s courtyard is a field of cratered earth. Pieces of the two monumental winged bulls are piled nearby — their heads missing, likely taken to be sold.
Off to the left are the flattened remains of the temple of Nabu, a god of writing. During a Dec. 14 UNESCO assessment tour, a U.N. demining expert peered at a hole leading to a seemingly intact tomb and warned that it could be rigged to explode.
From 879-709 BC, Nimrud was the capital of the Assyrians, one the ancient world’s earliest empires. In modern excavations , the site yielded a wealth of Mesopotamian art. In the tombs of queens were found troves of gold and jewelry. Hundreds of written tablets deepened knowledge about the ancient Mideast.
Touring the site, UNESCO’s representative to Iraq, Louise Haxthausen, called the destruction “absolutely devastating.”
“The most important thing right now is to ensure some basic protection,” she said.
But the government has many priorities. It is still fighting IS in Mosul, and the list of reconstruction needs is long.
Tens of thousands of citizens live in camps. Much of the city of Ramadi is destroyed. More than 70 mass graves have been unearthed in IS territory. Other ancient sites remain under IS control.
None of the various armed groups around Nimrud — whether the military or various militias — has been dedicated to guarding it.
During the UNESCO tour, Salih noticed that some of the ancient bricks from the rubble had been neatly piled up as if to be hauled away — perhaps, she suspects, to repair homes damaged in fighting. Stone tiles at the palace entrance vanished from where she saw them last.
Two locals were arrested with a marble tablet and stone seal from Nimrud, presumably to sell. The men are in custody.
But it’s unclear where the artifacts seized from them are.
The police insisted they were at a lab in the northern city of Irbil. The lab said it knew nothing about them. The Antiquities Ministry in Baghdad said they were safe in the Nineveh government offices. An official there said they were with the police awaiting transit to Baghdad.
That circle of confusion makes theft easy.
Salih is seeking international funding to pay someone to guard the site. But she recognizes the job will have to go to one of the militia factions, and she has no illusions they will provide full protection.
She’ll have to cajole them into doing as much as they can.
“There isn’t another choice, as you see,” she said.
Associated Press photographer Maya Alleruzzo and videographer Bram Janssen in Nimrud; and Salar Salim and Mohammed Nouman in Irbil, Iraq contributed to this report.
Nimrud: Iraqi troops visit destroyed ancient city BBC News (November 16, 2016)
Game Changer for Elephants: China to Ban Ivory Trade by End of 2017 Elly Pepper / Natural Resources Defense Council
(December 30, 2016) — In what may be the biggest sign of hope for elephants since the current poaching crisis began, the Chinese government, today, announced a one-year timeline for its promised domestic ivory ban. According to the notice, China will begin phasing out registered legal ivory processors and traders by March 31, 2017 and shut down its legal commercial ivory trade completely by December 31, 2017.
Today’s announcement comes as a result of the Chinese government’s promise to end its ivory market in early 2015 and commitment to deliver a timeline for its ivory ban by the end of the year at the 2016 US-China Strategic and Economic (S&ED).
Demand for elephant ivory has skyrocketed in recent years, spurring poaching levels that are driving elephants towards extinction. And ending the legal ivory trade in China — the world’s largest consumer of elephant ivory — is critical to saving the species. Indeed, as we’ve seen in the US, legal ivory markets only perpetuate the illegal market.
According to today’s announcement, after the market closes, the Chinese Ministry of Culture will help transition ivory sector employees to other livelihoods. For example, famous “master carvers” will be encouraged to work in museums and other entities to repair and maintain ivory works of significant artistic and cultural value. The Chinese government will also strengthen the management of legally-possessed ivory products.
For example, ivory products will only be displayed in museums and art galleries for non-commercial purposes or exhibition. China will still allow ivory to be gifted and inherited. Finally, China’s Forestry Department and Police, Customs, and Market Control Department will ramp up enforcement and education to prevent illegal processing, selling, and transporting of ivory. This will involve market investigations and inspections and shutting down both physical and online illegal ivory-trading channels. It will also entail educating the public about the importance of rejecting ivory and ivory products.
Now, it’s crucial other countries with domestic ivory markets, including the UK, follow China’s lead and shut them down. Even the US, which has largely closed its ivory market by banning the ivory trade at the federal level and in many states (e.g., HI, NY, OR, WA, NJ), can do more in the way of enforcement, while also helping other countries follow suit.
As recognized in resolutions agreed to by many countries and leading conservation experts at the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), domestic ivory bans are critical to stopping the poaching of elephants. And while China is one piece of the puzzle, all countries must work together to end the global ivory trade if we hope to bring elephants back from the brink.
Investigators comprehensively surveyed commercial vendors selling ivory in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, which previous surveys identified as the US cities with the highest proportions of potentially illegal ivory pieces and the largest ivory markets overall, behind New York City. The data collection for this study was carried out between March 15 and April 11, 2014.
A total of over 1,250 ivory items offered for sale by 107 vendors was seen in California, with 777 items and 77 vendors in Los Angeles and well over 473 ivory items and 30 vendors in San Francisco. In Los Angeles, between 77% and 90% of the ivory seen was likely illegal under California law (i.e., post- 1977) and between 47% and 60% could have been illegal under federal law.
In San Francisco, approximately 80% of the ivory was likely illegal under California law and 52% could have been illegal under federal law. There is a much higher incidence of what appears to be ivory of recent manufacture in California, roughly doubling from approximately 25% in 2006 to about half in 2014. In addition, many of the ivory items seen for sale in California advertised as antiques (i.e., more than 100 years old) appear to be more likely from recently killed elephants.
Most of the ivory products surveyed appear to have originated in East Asia. While consumer demand for ivory items remains high, there are significantly fewer vendors in California selling ivory items than in 2006. Finally, both federal and state law enforcement of existing ivory laws in California appears to be minimal and there is widespread confusion among vendors about what constitutes the legal and illegal sale of ivory.
The illegal killing of elephants for ivory, commonly known as ivory poaching, has reached alarming proportions in Africa.
A recent study estimated that over 100,000 African elephants were killed in just three years from 2010 through 2012. And a series of elephant population surveys in Central Africa led to the conclusion that the African Forest Elephant ( Loxodonta cyclotis ) declined in number by over 60% between 2002 and 2011, primarily due to ivory poaching.
3 Parts of eastern Africa have also been seriously affected, and recent elephant population surveys have shown that elephants declined in Tanzania’s Selous ecosystem â€“ Africa’s largest protected area â€“ from 55,000 in 2007, to 39,000 in 2009, to only 13,000 in 2013, mostly due to poaching.
Southern Africa, a long-time haven for elephants, has not been spared and poaching and ivory trafficking have increased in recent years.
Likewise, seizures of illegal ivory have increased since 2009, particularly of large (i.e., >500 kg) shipments.
For example, in 2013, more than 41 metric tons of ivory were apprehended in 18 seizures of over 500 kilograms each, representing a minimum of 4,000 elephants — the highest number by far since records began in the 1990s.
The increased incidents of large seizures are just one of a series of indicators showing that organized criminal networks have become increasingly involved in elephant poaching. Indeed, as elephant poaching â€“ and wildlife trafficking in general â€“ has become increasingly lucrative, terrorist groups have turned to poaching to finance their military operations. Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army in Uganda â€“ which abducted over 440 people in 2013 alone â€“ has been linked to wildlife poaching, as have M-23 and the Janjaweed militia in Sudan.
Ivory being imported into the United States comes in two forms: “raw” ivory, which are unadulterated elephant tusks, and “worked” ivory, which are carved pieces of ivory — typically figurines or netsuke, which are miniature sculptures invented in 17th century Japan.
A series of quantitative ivory market surveys carried out since 1999, supplemented by ivory seizure data analyses by TRAFFIC’s Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), show that the principal demand region driving ivory poaching is East Asia, in particular China-Hong Kong and Thailand.
Notwithstanding the importance of East Asia in driving ivory demand, Martin and Stiles (2008) concluded that the United States has the second largest ivory market in the world, after China-Hong Kong.
Based on visual inspection and interviews with informants, they estimated that as much as 30% of the ivory items they observed for sale in the United States could have been illegal under federal law. California, in particular, is a major hub for the illegal ivory trade in the United States, with San Francisco and Los Angeles ranking as the largest ivory markets with the highest proportions of potentially illegal pieces, behind New York City.
Concerned about the rise in elephant poaching and the role of the United States in driving the upsurge, the Natural Resources Defense Council has sponsored a new ivory market study of San Francisco and Los Angeles. The purpose of the study is to ascertain the current ivory trade in California and estimate what proportion might be illegal.
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ISIS Is Using Terror to Eliminate Multicultural Countries like Germany — and the Far-right Is Helping Them Robert Fisk / The Independent
(December 23, 2016) — The intention of ISIS’ terror attacks is to provoke European states to ‘persecute’ Muslims within their frontiers in acts of reprisal for the mass killing of western Europeans
There is something infinitely naive in our pursuit of the identity of those behind the massacres, which ISIS is committing in Europe. Yes, we need to know the names. Sure, we need to know what their wives or parents thought. Did they know? How did the perpetrator of Monday’s Berlin truck killings communicate with ISIS? Or did he merely imbibe their political instruction manual?
After the Bataclan mass murders and the lorry slaughter in Nice, we asked the same questions.So now we ask: is the latest suspect — a Tunisian criminal Anis Amri — the killer driver of the Berlin truck?
But we didn’t bother to ask what ISIS was trying to do. Was it a tactic of ‘terror’ — ‘terror’ being the pejorative word that enables us to avoid all rational thought in the aftermath of any bloodbath — or a strategy, a thought-through political attempt to produce a profound crISIS in the societies of western Europe.
And the simple answer is that it was a strategy. The ‘grey zone’, a phrase invented by ISIS almost two years ago, first made its appearance in the group’s French-language publications, obviously intended for those Muslims who make up perhaps 10 per cent of the population of France — the nation with the largest number of Muslims in Europe. ISIS wanted to eliminate ‘the grey zone’ which it identified as those western — ‘Crusader’, ‘Christian’, etc — countries with a large Muslim immigrant community. Muslims should revolt against their European nations (or their host nations, if not actually citizens) and create conflict within the countries.
Islamic State claims responsibility for Berlin truck attack
The intention was to provoke European states to “persecute” the Muslims within their frontiers in acts of reprisal for the mass killing of western Europeans — presumably non-Muslim — civilians. In fact, it didn’t matter to ISIS if their victims were Muslims — since the latter were mere ‘apostates’ who had accommodated to non-Muslim societies and adapted to their secular rules for economic or political advantage.
In a mass flight from the vengeful ‘Crusaders’, according to a French edition of Dabiq in early 2015, the Muslims of Europe would migrate to the caliphate of the Islamic State” and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens.”
In other words, they wished to provoke the non-Muslim people of Europe to reject their millions of Muslim fellow-citizens. An uprising among ISIS followers — however few — would produce mass murder by the ‘Christians’ of Europe.
That was — and obviously still is — the strategy. And it has had some success. The rise of far-right parties in both western and eastern Europe has a strong anti-Muslim/anti-immigrant detonation, and the hunt for political power by those who wish to discriminate against Muslims (or ‘persecute’ them) has been fuelled by mass killings carried out in ISIS’ name.
Thus Angela Merkel, the angel of the one million refugees who sought sanctuary in Europe last year, is herself now dressing in the dark robes of Mephistopheles (by objecting, ironically, to the dark robes worn by Muslim women). Faustus, of course, was a character of German folklore long before Christopher Marlowe wrote about him.
But the ISIS strategy has far more recent precedents than a man (or woman) who sells his soul to the devil. First a health warning: there is no connection between ISIS and the man widely regarded as the Greatest Briton in history.
But when Britain remained the only country still under arms against Nazi Germany in 1940, Winston Churchill believed that the occupied people of Europe should rise up against their Nazi occupiers. He believed — not without reason — that western Europeans under German domination were settling far too peacefully into the role of quiescent occupied peoples, making accommodation for — and creating collaboration with — Hitler’s army and Gestapo.
Churchill was right. Crushed by economic as well as military disaster, the people of France, Denmark, Holland and Belgium were far too busy trying to protect their families and feed their children to start an insurrection.
Furthermore, they knew — as Churchill knew — that any armed resistance to German occupation would immediately lead to the murder of hostages, the destruction of villages, executions, deportations and mass murder — the sort of ‘persecution’ which ISIS obviously hopes, however vainly, would be visited upon the Muslims of Europe if they continue their attacks on the European Continent and, indeed, in Britain.
But Churchill was ruthless. “And now, set Europe ablaze,” he told his minister of economic warfare, Hugh Dalton, who set up what was to be called the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose extraordinary and courageous exploits of arms smuggling, ambushes and sabotage — clearly regarded as ‘terrorism’ by many of Churchill’s associates — led to great losses, civilian reprisals, the death of many innocents and a history of defeat.
Not of victory, as post-war monochrome movies about SOE’s daring-do would have cinemagoers believe. Churchill called his policy “a new instrument of war”. The Spanish had used just such an instrument during the Peninsula war, the ‘guerrilleros’. And as a student of history, Churchill well knew the terrifying results for civilians. Goya depicted their suffering for all time.
The happier side of this comparison, however, is clear. Churchill’s policy — justified for him at the time, however cruel — did not work. It took years, and the terror assaults by the Germans, which they had used in eastern Europe, before armed resistance to their rule became a serious problem for Nazi occupiers. And today’s western Europeans, however much the right may try to earn their votes with their anti-Muslim hatred, are not Nazis — much as ISIS may wish them to be.
The ‘Crusaders’ ceased to exist six hundred years ago. Millions of Muslims cannot be turned into ‘apostates’ because ISIS identifies them as such. They wish to live in Europe.
Besides, the Muslims of the Islamic world had their chance of joining the ISIS Caliphate last year. They could have walked, marched or trekked across the deserts to Raqqa and Mosul to join the ‘Caliph’ al-Baghdadi. But they didn’t. Instead, they took the train to Germany; which remains the greatest defeat ISIS has suffered in more than two years.
ISIS cannot turn their retreat into victory merely because they infused a few of their would-be killers in among the refugees — even if Amri came from Italy last year, rather than the Arab world.
And Europeans can maintain that defeat by turning away from those of their non-Muslim fellow citizens — in effect ISIS’ allies — who advance a policy of revenge and racism. The far right in Germany — and in France and Holland and, yes, in Britain — are the people whom ISIS now rely upon to destroy the ‘grey zone’.
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(December 23, 2016) — European political leaders are making the same mistake in reacting to the massacre at the Christmas fair in Berlin, in which 12 died, as they did during previous terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. There is an over-concentration on the failings of the security services in not identifying and neutralising the Tunisian petty criminal, Anis Amri, as the threat he turned out to be. There is too little focus on bringing to an end the wars in Syria and Iraq which make this type of atrocity unstoppable.
In the aftermath of the killings the visibility of Amri, who was shot dead in Milan this morning, as a potential threat looks misleadingly obvious, and the culpability of those who did not see this appears more glaring than it really was. The number of possible suspects — suspected before they have done anything — is too great to police them effectively.
No politician or security official wishing to retain their job can tell a frightened and enraged public that it is impossible to defend them. Those in charge become an easy target for critics who opportunistically exploit terrorism to blame government incompetence or demand communal punishment of asylum seekers, immigrants or Muslims.
At such times, the media is at its self-righteous worst, whipping up hysteria and portraying horrifying but small-scale incidents as if they were existential threats. This has always been true, but 24/7 news coverage makes it worse as reporters run out of things to say and lose all sense of proportion. As the old American newspaper nostrum has it: “if it bleeds, it leads.”
But in over-reacting, governments and media play into the hands of the terrorists who want to create fear and demonstrate their strength, but whose greatest gains come when they provoke an exaggerated self-destructive response. 9/11 was the most successful terrorist attack in history, not just because it destroyed the Twin Towers but because it lured the Bush administration into invading Afghanistan and Iraq.
Subsequently, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition, torture and “targeted killings” (otherwise known as assassination campaigns), all justified by 9/11, have acted as recruiting sergeants for al-Qaeda type organisations.
The war on terror has failed more demonstrably than most wars: al-Qaeda numbered in the hundreds in 2001, but today — along with Isis — it has tens of thousands of fighters and supporters spread across dozens of countries.
Political leaders are not blameless, but they tend to be blamed for the wrong thing. Contrary to talk about “lone wolf” terrorism, most people like Amri turn out to have had sympathetic or supportive connections. In his case, US officials say he had communicated with Isis and was in contact with a Salafi preacher. He would have needed little more than inspiration and encouragement, since driving a truck into a crowd of people celebrating Christmas requires no special expertise.
Isis remains crucial to the present wave of terrorist attacks in Europe because it provides ideological motivation and justification and can, as in Paris and Brussels, control and sustain a terrorist cell. So long as there is a well-organised de facto Isis capable of providing these things, terrorism cannot be defeated; there will always be a “breakdown in security” to be exploited.
The continuing existence of such a state is proof of the failure of US and European leadership. It is they who created the original conditions for the rise of Isis by invading Iraq in 2003. They allowed Syria to be torn apart by civil war after 2011 and believed the consequent anarchy could be confined to Iraq and Syria.
It was only in 2014 and 2015 — after the creation of Isis, the flood of migrants fleeing to central Europe and the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium — that politicians and officials really took on board the potential danger.
Yet two-and-a-half years after it was first declared, Isis is still in business. Some 2,885 Iraqis were killed in November alone, most of them as a result of fighting between Isis and the Iraqi security forces. Over the last month international focus has been on the fall of east Aleppo and too little attention is given to the fact that Isis has been holding its own in Mosul and has recaptured Palmyra in Syria.
There is a dangerous disconnect in the minds of governments and news organisations between what happens in the war in Iraq and Syria and the long-term consequences this has on the streets of Europe.
When the Iraqi armed forces and their Kurdish allies began on 17 October their advance on Mosul, by far the largest urban centre held by any of the Salafi-jihadi groups, it was widely believed that Isis was about to be defeated in its last lair.
It has not happened. The elite units of the Iraqi armed forces, notably the 10,000 strong “Golden Division”, have suffered as much as 50 per cent casualties. They are being ground down by skilful tactics in east Mosul whereby mobile Isis units rapidly shift their positions in built-up areas using holes cut in the walls of houses and a network of tunnels.
They avoid permanent fixed positions where they can be located and targeted by artillery and the US-led air coalition. They ambush the Iraqi military forces in their vehicles as they move through narrow streets. The UN says that almost 2,000 members of the Iraqi security forces, including paramilitary Shia units and Kurdish Peshmerga units, were killed in November alone.
The offensive is largely stalled and still has not reached the main part of Mosul city on the west bank of the Tigris River. Districts in east Mosul captured weeks ago have to be captured again.
The main thrust of Iraqi government forces attack on Mosul was meant to come from the south, but this front has not moved for six weeks. Isis is even reported to have sent 500 fighters from Mosul across the desert to retake Palmyra, in the first important territorial gain by Isis for 18 months.
This is not an organisation that is going out of business fast, or even at all. The failure of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other insurgent groups to defend east Aleppo more resolutely and successfully will probably lead to a haemorrhage of the most experienced and toughest fighters to Isis.
It will have the advantage of being less dependent than the other rebel groups on outside support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are close to accepting defeat in Syria. This may not save Isis in the long term because of the sheer number of its enemies, but it has shown once again that it is more resilient than the Pentagon had supposed.
There are serious consequences here for Europe: Isis can keep going for years with the low-level terrorist attacks like that which just happened in Berlin. It does not have to do much by way of exhortation or material aid to achieve this. When a terrorist incident does take place it is capable of shifting the political agenda in a country as large as Germany. Isis knows this and while it exists the terrorism will not stop.
(December 20, 2016) — The US State Department comes out yearly with its list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” but to many people overseas it is the US government itself that is a main sponsor of terrorism overseas. The US president claims the right to attack suspected terrorists in any corner of the globe at any time.
The current US president has conducted thousands of drone strikes against countries with whom we are not at war, with an estimated 90 percent of strikes not hitting the intended target. The US government ships weapons to groups in places like Syria where it knows they will end up in the hands of al-Qaeda and ISIS. So perhaps US foreign policy is not tackling terrorism, but in fact perpetuating it. More in today’s Ron Paul Liberty Report:
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UN Security Council Passes Resolution Against Israeli Settlements Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(December 23, 2016) — For the first time in 36 years, the United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution criticizing the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, calling them an obstacle to the two-state solution, and calling on Israel to reverse the expansions of the settlements. The vote was unanimous, 14-0, with only the United States abstaining.
The resolution was initially scheduled for vote on Thursday as an Egypt-sponsored measure, but Egypt withdrew it in the face of Israeli lobbying, and a push from US President-elect Donald Trump. The identical resolution was raised today by Malaysia, Senegal, Venezuela, and New Zealand, and finally got its vote.
Israeli officials again scrambled to try to block the resolution, suggesting the US owed them a veto, though that ultimately did not happen. Egypt voted in favor of the resolution despite blocking it yesterday, insisting that the delay was just a “procedural” matter and that Egypt supports Palestinian statehood more than anyone.
US Ambassador Samantha Power insisted that abstaining from the vote was in keeping with long-standing US policy, saying that they agreed with the language of the resolution, and that’s why they didn’t veto it. She also railed against the United Nations in general for not being sufficiently pro-Israel, saying the legitimacy of the UN is at stake in allowing such resolutions.
Israeli officials have indicated that the resolution will not effect any of their policies, and that they will continue with the expansion of settlements, irrespective of what the UN vote says.
(December 23 2016) â€“ The Obama Administration on Friday finally allowed the UN Security Council to call on Israel to halt its settlement expansion on Friday. The resolution essentially re-states US policy that settlement activity in the West Bank is illegal and counterproductive, and that Israel’s security must be protected.
The US did not support the resolution, but it did not utilize its veto power either.
In a press call Friday afternoon, White House Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes explained that the White House abstained on the resolution because it “expresses a consensus international view on Israeli settlement activity.”
“We thought that we could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding,” Rhodes explained. “A two-state solution.”
The resolution is toothless — it does not, for example, authorize any form of sanctions to compel Israel to respect international law. Yet prior to its passage, a long list of both Democrats and Republicans called on the administration to veto it, including President-elect Donald Trump, New York’s Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and Wisconsin-based House Speaker Paul Ryan:
The administration’s abstention reflects a larger reality: President Obama did more to shield Israel from international pressure at the United Nations than any of his predecessors.
This was the only Security Council resolution calling on Israel to respect international law that Obama ever refused to veto. Under George W. Bush, six similar resolutions were allowed through. Under H.W. Bush, nine resolutions critical of Israel were allowed through.
At the same time, Obama awarded Israel with its largest military aid package ever — signing a memorandum of understanding in September that would give it $38 billion over 10 years.
The pressure to veto a toothless resolution shows how constricted US policy on Israel-Palestine has become in recent years, even though the American public appears to favor tougher UN action on the issue.
A recent Brookings poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Americans favor UN resolutions demanding a halt to settlements and that a majority of self-identified Democrats support some form of sanctions towards Israel to bring about peace.
Meanwhile, Israel has elected one of its most right-wing governments in history — with a set of cabinet ministers who openly disdain the two-state solution and plan to escalate settlement building. The president-elect plans to appoint an ambassador to Israel who favors continued expansion on Palestinian land and actually helped fund settlement work as a private citizen.
The US could use its economic, military, and diplomatic ties as leverage to halt settlement expansion and demand that Israel respect the human rights of Palestinians. But in a political system where politicians from both major parties — seeking favor from megadonors who demand a stridently pro-Israel policy — react in outrage to simply asking Israel to respect international law, such a solution remains off the table.
Just ask Sheldon Adelson — the pro-Israel casino magnate who helped bankroll Trump.
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Oil Wells Set on Fire by ISIS Are Still Burning FOUR MONTHS after the Terror Group Torched Them Gareth Davies / The Daily Mail
LONDON (December 23, 2016) — Oil wells set on fire by ISIS are still burning four months after the terror group fled a jihadi-held area of Mosul.
The battle to retake the Iraqi city from the Islamic State group is leaving a legacy of environmental damage and health risks that will pose dangers to people for years to come.
ISIS set fire to oil wells before the Qayyarah area was recaptured by Iraqi forces in August, and these have burned for months, turning sheep that graze in the area black with soot.
Iraqis have already paid the initial price from burning oil wells and a sulphur factory that ISIS set alight south of Mosul, Iraq’s last jihadist-held city which is the target of a major military operation.
The fires, combined with water pollution and the potentially toxic remains of destroyed buildings, military equipment and munitions, will also present longer-term threats to people in areas around and inside Mosul.
‘We are concerned about how the pollution will affect the health of local populations and negatively impact their capacity to rebuild quality, sustainable livelihoods within those affected areas,’ said Jenny Sparks of the International Organization for Migration.
A United Nations report on environmental and health risks in the Mosul area said that ‘hundreds of people were treated for exposure to chemicals, and millions are exposed to soot and gases from the burning oil wells’.
‘The events are occurring in an already environmentally degraded region, threatened by substantial environmental legacy risk from previous conflicts, coupled with serious desertification and land degradation primarily caused by unsustainable agricultural practices,’ the report said.
A 16-year-old shepherd has spoken of the turmoil farmers face in the area. ‘We can’t sell our sheep any more. We have had some sheep die, other times people won’t buy them because they look black,’ said Jaber.
Iraqi civil defence forces have been battling the Qayyarah fires, and while they have extinguished some, others are still burning.
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Putin presented the effort as a need to adapt to changes in the world, and to ensure that Russia retains the ability to “neutralize threats” and can reliably penetrate future missile defense systems with their massive nuclear arsenal.
Trump’s comments were a lot less specific, saying that the US needs to “greatly strengthen and expand” their nuclear weapons capability, adding that he’d just keep expanding the American arsenal “until the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
The New START Treaty intends to limit the number of nuclear weapons both the US and Russia are deploying at any given time, and with both Russia and the US are currently on track to meet the goals of that treaty, it doesn’t seem to be the general trend in the future.
Estimates on the cost of the US “modernization” scheme for its nuclear arsenal are that it will be in excess of $1 trillion. These figures have steadily risen in recent years, and doesn’t factor in the “expansion” of arsenal Trump is talking about on top of the modernization.
US hawks have argued that the massive arsenal they already have been sitting on for decades is old and therefore some of the bombs might not work, though given the nature of a full-scale nuclear war and arsenals capable of wiping out the species several times over, being down to 80% or 90% of the warheads detonating doesn’t realistically change the result.
Still, both nations virtually bankrupted themselves during the Cold War building these huge caches of weapons, and the massive amount of money being thrown around on such projects is the sort of thing officials salivate about, meaning practical needs ends up beside the point.
Donald Trump Wants to ‘Greatly Strengthen and Expand’
US Nuclear Capability, A Radical Break from US Foreign Policy The Washington Post
(December 23, 2016) — US President-elect Donald Trump has called for the country to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities until the world “comes to its senses” — a signal he may support costly efforts to modernise the aging US nuclear arsenal.
It was not clear what prompted his comment.
However, earlier on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia needed to “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces.”
Asked about the tweet, a spokesman said later Trump was “referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it — particularly to and among terrorist organisations and unstable and rogue regimes.”
Trump also has “emphasised the need to improve and modernise our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength,” spokesman Jason Miller said.
During the next decade, US ballistic missile submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles — the three legs of the nuclear triad — are expected to reach the end of their useful lives. Maintaining and modernising the arsenal is expected to cost at about US$1 trillion dollars over 30 years, according to independent estimates.
Putin, who has said that Trump has confirmed to him he is willing to mend ties between the two countries, spoke on Thursday of the need to enhance the country’s nuclear arsenal.
“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems,” he said in a speech in Moscow.
Trump’s suggestion would reverse a long-standing policy under both Republican and Democratic presidents to reduce the number and the role of nuclear weapons, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. Russia and before it, the Soviet Union, hold a similar policy.
Since President George HW Bush’s administration, it has been US policy not to build new nuclear warheads. Under President Barack Obama, the policy has been not to pursue warheads with new military capabilities.
“If Donald Trump is concerned about the rising costs of the F-35, he will be shocked by the skyrocketing costs of the current plan to modernising the US nuclear arsenal,” Kimball said. “Trump and his people need to explain the basis of his cryptic tweet. What does he mean by expand, and at what cost?”
Trump, who won election on November 8 and takes office on January 20, campaigned on a platform of building up the US military, but also pledged to cut taxes and control federal spending.
Trump met on Wednesday with a dozen Pentagon officials involved with defense acquisition programs, as well as the chief executives of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, the country’s two largest defence contractors.
Trump said he talked with the CEOs about lowering costs for two high-profile programmes: Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets and Boeing’s replacement 744-8s for the presidential Air Force One plane.
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WASHINGTON (Reuters: December 22, 2016): Millions of dollars’ worth of US-supplied drones that Kiev had hoped would help in its war against Russian-backed separatists have proven ineffective against jamming and hacking, Ukrainian officials say. The 72 Raven RQ-11B Analog mini-drones were so disappointing following their arrival this summer that Natan Chazin, an advisor to Ukraine’s military with deep knowledge of the country’s drone program, said if it were up to him, he would return them.
Ukraine’s US-Made Drones a Disappointment From the Start Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(December 21, 2016) — Among a series of different military equipment the Obama Administration provided to the Ukrainian military over the last year of ceasefire in the eastern civil war, the US gave the nation some 72 Raven RQ-11B micro-drones, surveillance drones worth an estimated $9 million.
Despite the US giving them the drones, and training them how to use them (which, in all fairness, mostly involves throwing the tiny “hand-launched” drones and then viewing an analogue video feed), Ukraine has a serious case of buyer’s remorse, or at least recipient’s remorse.
Ukrainian military officials say the drones have been a disappointment from the start, complaining that the eastern rebels have shown the ability to hijack the video feeds and even jam them more or less at will. Those familiar with the device say this is unsurprising, as the drones are analogue and thus don’t use any encryption to protect data.
Ultimately, Ukrainian officials say the drones took way too long to arrive, were not very useful, and they wished they could’ve returned them to the US, though naturally they can’t.
For their part, the US sought to blame Russia for their drones being lousy, insisting Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities are “sophisticated,” and presumably they have shared enough with the rebels to foil the drones.
Washington OKs Raven Drones for Ukraine The US Administration is going to authorize the contract pertaining the delivery of the micro RQ-11B Raven UAV systems for the Ukrainians Defence24.com
(December 22, 2016) — According to the information released by the US Government, the California-based Aerovironment Inc. company concluded a contract, the aim of which is to acquire small RQ-11B Raven UAV systems for Ukraine.
The agreement, the value of which reaches USD 9.049 million, is being a part of the Foreign Military Sales programme. The contract is going to be realized on 11th May 2016.
RQ-11B Raven is being used by more than 30 armies all around the world, including the US Army. US Army has ca. 2000 drones of this type at its disposal. The Americans had announced the deliveries of the Raven UAV systems for the Ukrainians earlier, within the framework of military assistance programme, thus the procurement is probably going to be financed by the US government.
The RQ-11B Raven UAV weighs only 2 kilograms, it may be transported in a backpack container. The drone takes-off from the hand of the operator. Its flight-endurance reaches 80 minutes and the system may operate within the altitude range between 30 and 150 m, providing the visual transmission in real time for the operator.
The drone may also act as a flying laser target designator. RQ-11B is being controlled by a two-man crew.
A few weeks ago, identical systems were acquired by the Spanish forces.
WASHINGTON (December 22, 2016) — Millions of dollars’ worth of US-supplied drones that Kiev had hoped would help in its war against Russian-backed separatists have proven ineffective against jamming and hacking, Ukrainian officials say.
The 72 Raven RQ-11B Analog mini-drones were so disappointing following their arrival this summer that Natan Chazin, an advisor to Ukraine’s military with deep knowledge of the country’s drone program, said if it were up to him, he would return them.
“From the beginning, it was the wrong decision to use these drones in our (conflict),” Chazin, an advisor to the chief of the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces, told Reuters.
The hand-launched Ravens were one of the recent highlights of US security assistance to Ukraine, aiming to give Kiev’s military portable, light-weight, unarmed surveillance drones that were small enough to be used widely in the field. They are made by AeroVironment.
But they appear to have fallen short in a battle against the separatists, who benefit from far more sophisticated military technology than insurgencies the West has contended with in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.
Whether President-elect Donald Trump’s administration might seek to provide Kiev anything more robust, however, is unclear, given his stated desire to improve ties with Russia and prioritize the fight against Islamic militants. US restrictions on technology exports could also limit new aid.
The Air Force command of Ukraine’s armed forces acknowledged to Reuters that the Ravens supplied by the United States had a fundamental drawback: Russia and the separatist forces it supports can intercept and jam their video feeds and data.
“The complex is analog, therefore command channels and data are not protected from interception and suppression by modern means of electronic warfare,” it said.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities were far more sophisticated than thought when the conflict began and that both the US and Ukrainian militaries were adapting.
Asked about Ukraine’s reaction to the Ravens, one official said it took a considerable amount of time for the drones to reach Ukraine and that by then “they were much less effective than they would have liked, than we would have liked.”
AeroVironment referred questions from Reuters about the Raven contract to the US Army.
The US Army told Reuters it still uses Ravens but has upgraded to digital versions.
Some 38 Ukrainian students were trained at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama on how to operate the drones between March and July this year, a US Army spokesman said.
Ukraine said it distributed the Ravens across the services and gave one batch to the Zhytomry Military Institute for training purposes.
There were mixed accounts on how much the Ravens were being used in Ukraine, which saw Crimea annexed by Russia in 2014 and which has been fighting Russian-backed separatist forces in the east. Nearly 10,000 people have died in the conflict.
The Air Force command of Ukraine’s armed forces said they were being used in the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” zone, including in combat situations.
One Ukrainian official, however, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said that although drones were being used in the zone, they were not employed on the front lines.
Chazin said they were largely in storage and called them a vulnerability, allowing the enemy to see Ukrainian military positions and, when it wanted, easily take them down. They had short battery life and were unable to reliably fulfill the key mission of gaining intelligence on artillery positions, he said.
“(Analog) basically puts you back in the stone age of the UAVs,” said James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, using an acronym for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones.
“I’m not being critical of the Raven. I love the Raven … But it’s a cheap, disposable UAV. And for more intense conflict, that may not cut the ice anymore.”
TRUMP’S UKRAINE POLICY?
The drones, along with other US-supplied items like radar, first-aid kits, night vision and communications gear, fit into President Barack Obama’s strategy of providing non-lethal military assistance while focusing on sanctions and diplomacy to end the war.
Within that context, the miniature drones, even though small, were a noteworthy element of the more than $600 million in training and equipment that the United States has provided Ukraine so far. Ukraine pegged the Raven program’s value at over $12 million.
How Trump might alter US support remains unclear, particularly given cabinet picks that include retired Marine General James Mattis, who has been vocal about his concerns about Russia and was nominated to become US defense secretary.
Some of the most prominent Republican lawmakers in Congress have called for Ukraine to receive lethal arms.
“If anything, it creates a new opportunity,” said Luke Coffey at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think-tank.
Ukrainian officials have sought to put a brave face on Trump’s election, downplaying comments on the campaign trail that included appearing to recognize Crimea as part of Russia and contemplating an end to US sanctions on Russia.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko is expected to visit Washington next year, and US assistance is sure to be high on his agenda.
Topping Ukraine’s wish list are Javelin anti-tank missiles made by made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. The top US military officer in Europe, General Curtis Scaparrotti, told a Senate hearing this year “there’s a requirement for an anti-tank weapon, like Javelin.”
One of the US officials cautioned about limitations on America’s ability to export drones that can evade Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities.
That could leave Ukraine’s military to continue building drones from commercially available technology. It now assembles them from components supplied by firms in countries such as Australia, China and the Czech Republic for only $20,000 to $25,000 apiece, Chazin said, and they are more advanced than the more pricey Ravens, which are often funded from private donations.
(Additional reporting by Catherine Koppel in New York.)
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