Insiders: They’re Killing Us!

Brian Keith Managing Partner of Surveillance Reconnaissance Intelligence Group

The most stunning security failures of the last century have been and continue to be perpetrated by trusted insiders. According to FBI estimates, economic espionage – theft of trade secrets, intellectual property and proprietary information – costs US companies upwards of $400 billion annually. Theft on that order of magnitude dulls our nation’s economic edge and diminishes our competitive advantage. Back in July, my colleague Brian Zegers, wrote a piece titled, Anatomy of a Complex Attack, in which he explained how insiders are one of the key components of the complex attack. Insiders carry out acts of Terrorism, Espionage, Sabotage and Subversion. Therefore, prevention of complex attacks hinges on our ability to detect, define and neutralize insider threats and insider threat networks.

What’s an insider?

Insiders are people with authorized access who use their access to harm an organization. Insiders are spies, inserted or recruited by your adversaries to conduct a wide range of illicit activities. They could be anyone within your organization from executives on down to contractors, vendors or suppliers.
Managing Partner of Surveillance Reconnaissance Intelligence Group

Why should I care?

Given their access and knowledge of your company’s inner-workings, insiders are poised to inflict incalculable damage. Their actions may compromise strategies, thwart security, reveal trade secrets, diminish customer confidence, sabotage relationships and tarnish your reputation. The outcome can be devastating to you, your employees, customers, investors, partners and suppliers. Insiders efforts may also erase hard won competitive advantages or disrupt your operations resulting in missed opportunities, a loss of revenue, lower profit margins, higher insurance premiums, and increased remediation and security costs, to name a few. Predictably, the risk grows exponentially the longer insiders are in place.

Understand the threats first:

Understanding your enemy -threat- is of vital importance. As Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” He went on to state, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” That’s nothing more than a coin flip, 50/50. No person, company, or government, regardless of the size of its budget, can adequately protect itself without understanding the threats first. Alarmingly, many companies make critically important decisions regarding their strategy and, more specifically, their security with little to no understanding of the threats they face. Ask yourself these questions if you have any doubts about your own organization:

Who are the threats? (specifically)
What is their aim? (what they are trying to achieve; their goal, end state, mission)
When, Where, Why and How will they attack?
If you’re unable to answer these questions with certainty, know two things:

You’re not alone
You need to reexamine your approach to threat assessments
Understand Yourself:

At SRIG, we have spoken with dozens of companies who have claimed, “We get intelligence from (insert governmental organization here).” or “We’ve got it covered.” Neither statement was true. There were also those who believed that employing a few intelligence analysts to monitor social media, read the newspaper, subscribe to Stratfor and watch CNN would provide them with intelligence. They were mistaken. At best, what they had was information; it certainly wasn’t intelligence.

Case in point: A company with whom we had previously spoken, recently discovered that they have been the victims of industrial/economic espionage carried out by a trusted insider. Their statement to us was, “We’ve got it handled.” and “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”. Over the preceding three years this same firm has suffered multiple breaches carried out by other insiders, proving Sun Tzu’s cautionary warning, “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

How do I get to know the threats?

You need intelligence. Intelligence – information that has been collected, collaborated, corroborated and analyzed. Intelligence is required to answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How that define your adversaries. By contrast, information provides neither answers nor clarity but rather begs more questions. Information is plentiful but not terribly valuable, whereas intelligence is rare and high-value. Today, organizations are adrift on an ocean of information, awash with vast quantities of data.

Lacking critical time-sensitive intelligence, people are left to guess and gamble with their decisions or, worse, to take no action at all. Intelligence narrows the gap between possibility and certainty, makes choices clear and enables decisiveness. Analysts cannot detect and define insider threats, if all they have is open-source information. If the threats can’t be detected or defined, they can’t be stopped. Intelligence is the only way to truly know the threats, neutralize them and deter further attacks.

Why won’t conventional security work against the Insider?

Why won’t my existing security work against the Insider?

Here are a few reasons to ponder:

Neither insiders nor complex attacks adhere to convention, they are unconventional
Complex attacks are difficult to detect because they are clandestine, layered operations involving multiple operational and intelligence cycles which are a crucial part of an adversary’s targeting process. These operations are multi-pronged – simultaneously crossing physical, cyber and human domains
Their initial objective is to discover, expose and exploit organizational vulnerabilities through the use multi-disciplined collection methods like: Reconnaissance & Surveillance (R&S), Insiders, Computer Network Operations (CNO) and a variety of Technical Surveillance methods, adversaries will precisely target those gaps
Insiders blend in while gathering in-depth knowledge and developing key relationships to gain broader access
Insiders avoid detection for years or even decades because they have been instructed in the use of intelligence tradecraft to disguise their activities
Insiders with authorized access, like Edward Snowden, know what the organizational tripwires are and how to best avoid or defeat them
Unconventional threats are always on offense, evolving and adapting faster than countermeasures can be developed or deployed. Basing the development and deployment of countermeasures on historical data is backwards and ineffective
An organization always on defense can’t be proactive. They are caught in a vicious cycle of defending against threats of which they are unaware or don’t understand, reacting when their conventional defenses fail, post-event investigations and clean up duties
Occasionally companies discover an insider. However, those are generally the dumb ones and the cut-outs. Cut-outs serve as insularly buffers, allowing an adversary’s core operations to continue, unimpeded. Once discovered, arrested and fired, everyone returns to business as usual without knowing whether they’ve rid themselves of the real insider(s)

Today’s linear conventional approaches only perpetuate the “always on defense” reactive cycle. Therefore, the right approach is cyclical; one in which intelligence drives offensive and defensive operations which, in turn, drive intelligence and so on, in ad infinitum. In Part III, I’ll discuss how to break that cycle and:

What can I do about it?

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Linked to “Islamic Extremism” says the headline in the New York Times.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Martin Rouleau-Couture, Alton Nolen, Mohammad Ali Baryalei, Mehdi Nemmouche, Michael Adebolajo, Mohammed Merah, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad — all Muslims in the West, all involved in deadly attacks, all linked to Islamic extremism. The link is surely clear-cut, right?

And now comes the latest on the list:

New York Daily News reports: A man armed with a hatchet who attacked a group of rookie cops on a Queens street, critically injuring one, was shot dead by the officers on Thursday afternoon, and a female bystander was hit by an errant round.

Police are investigating the possibility that the attacker killed on a rainswept shopping corridor, identified by police sources as Zale Thompson, 32, had links to terrorism. A Zale Thompson on Facebook is pictured wearing a keffiyeh and had a recent terrorism-related conversation with one of his Facebook friends, according to a police source.

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 11.10.10 PMRadio Free America and the New York Daily News, please take note: The man in the photo is not Zale Thompson and he’s not wearing a keffiyeh.

The photo is of a Tuareg Berber warrior and was taken somewhere in the Sahara in the nineteenth century. His head garment is called a tagelmust which provides essential protection for those living in a region subject to frequent sand storms. The Arabic text is the Sūrat al-Fātiḥah, the first chapter of the Quran.

CNN reports: Authorities are looking to see if the unprovoked attack, in the New York borough of Queens, is tied to recent calls by radicals to attack military and police officers, law enforcement officials say.

Asked about a possible connection to terrorism, Bratton said, “There is nothing we know as of this time that would indicate that were the case. I think certainly the heightened concern is relative to that type of assault based on what just happened in Canada.”

On Wednesday, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed as he stood guard at Canada’s National War Memorial before shots erupted in the halls of the country’s Parliament minutes later.

The Ottawa gunman had “connections” to jihadists in Canada who shared a radical Islamist ideology, including at least one who went overseas to fight in Syria, multiple U.S. sources told CNN on Thursday.

Connections, ties, links — human beings have an insatiable need to try and understand how things fit together; how to discern coherence when confronted by chaos. This drive is at the core of the creative impulse. Without it there would be no science or art.

At the same time, discovery is more popular than exploration. Most people would rather have answers than be left with questions.

When with disturbing frequency on the relatively peaceful streets of Western cities, men identified as Muslims who appear to be acting alone, attack soldiers and police officers, it’s hard to avoid seeing these acts of brutality all being connected. But there are multiple problems in jumping to this conclusion.

Firstly, in attempting to identify a trend there is always the risk that the imputed trend is actually a function of the act of labeling. The trend might be more of a construction than a discovery.

How many isolated incidents need to occur before they are seen as connected? That determination is subjective, often arbitrary and can easily be affected by whatever happen to be the competing news stories of the day.

Consider for instance something that threatens the lives of all Americans — a threat far greater than that posed by terrorism.

Physicians for Social Responsibility note: “About 6% of cancer deaths per year — 34,000 deaths annually — are directly linked to occupational and environmental exposures to known, specific carcinogens.”

Yet when legal efforts are made to hold the manufacturers of those carcinogens responsible for any of those deaths, the legal process most often leans in favor of commercial interests. Epidemiologists have to painstakingly document all the evidence that clusters of cancer cases can indeed be linked to an industrial polluter before courts are persuaded that the connection is irrefutable and criminal responsibility has been proved.

Some connections are scientifically established years before they become legally accepted.

It’s one thing for an individual to be tied to Islamic extremism because they are in direct communication with members of organizations such as ISIS or al Qaeda, but what if they are merely inspired by such groups?

If the ties have been formed and sustained purely through social media, mainstream media, and the popular obsessions of a particular era, then for the individuals listed above, their links to Twitter and Fox News, for instance, played just as instrumental role in their radicalization as the ideology to which their actions are being ascribed.

Moreover, in spite of the fact that the media is attached to one narrative — a narrative that sells well because it exploits popular xenophobic fears — another link that might be even more important than ideology is the psychology of conversion.

Most of these men converted to Islam and religious conversions of any kind are fraught with psychological risks.

The convert invariably has a much deeper personal investment in the object of their faith than someone for whom their religion was simply a dimension of their upbringing. The convert is always more self-conscious about their religious identity.

This might make the convert more devout, but often it also unleashes a vindictive self-righteousness. A fractured ego can be empowered by an acquired religious authority that purges self-doubt and provides a zealous sense of purpose. Those who once felt downtrodden and demeaned may decide that they are going to teach the world to show them respect after having concluded that with their new-found faith they have God on their side.

This says much more about the psycho-dynamics of conversion than it says anything about the nature of Islam.

That Zale Thompson, having been kicked out of the U.S. Navy, chose the image of an African warrior as his avatar on Facebook, probably says more about his experiences as an African-American and a desire to identify with men who once conquered Spain rather than those who were once enslaved, than it says about the extent of ISIS’s influence.

Even though 9/11 taught about the importance of “connecting the dots,” it’s equally important not to connect too many dots or the wrong dots.

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Africa’s Nightmare Ebola Breaks Out

By Charles Faddis, Senior Intelligence Editor, Former CIA operative, Host of USCS


Movement of settlers was back toward the east, away from the Comanche Indians who had proven a fearsome adversary for the Texans and defied repeated efforts to vanquish them in battle. Then the Texans acquired an unusual ally, cholera, which spread west across the United States and into the territory controlled by the Comanche.

Cholera was a deadly menace to white settlers. To Native Americans, completely devoid of resistance to diseases from the Old World, it was an infinitely greater threat. Something like one-half of all Comanche died from cholera, and the tribe never recovered its former power. Within a generation the survivors were defeated and confined to reservations.

That Cholera epidemic, which swept across vast expanses of Texas, leaping from one Comanche camp to another, started in India, half a world a way and spread, in an age of steamships and sailing vessels, across the planet.

Imagine what the age of jet travel and mass migration means for the ability of a disease to replicate that feat today.

The deadliest Ebola outbreak in history is burning its way through the cities of West Africa right now. Ebola has long been feared for the horrific way in which it kills its victims, who ultimately bleed out through every orifice in excruciating pain, and for its lethality. Historically, something like 90% of all people who contract Ebola die.

Ebola has, however, prior to this been confined to relatively small outbreaks in remote, rural areas of Africa. While it has killed most of the people infected with it, it has not spread. It has, in essence, burned itself out, consumed its victims and lain dormant.

All that has changed. Ebola has now spread to at least three countries in West Africa, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. And within those countries it is not found primarily in the villages or countryside. It is most prevalent in the hearts of the largest cities. At least 759 individuals have been infected to date. Four hundred and sixty-seven of them are already dead, and there is no indication that the spread of the disease is slowing down.

Dr. Peter Piot, the scientist who discovered Ebola in the 1970’s calls the situation ‘unprecedented.’

The humanitarian group, Doctors Without Borders, has stated outright that the epidemic is out of control and that immediate and drastic action is necessary to contain it. An emergency meeting of health ministers in the region was recently convened in an attempt to get a handle on the crisis.

Why this outbreak is so much worse than those in the past, is unclear, but there seem to be a number of very worrying factors, which may be contributing to the problem.

Health care in the countries infected is poor, and basic sanitary practices are often neglected. This applies not just to the general population but to medical personnel as well.

The families of the victims of the disease, in accordance, with local religious and cultural practice, generally wash the bodies of the deceased before burial. In the process the family members themselves are often exposed to highly infectious bodily fluids and contract the disease.

Suspicion of modern medical practices and fear of the unknown often lead people in West Africa to avoid going to the hospital when they get sick. In a large number of cases, individuals who have gone to the hospital and been diagnosed with Ebola, have then left the hospital and fled back into the surrounding population, believing they will be safer. Efforts to locate them and return them to the hospital have generally been fruitless.

The population in parts of the infected area, particularly in Guinea, rather than cooperating with health workers, is actively opposing efforts to control the spread of the disease. Doctors Without Borders has, for instance, pulled all of its personnel out of at least twenty localities, because they were being threatened with physical violence by local residents. The residents blamed the medical personnel for having caused the disease. Doctors Without Borders is in many cases the only entity actually providing medical care to Ebola victims, so when their people pull out, there is no one left on the ground to treat the sick or help stop the spread of the contagion.

All of that is horrible enough, but the situation may be about to become much worse.

Ebola is generally characterized as being relatively difficult to contract, and the spread of the disease has been said to require close, often intimate contact with an infected individual. That may provide a false illusion of security however.

First, there has been research done, which has suggested that Ebola can go airborne, that is that it can spread without any physical contact at all. Canadian researchers a couple of years ago published a study in which they showed that Ebola had moved from pigs to monkeys, even though the two groups of lab animals were in separate cages and never came in contact. While the consensus seems to be that Ebola cannot move in this fashion amongst humans, the results of that study have never been fully explained nor refuted.

In any event, no one has ever denied that close contact, such as that common in passenger aircraft, significantly increases the risk of contracting Ebola from an infected individual. In fact, the Center for Disease Control’s official guidance to flight crews on how to handle passengers suspected of carrying Ebola directs that the infected individual should be physically separated from other passengers and be fitted with a surgical mask to ‘reduce the number of droplets expelled into the air by talking, sneezing or coughing’. The guidance also directs flight crew members to wear disposable gloves when touching the infected individual.

Conakry is the capital of Guinea, and Guinea is the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. Direct international flights leave Conakry for a host of destinations everyday. Many of them fly direct to cities, like Dubai, Paris and Casablanca thousands of miles away. Add in connecting flights, and you can make it from Conakry to virtually anywhere on the planet in about twenty-four hours. On Air Morocco you can leave Conakry and be in JFK in New York in just over twelve hours.

That’s a stark illustration of a concept researchers have come to call ‘effective distance’. When thinking about the spread of disease, any disease, in the age of high-speed air travel, geographic distance is not the prime consideration. If individuals can move easily and quickly between two points, even if they are many thousands of miles apart, disease will rapidly cover the distance. A virus, for instance, will move much more easily from London to New York by air than it will move even a relatively short distance from New York City to a rural area of upstate New York.

Computer models of the spread of a pandemic in this way show not a slow spread of a disease outward from the point of origin across the planet. Instead they show the contagion leaping from point to point on the planet at ever increasing speed. A disease that begins in a major Asian city, for instance, has spread to every major city on the planet before it has spread into the interior of the country where it originated.

All of which means that what is terrifying Conakry right now may be coming to an airport near you all too soon. What is Africa’s nightmare today may be ours tomorrow.

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Hello? Was ISIS Not Clear? “You will not feel secure in your bedrooms” –ISIS

Naked Security\By Aaron Stipkovich

How was this not clear last September (2014)?

Without giving any credence to their reasoning or rationale, at the very least, messages like those spoken in credible “ISIS” videos are simple, clear, and precise as to their intent. Frankly, it’s foolish on their part… almost as foolish as those who disregard the messages and their potency.

It goes without saying that not enough is being done to protect innocent lives abroad. Additionally, the intelligence community, is risking (and losing) lives to bring credible data to those who allocate protective resources. Despite these voluble videos and verbose intelligence reports, somehow not enough is being done to protect innocent lives domestically.

Was ISIS not clear enough?

As reported by the National Post; The spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham called for attacks on Canadians back in September in an apparent attempt to deter members of the military alliance that has formed to challenge the terrorist group.

In a 42-minute audio speech, Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani urged ISIS supporters to kill Canadians, Americans, Australians, French and other Europeans, regardless of whether they were civilians or members of the military.

“Rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling,” he said.

“Both of them are disbelievers. Both of them are considered to be waging war. Both of their blood and wealth is legal for you to destroy, for blood does not become illegal or legal to spill by the clothes being worn.”

Canada is part of a U.S.-led alliance that has begun mobilizing to defeat ISIS, which has been committing widespread atrocities against Syrians and Iraqis in an attempt to impose its barbaric version of Islamic law in the region.

Reacting to the ISIS speech Monday, the Prime Minister’s Office said it would not be “cowed by threats while innocent children, women, men and religious minorities live in fear of these terrorists.

“We will continue to work with allies to push back against this threat,” Stephen Harper’s spokesman Jason MacDonald said in an emailed statement.

About 30 Canadians are taking part in the conflict in Syria, some as members of ISIS. The National Post revealed on Saturday that the government had begun revoking the passports of Canadians who had left to fight with ISIS.

Since President Barack Obama outlined a strategy last week to degrade and defeat ISIS, the terror group has ramped up its propaganda campaign, releasing several videos that appear designed to portray Western military intervention as futile.

Isis making Syrians dig their grave

Isis making Syrians dig their grave

ISIS has released a video showing a masked gunman standing before captured Syrian troops digging their own graves. After speaking in what sounded like North American – possibly Canadian – English, he appeared to help execute the kneeling prisoners with a handgun. | Photo: National Post

The latest message goes a step further, warning of attacks inside Western nations. “You will not feel secure even in your bedrooms. You will pay the price when this crusade of yours collapses, and thereafter we will strike you in your homeland, and you will never be able to harm anyone afterwards,” Adnani said.

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Airport Security Using Bomb-sniffing Plants


Imagine if airport security was literally a walk in the park surrounded by the pleasantries of lush green plants. That’s a stark contrast to the coldness of airport scanners, hard flooring on bare or socked feet and the hassle of removing items from bags to be placed onto a conveyor belt. Sound a little crazy? Well, it may not be as far-fetched as you might think.

June Medford, a synthetic biologist who dabbles in redesigning natural biological systems to find new, useful purposes, is currently working on harnessing the sensing abilities of plants, genetically engineering them into lean, green bomb and drug detecting machines. These engineered plants can be Internet-connected to webcams, enabling them to signal an alarm by changing colors ever so slightly that the human eye is unable to detect it.

Medford noted that the way we screen people at airports through a detector system is slow. She believes it would make more sense for airport passengers to walk through a garden-like setting with a webcam looking down on the plants, seeing if they detect anything. Although individuals can’t be identified, the plants would be able to detect something amiss, prompting further investigation.

Medford has worked on projects for The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency responsible for developing new technologies to be used by the military. In 2003, she reprogrammed plants to serve as security sentinels.

As founder of Phytodetectors, Inc., Medford, along with her partner, engineered Arabidopsis, a plant that changes color when it detects TNT or certain pollutants.

Medford said that plants are harder and slower to work with than bacteria, but she intends to keep on researching, “feeling her way through the dark.”

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How The World’s Newspapers Covered The Ottawa Shooting


Looking at the world’s coverage of the Ottawa shooting, one thing becomes clear: This was an event that hit home for people around the world.

From Belgium to Pakistan, newspapers mulled the meaning of the attack that left reservist Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and purported gunman Michael Zehaf Bibeau dead.

de morgen belgium

“Terror strikes Canada in the heart,” declared the breathless headline on the front page of Belgian newspaper De Morgen. Many commentators asked which country would be next.

Media attention was strongest in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, and less prominent in east Asia, Latin America and Africa. Though U.S. “papers of record,” like the New York Times and Washington Post, played it prominently, the attack didn’t make it to the front page of many local papers.


new york times ottawa shooting

Kuwait’s newspapers paid particular attention to the attack, perhaps not surprising given that Canadian jet fighters departed for a Kuwaiti air base just a day before the shooting, part of the mission against ISIS.

Many of Europe’s tabloids went all-out on coverage of the shooting, no doubt a reflection of the often xenophobia-tinged debate on Islamist terrorism that has gripped Europe in recent years.

Check out some of the world’s largest papers, and how they covered the Ottawa shooting:

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WAR ON TERRORISM: Beyond ISIS: U.S. sees more imminent threat




SUSPICIOUS PACKAGES: President Barack Obama in 2010 discusses suspicious packages found on U.S.-bound planes.

While the Islamic State group is getting the most attention now, another band of extremists in Syria — a mix of hardened jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe — poses a more direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target U.S. aviation, American officials say.

At the center is a cell known as the Khorasan group, a cadre of veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, the Nusra Front.

But the Khorasan militants did not go to Syria principally to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials say. Instead, they were sent by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit Europeans and Americans whose passports allow them to board a U.S.-bound airliner with less scrutiny from security officials.

In addition, according to classified U.S. intelligence assessments, the Khorasan militants have been working with bomb-makers from al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate to test new ways to slip explosives past airport security. The fear is that the Khorasan militants will provide these sophisticated explosives to their Western recruits who could sneak them onto U.S.-bound flights.

The Obama administration has said that the Islamic State group, the target of more than 150 U.S. airstrikes in recent weeks, does not pose an imminent threat to the continental U.S. The Khorasan group, which has not been subject to American military action, is considered the more immediate threat.

Because of intelligence about the collaboration among the Khorasan group, al-Qaida’s Yemeni bomb-makers and Western extremists, U.S. officials say, the Transportation Security Administration in July decided to ban uncharged mobile phones and laptops from flights to the U.S. that originated in Europe and the Middle East.

The Khorasan group’s plotting with al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate shows that, despite the damage that years of drone missile strikes has done to the leadership of core al-Qaida in Pakistan, the movement still can threaten the West. It has been rejuvenated in the past year as al-Qaida offshoots have grown in strength and numbers, bolstered by a flood of Western extremists to a new terrorist safe haven created by Syria’s civil war.

That Yemen affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been able to place three bombs on U.S.-bound airliners, though none has succeeded in downing the aircraft.

“The group’s repeated efforts to conceal explosive devices to destroy aircraft demonstrate its continued pursuit of high-profile attacks against the West, its increasing awareness of Western security procedures and its efforts to adapt to those procedures that we adopt,” Nicholas Rasmussen, deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, recently told a Senate panel.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, first disclosed during a Senate hearing in January that a group of core al-Qaida militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan was plotting attacks against the West in Syria.

But the group’s name, Khorasan, or its links to al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate, which is considered the most dangerous terrorist threat to the U.S., have not previously been disclosed.

Khorasan refers to a province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old that included parts of Afghanistan.

Many U.S. officials interviewed for this story would not be quoted by name talking about what they said was highly classified intelligence. Some lawmakers who have been briefed on the Khorasan group threat were willing to discuss it in general terms. One member of Congress who declined to be identified in order to discuss intelligence matters had used the group’s name to a reporter.

The CIA refused to confirm the group’s name or any details in this story.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, declined to name the group. But he described concerns among intelligence officials about “an unholy mix of people in Iraq and Syria right now — some who come from AQAP, some who come from Afghanistan and Pakistan, others from the Maghreb” in North Africa.

“They can combine in ways that could pose a greater threat than their individual pieces. And that’s something we worry about,” said Schiff, D-Calif.

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Which terrorist group poses biggest threat to US?


Texas among main terrorism targets

As the United States carries out military strikes in the Middle East, Local 2 Investigates is asking who poses the greatest threat to our country and, more specifically, to Texas. To do so, Local 2 spoke with a retired Central Intelligence Agency officer, a retired special agent with U.S. State Department and a retired member of Israel’s internal security force, Shin Bet.

“All these organizations are structured almost like a military organization,” said counter terrorism expert Hanan Yadin. “They have the training, the manpower, they have the equipment.”

Yadin is a retired member of Shin Bet, who was responsible for safeguarding Israel’s schools from terrorist attack. Yadion is president of Houston based ISI LLC, a company that specializes in security and counter terrorism tactics for businesses and law enforcement.

“They have their own police, educational system, hospitals, they even start to have something like a passport,” said Yadin. “They want to eliminate Muslims that are getting close to the Western world.”

Fred Burton was instrumental in the successful investigations of the first World Trade Center attack and the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. He’s now vice president of Intelligence for Austin-based Stratfor, a global intelligence and advisory firm.

Burton said Khorasan is also formidable. It is an Al-Qaeda splinter group made up of expert bomb-makers, commanders and those who are battle tested.

“Commercial aviation remains their brass ring. If they can blow up a commercial passenger liner inbound to the U.S., that’s what they’re ultimately after,” said Burton.

Burton said the targets remain the same — New York City, Washington, D.C. and Texas, which is home to two former presidents and a thriving oil and gas industry.

“The symbolism of Texas resonates around the world,” said Burton.

Retired CIA officer and Houston attorney David Adler said when it comes to U.S. interests abroad there are threats from Boko Haram and al-Shabaab in Africa. Boko Haram was behind the recent kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls.

“How sophisticated are they?” asked Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.

“I don’t think they’re particularly sophisticated but unfortunately you don’t have to be very sophisticated to pull off a successful attack,” said Adler. “We have an awful lot of infrastructure here that is vulnerable; shopping mall on a busy Saturday.”

Local 2 also asked all three men about the possibility of a large scale attack on U.S. soil by any of these groups.

“I seriously doubt they have the expertise or the operational ability to come here and carry out a strategic strike on U.S. soil,” said Burton. “I think they have the capability to come here and kill, but not in large numbers.”

“I think it’s important to keep in my mind it takes only five or 10 people to pull off a fairly serious attack,” said Adler.

All three men agree the single biggest threat to the U.S. doesn’t necessarily come from a single group, but rather an individual — the so-called ‘lone wolf’ the sympathizer from afar who feels the pull to jihad.

Examples cited are Nadal Malik Hassan, who used a gun at Fort Hood, or the Tsarnaev brothers, who used a crock pot to bomb the Boston Marathon.

“Those are the kind of individuals that worry the Federal Bureau of Investigations and DHS to death because if they’re not in the system and they haven’t reached out in a jihadi chat room, if they haven’t traveled to the battlefield and they haven’t been in contact with others currently under surveillance, those are the kinds of persons that are very, very dangerous,” said Burton.

All three men also said when it comes to the current threat from ISIS airstrikes won’t be enough. All three said to truly eliminate that threat the U.S. will eventually have to put troops on the ground.

“Every commander will tell you that eventually we will have to put troops on the ground,” said Yadin. “Eventually it’s a face-to-face war with an enemy that you have to eliminate by numbers.”

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Bringing Back the Palestinian Refugee Question

Prepared by: Crisis Group

Executive Summary
The Palestinian refugee question, like the refugees themselves, has been politically marginalised and demoted on the diplomatic agenda. Yet, whenever the diplomatic process comes out of its current hiatus, the Palestinian leadership will be able to negotiate and sell a deal only if it wins the support or at least acquiescence of refugees – because if it does not, it will not bring along the rest of the Palestinian population. Refugees currently feel alienated from the Palestinian Authority (PA), which they regard with suspicion; doubt the intentions of Palestinian negotiators, whom they do not believe represent their interests; and, as one of the more impoverished Palestinian groups, resent the class structure that the PA and its economic policies have produced. As a result of their isolation, refugees in the West Bank and Gaza are making demands for services and representation that are reinforcing emerging divisions within Palestinian society and politics. There arguably are ways to address refugee needs, both diplomatic and practical, that are not mutually exclusive with core Israeli interests. This report examines what could be done on the Palestinian side to mitigate the risk that the Palestinian refugee question derails a future negotiation.
The Palestinian refugee question, since its emergence in the late 1940s, has first and foremost been a national question. Because the establishment of Israel – in what Palestinians call the Nakba(catastrophe) – transformed the vast majority of Palestinians into refugees, the contemporary Palestinian national movement is largely a product of their desire to reverse their dispossession. The issue retained its salience after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) formally endorsed two states in 1988 as well as after the Oslo agreements starting in 1993, because its fair resolution was considered crucial to legitimate any two-state settlement. Today, the reduced international visibility of refugee affairs notwithstanding, the issue retains its place in Palestinian national consciousness. For Palestinian leaders to do anything that smacks of abandoning refugees, and especially of renouncing their claims, is to cross a redline that touches at the core of national identity.
Though Palestinians disagree on whether the refugee question can be resolved within a two-state framework, the failure of negotiations has rendered this debate largely theoretical. For a time after the beginning of the Oslo process, it seemed to Palestinian elites that a basic trade was in the making: in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including from settlements and Arab East Jerusalem, Palestinians would sacrifice unrestricted return to their former homes – the traditional Palestinian conception of the right to return; instead, it seemed, they would accept a compromise, “just solution” based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194, permitting the return to Israel of only a small portion of the overall refugee population.
Twenty years later, this formula has unravelled, and with it, in the eyes of many Palestinians, the premise of the two-state framework. In the 1990s, the refugee question was a lightning rod in Israel largely because it was thought to threaten the Jewish majority; today, Israel’s final status positions have hardened, its objections to refugee return as much principled as statistical. When coupled with the Israeli demand for recognition as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Palestinians believe that, instead of being offered a just solution, they are being asked to renounce what they see as an inalienable right in exchange for less than their irreducible minimum on other final status issues. When compared to the deal the PLO originally foresaw in 1993, they are being asked to concede more on refugees in exchange for less on everything else.
Many factors lie behind this shift. The second intifada, inter alia, shifted mainstream Israeli political thinking toward the right, which puts greater emphasis on the Jewish narrative. On the Palestinian side, the national movement’s centre of gravity moved, after Oslo, from the diaspora to the Occupied Territories, and more recently has been circumscribed to the West Bank. While refugees continued to be well represented in the power structure – indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself is one – refugee affairs are less prominent. With the Palestinian people increasingly fragmented, both politically and geographically, each of its constituent groupings has become relatively isolated and ever more consumed by its own problems.
For the Palestinian leadership, the main priority must be to reclaim representation of the majority of refugees, for without their acquiescence it will be exceedingly difficult to implement any comprehensive agreement with Israel; this therefore should be a concern of all who seek one. The growing chasm between the political elites and the refugees also portends greater instability, particularly should refugees or their advocates, despairing of the diplomatic process, seize the political initiative. But stability in and of itself is no answer: the marginalisation of refugees within their host societies has left them with little choice other than to fantasise about returning to their former homes in Israel.
This will be a significant challenge, especially since an ever-dwindling number of Palestinians – refugees or not – support the leadership’s political agenda. Nevertheless, much can and should be done:
Calcified refugee camp leadership committees ought to be renewed, whether by election or selection. While their predicament is largely a reflection of the dysfunction of the overall political system, the relative isolation of the camps could facilitate a more representative local leadership. Particularly given the limited resources of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the PLO/PA, credible local leadership is needed. While some, particularly in Israel and among entrenched Palestinian elites, might see empowered local leadership as a threat, the risks of instability absent such structures are far greater.
Donors should continue to fund UNRWA. Its support cannot solve the refugee predicament, but the precipitous decline of services could exacerbate it and provoke regional instability.
The Palestinian political elites could undertake measures to improve daily life for refugees and ensure that ongoing economic reforms in the Occupied Territories benefit rather than further marginalise them. Development done properly, in consultation and coordination with camp leaders, can overcome suspicions among refugees that its purpose is, as often charged, the “liquidation of the refugee question”.
Palestinian elites, in the camps and beyond, and particularly in the West Bank, should combat the notion that refugee political claims can be maintained only through the relative isolation of camps from the broader social fabric. Refugees increasingly have come to realise that socio-economic deprivation is not the only way to maintain identity; reinvigorating the political structures to nurture it and further their aspirations would be more effective and humane.
The current suspension of negotiations should be used as an opportunity to reconstruct the Palestinian national movement on a genuinely inclusive and representative basis. Crucial for reaching a two-state agreement, it is particularly important for the refugee question: individual refugees, in any foreseeable reality, will not all be afforded the unrestricted possibility to return to their original homes and villages. But they can be afforded a voice in their movement’s positions on the refugee question. With significant contradictions between the traditional Palestinian approach to the refugee question and the two-state paradigm, this is perhaps the only mechanism for identifying a compromise approach. Given the gap between private PLO negotiating positions and popular opinion, concessions on the refugee question, without bringing the public along, could prove fatal to the leadership’s weakened credibility.
These palliative and preparatory steps focus on the Palestinian side, not Israel, despite the fundamental role that it would play in any resolution of the refugee question. Like the report as a whole, they address what the Palestinian leadership and international community can do now, not only to improve the lives of refugees but also to prepare for eventual final status negotiations. Many of these measures cannot be undertaken without Israeli acquiescence, so Israelis seeking to advance a resolution of the refugee question – some options for which are touched upon in the report, but which of course will require refinement once talks begin – should seriously consider the steps proposed herein.
This report is one in a series by Crisis Group arguing that the peace process requires a fundamental re-conceptualisation, one that would begin with each of the two sides, as well as the mediator, re-evaluating and altering its own approach before resuming talks. Necessary steps include involving and addressing the needs of neglected constituencies; building a more effective Palestinian strategy, in which refugee agendas would play a clear role; and promoting a more diverse and capable mediation architecture. It behoves the three main sets of stakeholders – the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli government and the international community – to understand that their current approach, especially to the refugee question, is a recipe not only for failure and strife, but for undermining the two-state solution.

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This Is The ISIS Mastermind Responsible For The Group’s Advance Through Western Iraq


Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University.

He recently published an article entitled “The Islamic State’s Anbar Offensive And Abu Umar Al-Shisahni” in War on the Rocks that documented the Islamic State’s (ISIS) ongoing Anbar offensive and the role of one of its lead commanders.

I interviewed Gartenstein-Ross in order to shed more light on this insurgent leader and the Islamic State’s strategy and tactics in Iraq and Syria. He can be followed on Twitter at DaveedGR.

You just wrote this great piece about the Islamic State’s (ISIS) Anbar offensive and focused on one its commanders, Abu Omar al-Shishani. Can you explain a little bit about his background?

Omar al-Shishani is of Chechen origin. He was actually born in Georgia, in the Pankisi Valley. He served in the Georgian army, and took part in the 2008 conflict with Russia. He was in an intelligence unit serving near the frontline, where he spied on Russian tank columns and relayed their coordinates to Georgian artillery units. Shishani had to leave the military after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.


He got into some legal trouble, as he was imprisoned for fifteen months for illegally harboring weapons, seemingly in support of militant groups in Chechnya. Then, as soon as Shishani was released, he left Georgia, only to resurface in 2013 in Syria where he was leading a militant group called the Army of Emigrants and Partisans.

One of the interesting things you talked about in your article was that IS ISis launching this big offensive in Anbar, and they’re trying to take Kobane in Syria, while not seemingly focusing upon Baghdad right now. It seems like they have all these conflicting priorities that sometimes serve their purposes and sometimes don’t. Could you explain that a little bit?

I think Baghdad is important to them. Islamic State leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi would love to roll in and take Baghdad, but it’s a question of capabilities. Baghdad is a very difficult target to take. As to their tactics, they differ from one area to another, primarily based upon who their commanders are.

But Shishani is somewhat unique among ISIS’s commanders. Shishani is fighting like an insurgent. He’s using a complex style in Anbar, relying on a very small force, compared to the units trying to take Kobane. Shishani’s forces emphasize speed and agility.

They’ll hit multiple targets on the same day, and engage in harassing attacks to try to draw out the enemy, the Iraqi Security Forces or the Sahwa. Then he loves trapping the people he’s able to draw out that are in pursuit of him.

In contrast, in Kobane ISIS is fighting a very conventional war, nothing even resembling insurgent tactics. They have committed more and more men in an effort to take the city. It’s been incredibly costly to the Islamic State. In general, I think ISIS has made a lot of mistakes, but if you look at Shishani, he’s made very few errors. I think he’s a pretty remarkable commander.

Why do you think the Islamic State is spending so much time and effort on Kobane when it doesn’t seem to be a strategic city? It has a large Kurdish population. It’s right on the Turkish border. It’s putting a lot of pressure on Ankara, which has turned a blind eye to ISIS because it’s more concerned about the Assad government. It seems like Kobane is doing more harm than good to ISIS. Why do you think they’re going after this city?

ISIS Commander Omar Al Shishani Chechen
Omar al-Shishani appears in this image made from an undated video posted on an ISIS social media account in late June.

I think it’s a mistake for ISIS to do so, but they have gained some concrete things from their advance on Kobane. For one thing, the advance on Kobane has been a PR victory for them — although that’s changing: as time passes and ISIS remains unable to capture Kobane, its assault is being transformed from a symbol of strength to one of weakness. A lot of ISIS’s business model is based on constantly winning.

They’re dependent upon both drawing in fighters from overseas and also preventing defections from their ranks. A good portion of their current manpower came from people who defected to them in Syria because of ISIS’s apparent strength.

But if ISIS starts losing on the battlefield, the group could end up losing a lot of manpower — something I think will ultimately happen. On the other hand, in terms of a geographic location, Kobane is pretty out of the way. ISIS has taken a lot of damage in their attempt to capture it.

As they’ve gone in to try to take Kobane, Turkey has put its military on the border, which makes it extraordinary difficult for ISIS to build off of any victory it might achieve. So I think that Kobane doesn’t gain them much, even if they do capture it. It’s not a strategic advance.

In contrast, they have gained quite a bit from Shishani’s advance in Anbar.

Do you have any predictions about how ISIS is going to progress in the next couple months. What kinds of targets they might go after, etc.?

It’s hard to say. Clearly they’ve been making some moves toward Baghdad. Before that happens, they’re going to try to take Ramadi. The key question is whether they’re going to be put under serious military pressure.

If coalition forces undertake an offensive against Mosul, for example, that could put IS on their back foot: It could cause them to play defense rather than claim new territory.

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