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Hybrid Wars

By Kevin Coleman – Defense Tech Cyber Warfare Correspondent

In October of 2010 cyber attacks were assessed to be one of the most serious threats to Britain’s national security by the British government. In stark contrast, the vast majority of private British firms are confident they are protected. There have been harsh comments about the British firms’ position on this rapidly changing threat. Most cyber intelligence insiders and information security professionals believe traditional security measures are rapidly becoming inadequate to address the advanced cyber threats we are seeing in attacks today.

Multiple intelligence organizations have warned that cyber threats are evolving faster than our cyber defenses. In addition, cyber security experts say that cyber security awareness of the real commercial threat to private industry appears to remain low. So, why the big disconnect? You don’t have to look far for the answer. Private sector businesses are often outside those who are read into to cyber threat intelligence generated by government agencies.

Britain and the U.S. share the same problem – balancing sensitive communications! Both countries have active cyber intelligence collection activities underway. The problem is when a threat is identified, the information is often classified and restricted from open dissemination; and for good reason. The sources and methods used to obtain this threat intelligence often times can be discovered through advanced intelligence analysis techniques supported by a plethora of tools that have recently emerged to support these activities.

For years, just about everyone I know has been worrying about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear material; the major concern being keeping it out of militant hands. Nevertheless, we’ve been publicly assured time and again by the U.S. government that Pakistan will be able to keep its nuclear material safe.

Now we see that, in 2009, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan was very concerned that Islamabad could lose control over some of the dangerous material.

From The New York Times’ latest article on WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables:

The ambassador’s concern was a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, sitting for years near an aging research nuclear reactor in Pakistan. There was enough to build several “dirty bombs” or, in skilled hands, possibly enough for an actual nuclear bomb.

In the cable, dated May 27, 2009, the ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, reported that the Pakistani government was yet again dragging its feet on an agreement reached two years earlier to have the United States remove the material.

She wrote to senior American officials that the Pakistani government had concluded that “the ‘sensational’ international and local media coverage of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons made it impossible to proceed at this time.” A senior Pakistani official, she said, warned that if word leaked out that Americans were helping remove the fuel, the local press would certainly “portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”

Worst of all:

The fuel is still there.

It may be the most unnerving evidence of the complex relationship — sometimes cooperative, often confrontational, always wary — between America and Pakistan nearly 10 years into the American-led war in Afghanistan.

It goes on to say that the Obama administration is seriously concerned about a Pakistani government insider slowly siphoning off enough fuel to one day make a weapon.

In fact, Ms. Patterson, in a Feb. 4, 2009, cable, wrote that “our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GOP [government of Pakistan] facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.”

Mr. Obama’s review concluded by determining that there were two “vital” American interests in the region. One was defeating Al Qaeda. The second, not previously reported, was making sure terrorists could never gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear program. That goal was classified, to keep from angering Islamabad.

And wait a second, we gave this stuff to Pakistan???

The highly enriched uranium that Ms. Patterson wanted removed from the research reactor came from the United States in the mid-1960s. In those days, under the Atoms for Peace program, little thought was given to proliferation, and Pakistan seemed too poor and backward to join the nuclear race.

I’m not sure any more needs to be said about how scary this is. It confirms many peoples’ doubts about Pakistan’s desire or ability to do the utmost to prevent the most powerful weapons in the world from falling into the wrong hands.

– John Reed

Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah claimed Israel was behind the 2005 bombing that killed Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Al Hariri. Part of the evidence for that claim, produced by Nasrallah for reporters, were still photos and video feed taken in 1997 from Israeli aerial drones hovering above Hariri’s home. While that might not be sufficient evidence to implicate Israel, it does show that Hezbollah was able to intercept Israeli drone feeds as far back as 1996.

Nasrallah said intercepts from Israeli UAV’s helped Hezbollah fighters ambush and kill 16 12 Israeli commandos on a mission in southern Lebanon in 1997. He said following that ambush, all Israeli drone feeds were encrypted; so it’s unknown whether Hezbollah is still able to hack the transmissions.

Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Iraqi insurgent groups had intercepted U.S. drone transmissions using commercially available software via an unsecured communications link. Interestingly, the U.S. military discovered the vulnerability when they captured a Shiite militant whose laptop contained hours of intercepted video. Military and intelligence officials have said that Hezbollah agents provided bomb-making and other guerrilla know-how to Shiite insurgent groups in Iraq.

Hezbollah is considered the hybrid threat archetype: a non-state group armed with weapons and technology that has heretofore been the exclusive preserve of advanced militaries. During the war in south Lebanon in 2006, Hezbollah was able to listen into Israeli troop communications; although these were largely intercepts of cell phone conversations rather than hacking into encrypted radio communications.

Updated: This story on the Ynet news site provides more information on Nasrallah’s claims about Hezbollah’s 1997 ambush of Israeli commandos. The incident, known as the “Shayetet catastrophe,” resulted in the deaths of 12 commandos when Israeli troops walked into an ambush prepared with an assist from intercepted Israeli drone footage.

“We succeeded in analyzing these pictures, and assumed Israel was planning on operating there,” Nasrallah said. “Our men waited there for a few weeks, and on one of the nights the commando soldiers walked into the ambush we prepared.”

– Greg Grant

Talk about border tensions: Israeli soldiers went out to trim a tree along its northern border with Lebanon and came under sniper fire from Lebanese soldiers. The IDF responded with tank and artillery fire, the Lebanese soldiers shot back with small arms including RPGs.

So far, the toll stands at one Israeli light-colonel, a battalion commander, three Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist killed; reports say an Israeli captain and five Lebanese wounded. UNIFIL peacekeepers have urged both armies to exercise “maximum restraint,” which seems unlikely at this point.

Already, Syrian President Bashar Assad said his country will stand by Lebanon in the face of Israeli “criminal aggression.” Some reports say the Lebanese casualties resulted from an Israeli helicopter firing missiles at an armored personnel carrier.

In a number of online conversations, people are wondering why an Israeli Lt. Col. and Captain were trimming trees along the Lebanese border.

– Greg Grant

photo: Haaretz

With considerable fanfare unusual for the highly secretive Israeli military, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced on Monday that the “Iron Dome” counter-rocket artillery mortar system was ready for operational deployment. Iron Dome combines detection and tracking radars with vertically launched guided interceptor missiles to blow out of the air incoming Katyusha rockets, which Hezbollah rained down on northern Israel in summer 2006, as well as smaller mortar rounds, launched with some frequency from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns.

The first two Iron Dome batteries will be deployed in November, the ministry said. Iron Dome has been in development for years, but was fast-tracked after the 2006 Lebanon War and the Gaza Strip war against Hamas 18 months ago. It is supposed to form the lowest level of a multi-tiered defensive system, targeting rockets, mortars and artillery rounds out to 70 kilometers; the Arrow anti-ballistic missile would form the top tier and tackle Scuds and the like.

An article in Israel’s Haaretz quotes an anonymous defense official gushing over the system’s performance in the recent tests:

Iron Dome, he said, when “faced with a volley of Grad-type Katyushas, fires a counter-volley and the interceptors are required to select and intercept specific Grads in this flying pack. It looked impossible, but they did the impossible,” he said. “Every missile picked the specific Grad it was asked to select and destroyed it. There’s no doubt this is historic.”

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