Asia and Pacific nations wow to fight threats to civil aviation

Asia and Pacific nations vowed Saturday 13 March to fight emerging terror threats to commercial aircraft by boosting international security standards and measures, including screening technology.

The declaration was made in Tokyo at a one-day meeting attended by ministers and senior officials from 17 countries, plus Hong Kong and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

In their joint declaration, the Asia-Pacific officials agreed to broaden cooperation in exchanging information and detecting security threats to passenger security.

They also agreed to share expertise and “best practices” in such areas as screening and inspection techniques, detection of weapons, explosives and hazardous materials, and development of human resources such as sky marshals.

The declaration also stated the intent to use modern technologies to detect prohibited materials before they get onboard an aircraft “while respecting the privacy and safety of individuals.”

They also called for changes to ICAO and other rules on the sharing of passenger information.

The Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Aviation Security was held in response to an aborted terror attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 approaching Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told a news conference after the meeting:

“The international dimensions of this incident and the international threat posed by violent extremism require an international response”.

European countries held a similar meeting, which Napolitano attended, in Spain in January. As did North, Central and South American countries in Mexico last month. They have also resulted in what she called “historic declarations.”

The ICAO is scheduled to hold a general meeting from the end of September to improve its international aviation security.

US concern grows over homegrown and online radicalisation

CIA Director Panetta said there is growing evidence that al-Qaida is changing its tactics by deploying people to the U.S. who have no history of terrorist activity or documented connection to the organization.

Panetta said four people who the CIA did not know were arrested in the U.S. last year including admitted al-Qaida associate Najibullah Zazi, a Colorado airport van driver who pleaded guilty last month to terror charges.

“My worry is there are others that have been deployed here that we don’t know about,” Panetta said.

Other recent cases of domestic radicalised U.S. individuals include those of Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, who was charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, as well as that of five young men who were arrested in Pakistan and charged with terrorist offenses in December after their parents reported them missing from their Washington area homes. US authorities also expressed concerns about the case of Sharif
Mobley, a U.S. citizen accused of killing a hospital guard in  Yemen.

Jihad Jane
Most importantly this week, a 46-year-old Philadelphia woman, a Muslim convert who identified herself online as Jihad Jane, was charged with plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had caricatured the prophet Muhammad. The case is said to be a boost for the Patriot Act. According to Time the revelations of the plot

may give credibility to calls for even greater investigative powers for the FBI and law enforcement, including Republican proposals to expand certain surveillance techniques that are currently limited to targeting foreigners.

LaRose, if guilty, fits the profile of what terrorism experts have come to call the “lone wolf” — an individual acting largely out of his or her own motivation without long-standing or direct connections to terrorist organizations or networks. LaRose allegedly tried to recruit militants online, plotted an attack and was in contact with suspects who were plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had portrayed the Prophet Mohammad as a dog. The Justice Department says she thought her blond hair and blue eyes would allow her to operate undetected in Europe, where she traveled in August, allegedly to carry out the attack.

 Under the current legal framework, law enforcement can spy on a foreign suspect in the U.S. by going to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has less stringent rules than traditional courts do for granting a warrant. But the police and FBI cannot use the same route to spy on an American citizen who is a lone-wolf terrorism suspect.

In fact, Justice Department terrorism experts are privately unimpressed by LaRose. Hers was not a particularly threatening plot, they say, and she was not using any of the more challenging counter-surveillance measures that more experienced jihadis, let alone foreign intelligence agents, use.

But there is a mounting concern that homegrown extremists, even amateurs, are increasing in number. Over the past seven to eight months there have been multiple arrests: Michael Finton was arrested in September and charged with trying to blow up a federal building in Springfield, Ill.; Najibullah Zazi was also arrested in September and pled guilty to plotting to bomb the New York City subway system; and the Justice Department in December arrested David Headley for allegedly helping plot the 2008 killing spree by Pakistan-based militants in Mumbai.

Many terrorism suspects from the West are said to have frequented jihadist Web sites, and Hasan and others – including the Nigerian charged with the Christman airline bombing attempt in Detroit – were in touch online with Anwar al-Aulaqi, a dual U.S.-Yemeni citizen being sought by both governments as a member of al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. (See also: The Christian Science Monitor – Militant groups can radicalize individuals and train them to carry out terrorist acts much more quickly today, in part thanks to the Internet, according to military and counter terrorism experts testifying on Capitol Hill Wednesday.)

Jeff Bardin, VP and chief security officer at consultancy ITSolutions noted at the RSA conference last week that terrorist online recruitment is in full flower. And in a perverse sort of twist, the bad guys have actually reduced the amount of security they use to make their messages, files, and tools available to a wider audience, Bardin said in a session called, “Hacker, Cracker, Salafi, Spy.”

Bardin’s presentation outlined the expansive portfolio of online tools terrorists are using to communicate and recruit:

  • Metasploit LLC links to malware for phishing, denial-of-service-attacks, and other online chicanery.
  • YouTube Inc. videos showing how to build a bomb-laden vest, complete with a detonator — and now in high-def, since YouTube raised the limit on the size of files that can be uploaded.
  • Use of a single Web mail account (a.k.a. “blind drop”), where multiple users share a single password, leaving messages in the “Drafts” folder, so key information never gets transmitted or caught up in Web filters.
  • vBulletin, which sets up social sites quickly (, anyone?), as well as more conventional social media like Yahoo and Google Groups, Twitter, and Facebook. Imam Anwar al Awlaki has a Facebook page that makes him look “like a rockstar,” Bardin said.
  • VMware and use of virtual machines to better conceal malicious payloads and attacks.
  • In addition to Windows, terrorists are also making greater use of mobile technologies and mobile hacking tools, as well as forensic toolkits.
  • Scanned documents in downloadable .pdf formats, like the Mujahideen Handbook, or bomb-making kits describing payloads for different vehicle sizes, kill radius, and other destructive criteria.

CIA director confirms U.S. is still ‘at war’ with Al Qaida

“We are a nation at war with al-Qaida and its associates. And that war is persistent,” Panetta said during a foreign policy conference at the University of Oklahoma. “They remain determined to kill as many Americans as possible.”

Counterterrorism operations directed at al-Qaida in recent months have led to the deaths of more than half of the terrorist group’s top 20 leaders, Panetta said. Many of the operations were conducted in tribal areas of Pakistan that were once considered an al-Qaida safe haven, he said.

“Our counterterrorism operations have put senior al-Qaida leaders under intense pressure,” Panetta said. “We are effectively conducting operations that disrupt the work of al-Qaida, that disrupt their command and control.

“But this is also a war. And they will keep coming at us any way we can.”

Crafting the domestic US no-fly list

In the months since the arrest of Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, the no-fly list has nearly doubled — from about 3,400 people to about 6,000 people, according to a senior intelligence official. The list expanded, in part, to add people associated with al-Qaida’s Yemen branch and others from Nigeria and Yemen with potential ties to Abdulmuttalab, a counterterrorism official said.  “It could take minutes to put a name on the list. Or it could take hours, days or months.” From the report:

There are four steps to banning a person from flying:

1) It begins with law enforcement and intelligence officials collecting the smallest scraps of intelligence — a tip from a CIA informant or a wiretapped conversation.

The information is then sent to the National Counterterrorism Center, a Northern Virginia nerve center set up after 9/11. There, analysts put names — even partial names — into a huge classified database of known and suspected terrorists. The database, called Terrorist Identities Datamart Enterprise, or TIDE, also includes some suspects’ relatives and others in contact with the suspects. About 2 percent of the people in this database are Americans.

2) About 350 names a day are sent to the to the next tier of analysis at the Terrorist Screening Center in Northern Virginia for more analysis and consideration to be put on the government-wide terror watch list. This is a list of about 418,000 people, maintained by the FBI.

3) To place a name on that list, analysts must have a reasonable suspicion that the person is connected to terrorism. People on this watch list may be questioned at a U.S. border checkpoint or when applying for a visa. But just being on this list isn’t enough to keep a person off an airplane. Authorities must have a suspect’s full name and date of birth as well as adequate information showing the suspect is a threat to aviation or national security.

4) Once armed with information for those three categories, about a half-dozen experts from the Transportation Security Administration who work at the screening center have two options. They can add a suspect to the “selectee list,” a roster of about 18,000 people who can still fly but must go through extra screening at the airport. Or, if analysts determine a person is too dangerous to board a plane, they can put the suspect on the no-fly list.

The names on each list are constantly under review and updated as the threat changes.

In 2007, officials removed people who were no longer considered threats. Some were inactive members of the Irish Republican Army, a former law enforcement official said. And in 2008, the criteria was expanded to include information about young Somali-American men leaving the U.S. to join the international terrorist group al-Shabab, the senior intelligence official said. If a person on the no-fly list dies, his name could stay on the list so that the government can catch anyone trying to assume his identity.

At times, officials have allowed passengers to fly even if they are on the no-fly list, the former law enforcement official said. In some cases, this is to let agents shadow suspected terrorists while they’re in the U.S. Before this happens, FBI agents and TSA experts consult with each other. If it is decided a suspected terrorist should be allowed on the flight, he and his belongings might then go through extra screening, he might be watched on camera at the airport, and more federal air marshals might be assigned to monitor him during his flight, the former official said.

Kiyemba petition to watch

Title: Kiyemba v. Obama

Docket: 09-581

Issues: (1) Whether a federal court exercising its  habeas jurisdiction may require the executive to provide thirty days of  advance notice of a proposed transfer of petitioners–all of whom are  conceded not enemy combatants–from Guantanamo to another location in  order to allow the court to adjudicate any claims petitioners may have  opposing the transfer; and (2) whether a federal court may issue an All  Writs Act injunction to protect its jurisdiction only when the separate  standards for an injunction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65  have also been met.

Scott Horton on lawfare


The concept of “lawfare” appears to be a one-size-fits-all cover for this strategy: in the view of the conference organizers, any human-rights organization that criticizes the government’s security policies is an adversary. To the extent that it engages courts and the law, it is “lawfare.” The next step will apparently be to try to dry up the funding that supports this sort of work, by pressing donors directly and tarnishing the reputations of the NGOs that receive their grants. Recent reports inside Israel surrounding the New Israel Fund show how this tactic can be pursued; Israeli commentators are busy attacking NGOs who take money from the European Union as a “European lobby.” NGOs that cooperated with the Goldstone inquiry and whose representatives testified before it have been specially singled out.

The notion of “lawfare” was previously used to attack lawyers in the United States who filed habeas petitions on behalf of alleged terrorists in Guantánamo. These lawyers were and continue to be subjected to McCarthyite character assassination as terrorist sympathizers, even though about 80% of their clients have turned out not to be terrorists after all. Lawfare turns out to be a flexible concept, available for a wide array of situations in which a government finds itself at odds with the law, fighting a rear-guard action in its own courts, or menaced by the prospect of prosecutions overseas.

Efraim Chalamish, the U.N. Representative of the Association of Jewish Lawyers, pointed to Asia as an interesting case study for those looking at the lawfare concept. Indeed, Pervez Musharraf, the one-time Pakistani dictator, zealously embraced the idea of lawfare. In a speech on November 3, 2007, he declared a state of emergency in Pakistan. In his televised address (turning to the camera and switching from Urdu to English, moreover), he argued that his government had been hamstrung in the conduct of the war against terror by lawyers who were flooding the courts with writs challenging the government’s detention of alleged terrorists. He declared a state of emergency and suspended the country’s constitution. It soon appeared that Musharraf’s real adversaries were more the lawyers than the terrorists. He placed the Supreme Court under house arrest and proceeded to round up the leaders of the bar. In the struggle between Musharraf and the bar, however, Musharraf lost. And with the lawfare dictator gone from the scene, and the judges and lawyers back filing their writs and petitions, the war against terror in Pakistan seems to have gained its second wind. This Asian example provides a good demonstration of how the lawfare concept is wielded and what role it really plays in the war against terror.

Documentary: “(The Myth of) Religious Extremism in Central Asia”

Excellent nuanced documentary from Michael Andersen for Al-Jazeera on how Central Asian authoritarian regimes are abusing the threat of terrorism to oppress political opponents. Watch it here.

Interview with Russian Press Agency Ferghana here:

Back in the 1990s, when the leaders in Central Asia started warning against this so-called ’extremism’ and ’radicalism’, the threat was very very limited. But Karimov and others used the image of Islamic extremism to scare the local population into submission: such as ’only I can protect you against these dangerous Islamist terrorists – so in the name of stability, democracy must wait’.

Today – as a direct consequence of the regimes’ oppression and their failed economic and social policies – the threat from extremism is growing.(…) Throwing thousands of people in prison is seriously counter-productive – the prisons have in effect become a breeding ground for radical groups, as shown by reports from the International Crisis Group.

The regimes have turned their own prophesies into truth. As many expert analyses have showed, organisations like Hizb-ut-Tahrir are getting more members all the time. And more importantly, still more people sympathize with what they propose – even though they are not members of any of these organisations. 

A representative for Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Kyrgyzstan, Dilyor Jumabaev, told me: ”In the prison there are lots of our people, there is a whole ’army’ of our people coming out. After prison, they are not afraid of anything. Very soon – very soon – we will have an Islamic state, a Khalifate”.

A threat does exist now. But it is important to know the roots of it – in order to tackle it. The extremism has been brought on by the oppressive policies of the regimes in the region.

Most experts agree that the regimes of Central Asia are living on borrowed time. As the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told me: ”with the Western support to the brutal regimes, we are creating a time-bomb of discontent in Central Asia. And because the West is backing the dictatorships that discontent will take an anti-Western turn”.