Russia contemplates new legislation and actions to counter terrorism after Moscow bombing

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said new laws were needed to combat militant attacks.

“We need to focus our attention on certain aspects of improving legislation aimed at preventing terrorist acts,” a grim-faced Medvedev said in televised remarks.

“There is a reason to go back to the issue relating to the administration of justice in terrorism cases and associated crimes and to talk about the need to improve such practice,” Medvedev said.

Medvedev urged steps to make law-enforcement agencies work more efficiently, to increase the safety of transport systems and public places and to improve the implementation of Russia’s anti-terrorism statutes.

Two deadly blasts struck the Lubyanka and Cultural Park subway stations in central Moscow during rush hours on Monday morning, with an interval of around 45 minutes, killing at least 39 people and injuring more than 70. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the deadly bombings, but Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, said preliminary evidence indicated that the attacks had been committed by “terrorist groups linked to the North Caucasus region.”

Recent events in the North Caucasus
The rebellion in the North Caucasus began in the 1990s as a nationalist drive for Chechen independence. In recent years, it has been transformed into an Islamist insurgency that draws support from other ethnic groups and has spread beyond Chechnya, including to neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan. While the Muslim insurgency has not subsided in recent years, major attacks outside the Caucasus region had been unusual, and in April 2009, the Kremlin even announced what it described as the end of special counterterrorism operations in Chechnya.

But in November 2009, terrorists bombed a luxury passenger train that was traveling in a rural area from Moscow to St. Petersburg, killing 26 people. Last month, a Chechen rebel leader, Doku Umarov, threatened in an interview on a Web site to organize terror acts in Russian population centers.

“If Russians think that the war is happening only on television, somewhere far off in the Caucasus, and it will not touch them, then we are going to show them that this war will return to their homes,” he said.

Linking up with the international level

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was keen to link the deadly blasts in the Moscow subway with support from abroad.

“I do not rule this out, nothing can be ruled out here,” Lavrov pointed out.

The top Russian diplomat said that Moscow “is well informed about the so-called no-man’s land on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” where “the terrorist underground has entrenched itself.”

“We know that many terrorist attacks – not only in Afghanistan, but in other countries too, are plotted in that area… Sometimes, the trail leads to the Caucasus,” he said.

Speaking as its chairman of G8 foreign ministers, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said:

“Ministers expressed their deepest sympathy to all who have been injured or bereaved by these attacks, and called for the prosecution of all those responsible.

“They vowed that they would continue to collaborate to thwart and constrain terrorists, and to work for a world that is safe for all, based on the principles of democracy, and respect for the rule of law and for human rights.”

The ministers reiterated their commitment to further enhance the central role of the United Nations and to adhere to its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Putin vs Medvedev approach?

Mr. Putin on Monday limited his comments largely to vows to destroy the terrorists who organized the attacks and he ordered Russia’s security forces to hunt down the organisers of the metro bombings that killed 39, saying they should be “scraped out” from the bottom of sewers.

Law enforcement bodies will spare no effort to track down and punish the criminals. Terrorists will be destroyed.”

In televised remarks after laying flowers at the Lubyanka station Monday night, Medvedev adopted an stern tone. “They are beasts,” he said of the militants.

“Whatever motives they were guided by, what they are doing is a crime by any law and any moral standard. I have no doubt that we will track them down and destroy them.”

Last June, Mr. Medvedev visited the Caucasus and gave an unusual speech in which he seemed to offer an implicit rebuff to the uncompromising Putin strategy.

“It is no secret to anyone here that these problems in the North Caucasus, and in the south of our country in general, are systemic,” Mr. Medvedev said. “By saying that, I am referring to the low living standards, high unemployment and massive, horrifyingly widespread corruption.”

According to Fair Russia party leader Nikolay Levichev, the country should start “a full-scale fight with the ideology of terrorism. To do so, Russia needs an effective socio-economic policy in the North Caucasus region.”

Likhachev said that people in the North Caucasus should have conditions when they will be given an opportunity to develop, have an education and have careers. “If we do not work in this direction we will be unable to live quietly,” he said.

Mr. Medvedev also appointed earlier a new leader of Ingushetia, a Muslim region, who echoed his belief that hard-line measures would only stir a backlash.

On Monday, though, some senior members of Mr. Putin’s political party, United Russia, were already suggesting that the government needed to adopt a stern new plan to combat terrorism.

Vladimir A. Vasilyev, chairman of the security committee in Parliament, lashed out at law-enforcement authorities, saying that they should be punished for allowing the attack.

“I am convinced that all those who failed to carry out their duty will bear responsibility,” he said, adding that current laws were “ineffective.”

Full Medvedev statement here.

More technology needed?

At the BBC ‘transport security analysts’ commented:

The Moscow Metro has five million or so passengers per day – it is just impossible to process that number of people with the kind of security that is in place in an airport. What can be done is to have a much greater degree of surveillance, using those ubiquitous CCTV systems, some of which are very good nowadays – the new digital systems, for example.

This makes it possible to monitor people moving about in the transit system, and where operators pick up unusual activity, law enforcement agents would be able to focus on whoever was acting suspiciously and mitigate whatever the threat might be.

This is not easy, as it requires constant monitoring of CCTV. There are systems that allegedly will automate some of the analysis process, but the jury is still out on whether these automated systems have any utility.

There has been some talk, in the hours since the Moscow bombing, about behavioural analysis, which might be useful, but this remains to be seen.

In such a high-pressure transport system, to try to pick out individuals based on behaviour is not going to be easy

Much more interesting is another technology which is currently being developed:

There is some advanced technology which could have some utility in the future: a scanning device being developed at Loughborough University, called an explosives residue detector, uses a UV light source to scan individuals as they enter the underground network.

It will give a clear indication if somebody has handled explosives and if they have, this gives an indication that they may be wearing explosives.

This technology is slowly coming to commercialisation. People are not asked to stop – it is a non-contact system and it will scan a person in a couple of seconds and raise the alarm.

Clinton: Terrorism is world’s ‘common enemy’

Governments and nations the world over are facing a “common enemy” in terrorism, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said following Monday’s deadly attacks in Moscow.

“We face a common enemy. Whether you are in a Moscow subway or a London subway or a train in Madrid or an office building in New York, we face the same enemy,” Clinton said in an interview here with the Canadian TV network CTV.

“I think there is a connection between most of the terrorists’ activities that we’re seeing around the world. They get encouragement from each other, they exchange training, explosives, information,” said Clinton, who is attending a foreign ministers G8 conference on global security.

She pointed out that “Moscow has had problems for a number of years now with Chechnya and other places within the Russian Federation.

“So there are connections. I don’t think we want to go so far as to say they are all part of the same operation but certainly there is a common theme to many of them,” the top US diplomat said.

Clinton said nations had no choice but to “go after the terrorists. They are not going to just disappear into the ether. They are very committed.”

US President Barack Obama promised Washington would help in investigating the Moscow bombing.

Militia members indicted on conspiracy, weapons charges

Nine members of a Michigan-based anti-government militia that posted its military exercises on the Internet and allegedly plotted to kill police officers were indicted in Detroit on Monday 29 March on conspiracy and weapons charges.

The indictment said the Hutaree, which describes itself as a “Christian warrior” group, viewed all law enforcement as the enemy. It said members planned a violent act to get the attention of the police, possibly by killing an officer at a traffic stop, then attacking the funeral procession with explosives.

Federal agents said the small group of extremists had hoped to trigger a military clash with the government, but did not suggest they were part of any larger movement.

In recent months, Hutaree members had conducted military exercises with live ammunition and allegedly tried to obtain materials for bombs that could be used as “weapons of mass destruction.” The group also had discussed carrying out an attack in April, authorities said.

The arrests of the Hutaree members comes amid what the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama nonprofit that tracks extremism, has called “an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.” The organization has cited the economic downturn as a major reason for the change, and contends that the far right has been particularly animated by the election of the nation’s first black president.

The group’s activities were hardly a secret. It maintained a website with videos of its men slogging through the woods and playing war games in military attire. Prosecutors also said David Brian Stone, the group’s leader, used the Internet to obtain information on explosives.

Detroit U.S. Atty. Barbara McQuade said agents moved to arrest the nine over the weekend rather than wait for them to attack.

The indictment accuses them of conspiring “to levy war against the United States.” Charges include seditious conspiracy, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.

Report: Abu Zubaydah was tortured as a test case for torture memo’s

Jason Leopold reports for truthout that according to Zubaydah’s defence lawyer, Brent Mickum, the motive for the destruction of the CIA videotapes that show the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ applied to Zubaydah while he was in held i.a. in secret detention in Thailand, was that the CIA used “brutal torture techniques” against Zubaydah beginning in mid-April 2002, four months before these techniques were legally authorized in the notorious torture memos issued by OLC. Additionally, there were at least three videotapes that showed Zubaydah being waterboarded in late May and early June 2002.

According to Leopold this information is corraborated with:

interviews conducted over the past 14 months with three dozen current and former officials at the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, the State Department and the Justice Department, who have intimate knowledge about Zubaydah, have seen classified documents related to his torture, as well as the raw intelligence reports leading up to his capture. Many of these current and former officials are also familiar with the Guantanamo Review Task Force’s conclusions about Zubaydah. (An in-depth investigative report based on these interviews will be published at a later date.)

The very disturbing conclusion:

These sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because details remain classified, said one of the main reasons Zubaydah’s early torture sessions were videotaped was to gain insight into his “physical reaction” to the techniques used against him, which was then shared with officials at the CIA and the Justice Department, who used that information to help draft the August 2002 torture memo stating what interrogation methods could be legally used, how often the methods could be employed and how it should be administered without crossing the line into torture.

For example, one current and three former CIA officials said some videotapes showed Zubaydah being sleep deprived for more than two weeks. Contractors hired by the CIA studied how he responded psychologically and physically to being kept awake for that amount of time. By looking at videotapes, they concluded that after the 11th consecutive day of being kept awake Zubaydah started to “severely break down.” So, the torture memo concluded that 11 days of sleep deprivation was legal and did not meet the definition of torture.

“I would describe it this way,” said one former National Security official. “[Zubaydah] was an experiment. A guinea pig. I’m sure you’ve heard that a lot. There were many enhanced interrogation [methods] tested on him that have never been discussed before we settled on the 10 [techniques].”

Last but not least:

These officials claim that while there is some concern within the Justice Department about the details of Zubaydah’s interrogations prior to August 2002 being revealed and leading to renewed calls for an investigation, there is greater unease with the fact that if the case moved forward it would expose the massive intelligence failure that took place in the last months of the Clinton administration and during George W. Bush’s first term that resulted in Zubaydah at one point being named the No. 3 official in al-Qaeda and one of the planners of the 9/11 attacks.

The Justice Department, in its factual return, has since abandoned every major claim that the Bush administration made about Zubaydah being a high-level al-Qaeda official and no longer believes or contends that he was ever connected to the terrorist organization or was involved in the planning of any terrorist plots, according to Mickum.

Separately, the Senate Intelligence Committee is close to completing a yearlong review of the Bush administration’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” program and may soon issue a report that contains the most detailed information to date about Zubaydah, which intelligence sources interviewed over the past two weeks said will “embarrass” Bush administration officials who continue to maintain that he was an important figure in al-Qaeda, and will debunk assertions from the likes of Dick Cheney that his torture produced actionable intelligence.