Saturday, April 06, 2013
... This would definitely slam the brakes on India's defense modernization program that had been aiming high after the defense budget of last year (2012-13) which was pegged at $38 billion, an impressive increase of 17 percent year-on-year.
The Indian armed forces, army, navy and air force all included, have a long shopping list and have been pushing for an urgent modernization drive. The MoD has given the green light to a large number of capital intensive muscle-building projects and purchase of armaments from foreign vendors.
However, the Ministry of Finance has halted this drive due to the financial crunch. One of the important army projects stalled in the ministry corridors is China-specific. The army wants to raise two more strike corps at the Line of Actual Control with China on the northeastern border.
The case of the Indian Navy is even queerer. A couple of months back, navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi had said that the navy was prepared to meet any challenge in the South China Sea.
One expected a sizable increase in the navy's budget against this backdrop. On the contrary, navy's budget has actually been decreased from last year's $2.28 billion to $2.22 billion this year.
If seen in the context of the tumbling Indian rupee, India's defense expenditure remains virtually stagnant. Moreover, in terms of the GDP ratio also the just announced defense budget comprises only 1.79 percent as compared to 1.90 percent last year.
However, the ruling coalition has its own compulsions, largely political. The government does not find it politically prudent to raise the defense expenditure and consciously decided to ignore the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee on defense to peg the defense budget to between 2.5 percent and 3 percent of the GDP.
This is because the next general elections are due by May 2014 and the possibility of holding elections a few months ahead of schedule cannot be ruled out. The government needs funds to push big ticket schemes in the social sector in this election year.
The votaries of development-oriented politics would be happy. It is time to think of the hungry man on the street and push for inclusive growth. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram did not have too many options in his quiver.
WASHINGTON, April 5, 2013 ― Just days ago, an anniversary passed which should never be forgotten. On April 1, 1942, an order was issued by Lt. General J.L. DeWitt which began the forced evacuation and “internment” of people of Japanese descent.
In the following three years, over 100,000 people, including US citizens, were “indefinitely detained” based solely on their racial (Japanese) background. This supposedly made them a threat to national security. Thousands of people of German and Italian descent got the same treatment.
Many lost everything. A few years later, when the federal government offered to pay claims for lost property, the average payout was a paltry $1392.
Much has been written about the horrors of internment during those years, so let’s not belabor the point. But today, when the federal government assumes some new power, those who point out how that power could very-well be abused in fantastic ways are often told, “That won’t happen here!”
April 1st should be a reminder to all of us. It already did happen here....
-bth: we need to be taking the issues of indefinite detention without trial very seriously.
A cyber-attack on India’s official military research agency has been traced to a server in China’s Guangdong Province.
The breach against the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) took place earlier this month. Indian security experts traced the stolen files to a server in Guangdong, and found among them files also stolen from South Korea, the Russian army, and the United States, including from homeland security and NASA.
Thousands of confidential government files were compromised, such as Indian state security intelligence, and information on surface-to-air missile and radar programs from the Defense Research and Development Laboratory.
Cyberlaw expert Pawan Duggal said that this should be “a huge wake up call for the Indian nation,” India’s Daily News and Analysis (DNA) website reported.
“The current attack that’s happened on the servers, here in the DRDO, is possibly the biggest kind of cybersecurity breach that’s happened in the history of cybersecurity jurisprudence in our country,” Duggal added. “We have to realize that we cannot allow this to happen.”
An Indian technical intelligence team discovered a file called “army cyber policy” that had infected the DRDO’s system via email.
The Chinese server was only hosting six domains, despite its potential to carry over 10,000, and its suspected value of nearly $27.8 million...
(CNSNews.com) - A record 89,967,000 Americans were not in the labor force in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is an increase of 663,000 from the 89,304,000 Americans who were not in the labor force in February.
Since President Barack Obama was first inaugurated in January 2009, 9,460,000 people have dropped out of the labor force....
Thursday, April 04, 2013
..."If the Saudis felt that the Iranians are really moving this game up, they will be sure to check that escalation by increasing assistance to rebel fighters," said Michael Stephens, a Doha-based analyst for the security think tank RUSI.
"Saudi Arabia is totally focused on this as a way to make the Iranians bleed ... keep the Iranians bogged down in this proxy war, bleed them dry."
The fighters described the training as far superior to skills they had been taught in courses inside Syria.
"Before I could only hit targets 50 percent of the time, now I can hit a target around 90 percent of the time," said Samer.
"In Syria, they made the priority defending the place we are in, no matter the price. In Iran, they told us to save our lives. If you lose the position but survive, you can recoup and regain the site another day. If you die, your position will eventually be lost."
-bth: article worth reading in full. So how can they train 50,000 to 100,000 and move them presumably by aircraft from Syria to Tehran without being noticed?
... So lucrative are the returns that even seasoned opium traffickers are abandoning their traditional cargo to grab a share of Pakistan's closest thing to an oil boom: a roaring trade in illicit Iranian diesel.
As Western powers tighten sanctions on Iran, an unexpected set of beneficiaries has emerged in the hard-scrabble Pakistani province of Baluchistan - smugglers lured by surging profits for black market fuel.
"Why smuggle opium when you can earn as much money by smuggling diesel? It's much safer," said a former opium trader from the Pakistani town of Mand, a smuggling hub near the Iranian border.
"Besides, I'm now called a successful businessman -- not a drug dealer," said the man, who gave his name as Hamid....
In Nushki, a small town on one of the roads cutting through Baluchistan's arid moonscape, diesel traders preparing to drive to the Iran border had little to fear from the law.
"Bringing in fuel this way is so much cheaper and makes great profits," said one of the transporters, a burly man wearing a gold watch who had the demeanor of a wealthy businessman. "Even though there are security check points at all these border towns inside Pakistan, no one ever stops me. Why wouldn't I do this?"...
For years, diesel smuggled from Iran has supplemented the 2.7 million to 3 million tons (20 million to 22 million barrels) of diesel that Pakistan's state oil company buys from the Kuwait Petroleum Corp each year.
The illegal trade cooled in late 2010 when Iran cut fuel subsidies, narrowing profit margins for importers. But smugglers have gone into overdrive since late September, when growing pressure from Western sanctions caused the Iranian rial to lose forty per cent of its value against the dollar in a week, making diesel even cheaper for Pakistani buyers.
Iran sets its diesel price at 4,500 Iranian rials a liter, (about 15 U.S. cents at the open market rate) - less than the price of mineral water. In Pakistan, a liter of smuggled diesel can sell for 104 rupees a liter ($1.06) -- cheaper than the official price of 112 rupees a liter.
In Baluchistan, diesel dealers are making so much cash that some passenger transporters are trading in buses to buy pick-up trucks sturdy enough to make the journey to the frontier across river fords and forbidding escarpments.
"I sold my mini-bus to buy a pick-up. It earns me twice as much as the passenger van," said a man called Altaf, who has started ferrying Iranian diesel to the town of Turbat in Baluchistan.
At Jogar, a border pass in granite mountains, children trek across the hills bearing Iranian diesel in Pepsi bottles. Some is transported on donkeys. On the Baluchistan coast, smuggling proceeds on an industrial scale as diesel arrives at ports via vessels plying the Gulf of Oman.
Like tributaries feeding a river, individual smugglers bring their barrels to depots, where the cargo is aggregated into tanker trucks.
There is no way to reliably measure the amount of fuel involved, but traders believe that 100-130 tankers -- each capable of carrying 25,000-40,000 liters -- are filled with illicit Iranian diesel in Baluchistan each day.
The tankers then deliver the fuel to markets across Pakistan, or into Afghanistan, whose reliance on Iranian refined products poses a particular dilemma for Washington.
In January, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned that fuel purchases made for Afghan security forces using U.S. government funds may have included Iranian petroleum products, which would be a violation of Washington's own sanctions on Tehran.
Iran's attempts to boost formal energy ties with Pakistan are also a concern for the U.S. government. Washington has voiced opposition to plans to build a pipeline through Baluchistan to tap Iranian natural gas, which Pakistan sees as a possible answer to its chronic electricity shortages.
The ease with which diesel smuggling has blossomed anew underscores the tenuous writ of the authorities in Baluchistan, a region with a long history of independence that has felt marginalized ever since it was merged into Pakistan in 1948.
So large are the sums involved that many suspect elements in the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which has primary security responsibility in Baluchistan, and other agencies are involved....
-bth: so diesel is bought for $0.15 in Iran and sold for $1.06 per liter in Pakistan due to Iranian state subsidized prices and international sanction. Who should really be surprised at this? The one piece of good news is that this trade is now more lucrative than opium smuggling - though one wonders what is brought in the trucks that return from Baluchistan to Iran. I doubt they drive empty.
...He said the training is conducted in “temporary camps in a no-man’s land along the Syrian-Iraqi border.” After training sessions, the camp is usually dismantled so as not to leave traces behind.
“It’s natural for al-Qaida to help another group with a similar ideology,” he said. “The aim is to control the street in Syria as a step toward toppling Assad and setting up an Islamic jihadi state there.”
According to the Iraqi officials, the group is helping al-Qaida expand in western Iraq and conduct high-profile attacks against mostly Shiite targets.
A wave of daring and coordinated strikes in March led intelligence officials to conclude that al-Qaida militants had strengthened their weapons-smuggling networks as well as their ability to find volunteers and carry out attacks.
They said the surge was caused by increased cooperation with Nusra Front fighters who appear to have facilitated the flow of suicide bombers, weapons and explosives into Iraq....
-bth: So Saudis and Qatar are funding Nusra and Iraq and Iran are doing the same for Assad. So we are likely to have essentially a Sunni caliphate in the Syria/Anbar region with Kurdish enclaves as the future plan? Where does Turkey sit in all this?
How the Pentagon Helped Make Afghanistan the Most Corrupt Country on Earth (Hiro) - Informed Consent
... The Bagram-Kandahar highway was peppered with roadblocks, each manned by the armed fighters of the dominant warlord, who collected an arbitrary “transit tax.” The only way the transport companies could perform their job was by buying safe passage from the rulers of the highway and so parting with bribes of approximately $1,500 per truck between Bagram and Kandahar, and another $1,500 between Kandahar and Helmand. All of this came from the cash the Pentagon was so profligately doling out.
The warlords and private security contractors, in turn, gave bribes to the Taliban for the safe passage of these convoys. In essence, therefore, the Pentagon was helping finance its enemy in order to distribute necessary supplies to its bases. In addition, on “safe” roads, checkpoints were often manned by Afghan policemen, who extorted bribes by threatening to pass advance information about a convoy on to the Taliban.
This process became an important element in systematic graft on a grand scale triggered by the $60 billion a year that the Pentagon was, by 2009, spending on its Afghan War.
Then there were the petty bribes that ordinary Afghans regularly pay to civil servants and policemen. These are extracted from citizens for favors or preferential treatment by officials in public service ministries when it comes to such basics as gaining entrance to school for a child, securing a bed in a hospital, or getting a driver’s license or building permit. They represent a commonplace phenomenon not just in Afghanistan, but also elsewhere in South and Southwest Asia.
While ignoring Pentagon-financed sleaze on an industrial scale, the NGOs and UNDOC go through the ritual of quantifying corruption in the country by questioning a sample of Afghans regarding the small bribes — popularly called baksheesh (literally, “gratuity”) — they pay to public officials. They come up with such earth-shaking conclusions as that 50% of the population paid a bribe in 2012, “down” from 58% in 2009 (the year of the previous survey).
A 2009 survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) focusing on petty or administrative corruption put the total for such bribery nationally at $1 billion — less, that is, than half the $2.16 billion that the Pentagon disbursed in a single gigantic contract under the label of “Host Nation Trucking” for ferrying supplies to its bases....
-bth: absolutely worth reading in full
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
... Last year, official capital flight hit $56 billion, and Mr. Putin’s own central bank calculated that two-thirds of that total might be traceable to illegal activity like drug money, kickbacks or tax fraud.
Why did Russians flock to Cyprus? Cyprus was in the European Union, with its rules and overseers — a nearby legal paradise where state confiscation was unthinkable. But now the troika’s raid on their accounts — Russians call it a theft — has given Russians a new dose of anti-Western passion and paranoia.
Whatever remains of the Russian fortunes in Nicosia seems sure to flee again — but not back to Russia. It may go to other European havens, like the Dutch Antilles and the British Virgin Islands. Malta and Luxembourg are possibilities, but analysts have both on bailout watch.
Meanwhile, Brussels is not impotent. The European Union must clamp down on offshore havens, insist on transparent banking and toughen up on money laundering. This is austerity Europe — and bloated tax havens not only put Europe at risk but also make its financial system complicit with offshore corruption.
But it cannot erase the truths exposed by the Nicosia bust. Europe, it turns out, is studded with vulnerable, contagious tax islands, and their availability only compounds Russia’s deeper problem: it is both too corrupt and too paranoid to keep its billions at home.
-bth: this NYT article is worth reading in full.
CHICAGO (AP) — Mexican drug cartels whose operatives once rarely ventured beyond the U.S. border are dispatching some of their most trusted agents to live and work deep inside the United States — an emboldened presence that experts believe is meant to tighten their grip on the world's most lucrative narcotics market and maximize profits.
If left unchecked, authorities say, the cartels' move into the American interior could render the syndicates harder than ever to dislodge and pave the way for them to expand into other criminal enterprises such as prostitution, kidnapping-and-extortion rackets and money laundering....
-bth: isn't this issue more important and more threatening than investigating peaceful Occupy Wallstreet protestors with counter terrorism resources?
NEW YORK -- A Department of Homeland Security division produced daily briefings on "peaceful activist demonstrations" during the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, documents released Tuesday revealed.
The 252 pages of documents were obtained in a March 14 letter from DHS by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which in November 2011 launched a campaign to unearth public records that would show whether the federal government was spying on Occupy Wall Street. FBI records obtained by the group in December showed that the bureau investigated Occupy as a potential "domestic terrorism" threat.
"Taken together, the two sets of documents paint a disturbing picture of federal law enforcement agencies using their vast power in a systematic effort to surveil and disrupt peaceful demonstrations," Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said in a statement. "The federal agencies’ actions were not because Occupy represented a 'terrorist threat' or a 'criminal threat,' but rather because it posed a significant grassroots political challenge to the status quo."
Many of the new documents relate to the Federal Protective Service, a Homeland Security division charged with providing security for federal buildings, including courthouses. It was the protective service "Threat Management Division," the documents show, that asked its regional intelligence analysts on Oct. 21, 2011, to report on "peaceful activist demonstrations," along with "domestic terrorist acts....
-bth: the problem is that the feds are treating peaceful assembly and protest as potential domestic terrorism. You just don't hear the politicians addressing this issue. Evidently there isn't any money in it for them. We need to reign in the encroachment of civil liberties.
Monday, April 01, 2013
As many as 271 terrorism cases of the 559 that were decided in 2012 by the anti terrorism courts (ATCs) in the Punjab had to be dismissed and the accused acquitted because the witnesses recanted.
Of the 559, convictions were secured in 145 cases, according to official figures.
A total of 414 cases ended in the acquittal of the accused; in 124 of the cases the suspects were acquitted on ‘merits of the case’ and in 19 the parties reached a compromise.
When asked to explain how a compromise could be reached with parties charged or convicted under the said act – since the crimes committed are against the state –, Punjab’s Chief Prosecutor Chaudhry Muhammad Jahangir told The Express Tribune that there were instances in which complainants were private parties and not the state. Such cases are usually registered under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (murder) along with section 7 of Anti Terrorism Act (ATA). When complainant(s) reach a compromise with the accused, then the respective ATCs let the accused go, taking the view that the main offence was under Section 302 of PPC, which is compoundable, said Jahangir, adding that in most such cases ATCs also declare that sections of the Anti Terrorism Act do not apply.
Khurram Khan, a deputy prosecutor general, attributed the large number of recanting witnesses to “fear, threats and out of court settlements”. Though he was quick to add that charges under the act are non-compoundable, parties do compromise, especially in murder cases. “Since the court does not allow it, witnesses resile,” he told The Express Tribune....
bth: worth reading in full
A group of senior Army officers in December appeared before reporters at the Pentagon to rebut charges from a congressman that the bureaucracy was sabotaging requests from war fighters for an off-the-shelf intelligence processor.
The generals and colonels defended the Army’s own battlefield system, the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), while talking about the limits of Palantir. The latter is a commercially produced platform and software lauded by soldiers for its ability to link and identify terrorists and thus defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the No. 1 killer of Americans in Afghanistan.
In a March 27 letter to Army Secretary John McHugh, Mr. Hunter said that three years after an Army combat unit made the first request for Palantir, “Army units continue to have to fight to get the resources and equipment they need.”