For Your Eyes Only Military News

ALGERIA:  The Carrot, The Stick And The Bad Memories

June 3, 2012:  The elections last month were generally seen as another successful scam by the military dictatorship to prolong their rule. The government has managed to keep the “Arab Spring” movement out of Algeria with stunts like this. So far, the “old revolutionaries” (the families that led the 1950s war against the French colonial government) continue to run Algeria, and exploit it for their own benefit. This has been going on since the French left in the early 1960s. They do this via rigged elections and a very efficient security force. Using government power to cripple opposition parties does not always work. For example, in 1992 Islamic parties won an election that would have given them control of the government. The military staged a coup to halt that, which triggered fifteen years of Islamic terrorism in response. Although the Islamic terrorists were defeated, they were not destroyed, and a few hundred terrorists and supporters keep the killing going, if just barely. While the government has the edge, as long as the nation is run by an unpopular dictatorship, there will continue to be unrest.

The government has noted how the oil-rich monarchies in the Persian Gulf remain in power and are using the same techniques. That means giving out jobs and other economic opportunities to the most ambitious and educated. These benefits can be withdrawn, a threat which discourages many from organizing violent resistance. Demonstrations are illegal, and this carrot and stick approach has kept people off the streets. Government employees have had their pay increased 50 percent in the last four years and billions have been spent on subsidies for many consumer goods. Life is better and resistance seems futile. No one wants another round of bloodshed, not yet. This sort of national trauma is not unique to Algeria. Lebanese are still leery of violent solutions because of their 1975-90 civil war. Same situation in Iran because of the 1980s war with Iraq (where people are still getting over the 2004-7 sectarian terrorism). But eventually the bad memories are overshadowed by the present persecution.

Despite all this, there is some resistance. One of the more widespread opposition activities is the illegal consumption of alcohol. To placate and undercut the Islamic parties (often Islamic terrorists who accepted amnesty over the last two decades) the government has put tighter restrictions on alcohol consumption. Production of beer, wine and harder stuff is legal, but the government has made it harder and harder to get a license to sell the stuff. This has resulted in the proliferation of illegal bars and clubs. The cops look the other way, despite complaints from Islamic politicians and activists. If the Islamic activists want to raid these places, they do so at their own risk. Most Algerians still like to have a little wine or beer regularly, and are willing to fight a gang of Islamic fanatics to defend that. All this helps keep the Islamic and secular Algerians from protesting government corruption and misrule.
Al Qaeda groups, based in the far south, are demanding $57 million in ransom for nine captives (two foreign aid workers and seven Algerian diplomats). The government is not willing to pay that kind of money, which will just encourage, and subsidize, more kidnappings.

For the last three months, several hundred members of al Qaeda (many of them Algerians) have been assisting Tuareg rebels, and local Islamic radicals, in establishing a separate Tuareg state in northern Mali. The Tuaregs have been a problem for centuries, as they are ethnically distinct from the Malian black African majority in the south. These ethnic differences are complicated by Tuareg participation in smuggling cocaine and hashish north, through Algeria, to Europe. The drug smuggling is actually handled by Arab gangsters that are not terrorists. Al Qaeda gets paid lots of money to provide security for the drugs as they make the long run through forests, then the Sahara. The Tuareg provide local knowledge of the terrain, and people, at least in the far south. The Algerian government is afraid that the Tuareg will be tempted, by a big payday, to provide sanctuary for al Qaeda, as well as providing new recruits for Islamic terrorist operations (especially those that raise a lot of cash, like kidnapping Westerners.) While the Tuareg in general are not fond of Islamic terrorism, young Tuareg are allowed to work with al Qaeda as hired guns. The pay is good, and, so far, not too dangerous. But the young Tuareg are picking up some radical ideas from their al Qaeda bosses, and that is causing some tension with tribal leaders. This is especially true now that some of these young guys have joined a local Islamic radical group (Ansar Dine) that wants to impose a religious dictatorship on Tuaregs in northern Mali. The mere fact that Tuareg are working for al Qaeda in southern Algeria has angered Algerian officials.

Most of the 1.5 million Tuareg in the region are living in nations bordering Algeria (Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali and Niger). Mali has faced rebellious Tuareg for a long time, and made peace with most of them in 2007.  The current Tuareg rebels insisted that they have no connection with al Qaeda, but many other Tuaregs do and there’s no denying that. The Tuareg Mali rebels have declared an alliance with the Islamic rebels (Ansar Dine), and an agreement to give Islamic terrorists sanctuary, but not allow the imposition of Sharia law.

June 1, 2012: East of the capital, an improvised mortar killed two soldiers.

May 21, 2012: An army patrol on the Libyan border intercepted five Islamic terrorists travelling in an all-terrain vehicle. Three of the terrorists were killed and two captured. The vehicles contained a dozen assault rifles and several RPGs. There were also documents indicating the five men were members of al Qaeda.

May 18, 2012:  A bomb went off outside a coast guard base east of the capital, killing two military men.

May 10, 2012: Parliamentary elections were held and the ruling party won 48 percent of the 462 seats. A pro-military party got 15 percent, giving the military dictatorship another lease on life. The seven Islamic parties got only 13 percent of the seats. The opposition claimed fraud, pointing out that international observers were not allowed to examine most electoral records, and that only 42 percent of eligible voters turned out.

May 6, 2012: East of the capital, a bomb killed a soldier.

May 2, 2012: Al Qaeda released a list of 58 attacks they claim to have made in the Kabyle region (about a hundred kilometers east of the capital) over the last five months (since November 26, 2011). The terrorists claim to have killed 53 policemen in these raids. The government admits some of the police deaths, and many more civilians killed in these attacks. Al Qaeda does not like to discuss civilians killed in terror attacks directed at security forces. Many of the al Qaeda “attacks” were claimed by police or soldiers as attacks on Islamic terror groups. The government also claims to have killed more than three times as many terrorists during that period. What everyone can agree on is that most of the country has been free of Islamic terrorism for years. The only remaining hot sports are the Kabyle (where al Qaeda fights to maintain bases in the mountain forests along the coast) and the far south (where the 463 kilometer long border with Mali is). Northern Mali, and the border with Algeria, is now under the control of Islamic terrorists. This is not good for Algeria.

SEA TRANSPORT:  Please Don’t Make Us Kill You

June 3, 2012: Noting that many of the Somali pirate gangs have Internet access, and are using the Internet based tracking systems for ships, shipping companies are adding, to the ship ID tag these location systems show on maps, a note indicating which ships have armed guards aboard. Since pirates have never taken a ship carrying armed guards, the new policy is expected to reduce attacks on these ships. While all the attacks on ships with armed guards failed, they do often involve pirates firing machine-guns and RPG rockets at the ships. There have been no serious injuries on the ships so far, but there is some damage, and the shipping companies are also afraid of getting sued for pirates killed or wounded by the return fire.

In the last three years more and more merchant ships, despite the high expense, have hired armed guards when travelling near the “Pirate Coast” of Somalia. It began when France put detachments of troops on tuna boats operating in the Indian Ocean and Belgium then supplied detachments of soldiers for Belgian ships that must move near the Somali coast. These armed guards are not cheap, with detachments costing up to $200,000 a week. There are now dozens of private security companies offering such services. The pirates avoid ships carrying armed guards and seek less well-defended prey.

Most Western nations have small merchant marine fleets operating under the national flag. It’s more common for shipping companies in the West to use “flags of convenience” (like Liberia and Panama) to evade laws mandating who can be hired for the crew and what they must be paid (in addition to other restrictions). Shipping companies using flags of convenience generally do not allow firearms on board, lest they be used by mutineers or a deranged sailor. There are a few mutinies each year, usually over pay or working conditions. But even if there are weapons on board you would have to train members of the crew how to use them. Moreover, the pirates often rely on stealth, sneaking up on a ship at night while the target vessel is far off the Somali coast.

To get around laws in many ports that forbid weapons aboard merchant ships, security companies operating off the Somali coast have equipped small ships to serve as floating arsenals. The security guards board in port, the merchant ships they are guarding, then meet up with the gun ship in international waters so the guards can get their weapons and ammo. The process is reversed when the merchant ships approach their destinations or leave pirate infested waters (and put the armed guards off onto the gun ship). Maritime lawyers fret that there are no proper laws to regulate these floating armories, or that if there are applicable laws everyone is not following them. It’s also feared that some enterprising lawyers will seek to represent the families of pirates shot by these armed guards. Off the Somali coast everyone is looking for a big payday.
The piracy has been a growing problem off the Somali coast for over a decade.

The problem now is that there are thousands of experienced pirates. And these guys have worked out a system that is very lucrative and not very risky. For most of the past decade the pirates preyed on foreign fishing boats and the small, often sail powered, cargo boats that move close (within a hundred kilometers) of the shore. During that time the pirates developed contacts with businessmen in the Persian Gulf who could be used to negotiate (for a percentage) the ransoms with insurance companies and shipping firms. The pirates also mastered the skills needed to put a grappling hook on the railing, 10-12 meters (30-40 feet) above the water, of a large ship. Doing this at night, and then scrambling aboard, is more dangerous if the ship has lookouts who can alert sailors trained to deploy high pressure fire hoses against the borders.

Big ships have small crews (12-30 sailors). Attacking at night finds most of the crew asleep. Until recently it was rare for these ships to have any armed security. Ships can post additional lookouts when in areas believed to have pirates. Once pirates (speedboats full of armed men) are spotted, ships can increase speed (a large ship running at full speed, about 40+ kilometers an hour, can outrun most of the current speed boats the pirates have) and have fire hoses ready to be used to repel boarders. The pirates will fire their AK-47 assault rifles and RPG grenade launchers but the sailors handling the fire hoses will stand back so the gunmen cannot get a direct shot.

Since the pirates generally take good care of their captives the anti-piracy efforts cannot risk a high body count, lest they be accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, or simply bad behavior. The pirates have access to hundreds of sea going fishing boats, which can pretend to fish by day and sneak up on merchant ships at night. The pirates often operate in teams, with one or more fishing boats acting as lookouts and alerting another boat that a large, apparently unguarded, ship is headed their way. The pirate captain can do a simple calculation to arrange meeting the oncoming merchant vessel in the middle of the night. These fishing boats can carry inflatable boats with large outboard engines or simply two speedboats towed behind it. Each of these can carry four or five pirates, their weapons, and the grappling hook projectors needed to get the pirates onto the deck of a large ship. These big ships are very automated and at night the only people on duty will be on the bridge. This is where the pirates go to seize control of the ship. The rest of the crew is then rounded up. The pirates force the captain to take the ship to an anchorage near some Somali fishing village. There, more gunmen will board and stand guard over crew and ship until the ransom is paid. Sometimes part of the crew will be sent ashore and kept captive there. The captive sailors are basically human shields for the pirates, to afford some protection from commando attacks.

INFORMATION WARFARE: Chinese Internet Police Have A New Weapon

June 3, 2012: For several years now the Chinese government has been trying to control the flow of information, especially stuff embarrassing to the government, on the Internet. The latest effort involves a system of warnings (sort of like “points” for traffic violations) to those caught using forbidden words, terms or suspected code words in their Internet communications. Anyone who gets fined more than 100 points gets visited by the police, and risks jail, or worse. This is meant to scare Internet users into submission, because the police don’t have enough space in jails or work camps for the 10 million (or more) Chinese who regularly post messages. It is believed that by targeting the most active, and annoying (to the Internet police) regular posters, the rest can be scared into shutting up. The Chinese keep getting reminded that this is a very difficult task.

These efforts to control the Internet went into overdrive last March when a senior government official, who was also outspoken and popular with the military, was removed from office for corruption. The Chinese Internet immediately lit up with rumors and speculation about what would happen next. This speculation alarmed the government more than anything that was happening (not much, in fact). The government sought to shut down web sites (especially microbloggers, who substitute for Twitter, which is banned in China) and arrested a few people. This did not slow down the spread of rumor and criticism.

The government censors were caught short once more as microbloggers adopted code words to defeat the automatic filtering software the government used. As quickly as the government figured out the code, a new one was in use.

It’s not that the government didn’t know about this, it was widely used in the 1990s when most Chinese were texting (more than talking) on their cell phones. But no solution was ever found. While the government efforts can keep many Chinese in the dark, too many find out what is really going on. The government censors keep going back to the drawing board to try and come up with new solutions, like the lastest “points” one.

This latest battle with the censors saw the government falling back on traditional media. The official Chinese military newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily, openly warned troops to disregard Internet rumors about disloyalty in the military. All this was caused by popular politician Bo Xilai being removed from office for corruption. Bo Xilai was a rare official who preached a return to communist ideals, while also delivering better government in the southwestern city of Chongqing (population 28 million). What really brought Bo Xilai down was too much publicity and the fact that the majority of the Chinese leadership has accepted that communism in China is dead in fact, if not in fiction. Bo Xilai thought his well-publicized efforts to deliver more efficient government would start a nationwide movement to restore communism, but it only united the national leadership against him. Bo Xilai was also corrupt and very self-serving, but was seen as unstable and too ambitious.

Bo Xilai was popular in the military because he spoke out against the many corrupt officers in the military. This sort of thing has been going on in the Chinese military for thousands of years, despite many attempts to stamp out the stealing and favoritism. After Bo Xilai was removed on March 12th, rumors began appearing on the Internet. One of these rumors had mutinous troops marching on Beijing to overthrow the government. In response, more restrictions were placed on what could be said on the Chinese Internet. But the incident frightened many senior officials. What also frightens officials is how leftist politicians like Bo Xilai stir up enthusiasm for failed communist movements of the past, like the Maoist “social revolution” (which killed over 10 million Chinese and accomplished nothing positive). At the same time, Chinese leaders do not hesitate to say, often and in public, that the biggest danger China faces is corrupt officials.

The number of Chinese Internet users grew by 12 percent last year to 513 million. Some 300 million also use micrblogs, mainly as readers, not posters.

As the largest national Internet on the planet China is trying to block out foreign news and activist sites and make the Chinese Internet largely separate from the rest of the world (except for trusted users). The government is also trying to control the flow of news between Chinese Internet users. The government has achieved partial success, which means the censors have failed. The most popular news is the stuff that makes the government look bad (usually for good reason). You can’t stop the signal but the government keeps trying.

PROCUREMENT:  Corrupt Counterfeiters Coddled

June 3, 2012: For over a year the U.S. government has been investigating the growing problems with counterfeit electronic components and vehicle parts coming out of China. Not only are many of those bad parts getting into American military equipment, but China refuses to shut down the manufacturers. To make matters worse, China refuses to allow many American government investigators get anywhere near these factories. It’s all about corruption in China, where the manufacturers of the counterfeit parts pay bribes to the right officials and they are protected.

Last year the U.S. government announced that it had uncovered 1,800 instances of suspected counterfeit parts (involving over a million individual components) sold to suppliers of weapons and equipment to the Department of Defense. China was the largest source of such counterfeit parts, partly because corruption in China prevents any action against the manufacturers of the fakes. Then there’s the growing number of Chinese companies that will try to improve their profits by putting more and more of the cheaper counterfeit parts in shipments of legitimate ones to customers they have established relationships with. This may seem counterproductive, but it appeals to many Chinese businessmen.

This counterfeit parts scam is not just directed at the United States. It’s a growing problem for the Russian military, and even the Chinese armed forces. Counterfeiting of luxury goods (perfume, women’s accessories, DVDs, etc.) is pretty well-known. While this poses a threat to the profits of some high-end businesses, it generally doesn’t rise to the level of a national security issue. But that has been changing. Each year, American customs officials are seizing over a billion dollars in counterfeit goods that were shipped to the United States. The amount keeps rising each year, despite energetic efforts to curb counterfeits. The stuff is just too profitable. A lot of these fakes were items the military buys. That included such diverse stuff as electronic chips and metal fasteners.

While there have been no Americans killed because of counterfeit parts, there are a growing number of maintenance problems related to the sub-standard parts (which fail sooner). Eliminating that problem is expensive, as it means spending more to inspect Chinese parts, or buying more expensive parts from more reliable non-Chinese suppliers.

Counterfeit parts have already been involved in causing accidents in civilian aviation and failures in other sectors as well. But there’s more. Counterfeit electronic parts can have components added that make it easier for someone to take control of a network the component is part of. This is the sort of thing people at the CIA have long contemplated, but with all the counterfeit electronic components, particularly networking items like routers, coming out of China, the risk of installing “infected” components is now less theoretical. But the main problem is simply substandard, counterfeit components, which will not perform as well, or for as long, as the originals.

And it’s not just the United States. Russian aviation officials were alarmed when, upon inspecting 60,000 aircraft parts, they found that nearly a third of them were counterfeits. While most of the substandard fake parts came from neighboring countries, many were made in Russia. While China wins first place when it comes to stealing technology and producing counterfeit goods, Russia is solidly in second place, turning out about a third as many counterfeit goods as China. Russia’s neighbors, many former parts of the Soviet Union, have the same bad habits. But Russia and China together produce about 80 percent of counterfeits.
Western nations would like to get both Russia and China to crack down on the counterfeiting. That has not been easy. In both countries, the counterfeiting is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, run by guys who know how to bribe the right politicians. The counterfeiters have another incentive to keep the prosecutors at bay; counterfeiting kills. Phony medicines and aircraft engine parts have both been linked to deaths in Africa and Asia, where the imitation goods are often sold. If brought to justice, Chinese and Russian counterfeiters would likely be executed.

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One Response to “For Your Eyes Only Military News”

  1. Elektrikli Battaniye Fiyatlari Says:

    …….

    I’m impressed,,,, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intel…

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