• Osama bin Laden

    SEEK II from Florida-based Cross Match is a 4-pound computer that captures photographs, complete fingerprints, and iris scans; its memory holds the images and biometrics of up to 60,000 people; unconfirmed reports suggest that the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden used a SEEK II to identify him; there are about 5,000 SEEK II devices in the field, being used by the U.S. military, border patrol, and law enforcement agencies, and also by other militaries

  • Terrorism

    A new report finds al Qaeda to be the deadliest terrorist organization in history; since its founding in 1998, the organization has conducted eighty-four terrorist attacks, resulting at least 4,299 deaths and 6,300 people injured; in comparison: ETA, the Basque separatist organization in Spain, killed 820 people between 1972 and 2008; IRA attacks have killed about 1,829 people dating back to 1970; the only group that comes close in terms of deadly attacks is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), killing 4,835 people during the course of its existence

  • 7/7 London attacks

    An inquest into the 7 July 2005 attack on London transportation concluded that any suggestion MI5 could have stopped the attacks was “based to a considerable extent on hindsight”; there were failures in the response by emergency workers — confusion, a shortage of first aid supplies, and radios that did not work underground, but the report concludes that government errors had not increased the death toll

  • The treasure trove of documents, multimedia, and computers seized in the raid on bin Laden’s hideout is being exploited by intelligence experts for information on the terror network and future plots; on Thursday the FBI and DHS circulated to law enforcement units around the United States the first piece of information from the bin Laden raid: in February 2010 al Qaeda operatives discussed attacks on U.S. trains as a way to commemorate the 9/11 attacks; the discussions show that the planners, in order to achieve a maximum-casualty attack, were thinking of derailing a train so that it plunged into a ravine or fell off a bridge; the FBI-DHS Thursday warning urged local la enforcement to be circulated for clips or spikes missing from train tracks, packages left on or near the tracks, and other indications that a train could be vulnerable

  • Following a failed terrorist attack on Thanksgiving of last year, Portland, Oregon has opted to rejoin a federal task force aimed at combatting terrorism; in 2005 Portland became the first city in the United States to stop participating in the Joint Terrorism Task Force; but Portland has chosen to rejoin the task force after it was largely left in the dark during an FBI sting operation; the resolution instructs local police officers to err on the side of Oregon laws if they are more “restrictive” than federal laws when it comes to investigations; Portland officers will also be able to participate in regular counterterror briefings with federal and state law enforcement agencies

  • With the death of Osama bin Laden, there is a growing expectation of revenge attacks against the United States and its interests, and growing questions about its new leadership; al-Qaeda co-founder Ayman al-Zawahiri may well be only a leader pro tempore; concerns and expectations of reprisal attacks grow; al-Zawahiri may be replaced by an American

  • Mouthing off

    The Pittsburgh Steelers Rashad Mendenhall used his Twitter to post comments criticizing the celebration which followed the news of the killing of OBL — and to say that we do not know the whole truth about what happened on 9/11; the Pittsburgh Steelers organization reacts angrily

  • Osama bin Laden

    They do not work for the CIA or military intelligence, but undergraduate students at UCLA two years ago helped develop an analytical tool which allowed them to predict Osama bin Laden’s hiding place — well, almost predicted: their model said that there was a 80.9 percent chance that bin Laden was hiding in the town of Abbottabad, where he was killed on Sunday by U.S. special forces; the students used a theory called “island biogeography”; the theory says that species on large islands are much more likely to survive a catastrophic event than species on small islands; “The theory was basically that if you’re going to try and survive, you’re going to a region with a low extinction rate: a large town,” says the professor who guided the research

  • New way of war

    In appointing General David Petraeus as the next director of the CIA and Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s replacement, President Obama is helping to solidify the increasingly intertwined roles of the two departments; in recent years, the CIA has become more of a tactical agency frequently engaging in kinetic operations with its predator drone program above the skies of Pakistan, while the Defense Department has stepped up its own intelligence operations; observers note that the increasing muddying of the two organizations is part of a shift in thinking on combat operations and intelligence needs in the post 9/11 world; critics of this trend say that this may reduce each agency’s operational effectiveness

  • Quick takes // by Ben Frankel

    Four quick points: first, there is little doubt that the information obtained by U.S. intelligence about the people in the different circles surrounding Osama bin Laden — information that finally allowed the United States to follow the route of one of OBL’s couriers all the way to OBL’s hideout — was obtained without reading the Miranda right to those interrogated and without advising them of their right to remain silent; second, was the invasion of Iraq a diversion from the hunt for OBL? Third, the war against terrorism is not a war over territory and assets; it is a war over symbols, psychology, perception, and public opinion; killing bin Laden from the air by bombing his compound would have achieved the same physical results, but not the same psychological results; fourth, on the prose and poetry of leadership

  • Brief takes // by Ben Frankel

    The brilliant operation conducted by the U.S. Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden should be celebrated, but the information provided so far by the administration leaves many questions unanswered; one of them has to do with Pakistan: it is inconceivable that bin Laden and his entourage could have stayed in their ostentatious compound for five years without elements in the Pakistani security services protecting them; it is bad enough for Pakistan to train and support several local Islamist terrorist groups so that they do Pakistan’s bidding in its conflict with India; it is another thing altogether for Pakistan to help hide the leader of a movement that declared war on — and has pursued active acts of war against — the United States, and do so while receiving billions of dollars in aid from the United States; we typically use the adjective “ambivalent” to describe Pakistan’s attitude toward the war on Islamic terrorism; perhaps it is time to search for another adjective; there are also some intriguing questions about the operational aspects of the raid on bin Laden’s compound

  • Osama bin Laden

    In a brilliant commando operation deep inside Pakistan, a Navy Seal team killed Osama bin Laden then took his body to an American military base in Afghanistan for DNA verification of his identity; the DNA matched; the operation got underway last August when information was gathered showing bin Laden hiding in a compound in a small Pakistani town 150 km north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital; President Obama gave the go-ahead to the operation on Friday, 29 April; in addition to Bin Laden, three other men were killed in the operation, including one of Bin Laden’s sons — and a woman who was used by the men as human shield

  • Islamic radicalization

    British universities have been accused of being fertile breeding grounds for violent extremism; a recent investigation by British MPs claims that Islamic fundamentalism has flourished at universities and school officials have done little to stop it; school officials have denied these charges and insist that the report is entirely lacking in factual evidence; university vice-chancellors said the parliamentary report conflates the fact that young people are susceptible to radicalization and that a very large percentage of young people in the United Kingdom attend universities

  • Law enforcement

    There are eleven reasons why an individual may not be able to buy firearms or explosives in the United States — for example, being a convicted felon or an illegal immigrant; those on the U.S. terror watch list, however, are free to buy firearms and explosives; according to the FBI, in 2010 247 of them did — a similar number to that of 2009; some lawmakers want the attorney general to be able to prevent an individual on the watch list to buy a gun, but the counterargument is that the list is not always accurate, and that the attorney general is a political appointee; moreover, the list is secret, and letting people know they are on it may complicate the ability of law enforcement to track them and their associates

  • On 26 April a new terrorist alert system — the National Terrorism Alert System (NTAS) — will go into effect, replacing the color-code alert system which has been in effect since 2002; the new system will include “imminent threat” and “elevated threat” alerts; the “imminent threat” alert will warn of a credible, specific, and impending terrorist threat against the United States; in some cases, alerts will be sent directly to law enforcement or affected areas of the private sector

  • Infrastructure protection

    The Pentagon is building two towers in Alexandria, Virginia, to house 6,400 personnel; the Army Corps of Engineers inadvertently posted the bomb-proofing specifications for the new buildings on the Web; experts say this will allow terrorist to learn how to circumvent the building defenses; there is another problem; the documents reveal that the specifications call for the building to be designed to resist threats posed by vehicle bombs detonated outside the building’s security perimeter carrying the equivalent of 220 pounds of TNT; experts say this is not enough; Timothy McVeigh used 4,000 pounds of TNT in Oklahoma City in 1995; the 1993 attempt on the World Trade Center involved 900 pounds; the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 involved 12,000 pounds of TNT

  • Blast from the past

    DHS wanted to test a Russian mind-reading technology which worked, more or less, like a Rorschach test for terrorists; developers of the method insisted that the technique was sound and objective; it is not clear what happened with the research work and whether or not it has yielded any practical results; neither the agency nor the institute contracted to do the work issued follow-up information

  • A new report says more than 2,500 people were killed in militant attacks in Pakistan in 2010; nearly half of victims were civilians killed in suicide blasts. There were 67 such attacks last year; at least 900 people had been killed in U.S. drone strikes during the same period; the number of people killed by the army is not mentioned, but it estimated to be in the region of 600-700; 1,713 people had been killed by militants over the preceding eighteen months (2008-09), while 746 people had died in drone attacks during the same period; the report highlighted a growing spread of hate literature and said it had been monitored that in the mainstream Urdu newspapers 1,468 news articles and editorials promoted hate, intolerance, and discrimination against Ahmedis

  • In a move which is going to hamper the U.S. ability to operate effectively against militants in Pakistan, Pakistan has let it be known that it wants about 335 U.S. personnel, CIA officers and contractors, and special operations force personnel to leave Pakistan; this would account for 25-40 percent of CIA staff in the country; tension between the two countries has been rising for a while, and it came to a head earlier this year when a CIA operative panicked during a covert operation and killed to innocent bystanders; the operative was released after the two families, who received $2.3 million in blood money from the CIA, asked the court to let him go; the Pakistani government, however, wants the U.S. covert footprint reduced and covert activity, including the use of drones, curtailed

  • Counterterrorism

    In the last twenty-four months, U.S. drones have killed some 1,000 militants — but also about 600 civilians; in an effort to shore up fraying relationship with Pakistan, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan said the United States would examine the continued use of drones in the war against the militants; Pakistani prime minister Asif Ali Zardari said the drone war has destabilized Pakistan and made political and economic reforms more difficult to accomplish