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Scanning Cargo Containers is More Important than Scanning Emails

The United States has built huge internet surveillance infrastructures, but failed to implement its own 9/11 law about maritime cargo security.

The risks of an attack at a US port or the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction (or their components) in shipping containers are big. Compared to the importance of scanning more cargo containers, the benefits of scanning emails appear quite small. What is needed is a serious debate about the right priorities for counter-terrorism and cost/benefit analysis of current policies.

While US and other Western governments claim that internet surveillance has prevented several terrorist attacks, it could also be argued that internet surveillance catches only some of the stupid terrorists, who can only pull off relatively minor attacks. (But not all of them, e.g. not the Boston bombers.)

Smart terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who have the brains and resources to kill tens of thousands of people, do not communicate over the internet. (Or they use very serious encryption, which the NSA computers won’t break in time.) They might plan sophisticated operations for American, French, Dutch or German harbors.

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Scary Scenario, but Good for TV: Privatization of Nuclear Proliferation

Not just countries, but big companies or even a very rich individual could get a nuclear weapon in the next few years. NATO's Michael Rühle writes in IP Journal about the nuclear smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb:

To profit, he created a network of commercial relationships - which ultimately included over a thousand companies - as well as his own production facilities in Malaysia, South Africa and Turkey. This privatization of nuclear proliferation has allowed several countries to approach the threshold of nuclear status, a development that has significantly altered the international security landscape. It is now clear that nuclear proliferation can also take place outside of the international state system - the very system on which the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is built. This development is bound to ensure unpleasant surprises in the future. Whether Khan's proliferation network has been completely dismantled is not entirely clear. What is clear, however, is that the commercialization of nuclear proliferation continues.

Scary eh? Yes, the Non-Proliferation Treaty is so 20th century. We probably need a Bond movie or new TV show by the creators of 24/Homeland to raise some awareness and reform intelligence services. Many European countries still don't have intelligence services with operational divisions.

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A World Free of Nuclear Weapons?

UPDATE: Britain's parliament backed Prime Minister Tony Blair's plans to renew the nuclear arsenal, reports Reuters: "Eighty-seven politicians from Blair's Labour Party voted against his plan to spend $42 to 55 billion on new nuclear-armed submarines to replace ones that go out of service in about 2024. It was the biggest rebellion against Blair since a 2003 vote backing war in Iraq and the largest rebellion on a domestic issue in Blair's decade in power. The revolt could have overturned Blair's 67-seat majority in the 646-member lower house of parliament, but backing from the opposition Conservatives helped Blair secure a 409-161 vote in favour of renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system."

The Bush administration moves ahead with plans toward building the first new nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. On March 2, the military and the Energy Department selected a design developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The new generation of atomic warheads will replace the existing arsenal.

An AP article published on MSNBC refers to advocates, who argue that the new nukes would "give military commanders greater assurance of reliability and could speed the reduction of the deployed number of nuclear warheads from 6,000 to fewer than 2,000 by 2012." The article also refers to the criticism that it would send "the wrong signal at a time when the United States is assailing attempts at nuclear weapons development in North Korea and Iran and striving to contain them."
Should the goal of a nuclear weapons free world be pursued?
The common myth is that only left-wing idealists and some governments without their own nukes call for a nuclear weapons free world, for example Germany.
Think again after reading "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons" written by Sam Nunn, George Shultz, William Perry, and Henry Kissinger for The Wall Street Journal (8 January 2007) and republished by YaleGlobal. The former chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the three secretaries of state and of defense argue:
The end of the Cold War made the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence obsolete. Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.
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The State of Emergency Infrastructure

"Snow grinds global empire to halt," wrote FP Passport on March 7, 2007:
When Hitler rained bombs on London for more than 50 consecutive nights in the fall of 1940, Londoners responded by tacking up "Business As Usual" signs on the city's streets. Life went on, and the Blitz be damned. Contrast that to this morning, when a light dusting of snow—less than one-eighth of an inch—fell on Washington. It was apparently too much for our federal government to handle. Business couldn't continue. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid struggled to explain why the chamber was helpless in the face of a dusting of snow. Taking a vote on a homeland security measure would have to wait.
FP Passport makes tongue-in-cheek comments about terrorists getting cloud seeding technology and a pre-emptive strike against China. I am not linking to this American blog to make fun of Washington. Rather it seems appropriate to point out the vulnerability and lack of emergency preparedness, which US and German experts have assessed in some detail:

GERMANY: The Third Risk Report by the Advisory Board for Civil Protection ("Dritter Gefahrenbericht der Schutzkommission") presented to the German Interior Minister on 26 March 2006 "gives an assessment of both the broad spectrum of imminent threats facing Germany and the provisions needed to meet them. In this report, expert consideration of possible future events is investigated, a distinction between ABC and other types of risks is made, and a systematic assessment of existing gaps, or deficiencies, in emergency preparedness and response is carried out."

The six "most imperative gaps, or deficiencies," are: 
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Responding to "Al-Qaeda's Revival"

• "Intelligence agencies see worrying signs of al-Qaeda's revival," writes The Economist:
In his annual threat assessment on January 11th, John Negroponte, America's outgoing intelligence chief, changed his tone. Al-Qaeda's core leadership was "resilient". Its hiding places in Pakistan were "secure" and it was "cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships" with affiliated groups across the Middle East, north Africa and Europe.
That sombre view matches the alarm of British intelligence chiefs in recent months. In November, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of the security agency, MI5, said her overstretched spooks were contending with some 200 terrorist networks involving about 1,600 suspects, and investigating up to 30 high-priority plots. Home-grown radicals were "foot-soldiers" trained and guided by al-Qaeda on an "extensive and growing scale".(...)
The same Western officials also worry about what they call "blowback" from Iraq: instead of sucking in would-be suicide bombers on one-way tickets, it could pump out battle-hardened fighters to wage violent campaigns elsewhere in the world. Mr Negroponte said an American pull-out would allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as an al-Qaeda sanctuary.
Germany's domestic intelligence unit (Verfassungsschutz) is searching for home-grown terrorists. Of course, they do. That's part of their job, but it contradicts the frequent claim that Europe is spineless and in denial about terrorism. Heinz Fromm, the head of the agency, defended the use of information that may have been obtained under torture, wrote DW World in December:
"All information we receive on threats will be looked into," he had told German tabloid Bild am Sonntag a day earlier, adding that there was still "considerable" risk of a terror attack in Germany. "The possibility that it may not have been obtained in accordance with our principles on the rule of law may not allow us to ignore it," he said, adding that he was only talking about using the material for intelligence purposes and not legal prosecution.
• Germany Info reports briefly that Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff and Interior Minister Schaeuble met in Berlin on January 26, 2007.

• DW World writes about a new German program for civil security research:
Germany plans to earmark 123 million euros ($160 million) in the next four years for training and research in civil security. Currently, Germany is one of the most secure countries in the world, Research Minister Annette Schavan noted. Further development of security technology aims to help it stay that way.
I wonder what indicators Minister Schavan uses to claim that Germany is "one of the most secure countries." How can anybody know which countries are the most secure?  The Third Risk Report by the Advisory Board for Civil Protection ("Dritter Gefahrenbericht der Schutzkommission") presented to the German Interior Minister on 26 March 2006 outlined many shortcomings: Summary in English. Zusammenfassung auf Deutsch.

While Al Qaeda seems to be on the march rather than on the run, as the Economist points out, the US might not have enough resources to deal with it, worries Senator Rockefeller according to the Washington Post:
The new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said he fears the government will not have enough money for homeland security and other domestic priorities because of President Bush's "Iraq adventure." In an interview on Monday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., criticized almost every major facet of the Bush administration's national security course since Sept. 11, 2001. "The president has in a sense walked away from the war on terror," Rockefeller said. Because of what he termed a misplaced fascination with Iraq based on faulty intelligence, Rockefeller said al-Qaida and Afghanistan have been neglected. He said he worries that U.S. intelligence on Iran is lacking, and what the nation knows about North Korea is even worse.
While Senator Rockefeller just started calling the Iraq war an "adventure," Chancellor Schroeder used this term already in 2002, when he was heavily criticized for being Anti-American and not taking the threat of WMD seriously.
USA Erklaert pointed to this article and the often underestimated influence of the intelligence committee chairman.

• Coming Anarchy writes about trouble in the former USSR: "Sausage trader caught with weapons grade uranium."

David A. Bell, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University,  asks in the Los Angeles Times: "Was 9/11 really that bad?" His answer: "The attacks were a horrible act of mass murder, but history says we're overreacting:"
Imagine that on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism. It also raises several questions. Has the American reaction to the attacks in fact been a massive overreaction?
Related posts in the Atlantic Review: Terrorism News from Germany and Iraq War Made the Global Terror Problem Worse. Also check out the transatlantic survey for European and American perceptions of the threat of terrorism.