Wednesday, September 10, 2014

People as Playthings, Part 3


Part 1 introduced, via an investigative report video, how the official explanation of the Amerithrax case, where weapons-grade anthrax was mailed to certain political leaders and media figures, was not the true story. I finished with this:

It seems to me the idea was not to maximize casualties among the American people, but rather, to maximize publicity about the potential for casualties. Unlike hoaxes a few years previously, this time the perpetrator did indeed have high-grade anthrax, and wanted to make sure America knew that, but without inflicting actual mass casualties, and while trying to make it look like Al Qaeda may have been responsible.

Who had both motive and opportuntity to do this?

In Part 2, we began to weave together a variety of other information, painting a picture of the connections between narcotics traffickers and terrorists, and the flow of heroin from places where it is produced along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and the United Kingdom, which is a significant destination country.

We then saw how then-recent outbreaks of anthrax among heroin users in the United Kingdom and in Western Europe were closely related to each other, and were related to no other outbreaks of anthrax among humans; in particular, the evidence suggested the heroin had been contaminated during transshipment through Turkey. In particular, we saw how one outbreak in 2009-2010 seemed connected to another outbreak in 2012, when the blog post was written, and then wondered: if the contamination occurred by accident in Turkey, why did we not hear about an outbreak of anthrax among heroin traffickers there? And, if it was just an accidental contamination, how could the very same strain of anthrax have been responsible, by accident, in two outbreaks separated by two years? (However, we do now have more information on this: there are people in Turkey who have developed a degree of immunity to contamination with anthrax by handling the material. Perhaps I will write about this at some point.)

We then considered additional information explaining how getting users to inject anthrax might be a far better method to contaminate them than trying to get them to inhale it.

I then pointed out that, in the Amerithrax case, the goal seemed to be to gain publicity while minimizing casualties: in other words, terrorization was the objective. However, using the same logic to analyze the more recent outbreaks, I concluded that it now looked like the objective was to spread the disease and cause death. This conclusion was in sharp contrast to the conclusions of officials looking into the matter.

However, others now seem to be beginning to share my concerns, as one respected blog has seen anthrax in heroin as a possible sneaky means of conducting bioterrorism. This is the concluding excerpt of Heroin's Anthrax Problem by Rebecca Kreston, August 30, 2014:

Anthrax is widely feared for its potential as an agent of bioterrorism; the media-induced panic attack that is occasionally invoked usually relies on images of shadowy terrorist cells spraying spores from planes above cities or perhaps into malls filled with aimless shoppers. However, this frightful microbe's recent entry into our communities was far more insidious and unexpected, relying on an altogether different type of illicit network that spreads harm.

I find this quite interesting, considering the increased use of heroin in the United States.

First we might want to consider some background that I believe can be found elsewhere here at my blog, but which, in any case, I have come across during my research and which is pertinent.

After the invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks, poppy production there soared; it was especially big along the border with Pakistan. Furthermore, whereas previously poppies had to be transported to some place such as Turkey for refining into heroin, after the invasion refining of heroin began to be done in Afghanistan, right under the eyes of US and allied military forces.

On top of that, this was very high-quality heroin. It was hitting the streets in the West as high-quality heroin, and even experienced junkies were overdosing, because they were not used to the quality and purity.

We consider now some excerpts from some recent news articles.

First, from 'The meat and potatoes' of fighting drugs, September 2, 2014:

Chelsea [Massachusetts] is in the middle of a heroin epidemic. In March, Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in Massachusetts in response to the growing opioid addiction sweeping the entire state. From 2000 to 2012, the number of unintentional opiate overdoses in Massachusetts increased by 90%, he said.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, it's happening all across America. The demand for heroin is reaching unprecedented proportions -- fueled in part by a growing number of people who get hooked on prescription painkillers and soon need a cheaper way to get high.

Like heroin, the painkillers morphine, methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone are all opioids and have a similar effect on the nervous system.

Heroin, however, is cheaper to get and easier to find.

[snip]

From Southeast Asia or Mexico, the drugs make it into the United States, [Lt. Detective David] Betz says. The drugs are smuggled into New York, then Connecticut and Rhode Island before heading into Massachusetts and the Boston area. From there, it is a short trip across the Tobin Bridge to Chelsea. Betz says small cities often have a tougher battle against drugs than bigger cities because of lower income and resources.

This gives you an idea how extensive the growing heroin problem is becoming in the United States.

Lt. Betz is said to have mentioned Mexico and Southeast Asia as the sources. However, well over 90% of the global heroin supply has come from Afghanistan and just across the border in neighboring Pakistan, basically since the invasion. While Mexico and Southeast Asia are heroin producers, we have to question the drug distribution networks, and wonder how much of the heroin showing up in America is coming from the world's major supplying region, Southwest Asia.

According to UN World Drug Report 2014 (page X):

There is evidence that Afghan heroin is increasingly reaching new markets, such as Oceania and South-East Asia, that had been traditionally supplied from South-East Asia.

Thus, even if the heroin is "from" Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia might just be a transshipment point for Afghan heroin.

Continuing with excerpts from UN World Drug Report 2014 (pgs 28-30):

According to Indian authorities (i.e. country report submitted by India to Thirty-seventh Meeting of Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies, Asia and the Pacific, and the reply submitted by India in response to the 2011 UNODC annual report questionnaire) heroin from South-West Asia reaches India across the India-Pakistan border and tends to be trafficked onward to destinations such as Europe, the United States and South-East Asia. These destinations are presumably more lucrative markets than India, given the relatively low price of heroin in India (reported to be the equivalent of $8.6-$13 per gram, as of 2011, compared with a range of $100-$400 per gram of heroin from South-West Asia in the United States and an average price, taken from 17 countries in Western and Central Europe and weighted by population, of $72, both in the same year).

[snip]

Moreover, Indian authorities also indicate illicit cultivation of opium poppy in some pockets within India, suspected diversion of opium from licit cultivation and manufacture of “brown sugar” (also referred to as “low-quality heroin”) by indigenous groups.110, 111 Thus, it appears that the consumer market in India is mainly supplied by heroin of domestic origin, quite plausibly derived from a minor proportion of licitly produced opium diverted into the illicit market.

And (from pg 31):

Apart from heroin originating in Latin America, heroin from South-West Asia may be reaching the North American market in larger quantities. Canada, which continues to identify Pakistan and India as being among the prominent countries of provenance for heroin reaching its market, mentioned an increase in the number of heroin seizures from couriers on commercial airlines in the latter part of 2012 and in early 2013, and reported that this could be due to a resurgence in the use of heroin across Canada, as well as possible export to other countries, such as the United States.118 However, the United States has not reported a significant flow of heroin from Canada. India and the United States both indicated that there was a flow of heroin from India to the United States; it is plausible that the flow of heroin reaching North America from India, while probably still small in relation to the size of the North American consumer market, is of South-West Asian origin (as discussed above).

Consquently, aside from an indirect impact on the heroin market from Southwest Asia, driving prices down and quality up through competition, there is a direct impact: correlating this information with other information here at the blog, heroin from regions of the world controlled by Islamic terrorist groups is reaching the United States, and the money benefits, in part, Islamic terrorist groups.

Next, with drug overdoses in Rhode Island up to 142 so far this year (not all from heroin; some from prescription drugs), New England governors joined together to put the fight against heroin on the front burner. From Governors Unite to Fight Heroin in New England by Katharine Q. Seelye, June 17, 2014:

WALTHAM, Mass. — Facing a heroin crisis that they say has reached epidemic proportions, the governors of five New England states met here on Tuesday to devise a regional strategy to combat the rise in overdoses and deaths from opioid abuse.

This is not just a problem in New England. From Low cost fuels growing heroin problem in Columbus by Mark Webber, September 6, 2014:

COLUMBUS, Ind. -- A plentiful and easy-to-get supply of heroin is creating a growing addiction problem in Columbus that law enforcement and lawmakers agree will take years to get under control.

Columbus Regional Hospital officials have noticed a significant jump in heroin abuse among patients over the past year, said Dr. Kevin Terrell, the emergency room medical director.

"We've gone from seeing 111 patients for heroin and pain pill abuse in 2009 to 169 patients in 2013," Terrell told The Republic. "With 118 patients seen for heroin and other narcotics in just the first half of 2014, we're on pace to see a large jump in drug abuse compared to last year."

This summer, the Columbus Police Department has been called to an average four to five heroin-related incidents a week, Police Chief Jon Rohde said.

The increasing numbers aren't a surprise to police.

In late 2012, local officers began recognizing they were witnessing the "calm before the storm," Columbus Police Department Lt. Matt Myers said.

So, heroin use in the United States is becoming more of a problem.

And, considering that "injectional anthrax" is a newly-coined term for contracting anthrax by injecting contaminated heroin, how long until this problem reaches America? And, when it does, will it be by accident or by design?


Back to the question I posed in Part 1, and unasked corollaries: Who had both motive and opportunity to scare the United States by mailing letters laced with weapons-grade anthrax to US Senators and media figures? Who would benefit by demonstrating an ability to cause mass casualties, without actually causing mass casualties?

Interestingly, the 2001 Amerithrax incident, in the wake of 9/11, has motivated US authorities to consider anthrax a real bioterrorism threat, as well as making them more concerned about its use as a weapon against US military forces.

As a result of this, one US company is seeing some growth.


Here are excerpts from Facility That Produces Anthrax Vaccine Moving To Mich., from September 21, 2013:

LANSING (AP) - Emergent BioSolutions Inc. is planning to open a new Michigan facility to expand production of its BioThrax anthrax vaccine to protect U.S military personnel against a leading biological weapons threat.

The Rockville, Md.-based company said it could take until 2014 or 2015 until the Lansing facility completes a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and receives certification, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Large-scale production has been a challenge and the expansion will help meet that goal, said company chief executive and president Daniel Abdun-Nabi.

"The reality is that BioThrax is the gold standard for anthrax vaccinations," said Abdun-Nabi. "The last challenge ... is to provide large-scale production."

Emergent BioSolutions announced in 2011 that the U.S. government formally ordered 44.8 million doses of BioThrax anthrax vaccine in an agreement worth as much as $1.25 billion over five years.

[snip]

Anthrax "is your No. 1 threat organism," said Jeffrey Adamovicz, a research microbiologist at the Wyoming State Veterinary Lab and a former chief bacteriologist in the Army’s infectious disease lab in Maryland.

The U.S. is seeking to develop more advanced vaccines. For now, BioThrax will remain a significant part of the stockpile, said Robin Robinson, director of the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's an insurance policy," Robinson said of BioThrax. "We don't know if these other vaccines are going to work."

And, in a more recent update to this aspect of the story, Emergent BioSolutions has won a contract to make a new vaccine. From Emergent BioSolutions wins $29M NIH contract for anthrax vaccine by Lindsay VanHulle, September 8, 2014:

LANSING – Emergent BioSolutions Inc. won a $29 million federal contract to make a new form of the anthrax vaccine, the company said today.

The Rockville, Maryland-based biopharmaceutical company said in a statement its five-year contract with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, will produce what it hopes will be the next generation of the anthrax vaccine.

Emergent is the nation's only producer of the anthrax vaccine, BioThrax, which is made at Emergent's Lansing facility on North Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. About 450 worked in Lansing as of October 2013.

It was not immediately clear where the new vaccine would be made or how it might affect Lansing operations. Emergent officials could not be reached for comment.

Emergent said the contract will fund production and other non-clinical functions for an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an "investigational new drug." The vaccine Emergent wants to test is a dry version that could help it survive at warmer temperatures, which ultimately could cut the need for cold storage when shipping.

It would be made in part from BioThrax, the product made in Lansing, Emergent said in a statement.

Also, from EBS Gets Funded, HPTX Pulls Plug On Diabetes Drug Candidate, Panther On The Mend, September 8, 2014:

(RTTNews.com) - Emergent BioSolutions Inc. ( EBS ) has been awarded a five-year contract, valued at up to $29 million, by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a dry formulation of NuThrax, the company's next generation anthrax vaccine candidate. NuThrax is currently under phase II testing.

Emergent BioSolutions was founded in 1998 under the name BioPort (see Emergent BioSolutions: Company History).

The executive chairman of the board of directors is American businessamn Fuad El-Hibri, who was the CEO of Emergent BioSolutions until his 2012 retirement from that position.

Mr. El-Hibri also provides leadership to the El-Hibri Foundation which "builds a better world by embracing the universally shared values of Islam: peace and respect for diversity."



As an aside, it is interesting to look at campaign finances.

Among political donations, Mr. El-Hibri has given to President Bush's 2000 campaign. In an interesting connection with my previous two posts, Mary Landrieu and Obamacare and Mary Landrieu, Keystone Phase IV, and Louisiana, Mr. El-Hibri supported Senator Landrieu in 2002.

(In an effort to protect privacy, big black boxes block out information for other contributors and little black boxes black out Mr. El-Hibri's address in the images of this documentation.)


In fact, Emergent BioSolutions has an employee PAC, which was also a big supporter of Senator Landrieu in 2002. Once you start looking at the money trails... :)

More recently, Mr. El-Hibri supported Barack Obama in his 2004 bid for the Senate, and he supported Hillary Clinton in her bid for the Democrat Presidential Nomination for 2008.



Funny where the rabbit trails (and money trails) lead, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mary Landrieu and Obamacare

Note: This blog post is adapted from background research done by request; it does not read like my typical blog posts. :)

The question arose regarding where Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana stands regarding the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as "Obamacare".

Before I begin, I have a question:

Louisiana Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu
Official US Senate Photo

When we "little people" get a government photo, like for our driver's license, it never comes out this good. Why?

:)

Anyway, I will begin by providing a summary of the situation, which is explained in The $4 Billion Typo in Obamacare's 'Louisiana Purchase', March 6, 2012 (see also The New Louisiana Purchase: Obamacare's $4.3 Billion Boondoggle).

When the Democrats were trying to pass Obamacare, they needed 60 votes in the Senate. This gave Democrat Senators who were not totally behind the program a disproportionate amount of influence, since Senate Democrat leadership would have to cut a deal with them to secure their vote.

A formula called the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) specifies how the federal government will assist state Medicaid programs, requiring the federal government to contribute at least half.

Both Senator Landrieu and Republican Governor Bobby Jindal were seeking additional federal money for Medicaid, though Governor Jindal did not want it to be part of the ACA. Specifically, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana was receiving a great deal of federal money, so Senator Landrieu wanted to seek increased Medicaid funding in order to gradually bring federal funding back down to the normal level, thus "weaning" Louisiana off the increased funding.

In an effort to buy Senator Landrieu's vote, Senate Democrats included some very complicated language that was intended to give an additional $100 million in 2011 and another $100 million in 2012.

Obama did not like the special deals needed to get Obamacare passed, but voiced support for this particular passage, incorrectly stating that it was not just for Louisiana, but for any state that had suffered a natural disaster, and thus would apply to Hawaii.

Later, though, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) looked at this passage, they came to the conclusion that, rather than phasing out the provision after two years, it actually increased federal subsidies to Louisiana. Specifically, in 2012, it was $700 million, then beginning in Fiscal Year 2013, it increased the federal share of Lousiana Medicaid from 61% to 72%. The total ran to well over $4 billion.

When the Republicans tried to fix it, the deal that went through Congress still left well over $1 billion of erroneously spent money for Louisiana. Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy [Landrieu's principal Republican contender, a congressman from Lousiana's 6th district, first elected in 2008, who previously served in the Lousiana State Senate for one term] then asked why this particular part of the law was being addressed, while leaving the rest of the law intact.

The $4 Billion Typo in Obamacare's 'Louisiana Purchase''s author, Avik Roy, finishes by pointing out that the entire law is crafted like this, poorly written and leaving loopholes that guarantee insolvency.

Be this as it may, Landrieu does not support repealing Obamacare. According to an article in a New Orleans news source, Sen. Landrieu joins 5 Senate colleagues pushing for changes in Affordable Care Act, dated March 26, 2014,

"I hear stories every day from individuals, families, and small businesses in Louisiana about how the Affordable Care Act is actually working to provide for first time quality and affordable choices in the health insurance marketplace," Landrieu said. "They often comment that they are extremely happy that this is coverage they can finally count on."

"However, from some constituents I have picked up a few recommendations about how this law can work better. As I have said from the beginning, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect. No law is. That is why I am happy to join with several of my colleagues to put forth some ideas to make it work even better. I hope some, if not all of these, suggestions will gain support from Republicans and Democrats to become law."


Landrieu's attempt to fix Obamacare was the theme of her first campaign TV spot for this election. According to a Louisiana news source Sen. Mary Landrieu releases television commercial, June 16, 2014,

Landrieu, D-La., filed the legislation last month after it was determined that the Affordable Care Act was leading to insurance companies canceling millions of individual insurance plans, including nearly 93,000 in Louisiana, for failing to meeting the health care law's minimum coverage standards and for not meeting the requirements of the law's grandfathered clause.

President Barack Obama had promised that people would be able to keep their insurance plans if they liked them, and Landrieu previously supported that assertion.

Landrieu's bill would require that insurance companies continue offering the plans that are being canceled. However, it is unlikely the Senate leadership will ever allow a vote on her bill.

Still, after facing pressure from Democrats, Obama announced a "fix" last month that would allow insurance companies to continue offering health insurance plans to customers next year that were in the process of being discontinued. The difference is that Obama's tweak allows, but does not require, insurance companies to keep offering the plans through 2014, while Landrieu's bill is a mandate.

Landrieu's new "Keeping the Promise" ad touts her legislative push and concludes, "The Result: People now allowed to keep health care plans."

The article states that the Republicans have criticized Landrieu over this:

The National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly responded Wednesday that Landrieu's ad is "the most disingenuous television ad of the year." The NRSC asserts that Obama and Landrieu knew years in advance that the health plan cancellations were coming and only acted at the last minute for political grandstanding.

"How can Louisianians trust anything Mary Landrieu says after she's repeatedly deceived them about Obamacare for the last four years and continues to do so today?" NRSC Press Secretary Brook Hougesen said.

In my opinion, Landrieu's crime is not in deliberately deceiving Louisiana or America. Landrieu's crime is doing what Pelosi suggested: passing the bill to find out what's in it. It is inexcusable that these people write laws that are longer than a contract with the devil. Congress should never pass a law that is so long it cannot be read and understood by one reasonably well-educated and prudent person in a reasonable period of time. Landrieu never should have voted for the law without at least having a staff member go through the entire thing, and point out potential problems. This is Landrieu's crime: not doing her job of protecting Louisiana and America while legislating in Washington.

In my opinion, the other main point concerning Obamacare is that, regardless of whether Landrieu backed into supporting it, was maneuvered into supporting it, or whatever, she supports fixing this monster, while her main opponent supports repealing it. For example, according to Americans for Prosperity hits Landrieu for ObamaCare support, February 12, 2014:

"Sen. Landrieu has always said the Affordable Care Act isn't perfect and supported numerous legislative measures to fix or improve it. When she learned that individuals who liked their health insurance could no longer keep it, despite the President's promise, she wrote legislation to insure that the promise was kept. As a result, the President issued guidance allowing states and insurance companies to renew individual health plans for another year," Landrieu's campaign said in a release Wednesday.

It should be noted that President Obama's "guidance" mentioned in this passage was a series of executive orders. From Obama's Executive Power Pen Is Already Worn Out, Februaru 24, 2014:

And speaking of the Affordable Care Act, Obama has found yet another use for executive orders: changing and amending his own laws. For awhile it seemed like every week brought yet another unilateral presidential amendment to Obamacare. Don’t like the mandate on small companies? Fine, we’ll just postpone it. How about the requirements on big companies? Fine, we can ease those too. In all, the president has issued 22 modifications or delays of his signature legislation.

(For a more complete accounting of changes to Obamacare, as of July 18, 2014, see 42 Changes to ObamaCare... So Far.)

I would further comment that, for all the bad press Republicans have received for their executive orders, it seems quite hypocritical that Obama is so over the top with his. Now in his sixth year in office, he has signed 183, compared to Bush's 291 in eight full years, and Clinton's 364 in eight years. (Source: List of United States federal executive orders.)



So, what I got from looking into this:

1) Landrieu should have had her people go over the entire law, rather than passing it and then trying to fix it.

2) Landrieu should be working to repeal the disaster, not fix it.

Even as it is, Landrieu has been characterized as "crawfishing", a Louisiana term for backpedaling. From Democratic Sen. Landrieu Walks A Fine Line In Red Louisiana, February 25, 2014:

When Landrieu became one of the most vocal critics of the botched rollout of the health care law, [Parish] Williams [fifth generation shrimp boat owner] says he thought that Landrieu was just trying to save her political skin in true Louisiana form — "crawfishing," he calls it.

"It means backing up. It's what it means — backing up," Williams.

If she really wants to do Louisiana and America a favor, she should crawfish all the way on Obamacare, and work to repeal it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Mary Landrieu, Keystone Phase IV, and Louisiana

Note: This blog post is adapted from background research done by request; it does not read like my typical blog posts. :)

Background: Louisiana and the Oil and Gas Industry

Louisiana's industrial base is diverse, including shipping, shipbuilding, general manufacturing, commercial fishing, tourism, agriculture and forestry-related products. However, out front is mineral production, mainly centered on production and processing of oil and natural gas.

Louisiana contains just under 10 percent of known US oil reserves, making the state the third largest producer of petroleum in the US. Louisiana produces over one quarter of all US natural gas. Additionally, home to 16 refineries, Louisiana is the nation's third leading refiner, and ranks second in the nation in primary production of petrochemicals.

These statistics are available at Info Louisiana; for more historical background, see Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.

Some further information of interest includes these facts:

Industrial Capacity Louisiana has the greatest concentration of crude oil refineries, natural gas processing plants and petrochemical production facilities in the Western Hemisphere.

Petroleum and Petroleum Refining Louisiana is America's third largest producer of petroleum and the third leading state in petroleum refining.

Offshore Oil Production Louisiana pioneered offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling. The first well ever drilled out of sight of land was off the Louisiana coast. Most of the techniques used in offshore oil exploration around the world today were developed in Louisiana.

The bottom line is that oil and gas are big to Louisiana, and Louisiana's oil and gas are important to America.

Background on the Keystone Pipeline Project

The Keystone Pipeline is a four-phased project designed to transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States.

Phase I runs from the Hardisty Terminal in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta across the southern part of Canada, then down eastern North and South Dakota to Steele City in southern Nebraska. From there, it turns east to Wood River and later Patoka, Illinois. It was completed in the summer of 2010.

Phase II runs south, connecting Steele City, Nebraska, to Cushing, Oklahoma. Also known as the Keystone Cushing Extension, it was completed in February, 2011.

Phase III continues southward from Cushing to Port Arther in eastern Texas. Opening in January, 2014, Phase III brought oil all the way to the refineries on the US Gulf Coast. However, the Houston Lateral Project, known as Phase IIIb, is still under construction. Begun in 2013, and scheduled for completion in mid-2015, it will stretch 48 miles to oil refineries in the Houston area. By reaching these refineries, refining capacity will increase to better meet the supply being made available by the Keystone Pipeline project.

The current political polemic surrounds Phase IV of the project, which is essentially a shortcut from the Hardisty Terminal in Alberta directly to Steele City, Nebraska. Also known as Keystone XL (which stands for eXport Limited), Phase IV was proposed in 2008. Though approved by the Canadian government in September, 2009, and by South Dakota in February, 2010, questions arose regarding the impact the pipeline would have on the environment and on cultural resources, and whether the additional pipeline capacity was actually needed.

Environmental Concerns

One key question regarding the Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed path through the Sandhills region in Nebraska. Early economic development of this region tried unsuccessfully to make it into productive cropland. By the 1930's, however, the move had been made from using it as crop land to using the area for grazing cattle. Currently, the region supports over half a million beef cattle, though this industry is fading away as the older generations of cattle ranchers die out and the younger generations move to the cities.

Far more significant, however, is the fact that this grassland sits atop the Oglalla Aquifer, which is a major source of water for plains and western states. The main part of this aquifer is centered in Nebraska - in fact, most of Nebraska sits above it - but the aquifer reaches from southern South Dakota all the way to the Texas Panhandle, western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Not only is the Oglalla Aquifer a major source of water for such a large area, but it is a shallow water table aquifer, which could make it more vulnerable to surface contaminants. Spanning eight states, the Oglalla Aquifer provides drinking water to 2 million people and supports $20 billion in agriculture.

Most current government studies indicate that, if the proper environmental safeguards are followed, the potential negative impact of Keystone XL to the aquifer would be minimal to non-existent. In fact, Professor Emeritus James Goeke, a research hydrogeologist at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, who has spent 40 years studying the Oglalla Aquifer, had this to say:

During the past 40 years, my colleagues and I at the Conservation and Survey Division of the University of Nebraska have focused our research on this aquifer. I personally have drilled more than 1,000 test holes into and through its complexities; I have analyzed the volume and behavior of the waters it holds. Here are several important findings.

1. The slope of the regional water table is from west to east; the deep waters within the host rocks move persistently downhill eastward. Approximately 80 percent of the Ogallala Aquifer lies to the west of the proposed alignment, “uphill” of the pipeline's route. Spilled oil could not move upward against gravity.

2. Along much of the alignment, the depth to water is over 50 feet. Sediments above the top of the aquifer contain fine-grained deposits like silts and clays. In a 25-year study of an oil spill near Bemidji, Minn., the Geological Survey reported that “apparently fine-grained layers impeded the infiltration and redistribution of oil.”

3. If areas of the Ogallala were exposed to leaks from the pipeline, the highly varied layers within the rock formation itself would serve to localize the impact of a spill.

4. In places along the pipeline’s route, there are locations where the water table is near or at the land surface. It is my understanding that in these areas, TransCanada will encase the pipeline in a waterproof covering and cement jacket.

All this comforts me with the knowledge that a leak from the XL pipeline would pose a minimal risk to the aquifer as a whole. However, we should require TransCanada to post a bond for any cleanup in the event of a spill.

However, to address ongoing concerns, options have been put forward, including eight impacting Nebraska, of which six would reduce pipeline mileage crossing the Sandhills or Oglalla areas, and one would supposedly have avoided this entire part of Nebraska. In 2011, the Nebraska legislature unanimously passed two bills for the governor's signature that enacted a compromise path for the pipeline, agreed upon by the builder TransCanada.

Furthermore,

1) other pipelines (the Pioneer and Pony Express pipelines) have crossed the Oglalla Aquifer for years, and

2) (from TransCanada in eye of the storm, September 8, 2011) TransCanada CEO Russ Girling:

notes that TransCanada has built similar pipelines in North America for half a century, there are 200,000 miles of similar coil pipe in the United States today, that with the 57 improvements above standard requirements demanded by U.S. regulators so far, Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever built.

Cultural Concerns

Cultural concerns center on the impact the pipeline might have to culturally significant locations, such as historical buildings or archeological sites, and environmental degradation that may impact the way of life of people in the area.

Native American protestors were arrested outside the White House in 2011 for protesting Keystone XL. Many concerns centered on the demolition or physical disturbance of Lakota archeological sites, quoting from TransCanada's application to South Dakota:

Construction and operation of the Project can potentially affect NRHP eligible sites. These can include prehistoric or historic archaeological sites, districts, buildings, structures, objects, and locations with traditional cultural value to Native Americans or other groups. Project impacts can include: the physical disturbance during construction of archaeological sites located within the construction ROW; the demolition, removal, or alteration of historic or architecturally significant structures/features; and the introduction of visual or audible elements (e.g., pump stations) that can alter a site's setting.

However, the concerns may have been taken out of context. The above passage explains what impact is possible, and serves as an introduction the remainder of paragraph, which details how negative impact on culturally significant features will be avoided:

Impacts to NRHP-eligible sites will be mitigated through avoidance or data recovery techniques approved by DOS in consultation with the South Dakota SHPO. Mitigation may include, but will not be limited to, one or more of the following measures: 1) avoidance through the use of realignment of the pipeline centerline, relocation of pump stations, or changes in the construction and/or operational design; 2) data recovery, which may include the systematic professional excavation of an archaeological site or the preparation of photographic and/or measured drawings documenting standing structures; and 3) the use of landscaping or other techniques that will minimize or eliminate effects on the historic setting or ambience of standing structures.

Similarly, it is conceivable that disruption of the surface ecosystem could impact surface water. Many Lakota consume the water and fish that can be obtained from the surface waters. However, again, in the application, means of mitigating, minimizing or otherwise addressing such situations are discussed.

Economic Issues

As mentioned above, there has been a bit of a glut of oil moved down from Canada to storage tanks along the currently-existing Keystone pipeline. Relieving this bottleneck by opening Phase IIIb so more oil can be refined in the Houston area is one solution.

The question then arises: If there is a bottleneck within the United States, why would we need Phase IV to bring more oil in from Canada to the place where the bottleneck has developed? Again quoting from TransCanada in eye of the storm, September 8, 2011, wherein TransCanada CEO Russ Girling was being interveiwed:

The unhappiest lot will be refiners in the Gulf Coast, who are facing in the next couple of years expiring contracts for oil from Venezuela, and grim prospects to get it back, since China has already stepped in to grab it for its own use.

"The facts are that the U.S. needs 10 million barrels a day of imported oil," Mr. Girling said. "That is not going to change any time soon. This is not a debate of oil versus alternative energy. This is a debate about whether you want to get your oil from Canada or Venezuela or Nigeria. Our customers are telling us we are directly displacing barrels that would have come from Venezuela. The facts are that national security and energy security is enhanced by the building of this pipeline and delivering Canadian oil into this market place."

If Canadian oil doesn't reach the Gulf on an environmentally friendly buried pipeline, Mr. Girling said the alternative is oil that will be brought in by tanker, a mode of transportation that produces higher greenhouse gas emissions and that puts the environment at greater risk.

This, then, explains the need for the Keystone Pipeline Phase IV, especially along the Gulf Coast: should the US lose contracts for Venezuelan oil, a pipeline bringing in Canadian oil can help keep the refineries working, and this would impact jobs in Louisiana. Even if the pipeline does not go to Louisiana, tanker shipments could be diverted there, away from refineries serviced by the pipeline.

However, this may not be the case, either. From Keystone’s Impact on Venezuela Muted by Waning Imports, August 25, 2013:

It's an article of faith among supporters of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline: approving the project would allow the U.S. to use more crude from Canada and less from Venezuela and other unfriendly regimes.

The reality, according to analysts and others who watch global energy trends, is more complex. U.S. imports of crude from Venezuela have been falling for decades, though TransCanada Corp. (TRP)'s proposed pipeline may hasten the trend.

Moreover, the refineries in Texas and Louisiana that would process Keystone’s oil have expanded their capacity and may simply absorb the additional stock to feed markets here and abroad for fuel, especially diesel that is in high demand in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

Consequently, there is legitimate concern that the real issue is whether US refineries are expanding their capabilities in order to supply products, especially diesel, to Latin American markets, and, thus, whether the Keystone XL pipeline might merely be a means of meeting this need.

Regardless, it seems pretty clear that if the oil is not moved via the Keystone infrastructure, including the increased capacity of the XL pipeline, then it will be moved via less-environmentally-sound means to the same refineries. Canada is currently looking into building increased pipeline capacity to get the oil to its Pacific ports, and there has already been an increase in movement of oil into the United States from Canada via trains with tanker cars. From 'Trains or pipelines,' Doer warns U.S. over Keystone, July 28, 2013:

Canada is telling the U.S administration it will see a sharp increase in cross-border crude-oil shipments by rail if President Barack Obama fails to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

In a telephone interview from Washington, Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer said oil companies are increasingly turning to trains – and even trucks – as the construction of pipelines has failed to keep up with the boom in North American crude production, and that trend will grow if the President turns down Keystone XL.

"His choice is to have it come down by a pipeline that he approves, or without his approval, it comes down on trains. That's just the raw common sense of this thing, and we've been saying it for two years and we've been proven correct," Mr. Doer said Sunday. "At the end of the day, it's trains or pipelines."

Thus, the delaying tactics of Obama and the Democrats are actually serving to prejudice the environment, by forcing oil to be moved via railroad, maritime tankers, and even highway tanker trucks. These all burn fossil fuel and pollute the atmosphere moving the oil; furthermore, these have an increased chance of an oil spill.

In the face of this, the oil industry is having to move forward. From U.S. Refiners Don't Care if Keystone Gets Built, September 5, 2013:

But [Valero Energy Corporation] says it no longer considers the pipeline critical to its business. The company is now expanding rail terminals at its refineries in Benicia, Calif.; St. James, La.; and Quebec to receive more crude oil shipments, including heavy Canadian crude. Part of the reason is the long wait for Keystone. "If we just sat around and waited for Washington, we'd never get anything done," Valero spokesman Bill Day said.

Nearly 200,000 rail cars in Canada carried crude oil or fuel during the first seven months of 2013, up 20% from the year before, according to the latest data from the American Association of Railroads.

Senator Landrieu and Keystone XL

It is in this context that we have to consider Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu's efforts to get the Keystone XL project moving forward.

Maneuvering in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has a goal of taking President Obama out of the loop for approval of this project. The Northern Route Approval Act passed in the House on May 22, 2013 (see House votes to override Obama on Keystone). That, of course, sends the act to the Senate where, in February of this year, Senator Landrieu took over as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The expectation was that, with Senator Landrieu's support, it might be possible to get the bill through the Democrat-controlled Senate. However, so far, this has not been the case. In fact, Senator Landrieu's explanation of why is interesting.

In 16 questions for Mary Landrieu from May 27 of this year, Senator Landrieu talks about how much "clout" she has in Washington, clarifying that the clout belongs to the State of Louisiana. Implicit in this is the need for Louisiana to keep her in the US Senate in order to keep that clout. However, when asked about moving Keystone XL forward, her response seemed to "crawfish":

Post: "You mentioned Keystone. How, if you're chairman of the committee and you look ahead to the next two years, how do you get anything done there when the president and his administration have not green-lighted the Keystone pipeline? And indeed, there's a lot of hostility to that in your party."

Landrieu: "I'm helping to lead the building of the Keystone pipeline, but it's going to take a lot of Democrats and Republicans at every level from other parts of the state to come together. My goal right now is to get this presented in the Senate, to get it voted on in the Senate. The president could veto it. I mean, it’s his right. I would argue that he shouldn't."

Post: "How to convince him to change his mind when he hasn't changed it already?"

Landrieu: "Well, that's not my job. I wish I could. And I'm going to do everything I can to try. But, you know, [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell has more power than I do and he hasn't been able to. The Chamber of Commerce has a tremendous amount of power; they've not been able to change the president's mind. The president knows that there's some Democrats and some Republicans that are really strong for the Keystone pipeline. We've presented so much evidence to him, we think. But, you know, he's got a job to do, I've got a job to do and the Senate's got a job to do and I hope that we can eventually get that pushed through. But it takes time. It's been five years, I think it should've been done three years ago. But we're going to continue to push. And I'm going to push for additional infrastructure."

When asked how she would convince President Obama to change his mind, Senator Landrieu responded by saying: "Well, that's not my job."

As I see it, here is the crux of the whole issue.

I left that quote in its context, with a link to the article, so what she said can be considered in the context in which she said it.

But, as I see it, this is the crux of the whole issue: Senator Landrieu believes that changing Obama's mind on this matter is not her job. And this is obvious when considering the situation in its entirety.

Senator Landrieu is a Democrat trying to survive in a state that leans Republican. The only way she can do so is to bury her own personal beliefs, as she does with same-sex marriage (which she personally supports), and vote in a manner more consistent with what her electorate expects.

Similarly, her state is a big refiner of oil, and the Keystone XL pipeline would be good for her state's economy. So, she has to support the project. But, in the end, she is still a Democrat. How far will she go to fight her own Democrat President and her own Democrat colleagues in Washington? Instead, she makes a show of fighting the battle, but she is not committed. This way, she can put on a good show for the voters back home, secure in the knowledge that it's all a show, and the Democrats in Washington will continue on the course they are on.

The fact that we have demonstrated that Democrat policies regarding Keystone XL hurt the environment by forcing oil to move by sea, by railway and by highway, in an environmentally unsound and even dangerous manner, jeopardizing the very environment Democrats claim to be protecting, is just icing on the Democrats' hypocritical cake. The issue is as it so often has been: a question of politics over principle, an issue of sacrificing the very things they claim they are trying to protect - in this case most notably the environment - all for the sake of pandering to extremist groups who themselves are, at best, uninformed and misinformed.

Perhaps the people of Louisiana would be better served by a Senator whose core beliefs are in line with policies that will reflect the best interests of Louisiana and of America, a Senator who actually sees eye-to-eye with the electorate, rather than one who thinks one way but votes the other for political expediency.

Perhaps the people of Louisiana would be better served by a Senator who gets to Washington and fights to change the President's mind or to go around him, rather than one who says that doing so is not her job.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Trivia, Part 2


In Part 1 we touched on how modern communications are reliant on cell phone towers. Then, we ever-so-briefly considered efforts to camouflage these towers, and we saw how mobile cell phone towers can augment cell phone tower coverage in case of damage to a tower or to offer additional capacity when needed. Finally, we introduced the concept of "interceptors", phony cell phone towers that have been surreptitiously placed for some clandestine or illicit purpose.

We will continue by combining the concepts of a cell phone "tower" -- or perhaps "interceptor" is the better term to use here -- with the concepts of camouflage and mobility. However, before we proceed, we need to briefly review some terms used in discussing cell phones.

Most people have heard terms like "3G" and "4G" to describe cell phones and service. What exactly does this mean?

Initially, cell phones were analog devices. The radio frequency spectrum was divided into slices, called channels, and a cell phone would transmit on one channel, while simultaneously receiving on another. This ability to transmit and receive simultaneously is called "full duplexing", and allows for a normal conversation to occur. In contrast, radios tend to be "half duplex" systems, where one party talks while the other listens, and then they switch to where the one listens while the other talks.

Later, digital technology was incorporated, allowing compression and manipulation of the signals which, in turn, increase cell phone call capacity in a system. Even newer technologies in signal processing then allowed for dramatic leaps in data transfer rates, making it possible for cell phones to become handheld computers, and the cell network to work like a Wi-Fi. This was dubbed "3G" for third generation, making analog technology 1G and the first digital technology 2G. Later, anything more advanced than 3G was dubbed "4G", though many people are beginning to realize that most "4G" is, in fact, only an incremental improvement over 3G. Thus, "true" 4G refers to 4G LTE - fourth generation long-term evolution.

Current cell phones use something akin to an operating system. The most common are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) used by AT&T and T-Mobile, and IDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network), introduced by Motorola and used by Nextel, which is GSM-based.

For a readable explanation of cell phone technology and how it has evolved, I suggest you begin with How Cell Phones Work.

With this background established, we should begin with the question of just how small and mobile can cell phone "towers" get? To get some idea, we consider excerpts from The tiny cube that could cut your cell phone bill from March 21, 2011:



NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- As mobile data usage skyrockets, wireless companies are spending billions each year to maximize capacity, and consumers end up footing the cost in the form of higher cell phone bills.

But a cube that fits in the palm of your hand could help solve that problem.

It's called lightRadio, a Rubik's cube-sized device made by Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) that takes all of the components of a cell phone tower and compresses them down into a 2.3-inch block. Unlike today's cell towers and antennas, which are large, inefficient and expensive to maintain, lightRadio is tiny, capacious and power-sipping.

[snip]

When conceiving of lightRadio, Alcatel-Lucent's engineers stripped out all the heavy power equipment that controls modern cell towers, and moved them to centralized stations. That allows the lightRadio cubes to be made small enough to be deployed virtually anywhere and practically inconspicuously: Atop bus station awnings, on the side of buildings or on lamp posts.

Their small size and centralized operation lets wireless companies control the cubes virtually. That makes the antennas up to 30% more efficient than current cell towers. Live data about who is using the cubes can be assessed, and the antennas' directional beams can be shifted to maximize their potential. For instance, radios may be pointed in one direction as people are coming to work in the morning and another direction as they're leaving work at the end of the day.

The lightRadio units also contain multi-generational antennas that can relay 2G, 3G and 4G network signals all from the same cube. That cuts down on interference and doubles the number of bits that can be sent through the air.

Today's cell towers, by contrast, send power in all different directions, most of which is lost, since it doesn't reach anyone's particular devices. They're inefficient in other ways as well: Roughly half of the power from cell towers' base stations is lost before it makes its way up to the antennas at the top of the tower. And they have separate antennas for 2G, 3G and 4G networks, causing interference problems.

[snip]

Each 1.5-Watt lightRadio cube powers about a two-block radius, so in urban areas, they can be deployed throughout the city and stacked like Lego blocks in stadiums or other areas that need extra capacity. In rural areas, they can be deployed atop existing cell towers in arrays.

Since that article was written, these kinds of devices have been deployed to provide cell phone coverage in "dead zones" such as under bridges, inside buildings, and so on.


However, this was intended for the legitimate purpose of providing better cell phone coverage. While this kind of technology could be misused, there are also devices that were intended for surreptitious use. One such device is called an "IMSI Catcher". A brief excerpt from the introduction to IMSI-Catch Me If You Can: IMSI-Catcher-Catchers describes what this is (numbers in [brackets] refer to footnotes in the paper):


IMSI Catchers are MITM (man in the middle) devices for cellular networks [20]. Originally developed to steal IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) numbers from nearby phones (hence the name), later versions offered call- and message interception. Today, IMSI Catchers can also be used to track handsets, intercept mobile two-factor authentication schemes (mTAN), geo-targeted spam [24], send operator messages that reconfigure the phone (e.g. installing a permanent MITM by setting a new APN, http-proxy, or attack the management interface [32]), or attack SIM cards with encrypted SMS [26] that are filtered by most operators by now.

A company called Gamma Group markets an IMSI Catcher which a person can wear under a coat, kind of like a bullet-proof vest. Here are excerpts from The body-worn "IMSI catcher" for all your covert phone snooping needs, dated September 1, 2013:



"The unit is optimized for short-range covert operation, designed to allow users to get close to Target(s) to maximize the chances of only catching the Target(s') identities and minimal unwanted collateral," one of the marketing pamphlets boasts. "The solution can be used as a standalone device or integrated into wider data-gathering and geo-tracking systems."

At just 41 x 33 x 18 centimeters, the device is small enough to fit under a shirt. It needs from one to 90 seconds to capture the international mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) or international mobile equipment identity (IMEI) of the person being tracked. It works on all GSM-based networks regardless of country and is fully operational even when functioning in a moving vehicle. The same brochure advertises several other varieties of IMSI catchers, including some that work in a totable briefcase and one that receives signals from a covert vehicle roof bar antenna. The James Bond spying tools are sold to government agencies and law enforcement organizations.

[snip]

Other devices available from GammaGroup help snoops physically track and tap a target once his IMSI is known. One device helps spies physically locate a target by locking into his mobile phone signal. It can also intercept the target's SMS messages and "take control of target phones for the purpose of denying GSM service." The devices can even "create a bubble or exclusion zone to deny GSM network coverage without alerting cell phones."

In other words, these devices can identify your cell phone, find where your cell phone is, and then jam it without your cell phone alerting you to the process. Also, your cell phone communications can be monitored, and even spoofed: it is possible your cell phone can receive fake messages, and fake messages can be sent out with your cell phone's signature.

And all it takes to make this happen is to get a small computer-controlled device, which would fit comfortably in a brief case or overcoat, within a reasonably short distance from you - not necessarily close enough for you to notice.

Stick around for Part 3.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Trivia, Part 1

When I have not blogged for nearly a year, and then I resume blogging by beginning with an article that reviews very old news, that should be something of concern.

Three summers ago, there was a big scandal, wherein news outlets of Rupert Murdoch's media empire had used illegal means to obtain information about the highest-ranking members of the British government, as well as information about celebrities and other persons of interest. We begin with excerpts from Murdoch Tabloids' Targets Included Downing Street and the Crown, July 11, 2011:

LONDON — The scandal that has enveloped Rupert Murdoch's media empire in Britain widened substantially on Monday with reports that two of his newspapers may have bribed police officers or used other potentially illegal methods to obtain information about Queen Elizabeth II and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Others on the police payroll have been bribed to use restricted cellphone-tracking technology to pinpoint the location of people sought by the papers in their restless pursuit of scoops, according to two former journalists for the tabloid shut on Sunday, The News of the World.

[snip]

The revelations about the intrusive activities directed at the queen and Mr. Brown have seized the headlines, driving home the realization that nobody, not even the most powerful and protected people in the land, has been beyond the reach of news organizations caught up in a relentless battle for lurid headlines and mass circulations.

A wide segment of British society, from celebrities to ordinary families wrestling with personal tragedies, has been shown to be potentially vulnerable to the newspapers' use of cellphone-hacking, identity theft, tracking technology and police bribery — perhaps even clandestine property break-ins, if some reports circulating in recent days are true.

Recently there has exploded to the surface a scandal in the United States whereby private photos of celebrities were supposedly hacked and published online. At the moment, the issue is still up in the air, with some celebrities denying the authenticity of the photos of them, while other celebrities confirm that the photos of them are authentic; some of these latter are vowing to pursue legal redress.

Many allegations suggest that it was Apple's cloud storage that may have been hacked, but an alternative hypothesis seems like an opportunity to introduce this post.

First, an excerpt from Don't blame iCloud yet for hacked celebrity nudes by Tony Bradley, September 2, 2014:

Boris Gorin, head of security engineering at FireLayers, thinks we shouldn't be throwing stones at iCloud. "The images leaked have been gradually appearing on several boards on the net prior to the post at 4chan—making it reasonable to believe they were not part of a single hack, but of several compromises that occurred over time."

Gorin shared a theory the celebrities may have been hacked while connected to an open public Wi-Fi network at the Emmy Awards. If they accessed their personal iCloud accounts, attackers connected to that network would have been able to intercept and capture the username and password credentials. That's not a security flaw with iCloud and having a strong or complex password wouldn't offer protection against transmitting that password in clear text on a public Wi-Fi network.

Of course, any use of any kind of cell phone could be a security risk, and this is the topic addressed here.

Cell phones communicate via radio frequency (RF) emissions to cell phone towers which, in turn, process the signals and send them into the telephone network. Of course, for years, cell phones have been more than mobile telephones, and so, for years, cell phone towers have also allowed handheld devices to communicate via the Internet.

Consequently, cell phone towers are a key node in modern communications; someone who controls a cell phone tower has access to a significant amount of information.

In an effort to make cell phone towers less conspicuous and more in-tune with the surroundings, efforts have been made to camouflage them. For over two decades, cell phone towers have been disguised as trees, and some of the disguises are not very convincing.


There is also a need for more easily-transportable cell phone towers that can be taken to replace a damaged tower while repairs are being made, or to provide surge capability, for example during a convention or sporting event. These towers can be of a generic nature, useful for not just communications equipment, but emergency lighting and other applications.


A report by Popular Science entitled Mysterious Phony Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Calls from August 27 is beginning to get some attention in the media. The article begins explaining how certain telephones have security-related enhancements that make them far less vulnerable to spoofing, and how these phones have identified the phony cell phone towers (known as "interceptors) that tried to spoof them, providing information that allowed the company which markets the phones to map where the "interceptors" are.


An excerpt from the middle of the article introduces the problem we are examining:

"Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated," [Les] Goldsmith [CEO of ESD America, a maker of "hardened" cell phones] says. "One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found 8 different interceptors on that trip. We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas."

Who is running these interceptors and what are they doing with the calls? Goldsmith says we can't be sure, but he has his suspicions.

"What we find suspicious is that a lot of these interceptors are right on top of U.S. military bases. So we begin to wonder – are some of them U.S. government interceptors? Or are some of them Chinese interceptors?" says Goldsmith. "Whose interceptor is it? Who are they, that's listening to calls around military bases? Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it? The point is: we don't really know whose they are."

As this series continues, we will examine the nature of "interceptors", consider the extent of their use, and discuss the question of to whom they may belong.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Among the Sons of Togarmah, Part 6

In Part 1, we had a general overview of the Caucasus, including considering the methods Moscow has historically used to pacify the region. In Part 2 we considered how Islamic terrorists were targeting the region of Kabardino-Balkaria, a region near Sochi; significant, because Sochi is an important Russian resort city and will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in February, and Russia was hoping the influx of tourism to the region would help the economies not just of Sochi but of surrounding areas as well.

In Part 3 we took a long look at how Putin was pacifying Chechnya, mainly by supporting the clan of Razman Kadyrov. With Moscow's backing, Kadyrov's clan has provided a degree of stability and pacification of Chechnya, but at a cost: corruption which leads all the way to Moscow. Moscow funds, supplies and supports Kadyrov, and, in return, Kadyrov keeps Moscow from having to send troops to Chechnya for a third war (there have been two since the Soviet Union collapsed). However, the cost runs deeper: with government essentially an extension of Kadyrov who, in turn, delivers nearly unanimous support for Putin in federal elections, the people have nowhere to turn with grievances, except to Islamic extremists. There are Chechens who support Russia against the extremists, but who would rather not support the corruption of Kadyrov (or of Putin, for that matter). Meanwhile, Moscow has cultivated other clans in Chechnya which could replace Kadyrov - a sign of Putin hedging his bet.

In Part 4 we saw how the Islamic insurgency in the entire region basically cooperates with an eye to establishing a regional caliphate. The center of the regional insurgency seemed to be Dagestan. Then, in Part 5, we considered allegations that Putin and Kadyrov were involved in trafficking narcotics - something other regional actors also do, including the Islamic terrorists, who find heroin money useful to fund their jihad.

With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics nearly upon us, it is perhaps time to update this series.

One issue that has been on the burner for years is economic development of the region. When I use the term "the region", I am referring to the Northern Caucasus, which is that part of the Caucasus in the Russian Federation. In fact, apart from the geographical Northern Caucasus, there is also the North Caucasus Economic Region, a geographical entity which includes fertile agricultural areas around the Kuban River, as well as the resort city of Sochi.

This region is distinct from the sovereign nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, which are sovereign nations that used to be republics in the former USSR. However, it is worth considering what is going on across the international borders from the Russian Federation's North Caucasus in these latter nations.


Regarding economic development of the North Caucasus, Russia has worked to improve the tourist industry in the area, as mentioned earlier in this series, especially with an eye to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia's tourist resort town of Sochi. However, as far back as 2011, plans were being devised to make the North Caucasus into a Russian version of Silicon Valley. From Silicon Valley planned for Russia's North Caucasus, August 25, 2011:

Plans have been put forward to create a Caucasian Silicon Valley, at a cost of 32 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) as part of on-going efforts to generate opportunities in the troubled Russian region.

[snip]

Silicon dreams

While the US Silicon Valley is a world leader in computing and IT advances, the Russian version will focus on making the raw materials.

In Stavropol Region factories will produce polycrystalline silicon, monocrystalline silicon is planned in Kabardino-Balkaria, multicrystalline silicon will come from Karachay-Cherkessia while North Ossetia will manufacture photovoltaic cells and Dagestan will work on solar modules, RIA Novosti reported.

The idea seems to come closer to Ramzan Kadyrov's stated commitment to make Chechnya financially independent by developing a manufacturing base.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Russia pays a price for peace in Chechnya, and Russians are tired of paying it. However, should the Caucasus become financially independent, then that dramatically diminishes the need for ties that local rulers such as Kadyrov have with Moscow.

Later that year, as Putin campaigned for the presidency in the March, 2012, election, he promised no cuts to the funding for economic development in the Caucasus - amid cries of "Stop Feeding the Caucasus", a slogan that was gaining popularity with Russians. From Putin says no cuts in North Caucasus funding, December 20, 2011:

A "Stop Feeding Caucasus" slogan is gaining popularity among Russians, stunned with images of new mosques and shiny buildings in the Chechen capital Grozny, destroyed in heavy fighting between the separatists and the Russian army in the 1990s.

The slogan was also picked up by some nationalist-minded opposition leaders like lawyer Alexei Navalny who is serving a 15-day jail sentence for disrupting public order during mass protests in Moscow after the Dec. 4 election.

Putin said that a reduction in investment would bring more migrants from North Caucasus into the large Russian cities "along with all the problems it causes" in a clear reference to last year's nationalist riots next to the Kremlin.

"What will we do then? Kick them all out? But where will they go? They will join the insurgency," Putin said, according to a transcript of the meeting posted on the government's website. "And the fratricidal war will carry on."

Skipping down:

Critics argue that money flowing into North Caucasus is stolen by corrupt officials. In his blog in March 2011 Navalny attacked an official from Dagestan who ordered a car worth $265,000 using public money, questioning why a minister of a poor region drive such an expensive vehicle.

[snip]

Official results showed Putin's United Russia party had received 99.5 percent of the vote in Chechnya, run by Putin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov - a result which made the opposition cry foul. Other republics also backed United Russia.

Kadyrov, who hosted a glitzy opening ceremony for a skyscraper complex that was attended by Hollywood stars and coincided with his 35th birthday, said he was receiving money from Allah.

Promise economic development, then let the local pro-Moscow (pro-Putin) strongmen spend it to consolidate power?

An interesting and readable summary/overview is provided by Ariel Cohen, Ph. D., in an article entitled A Threat to the West: The Rise of Islamist Insurgency in the Northern Caucasus and Russia's Inadequate Response, from March 26, 2012:

Russia's Northern Caucasus is turning into one of the most volatile, lawless regions in the world and a hotbed for international terrorist activity in spite of decades of Russian military operations and repeated assurances from the Russian government that peace has been achieved. As Russia continues to lose control of the region, it is becoming a significant base for Islamist terrorist organizations and organized crime and may ignite an even greater terrorist campaign inside Russia and beyond.

[snip]

To alleviate the hostilities, the Russian government has implemented many economic and developmental programs and provided billions of dollars in aid to the North Caucasus in the past few years. Russian officials have invested to curb the appeal of radical Islam among the youth, but the area's overall economic and social prospects remain grim due to the ongoing security crisis caused by heavy-handed security policy and the pervasive corruption and mismanagement of the Russian government.

Thus, Russia's entire counterinsurgency strategy is in question. Its primary goal is "to make the local population less afraid of the law enforcement than the insurgents,"[2] but the overly violent Russian approach has often produced the polar opposite. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the North Caucasus has experienced two major wars and numerous skirmishes, resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties and internally displaced persons, while the fear of terrorism has spread throughout Russia.

Spreading ungovernability in the Northern Caucasus facilitates the emergence of Islamist safe havens, complete with terrorist training facilities, religious indoctrination centers, and hubs of organized crime. This should be a cause for concern for the United States.

[snip]

U.S. policymakers should be concerned that the North Caucasus may devolve into an anarchic haven for Islamist terrorism and criminality. Security of America's friends and allies, prevention of a terrorist safe haven in the ungovernable North Caucasus, and ensuring the free flow of energy resources are high priorities for the U.S. in this volatile region. Such a threat should not be allowed to develop.

The interests of the United States and its allies could suffer from Russia's failure to respond appropriately to Islamist extremism. Washington needs to develop a strategy to respond to potential "spillover" from Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus. The U.S. and its allies need to monitor the region for early signs of danger in order to respond appropriately. A modest investment in intelligence, diplomacy, and capacity-building with U.S. friends and allies could help to mitigate the rising Islamist threat and the effects of misguided Russian policies.

As explained in the article, spillover threatens important US allies, as well as important trade routes, especially energy trade routes, that skirt Russia's southern border through Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Well, fast-forward to 2013. The investment in the North Caucasus as a possible rival to Silicon Valley has begun. From New energy opportunities in Russia thanks to photovoltaics, May 23, 2013 (see original for links that I did not reproduce):

According to Tomasz Slusarz (CEO of Solar PV Consulting), Russia will consolidate its dominant position in the global energy market, above all, thanks to photovoltaic power.

Russia is one of the leading oil and gas producers and exporters in the world, but this has not stopped the government’s ambitions in the search for clean energy supplies. For this reason, and for some time, they have begun investing in alternative energy sources, including photovoltaics.

[snip]

The sun is certainly not lacking in Russia where there is a potential of about 1,870 TWh of radiation and an economic potential of 101 GWh per year. The sunniest regions are those in the south, particularly the Northern Caucasus...

[snip]

In fact, investments have been made by multi-billion dollar giants such as Renova and Lukoil both for the accomplishment of photovoltaic parks in order to encourage the creation of a national industrial sector.

A few weeks ago, they set the bases for the birth of a "Silicon Valley" in the Northern Caucasus, a joint venture between the local government and private companies to promote a project with the goal of producing polycrystalline silicon photovoltaic cells and modules.

Similarly, in Dagestan, a California-based company called Plug & Play has begun operations in the capital, helping develop businesses in the republic. From Plug & Play Tech Center opens in Dagestan, October 22, 2013:

Plug & Play, a Silicon Valley-based global business incubator, has opened a new affiliate center in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan – a praiseworthy initiative in a region in Russia’s Northern Caucasus more often in the news for political conflicts and religious extremism than for IT innovations.

As East-West Digital News, the international resource on Russian digital industries, reported earlier this month, the Plug & Play Dagestan Center is located on the Dagestan State Technological University’s campus and plans to support 10-15 startups simultaneously. These projects receive a working space, mentors, legal advice, help with the search for funding, and the opportunity to present their projects to investors after six months.

[snip]

Plug & Play, which presents itself as “Silicon Valley in a Box”, claims that its incubated startups it has have raised more than $1 billion since 2006.

The question that comes to mind, though, is how much foreign investment and foreign tourism can the region expect, given the now-deteriorating security situation? From Failed North Caucasus Policy , July 22, 2013:

Events of the last few months have created the strong impression that something serious is brewing in the North Caucasus. Fighting in Chechnya has intensified, as has the conflict over its border with Ingushetia. Meanwhile, militants continue to kill policemen in Dagestan, and Chechen warlord Doku Umarov has threatened to detonate a bomb during the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The problem is not that the Kremlin has recently committed a fatal mistake of some sort. Rather, we are witnessing the cumulative effect of a series of many small past mistakes resulting from the lack of a coherent strategy. Now, the authorities must deal with the consequences.

[snip]

Russia's withdrawal from the North Caucasus is effectively already underway in the form of a large-scale ­departure from the region of ethnic Russians. Meanwhile, several republics in the region no longer subject themselves to Russian legal or political norms, although formally they remain under Moscow's authority.

In Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan, Moscow rejected its usual approach of buying loyalty from the ethnic clan elites, attempting instead to achieve stability through the use of ­siloviki. But by relying on siloviki brought in from outside the region, Moscow's presence begins to resemble more of an occupying force. That model of rule is inherently unstable, and it is unclear just what price Moscow will end up paying for it in the near future. For example, it is clear that the dismantling of strongman and former Makhachkala mayor Said Amirov in Dagestan will sharply increase the risk of serious instability there.

Meanwhile, across the international borders, Armenia is working to become the Silicon Valley of the Caucasus. From Armenia can become Silicon Valley of the Caucasus, December 20, 2012:

On December 8, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan met with the President of the California Institute of Technology Jean Lou Chameau, the Aysor.am reported.

According to the press service of the government, the Prime Minister presented the ongoing in the country education reform, as well as the process of international accreditation of Armenian universities. They discussed the prospects of bilateral cooperation and the development of information technology in Armenia.

The U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, who attended the meeting, said that Armenia had the potential to become the Silicon Valley of the Caucasus.

(See also Armenia could become Silicon Valley of the Caucasus – Adam Schiff.)

Why indeed would foreign workers - whose expertise would be needed for anything more than just production of raw materials - and foreign capital be sent to Russia's North Caucasus, when across the international border (indeed, with a country in between) is the potential for greater development of true high-tech industry in a country that is safe from Islamic terrorism and free of the Moscow-backed corruption?


It will be interesting to see how the Winter Olympics go in Sochi, and what happens in other places, such as Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bogey Dope, Part 4

In Part 1, we had an overview of the special election in 2012 to fill the Congressional seat that Congresswoman Giffords vacated due to her injury, including a glimpse of the candidates. The focus of this series has been on situation facing Martha McSally, a former Air Force fighter pilot, the first woman fighter pilot in combat and the first woman to command a fighter squadron.

In Part 2 we looked at what McSally was up against - not her opponents in the election... the corruption in Washington and beyond that was resulting in the problems her district faces and which she would have to deal with in Washington, should she win a seat in Congress.

In Part 3 we looked at the in-fighting among the Democrats, and saw how the Democrat powerbrokers are not really "pro-choice" when it comes to a democratic election; in fact, the strategy of the Democrat powerbrokers was to eliminate all competition (even the Greens) in the district and polarize support on the left, while hoping that competition would weaken the Republican side.

Ultimately, McSally lost in the special election primary to Jesse Kelly. Kelly then lost to Democrat Ron Barber.

However, this was not the end of the fight for McSally. From the beginning, it was apparent McSally was in this for the long haul, and was ready to face some set-backs. She went into the special election determined to become the Congressional representative for that part of Arizona. Thus, win or lose in the special election, she was determined to run again in the redistricted Congressional District 2, which represents the same part of the state.


So, in the November, 2012, election McSally prevailed as the Republican candidate, but then lost to Congressman Barber who sought to retain a seat he had won in the special election.


This is interesting, because Barber's entry into the special election suggests that he did so at the last minute and perhaps only intending to hold the CD8 seat while someone else could line up for the regular redistricted CD2 election – in sharp contrast to McSally, who from the beginning had the seat targeted.

So, what is happening was actually predictable and predicted.


After Jesse Kelly lost, once in 2010 to Giffords, then again to Barber in the 2012 special election, the Republican mantel passed to McSally – see NY Times 2012 House Race Ratings - who, despite her loss in the 2012 general election, is trying for the seat again.

And, again, McSally is going to face a primary fight. First, on September 28, Ed Martin announced his candidacy, then, on November 5, Shelley Kais announced hers.

It will definitely be an uphill battle for Martin and Kais. McSally already had a campaign apparatus in place, she has a following, and she is raising money. Significantly, though the pundits suggest McSally is going to be getting backing from Republicans on a national level, as I look over the campaign finance reports filed on her behalf with the Federal Election Commission, I notice that nearly all of the money that has come in for her is from individual contributions. McSally seems to have popular support. It does not look like Martin or Kais have done significant fund-raising.

The incumbent, Democrat Ron Barber, has some money and some support.

Analysts correctly identify Barber as vulnerable, since his district is a swing-split ticket district and is contestable. On the Democrat side, big names are rallying behind someone they consider to be vulnerable; specifically, Nancy Pelosi's leadership PAC, PAC to the Future, has already given Barber $10,000 this year – thus a tie-in to another series I started today.


It looks again like the Democrats will not permit any dissidence, while the Republicans can expect a fight in the primary.

Stay tuned as this series continues.