Tuesday, July 29, 2008

al-Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has released its second report about al-Qa'ida's foreign fighters in Iraq. Entitled Bombers, Bank Accounts, and Bleedout: al-Qa`ida's Road in and Out of Iraq, the report expands on the analysis contained in the first report and introduces "a host of new data" about suicide bombers, fighters, funding sources and expenditures, and ties to other groups.

Major new findings summarized by Professor Sawyer of West Point (GovDoc-L 28 Jul 2008) include:
Foreign Fighters were an important source of funds for AQI; Saudi Fighters contributed far more money than any other nationality.

Far more Syrians and Egyptians are held at Camp Bucca than were listed in the Sinjar Records, which likely reflects the demographic shift away from those nationalities.

Approximately 75% of suicide bombings in Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007 can be attributed to fighters listed in the Sinjar Records.

"Bleedout" of fighters from Iraq is occurring, but in relatively small numbers. Nonetheless, these individual fighters will likely be well-trained and very dangerous. The primary threat from these fighters is to Arab states, Af-Pak, and perhaps Somalia.

Smuggling of all kinds across the Syrian/Iraqi border has long been linked to corruption in both Syria and Iraq, which limits both government's ability to crackdown.

Fighters that contributed money to AQI were more likely to become suicide bombers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nuclear Threat to Electronic Communications Sytems

The Commission to Assess the Threat to United States from
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack
has released its latest report entitled Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: Critical National Infrastructure. According to the report:
The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source of vulnerability to attack by EMP. Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems. When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation.1 This broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability to produce widespread and long lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures that underpin the fabric of U.S. society.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Minimum Wage Increase

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 2007, the minimum wage increases to $6.55 an hour effective today, July 24, 2008. On July 24, 2009, the minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour, the third and final increase dictated by FLSA.

For more information, see Compliance Assistance - Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Social Security Estimator

The Social Security Administration released a new easier online calculator on July 21, 2008. According to the news release, the Retirement Estimator is tied to a person's Social Security record, thus eliminating the need to type earnings information from past years. A person can print up to three different scenarios at a time to see what payments would be for retiring, for example, at age 62, full retirement age, or age 70. The system is secure since it only provides retirement benefit estimates while not revealing earnings records or personal information.

The calculator works best for those approaching retirement since it requires predicting future earnings which is harder to do for younger workers who are a long way from retirement. However, it does give younger workers valuable information to help in planning and saving for eventual retirement.

The Social Security Administration is also planning to introduce another time-saving feature in the fall, a new online application form that will reduce filing time from 45 minutes to about 15 minutes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

According to a July 10, 2008 press release, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs held a seventh hearing on Islamist radicalization and homegrown terrorism. Witnesses including Maajid Nawaz, a former leader of the United Kingdom's Hizb uut-Tahrir now working as a counterterrorist, "outlined steps that should be taken to identify, isolate and ultimately eliminate the threat of homegrown terrorism and the ideology that supports it." Committee Chairman, Joe Liberman, said, "We must better understand the roots of Islamist ideology so we can better guide our international, national and local efforts to counter its spread under its many different names, whether it is Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizb ut-Tharir, the Muslim Brotherhood, or other splinter groups that promote the ideology."

The House also addressed this topic in its Rept. 110-384 Pt. 1, Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (Oct. 16, 2007). One of the nine points made in the report addresses who might be a terrorist: "Individuals prone to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence span all races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, and individuals should not be targeted based solely on race, ethnicity, or religion."

The act recommends establishing a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Ideologically Based Violence. First among the Commission's charges is to "Examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States, including United States connections to non-United States persons and networks, violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in prison, individual or `lone wolf' violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence, and other faces of the phenomena of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence that the Commission considers important." View the latest status on the progress of the act through Congress.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

National War Powers Commission Report

The National War Powers Commission co-chaired by former Secretaries of State James A. Baker, III and Warren Christopher recommended in a report released on July 8, 2008 that Congress repeal the War Powers Resolution of 1973 "and substitute a new statute that would provide for more meaningful consultation between the president and Congress on matters of war."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Two Iraq Reports Now Available

The Rand Corporation just released a report analyzing the planning and execution of combat and stability operations in Iraq. Conducted for the U.S. Army, the report begins with prewar planning, revealing that while many government agencies and organizations "identified a range of potential postwar challenges and suggested strategies for addressing them" before the invasion of Iraq, two sets of assumptions by officials in the highest levels of government undermined those suggestions: 1. many senior government policymakers were optimistic about "conditions that would emerge after major combat concluded" and overrode counterarguments, and 2. senior military commanders thought that civilians would be responsible for the postwar period. The report also looks at the role of U.S. military forces after initial combat ended on May 1, 2003 through June 2004, and civilian reconstruction efforts. Both the June 30, 2008 press release and the report entitled After Saddam: Postwar Planning and the Occupation of Iraq are available online. (The report is also available in paper.) This report is one of an eight-volume set analyzing combat and stability planning and execution in Iraq. Six of the volumes are classified; a seventh volume, in process, will be unclassified.

The conduct of the war in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein is the subject of another report just released by the Combat Studies Institute Press at Fort Leavenworth. Entitled The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 2003-January 2005: On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign, the report "examines both the high-level decisions that shaped military operations after May 2003 as well as the effects of those decisions on units and Soldiers who became responsible for conducting those operations." A print copy is also available from the Government Printing Office. A review of the report is available from History News.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Recycled Interrogation Methods

The New York Times revealed in a July 2 article entitled "China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo," that interrogation methods used by the Chinese on American prisoners of war during the Korean War were imitated by our military trainers in Guantanamo Bay. Congressional hearings have expressed concerns about using such methods. On July 26, 2007, for example, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s S. HRG. 110-257 entitled Extraordinary Rendition, Extraterritorial Detention and Treatment of Detainees: Restoring Our Moral Credibility and Strengthening Our Diplomatic Standing contains statements from Senators Biden and Feingold denouncing such techniques. Likewise Senator Leahy in the Judiciary Committee’s S.HRG. 110-299 entitled Preserving the Rule of Law in the Fight Against Terrorism, Oct. 2, 2007 denounced similar methods used in Abu Ghraib: “. . . the terrible abuses of Abu Ghraib, which stained us as a country and which were the direct results of a lack of clarity and restraint in the rules of interrogation.”

How do we as a country find an effective yet moral way to gain necessary intelligence, a method showing clarity and restraint? The Intelligence Science Board of the National Defense Intelligence College has been grappling with better ways to solicit information. Its Dec. 2006 Phase 1 report entitled Educing Information, Interrogation: Science and Art, Foundations for the Future, covers a wide variety of subjects such as evaluating intelligence detection devices, the costs and benefits of interrogation, behavior science lessons learned from educing information, and challenges in developing a new educing information paradigm.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Hot" Tomatoes

"Should I eat that juicy red tomato in my salad?" is a question many people are asking themselves right now. Salmonellosis Outbreak in Certain Types of Tomato by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives information about the types of tomatoes involved in the recent Samonella outbreak (raw red plum, red Roma, round red tomatoes). It also lists the areas/states still considered safe for raw tomato consumption. (Texas is considered safe.) To date cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and tomatoes with the vine still attached have not been linked with the disease.

Symptoms of Salmonellosis, the infection caused by the Samonella bacteria, are diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps appearing 12 to 72 hours after infection. Most people do not need hospitalization for the disease which usually lasts 4 to 7 days and is normally treated with fluids and rest under a doctor's care. However, if the diarrhea becomes severe the patient may need hospitalization and treatment with antibiotics. Most at risk are the elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems.

Measures listed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to prevent Samonella contamination are:
  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
  • Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
  • Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or immunocompromised persons.
  • Don't work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
  • Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.