Regional Leaders Want African Troop Surge in Mali

Mali-carte-EN_29-01West African heads of state have decided to send more troops to Mali in an effort to speed up the defeat of Islamic militants who control parts of that West African country, according to regional official.

The decision of the leaders is expected to lead to a deployment of 5,000 to 6,000 troops, up from the initially planned 3,300 troops.

Interveiw with Sonny Ugoh, ECOWAS Communications Director
Interveiw with Sonny Ugoh, ECOWAS Communications Director

The decision came as regional defense chiefs met over the weekend, said Sonny Ugoh, communications director of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

“They met to see how they can fast track the deployment of regional troops to support the Malian Armed Forces and the French Forces in northern Mali,” said Ugoh.

“It has become obvious to all that we will need beyond the 3,300 original pledges that they had [made] to deal with the situation,” Ugoh said. “Chadians are coming with about 2,000 troops and one or two other African countries have indicated that they also want to contribute.

“What is important is that there should be an expeditious deployment so that we can support the Malians and French Forces who are making quite some progress in dealing with the situation in the north,” he said. “And we need more boots on the ground to flush out the Islamists in northern Mali.”

Ugoh says contrary to earlier reports, the regional force will take on the Islamists militarily in an effort to restore government control in northern Mali.

“Of course they are equipped for combat role as part of the U.N. Security Council mandate,” Ugoh said of the African troops. “What we have said is that we needed the support of the international community to plug the gaps that we have identified in their ability to function effectively.”

He said ECOWAS wants to make sure that Mali remains a united country with a credible government.

“We want to maintain Mali’s territorial integrity. And then we have to go back to the consultative process and to develop a roadmap that will enable Malians to restore democratic governance, have a president that is elected and an elected parliament and have an inclusive process that gives everybody a sense of belonging and that is sustainable,” he said.

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Xi Jinping Raises the Bar on PLA “Combat Readiness”

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping

General Secretary and Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping lost no time in establishing his stamp of authority over the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which is deemed an important power base of the new leader.

Barely two months after he took over the chairmanship of the policy-setting Central Military Commission (CMC) from President Hu Jintao, Xi has passed a series of regulations on “administering the army with strictness and austerity.” The 59-year-old Xi has with lightning speed presided over a large-scale reshuffle of senior staff in the four general departments as well as the seven military regions (MRs). More significantly, the CMC chief has put significantly more emphasis than his predecessors on combat readiness, reiterating that it is the calling of every solider to fight and win wars.

A much-enhanced degree of combat readiness was the theme of Xi’s visit to the Guangzhou MR last month. It also is significant that the official media used the term Guangzhou Zhanqu [literally Guangzhou War Theater] to describe the military region.

In Xi’s first regional inspection trip, the CMC chairman vowed to “comprehensively strengthen military construction from the point of view of being more revolutionary, more modernized and more institutionalized.” He told officers and soldiers to “to firmly remember that following the party’s instructions is the soul of a strong army, while the ability to fight and to win wars is the quintessence of a strong army”

Military chiefs from ex-president Jiang Zemin to Hu routinely have called upon the top military leadership to “prepare for military struggle.” Xi, however, was the first Commander-in-Chief to spell out in no uncertain terms that the PLA must “push forward preparations for military struggle through insisting on using the criteria of actual combat…We must ceaselessly boost the idea that soldiers join the PLA to fight, and that [the calling of] officers is to lead soldiers in combat and to train them for [real] warfare.”

In Guangzhou, Xi also said “We must train our troops with tough and strict criteria which are based on the needs of actual combat.” He reiterated that the “core” of the PLA’s multi-dimensional military tasks was “the ability to win regional warfare under IT-oriented conditions.” Indeed, since the end of the Maoist era, Xi is the first PLA chief to have given such graphic instructions about the army’s constant combat readiness: “We must ensure that our troops are ready when called upon, that they are fully capable of fighting, and that they must win every war”

Xi’s hard-line remarks were repeated by the “Instruction on Military Training in 2013” that was issued by the GSD earlier this week. The Instruction asked all military staff to “bolster their ideological [commitment] to engaging in combat.” Officers and soldiers were asked to “do well in preparations for fighting wars” and “to train the troops under difficult and severe conditions and based on the requirements of actual combat.” The document also read “We must raise our ability in fighting wars and in solving major difficulties that affect training in actual combat.”

There seems little doubt that as Chinese military commentators have pointed out, the recent flexing of military muscle—and thinly veiled threats of actual combat—is integral to enhanced psychological warfare particularly in view of exacerbated confrontation with Japan over the Diaoyu-Senkaku archipelago.

China and North Korea Working to Modernize Egypt’s Missile Systems

scuds_afpReports indicate that China and North Korea are helping Egypt “modernize [its] short-range missile systems.”

According to U.S. intelligence officials, this work is being carried out by technicians from China’s Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation.  They are in Egypt working with the North Koreans, as the North Koreans are working with Cairo.

The missile activities were detected in connection with Egypt’s Sakr Factory, the main missile production facility that makes Egypt’s Scud-Bs and extended-range Scud Cs. The aim appears to be to take Egypt beyond a simplistic scud missile capability to a more advanced scud or a different missile altogether.

This escalation in missile technology comes at time when the U.S. is scheduled to deliver 20 F-16 fighters to Cairo as a part of a $1.5 billion arms package approved with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

New intelligence about the Chinese-North Korean missile cooperation follow previous intelligence reports from November that North Korea was planning to ship Scud missile components to Egypt. That cooperation was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea for its nuclear and long-range missile tests prohibit U.N. members from purchasing such North Korean military assistance.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has sent a letter to President Obama asking for a delay in delivery of the F-16s in order to give Congress time to further evaluate the conditions of the military sale, and of course, the posture of Cairo.

Inhofe wants to be sure the U.S. is not arming a country that is preparing to strike Israel.

France to deport ‘radical foreign imams’

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has said that Paris is set to deport a string of radical religious imams as part of a fight against “global jihadism”.

“Several radical foreign preachers will be expelled in the coming days,” Valls told a Brussels conference called to tackle extremism in Europe on Tuesday, without identifying any of the individuals concerned.

“I don’t confuse this radical Islam with the Islam of France but there is a religious environment, there are Salafist groupings, who are involved in a political process, whose aim is to monopolize cultural associations, the schooling system,” he added.

“We will expel all these imams, all these foreign preachers who denigrate women, who hold views that run counter to our values and who say there is a need to combat France.

“We have to be extremely firm and that I will be,” he said.

The move is part of a program that France has carried for years against those who preach violence or considered to be a threat to public order and French values.

In October, France expelled a Tunisian imam accused of calling his followers to “violent jihad” and violence against women, the interior ministry said.

All New U.S. Cars May Require a “Big Brother-like” Black Box by 2014

Flight data recorders, commonly known as “black boxes,” have been a standard feature in airliners since the early 1960s. More recently, various companies have started offering apps and dedicated devices that essentially serve as black boxes for cars, keeping a record of the vehicle’s parameters and location when involved in an accident.

NHTSA logoNow, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing a new rule that similar devices become mandatory in all new light passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. by September 1st, 2014.

According to the NHTSA, an estimated 96 percent of model year 2013 passenger cars and light-duty vehicles already come equipped with event data recorders (EDRs), although their owners may not be aware of it.  Automakers began installing them in the early 1990s, but they weren’t required to disclose their existence in the car owner’s manual.

ACLU-American-Civil-Liberties-Union-logoThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants that to change, with consumers being better informed about the EDR’s presence. Increasingly, black box data is being used in criminal cases and lawsuits, including those involving high-profile individuals.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray initially said that he wasn’t speeding and that he was wearing his seat belt when he crashed a government-owned car last year. But the Ford Crown Victoria’s data recorder told a different story: It showed the car was traveling more than 100 mph and Murray wasn’t belted in.

In 2007, then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was seriously injured in the crash of an SUV driven by a state trooper. Corzine was a passenger. The SUV’s recorder showed the vehicle was traveling 91 mph on a parkway where the speed limit was 65 mph, and Corzine didn’t have his seat belt on.

Investigator inspecting a black box taken from a 2008 Toyota Avalon involved in a fatal 2009 car accident in Euless, Texas
Investigator inspecting a black box taken from a 2008 Toyota Avalon involved in a fatal 2009 car accident in Euless, Texas

Unlike the aftermarket devices, which are aimed chiefly at providing proof that a driver wasn’t at fault in an accident, the factory-installed EDRs are intended more as a way of collecting data regarding which actions lead to accidents, and how a vehicle’s safety systems respond when an accident occurs. That data could then be used by automakers or government agencies, to help make roads and vehicles safer.

NHTSA officials say expanding the use of the data recorders in all new cars and trucks will help them better assess the cause of accidents. The boxes have heretofore recorded a vehicle’s speed, its location and total number of passengers at the time of an accident. There will now be a requirement that 15 types of data be recorded.

Some of the EDR-recorded data that the NHTSA hopes to analyze includes things such as vehicle speed; whether or not the brake was activated before a crash; crash forces at the moment of impact; engine throttle level; deployment timing and readiness of air bags; and whether or not the vehicle occupant’s seat belt was buckled. EDRs are triggered by an impact or air bag deployment, and only save data from the moments leading up to and during an accident.

Privacy advocates say they will support the proposal as long as certain measures are adopted. For instance, they don’t want the data in the black boxes to be used by marketers.

Lillie Coney
Lillie Coney

“You should not think of this as being an opportunity to sell data to auto-insurance companies for risk evaluation. That’s a real possibility. Data is valuable,” Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Wired. “Right now we’re in an environment where there are no rules, there are no limits, there are no consequences and there is no transparency,” she said.

In 2006, the NHTSA established a set of data collection standards for the devices. The new proposal calls for automakers not only to follow those standards, but also to provide a commercially-available tool for copying that data from a vehicle – and for EDRs to be required equipment in any passenger vehicle weighing less than 8,500 pounds (3,856 kg). The agency couldn’t access or use the data without the vehicle owner’s consent, however.

Part of the concern is that the increasing computerization of cars and the growing transmission of data to and from vehicles could lead to unintended uses of recorder data.

Gloria Bergquist
Gloria Bergquist

“Basically your car is a computer now, so it can record all kinds of information,” said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers. “It’s a lot of the same issues you have about your computer or your smartphone and whether Google or someone else has access to the data.”

Big Brother Is Watching 02“More importantly, we need to clearly establish the principle that the data on these black box computers belongs to the person who owns the car,” Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, wrote. “When you buy a car, you also buy the many computers that, increasingly, run that car. The data on your EDR should belong to you—and be no more accessible to the police or anyone else without a warrant, or your consent, than the data on the laptop sitting on the seat next to you.”

Is Qatar Fuelling the Crisis in North Mali?

Since Islamist groups exploited a military coup in the Malian capital of Bamako in early 2012 to take control of the entire north of the country, accusations of Qatari involvement in a crisis that has seen France deploy troops have been growing.

Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen
Michelle Demessine
Michelle Demessine

Last week two French politicians explicitly accused Qatar of giving material support to separatists and Islamists in north Mali, adding fuel to speculation that the Emirate is playing a behind-the-scenes role in spreading Islamic fundamentalism in Africa.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and Communist Party Senator Michelle Demessine both said that that Qatar had questions to answer.“If Qatar is objecting to France’s engagement in Mali it’s because intervention risks destroying Doha’s most fundamentalist allies,” Le Pen said in a statement on her party website, in response to a call by Qatari Prime Minister

Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani
Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani for dialogue with the Islamists.

The first accusations of Qatari involvement with Tuareg separatists and Islamist groups came in a June 2012 article in respected French weekly the Canard Enchainé.

In a piece title “Our friend Qatar is financing Mali’s Islamists”, the newspaper alleged that the oil-rich Gulf state was financing the separatists.

It quoted an unnamed source in French military intelligence saying: “The MNLA [secular Tuareg separatists], al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine and MUJAO [movement for unity and Jihad in West Africa] have all received cash from Doha.”

Sadou Diallo
Sadou Diallo

A month later Sadou Diallo, the mayor of the north Malian city of Gao [which had fallen to the Islamists] told RTL radio: “The French government knows perfectly well who is supporting these terrorists. Qatar, for example, continues to send so-called aid and food every day to the airports of Gao and Timbuktu.”

Regional geopolitical expert Mehdi Lazar, who specializes on Qatar, wrote in French weekly news magazine L’Express in December that Doha’s relationship with predominantly Muslim north Mali was deeply entrenched.

“Qatar has an established a network of institutions it funds in Mali, including madrassas, schools and charities that it has been funding from the 1980s,” he wrote, adding that Qatar would be expecting a return on this investment.

Mehdi Lazar
Mehdi Lazar

“Mali has huge oil and gas potential and it needs help developing its infrastructure,” he said. “Qatar is well placed to help, and could also, on the back of good relations with an Islamist-ruled north Mali, exploit rich gold and uranium deposits in the country.”

Qatar’s foreign policy is also motivated by religion, wrote Lazar, and success in Mali would “greatly increase the Emirate’s influence in West Africa and the Sahel region”.

“If the Qatari influence in the current situation in Mali turns out to be real, it must be seen in the context of two branches of a global competition,” he wrote. “Firstly, competition with Saudi Arabia to be the center of Sunni Islam; secondly, in terms of competition between the Sunni and Shiite branches of the Muslim faith.

“It would be an extension of the effort Qatar is already making in Egypt, Libya and in Tunisia.”

Lazar does not believe, however, that Qatar will get directly involved in the conflict unfolding in Mali, however, and that rather than getting its hands dirty, Doha will try to position itself as mediator in future negotiations between the Malian government, the various rebel groups in the north of the country, Algeria and France.

Smartphone Apps Now Use Microphone to Record Your Conversations

Did you know that many of the apps you download to your smartphone now use your microphone to listen to you and your camera to take pictures of you without your confirmation?

New terms of agreement contracts now being attached to app downloads require users to accept that their cellphones become literal monitoring devices that record conversations and surreptitiously take pictures without the user ever giving permission.151012app1

It’s been common knowledge for years that app companies and service providers use GPS technology to pinpoint the location of smartphone users.

However, if you choose to download a couple of Android apps, one a social networking app and the other a simple calendar, you will be mandated to relinquish every aspect of privacy imaginable in order to download the app.

As you can see from the image above, app companies now demand the right to;

– “Record Audio” – “Allows the app to record audio with the microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.”

– “Take pictures and videos” – “Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.”

App companies are also requiring you to allow them to approximate your location, send SMS messages from your phone that cost you money, read your contacts, read your phone status and identity, get “full network access” to your communications (in other words listen to your phone calls), modify or delete the contents of your USB storage, and disable your screen lock (the 4 digit code that password-protects your phone).

Since the vast majority of people simply consent to terms of agreement without bothering to read them, this means that potentially millions of smartphone users all over the world have given app companies and by extension service providers permission to record their conversations and take pictures of their private life.

This has been allowed to pass virtually unnoticed with barely any press attention or privacy debate whatsoever.

Since smartphones are dependent on apps, users are being given the option to either not use them and render their expensive device largely redundant, or submit to have their private conversations and personal life catalogued as if they were trapped inside The Truman Show.151012app2