Tuesday, August 30, 2005

GS(3) Intel Briefing (8-30-05)

NOTE: GS(3) Intelligence Briefing is posted on a bi-weekly basis. As circumstances dictate, we may post special editions. The Briefing is organized into five sections: Europe, Middle East and Africa, Asia Pacific, Americas, Global and Cyberspace. Each issue will provide insight on terrorism, cyber crime, climate change, health emergencies, natural disasters and other threats, as well as recommendations on what actions your organizations should take to mitigate risks. Starting in Sept. 2005, "Words of Power" commentary will also be posted on a bi-weekly basis. This commentary will explore a range of issues in the interdependent realms of security, sustainability and spirit.

GS(3) Intel Briefing (8-30-05)

Europe, Middle East & Africa
Torrential rain, swollen rivers and breached dams have caused floods in Romania, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia, and resulted in least fifty or sixty deaths over the last several months. In Romania, two thousand homes were submerged in three days. In Bulgaria, 14,000 people were left homeless in July. In Switzerland, the floods caused landslides and cutting roads and railway lines. Bulgaria has asked the European Union for help to pay for 850 million levs (i.e., $529.6 million) worth of damage. The economic cost in Switzerland is estimated at1bn Swiss Francs (i.e., £440m or 640m euros). Meanwhile, dozens of wildfires rage out of control across Portugal (burning an estimated 180,000 hectares, i.e., 450,000 acres), and areas of southern Europe are experiencing severe heat and drought (the worst in sixty years). Global warming? Drought is, of course, part of the natural cycle in the region, with severe drought expected every ten years and exceptional drought expected every forty years. And, as Malcolm Haylock, of the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, UK, recently told the BBC: “You can say that due to the Earth getting warmer there will be on average more extreme events, but you can't attribute any specific event to climate change.” But, while Haylock’s caution is, of course, laudable; the heat waves, droughts, severe storms and floods hitting Europe are linked to global warming and climate change in one way or another. Yes, there are trends going back fifty years and a hundred years. Yes, the North Atlantic Oscillation is a significant factor. Yes, there are other significant factors (e.g., poor land management and arson in the Portuguese fires). But global warming exacerbates and eclipses them all.

  • All organizations should regularly review, revise and test their business continuity and disaster recovery plans. If your organization does not already have such a plan, it is imperative that you develop one and implement it ASAP.

  • All organizations should also perform a risk analysis concerning the potential impact of global warming (a.k.a. climate change), including its security implications.

  • Organizations should incorporate relevant information and suggestions about climate change, in general, and specific regional issues (e.g., floods or fires), in particular, into awareness and education programs for their workforce.

Asia Pacific
Unlike many U.S. anti-terrorism experts, who resigned in frustration with Bush administration’s misguided policies over the past several years (e.g., John P. O’Neill of the FBI, Richard A. Clarke of the National Security Council and Michael Scheuer of the CIA), French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière is still in power and empowered.
In a fascinating interview with the Financial Times (8-25-05) Bruguière confirmed that the war in Iraq was the “incontestable calayst” of the current upsurge in terrorism and highlighted the lessons of the Istanbul attacks in 2003  (“the issue is not just about the number of victims, it is also the value of the event in a media, political and geopolitical context...”).
He also warned of a possible al Qaeda network attack on one of Asia’s financial hubs:
“We are somewhat neglecting the capacity or desire of the al-Qaeda organization to destabilise the south-east Asia region. We have several elements of information that make us think that countries in this region, especially Japan, could have been targeted. An attack on this country would have a very serious effect.
“We forget that the al-Qaeda organization is sharpening its strategy, more than just focusing on so-called soft targets it is looking to hit economic and financial centers. They have understood that oil is a great tool to increase anxiety and produce a damaging economic effect. They know the economic reality well. Any attack on a financial market, like Japan, would mechanically have an important economic impact on the confidence of investors.”
Japanese parliamentary elections will be held on 9-11-05.
The warning alone was enough to affect markets Friday, with the yen dropping against the dollar. Bruguière said Asian cities were less prepared for dealing with terror threats than their counterparts in the West and so were more vulnerable to an attack.
“I don't think it's a question of whether a terrorist attack will occur in Japan, but when,'' Katsuya Okada, the leader of Japan's opposition Democratic Party of Japan said, ``Japan is basically undefended.'' Okada's DPJ has told voters it will withdraw Japanese troops from Iraq at the end of the year if it wins power.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, President Susilo Yudhoyono said publicly that security would be stepped up because attacks where being planned for September and October, which he referred to “special months.” The Bali nightclub bombing in 2002, the JW Marriot bombing in 2003 and the Australian Embassy bombing in 2004, which killed a total of 225 people, all occurred in the August-October time frame.
  • All organizations that operate in Japan, Singapore, Australia, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand should understand their exposures and vulnerabilities, e.g., where are your offices in relation to likely terrorist targets, such as financial centers, embassies, tourist sites, etc.?

  • All organizations that conduct business travel to Japan, Singapore, Australia, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand should implement travel security programs (e.g., monitor security situations, track travelers’ itinerary and raise awareness).

On Sunday night, Hurricane Katrina, was a Category 5 storm on track to blast New Orleans with winds in excess of 160 miles an hour and storm surges of up to 20 feet. I monitored CNN’s non-stop coverage for several hours. Their promos referred repeatedly to the “almost unheard of strength” of storm, but their talking heads made no mention of global warming or climate change or the significant scientific research from MIT or insurance industry study released recently. The U.S. mainstream news media has not only failed the U.S. populace on vital issues of national security, but also on environmental security in general and global warming in particular.
Of course, if CNN had raised the issue, they probably would have obscured missed the point. The insightful question is not “Was Katrina caused by global warming?” That’s a stupid question, for which there is a simple answer: “No.” The insightful question is “What impact does global warming have on hurricane creation in the region?” Just as the often debated “Is the consumption of fossil fuels causing global warming?” was a misleading question. The real question always was “What is the impact of the fossil fuel consumption on the phenomena of global warming?”
On Sunday night, the Mayor of New Orleans characterized the impending disaster as a “once in a lifetime” event. Although that remark may be historically accurate, looking forward, it is very unrealistic. Global warming, a.k.a. climate change, is already resulting in bigger, fiercer, more frequent and more long-lasting hurricanes.
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people may be homeless. Eighty percent of New Orleans is under water. Marrtial law has been declared. Thousands who were allowed into the Superdome for shelter now have to be evacuated. Whole towns in Mississippi and Alabama have been destroyed. Millions are without electricity.
Insurance industry analysts are projecting costs of as much as $25 billion. To provide some context for that price tag, the 9/11 attacks cost $30 billion, last year’s major hurricanes (Ivan, Charley, Francis, Jeanne) cost $35 billion all together.
Twenty-five percent of US crude oil production comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Times of London: "At the moment, almost the entire US Gulf oil production capacity is out of commission, some 1.4 million barrels a day, and more than 80 per cent of its gas output." Crude oil futures spiked to more than $70 a barrel for the first time Monday. Wholesale gasoline prices in the New York and Gulf Coast markets soared by 25-35 cents a gallon.
Katrina veered to the east, and lessened to a Category 3 storm just before landfall--if it hadn’t the destruction and disruption, catastrophic as it is, could have been even worse. The Port of Southern Louisiana, which stretches for fifty miles up and down the Mississippi River, is the fifth largest port in the world, if measured by tonnage. Only Singapore, Rotterdam, Shanghai and Hong Kong are bigger. It is a major hub in the global economy.
Of course, there will be another major storm, perhaps even more than one, in a matter of days or weeks.
“Katrina is the eleventh storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1. That is seven more than are usually whipped up by this stage of the season in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the United States' National Hurricane Centre said. The season ends on November 30.” New Zealand Herald, 8-29-05
The profound significance of global warming (a.k.a climate change) is not the only environmental security lesson to be learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, e.g., on Monday, Associated Press reported: ”Hurricane Katrina didn't deliver a direct hit on New Orleans Monday, there still were fears that the storm could turn one of America's most charming cities into a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released by floodwaters from the city's legendary cemeteries. Experts have warned for years that the levees and pumps that usually keep New Orleans dry have no chance against a direct hit by a Category 5 storm.”
  • All organizations should regularly review, revise and test their business continuity and disaster recovery plans. If your organization does not already have such a plan, it is imperative that you develop one and implement it ASAP.

  • All organizations should also perform a risk analysis concerning the potential impact of climate change, including its security implications.

  • Organizations should incorporate relevant information and suggestions about climate change, in general, and specific regional issues (e.g., hurricanes, typhoons), in particular, into awareness and education programs for their workforce.

Borne on the wings of the world’s waterfowl, bird flu is on the move. Reports from Siberia, Kazakhstan, Tibet and Finland reveal that geographical area of impact has expanded dramatically in the past several weeks.  More ominously, migratory patterns suggest that infected birds heading south from China’s Lake Qinghai will bring the virus to the wetlands of India, Bangladesh, and other birds heading from southwest from Siberia and Kazakhstan will bring it to the Black Sea and Europe's largest wetlands in Romania and Bulgaria, where they will co-mingle with waterfowl from Scandinavia, Poland and Germany.
Veterinary experts from the 25 European Union member states meet to discuss what further action should be taken. The EU and Turkey have banned live poultry and feather imports from Russia and Kazakhstan. Dutch farmers were ordered to bring all 5.5m free-range poultry indoors. Italy imposed tightened quarantine of foodstuff and live birds, as well as random examinations of baggage of passengers from countries seriously affected.
Meanwhile, in S.E. Asia, Malaysia has decided to stockpile the anti-viral drug oseltamivir (a.k.a. Tamiflu) to prepare itself for a possible bird flu outbreak. (Wealthy countries have been stockpiling oseltamivir, but most of S.E. Asia has either not acquired the drug or has obtained very few doses.) The World Health Organisation (WHO) is warning Laos to prepare for a human pandemic. The Australian government is proposing a new plan involving an early warning system, quick access to vaccines and coordination with other S.E. Asian governments (although the Labor Party opposition says that the plan should have been developed six months ago). In Vietnam, H5N1 bird flu killed three rare Owston civet cats at Cuc Phuong National Park, south of Hanoi, and Hanoi has been warned that 50 percent of waterfowl transported into the city and 10 percent of those being raised there have tested positive for bird flu.
Mike Davis, author of Monster at our Door, The Global Threat of Avian Flu (New Press), writing for www.tomdispatch.com, provides vital background and insightful perspective on what he terms an “exponential multiplication of hot spots and silent reservoirs” and its planetary significance: “The avian flu outbreak at Lake Qinghai was first identified by Chinese wildlife officials at the end of April…An ornithologist called it ‘the biggest and most extensively mortal avian influenza event ever seen in wild birds.’ Chinese scientists, meanwhile, were horrified by the virulence of the new strain: when mice were infected they died even quicker than when injected with "genotype Z," the fearsome H5N1 variant currently killing farmers and their children in Vietnam. Yi Guan, leader of a famed team of avian flu researchers who have been fighting the pandemic menace since 1997, complained to the British Guardian in July about the lackadaisical response of Chinese authorities to the unprecedented biological conflagration at Lake Qinghai…As in the case of SARS' whistleblowers, the Chinese bureaucracy is now trying to gag avian-flu scientists, shutting down one of Yi Guan's laboratories at Shantou University and arming the conservative Agriculture Ministry with new powers over research…The bottom line is that avian influenza is endemic and probably ineradicable among poultry in Southeast Asia, and now seems to be spreading at pandemic velocity amongst migratory birds, with the potential to reach most of the earth in the next year. Each new outpost of H5N1 - whether among ducks in Siberia, pigs in Indonesia, or humans in Vietnam - is a further opportunity for the rapidly evolving virus to acquire the gene or even simply the protein mutation that it needs to become a mass-killer of humans.”
The economic toll could be profound.
“An outbreak of Asian bird flu, which experts said yesterday is bound to hit the UK, could trigger an economic collapse similar to the Great Depression of the 1930s, two financial analysts warned yesterday. In a lengthy research report titled An Investor's Guide to Avian Flu, Sherry Cooper and Donald Coxe warn that the food, tourism and insurance industries could be devastated in a relatively short time. The two analysts, who work for BMO Nesbitt Burns, a Canadian bank, said: ‘The combination of collapsing demand from China and India and the likelihood of a collapse in demand for housing and cars in the OECD nations would mean prices of base metals and steel would plunge.’ They also said companies would be hit by panicking staff and that "rates of both absenteeism and death would be sharply higher than should be necessary.’”
There is an encouraging experimental vaccine and an effective anti-viral. But most governments are not responding to the threat with appropriate speed or sufficient resources. Stockpiles are very low and production capacities very limited.
“As long as the virus remains entrenched in Asia and circulates through other regions with poor public health systems, the risk remains that the virus will trigger a human pandemic, which some estimate would reach across the globe within four months. Although only a handful of new human bird flu cases have been reported in Asia in recent months, the WHO expects an upturn in the numbers as the weather cools.” Financial Times, 8-24-05
  • Your business continuity plans and crisis management capabilities should incorporate contingencies for coping with the impact of health emergencies, including quarantine, the disruption of business operations and the threat to the health of your people.

  • Organizations should incorporate relevant information and suggestions about health emergencies in general and bird flu in particular into awareness and education programs for their workforce.

“A federal court in San Diego has indicted Carlos Enrique Perez-Melara, 25, programmer of Loverspy, on thirty-five counts of unauthorized computer access and manufacturing, distributing, and advertising an interception device. Loverspy is a Trojan designed to look like an online greeting card, but built to record the recipient's e-mails and web browsing habits to catch unfaithful lovers. The information would be sent to Perez-Melara and forwarded to Loverspy customers. Four Loverspy customers have each been charged with two counts of hacking, punishable by five years imprisonment and fines up to $250,000. Perez-Melara faces a possible 175-year prison sentence if convicted.”
Wired, 8-27-05
“Webroot has released a report analyzing spyware activity in 2005's second quarter, finding that spywares are shifting from targeted advertising to identity theft. Public awareness of the spyware threat is generally high, but spyware infection rate for enterprise desktops is 80% and the number of spywares per machine has increased 19% in 2005. The number of websites distributing spyware has quadrupled since the beginning of 2005 to 300,000. Corporate executives may have to take responsibility for the damage to a company's reputation if a spyware manages to steal sensitive data.” SearchSecurity.com, 8-23-05

  • All organizations and all individuals must come to grips with the spyware threat; all systems must be scanned regularly with updated anti-spyware programs, and all awareness and education programs must provide users with guidance on how to overcome this threat both in the office and at home.