Europe, Middle East & Africa
Although several serious terrorism-related developments in the region demand your attention, the impact of Global Warming, a.k.a. Climate Change, and its security implications have even more wide-ranging significance for Europe and Africa in both the near-term and long-term.
Consider two recent stories that detail the changes already underway on the Eurasian land mass.
In August, Russian researchers reported that an area of tundra larger than France and Germany combined was rapidly turning into bog as the permafrost melted. In early September, British researchers reported that warmer temperatures were causing the soil to heat up and dramatically increasing rates of decay. The temperate forests and fields of the United Kingdom are becoming, in essence, semitropical. In mid-September, researchers reported that arctic sea ice had shrunk by 20 percent. "The feeling is we are reaching a tipping point or threshold beyond which sea ice will not recover," one scientist told reporters. And in late September, European researchers reported on the biological effects of 2003's record heat wave, the one that killed 15,000 people in France alone. In Italy, they said, corn yields dropped by about 36 percent. Oak and pine also grew more slowly, the study found. In fact, overall there was 30 percent less plant growth that year. What do numbers like these -- all from the best peer-reviewed journals -- show us? That global warming is not some distant problem waiting to appear, some hypothetical trouble we should start preparing for. They show us that the world is already changing with deadly speed. Every time we burn coal and gas and oil, we send carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and now that carbon dioxide is trapping enough heat to create a new planet. And what's really scary is that each of these developments will in turn trigger more global warming. They're what scientists call feedback loops. For instance, as the Siberian permafrost melts it releases huge quantities of methane -- at some spots last winter the gas was bubbling up so fast that the bogs didn't freeze in even the coldest weather. And methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, as British soils heat and decay speeds up, that decay releases carbon -- enough to offset all the energy-saving changes that Britain has made since 1990. Meanwhile the reductions in plant growth that the Europeans found during the hot summer of 2003 mean fewer trees and plants to soak up the carbon from the atmosphere. And up north? White sea ice reflects the sun's rays back to space; when it melts to blue water that heat is now absorbed, increasing warming yet again. So far human beings have increased the planet's temperature about 1 degree Fahrenheit. Unless we do everything possible, as quickly as possible, to shift away from fossil fuels, scientists say we will warm the planet another 5 degrees before the century's end. So imagine all those numbers multiplied by five. (Bill McKibben, www.commondreams.org, 10-13-05)
African nations account for a tiny percentage of the emissions but are already suffering the consequences, researchers say…Desertification is spreading in the northwestern Sahel region. Droughts, flooding and other extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe. Numerous plant and animal species are in decline. South Africa's environmental affairs minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, urged the United States and other holdouts to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on the top 35 industrialized nations to cut carbon dioxide and other gas emissions. But even if countries stop polluting today, researchers argue the effects will be felt for decades, posing what the African Development Bank has singled out as possibly the greatest long-term threat to efforts to end poverty on the continent. Some 770 million Africans — 63 percent — live in rural areas, and about 40 percent survive on less than a dollar a day. Most are farmers. Wood is their major source of fuel, and medicinal plants their main defense against disease. Many are already subject to recurring droughts, floods and soil degradation that can wipe out their livelihoods. Extended changes in temperatures and rainfall could fundamentally alter the landscape and cut production on their small farms. Hotter, drier weather in the semiarid west of South Africa could reduce production of maize by up to 20 percent and generate a proliferation of pests, researchers said. In the moister areas to the east, where rainfall is forecast to increase, thickets are encroaching on grasslands, threatening livestock and wildlife. Rising temperatures at higher altitudes could also quadruple the number of South Africans at high risk of malaria by 2020. With weather becoming more erratic, communities are finding themselves with little time to recover from one disaster before being hit by the next. (Associated Press, 10-20-05)
Meanwhile, as the following five stories illustrate, the terrorist threat throughout the region continues to evolve, intensity and morph in a deeply disturbing ways.
Five people were killed and more than 80 people injured in twin bombings in the oil city of Ahvaz in southwest Iran. "We are very suspicious about the role of British forces in perpetrating such terrorist acts," the ISNA student news agency quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying…No one has claimed responsibility for the homemade bombs, planted in garbage bins and detonated a few minutes apart. (Reuters, 10-16-05)
Armed police and anti-terrorist officers sealed the Dutch parliament building and two other locations in The Hague amid what appeared to be a terror alert. Seven people, six of the male, were arrested at locations in The Hague, the seat of government, in Amsterdam and the nearby town of Almere, in police actions, Dutch media reported. A school near the centre of The Hague was sealed, as was a nearby street, where television news reported witnesses saying they heard gunshots. (Financial Times, 10-14-05)
At least 108 people were killed in fighting in Nalchik, a southern Russian city after scores of militants launched a series of attacks…Estimates of the number of militants involved in the attacks ranged from 60 to 300. The violence erupted after the militants launched a series of coordinated attacks this morning on three police stations, a prison, the local airport, and other official buildings. An Internet claim of responsibility for the attacks was made on the Kavkaz centre website, which is linked to rebels loyal to Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev…There were unconfirmed reports that the violence was prompted by an attempt to free a group of followers of the hard-line Wahhabi strand of Islam who had previously been detained by security forces. (Guardian, 10-13-05, Associated Press, 10-14-05)
A UN report implicated high-level Syrian officials in the bombing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The report found the assassination "could not have ... [occurred] without the approval of top-ranked security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services." The US also calculates that the Assad regime will probably follow past patterns, offering just enough concessions to avoid a serious challenge to its survival, and then resume its terrorist support in the future. But then, the alternative to Assad is difficult to imagine: The strongest opposition groups are fundamentalist Islamic, while secular opposition figures abroad are weak and splintered. The fall of Assad could bring a mess in the Arab world. (Christian Science Monitor, 10-25-05)
A secret survey undertaken for the Ministry of Defence, and conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces, reveals that 45% of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified (rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province), 82% are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops, and 67% of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation…(Telegraph, 10-23-05)
- All organizations should undertake a comprehensive risk analysis of what global warming and climate change will mean to their people, operations and business interests.
- All governments and organizations should conduct awareness and education campaigns to inform and empower their people in preparation for the impact of climate change.
- All organizations with business operations or interests in the major cities throughout the world should review, revise and regularly test business continuity plans, crisis management capabilities and travel security programs in general, and how these plans, capabilities and programs will function if a building, which houses significant elements of their operations, were to be destroyed.
Although new cases of bird flu have been discovered in Europe, with Britain and Croatia both confirming birds found with the disease and Romania detecting a suspected new case, major recent developments in the bird flu story have come in Asia Pacific.
Doubts about the efficacy of the main drug being stockpiled in Britain to combat a possible outbreak of deadly bird flu have emerged after a strain of the virus resistant to the treatment was found in a Vietnamese girl. The British government has purchased 14.6 million courses of Tamiflu as part of its contingency plans to deal with bird flu. But Japanese scientists have found a strain of the H5N1 virus resistant to Tamiflu in a girl in Vietnam who had been put on a course of preventive treatment with the drug for four days in February. (Scotsman, 10-15-05)
China reported its third outbreak of bird flu, as public health groups urged officials to bypass patent laws and mass-produce generic versions of potentially lifesaving anti-viral drugs. More than 500 chickens and ducks were killed by the latest outbreak in central China, which prompted authorities to destroy 2,487 others in an attempt to keep the disease from spreading, the government's veterinary bureau said in a report…''The repeated outbreaks really is a signal of seriousness and the inability of the surveillance system of the region in general,'' said Noureddin Mona, Beijing representative of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization…Japan on Wednesday began handing medical supplies worth 25 million yen (US$216,000; euro180,301) to Indonesia to help tackle a bird flu outbreak that has killed four people there. The equipment will be used to upgrade laboratories so that officials can identify and track down the origin of the virus…Under World Trade Organization rules, countries facing a public health emergency can issue so-called compulsory licenses to legally manufacture and export generic versions of patented drugs under strict conditions. Health groups, including the medical relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, have urged the WTO to simplify the rules to encourage more producers to make generic drugs to ensure they are widely available…Even countries that have already begun stockpiling drugs may be caught short, experts say. A pair of Australian researchers published a report in the Medical Journal of Australia on Wednesday warning that the country's substantial stockpile of influenza drugs won't be enough in the event of a bird flu pandemic. (Associated Press, 10-26-05)
But, of course, the Bird Flu threat is global, not regional.
The global community will need to spend at least “several hundred million dollars” to prepare for a human flu pandemic in the months ahead, a senior World Health Organisation official said. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mike Ryan, the WHO's director of epidemic and pandemic alert and response, said substantial investments would be required. Preparing the world fully for the potential pandemic with large-scale production of vaccines and other measures would cost “billions,” he said. (Financial Times. 10-21-05)
And like the Global Warming threat, the impact on Africa could be devastating.
Countries along the Rift Valley in eastern Africa - Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia, which are thought to be at greatest risk because of the millions of migratory birds that will arrive there in December - already had announced poultry bans or strengthened existing regulations. The neighboring countries of Congo, Sudan and Uganda also have announced bans, as has Ghana, in West Africa. The close proximity between people and animals and insufficient surveillance and disease-control capacities in eastern African countries create an ideal breeding ground for the virus," Joseph Domenech, the chief veterinarian at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said. (Knight-Ridder, 10-21-05)
- All organizations with business operations or interests in the major cities throughout the world should review, revise and regularly test business continuity plans, crisis management capabilities and travel security programs in general, and how these plans, capabilities and programs will function if a city in which their organization has significant operations or interests.
- All governments and organizations should conduct awareness and education campaigns to inform and empower their people about the bird flu threat.
For the last two months, major hurricanes (Katrina, Rita and Stan) have preoccupied the GS(3) analysis of threats in the Americas. And now, Wilma, another major hurricane weaned in the over-heated waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, has wreaked its havoc--on Mexico and Florida in particular. But in this issue we choose instead to draw to your attention to four seemingly distinct news stories that relate to each other in a very serious albeit subtle way.
A national movement to have intelligent design taught in science classrooms is "very dangerous," Cornell University's interim president, Hunter R. Rawlings III, said after taking up the issue in a speech. But Mr. Rawlings charged that colleges were not engaging enough in the debate…Intelligent design is a theory that says the universe is too complex to be the result of evolution and natural selection, proposing that a higher power is responsible. Proponents say that alternatives to evolution should be taught in classrooms. But Mr. Rawlings denounced intelligent design as a "religious belief masquerading as a secular idea." Mr. Rawlings added, "Right now, this issue is playing out in school districts, cities, counties and states across the country." In citing a recent report by the Pew Research Center in Washington, Mr. Rawlings said 42 percent of Americans believe that creationism should be taught instead of evolution. "This is above all a cultural issue, not a scientific one," Mr. Rawlings said. (New York Times, 10-22-04)
Latin American countries are increasingly doing a better job of protecting freedom of information while the United States' performance is dropping, according to the annual World Press Freedom Index released Thursday. The index, which covers 167 countries and was compiled by the nongovernmental Reporters Without Borders, ranked Trinidad and Tobago most free among Latin American countries and 12th worldwide after several European countries. Among the worst were Colombia, which ranked 128th worldwide because of the risks that journalists there must face as a result of that country's civil war, and Mexico, which ranked 135th because of a number of attacks on journalists who have written about organizd crime and corruption. Rated last in Latin America and 161st worldwide was Cuba, where the communist government monopolizes and censors all the media and often jails independent journalists. El Salvador came in at 28th, followed by Costa Rica in 41st place and Bolivia in 45th. But the United States, sometimes viewed as a model for freedom of expression, dropped 20 spots from its 2004 ranking and landed in 44th place. (Saudy Pena, MIAMI HERALD, 10-21-05)
Scientists from Brazil and the US say new research suggests deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has been underestimated by at least 60%. The team has completed a study using a more advanced technique of satellite imagery that can pick up more types of logging activity…Deforestation in the Amazon is on such a massive scale that the only way of measuring it is by using satellites. The trouble has been that while traditional aerial images can show areas that have been completely destroyed, they do not reveal selective logging of valuable trees such as mahogany. With input from the Nasa space agency, the joint US and Brazilian team used an ultra-high-resolution technique to examine just how much selective logging was going on…The researchers concluded that the area of rainforest destroyed between 1999 and 2002 was thousands of square kilometres bigger than previously thought. They also found that about 25% more carbon had been released into the atmosphere than estimated - possibly enough to affect climate change. (BBC, 10-21-05)
The drive to privatize water distribution and resources is gaining steam in Latin America. Although transnational water companies have suffered setbacks in places like Puerto Rico, Bolivia, and Uruguay, they continue with plans to appropriate the region's hydrological resources-rivers, aquifers, wells, and aqueduct systems. While "privatization" has become a loaded term in the water business, companies prefer a softer discourse, employing concepts such as "decentralization," "civil society participation," and "sustainable development." In April, over 400 participants from Mexico and countries throughout the hemisphere met in Mexico City at the First People's Workshop in Defense of Water…Maude Barlow, Canadian activist and co-author of "Blue Gold," participated in the Workshop and in an interview with Radio Mundo Real she sent a message to Latin American governments: "I understand that the states of Latin America are going through difficulties in financing the public system of water supply and I know that they have also a huge debt with the First World. But they are making a big mistake by allowing these corporations to enter their communities and administer the water system just for the profits it generates. This would cause even more poverty, more pollution. The corporations do not take on any risk, but obtain all the benefits. It is local people who bear the risk, and it's the World Bank that pays for the corporations to be risk-free. It is very important for governments to say 'no' to these corporations. In short, they are not there to get water to the people, they are not there out of a concern for the people, or to help the governments. They are there to make money. When they stop making it they will leave." (Carmelo Ruiz Marrero , IRC Americas, 10-18-05)
- What is the unifying theme in the selection these four stories? When you dumb down a population by using religious extremism to weaken science, and by limiting the analysis available to them by narrowing freedom of the press, then you can exploit the very environment that sustains them to the verge of extinction and sell its vital resources back to them. It is the environment that sustains life on this planet. Only democratic societies can protect the environment. Only enlightened mind, embodied in science and freedom of the press, can protect democratic institutions. Remember, the defining principles of GS(3) Intelligence are 1) everything and everyone eveywhere is connected, and 2) security, sustainability and spirit are inter-related, and you cannot understand security risks well or mitigate them effectively unless you take the issues into sustainability and spirit into the process. This struggle for life and for the freedom of the mind is the responsibility of each individual and all governments.
The world’s relief effort is hundred of thousands of tents short of what is needed in the mountains of Pakistan and Kashmir. Winter is coming. Tens of thousands of children are at risk.
NATO dismissed a United Nations request for a second Berlin airlift to help hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors stranded for two weeks in the mountains of northern Pakistan. Helicopters are the only means of getting supplies in large numbers into the Himalayan foothills of Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier province…Jan Egeland, the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, called on NATO to mount a massive airlift on the scale of the 1948-49 airlift to the beleaguered people of Soviet- blockaded West Berlin. However, a NATO source said: "There is no question of the alliance doing that. That was Berlin after World War II and this is Pakistan now - there is absolutely no comparison." NATO ambassadors agreed instead to send 500 to 1,000 soldiers, including engineers. The decision came amid warnings that the death toll was still rising - Oxfam said children faced freezing to death as temperatures drop with the onset of winter. The charity also attacked the Ministry of Defence, saying it was failing to hand over its winter tents to help survivors. The MoD responded by saying it had only enough tents for its own needs, but Oxfam said it should send whatever winter tents it had and then replenish its own stocks. "In some areas children are already dying of exposure as the temperature drops," a spokesman said. "Of course, we understand that the military like to be ready to rush into battle at a moment's notice, but thousands of people could die unless all of the world's winter tents are made available." The UN estimates that only 30,000 of the required 450,000 tents have been distributed. (Scotsman, 10-22-05)
- Global warming resulting in climate change, AIDS in Africa, potential pandemics, nuclear proliferation…World organizations must prepare for a millennium of disaster relief and intervention on a large scale than ever conceived before, and develop capabilities to manage multiple catastrophes simultaneously over several years at a time.
The risks of e-commerce have, to some extent, been publicized in the mainstream news media, and addressed by law enforcement. Unfortunately, the same level of public interest andaw enforcement attention has not been shed on the risks of e-voting, and other aspects of computer-facilitated election fraud. In my view (I have followed the story since I published one of the first articles on it in early 2001 after the debacle), a serious failure of leadership, both among elected officials and news media executives, has resulted in two seriously compromised national elections in the U.S. Exit polls are recognized as our best and most reliable indicator of election fraud. Exit polls, because of their accuracy, are used by international election monitors. In both 2000 and 2004, they contradicted the official election results for the Presidency of the U.S. It is insisted upon, and unchallenged, in the US mainstream news media that an instrument which had never been wrong before erred in two consecutive elections. Certainly, the U.S., which champions itself as a beacon of democratic principles, and has the largest "military-industrial complex" (Eisenhower's words) in the world, should be held to the same international standards as developing or recovering nations.
Here is an important study that should interest those involved in democratic societies everywhere.
The non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which reports to the U.S. Congress, has released a comprehensive analysis of the concerns raised by the increasing use of electronic voting machines. Overall, GAO found that "significant concerns about the security and reliability of electronic voting systems" have been raised (p. 22), and that "some of these concerns have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes" (p. 23). According to GAO, "election officials, computer security experts, citizen advocacy groups, and others have raised significant concerns about the security and reliability of electronic voting systems, citing instances of weak security controls, system design flaws, inadequate system version control, inadequate security testing, incorrect system configuration, poor security management, and vague or incomplete standards, among other issues. ... The security and reliability concerns raised in recent reports merit the focused attention of federal, state, and local authorities responsible for election administration" (p. 22-23)…Examples of problems reported by GAO include (1) computer systems that fail to encrypt data files containing cast votes, allowing them to be viewed or modified without detection by internal auditing systems; (2) systems that could allow individuals to alter ballot definition files so that votes cast for one candidate are counted for another; and (3) weak controls that allowed the alteration of memory cards used in optical scan machines, potentially impacting election results. GAO said that "these weaknesses could damage the integrity of ballots, votes, and voting system software by allowing unauthorized modifications (p. 25)…Examples of problems reported by GAO include (1) the failure to password-protect files and functions; (2) the use of easily guessed passwords or identical passwords for numerous systems built by the same manufacturer; and (3) the failure to secure memory cards used to secure voting systems, potentially allowing individuals to vote multiple times, change vote totals, or produce false election reports…According to GAO, "in the event of lax supervision, the…flaws could allow unauthorized personnel to disrupt operations or modify data and programs that are crucial to the accuracy and integrity of the voting process" (p. 26). In addition to identifying flaws in software and access controls, GAO identified basic problems with the physical hardware of electronic voting machines. Example of problems reported by GAO included locks that could be easily picked or were all controlled by the same keys, and unprotected switches used to turn machines on and off that could easily be used to disrupt the voting process (p. 27). Experts contacted by GAO reported a number of concerns about the practices of voting machine vendors, including the failure to conduct background checks on programmers and system developers, the lack of internal security protocols during software development, and the failure to establish clear chain of custody procedures for handling and transporting software (p. 29).
GAO found multiple examples of actual operational failures in real elections. These examples include the following incidents:
- In California, a county presented voters with an incorrect electronic ballot, meaning they could not vote in certain races (p. 29).
- In Pennsylvania, a county made a ballot error on an electronic voting system that resulted in the county's undervote percentage reaching 80% in some precincts (p. 29-30).
- In North Carolina, electronic voting machines continued to accept votes after their memories were full, causing over 4,000 votes to be lost (p. 31).
- In Florida, a county reported that touch screens took up to an hour to activate and had to be activated sequentially, resulting in long delays (p. 31).
GAO further reported that "security experts and some election officials have expressed concern that tests currently performed by independent testing authorities and state and local election officials do not adequately assess electronic voting system security and reliability," and that "these concerns are amplified by what some perceive as a lack of transparency in the testing process" (p. 34) (www.truthout.org, 10-22-05)
To view the full report: http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/Documents/20051021122225-53143.pdf.
GAO made several recommendations, primarily aimed at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (p. 53), including:
- Collaborate with appropriate technical experts to define specific tasks, outcomes, milestones, and resource needs required to improve voting system standards;
- Expeditiously establish documented policies, criteria, and procedures for certifying voting systems;
- Improve support for state and local officials via improved information dissemination information on voting machine software, the problems and vulnerabilities of voting machines, and the "best practices" used by state and local officials to ensure the security of electronic voting machines.
Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and www.wordsofpower.net. His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc. You can reach him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, go to www.wordsofpower.net.