Wednesday, December 07, 2005

GS(3) Intelligence 12-8-05

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 provides 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. “Words of Power" commentary is also posted on a bi-weekly basis. This commentary explores a range of issues in the interdependent realms of security, sustainability and spirit.

This issue of GS(3) Intelligence Briefing includes fourteen news items that deserve your attention. In Europe, Middle East & Africa: an EU study on the impact of climate change on Europe, a Munich Re Foundation report on the record-breaking cost of extreme weather in 2005, the latest developments in the Hariri assassination investigation in Lebanon (as GS(3) predicted, there is more to this story than meets the eye, and we will continue to monitor it), and a U.S. Council on Foreign Relations study on geopolitical and global security issues in Africa. European organizations and governments will confront tremendous challenges in the coming years -- from the rapidly changing climate, and the extreme weather it will bring, as well as from the increasingly destablized Middle East and deterioating conditions in Africa. Business continuity, crisis management capabilities and travel security will be particularly important. In Asia Pacific: an analysis of the larger issues involved in China’s chemical spill into the Songhua River, and a UN study on potential using windmill power for generating energy in the Third World (especially, Mongolia, Vietnam and Nicaragua). Globalization may be inevitable, and indeed evolutionary, but unless it is made to work for labor and the environment as well as for the corporatocracy, it will only lead to greater problems. In Americas:  three news items that provides further documentation on the profound national security failures of the Bush administration, and two items on Venezuela (as Chavez advances, emboldened by victories in recent parliamentary elections, the risk of  violent action from reactionary elements within Venezuela or even a direct clash with US and/or Columbia increases). U.S. citizens should demand their elected representatives take urgent action on the 9/11 Commission recommendations and on implementation of the Murtha plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Organizations with interests or operations in Venezuela should review their security postures, and develop contingency plans for emergency situations such as coups, counter-coups, violent protests and assasinations. In Global: three items on the danger of a Bird Flu pandemic, i.e., on civil preparations in Australia, the lack of adequate equipment and expertise in Southeast Asia, and what airlines and hotels are doing to come to grips with the potential impact on the global travel industry. Is your organization ready for a pandemic? Is your family? In Cyberspace: a study exploring the cost of cyber crime and the lack of cyber security on businesses in New Zealand. Substantive answers on the real costs of computer crime and on how to quantify such losses continues to elude us. Such studies are vital.

Europe, Middle East & Africa

Climate change is Europe's biggest environmental challenge, as the temperature on the continent is rising a third faster than the global average, according to a report by the EU's environmental agency. The three hottest years on record were the past three - 2002, 2003 and 2004 - as Europe's average temperature rose by 0.95 degrees Celsius (1.71 degrees Fahrenheit) during the 20th century, says the study by the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency…The report, a five-year assessment covering 32 countries - the 25 EU member states plus Bulgaria, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Romania, Turkey and Switzerland - says 10 per cent of Alpine glaciers disappeared during the summer of 2003 and three quarters of Switzerland's glaciers will have melted by 2050 at current rates. "Europe has not seen climate changes of this scale for 5,000 years," said Jacqueline McGlade, the agency's director. "Without effective action over several decades, global warming will see ice sheets melting in the north and the spread of deserts from the south. The continent's populations could effectively become concentrated in the center." Apart from climate change, other areas of concern include biodiversity, marine ecosystems, land and water resources, air pollution and health.
Climate Change Major Environmental Challenge for Europe, Associated Press, 12-30-05

The world has suffered more than 200 billion dollars in economic losses as a result of weather-related natural disasters over the past year, making 2005 the costliest year on record, according to preliminary estimates released Tuesday by the Munich Re Foundation at the international climate conference in Montreal.  These damages significantly exceeded the previous record of 145 billion dollars set in 2004, according to the Foundation, which is part of Munich Re, one of several leading re-insurance companies that have warned repeatedly over the past decade that global warming posed serious threats to the world's economy.  It said most losses resulted from the unprecedented number and intensity of hurricanes in 2005, particularly Wilma, which hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula; and Katrina, which overwhelmed New Orleans and other coastal areas in the U.S. states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Alabama…"There is a powerful indication from these figures that we are moving from predictions of the likely impacts of climate change to proof that it is already fully underway," said Thomas Loster, the Foundation's director, who added that policy-makers should not only be concerned about the staggering economic loss. "Above all, these are humanitarian tragedies that show us that, as a result of our impacts on the climate, we are making people and communities everywhere more vulnerable to weather-related natural disasters," he said.
(Jim Loeb, 2005 Costliest Year for Extreme Weather, Inter Press Service, 12-7-05)

The United Nations investigation into the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, is beginning to show some cracks: one witness is dead, another is in jail and still another has recanted his testimony with a fantastic story of abduction, drugging and bribery…While it is too soon to draw any firm conclusions on how the new developments will affect the investigation, they have at least raised questions about the validity of crucial evidence supporting the charge that the Syrian state was responsible for Mr. Hariri's assassination…A month ago, Syrian officials were reeling, accused by investigators of complicity in the killing and fearful that the Security Council would demand that they hand over some of Syria's most powerful people or face crushing economic sanctions and international isolation. But now, it is Syrian on the offensive, undercutting credibility of witnesses and diluting charges that Syria has refused to cooperate by sending officials to Vienna for questioning And more troubling news seems to be on the way, as Mr. Mehlis prepares to make his final presentation to the Security Council by Dec. 15. Two people who work for a Syrian government agency said Tuesday that another witness would soon recant his testimony, claiming he was bribed with half a million dollars by Lebanese officials to level charges against Syrian officials. (Michael Slackman, Syria Attacks Evidence as U.N. Case Turns More Bizarre, New York Times, 12-6-05)

Africa's strategic importance to the United States -- both with respect to Washington's "war on terrorism" and the growing competition with China for access to energy supplies and other raw materials -- should be given more attention by policy-makers and the public, according to a major new report released here this week by the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The 139-page report, which charges the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush with lacking a comprehensive, long-term strategy for dealing with the region, calls on Washington to upgrade its diplomatic and intelligence capabilities in the region by appointing an ambassador to the African Union (AU) and opening more missions in key African cities, particularly in energy-producing countries. It also calls for greater high-level attention to resolving conflicts in the region, particularly those, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), that threaten the stability of whole sub-regions or involve large-scale atrocities …In particular, Africa's growing importance as an energy producer needs to be given greater prominence. West African producers currently provide about 15 percent of U.S. oil imports, but that is expected to rise to 25 percent by 2015. At the same time, however, Washington faces much greater competition for those energy resources, as well as other raw materials, particularly from China, which, according to the task force, "does not share U.S. concern for issues of governance, human rights, or economic policy.” On the war on terrorism, the report complained that Africa "does not receive sufficient political attention to the threat nor sufficient funding to combat it," despite the large and growing Pentagon and intelligence counter-intelligence initiatives for the Horn and the Trans-Sahelian regions. The report calls for the State Department to exert more oversight over those initiatives to ensure that they do not provide "collusion or unintended support for repressive regimes," such as the military junta that seized power in Mauritania earlier this year. (Jim Lobe, Ignore Africa at Your Peril, Think Tank Warns Bush, Inter Press Service, 12-6-05)

Asia Pacific

This month's toxic spill into China's Songhua River forced the evacuation of thousands of people; poisoned the water supply for millions in northeast China, including Harbin, the region's major city; and now threatens the supply for as many as 70 downstream Russian cities and villages. Thus far, most analysts following the disaster have focused on the challenges faced by urban Chinese and the real problems of lax environmental regulatory enforcement, corrupt local officials and delayed sharing of crucial information with affected populations. But they have missed two far more significant points about the spill, which involved 100 tons of benzene, a powerful carcinogenic petrochemical that causes leukemia. First, it is not a singular event but a manifestation of a much larger structural problem within China that disproportionately impacts rural areas where the country's majority lives. And second, the world as a whole to varying degrees is implicated in this predicament, and can no longer afford to pretend otherwise…As the world's companies continue to rush to China to set up factories to avoid the environmental and occupational regulations elsewhere, as well as unionized labor, they are dragging communities worldwide on a downward race to the bottom as they struggle to compete with China's socially and ecologically destructive industrial platform. It is this sad truth we must face, and it is the related challenge to the world's communities that we must directly confront. It is too easy to raise a short-lived cry of dismay at each toxic news event, pointing fingers at corrupt local leaders and industrialists, or even at the failure of China's regulatory system, only to move on to another story next week. Instead we must tackle the environmentally and socially unsustainable ways we choose to globally produce and consume. (Joshua Muldavin, Beyond the Harbin Chemical Spill, International Herald Tribune, 12-2-05)

Windmills have far bigger than expected potential for generating electricity in the Third World, according to new U.N. wind maps of countries from China to Nicaragua. "Our studies show about 13 percent of the land area has potential for development," Tom Hamlin of the U.N. Environment Program told Reuters on the fringes of a U.N. climate conference. Previously, he said, maybe just 1 percent of developing nations was judged sufficiently windy, discouraging governments and investors from considering the nonpolluting source as an alternative to burning oil, coal or natural gas. The new maps, part of a $9.3 million study, use data from satellites, balloons and other sources to model winds in 19 developing nations. In the past, wind potential was based on data from meteorological stations that were often built in Third World countries too close to trees or buildings which braked winds. Or winds were typically gauged at airports -- not built in the windiest locations. "It's very consistent," Hamlin said. "The weather data was not reliable and generally low." Among the nations surveyed, Nicaragua, Mongolia and Vietnam had the greatest potential with about 40 percent of the land area suitable for windmills. Least promising was Bangladesh, with just 0.2 percent of the land area suited to windmills, along with countries including Cuba and Ghana. Hamlin said the U.N. maps, part of the Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment, could help poor nations facing high bills for oil imports. "A lot of what's really driving investments is the price of oil," he said. In Nicaragua, for instance, the government in the 1980s estimated the nation's wind power potential at just 200 megawatts. The U.N. map estimates its potential at 40,000 megawatts, a rough equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants. The study defines suitable areas as those that could generate 300 watts per square meter (10.8 square feet), needing winds of at least 6.4-7.0 meters (21-23 feet) per second at 50 meters (164 feet) above the ground.
More of Third World Fit for Wind Power: UN Study, Reuters, 12-5-05


Thomas H. Kean, the former chairman of the 9/11 commission, sounded like the parent confronting his bright but lazy child…Kean was standing on a stage in the Ronald Reagan Building in front of a giant poster grading the federal government's response to the 9/11 commission's recommendations. And the results weren't pretty: Five F's, 12 D's, two incompletes and only one A, which translates to a grade-point average of 1.8.
"Our leadership has been distracted in this country," Kean protested, citing the "scandalous" failures to improve emergency communications or get security money to highest-risk areas. "We're frustrated at the lack of urgency in addressing these various problems." The problem pupils were absent from this dressing-down. Members of Congress were on their extended Thanksgiving vacation. And, at the exact moment Kean and his fellow former commissioners were warning about a distracted government, President Bush was at a White House holiday reception for children…The normally mild Kean lobbed words such as "shocking" and called it "scandalous that we still allocate scarce Homeland Security dollars on the basis of pork-barrel spending."
Last to speak was Jim Thompson, the gruff former Republican governor of Illinois, who warned of a "disorganized, savage society" and offered a series of rhetorical questions about the federal government's failures. "Are we crazy? . . . What in the world is the excuse for not putting national security money out there where it's needed? . . . Why aren't our tax dollars being spent to protect our lives?"
Dana Millbank, With Abysmal GPA, Government Fails to Make Kean's List, Washington Post, 12-6-05

The U.S. general who used to head the National Security Agency says the only way to stabilize the Middle East is to leave Iraq. Retired three star Lt. Gen. William Odom, writing for, wrote that while President George W. Bush wants to bring democracy and stability to the Middle East, the only way to achieve that goal is for the U.S. armed forces to get out of Iraq now. Odom, one of the most respected U.S. military analysts and a prominent figure at the conservative Hudson Institute in Washington, wrote, "We have seen most of our allies stand aside and engage in Schadenfreude over our painful bog-down in Iraq. Winston Churchill's glib observation, 'the only thing worse that having allies is having none,' was once again vindicated.
"There is no chance that our allies will join us in Iraq," he wrote. "... Iraq is the worst place to fight a battle for regional stability. Whose interests were best served by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place? It turns out that Iran and al-Qaida benefited the most, and that continues to be true every day U.S. forces remain there."
U.S. ex-general calls for Iraq pull out, UPI, 12-1-05

“Most U.S. troops will leave Iraq within a year because the Army is "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth," Rep. John Murtha told a civic group. Two weeks ago, Murtha created a storm of comment when he called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq now. The Democratic congressman spoke to a group of community and business leaders in Latrobe on Wednesday, the same day President Bush said troops would be withdrawn when they've achieved victory, not under an artificial deadline set by politicians.
Murtha predicted most troops will be out of Iraq within a year. "I predict he'll make it look like we're staying the course," Murtha said, referring to Bush. "Staying the course is not a policy." Murtha, 73, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, expressed pessimism about Iraq's stability and said the Iraqis know who the insurgents are, but don't always share that information with U.S. troops. He said a civil war is likely because of ongoing factionalism among Sunni Arabs, and Kurds and Shiites. He also said he was wrong to vote to support the war. "I admit I made a mistake when I voted for war," Murtha said. "I'm looking at the future of the United States military." (Murtha says Army is "Broken, Worn Out," Associated Press, 12-1-05)

Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, has pulled off his greatest public relations coup yet in his campaign to irritate the Bush Administration with a deal to supply cheap fuel to thousands of poor residents of Boston and New York. To the anger of many in Washington, Citgo Petroleum Corporation, a company controlled by the Venezuelan Government, will supply more than 45 million litres of oil at 40 per cent below market prices. The deal is one of the most spectacular moves yet in Mr Chavez's attempt to market his "21st-century socialism" using his country's oil wealth. While it will not change many minds in Washington about his populist and autocratic regime, Caracas hopes it will bolster Mr Chavez's claim as the coming leader of an anti-capitalist Latin America. Mr Chavez, who once dubbed President George Bush a "genocidal madman" and led a huge anti-US protest earlier this month, first proposed his fuel offer in August when oil prices were at a record high after Hurricane Katrina. Joe Kennedy, the chairman of Citizens Energy, one of the organisations that will distribute the oil, said the deal highlighted the failure of oil companies in the US and the Government to step in to help. (Alec Russell, Chavez's cheap oil for US poor angers Washington, Guardian, 11-25-05)

Boosted by oil prices, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has just bought himself a new arsenal to defend his "Bolivarian Revolution," incidentally blowing a raspberry at Washington. In this context, the Spanish armaments industry has brought off a historic contract. The agreement, officialized Monday in Caracas in the presence of Spanish Defense Minister José Bono, anticipates Venezuela's purchase of four warships, as many coastal patrol boats, ten troop transport planes and two maritime reconnaissance planes. The estimated value of the transaction, which will re-launch a Spanish naval industry presently in bad shape: 1.7 billion Euros. "More than a commercial act, it's a demonstration of dignity" on Spain's part, exclaimed a triumphant Hugo Chavez. The Chief of State warmly thanked King Juan Carlos, José Luis Zapatero's government, and all Spaniards - this "free and honorable" people who "do not bow to Empire," he stated. The United States had, in fact, done everything to block this sale of military material to leftist populist Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, its president the continental champion of anti-Americanism, who happily characterizes George W. Bush as a "genocidal and crazy" president and accuses him regularly of weaving plots against his regime. On the grounds that the Spanish ships are endowed with American navigation technology, Washington is still trying to obtain an annulment of the transaction. But "if necessary, the company will use an alternative technology," José Bono retorted Monday. (Roméo Langlois, Chavez Defies Bush and Buys Arms from Spain, Le Figaro, 11-30-05)


VICTORIA will be locked down if bird flu strikes here, under radical plans unveiled by the State Government. Melbourne would become a virtual ghost town as sporting venues, concerts, churches, cinemas, the casino and other areas were shut down. Venues where "many people congregate" would be closed immediately if a case of human-to-human bird flu happened in a public place in Victoria. The Commonwealth Games would be cancelled if an outbreak happened before March, and major shopping centres and public transport could also be shut. Premier Steve Bracks told the Herald Sun the State Government would be forced to ban people from gathering in public places.
"If a pandemic affected 30 per cent of the Victorian population, estimates in the plan say this could lead to almost 25,000 hospitalisations and more than 10,000 deaths," he said…Victims would be treated at three Melbourne hospitals: the Royal Melbourne, Monash, and the Austin….Elective surgery could be cancelled at other hospitals to boost their ability to deal with extra emergency patients…The Federal Government has commissioned Melbourne-based company CSL to produce a vaccine against bird flu.
CSL is testing the vaccine on 400 volunteers in Melbourne and Adelaide and hopes to release the final product next August. Federal and state governments began operation Eleusis in Victoria, NSW and South Australia this week with more than 1000 people involved. The exercise aims to test how well agriculture and health departments can identify, contain and eradicate any outbreaks.
Ghost city plan to fight bird flu, Herald Sun, 12-8-05

The World Health Organisation's top bird flu expert in Asia said on Tuesday that a lack of equipment and expertise in the region's rural areas was limiting efforts to curb the spread of the disease. Laboratory facilities were limited in many countries, especially Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and China where humans live in close contact with domestic and wild fowl, Hitoshi Oshitani, the WHO's communicable disease expert in Asia, told Reuters. "We have to strengthen these capacities," said Oshitani, who is in Singapore to attend a WHO meeting to discuss responses to pandemics. He warned of more bird flu cases as colder weather sets in this year. Oshitani, who told Reuters in September that there was a slim chance of preventing a bird flu pandemic, said surveillance was still a problem and that Asian governments needed to raise awareness of the virus in rural areas through public health campaigns. "The big, big challenge is to expand the surveillance network in the rural areas," Oshitani said. "We have to provide some training and equipment and build new facilities to improve the testing capacities."
WHO sees big gaps in bird flu surveillance, Reuters, 12-6-05

“The Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts, which operates dozens of four- and five-star hotels in China and is expanding in North America, saw occupancy rates at its China World Hotel, a favorite of business travelers in Beijing, dip to just 10 percent during the SARS crisis…Shangri-la is paying especially close attention to food preparation, said Lori Lincoln, director of public relations for North America. It is requiring that all chickens at its China properties be bought from government-certified suppliers and that chicken meat be cooked above 158 degrees…Airlines, airports and hotels are working to stop a bird flu pandemic before it starts. Many stay in close touch with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization in Geneva…The arc of infection ranges widely, from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe. Airlines and airports are on especially high alert. Modern jetliners that zip people in hours from one continent to another also transport deadly microbes and can serve as incubators for disease…United Airlines, the dominant carrier at San Francisco International Airport, which handles more than 90 percent of Northern California's international fliers, carries protective masks on its aircraft and would isolate passengers suspected of carrying avian flu from other travelers, in accordance with interim CDC guidelines for airlines, according to United. Moreover, passengers who became ill during a flight would use their own bathroom and biohazard bags. Flight crews would alert medical authorities on the ground to meet the plane, said representatives for United, which flies to Asia and other foreign and domestic destinations from SFO…The United Nations World Tourism Organization, which promotes leisure travel and represents tourism organizations, said panicking at the threat of bird flu could endanger the global travel industry, which generated $622 billion in worldwide revenue last year and is expected to grow 6 percent in 2006…The CDC, for example, is increasing the number of airport quarantine clinics around the United States from fewer than 10 to 25. Such clinics briefly hold arriving passengers in isolation before transferring them to hospitals for treatment…Marriott International, which operates 2,600 hotels and resorts around the world, is stocking surgical-style respiratory masks for both employees and guests in its Asia hotels, according to the company. Marriott representatives also said the company would take the temperatures of food handlers, if needed, and use cleaning fluids recommended by the World Health Organization for bedclothes and guest rooms should bird flu spread in humans.
David Armstrong, Travel Industry Braces for Bird Flu,  San Francisco Chronicle, 12-4-05


Internet security breaches are costing New Zealand businesses between $140 million and $240 million a year, a new study shows. According to an Internet Security Survey conducted by the Employers and Manufacturers Association Northern in November, the range was "conservatively estimated" from the lowest to the median costs of the disruptions reported by 356 businesses, extrapolated across the country's 123,000 businesses employing more than one person.  Despite the cost of vulnerability, many businesses are failing to protect themselves in even the most rudimentary of ways, the study shows. "For instance, 91 per cent of companies employing 20 people or less have antivirus software installed compared to 84 per cent of companies employing more than 20 people. 55 per cent of smaller companies have deployed anti-spyware compared to 49 per cent of larger firms," said EMA communications manager Gilbert Peterson. Investment in IT remained static from 2004 to 2005, the survey said, with 51.2 per cent of respondents spending less than $19,000 this year, compared to 51.8 per cent in the last survey in March 2004.Of that relatively modest investment, 55.8 per cent invested five per cent or less on security in 2005 -- level pegging with the 55.7 per cent that spent five per cent or less in 2004…"The range of internet security breaches has become broader and more complex. Twenty one months ago, the top security concerns were limited to viruses, hackers and spam. Now the list includes Trojans, worms, spyware and email scams such as phishing, and others," said Mr Peterson.(Computer security incidents cost NZ businesses millions, National Business Review, 12-5-05)

Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and 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: For more information, go to