Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Washington Post: Langley on the Hudson

An excellent review in The Washington Post:

New York City's Police Department is among the largest and most recognizable police forces on earth. Thanks to the global reach of syndicated television programs, audiences in cities as diverse as Paris, Tel Aviv, Amman, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Santo Domingo share a cursory familiarity with the comings and goings at One Police Plaza in Manhattan. But what viewers in those exotic locales don't realize is that the NYPD has now come to them for real, posting officers in potential hot spots around the world.

The role of these agents, part of an elite and controversial counter-intelligence unit within the NYPD, is the subject of Christopher Dickey's illuminating Securing the City. Dickey is an old hand on the terrorist beat, having spent decades covering the Middle East and Europe for Newsweek and The Washington Post, and he's eminently well positioned to examine New York City's effort to start its own mini CIA....(more)

NYT Book Review: Cops and Bombers

A mixed review, but with a solid conclusion:

“Securing the City” remains an undeniably timely book. In the coming weeks, the new administration will begin the daunting task of setting a fresh course for the war on terror. As it does, it would do well to spend at least a little time examining the success of the New York City Police Department.

Friday, January 30, 2009

From Rocky Mountain News: Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force: the NYPD

Christopher Dickey sent you this:

Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force: the NYPD

Christopher Dickey attached this additional message:

A good, utilitarian review with a very good "final word":

"Readers will be scared by the near misses and anxious about the future, but can't help but also be inspired by this well-researched story of just why and how plot after plot against the city has been foiled."

Rocky Mountain News

Monday, January 26, 2009

Peace Talks: The Importance of Apologies

There's an important op-ed that appeared in the NYT over the weekend, coauthored by Scott Atran. It's a well-reasoned and well-researched call to Western leaders to go beyond the utilitarian approach to peace negotiations.

To some extent they buried the lede: interviews with Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy chief of Hamas, and Bibi Netanyahu, who may well make a comeback as Israel's prime minister. Both responded positively to talk of apologies and what could be interpreted as moral concessions from the other side. But the key to the story is in these paragraphs:

"There is a moral logic to seemingly intractable religious and cultural disputes. These conflicts cannot be reduced to secular calculations of interest but must be dealt with on their own terms, a logic very different from the marketplace or realpolitik.

"Across the world, people believe that devotion to sacred or core values that incorporate moral beliefs — like the welfare of family and country, or commitment to religion and honor — are, or ought to be, absolute and inviolable. ... People will reject material compensation for dropping their commitment to sacred values and will defend those values regardless of the costs."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Waltz With Bashir," Golden Globe Winner, Oscar Nominee?

This Israeli animated film about the 1982 Lebanon war and the Sabra and Shatila massacre looks fascinating. It won a Golden Globe for best foreign language film and is shortlisted for an Oscar nomination. But I have not seen it yet. I'd be interested from hearing from people who have.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Unbuggable Skype?

James Bamford's recent book, "The Shadow Factory" (which I've reviewed for this Sunday's NYT) makes a convincing, if often disjointed case that just about everything we say or do online is monitored by the government. As an expatriate who communicates with a lot of characters who are not popular with their own government, or ours, I take it for granted that any or all of my conversations, whether spoken or written, are liable to be tapped. So I was interested to read in Bamford's book (pp 255-56) that Skype calls are "virtually unbuggable" because the security "is achieved by end-to-end encryption for all calls to other members. Such technology makes it possible to fight back against the proliferating eavesdropping factories."
Whew. Let's hope.

NYT Book Review: Dickey on the NSA and Mumbai


'The Shadow Factory' How eavesdropping became big business

The Shadow Factory The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America By James Bamford 395 pages. Doubleday. $27.95.

'Probably the best place within the entire region to install a listening post is the Indian city of Mumbai," James Bamford writes in "The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America," his latest book about the all-seeing, all-hearing National Security Agency. Without question, he says, Mumbai "represents the kind of location where the N.S.A. would seek to establish a secret presence." And such a place, he notes elsewhere in his book, "presents an extremely tempting target for terrorists."

As it happened, I read those lines at precisely the same time that Mumbai became the scene of a bloody three-day siege that killed more than 170 people and wounded many hundreds. Telecoms were not attacked, and whether there was some symbolic connection between the NSA's ambitions and the terrorists' targeting is not a question that can be answered definitively here and now or, perhaps, ever. But it's a fair bet that Bamford will find a way to work the bloodbath at the Taj Mahal hotel into the long NSA narrative that he began with "The Puzzle Palace" in 1982, followed up with "Body of Secrets" in 2001, and may well continue after the present book. These are the kinds of details, or coincidences, that Bamford loves. .... (more)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Blair on Gaza: Looking Old, Looking Useless

Rami Khouri: Why Hamas and Hezbollah Will Be Hard to Defeat

BEIRUT -- Many analogies are being made between the ongoing Israeli attack against Hamas in Gaza and the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Here are the most important ones, in my view.

The first is about provenance: Hamas and Hezbollah did not exist before around 1982. Their birth and strength must be understood largely as a response to Israel's occupation and colonization policies in Palestine and Lebanon, alongside other secondary reasons.... (more)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Haaretz: The Big Picture

Useful background on strategy.

NY Daily News: Mayor Bloomberg whisked into bomb shelter in Israel as rocket fire errupts during solidarity trip

News | 01/04/2009
Mayor Bloomberg whisked into bomb shelter in Israel as rocket fire errupts during solidarity trip
Mayor Bloomberg braved embattled Israeli neighborhoods today during a solidarity visit -- and found himself hustled into a bomb shelter as rockets landed less than a mile from where he was standing....

DAMASCUS, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Saeed Jalily, Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, met here Saturday with exiled Hamas Politburo chief Khaled Meshaal and Secretary General of the Islamic Jihad Ramadan Abdullah Shallah over the situation in the Gaza Strip.

They discussed "the serious situations in Gaza Strip due to the continuing Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people, and the Arab and Islamic movements needed to stop this aggression and liftthe siege," said Syria's official SANA news agency.

According to SANA, Jalily told reporters after the meeting that his visit to Syria is for discussing the serious situations in Gaza and ways to reach an effective Arab and Islamic stance to support the Palestinian people.... (more)

US blocks UN Security Council action on Gaza

Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Securing The City - Talks and Signings (Update)

New York City

Feb. 2, 2009 -- 6:00 pm -- The Overseas Press Club

Feb. 3 -- 6:00 pm -- NYU Center on Law & Security

Washington, D.C.

Feb. 4 -- 6:45 -- Smithsonian Institute


Feb. 9 -- 7:00 pm -- Jimmy Carter Library


Feb. 11 -- 11:30 am -- Union League Club luncheon

Los Angeles Area

Feb. 12 -- 6 pm -- Orange County World Affairs Council, Costa Mesa

Feb. 13 -- 7 pm -- Book Soup, Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

San Francisco

Feb. 17 -- 7 pm -- Books, Inc.

New York City

Feb. 18 - St. Theresa Lecture, Briarcliff Manor

New York City

Feb. 19 -- 6:15 pm -- private function


Feb. 23 -- 6 pm -- Houston Forum


Feb. 24 -- 6 pm -- World Affairs Council - Muslim family booted off U.S. airline gets apology

Muslim family booted off U.S. airline gets apology
Fri Jan 02 21:55:08 UTC 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Muslim family that was ordered off an AirTran Airways flight on New Year's Day received an apology and refund on Friday from the airline, which said its decision to bar the passengers was necessary.

Atif Irfan said in an interview with CNN that federal authorities removed him, seven family members and a friend from the flight after passengers overheard members of the group talking about the safest place to sit on the plane. He said they were being careful to avoid any "buzzwords" like "bomb" that would trigger a security alert.

The group was flying out of Reagan Washington National Airport and was headed for a religious retreat in Florida when other passengers apparently overheard the conversation and reported it to authorities.

AirTran, a subsidiary of AirTran Holdings Inc., issued a statement apologizing to the nine and the other passengers who were inconvenienced by the incident. It said the airfare of the nine was refunded and other passengers would be reimbursed for expenses incurred by taking other flights.

"We apologize to all of the passengers -- to the nine who had to undergo extensive interviews from the authorities, and to the 95 who ultimately made the flight," the discount airline said in a statement.

"While ultimately this issue proved to be a misunderstanding, the steps taken were necessary," it said.

An earlier AirTran statement said the airline complied with all Transportation Security Administration and Homeland Security directives and had no discretion in the case.

All 104 passengers aboard the flight were taken off and rescreened and their baggage was checked again, AirTran said. Of the nine passengers in the group, six asked to be rebooked to Florida, AirTran said.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said it filed a complaint on Friday with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Islamic civil rights group said in a statement it was working with the Muslim passengers and the airline to address the civil liberties issues related to the incident.

"We believe this disturbing incident would never have occurred had the Muslim passengers removed from the plane not been perceived by other travelers and airline personnel as members of the Islamic faith," the group said in its complaint.

Kashif Irfan, Atif's brother, told The Washington Post he thought the group, all but one of them U.S.-born citizens, were profiled because of their appearance. He said five of the six adults in the group are of South Asian descent, and all six are traditionally Muslim in appearance, with the men wearing beards and the women in headscarves.

Kashif Irfan, 34, is an anesthesiologist, and his brother Atif, 29, is a lawyer, the Post reported. Both live in Alexandria, Virginia.

Atif Irfan told CNN U.S. law enforcement officials treated the group with kindness but the family is upset that the airline did not allow the group to reboard the plane or rebook a flight after they had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The Post reported the group booked a flight on US Airways after the incident.

(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Eric Beech)

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