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NightWatch 20100325


For the Night of 25 March 2010

China-Southeast Asia: A prolonged drought in Southeast Asia that has lowered the water level in the Mekong River basin has created stress in relations with China over Chinese dams on the headwaters of the River and plans to build more of them. The Chinese insist their dams affect only 13% of the water volume and are not responsible for the drought. Countries and governments down river dispute Chinese claims.

To prove its side of the argument, China agreed to provide information on Mekong River water levels to show its good faith in assisting efforts to respond to the decline in the river's flow, Agence France-Presse reported 25 March.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) said China would share data from its upstream monitoring stations. MRC secretariat chief Jeremy Bird stated that it is positive news that China is willing to engage with lower basin countries. It will clear ambiguity on this issue and further build the trust necessary to jointly address other critical issues facing the basin, such as food security and climate change, he added.

Comment: China did not say it would increase the water flow from its dams, only that it would share data. This is a small concession. China is acting as a water hegemon.

Pakistan: Constitutional politics. The Daily Times reported that today, the day before the proposed 18th Amendment package was to be submitted to parliament for approval, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) withdrew its support, deadlocking the reform movement for a time. Party leader former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said the PML-N did not agree to the provision on appointing judges and on renaming Northwest Frontier Province.

The Daily Times and The News both pointed out that the Parliamentary Reforms Committee has included the PML-N's proposals concerning the appointment of judges and that senior members of parliament from the PML-N admit that the renaming of the NWFP is not a major issue.

In his press conference today Nawaz Sharif demanded a "consensus" on all issues before submitting the package to parliament, a move which confused his own party. The government promptly postponed consideration of the constitutional reform package until Nawaz is placated, or at least brought up to date on the status of the package.

Comment: Nawaz is famous for his backtracking and maneuvering. The real reason for the delay is not a lack of consensus, but apparently that the government sent the high level delegation to negotiate with the US and did not consult him or the Parliament, based on the report of his comments in The News. Foreign Minister Qureshi and Chief of Army Staff General Kayani led a large delegation that engaged in a "strategic dialogue" with their counterparts in Washington yesterday and today.

This looks rather serious. It suggests Nawaz will hold the reform package hostage until after the National Assembly is briefed on and discuses the results of the US trip.

Pakistan-Afghanistan: Update. The former governor of the Afghanistan's Oruzgan Province under the Taliban, Abdul Hai Salik, and another man were arrested in the Sohrab Goath area of Karachi, Pakistan, Aaj News reported 25 March. Salik is also reportedly a close companion of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. The other man arrested was Zaki Izzat Mohammad.

The arrests indicate the Pakistanis are continuing their roundup of Afghan Taliban notables. Note that yet another senior Taleb was caught in Karachi.

Afghanistan: For the record. Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden has threatened to have U.S. soldiers killed if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, is executed, Al Jazeera reported 25 March, citing an audio recording broadcast on the 24th. Bin Laden said U.S. President Obama was following the policies of former U.S. President Bush with respect to support of Israel. The most recent recording of bin Laden was on 24 January.

Note: US media have been quick to point out that Mohammed has confessed and asked to be executed as a martyr. There is a lack of communication here that makes the tape suspicious.

Syria: President Bashar Asad said the region is in a temporary situation of "neither war nor peace" that will either end in peace or in war, Ynet News reported 25 March. He stated that Israel only understands the language of force, adding that peace is "not at arm's length" for the region, but there are ways to reach goals and they must not necessarily be reached through war. He said the Syrian Army "is developing itself" and warned that Damascus will enter any war "imposed on it." According to Asad, Syria cannot remain neutral when it comes to the "resistance."

Note: Asad's statement is another manifestation of what appears to be growing fatalism that it is time to shed more blood. Not soon, mind, but not at arm's length either.

Lithuania: Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis told NATO's Group of Experts that the Alliance should increase its visibility when organizing exercises and training and developing the infrastructure in member states, Baltic Course reported 25 March. While speaking on the alliance's new Strategic Concept, Azubalis also stressed the importance of a U.S. nuclear presence in Europe and said NATO's policy should address new threats, such as energy security and cyber-defense.

Note: The NATO members bordering Russia and Belarus want more evidence of NATO muscle to deter Russian poaching. As a reminder, Prime Minister Putin stated explicitly that memberships in alliances can be changed. Nevertheless, the Baltics and Poland are out of step with France, Germany and other NATO members who want US nuclear weapons out of Europe.

Venezuela: In order to conserve energy amidst a severe electricity crisis afflicting the country, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has passed a measure to add three days to Venezuela's Easter holiday. Government and public offices will be closed for one week starting 1 April.

Chavez said the move was not designed to "encourage laziness, but to save energy." In the past week, major power-consuming firms have begun to face punishment by the government with a 75 percent price increase and 24 electricity cutoffs for failing to abide by a new rationing decree ordering energy consumption be reduced by 10 percent.

Note: The only significance is that this is precisely how North Korea behaves when it experiences power or food shortages …and it has none of the energy and agricultural resources of Venezuela. The failure to satisfy needs and wants such as this produces stress in the system. Prolonged stress of this nature always leads to internal instability.

Feedback: The response to last night's question about cutting a nation, such as China, from the internet is exceptional. Thanks to all the Brilliant and well-informed Readers who took time to respond. The feedback is detailed, somewhat technical but incredibly insightful. The following summary does not do justice to the quality of the replies, but presents some highlights.

Cutting a country off the internet is possible, but risks unknown side effects. Feedback replies diverged as to how difficult it is to accomplish. Most suggested it was hard to do because of the redundancy in the decentralized world wide system.

One Brilliant Reader said it was easy and explained how it could be done in some detail which NightWatch will not reproduce.

Most agreed it would be easier to attack high value targets that a target country's leadership relies on.

Another Brilliant Reader and some research showed that in the past three years Russians cut Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Estonia and Georgia from the internet during periods of crisis already by using massive distributed denial of service attacks. The difficulty and duration depended on the size and redundancy of the national telecommunications backbone. For example, Kyrgyzstan was isolated for a week.

Finally, one Brilliant Reader observed that denial of service attacks against a country must now be considered acts of aggression.

During the Russian attacks on Estonia in 2007, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said, "Attacking one member state means an attack against the entire European Union….We have turned to the European Union and we ask them to take immediate action."

Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo discussed the situation with NATO officials and later told The Guardian, "At present, NATO does not define cyber-attacks as a clear military action. This means that the provisions of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, or, in other words collective self-defense, will not automatically be extended to the attacked country. Not a single NATO defense minister would define a cyber-attack as a clear military action at present. However, this matter needs to be resolved in the near future."

Lessons for analysts from Feedback: Country and regional specialists must consider massive DDoS attacks an act of political aggression, like violations of borders, airspace and territorial waters, for the purposes of threat and crisis management. As a country's dependency on the internet expands, this kind of attack becomes an act of war.

In a crisis that risks war, attacks on the internet infrastructure of a country are collectively a tactical warning indicator that may be expected to occur late in a national war preparation process, along with activation of air defense systems and battlefield radars. The largest should occur about the same time to blind the target country before war breaks out.

For countries already in crisis, DDoS attacks are part of each country's crisis management and war fighting options.

The technical analysts and engineers already know the above lessons. Thanks again to all.

End of NightWatch for 25 March.

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