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NightWatch 20100901


For the Night of 1 September 2010

Japan-China-North Korea: Update. Japan rejected North Korea's apparent interest in a quick resumption of six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, saying Tuesday that the time was not right for fresh discussions.

In a meeting Tuesday, 31 August, with China's nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said conditions for talks were not right.

"As South Korea is dealing with the sinking of its warship, it is still too early to resume the six-party talks," Okada was quoted as telling Wu, according to a statement from the ministry

Comment: Japan's stand with South Korea to hold North Korea accountable for the sinking of the Cheonan contrasts sharply with the US and China movement to resume talks quickly, regardless of the North's act of war in sinking the patrol ship. Japan appears to be supporting South Korea whose leaders also think the time is not appropriate for nuclear talks.

Some Western commentators and officials have raised unrealistic expectations about the likelihood of nuclear talks. North Korea is preparing for the 3rd Party Conference, not talks. Kim's language about talks is not in the published remarks during his China visit.

The point is the North's pool of skilled managers is too small to manage simultaneously a Party Conference and nuclear talks probably through mid-September. The Party Conference is far more important to them than nuclear talks.

The Chinese appear to be the only source of the statements attributed to Kim that he wanted an early resumption of talks. They appear to have been crafted to placate the US while North Korea tends to succession business.

North Korea-China: Leaders from North Korea and China said the countries' military relations would be strengthened, Xinhua reported on 1 September. President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong-nam met a delegation from the Shenyang Military Region in northeastern China at the Mansudae Assembly Hall to discuss military issues today.

Lieutenant General Zhang Youxia, head of the Chinese delegation and Commander of the Shenyang Military Region which abuts North Korea, said the China-North Korean relationship will be consolidated. He also said the Shenyang Military Region will make active efforts to further develop bilateral military exchanges and cooperation.

Comment: The anomaly in the public announcement is that a Chinese military region commander was received by the official President of North Korea, not the Chief of the General Staff or any of the North Korean corps commanders opposite Shenyang Military Region.

General Zhang's visit is not likely a coincidence, occurring two days after Kim Chong-il visited General Zhang's military region. The visit looks like a follow-up to Kim's for the purpose of implementing agreements reached in China, such as coordination of military plans in the event of a crisis in Pyongyang. As a region commander, Zhang's involvement signifies operational and tactical details were discussed … details of execution rather than formulation of strategy.

China has a friendship treaty with North Korea which most old hands suspect includes a provision for Chinese forces to enter North Korea to preserve the communist regime during an emergency. Zhang's visit suggests he, as the responsible theater commander, is inspecting a likely future area of operations.

Introduction of Chinese forces for any purpose, even to save the Kim family regime, would require extensive operational and tactical coordination, establishment of deconfliction procedures and many other forms of cooperation with some of the most powerful North Korean army units, which guard the highway from China to Pyongyang.

China: The Chinese news agency reported China launched routine, annual naval training exercises in the Yellow Sea on 1 September. The Beihai fleet of the navy of the People's Liberation Army is to perform live ammunition firing training in waters off the east coast near Qingdao through the 4th.

Comment: The Chinese live firing practice will not affect in any way the Allied anti-submarine exercises on the other side of the Yellow Sea near North Korea.

Pakistan: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, aka the Pakistani Taliban) claimed responsibility for several suicide attacks on 1 September against a Shiite religious procession in Lahore, Punjab Province, that killed 33 people and wounded 150. According to an audio statement from spokesman Qari Hussain Mehsud, the group warned that more attacks would follow.

Comment: Neither Ramadan observances or a national emergency resulting from the floods seem to have any impact on the Pakistani Taliban other than to spur them to take advantage of others.

Afghanistan-Bosnia: On 1 September Bosnia's national parliament approved a decision by the country's president to send an infantry unit of 45 men to join the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. In October, the unit will deploy to Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan and will be responsible for guarding the Danish contingent's military base.

According to the Reuters report, NATO imposed on Bosnia as a condition for its application to join the NATO Membership Action Plan that it must send troops to Afghanistan.

Mexico-US: too good to omit. US Customs and Border Protection officials arrested a man for attempting to smuggle nearly 100 lbs of marijuana in the tires of his Ford Explorer. The man is now in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

US officials made no comment on the smoothness of the ride. The US market for drugs from and via Mexico is insatiable.

Netherlands-US-Yemen: Dutch authorities released the two Yemenis detained on suspicion of terrorism. "From investigations in the United States and in the Netherlands, there has been no indication of the men's possible involvement in any criminal act," the prosecution service said in a statement.

Special Comment: NightWatch judges several points are worth making about the public record of this incident. First, it showcases the difference between intelligence evidence and law enforcement evidence. Intelligence is actionable information aimed at the future - preventing a crime at the lowest cost based on a pattern. Law enforcement evidence focuses on the elements of a crime and the past - that a crime is about to be or has been committed - as the trigger for action. The thresholds for action and the nature and strength of the evidence are not the same.

The press reports of anomalous and unusual behavior - one-way tickets; lots of cash; the connection between O'Hare in Chicago and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam which also was featured in the Christmas bombing attempt; luggage anomalies and the Yemen connection - are more than enough to take low cost preventive measures to be safe. A little inconvenient questioning of passengers before the flight left the US would seem justified and a small price to pay to ensure a safe flight across the Atlantic.

That is what actionable intelligence evidence is supposed to enable and empower. It creates its own luck.

That is not the same as legal evidence for potential use in a court of law. Would-be bombers on a dry run mission will not have broken any laws. Officials acting only on legal evidence to build a criminal case seldom would have grounds to detain such people, no matter how suspiciously they acted. Would-be bombers are extremists not fools.

Consider the report that the two men did not know each other, which some commentaries implied as supporting an inference of innocent travel. It is hard to believe that serious people would credit that as having any relevance, even if it proved to be true. When did suicide bombers start to travel in pairs on aircraft?

Nevertheless, there is no legal evidentiary basis to support a charge of suspicion of conspiracy, but the intelligence inferences lead to further questions about operational security practices and affiliations and are not so quick to come to closure on the issue of intent to commit a crime.

The second point is that officials took some action, albeit belatedly and not in time to save the aircraft had there been a bomb aboard. Security officials, especially the Dutch, appear to be taking seriously the indicators of anomalous behavior.

The timing and hesitance of the Chicago officials amount to a death warrant for passengers had there been an actual bombing. If the Chicago officials were concerned, what was the point of allowing the flight to proceed, notifying the Dutch, instead of taking action themselves? If a bomb had been on board, the flight would never have reached Holland.

If the notification of the Dutch came from some other analytical center in the US outside Chicago, then the US system is still broken, despite the explicit direction of the President last January. Detection and detention of suspected bombers doing a dry-run should have been a US responsibility, in Chicago.

The lesson of 60 plus years of strategic intelligence warning is a nation that seeks to be safe must pay the price to be safe. The intelligence evidence, not the law enforcement evidence, justified Chicago authorities imposing inconvenience on passengers whose behavior was similar to that of an earlier attempted bomber. That is a small price to pay for the safety of a flight.

Note: This commentary is based on the public record only. Clearly, officials on both sides of the Atlantic know more and may be fishing for more by releasing the two Yemenis. Nonetheless, the public coverage of this incident is not reassuring that US authorities have learned and applied the lessons from the attempted Christmas bombing.

End of NightWatch for 1 September.

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