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Archive for the ‘Defence’ Category

May 28,2012

Seven and a half years ago, I warned in a debate in the House of Lords about the risk to the nation’s critical national infrastructure of a concerted cyber-attack, saying:

“As a nation, the systems that are essential for our health and well-being rely on computer and communications networks – whether we are talking about the energy utilities, the water and food distribution networks, transportation, the emergency services, telephones, the banking and financial systems, indeed government and public services in general – and all of them are vulnerable to serious disruption by cyber-attack with potentially enormous consequences.  …

The threat could come from teenage hackers with no more motivation than proving that it could be done, but even more seriously it could come from cyber-terrorists intent on bringing about the downfall of our society. “

The Ministerial reply I was given at the time bordered on the complacent – even though I was assured that it wasn’t:

“there are also terrorists who would challenge and seek to undermine democratic society using any methods within their grasp. It is not complacent to say this; but perhaps it should be made plain that at the moment they do not appear to be interested in attacking us electronically.”

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that:

“British intelligence picked up “talk” from terrorists planning an Internet-based attack against the U.K.’s national infrastructure, a British official said, as the government released a long-awaited report on cyber security.

Terrorists have for some time used the Internet to recruit, spread propaganda and raise funds. Now, this official said, U.K. intelligence has seen evidence that terrorists are talking about using the Internet to actually attack a country, which could include sending viruses to disrupt the country’s infrastructure, much of which is now connected online. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and didn’t say when the infrastructure threat was detected and how it was dealt with.

Terrorists, however, are still more focused on physical attacks that lead to high casualties and grab attention. “For the moment they prefer to cover the streets in blood,” he said.”

Again, the official line was inclined to dismiss the likelihood of an attack …
Now comes news that a video captured by FBI agents last year and now released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security purports to show an al Qaeda leader calling on ”covert mujahidin” to launch cyber attacks against The video explicitly calls for cyber attacks against the networks of both government and life-sustaining critical infrastructure, including the electric grid, and compares vulnerabilities in U.S. critical cyber networks to the vulnerabilities in our aviation system prior to 9/11.
PHOTO: In this screenshot obtained by the FBI, an Al Qaeda video calls upon the ?covert Mujahidin? to commit ?electronic jihad?.
So – boringly – I was right (again).
The question remains are our cyber-defences going to be adequate.
Mar 8,2012

The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (of which I am a member) has just been published.

Its key findings are that:

  • There is no evidence that the NSS has influenced decisions made since the Strategic Defence and Security Review. If the current strategy is not guiding choices then it needs to be revised.
  • There should be an “overarching strategy”, a document designed to guide government decision-making and crisis management both at home and on the international stage.
  • The Government’s assertion that there will be no reduction in the UK’s influence on the world stage is “wholly unrealistic in the medium to long term” and the UK needs to plan for a changing, and more partnership-dependent, role in the world.

The Committee also expressed concern about the operation of the National Security Council concluding that it did not operate always at an appropriately “broad and strategic” level.  For example, it became deeply involved in essentially operational issues during the operations in Libya.  Moreover, it failed to consider the national security implications of the Eurozone crisis or the possibility of Scottish independence.

Feb 15,2012

One of the difficulties in combatting terrorism is maintaining public support and vigilance over time as the memories of atrocities on mainland Britain fade.  The recent conviction of nine men who plotted to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp is a reminder that the threat has not gone away.  However, the Metropolitan Police campaign, “It’s probably nothing, but…“, will help reinforce the message that public vigilance is going to be essential – particularly in the run-up to the Olympics.

As the Met says:

“Everyone who works, lives and visits London has a role to play in helping to counter the terrorist threat which remains real and serious.”

The four week campaign consists of a 40 second radio advert to be aired on Kiss FM, Capital, LBC and GOLD, and press advertisements in local publications and minority media titles. The activity will also be supported by a digital presence on Spotify, and in excess of 1.4 million leaflets being delivered to households across London.

The radio advert recognises that some people may be reluctant to report suspicious activity or behaviour, such as someone paying for a car in cash but not taking it for a test drive, because ‘Chances are, it’s probably nothing’.

But it goes on to encourage people to think ‘But what if it isn’t’?

Just one piece of information could be vital in helping disrupt terrorist planning and, in turn, save lives.

The press advert seeks to reassure Londoners that if they see or hear something that could be terrorist related, they should trust their instincts and call the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline.


Nov 19,2011

I see that the US Congress is to investigate Chinese equipment suppliers Huawei and ZTE to see whether they present a threat to US national security.  According to PC World, the House Intelligence Committee wants to:

“examine if Huawei’s and ZTE’s expansion into the U.S. market gives the Chinese government an opportunity to hijack the nation’s infrastructure to conduct espionage. U.S. lawmakers worry that the networking equipment sold could secretly contain Chinese military technology to spy and interfere with U.S. telecommunications.”

Huawei has many links to the Chinese Government and its security apparatus.  As Jeffrey Carr summarises the key facts as follows:

  1. The company’s founder Ren Zhengfei was an engineer in the PLA prior to forming his company.
  2. The company’s chairwoman Sun Yafang worked for the Ministry of State Security and while there helped arrange loans for Huawei before joining the company as an employee.
  3. The government of China is Huawei’s biggest customer; specifically the State-owned telecommunications services.
  4. Huawei equipment is used to intercept communications in China for state-mandated monitoring.

Nevertheless, despite this its products are already widely used in the UK’s infrastructure particularly given its role in providing key components to BT.  I have expressed concern about this before and back in 2006 Newsweek recorded the Conservative Party’s concerns, saying:

“Political conservatives in Britain expressed the same security concerns about Huawei last spring. In April, the company won a $140 million contract to build part of British Telecom’s “21st Century Network,” a major overhaul of its equipment. But when rumors began circulating that the Chinese company might then bid on Marconi, a landmark electronics and information technology firm that was being put up for sale, a Conservative Party spokesman sounded the alarm. The Tories asked the British government to consider the implications for Britain’s defense industry of a Chinese takeover of Marconi. In the end, Huawei didn’t make an offer, and the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson is in the process of buying Marconi.”

Huawei continue to try and expand their access to the UK infrastructure market – see, for example, their wooing of Mayor Boris Johnson with an offer to provide mobile phone infrastructure for the Underground in time for the London Olympics.  In August, they recruited the former Government chief information officer, John Suffolk.

Their latest move to gain respectability is to sponsor a charity Christmas concert in support of The Prince’s Trust at the Royal Festival Hall next month, to which they have invited large numbers of senior Government officials and Parliamentarians.

No doubt, Huawei will say they are much-maligned, but I do wonder whether a UK Parliamentary Committee shouldn’t be following the lead of the US House Intelligence Committee and launch an investigation into the company’s growing influence in the UK and any possible implications for security.

Is this a record?

Nov 1,2011

Twice in the last forty-eight hours I have been stopped by tourists asking me to explain the significance of the Remembrance Poppy that I was wearing.

Is this a record?

Aug 8,2011

I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress.  I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.

Jul 30,2011

The Royal Air Force mission statement is:

“‘An agile, adaptable and capable Air Force that, person for person, is second to none, and that makes a decisive air power contribution in support of the UK Defence Mission”.

That is pretty clear and fits in with the RAF image, “The Few” and all that.

By contrast the mission of the United States Air Force is:

 “To fly, fight and win in air, space and cyber space.”

The “and win” bit is maybe a tad more aggressive than making a decisive contribution, but the interesting bit is the inclusion of cyber space.

Now this may be a bureaucratic land-grab with the USAF making a bid for the cyber-security leadership role in the United States Government, but it does pose the question who has the lead for cyber-defence in the United Kingdom?  Answers on a postcard (or email) please. 

Royal Air Force Typhoons

Jul 29,2011

Along with twelve MPs (six Labour and six Conservative), I have written to David Cameron about Cyprus.

The letter is as follows:

“Nearly four decades after the illegal invasion of Cyprus, Turkish troops continue to occupy approximately 38% of the island’s territory. For 37 years, the world has condemned the occupation and Turkey’s intransigence in efforts to find a solution to reunite Cyprus.

In that same time, apartheid came to an end in South Africa, the USSR disintegrated, the Berlin Wall fell, former eastern bloc countries joined the European Union, and the people’s calls for democracy have triumphed over dictatorship in some Arab countries in the Middle East. During the same period, British troops have been engaged in conflicts around the world, fighting injustice, protecting British sovereignty and safeguarding or seeking to deliver democracy.

Since signing the 1959 Treaty of Guarantee, the United Kingdom has been a guarantor power of the independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus, with the full weight of responsibility that such status entails. But against the backdrop of the UK’s active role in international political progress around the world, the problem of Cyprus remains virtually at a standstill. While successive UK Governments have paid lip service to delivering justice in Cyprus, these same governments have effectively allowed the Cyprus problem to be downgraded as a foreign policy priority. In addition to the Treaty of Guarantee, Cyprus is a member of, and this country’s partner in, the European Union, Council of Europe and the Commonwealth, as well as a country on which Britain maintains sovereign military bases: these facts alone demand the focus and attention of the British Government to help reunite the island.

Since Turkey’s invasion in 1974, hundreds of thousands of Cypriots have remained refugees, unable to return to their rightful homes, while their properties have been appropriated and exploited by the unlawful regime in the occupied north. In the last 37 years, tens of thousands of Turkish nationals have been moved to the occupied areas by Turkey, as part of an orchestrated policy to change the island’s demography. What is more, cultural and religious sites in the occupied area have been deliberately desecrated. Ignoring relatives’ desperate pleas to respond on a deeply humanitarian issue, Turkey has stubbornly refused to investigate the fate of hundreds of Cypriot men, women and children who disappeared without trace during its military invasion. On top of all this, Turkey has been allowed to disregard numerous UN Security Council resolutions and the decisions of international courts with complete impunity.

Such a situation raises serious questions about the UK’s own role and responsibilities in this continuing tragedy. It is not only on behalf of the sizeable Cypriot community in the UK that we write to you, but on behalf of all other Britons who believe that their country should work, on the international stage, in order to defend justice and human rights.

We are writing to remind you of the clear and irrefutable responsibilities that the British Government holds with regard to Cyprus. We call upon you, as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to demand unequivocally that Turkey works sincerely for the reunification of Cyprus and that it fulfils its obligations to the EU in relation to Cyprus. Further, we urge you to use Britain’s diplomatic leverage with the United States of America and through the UN, the EU and NATO to press Turkey to end its unacceptable military occupation of Cyprus and the island’s unlawful and unjust division.

To that end, and as a first step in that direction, we, the undersigned, call upon you to extend an urgent invitation to Cyprus President Demetris Christofias to meet with you, in an official capacity, so that he can inform you on the latest political developments regarding Cyprus and so that you can explore with him ways in which the United Kingdom can actively contribute to efforts to bring to an end this continuing injustice.”

Jun 27,2011

Peter Bingle, the influential Conservative commentator and Chairman of Bell Pottinger, has posted a devastating critique of the Cameron Government:

“If there is one thing that the public expects from its government it is competence. Thatcher’s government was always competent. John Major’s was not. The debacle over the ERM gave the impression of a government in chaos. From that moment the government was dead in the water.

In recent weeks u-turns have become the norm rather than the exception. The narrative of being a listening government is wearing very thin. This is a government which is starting to develop a reputation (rather like the Heath government from 1970-1974) for being pragmatic rather than principled. It is a dangerous game to play. It encourages strikes and civil unrest. As Norman Tebbit pointed out earlier this week: “Weakness, not strength, provokes ­aggression and the Coalition lacks a reputation for a steely sense of purpose.” Not a smart strategy when you have a police service which believes that the government hates them.

In addition to having a backbone inserted there are some simple things that need to happen and quickly. There are some ministers who are truly hopeless. We all know who they are, don’t we? They should return to the backbenches without delay and be replaced by colleagues with real ability.  ….

The government also needs to start giving the impression that it believes in something. Defence and the police are two obvious ones but there are others.  ….

I have mused before why the government needs to change tack over policing. They are in a similar mess over defence spending. When defence chiefs go public with warnings about lack of resources ministers should start to worry. Yesterday’s article by Stephen Glover over the Falklands should have instilled fear in Number 10, HM Treasury and the MoD. If the President of Argentina decides to invade the Falklands would we be in a position to do anything about it? If not the government would fall.”

He concludes:

“In the comedy classic Up Pompeii Frankie Howard played the character Lurcio. One of his standard lines was: “Oh woe is me …” This sums up rather well how many Tory supporters are currently thinking about the government.”

If that’s what his friends are saying, David Cameron should be worried.

Jun 13,2011

It is estimated that in twenty-five years time two-thirds of the world’s population will live in areas of significant water stress and shortage.  This will be one of the factors – along with climate change, rising sea level and the loss of arable land – that will drive major population migration and feed into global insecurity.

A year ago there were reports that East African nations were struggling to contain an escalating crisis over control of the waters of the river Nile.  According to the Guardian:

“The nine countries through which the world’s longest river flows have long been at loggerheads over access to the vital waters, which the British colonial powers effectively handed wholesale to Egypt in a 1929 agreement.

Egypt has always insisted on jealously guarding its historic rights to the 55.5bn cubic metres of water that it takes from the river each year and has vetoed neighbouring countries’ rights to build dams or irrigation projects upstream which might affect the river’s flow.”

Now, India has been accused of “water terrorism” against Pakistan:

“India is rapidly moving towards its target of making Pakistan totally barren by building dams on three major rivers including Chenab, Jhelum and Indus flowing into Pakistan from the Indian side of the border. These dams are being built in blatant violation of international laws and Indus Water Treaty singed between the two countries to ensure equitable distribution of water resources. Pakistan has, long been challenging these moves of the Indian authorities and the issue had been referred to international arbitration on various occasions. Both Islamabad and New Delhi have held several rounds of talks to resolve the matter but no tangible results could be achieved. Realising the nefarious designs of the Indian leadership, political parties in Pakistan term New Delhi actions as ‘water terrorism’. Recent talks on Baglihar Dam between the two sides remained unfruitful and Pakistan is understood to have decided to seek international arbitration once again to secure its share of the water.
Yesterday, a report published in all national newspapers has raised alarm bell when an Indian engineer, Jee Parbharkar, speaking at a seminar organised by The Federation of Association of South and Central Asian Countries (FIESCA) in Nepal, said if all on-going dam projects on rivers originating from Kashmir were completed in time, India would be in a position to stop water flow to Pakistan completely by 2020. He further claimed that by 2020, India would be producing such a quantity of hydel power that it would be able to export it to neighbouring countries including Pakistan. Pakistani delegate to the seminar, Sultan Mahmood said that India has already started producing electricity from four big and 16 small dams while the work on third dam is in full swing near Kargal Valley. In this dam, 45 per cent of Indus water would be diverted to its reservoir through a tunnel.
Such a situation is not acceptable under any circumstances and it is about time that our leadership takes the matter seriously and move all international forums available to raise this sensitive issue. Indifference of concerned authorities had already damaged Pakistan’s cause and if nothing is done fast, Pakistan soon would be a barren state.”