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Archive for the ‘Defence’ Category

Wednesday
Sep 15,2010

The BBC is reporting that the Coalition Government is considering not taking a final decision on the replacement of Trident until after the next General Election.

This would save money in the short-term, but not in the long-term, as it will risk losing the skills of engineers who might lose their jobs if there is no work for them, and will increase the costs of repairing existing Vanguard submarines which will have to last for longer.  If the decision is ultimately not to proceed, substantial costs will still be incurred between now and 2015 and these will be wasted.

One of the key reasons for the delay is, according to the BBC:

“Delaying any decision beyond 2015 would also mean avoiding a political row in the run-up to the next general election.  While the Conservatives strongly support Trident renewal, the Liberal Democrats do not and it remains one of the few disagreements left unresolved by the coalition agreement.”

This is pathetic.  Either Trident is necessary for the nation’s defence or it is not.  If it is, delay will put the country at risk because the Trident submarines may become unusable before the replacement is ready.  If you take the view that Trident is a luxury that the UK can no longer afford, then this delay in taking the decision merely costs more money.

It is hardly leadership to dodge a decision like this, just to avoid a row between Coalition partners.

Am I surprised?  Well no – I already knew that the Coalition was gutless and unprincipled.

Tuesday
Sep 14,2010

I have already speculated that:

“David Cameron personally has been convinced that the comprehensive spending review must ensure that substantial extra resources are spent on developing the UK’s capacity to counter cyber threats to its infrastructure and that the debate between the Treasury and the Cabinet Office is whether the new investment should be £1.5 billion or £2 billion.”

Now The Register reports:

“An awkwardly-worded reply by Defence Secretary Liam Fox to questions in the House of Commons suggests that cuts in information security spending are not on the agenda for the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which is due to report back in the Autumn. On the contrary, Britain is looking to boost its capabilities in the area.

Cyber-security is an important element of the SDSR and has already had considerable consideration. Decisions on enhancing our capabilities will form part of the review, which we will announce to the House later this autumn.

Developing a military cyber-security policy should not be the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence alone, Fox added.

Investing in better cyber-security will not be an option for the United Kingdom. What is being considered under the National Security Council as part of the SDSR is how that occurs. We will face increasing threats in cyberspace in the years ahead-the question is how we identify the weakest areas, which need to be looked at first, and how we develop the technologies so that, as the other technologies that might affect us continue to evolve, we are best protected. That will require us to look at research across the board.

The exchange, which occurred during defence questions in the House of Commons on Monday, is recorded for posterity by Hansard here.”

It is, of course, possible that Liam Fox was speaking “off-piste” or was simply “mis-speaking“.

However,  the topic was on the agenda of a recent meeting of the National Security Council – so this may be the best indication yet as to what is emerging from this aspect of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

We will know soon enough.

Thursday
Sep 9,2010

My default position is that the new Coalition Government is hell-bent on creating a double-dip recession and on dismantling vital parts of the public sector, is ideologically-driven and is cavalier about the impact of its policies on disadvantaged communities. And I remain to be convinced that it is not taking unacceptable risks with national security.
So the stories I have been hearing about the willingness of the Government to invest in the nation’s cyber-security come as an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise.
I am told that David Cameron personally has been convinced that the comprehensive spending review must ensure that substantial extra resources are spent on developing the UK’s capacity to counter cyber threats to its infrastructure and that the debate between the Treasury and the Cabinet Office is whether the new investment should be £1.5 billion or £2 billion.
This of course is still far less than many other countries are investing. However, if my informants are correct, this would be a useful step in the right direction. Seeing will be believing. And we’ll see on 20th October.

Tuesday
Sep 7,2010

The perils/dangers of USB sticks are highlighted by two news stories in the last few days.

First, Greater Manchester Police have been embarrassed by an unencrypted USB stick that was “found lying in the street” which the public spirited citizen who “found” it passed on to the responsible authorities (aka The Daily Star on Sunday).  Apparently, the USB stick contained “2,000 pages of highly-sensitive and confidential information” including material “on countering the threat of terrorism on British streets include strategies for acid and petrol bomb attacks, blast control training and the use of batons and shields.”  

Of course, it is entirely natural that, if you find something outside a police station, emblazoned with the logo of Greater Manchester Police, the first thing you do is take it home and plug it into your laptop.  And then when you realise how sensitive it is you decide not to return it to the Police but give it to a tabloid newspaper.  This public-spirited citizen was so confident of the correctness of his actions that he “asked the Daily Star Sunday to withhold his identity ­because he feared reprisals”.

Meanwhile in India, the Times of India reports:

“Even as Chinese and Pakistani online espionage agents continue their attempts to hack into Indian computer systems, hostile intelligence agencies are also trying to steal defence secrets through use of computer storage media (CSM) devices like pen drives, removable hard disks, CDs, VCDs and the like.

The Intelligence Bureau has sounded a red alert about “intelligence officers of a hostile country” encouraging their “assets” working in Indian defence establishments to use CSM devices to pilfer classified information from computer networks.”

It looks as though the Chinese and Pakistani intelligence agencies are wasting a lot of effort – all they need is to get a few Mancunian businessmen and the Daily Star onside and they will have all the information they need …

Monday
Aug 30,2010

The latest journal from the Royal United Services Institute contains a perceptive article, entitled “Terrorism: The New Wave“, which was widely reported last Friday.

It follows concerns I raised in the House of Lords last month:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, what is the rate of conversion to Islam within prisons and what steps are the Prison Service taking in terms of monitoring radicalisation and external speakers who come into prisons?

Lord McNally: I do not have precise figures on conversions, but I know the background to this question of whether or not there is radical Islamisation in prisons. The studies that I have been shown reveal no conclusive evidence of this, although there are examples which give rise to concern. The staff and the wider Prison Service keep a close eye on imams in prisons. Bringing them in to lecture, preach and minister within prisons has been one of the benefits, but we must make sure that it is a positive influence, as the noble Lord suggested.”

The RUSI study warns that one of the key threats from this next generation of terrorists comes from within the ranks of the 8,000 Muslims currently serving prison terms who are at risk of being converted to extremism by hardcore inmates jailed for terrorist offences.

The report cites estimates by prison probation officers that up to one in 10 Muslim inmates are being successfully targeted while inside jail, leading to the creation of a new generation of potential attackers who are due for release in the next decade and whose previous convictions do not relate to terrorism.

The report suggests that radicalisation is taking place in British prisons at a rapid rate, especially in the eight high-security establishments where most terrorism offenders are detained.

However, newspaper reports the study’s findings as being dismissed by the Coalition Government:

“The Ministry of Justice said it did not agree that radicalisation was widespread within the prison system. A spokesman said: “We run a dedicated expert unit to tackle the risk posed by those offenders with violent extremist views and those who may attempt to improperly influence others.””

The response smacks of complacency.  I trust the complacency does not extend to one of the other major findings that large-scale and co-ordinated attacks such as the 7 July bombings are likely to be replaced with terrorist assaults by highly motivated but poorly trained lone individuals whose lack of connection with any major terrorist organisation will make them more difficult for police or MI5 to detect.

RUSI, which is very well-connected and whose reports are normally highly respected, has produced a timely and important contribution to the discussion of the terrorist threat faced by the UK.  Its conclusions should be taken seriously and not brushed aside by the Government.

Thursday
Aug 26,2010

The Washington Post reports that the US Deputy Defense Secretary has publicly acknowledged what is being described as the most significant breach of U.S. military computers.

The cause was a flash drive inserted into a U.S. military laptop in the Middle East in 2008.

And the consequence was that the malicious code, which had been placed on the drive by a foreign intelligence agency, uploaded itself onto the network run by the U.S. military’s Central Command. Apparently, the code spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control.

This disclosure was apparently part of a deliberate strategy to raise the awareness of the US Congress and the American people of the cyber-threat being faced by the USA.  Apparently, the Pentagon’s 15,000 networks and 7 million computing devices are being probed thousands of times daily and the US Government’s concern is that cyberwar is asymmetric and that traditional Cold War deterrence models of assured retaliation do not apply to cyberspace, where it is difficult to identify the instigator of an attack.

The problems faced by the Pentagon are no doubt faced – on a smaller scale – by the UK Ministry of Defence and the British armed services.  I do not, however, detect a similar openness about the threat by the UK’s Coalition Government – perhaps because the strategy to address the problem is nothing like as well-developed as it should be.

Saturday
Aug 21,2010

The BBC reports today on the loading of the first nuclear fuel at the Bushehr reactor in Iran tell us that the international community can be reassured on the basis that (1) the nuclear fuel rods are all being supplied by Russia and (2) the spent rods and waste will go back to Russia.

At the risk of sounding like an unreconstructed cold warrior, I have to confess to not finding this at all reassuring.

Why does Russia want to do this and what do they expect to get out of it?

And as for the waste, the work I have been doing in recent months on the safeguards (or lack of them) at reprocessing plants hardly makes any of this sound any better.

Please somebody persuade me that this is good news ….

Monday
Aug 9,2010

From 25th September 2009:

The Parliament Education Service runs an annual Discover Parliament Programme aimed at 16-18 year olds studying higher level politics, citizenship and general studies.  This afternoon I met 80 students taking part in the Programme.  They were from three schools in Pinner, Chelmsford and Bristol.

As ever on such occasions, the questioning was lively, sometimes challenging and extremely wide-ranging.  We covered – amongst other things – such topics as:

  • aren’t MPs too old (I’d explained that the average age of members of the House of Lords is 69);
  • why aren’t 16 year olds allowed to vote or to sit in Parliament;
  • what did I think of Gordon Brown;
  • should taxes be put up in the current economic situation;
  • should the age for getting a driving licence change;
  • what were my views about David Cameron, Lord Mandelson and the BNP (interesting grouping);
  • what should be done about knife crime and gangs;
  • was “kettling” of G20 protesters fair (from a teacher);
  • should children be taught more about current affairs;
  • did the LibDems have a better record on MPs’ expenses;
  • is the threat of terrorism rising;
  • should there be limits on immigration;
  • was the war in Iraq right; and
  • did I think Labour would win the next General Election and when would it be?

As I said, a lively hour – and an exhilarating one too.

Effectively, these Discover Parliament programmes can only take place during school term time and when Parliament is not sitting.  In practice that means they are only possible for about four weeks a year from the early part of September.  A by-product of Speaker John Bercow’s proposal to shorten Parliament’s summer recess might well be to end these programmes. Whatever the merits or otherwise of Parliament sitting in September (something I personally would favour), it would be a retrograde step to lose this outreach work with young people.

Friday
Jul 30,2010

I have already explained that I really don’t mind.

However, just in case you really really want to cast your vote for this blog in the Total Politics annual beauty parade, this is what you have to do:

The rules are:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

So I’m not asking you to do it, but I really won’t mind if you do……

Thursday
Jul 22,2010

I have already explained that I really don’t mind.

However, just in case you really really want to cast your vote for this blog in the Total Politics annual beauty parade, this is what you have to do:

The rules are:
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and rank them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name.
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

So I’m not asking you to do it, but I really won’t mind if you do……