article placeholder

Did North Korea Launch a Sophisticated Cyber Attack Against the U.S.?

President Obama's recent decision to name a national cybersecurity chief seems auspicious in light of this:

A widespread and unusually resilient computer attack that began July 4 knocked out the Web sites of several government agencies, including some that are responsible for fighting cyber crime.

Suspected cyber assaults also paralyzed Web sites of major South Korean government agencies, banks and Internet sites in a barrage that appeared linked to the attacks in the U.S., South Korean officials said Wednesday.

The Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department Web sites were all down at varying points over the holiday weekend and into this week, according to officials inside and outside the government.

As we saw in the Russia-Georgia conflict, cyberspace is becoming the new global battlefield:

According to Internet technical experts, it was the first time a cyberattack had coincided with a real war. But it will likely not be the last, said Bill Woodcock, the research director of Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit organization that tracks Internet traffic. He said cyberattacks are so inexpensive and easy to mount, with few fingerprints, that they will almost certainly remain a feature of modern warfare.

As far as the July 4th attack, North Korea appears to be the main suspect:

South Korean intelligence officials believe North Korea or pro-Pyongyang forces in South Korea committed cyber attacks that paralyzed major South Korean and U.S. Web sites, a lawmaker's aide said Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the National Intelligence Service told a group of South Korean lawmakers it believes that North Korea or North Korean sympathizers in the South "were behind" the attacks, according to an aide to one of the lawmakers briefed on the information.

article placeholder

Mogadishu “descending into chaos”

MSF just put out a warning that the majority of the populaiton of north Mogadishu has fled as fighing escalated in the Somali capital.  They have even had to close a pediatric hospital and three health clinics in the city. 

MSF just put out a warning that the majority of the populaiton of north Mogadishu has fled as fighing escalated in the Somali capital.

 Somalia has displaced people in clusters throughout the country; 1.2 million people are now displaced. Things there are so bad and dangerous that you can find people fleeing to the same places others are fleeing from, as each family tries to calculate their best odds for safety. The capital, Mogadishu, is an example; it’s got ten years of internally displaced persons (IDPs) accumulated in camps in and around the city. Right now, people from conflict-affected villages are heading for Mogadishu even as people are leaving the city in droves. 204,000 people have been displaced from Mogadishu since May, one of the worst waves that has been seen. At the same time, about 30,000 have arrived to the city since February. Reliefweb has an excellent map of population movements.

 That was a really long introduction to possibly the only good news you will hear about Somalia for the next year. Women’s groups in Mogadishu are doing their best to help IDPs in the city. Asha Sha'ur, an activist, described in IRIN Africa how women’s groups can access IDP camps. “We have had problems but both sides to the conflict have been good at allowing us [women] to help the needy. When they see a bunch of women they don’t bother us…” Larger agencies are trying to tap into that ability to move freely and understand local context; the UN is looking for consultants from the Somali diaspora willing to do 3-6 month consultancies in-country.

article placeholder

Paul Collier’s [email protected] lecture

Paul Collier has been on my mind recently.  He's written tons about coups and how they can sometimes provide useful checks on unrestrained power of emerging democracies.  Of course, Honduras isn't exactly and emerging democracy. It's been there for years.  Still, Collier, who wrote The Bottom Billion and, more recently, Wars Guns and Votes, is a wealth of knowledge about conflict in the developing world. 

Here is Collier giving a [email protected] lecture at the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters earlier this month on how the international community can do post-conflict recovery better. 

article placeholder

(Collective) Security Council

Andrew Bast adds to Mark's takedown of David Rothkopf's bit of indiscriminate UN-bashing:

To begin with, Rothkopf repeatedly refers to the "U.N.," when it's clear that he's talking about just the Security Council, the instance of the organization that handles matters of international peace and security. But to reduce it to a mechanism for conflict resolution, as Rothkopf does, misses the point. The theory underpinning the composition of the council, rather than elementary, is a rather nuanced and high-minded concept in international relations known as collective security. Put simply, an attack on one member state constitutes an attack on all. The logic behind the theory is to create significant disincentives for aggression, thereby increasing stability among the society of states. The best example of collective security at work was the council's response to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

This is a good point -- that the complexity underlying the Security Council system is often taken for granted, or, worse, misinterpreted as simplicity. Now, one might quibble that the composition of the Council as it actually exists means in reality that an attack on one member state that is supported by a permanent member of the Security Council constitutes an "attack on all." But in this respect, one could even see the relative polarization of the Council's permanent members -- with the U.S., UK, and France often on one side, and Russia and China on the other -- as a sort of benefit. Every country in the world is probably an ally of one of these five, so an attack on any will be strongly dissuaded.

The problem, of course, is that aggression is not limited solely to state-on-state invasion, and that the same alliances that dissuade this sort of aggression can make it more complicated to take collective action to stop a country's internal strife (see, for example, Sudan). This dynamic, though, is not a fault of the construction, or peace and conflict function, of the UN Security Council; it is a development in geopolitics, with which international security norms, writ even larger than the Security Council, have not yet fully caught up. How to make "collective security" incorporate the safety and well-being of a particular state's citizens, without impinging on that state's sovereignty, is a question even bigger than the Security Council. As a mechanism for resolving conflicts and maintaining peace, the Council is in fact evolving along with international relations, as it has to -- but, as, say, the contrasting cases of Kosovo and the second Iraq war suggest, this progression is not a neat and linear one.

(image from flickr user Dipp under a Creative Commons license)

article placeholder

Obama Sudan Envoy: “inshallah” U.S. Darfur/Sudan policy review will be completed

I'm just returning from the Park Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., where President Obama's Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration is hosting a major conference to shore up the Comprehensive Peace Accord, which ended a twenty year conflict between the ruling Sudanese National Congress Party and South Sudan rebels known as the Sudan's People's Liberation Movement.

The CPA, which was spearheaded by the Bush administration and signed in 2005, is on the verge of unraveling. The CPA created a so-called National Unity Government that brought the SPLM into the governing structure in Khartoum until national elections can be held later this year early next year. Then, most forcefully, the CPA calls for a referendum on the status of South Sudan in 2011--and in all likelihood, southern Sudanese will vote to secede. The CPA was a remarkable achievement at the time, but is showing signs of faltering. Outstanding issues like the status of the oil-rich Abyei region threaten to undermine the agreement. Both sides are re-arming in advance of the 2011 secession referendum. The Enough Project says that a return to civil war is a distinct possibility if progress is not made in the near term. 

To that end, Gration told a small gathering of journalists at the conference that the meeting was to stave off the disintegration of the CPA by "rekindling the same passion" that infused the original signing of the CPA. The meeting was intended to shore up political will to address some of the unresolved issues and to help prepare a "soft landing" when the south votes in its secession referendum. A "joint communiqué" between the SPLM and the National Congress Party is expected this afternoon, which will lay out the progress that has been made during this summer.

I asked Gration about a related issue: what, if any, news he can relay about Darfur/Sudan Policy Review that the president said would be completed within 60 days of his inauguration? I thought this was a prudent question because ss Colum Lynch reported last week, the "deputies committee" of the National Security Council (that is, the deputy secretary of state, deputy secretary of defense, etc) could not come to an agreement over the right balance of carrots and sticks in a new Sudan policy. 

So, I asked Gration when can he expect the review to be completed? His answer was telling. "Inshallah" was all he said. Meaning, of course, "god willing" it will be completed at all.   Not exactly a good sign. 

article placeholder

What just war theory can tell about cyber attacks against Iran

There is a fascinating debate going on right now about the propriety of hacking Iranian government sites.So far, the preferred method of attack for many online activists is something called Distributed Denial of Service attack, or DDOS attack for short. There are a variety of ways to mount this kind of attack, but the idea is basically to flood certain websites with too much activity for the sites or servers to perform properly. (There are even a number of websites one can visit and programs one can download to partake in a DDOS attack.)As Evgeny Morozov explains, Twitter has been used as an organizing tool for launching DDOS attacks. And a number of high profile web-folk like this Daily Kos diarist and Tech President founder contributor Patrick Ruffini are cheer leading for the cause. But as Morozov points out, these attacks may not just bring down Iranian government sites – it may threaten Internet access throughout all of Iran. If these attacks keep pace, online activists outside of Iran could unwittingly cause the entire meltdown of Iran’s fragile Internet infrastructure.Not unlike a coordinated bombing campaign against duel-use infrastructure like bridges and roadways, an organized DDOS attack campaign raises a number of moral and ethical questions. DDOS attacks are, after all, attacks. They are real and can be as destructive as conventional attacks on a country’s bridges or roadways.The problem is, it seems that the proponents of these attacks have not wrestled with the difficult moral questions surrounding the likely consequences of their actions. In particular, they don’t seem to have considered the so-called “double effect” of an attack on Iranian government websites. Simply stated, the Just War Theory principal known as double effect seeks to explain how one can justify the foreseen negative consequences of an action (like bombing civilians) if the intended end result (like ending a war) is sufficiently good. An oft cited example is the dilemma over whether or not to bomb a military outpost that is next to a school; the outpost will be destroyed, but so too might a school full of children.I think there are similar forces at work in the debate over whether or not to continue the DDOS attacks. These attacks may disrupt government propaganda sites like IRIN News, but so too might these attacks end up disrupting critical modes of civilian communications. Also, as Michael Roston artfully explains, such attacks seem contrary to the principals of free speech and open access to information.To be sure, there are conditions under which these kinds of attacks can be defended. But I have yet to see any proponent of DDOS attacks explain in moral terms how he or she can justify the likely harm that will be visited upon “non-combatants” should these attacks continue.
article placeholder

North Korea Tests Nuke – Security Council to Hold Emergency Meeting


North Korea announced on Monday that it had successfully conducted its second nuclear test, defying international warnings and dramatically raising the stakes in a global effort to persuade the recalcitrant Communist state to give up its weapons program. ...

Russia and Japan said the U.N. Security Council would hold an emergency meeting Monday.

Geological authorities in the United States, Japan and South Korea reported that the test triggered an earth tremor with a magnitude of between 4.5 and 5.3. The tremor emanated from Kilju, the same area where the North Korea carried out a test in October 2006.

article placeholder

The economics of pirates

Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason Univeristy, just published an extremely well-timed book on the hidden economists of old-school pirates. Tired of the "arrrrrrrrs" and "aye mateys" floating through blog posts on modern-day pirates? Join the club. However, Leeson does make a solid connection at the end of this Freakonomics interview:

What kinds of lessons can we draw from The Invisible Hook in dealing with modern pirates?

We have to recognize that pirates are rational economic actors and that piracy is an occupational choice. If we think of them as irrational, or as pursuing other ends, we're liable to come up with solutions to the pirate problem that are ineffective. Since we know that pirates respond to costs and benefits, we should think of solutions that alter those costs and benefits to shape the incentives for pirates and to deter them from going into a life of piracy.

Clearly part of the "benefits" side of that equation is building up (or at least not breaking down)  other economic opportunities.