Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan, Nuclear Weapons and the Dead Man Switch

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Good riddance.

Kudos go to President Obama, US Intelligence and the US Military.

There are questions that remain. What about the whereabouts of Ayman al Zawahiri the Al Qaeda number two (presumably now number one)? Al Zawahiri is supposed to be more of the operations specialist when Bin Laden was supposedly more of the financier and inspirational leader. Although Bin Laden turning out to be in a mansion in the large Pakistani city of Abbotabad with computers on the premises, rather than in a cave in Waziristan may indicate that Bin Laden was more in control that we were led to believe.

Pakistan is not looking good in this matter. The mansion was the largest in the neighborhood, less than a mile from a Pakistani Military Academy. “Hey who lives in the big house down the way?” would be a natural question. Someone at a fairly high level in Pakistan knew the answer.

When I grew up in New York City in the 1970’s one of the largest drug dealers in the neighborhood lived down the street from a police station. As a naïve kid I asked, “The whole neighborhood knows the drug dealer lives there. Why don’t the police arrest him?” A friend looked at me as if I were crazy, “Of course the cops know he lives there. Somebody must be getting paid not to arrest him.” It made sense.

Somebody in Abbotabad knew it was Bin Laden in that compound. That is why he felt secure enough to have a wife and elder son there with him. A fugitive on the run does not risk his family being caught with him unless he feels safe. The only way he would have felt safe there, is if local, and possibly national, officials knew he was there and were looking the other way.

Then again, it was never truly in Pakistan’s national interest to find Bin Laden. For a decade, the US has spent Billions and Billions of dollars in Afghanistan and Pakistan – primarily motivated by rooting out Al Qaeda, the Taliban and especially Bin Laden. The US national interest lies more naturally to align with Pakistan’s rival India. We do business with India, the Indian military and especially the Indian navy are a counter balance to China in the region.

But since the US wanted Bin Laden we had to do business with Pakistan. Once the US no longer has an interest in Afghanistan and therefore Pakistan, all of that money will dry up. By keeping Bin Laden out there, Pakistan kept the gravy train on the track. Pakistan also has domestic political reasons to shelter Bin Laden as the Bin Laden post-mortem demonstrations indicate. So Pakistan had more self-interest reasons to keep Bin Laden alive than to turn him over. It appears that some in Pakistan decided to play that game with the US.

The question now is about Bin Laden’s “Dead Man Switch.” When a suicide bomber walks into a public place, the smart ones will rig a “Dead Man Switch.” It can be a plunger that the terrorist has to keep depressed or the bomb goes off-creating a disincentive to simply shoot them. Shoot the bomber, his thumb goes limp, the bomb goes off, innocent people die. A similar device, a foot pedal, was used by the Chechen terrorists who took over the Russian school.

It would be a big surprise if Bin Laden did not set up a system where upon his death or capture by the US, it would be a signal to launch planned terror attacks. The apparent complicity of Pakistan, the world’s only current Islamic nuclear power is troubling in this context.

A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb is revered in his country. He may have aided North Korea with their nuclear program and in all probability Iran with theirs. If Pakistani officials in the know were bold enough to hide Bin Laden from the US, how can they be trusted with nuclear materials?

Let’s hope that Osama Bin Laden’s Dead Man switches all fizzle, and that none of them are nuclear.

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Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, Hillary Clinton and the slam dunk

WASHINGTON DC – In a startling development Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that Saddam Hussein’s missing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) have been discovered in Libya.

“It appears that the WMDs that were supposed to have been in Iraq have finally turned up in Libya,” said Secretary Clinton. When asked how certain the  US is of this, she replied, “It’s a slam dunk.”

When reminded that the “slam dunk” phrase was used by a previous administration in regards to WMD in Iraq, Secretary Clinton said, “President George W. Bush was a baseball owner and President Barak Obama plays basketball. This administration knows what a ‘slam dunk’ really is.”

When asked how the US could know this when the President has promised to not have “boots on the ground” in Libya, Clinton responded, “We don’t have boots on the ground. Military guys wear boots. CIA guys wear shoes.”

When asked for a comment on this remark Director of Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta , said, “The Agency has a policy of not commenting on the footwear of our covert operatives.”

Reached by telephone for comment, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld , said “What? In Libya?” then there was sound that sounded like a hand slapping a forehead, “Why didn’t we think of looking there?” Then the line was disconnected.

A question was posed to Secretary Clinton as to what kind of WMD had been found in Libya to which she replied, “Bad ones.” When questioned as to if there were any sort of “good WMD” she answered, “Good WMDs are ones that we or our friends control. Bad ones are in the hands of bad people.”

Since shortly after the invasion of Iraq, Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi claimed to have given up on his own nuclear and WMD programs. It was asked why he would have Saddam Hussein’s WMD.

“You just said it,” answered Clinton. “He gave up his own WMD because he already had Saddam’s, why did he need his own?”

Asked if this will increase the US operation Odyssey Dawn from just enforcing a “No-Fly” or a “No-Fly and No-Drive” Zone to something else, Clinton remarked:

“The Kinetic Military Action in Libya should more properly be referred to as a ‘Flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ Zone.”

When the White House was called to have this matter confirmed by the National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon, the newly installed White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded by saying, “Who?”

Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates was contacted for comment on the existence of Saddam Hussein’s WMD in Libya. He responded by saying, “Ask Valerie Plame.”

More of this story to come as it breaks, today, the first day of April…

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Understanding Government Speak: Kinetic Military Action in Libya

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Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian, Middle East Revolution and Paddy Chayefsky

What do Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian and Steven Slater (the flight attendant who quit his job, grabbed a beer and slid down the emergency chute) have to do with protestors in the Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iran and possibly Saudi Arabia? 

And what do any of these people have to do with a 1976 movie written by Paddy Chayefsky?

A lot. In that film, “Network”, a fictional news anchor, Howard Beale, decides that he is “mad as hell,” and that he is “not going to take it anymore!” The network decides to keep him on the air, he becomes a phenomenon and called a Mad Prophet.

Sheen, Conan O’Brian and Flight attendant Steven Slater were all frustrated with their employers. They all left their jobs loudly rather than quietly and became folk heroes in the process. Folk heroes fueled by the internet social sites, Facebook and Twitter in particular.

Chayefsky was three decades ahead of his time and the word “Network” today has a larger meaning. In the movie the public at large joined the “Mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore!” movement. Today people across the world are mad as hell.

People have been “mad as hell” for a while. The current global economic downturn has frustrated people across the planet. The difference is that now people have decided that they “…are not going to take it anymore.”  The internet and social networking in particular, are providing a way to express the anger.  More than that, the online world is providing a way to organize and get results.

The results are real. Conan O’Brian was able to keep his fan base despite being barred from broadcast television. Charlie Sheen may be onto a new career as an online Mad Prophet selling Tiger’s Blood and promoting “winning.” In the Middle East, two strongmen who held power for decades have fallen, one is in a civil war and others may still be deposed.  

The plot twist in the 1976 movie was that the “Network” decided to keep the Mad Prophet on the air in a cynical ploy for ratings. In today’s network, the TV Networks could not keep Charlie Sheen, Conan O’Brian off the air- at least not off the internet. Neither could an Egyptian state run TV station silence a Google manager.

When people are Mad as Hell in this new Communications/Information age, those in power will have to listen – they can no longer just pull the plug. The Mad as Hell side is “winning.”

That changes everything.

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Watson, Google, Egypt’s revolution, Saudi Kings, the price of oil and the Singularity

Watson the IBM Computer not only wins, but beats two of the biggest former human champions handily on the TV game show Jeopardy.

Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for Google, plays the part of Egypt’s Technological Cromwell and helps spark a revolution.

Raymond Kurzweil, a leading Artificial Intelligence expert predicts a “Singularity”, the day when Artificial Intelligence surpasses human intelligence, as coming sooner rather than later.

All these events happened within days of each other – how are they related?

Just as the Twentieth Century was dominated by technological, social and political changes caused by the industrial revolution – we are seeing that the Twenty-First Century will be dominated by such changes caused by the information revolution.

We had begun to see signs of it before. When Barak Obama was able to defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democrat Party race for the Presidential nomination, it was a victory for the online world against what was viewed as the establishment.  Now we have the role of Twitter and Facebook in the Middle East and elsewhere; partially spurred by revelations coming from Wikileaks.

The established political structures in the world are becoming as relevant as candle makers after Edison invented the light bulb and electrification of cities.

How is a King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who will be eighty-eight years old this August, to deal with this sort of a world? In fact, almost all of the large middle-eastern oil producers are in a similar predicament. They, and Russia, are right now “pinch points” in the world economy and therefore world politics. But even their economic clout could be threatened by the information revolutionaries.

Brilliant people all over the world are trying to figure out how to make a better battery. Combine a better battery with a breakthrough in nuclear fusion or some other energy producing technology and crude oil could become as irrelevant as the telegraph much faster than any of us imagine. The oil producers would become less relevant as well.

Don’t think it could happen? In the late Nineteenth Century the “industrialized world” (Europe and the America’s) were facing a vast oil shortage – whale oil that is-until fossil fuels were placed into use. Henry Ford demanded that his engineers produce a V8 engine for the automobile, despite engineers assurances that it could not be done.

We are already facing a time of greater change for more of the world’s population since World War II. It may greater change, and upheaval, than any of us can even imagine.

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Cairo, Iran, the 3 AM Phone Call, Dictators and the Egyptian Revolution

It was the Emergency phone that rang at three A.M. in the Cairo palace. With a sigh, the old man decided he should answer it. After all, he hadn’t been able to sleep anyway. He picked up the ornate receiver.

“Hosni? This is Reza.”

“Reza…?” the old man questioned.

“Pahlavi.”

“The Shah? But you’ve been …”

“Gone. Yes, over thirty years now.”

“Then how?”

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is you need to talk to someone who understands; someone who has been in your shoes.”

In the days of extraordinary events what was one more? “I’m listening.”

“Good. The main thing I’m calling to say is: don’t think about the next six months. Think about the next six years.”

“What do you mean?”

“First of all, the moment you leave the country, you will cease to matter. You will cease to shape events.”

“Didn’t you have a plan to leave, let things quiet down after a crack down and then come back?”

“Yes, I came to Egypt in fact.”

“I remember. Then we asked you to leave.”

“You and Sadat had to – Carter was so dead set on Camp David, so focused on peace that he missed the coming war.”

“The civil war in Iran?”

“Yes, that. But even worse, the Iran-Iraq war: eight years of hell. That idiot Saddam could not resist a weakened Iran. The mullah’s knew it was the only way to get the Military on their side; defending their country.”

“But Saddam had a prize to gain – the oil. What could anyone gain by attacking Egypt?”

“Weakness inspires attack. I don’t think Muammar would do anything so foolish. The Americans and Europeans and now the Chinese do not care so long as the oil keeps flowing. During Iran-Iraq they all stood on the sidelines, laughing like schoolyard instigators while the babies fought in the sandbox. Arab fought Persian, Muslim versus Muslim, while the world supplied both sides and smiled. Don’t let it come to that.”

“Who wants to fight Egypt?”

“No one wants to fight Egypt– unless they are attacked. Military men are trained to love their country and to fight for it. Just as Khomeini knew the soldiers and pilots would defend Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood knows Egyptians would defend Egypt – especially against Israel.”

“That would be madness.”

“Yes it would. Semite fighting Semite; unlike Saddam, the Israelis do have nuclear weapons.”

“Suleiman will talk reason into the revolutionaries.”

“Don’t trust intelligence officers. The CIA placed my father in power, and then the same for me. But when they saw me as weak, they were meeting with the other side. Intelligence officers blow with the breeze – look at Putin in Russia.”

“So what should I do?”

“I was allowed this call not to give you answers, but to make sure you ask the right questions. When all is said and done, no one will give you credit for things you did. We both, advanced the rights of women, built infrastructure, modernized our militaries, respected ancient history and kept the peace. Let’s face it though, we were bad at democracy and freedom. But to the victors go the spoils. Whoever wins the revolution will write the history of you on the hearts of your people.”

“I would hate for there to be a war once I’m gone. Egypt would suffer so much.”

“Then take the time you have left, to do what I did not do.”

“Which is what?”

“Make sure it is not the fanatics who win; because they will lead to war.”

“Much to think about.”

“I have to go now Hosni.”

“Reza? May I ask….where are you calling from?”

“That I am not allowed to say. But it is not where the mullahs would say I am. Salaam Hosni.”

“Salaam Reza.”

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Egypt, Revolution, Democracy, The Arab Street and America’s Friends

The situation in Egypt is very fluid. No one knows what the outcome will be. Yet there are things that we do know now…

 1)      Wikileaks mattered: despite the efforts of some pundits to downplay the impact of the leaked diplomatic cables, it helped lead to the fall of Tunisia’s government. Perhaps soon Egypt, and then next….who knows? Julian Assange changed the world –for better or for worse we may not know for years.

 2)      The Arab Street cares more about the price of cooking fuel than American interventions. While the invasion of Iraq was supposed to blow up the Arab Street it did not. Rising prices, unemployment and unresponsive governments are the root causes sited by the protestors on the street. Sounds like the Arab Street has more in common with Greek protestors than with Al Qaeda or radical clerics.

3)      Arab nations do yearn for Democracy. In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, some very clever pundits opined that the Arab and/or Muslim world did really want democracy, as an argument against President George W. Bush’s policies. Score one for Bush, Pundits zero.

4)      This CAN be like Iran in 1979. The lesson from previous revolutions is that it is often an authoritarian counter-revolution that takes control. Examples: French revolution (the world does not need an Arab/Egyptian Napoleon), Russian Revolution, Iranian Revolution. Mubarak may not be good news, but the alternative could be worse.

Then there are the things we don’t know:

What about the price of oil if the protests spread to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states? What would that do to the fragile world economic recovery?

Will Hamas take advantage of the now unguarded Egypt/Gaza border to bring in weapons and terrorists to renew hostilities with Israel?

President Obama has taken the Sun Tzu approach of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. Poland and the Czech Republic got this treatment for missile defense versus US accommodation with Russia. Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan is getting similar treatment. Obama even did this domestically when he placed Hillary Clinton in his Cabinet and praised John Boehner during the State of the Union speech.  

If Mubarak does not survive in Egypt will the world note that it is better to be America’s enemy than America’s friend at this time? A dangerous lesson when there is a cash rich China willing to make new friendships in the Middle East – especially oil rich countries.

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