Monday, October 1, 2012
A senior commander of Iran's Armed Forces says the Israeli regime will spell its own “swift death” by firing the first shot at Iran.
“The [Israeli] regime occupying al-Quds (Jerusalem) not only lacks the capability to make a military move against the Islamic Republic, but is also well aware that it will spell its own swift death by firing the first shot [at Iran],” Deputy Chairman of Iranian Armed Forces' Chiefs of Staff Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri said Monday.
He also said that the occupied lands as well as the ‘illegitimate US interests’ in the region are all within the reach of Iranian missiles.
Jazayeri stressed that Iran will never initiate a war, but added that any aggression against the country will meet the Islamic Republic’s “resolute and extensive” response.
Israel has recently stepped up threats of carrying out a strike against Iran’s nuclear energy facilities.
The threats are based on the unfounded claims that the peaceful nuclear activities of the Islamic Republic include a military component.
Iranian officials have refuted the allegation and have promised a crushing response to any military strike against the country, warning that any such measure could result in a war that would spread beyond the Middle East.
United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moonindicated this week that free speech that attacked other’s beliefs should not be protected:
(K-moon) decried at a news conference the making of Innocence of Muslims as a “disgraceful and shameful act” that represented an abuse of “freedom of expression…a fundamental right and privilege.” Using “freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs” was not worthy of protection. Rather, Ki-moon indicated that such freedom only deserved protection when “used for common justice, common purpose.”
Look for the United Nations to support some kind of ‘blasphemy’ legislation in the near future. In fact, UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18 is being put forward by the Arab Leagueand the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a grouping of 56 Muslim-majority states which this week demanded:
for the halting of “growing intolerance towards Muslims” and for “an international code of conduct for media and social media to disallow the dissemination of incitement material.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was even more insistent that international laws needed to be put in place to protect Islam from blasphemy and so-called ‘Islamophobia’:
(Erdogan) called for recognizing “Islamophobia as a crime against humanity” and “international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred.”
Also, a number of Europeans in the last week have taken up the drumbeat against free speech in deference to Islam.
Most prominent is Martin Schulz the President of the European Parliament:
“I condemn strongly not only the content but also the distribution of such a movie, which is humiliating the feelings of a lot of people all over the world.”
The implications of Schulz’s statement did not go unnoticed by his political opponents. His condemnation of the distribution of the ‘film’ implied that anti-Islamic content needed to be regulated. A real threat to EU freedom of speech when you consider his position and the fact that he should be standing up for Western freedoms instead of caving to Middle Eastern demands.
It should be noted that Martin Schulz is from Germany which was hard hit by Muslim demonstrations and violence. So much so that the USA had to shut down one of its consulates in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel is now under a great deal of pressure to ban the ‘film’ and pass laws restricting free speech in response to the situation.
Then there was a joint statement issued by Christian and Muslim leaders in Portsmouth and Fareham in the UK calling for an end to the violent protests against the anti-Islamic ‘film’ but also for the regulation and prosecution of hate speech:
“Freedom of expression is not absolute. As people of faith, we re-iterate that freedom of expression doesn’t justify spreading hatred based on faith, race, ethnicity or gender. Offending religious symbols or sacred spaces does real damage to society.
"We call upon all to show profound respect for the beliefs, texts, religious personalities and symbols of the various religions."
Those responsible for religious hate crimes should be prosecuted, they said.
Response: So there you have it. This should be scary but most of us do not fully understand all of the implications. There is a world-wide firestorm brewing that is calling for limits to free speech and conversation when it comes to Islam. It is truly amazing how many across the world right now are calling for international blasphemy laws that would make major changes in the Western understanding of freedom and bring limits not only to speech but also to the freedom of religion and religious conversation in particular.
Even more disturbing are similar calls in America for our own Constitutional rights to be limited when it comes to speech about Islam. We have posted about some of those comments in the last several days:
-Dearborn, Mi: Muslim Imam and Christian Pastor Call for Limits to Free Speech
-Implications: Another American Imam Wants to Limit Free Speech
-Now Some Muslims in Kansas City Petition Congress to limit Free Speech
Americans and particularly Christians need to resist any and all efforts to limit our freedom of speech and religion whether domestic or international. It is particularly distressing that the Obama administration is rather squishy on this issue and seems to sympathize with the Muslim calls for International blasphemy legislation.
All stops need to be pulled out and our government representatives need to be clear about where we stand on these issues or changes will be allowed to be made that will affect our freedoms and curtail our rights in ways that may not be obvious. It is time to stand up and be counted and heard.
Answers for the faith
Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has given King Abdullah II notice that he has until October to bow to their demand to transform the Hashemite Kingdom into a constitutional monarchy or face Arab Spring street pressure for his abdication.
DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources report that Israeli and Saudi intelligence watchers are becoming increasingly concerned about the approaching climax of the conflict in Amman between Islamists and the throne .
For Israel, an upheaval in Jordan bodes the tightening of the Islamist noose around its borders – Egypt and Libya to the south and Syria to the north, with unpredictable consequences with regard to Jordan’s Palestinian population.
Saudi Arabia, already threatened by Iranian aggression, fears the oil kingdom may be next in line if its northern neighbor is crushed under the marching feet of the “Arab Spring.”
The oil kingdom’s royal rulers are reported to have belatedly woken up to the peril and are in a panic. They realize that their preoccupation with helping Syrian rebels overthrow Bashar Assad misdirected their attention from the enemies lurking at their own door. Thousands of articles in the Arab press in the past year have predicted that after the Muslim Brotherhood seizes power in Damascus, Amman would be next in its sights followed by Riyadh.
The latest DEBKA-Net-Weekly of Sept. 21 analyzed the plight closing in on the Jordanian monarch and outlined three of his options:
1. He could bow to the main Muslim Brotherhood’s demand by submitting to the kingdom’s transition to a constitutional monarchy and the transfer of executive power to an MB-led government by means of the electoral reforms for which the Brothers have been pushing for years. In Jordan as in Egypt, the Brothers hope for a two-third majority in a free election.
2. He could stand up to the Brotherhood’s demands and order his security, intelligence and military forces to crack down on the opposition. This course carries the risk of plunging Jordan into the carnage of civil war among the diverse segments of the population. The biggest dangers come from the Bedouin tribes, whose traditional allegiance to the Hashemite throne has weakened in recent years, and the Palestinians who form 60 percent of the population.
3. He could seek to negotiate a compromise through various brokers. Our sources report that several attempts at mediation have been ventured of late, but got nowhere because the Muslim Brotherhood sent its most radical leaders to the table and they left very little margin for compromise.
According to sources at the royal court, Abdullah will very soon meet with MB leaders for a personal appeal for calm after years of heated debate. Most observers believe that he has left it too late and by now the Muslim Brotherhood has got the bit between its teeth.
Indeed, according to an internal memorandum leaked to the Al-Hayat newspaper, the MB has already set a date for mass demonstrations against the King to start on Oct. 10 and ordered its members to go to work at once to mobilize at least 50,000 demonstrators for daily protests against the king and the royal family until he bows to their will.
The memorandum states: “Every member must be dedicated to communicate with his relatives, close friends, acquaintances, fellow employees and various Islamic groups and patriots…” It calls for the formation of “hotbeds to… focus on the participation of groups affiliated with universities, schools and women’s organizations.” Protesters are also advised on tactics for overcoming a security crackdown.
Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has therefore moved forward from opposition propaganda, debating and political pressure to activism against the throne.
Both Jordanian camps are anxiously watching to see which way the wind blows in the White House.
President Barack Obama has a balancing act to resolve: On the one hand, the Jordanian king has long been a staunch American ally and friend, its mainstay in many regional crises. On the other, Obama regards the Muslim Brotherhood as the linchpin of his external policy of outreach to the Muslim world.
New York Post columnist Cindy Adams asserts that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger predicted the end of the state of Israel within 10 years.
Adams does not specify when or where Kissinger made that statement. But she writes: “Middle East horror. Democratic Party dissing Jerusalem. DC’s anti-Israel mentality. Obama, busy raising re-election funds, no time for beleaguered Netanyahu. The Oval Office attitude versus the Red Line. Iran’s oath to destroy our only friend in that part of the world.
“Reported to me, Henry Kissinger has stated — and I quote the statement word for word: ‘In 10 years, there will be no more Israel.’
“I repeat: ‘In 10 years, there will be no more Israel.’”
New York Post
It is wealthy, industrial, and sees itself as the regional engine for growth. It is also fed up with paying for its poorer neighbours.
It is not Germany, but Catalonia. And the Spanish region's politicians certainly don't mind the comparison.
"An economist just this morning told me that he saw Catalonia as being to Spain what Germany is to Europe," said Joan Vidal, chief of staff for the president of Spain's most economically powerful region. "That shows that we have our own image, while Brand Spain is really suffering.
"Of course, things have been done here that shouldn't have been - we're not denying that. But if we had the mechanisms to develop ourselves, we think we could get out of this situation."
Spain's continuing national debt crisis has already put the country's future in the euro in question, along with the future of the single currency itself. Now it has had another effect, unwanted in the rest of Spain, by fuelling demands for Catalan independence. Fed up with effectively paying more to Madrid than the region receives back in central government funding, the region's own government, centred on Barcelona, has already gone cap in hand to the national treasury to ask for a bailout of its own debts.
Now its people are increasingly convinced that breaking away from Madrid may be their best hope for the future - a development watched from Spain's capital, 400 miles away, with a mixture of anger and fear.
Earlier this month, on Catalonia's own "national" day, more than a million people took to the streets as their president Artur Mas told the cheering crowds that "never before has Catalonia been so close to achieving its aspiration and its desire of full national freedom".
Last week Mr Mas, who feels he has been backed into a corner by Madrid's refusal to consider granting him greater autonomy, called a snap election for November. He promised, if re-elected, to hold a referendum on independence.
With Spain being pummelled by the financial market, rocked by protests and hit by doubts over its finances, the surge of support for Catalan independence is the last thing the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, needs.
Even King Juan Carlos, who normally remains aloof from political wrangles, was driven to intervene, issuing a thinly-veiled warning in which he wrote of a "decisive moment for the future of Europe and of Spain", which could "either assure or destroy the well-being we have struggled so hard for".
In his most overt political intervention since 1981, when Spain's post-Franco democracy was threatened by revolution, he added: "The worst thing we could do is to divide our strengths, foment dissent, chase chimeras and deepen our wounds."
And he is perhaps right that the current eurozone and Spanish crises, a contracting economy with record unemployment, and the looming constitutional crunch over Catalan separatism, together amount to a national emergency.
Seven of Spain's 14 main credit institutions failed their financial health checks on Friday – so-called "stress tests" – which means they need €59 million of capital.
The problem was compounded for Mr Rajoy when Germany, Finland and the Netherlands appeared to backtrack on an EU deal by insisting that a new rescue fund for Spain's would not covering older, "legacy" debts.
Last week the government announced that ministry budgets would be cut by 8.9 per cent and public sector wages frozen for a third year running, along with the possible raising of retirement age.
"This is a crisis budget aimed at emerging from the crisis," said Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, deputy prime minister.
While she was defending the budget, however, Mr Rajoy was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Photos of him puffing on a cigar while his country seethed did little to ease the tensions.
He had also given a badly-judged interview to the Wall Street Journal, in which he said he would seek a full EU bailout for Spain if the country's borrowing costs rose so greatly that he was forced to do so.
As if on command, borrowing costs soared. "This guy is an ace communicator," one European diplomat noted with heavy irony.
Mr Mas, Catalonia's leader, has meanwhile made himself a sharp thorn in the side of the prime minister.
Catalonia, Spain's most wealthy region, makes up one fifth of the national economy and generates 30 per cent of its exports. Its 7.5 million people have always seen themselves as distinct from the rest of Spain, with their own language and cultural identity.
But what most angers people is that Catalonia is responsible for managing public services, but Madrid retains regulatory and tax-and-spend powers.
This means that they transfer a net €12 billion a year in tax revenues to the rest of Spain, leaving - they say - too little for their own essential needs.
"The time has come to exercise the right to self-determination," he said. "The parliament that emerges (from November's election) will have a historic responsibility."
Now a referendum is due to be held after a new government is elected on Nov 25. It would have no legal consequence but would hugely increase pressure for Madrid to grant the region complete autonomy.
"What we want is more freedom and more independence," said Joan Vidal, the chief of staff for the president. "We have a clear plan of our priorities, but we are not getting the support from the central government."
Sitting at an expansive desk inside the Gothic, gargoyle-surrounded presidential palace – the heart of which dates from 1359 – Mr Vidal denied that calling for independence at this time was opportunistic or dangerous.
He said that Mr Rajoy's talk of shared struggle was hollow, given that Madrid refused to pass on the EU's more relaxed deficit targets to the regions. Catalonia knew how to handle Catalonia's problems, he added.
"We agree that austerity is necessary – we are not irresponsible. But we think that Catalonia itself has the best motor to get out of the crisis."
The region was forced to ask Madrid for a €5 billion bail-out in August, the largest of all Spain's 17 regions. Even though it generates the most money, it has high running costs and huge debt. Hospital wards are closing, class sizes are growing, and university fees are rising.
The Sant Pau hospital, a huge complex on a hillside above the centre, has seen a 20 per cent reduction in the number of beds. The number of surgery sessions has been reduced by three per day, meaning that there will be 1,500 fewer operations per year.
Other hospitals have stopped providing night-time emergency services.
Unemployment is 22 per cent; huge compared to much of Europe, but less than the national average of 25 per cent.
And the embarrassment of the bailout only served to help the cause of Catalan independence. A survey in June showed 51 per cent of Catalans now support independence; the first time that more than half have called for a separate state.
"What Catalonia makes should stay in Catalonia," said Albert Garcia, 20, a finance student. "We could be like Monaco or Andorra – small, strong, independent nations." His friend Andreu Pedascoll, 22, added: "The Spanish hate us anyway. They only want us to stay part of Spain for our money."
But aren't they Spanish, I ask? "No!" they say in outraged unison. "We're Catalan. Definitely not Spanish."
The fear is, of course, that the cracks in Spain will spread to the rest of Europe. Already there is talk of a north-south divide: will the Catalans spur on the Italians, already sharply split between the industrial north and more rural south? What about Belgium, with its Flemish separatist issue? And Scotland, or the southern German state of Bavaria?
"I'm not sure if the EU is fracturing as such," said Mr Vidal. "But each country is moving at its own rhythm. "There shouldn't be fear about this. They just need to listen to us."
His tragically-misguided budget offers no strategic plan to reverse -- or even to stop -- thirty years of slow national decline. He offers no worthwhile measures to slim the Leviathan state, now a Nordic-sized 55pc of GDP, without Nordic labour flexibility or Nordic free markets.
He does not tell us how he will stem the slide in France’s share of eurozone exports over the last decade, down from 17pc to 13pc, or what he will do about the disastrous swing in France’s trade balance from a surplus of 2.5pc of GDP to a deficit of 2.4pc since 1999.
He proposes nothing credible to restore France’s viability within EMU, or to stop public debt spiralling beyond 90pc of GDP. Instead he has served up the most drastic retrenchment in forty years, at the worst possible time, and in the worst possible way. And markets are supposed to applaud?
The budget will tighten discretionary fiscal policy by 2pc of GDP next year into the teeth of deepening depression, without offsetting monetary stimulus or exchange rate relief.
Mr Hollande likes to quote Leon Blum, the Popular Front leader of the interwar years. The reality could hardly be more cruel. He is replicating the disastrous deflation policies of Labour Chancellor Philip Snowden in 1931, before the Labour Party woke up to the delicious possibility that you could lift two fingers to the forces of reaction and leave the Gold Standard.
Worse yet, he is perilously close to re-enacting the desperate deflation decrees of Pierre Laval -- an ex-Socialist dreamer, pacifist, and utopian who lost his way, and ultimately cleaved too closely to foreign ideologies -- and like Laval he is doing so to uphold a fixed exchange system that is slowly asphyxiating his country and no longer makes any sense.
His budget is pro-cylical error of the first order, carried out to meet an EU deficit target of 3pc of GDP that has no economic logic and is plucked out of thin air to meet bureaucratic tidiness and enshrined like so much other idiocy into EU treaty law. The certain result will be hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.
"To save the dogma of single currency, they are imposing absurd hyper-austerity on France," said Marine Le Pen from the National Front, France’s unlikely apostle of Keynesian doctrine.
France now joins Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, and parts of Eastern Europe in synchronized tightening, with the Netherlands and Belgium cutting too, all dragging each other down in a 1930s slide into the political swamp.
Mr Hollande has not been entirely passive. He threw his weight behind the Latin revolt earlier this summer, forcing German Chancellor Angela Merkel to sanction mass bond purchases by the European Central Bank. This would not have been possible in the Merkozy era, when Nicholas Sarkozy sacrificed all else on the altar of the Franco-German unity.
But he has not followed through and there were in any case two quid pro quos to this deal with Germany. One was that Spain and Italy must submit to Troika Hell before the ECB buys a single bond. The second was that France must submit to fiscal Hell.
Mr Hollande has his own motives for bowing to austerity demands. He learned the lesson as an aide to François Mitterrand that you cannot deviate too far from Germany if you share a currency peg. There will be no repetition of 1983, the epic U-turn or `tournant de la rigueur’.
He may judge it tactically clever to get his recession out of the way early in the electoral cycle. If so, it is a very risky strategy.
Professor Jacques Sapir, director of the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris, says the more likely outcome is a downward economic spiral, pushing the declared numbers of jobless from 3m towards 4m -- and the real number to 6m -- by the end of next year. The economy will not spring back of its own accord this time because the contractionary structure of EMU has jammed the mechanism.
Prof Sapir fears global markets will turn on France with "full fury" before long, at which point events will slip entirely beyond political control. "François Hollande is making a dangerous bet that he can only lose," he said.
The French economy has already been in quasi-slump for five quarters. Dominique Barbet from BNP Paribas says the latest crash in the manufacturing PMI index to 42.6 -- the lowest since April 2009, and lower that at any time in the dotcom bust -- is "potentially alarming".
Indeed it is. Data collected by Simon Ward at Henderson Global Investors shows that a key leading indicator of the money supply --`six-month real M1 money’ -- is now contracting even faster in France than in Spain. The shock will hit over the winter. "The budget looks increasingly misguided and self-defeating," he said.
Mr Hollande thinks his budget will safeguard jobs. The fiscal burden will fall on the rich with a top tax rate of 75pc, and on industry. Barclays Capital says three quarters of the total will come by raising revenue, with the taxes "front-loaded" while spending cuts are "back-loaded". The ratio of taxes to gross wages will rise to an all-time high of 46.3pc. (Finance ministry estimates).
Harvard Professor Alberto Alesina says this flies in the face of all we have learned about austerity. "The accumulated evidence from over 40 years across the OECD speaks loud and clear: spending cuts are less recessionary than tax increases," he said.
France above all screams out for a blast of tax-cutting Thatcherism and pension reform. The International Monetary Fund says the country’s "tax wedge" - or tax as a share of labour costs - is one of highest in the world at almost 50pc.
Just 39.7pc of those aged 55 to 64 are in work, compared with 56.7pc in the UK and 57.7pc in Germany. Early retirement incentives are to blame. "French workers spend the longest time in retirement among advanced countries," says the Fund.
France coasted through the last decade, losing 20pc unit labour cost competitiveness against Germany as it screwed down wages and pushed through the Hartz IV reforms. French industry has been losing 60,000 jobs a year for a decade. Manufacturing has shrunk to 12pc of GDP, as bad as Britain.
Renault chief Carlos Ghosn warned last week that France’s biggest car company would "cease to exist" in its curent form unless there was a radical change in the country’s work climate. "Not over three or six months perhaps, but over three years, or five years, yes, the danger is real," he said.
The whole economic structure of France is an anachronism in a Chinese world and a German currency union. "We are consuming the leftovers of a past prosperity," says Jean Peyrelevade, ex-head of Credit Lyonnais.
Sovereign debt strategist Nicholas Spiro says growing doubts about the "credibility of French fiscal and economic policy" may soon bring Mr Hollande’s strange honeymoon to a close. It is a widely-shared view. Danske Bank’s bond team sees a "significant risk that the market will turn on France in 2013".
Huw Pill from Goldman Sachs said the detonator may be activation of the European Stability Mechanism to bail out Spain and then Italy.
The potential ESM demands are too large for the "vulnerable core" of France, Belgium, and Austria. Their own fiscal health would come under the microscope. The shock would push them "from one equilibrium to another."
Mr Hollande has swallowed the argument that drastic cuts are the only way to cap debt at 90pc of GDP and keep the debt trajectory under control. This is odd re
Yet we already know from Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain that fiscal shock therapy makes little dent on the deficit without monetary shock absorber. It causes nominal GDP and the tax base to shrink, making debt ratios even worse.
France does not have to put with destructive 1930s policies imposed by Germany. It is not a vassal state. It remains a great nation, the beating heart of Europe and the EU’s balancing force.
It can break out of this awful trap by leading a yet more determined Latin revolt, this time marshalling its voting majority in the Council to force an end to contractionary policies.
A French-led growth bloc can strike back by inflicting an intolerable level of inflation on Germany. It can if necessary cause the North Europeans to walk out of EMU altogether -- the optimal solution for the North and South respectively.
For that, Mr Hollande must be willing to abandon the Franco-German condominium, the central tenet of French foreign policy for almost sixty years. The cautious, plodding Enarque from the Limousin is not the type for fireworks, but give him time.
Russia was completing the withdrawal of its citizens and military personnel from its naval base in Syria, Saudi daily Al Watan reported on Sunday.
Free Syrian Army Major Maher al-Naimi told the paper that Russian and Cypriot ships docked at the port in order to evacuate the remaining Russian technicians as well as 52 of the 72 armored vehicles from the military installation.
Al-Naimi said the Syrian opposition considers the Tartus base as part of Syria that is occupied by Russia and that it will be liberated once the Russian military leaves. He claimed that Russia was evacuating because it recognized the Syrian opposition’s military upper hand.
He added that the Syrian opposition would not continue Damascus’s level of strategic partnership with Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing, and that the Russian military “was not welcome” in Syria.
In August, Russia sent 11 warships to the Mediterranean, some of which were bound for the Tartus naval facility. The New York Times reported that “nearly half of the ships were capable of carrying hundreds of marines.”
Moscow has operated the naval facility at Tartus since signing an agreement with Damascus in 1971. Although it is merely a ship repair and refueling station with a limited military presence, it is the sole remaining Russian military base outside of the former Soviet Union.
The Times of Israel
Hackers linked to China’s government broke into one of the U.S. government’s most sensitive computer networks, breaching a system used by the White House Military Office for nuclear commands, according to defense and intelligence officials familiar with the incident.
One official said the cyber breach was one of Beijing’s most brazen cyber attacks against the United States and highlights a failure of the Obama administration to press China on its persistent cyber attacks.
Disclosure of the cyber attack also comes amid heightened tensions in Asia, as the Pentagon moved two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups and Marine amphibious units near waters by Japan’s Senkaku islands.
China and Japan—the United States’ closest ally in Asia and a defense treaty partner—are locked in a heated maritime dispute over the Senkakus, which China claims as its territory.
U.S. officials familiar with reports of the White House hacking incident said it took place earlier this month and involved unidentified hackers, believed to have used computer servers in China, who accessed the computer network used by the White House Military Office (WHMO), the president’s military office in charge of some of the government’s most sensitive communications, including strategic nuclear commands. The office also arranges presidential communications and travel, and inter-government teleconferences involving senior policy and intelligence officials.
An Obama administration national security official said: “This was a spear phishing attack against an unclassified network.”
Spear phishing is a cyber attack that uses disguised emails that seek to convince recipients of a specific organization to provide confidential information. Spear phishing in the past has been linked to China and other states with sophisticated cyber warfare capabilities.
The official described the type of attack as “not infrequent” and said there were unspecified “mitigation measures in place.”
“In this instance the attack was identified, the system was isolated, and there is no indication whatsoever that any exfiltration of data took place,” the official said.
The official said there was no impact or attempted breach of a classified system within the office.
“This is the most sensitive office in the U.S. government,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the work of the office. “A compromise there would cause grave strategic damage to the United States.”
Security officials are investigating the breach and have not yet determined the damage that may have been caused by the hacking incident, the officials said.
Despite the administration national security official’s assertion, one defense official said there is fairly solid intelligence linking the penetration of the WHMO network to China, and there are concerns that the attackers were able to breach the classified network.
Details of the cyber attack and the potential damage it may have caused remain closely held within the U.S. government.
However, because the military office handles strategic nuclear and presidential communications, officials said the attack was likely the work of Chinese military cyber warfare specialists under the direction of a unit called the 4th Department of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, or 4PLA.
It is not clear how such a high-security network could be penetrated. Such classified computer systems are protected by multiple levels of security and are among the most “hardened” systems against digital attack.
However, classified computer systems were compromised in the past using several methods. They include the insertion of malicious code through a contaminated compact flash drive; a breach by a trusted insider, as in the case of the thousands of classified documents leaked to the anti-secrecy web site Wikileaks; and through compromised security encryption used for remote access to secured networks, as occurred with the recent compromise involving the security firm RSA and several major defense contractors.
According to the former official, the secrets held within the WHMO include data on the so-called “nuclear football,” the nuclear command and control suitcase used by the president to be in constant communication with strategic nuclear forces commanders for launching nuclear missiles or bombers.
The office also is in charge of sensitive continuity-of-government operations in wartime or crises.
The former official said if China were to obtain details of this sensitive information, it could use it during a future conflict to intercept presidential communications, locate the president for targeting purposes, or disrupt strategic command and control by the president to U.S. forces in both the United States and abroad.
White House spokesmen had no immediate comment on the cyber attack, or on whether President Obama was notified of the incident.
Former McAffee cyber threat researcher Dmitri Alperovitch said he was unaware of the incident, but noted: “I can tell you that the Chinese have an aggressive goal to infiltrate all levels of U.S. government and private sector networks.”
“The White House network would be the crown jewel of that campaign so it is hardly surprising that they would try their hardest to compromise it,” said Alperovictch, now with the firm Crowdstrike.
Last week the senior intelligence officer for the U.S. Cyber Command said Chinese cyber attacks and cyber-espionage against Pentagon computers are a constant security problem.
“Their level of effort against the Department of Defense is constant” and efforts to steal economic secrets are increasing, Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, Cyber Command director of intelligence, told Reuters after a security conference.
“It’s continuing apace,” Cox said of Chinese cyber-espionage. “In fact, I’d say it’s still accelerating.”
Asked if classified networks were penetrated by the Chinese cyber warriors, Cox told the news agency: “I can’t really get into that.”
The WHMO arranges the president’s travel and also provides medical support and emergency medical services, according to the White House’swebsite.
“The office oversees policy related to WHMO functions and Department of Defense assets and ensures that White House requirements are met with the highest standards of quality,” the website states. “The WHMO director oversees all military operations aboard Air Force One on presidential missions worldwide. The deputy director of the White House Military Office focuses primarily on the day-to-day support of the WHMO.”
The office is also in charge of the White House Communications Agency, which handles all presidential telephone, radio, and digital communications, as well as airlift operations through both fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft.
It also operates the presidential retreat at Camp David and the White House Transportation Agency.
“To assure proper coordination and integration, the WHMO also includes support elements such as operations; policy, plans, and requirements; administration, information resource management; financial management and comptroller; WHMO counsel; and security,” the website states.
“Together, WHMO entities provide essential service to the president and help maintain the continuity of the presidency.”
Asked for comment on the White House military office cyber attack, a Cyber Command spokesman referred questions to the White House.
Regarding U.S. naval deployments near China, the carrier strike groups led by the USS George Washington and the USS Stennis, along with a Marine Corps air-ground task force, are now operating in the western Pacific near the Senkakus, according to Navy officials.
China recently moved maritime patrol boats into waters near the Senkakus, prompting calls by Japanese coast guard ships for the vessels to leave.
Chinese officials have issued threatening pronouncements to Japan that Tokyo must back down from the recent government purchase of three of the islands from private Japanese owners.
Tokyo officials have said Japan is adamant the islands are Japanese territory.
Officials said the Washington is deployed in the East China Sea and the Stennis is in the South China Sea.
About 2,200 Marines are deployed in the Philippine Sea on the USS Bonhomme Richard and two escorts.
The U.S. Pacific Command said the deployments are for training missions and carriers are not necessarily related to the Senkaku tensions.
“These operations are not tied to any specific event,” said Capt. Darryn James, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu, according to Time magazine. “As part of the U.S. commitment to regional security, two of the Navy’s 11 global force carrier strike groups are operating in the Western Pacific to help safeguard stability and peace.”
As a measure of the tensions, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Chinese military leaders during his recent visit to China that the U.S. military will abide by its defense commitments to Japan despite remaining publicly neutral in the maritime dispute.
“It’s well known that the United States and Japan have a mutual defense treaty,” a defense official said of Panetta’s exchange in Beijing. “Panetta noted the treaty but strongly emphasized that the United States takes no position on this territorial dispute and encouraged the parties to resolve the dispute peacefully. This shouldn’t have to get to the point where people start invoking treaties.”
A report by the defense contractor Northrop Grumman made public by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in March stated that China’s military has made targeting of U.S. command and control networks in cyber warfare a priority.
“Chinese capabilities in computer network operations have advanced sufficiently to pose genuine risk to U.S. military operations in the event of a conflict,” the report said.
“PLA analysts consistently identify logistics and C4ISR infrastructure as U.S. strategic centers of gravity suggesting that PLA commanders will almost certainly attempt to target these system with both electronic countermeasures weapons and network attack and exploitation tools, likely in advance of actual combat to delay U.S. entry or degrade capabilities in a conflict,” the report said.
C4ISR is military jargon for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
Little is known within the U.S. intelligence community about Chinese strategic cyber warfare programs.
However, recent military writings have disclosed some aspects of the program, which is believed to be one of Beijing’s most closely guarded military secrets, along with satellite weapons, laser arms, and other high-technology military capabilities, such as the DF-21 ballistic missile modified to attack aircraft carriers at sea.
A Chinese military paper from March stated that China is seeking “cyber dominance” as part of its efforts to build up revolutionary military capabilities.
“In peacetime, the cyber combat elements may remain in a ‘dormant’ state; in wartime, they may be activated to harass and attack the network command, management, communications, and intelligence systems of the other countries’ armed forces,” wrote Liu Wangxin in the official newspaper of the Chinese military on March 6.
“While great importance is attached continuously to wartime actions, it is also necessary to pay special attention to non-wartime actions,” he said. “For example, demonstrate the presence of the cyber military power through cyber reconnaissance, cyber deployment, and cyber protection activities.”
Washington Free Beacon
Dozens of people have already been arrested over the weekend for kneeling and praying in front of the White House.
ActsFive29, a group of like-minded, pro-life defenders launched the D.C. prayer rally knowing their members could indeed be arrested, but asserting it’s worth it, because, “The future of religious freedom in America is at risk.”
The group claims Acts 5:29 – “But Peter and the Apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” – as their basis for protesting the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services mandate requiring employer-provided health insurance cover birth control measures.
“Obamacare will force institutions, churches and individuals to purchase abortion-inducing drugs and pay for sterilization and abortion in direct opposition to their beliefs, conscience and historic teachings of the Church,” says the group. “With the recent Supreme Court ruling affirming Obamacare, the future of religious freedom in America is at risk and in grave danger of being entirely wiped out.”
On Saturday afternoon, 22 members of the group knelt on the sidewalk in prayer and were arrested by Capitol Police, with the prayer rally (and possible arrests) planned to continue through Oct. 2.
The group says that the only basis for their arrest is that the sidewalk in front of the White House is a “restricted zone” for free speech.
Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life told WND, “We have stood up for life and religious freedom in hundreds of cities. Today we do so at the president’s house. I am delighted to be here.”
The group says that the president is “dictating to Christians how they should live their faith” and that they are taking a stand, while risking arrest for doing so.
Bryan Kemper, director of youth outreach at Priests for Life, told WND that he was arrested on Saturday afternoon for kneeling on the sidewalk near the White House while holding a sign that said, “Stand Up for Religious Freedom.”
“I am here today as a father of seven children who is willing to lose my freedom to protect my children’s future freedom,” he told WND. “I was arrested yesterday when I knelt and prayed holding a sign for religious freedom, and I will kneel and pray again today, risking arrest again.”
He told WND that this issue is vital for all American’s to understand.
“We must take this stand now, or we will have no freedom to do so tomorrow,” he said. “I will obey God rather than man.”
He finished, “The HHS mandate violates God’s law and forces us to sin, and I will not comply.”
Brandi Swindell, National Director of Generation Life, a pro-life group dedicated to mobilizing activists, students, artists, musicians and young professionals to end abortion and spread the message of sexual integrity, told WND that she had a “divine appointment” in Washington today.
“Three of us chose to attend church at St. John’s this morning,” Swindell said, “and at the last minute found out that Kathleen Sebelius, the architect of the HHS Mandate was holding an adult forum between services.”
Swindell told WND that she got the secretary’s attention, and in front of a packed auditorium asked her, “Why are you forcing the American people to pay for abortion-inducing drugs that harm women? It’s a severe violation of religious freedom.”
The secretary ignored the question and left the stage.
Telle est la vie......
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has said that nine out of 10 citizens will not see their income taxes rise in the new budget.
He has confirmed that there is to be a new 75% tax rate for people earning more than 1m euros (£800,000; $1.3m) a year.
He has not yet detailed how much taxes will rise for the rest of the top 10%.
It is one of the key policies in what he called "a courageous, responsible budget - a budget of conquest".
The government's priorities were young people, training and cutting 10bn euros from its spending, he said. This would demand an effort but would be fair, he added.'Fighting budget'
Official figures on Friday showed that French public debt had hit 91% of GDP between April and June this year.
Francois Hollande came to power criticising the policy of austerity-first. Growth would be the priority. Now he is seeking to dampen expectations.
There was confirmation earlier that there has been no growth for three consecutive quarters. France is stagnating. Unemployment has risen above three million and the president's approval ratings are falling.
This budget, he said, would be France's toughest single belt-tightening in 30 years. With public debt at a post-war record of 91% of the economy, the budget is being seen as a marker of what kind of reform we are likely to see.
Mr Hollande will be focusing on higher taxes, instead of the more painful spending cuts we have seen in the likes of Greece and Spain, in spite of the warnings from a growing number of analysts that the level of state expenditure is no longer sustainable.
For the moment, interest levels are historically low as investors look for safe havens away from Spain and Italy, but if the markets sense this government is not serious about reform, that could quickly change.
It was 89.3% at the end of March, which was still well above the eurozone limit of 60%.
Mr Ayrault pointed out that debt had grown by 30% of GDP in the past five years.
"This is a fighting budget to restore the country to health," he said.
"This is a fighting budget to fight a debt that doesn't stop rising and whose bill is being footed by the French and by future generations."
He also said that the budget would encourage small and medium businesses and that taking risks would also be encouraged.
In its first budget, the Socialist government repeated its promise to cut the annual deficit to the eurozone limit of 3% of GDP next year.
The deficit this year is expected to be 83.6bn euros, which is 4.5% of GDP.
Mr Ayrault said that France was strong when it set itself ambitious targets.
But some analysts said that the targets were too ambitious because they assumed too much growth for the coming years.
They said that tax increases and spending cuts would make it difficult to achieve the 0.8% growth in 2013 and 2% growth in 2014 that are predicted by the budget.
"I have a hard time seeing... how we're going to find the necessary growth in 2013 and afterwards," said Philippe Waechter, economist at Natixis Asset Management.
"So far we have a lot of numbers and not the story."'Bad choice'
The budget has been controversial, with some top earners threatening to leave the country as a result of the planned tax rises.
President Francois Hollande was elected on a platform of abandoning austerity and encouraging growth and his popularity in France has suffered as a result of the need to cut debt.
Opposition parties have argued that more savings should have been found from cutting public spending so fewer tax rises would have been necessary.
"Never have households and companies been subjected to such a fiscal shock," said Gilles Carrez, conservative chairman of the French parliament's finance committee.
"It's a very bad choice. More savings should have been made."
The national secretary of the French Communist party, Pierre Laurent, was also critical of the plans.
"We already know that the goal of 3% isn't tenable for a very basic reason: there isn't enough basic growth to get there," he said.
"The budget will rather worsen the situation, because we know that the current austerity recipe is pushing the economy into a recession."