Commentary Magazine


Topic: Estonia

Putin to Europe: Winter Is Coming

Although Vladimir Putin’s expansionist agenda and deadly authoritarianism have finally earned regular coverage from the media, I’m still at a loss to explain why one story in particular isn’t getting consistently boldfaced treatment. Heading into the weekend, Estonian security official Eston Kohver was abducted by Russian officers and tossed in a Russian jail. He has been accused of spying for Estonia and running afoul of Russian gun-possession laws.

Read More

Although Vladimir Putin’s expansionist agenda and deadly authoritarianism have finally earned regular coverage from the media, I’m still at a loss to explain why one story in particular isn’t getting consistently boldfaced treatment. Heading into the weekend, Estonian security official Eston Kohver was abducted by Russian officers and tossed in a Russian jail. He has been accused of spying for Estonia and running afoul of Russian gun-possession laws.

It’s a fairly absurd story, and a throwback to a darker time when Putin’s previous employer, the KGB, was in existence. So was Russia’s decision on Sunday to take Kohver “to Moscow where he was paraded before television cameras,” as the Guardian reported. Of course the most notable first impression of the incident was that it took place right after President Obama traveled to Estonia and gave a public address warning Russia not to meddle further in its near-abroad and pronouncing the U.S.-led NATO coalition’s vow to protect Estonia, and other such countries in the neighborhood, from Russian aggression. Putin has gotten quite creative in his demonstrations of contempt for Obama.

Putin has watched Obama offer mostly empty words, self-contradictions, and confused backtracking on foreign policy and decided that Obama is not someone to fear or respect. Putin is not alone in this assessment of Obama. He’s just the only leader currently using Obama’s weakness and indecision as an excuse to invade Europe.

And with winter approaching, Putin is also signaling that the last excuse for Obama’s appeasement policy–getting Russian cooperation on energy issues–is meaningless as well. The New York Times reports that Russia is in talks with Iran to help Iran get around sanctions intended to curb its nuclear program. And the Polish government has now said that Russia’s state gas company, Gazprom, has been cutting supplies to Poland by at least twenty percent.

The point is not only to strike at Poland but to hit Ukraine as well:

Some European countries believe Moscow may use a disruption of gas to Europe as a trump card in its confrontation with the west over Ukraine. The row has already brought relations between Moscow and the west to their lowest ebb since the cold war.

Ukraine’s gas transport monopoly Ukrtransgaz was quoted by a Russian news agency as saying Gazprom was limiting flows to Poland to disrupt supplies of gas in the opposite direction, from Poland into Ukraine.

Kiev is already cut off from Russian gas in a pricing dispute and depends on these “reverse flows” to supply homes and businesses with gas.

Gazprom made no immediate comment. Polish gas monopoly PGNiG said on Wednesday it was trying to find out why volumes were down.

There was no indication that any European Union importers of Russian gas besides Poland were affected.

So that’s one reason to hit Poland on energy supplies. Another is because a recent NATO summit approved the creation of a rapid-response force to counter Russian aggression in NATO countries–and broached the idea of headquartering it in Poland. Just as Putin sought to prove Obama’s promises to Estonia to be empty, so too does he intend to show he regards the promises to Poland to be just as empty.

There is also the issue of historical memory. Poland is a symbol both of Russian domination of its neighborhood and of the West’s tendency to abandon its Eastern European allies when the going gets tough. Bullying Poland–now a NATO ally, remember–is in some ways more inflammatory than meddling in Ukraine because the U.S. was under no obligation to defend Ukraine, and few observers took seriously the idea that Obama would challenge Putin over Ukraine.

That was mostly a good bet: Obama abandoned Ukraine each of the three times Russia invaded, and finally cobbled together sanctions that have not slowed Putin’s march. And since Putin isn’t invading Poland (yet, I suppose we should add), it’s unlikely Obama–who has repeatedly picked silly fights with Poland’s leadership–will care about a gas cutoff. He might care about Russia helping Iran evade sanctions, but only if he is truly dedicated to preventing an Iranian nuke. That remains to be seen, and the evidence so far does not inspire much confidence in the president.

But the most immediate message being sent by Putin is a reminder that winter is coming. As Kathryn Sparks wrote earlier this year, Europe is dependent on Russia for both nuclear and gas power. Five Eastern European states are particularly dependent on Russia for nuclear power: “For these 80 million Europeans, the Russian state provides services essential to some 42 percent of electricity production.” Additionally, “Four of the five nuclear-dependent states are among at least nine countries that rely on Russian gas pumped through Ukrainian pipelines for about three-quarters of their total gas supply.”

Russia is unlikely to just cut energy supplies to a whole swath of Europe: Moscow needs the revenue and the influence it buys. But Putin is not above reminding his neighbors that Barack Obama has not proved himself willing to defend them and that they ought not bite the hand that feeds, especially if there’s no alternative.

Read Less

NATO, Ukraine’s Frozen Conflict, and the Georgia Precedent

President Obama gave a fairly strong speech this morning in Estonia, calling out Russian aggression and rejecting talk of “spheres of influence.” But there was one aspect of the speech that had a missing element, and that element undermines much of Obama’s bluster toward Moscow and his tough talk on beefing up the NATO alliance.

Read More

President Obama gave a fairly strong speech this morning in Estonia, calling out Russian aggression and rejecting talk of “spheres of influence.” But there was one aspect of the speech that had a missing element, and that element undermines much of Obama’s bluster toward Moscow and his tough talk on beefing up the NATO alliance.

In a section of the speech on Ukraine, Obama pledged to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine and other regional allies, and that the West “will not accept Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea, or any part of Ukraine.” The Georgian conflict with Russia is helpful in understanding why Obama’s comments on defending Ukraine ring hollow.

The New York Times today reports on what should be encouraging news, but is actually nearly a repeat of Moscow’s victory in Georgia: Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko are moving haltingly toward a ceasefire arrangement in eastern Ukraine. According to the Times, here are Putin’s conditions:

The primary conditions on Mr. Putin’s list are that the separatists halt all offensive operations and that Ukrainian troops move their artillery back out of range of all population centers in the rebel-held area.

Mr Putin also called for Ukraine to cease airstrikes, for the establishment of an international monitoring mission and humanitarian aid corridors, for an “all for all” prisoner exchange, and for “rebuilding brigades” to repair damaged roads, bridges, power lines and other infrastructure.

Mr. Putin made the remarks at a news conference during a state visit to Mongolia. After confirming that he had spoken with Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Putin offhandedly mentioned that he had “sketched out” a peace plan during his flight from Moscow. An aide then handed Mr. Putin a notebook, from which he read the plan.

This is a major victory for Putin, and–though it wasn’t picked up on by the American press–a very clear rebuttal to Obama’s NATO rhetoric. That’s because what Putin has done in Ukraine, if a ceasefire is struck along these lines, is create a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine.

When Putin invaded Ukraine for a second time by sending troops into the eastern part of the country, Kiev asked for Western help. The West ignored such pleas. So Kiev began maneuvering to make some type of robust Western help obligatory, first by asking to be named a major non-NATO ally and then making noises about getting on track to actually join the alliance. The frozen conflict makes this impossible. And here, the Georgia precedent is instructive.

At a 2008 NATO summit, George W. Bush advocated for putting Ukraine and Georgia on membership action plans (MAP), the path of domestic reforms leading to eventual NATO membership. The French and Germans opposed him. The disagreement over Georgia, which was closer than Ukraine to attaining the political stability essential for a MAP, had much to do with the frozen conflicts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, breakaway provinces where Russia had installed Russian officers in the local positions of authority and stirred up enough trouble for a pretext for invasion. (Sound familiar?)

The conflicts in Georgia were longstanding; as I’ve explained before, for a decade before war actually broke out Russia had been staffing local governments, arming them to the teeth, distributing Russian passports to these Georgians, and even occasionally bombing Georgian territory. After the 2008 NATO meeting at which the spineless European hypocrites declared frozen conflicts to be cause for MAP rejection (the Germans had been reminded by one diplomat at the time that West Germany was admitted to NATO four decades before its own “frozen conflict,” the east-west division, was resolved), Russia invaded. Putin’s puppet Dmitry Medvedev later openly admitted that Moscow did so in order to keep Georgia out of NATO.

What the Russians are doing now in eastern Ukraine is quite similar, though Putin can’t count on the Western left for support quite to the same degree as when his opponent was the Georgian Mikheil Saakashvili. Putin doesn’t need to conquer territory to control it. Not only does he know how to use pipeline politics to get his way, but he’s already moved Russian military equipment into place in Ukraine and deputized local pro-Russian militants.

Putin may not annex eastern Ukraine (though he might also slow-bleed the territory into submission and lull the Western media into boredom in order to capture the territory eventually, in stages). But he knows precisely how to ensure that when Obama pledges to come to the aid of all NATO allies, that list never includes Ukraine.

Read Less

Putin, the Baltics, and NATO

Vladimir Putin seems to be bent on resurrecting the Russian Empire using as his excuse the supposed mistreatment of Russian minorities in former Soviet republics. At least that was his rationale for the annexation of Crimea. It is not only Ukraine, which has already lost one province and has a sizable Russian-speaking population in other provinces, which has cause to be worried. So does Moldova, where Russia has already sponsored a breakaway province in Transnistria. Russian troops are maneuvering now on the borders of both countries.

Ukraine and Moldova might seem particularly inviting targets for Russian aggression given that neither is a member of NATO. But the really worrisome scenario, at least from our perspective, should be what would happen if Putin were to set his sights on the Baltic republics. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are postage-stamp size countries on Putin’s doorstep which are members of NATO–and they have significant Russian minority populations whose grievances could be exacerbated and exploited with Kremlin manipulation.

Read More

Vladimir Putin seems to be bent on resurrecting the Russian Empire using as his excuse the supposed mistreatment of Russian minorities in former Soviet republics. At least that was his rationale for the annexation of Crimea. It is not only Ukraine, which has already lost one province and has a sizable Russian-speaking population in other provinces, which has cause to be worried. So does Moldova, where Russia has already sponsored a breakaway province in Transnistria. Russian troops are maneuvering now on the borders of both countries.

Ukraine and Moldova might seem particularly inviting targets for Russian aggression given that neither is a member of NATO. But the really worrisome scenario, at least from our perspective, should be what would happen if Putin were to set his sights on the Baltic republics. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are postage-stamp size countries on Putin’s doorstep which are members of NATO–and they have significant Russian minority populations whose grievances could be exacerbated and exploited with Kremlin manipulation.

As this Reuters story notes, the Baltic republics are worried, and with good cause: “Russian speakers make up about 35 percent of Latvia’s 2 million population. In Estonia, around a quarter of its 1.3 million people are Russian speakers. In neighbouring Lithuania, which does not border Russia, ethnic Russians make up about 6 percent.” As these figures would indicate, Latvia has particular cause for concern. Reuters notes: “In the Latvian town of Daugavpils, where a Russian Tzarist-era fortress and barracks meet grey Soviet-era apartment blocks, you are more likely to be greeted in Russian than Latvian, with 51 percent of the city’s residents Russians.”

What exactly would NATO do if Putin were to move against the Baltics employing armed men with no insignia? This would be a crisis of the first order, which would confront the West with the unwelcome choice of either letting NATO’s collective security guarantees become a dead letter–or else getting embroiled in a war with a nuclear-armed Russia. The U.S., rapidly drawing down its military forces and especially its forces in Europe (where only two Army brigades will be left, if we are lucky), is not in a good position to defend the Baltic states. The other NATO states have more forces nearby but less willpower to act.

Putin knows this and it could well tempt him to further aggression. The best way to head off such a dire emergency would be to (a) increase the size of the U.S. army by cancelling a planned drawdown and (b) to position U.S. ground forces in the Baltic republics to act as a guarantee of American assistance in the event of invasion. By not doing this we are tempting Putin to exploit our perceived weakness–as he has previously done in Georgia and Ukraine.

Read Less

Ramsey Clark Embraces Hamas: Whose Reputation Is Damaged?

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.

After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.

Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general who went on to a career of far-left anti-American activism, is in Gaza this week to express his solidarity with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip and opposition to any Israeli measure of self-defense against them. Normally when a Western pilgrim goes to Gaza to be manipulated by the Islamist regime there, we tend to think that it is the visitor who is discredited by his willingness to associate with an organization of ruthless killers. But perhaps in this case, it is Hamas that should be worried about being tainted by Clark’s friendship.

After all, though Clark was a civil-rights-enforcement lawyer in the Justice Department in the 1960s, his legal work since then has specialized not just in the defense of mass murderers but also in the support of them. While anyone, even killers, is entitled to a lawyer, Clark’s bizarre animus toward his own country has led him to be the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwanda genocide. In these cases, Clark didn’t just seek to undermine the prosecution of the killers; he tried to rationalize their homicidal actions. Among the notably unsavory beneficiaries of Clark’s good offices were Nazi war criminals Karl Linnas, the commandant of the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia, and Jack Riemer, a Nazi concentration-camp guard. He also defended the Palestinian Liberation Organization against a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the crippled American Jew who was murdered by terrorists on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

While Hamas is always glad to welcome any Western fool who will pose for pictures with its leaders, perhaps in this case it is the Islamist group, which actively seeks to convey the false image that it is composed of victims rather than the killers they truly are, that ought to be worried by Clark’s embrace. Does Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader who welcomed Clark to Gaza, really want the world to associate him with the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, or Taylor, even if such comparisons are entirely appropriate? Then again, though the prospect that Hamas’s chiefs will be brought to the bar of justice for their numerous crimes seems remote at the moment, perhaps it is never too early for them to make sure that Clark is on call for the moment when he can add them to his roster of murderous clients.

Read Less

New START Treaty: Much Ado About Nothing

A lot of foreign-policy experts I respect — including John Bolton, Eric Edelman, John Yoo, and Jim Woolsey — have come out against the ratification of the New START treaty, which would decrease American and Russian nuclear arsenals. For my part, I’m with Bob Kagan in wondering what the fuss is all about.

Arms-control treaties between Moscow and Washington were a big deal during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was bent on global expansionism and the U.S. had to stand on the frontlines of freedom. But the Soviet Union is gone. Today’s Russia may be a local threat to its smaller neighbors, the likes of Georgia or Estonia, but on a global scale it’s more of a nuisance — certainly not an existential threat to the United States. Thus the continuing quest for arms-control treaties seems like a bit of an anachronism.

Yet it is an anachronism that has been pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations. As this crib sheet from the Arms Control Association reminds us, George H.W. Bush signed START II in 1993, Bill Clinton followed with a START III framework (never completed) in 1997, and George W. Bush reached agreement on SORT (a.k.a. the Moscow Treaty) in 2002. Kagan sums up the results of all these treaties along with New START:

The START I agreement cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons on both sides roughly 50 percent, from between 10,000 and 12,000 down to 6,000. The never-ratified (but generally abided-by) START II Treaty cut forces by another 50 percent, down to between 3,000 and 3,500. The 2002 Moscow Treaty made further deep cuts, bringing each side down to between 1,700 and 2,200. And New START? It would bring the number on both sides down to 1,550.

The final figure of 1,550 warheads is plenty big enough to maintain America’s nuclear deterrence; actually, we will have more than that because for the purposes of the treaty B-2 and B-52, bombers are counted as one “warhead” even though they can carry dozens of nuclear warheads. Opponents of the treaty throw out all sorts of other objections, arguing that it would constrict the development of missile defenses or non-nuclear missiles; but no such prohibition is to be found in the language of the treaty.

Let me be clear. I do not buy the Obama administration’s rationales for the treaty. Administration officials cite the need to “reset” relations with Russian and to take a step toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. I very much doubt that this treaty will do anything substantial to achieve either goal. We are likely to continue clashing with Russia diplomatically as long as it remains an authoritarian state. As for the quixotic goal of eliminating nuclear weapons: Suffice it to say, reductions in the American arsenal are not going to encourage North Korea or Iran to give up their nuclear programs. But nor will relatively modest reductions in our nuclear forces prevent us from vaporizing Iran or North Korea, should they use nuclear weapons against us or our allies.

One of the important benefits of the treaty is that, in the course of negotiations over ratification, Senate Republicans have won assurances from the administration that it will spend $80 billion over 10 years to modernize our nuclear program. Yet this doesn’t seem to be enough. Sen. Jon Kyl, who has been the lead GOP negotiator, now says he doesn’t want to see a vote during the lame-duck session.

As Kagan suggests, this will allow the administration to blame Republican “obstructionism” if and when relations with Russia deteriorate. Therefore, Republican foot-dragging on ratification isn’t smart politics. It’s not necessary for the national defense either. Republicans should keep their powder dry to fight off attempts to slash the defense budget — an issue that really could imperil our security. That will be harder to do, however, because there are a number of Republicans who appear willing to go along with defense cuts, even as they’re taking pot shots at the (largely symbolic) New START treaty.

A lot of foreign-policy experts I respect — including John Bolton, Eric Edelman, John Yoo, and Jim Woolsey — have come out against the ratification of the New START treaty, which would decrease American and Russian nuclear arsenals. For my part, I’m with Bob Kagan in wondering what the fuss is all about.

Arms-control treaties between Moscow and Washington were a big deal during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was bent on global expansionism and the U.S. had to stand on the frontlines of freedom. But the Soviet Union is gone. Today’s Russia may be a local threat to its smaller neighbors, the likes of Georgia or Estonia, but on a global scale it’s more of a nuisance — certainly not an existential threat to the United States. Thus the continuing quest for arms-control treaties seems like a bit of an anachronism.

Yet it is an anachronism that has been pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations. As this crib sheet from the Arms Control Association reminds us, George H.W. Bush signed START II in 1993, Bill Clinton followed with a START III framework (never completed) in 1997, and George W. Bush reached agreement on SORT (a.k.a. the Moscow Treaty) in 2002. Kagan sums up the results of all these treaties along with New START:

The START I agreement cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons on both sides roughly 50 percent, from between 10,000 and 12,000 down to 6,000. The never-ratified (but generally abided-by) START II Treaty cut forces by another 50 percent, down to between 3,000 and 3,500. The 2002 Moscow Treaty made further deep cuts, bringing each side down to between 1,700 and 2,200. And New START? It would bring the number on both sides down to 1,550.

The final figure of 1,550 warheads is plenty big enough to maintain America’s nuclear deterrence; actually, we will have more than that because for the purposes of the treaty B-2 and B-52, bombers are counted as one “warhead” even though they can carry dozens of nuclear warheads. Opponents of the treaty throw out all sorts of other objections, arguing that it would constrict the development of missile defenses or non-nuclear missiles; but no such prohibition is to be found in the language of the treaty.

Let me be clear. I do not buy the Obama administration’s rationales for the treaty. Administration officials cite the need to “reset” relations with Russian and to take a step toward the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. I very much doubt that this treaty will do anything substantial to achieve either goal. We are likely to continue clashing with Russia diplomatically as long as it remains an authoritarian state. As for the quixotic goal of eliminating nuclear weapons: Suffice it to say, reductions in the American arsenal are not going to encourage North Korea or Iran to give up their nuclear programs. But nor will relatively modest reductions in our nuclear forces prevent us from vaporizing Iran or North Korea, should they use nuclear weapons against us or our allies.

One of the important benefits of the treaty is that, in the course of negotiations over ratification, Senate Republicans have won assurances from the administration that it will spend $80 billion over 10 years to modernize our nuclear program. Yet this doesn’t seem to be enough. Sen. Jon Kyl, who has been the lead GOP negotiator, now says he doesn’t want to see a vote during the lame-duck session.

As Kagan suggests, this will allow the administration to blame Republican “obstructionism” if and when relations with Russia deteriorate. Therefore, Republican foot-dragging on ratification isn’t smart politics. It’s not necessary for the national defense either. Republicans should keep their powder dry to fight off attempts to slash the defense budget — an issue that really could imperil our security. That will be harder to do, however, because there are a number of Republicans who appear willing to go along with defense cuts, even as they’re taking pot shots at the (largely symbolic) New START treaty.

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Venezuela on the Brink

Venezuela goes to the polls on Sept. 26 in a parliamentary election that opponents of President Hugo Chavez see as “a chance to turn the tide,” as Reuters news service puts it. Chavez may be taking on more authoritarian powers, but he also has to defend what the latest data show is the worst economy in the world. And you thought the Democrats had problems!

The Economist magazine provides statistics weekly on 57 nations, from the United States to Estonia. Its most recent report forecasts that gross domestic product in Venezuela will decline by 5.5 percent in 2010. Next worst is Greece, with a 3.9 percent decline. Greece, of course, came close to defaulting on its debt earlier this year, and analysts at Morgan Stanley worry that Venezuela is moving in the same direction.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Venezuela goes to the polls on Sept. 26 in a parliamentary election that opponents of President Hugo Chavez see as “a chance to turn the tide,” as Reuters news service puts it. Chavez may be taking on more authoritarian powers, but he also has to defend what the latest data show is the worst economy in the world. And you thought the Democrats had problems!

The Economist magazine provides statistics weekly on 57 nations, from the United States to Estonia. Its most recent report forecasts that gross domestic product in Venezuela will decline by 5.5 percent in 2010. Next worst is Greece, with a 3.9 percent decline. Greece, of course, came close to defaulting on its debt earlier this year, and analysts at Morgan Stanley worry that Venezuela is moving in the same direction.

Click here to read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive.

Read Less

Is Max Boot Wrong, or Very Wrong?

Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

Read More

Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

One such grope is Max’s reference to a Financial Times story about a 2005 attack against the London offices of the Japanese bank, Sumitomo. That episode lends support to my view and casts skepticism on Max’s skepticism about my skepticism. A key phrase in Max’s telling of that story is that the thieves “almost managed” to carry out their plot. A somewhat different way of describing that same outcome is that they didn’t manage to carry it out.

How did Scotland Yard get wise to the cyber-thieves? They were uncovered when bells and whistles sounded after they tried to transfer funds electronically to an account in Israel. In other words, Sumitomo’s cyber-security kicked in. Perhaps Sumitomo subscribes to McAfee’s “Total Protection, 12-in-1″ anti-virus and firewall software available for only $59.95 a year. Perhaps they paid much more to some smart programmers to build far fancier and more effective programs to guard against intrusion and theft. Whatever they have in place, the Pentagon needs to buy a version of it as well, and make sure that that it is kept regularly updated. It worked for Sumitomo.

Yes, there are manifold dangers in the cyber-realm. One problem flows from the fact that approximately half of the U.S. population is of below average intelligence. This helps to explain why some 1.78 million Americans have fallen victim to fake emails encouraging them to disclose personal banking information. The ensuing losses total more than $1 billion to date. But bankers and the programmers they hire are decidely not of below average intelligence. That is a major reason why electronic robberies of corporate coffers remain exceedingly rare.

This is not to say that the Pentagon should not be on guard. It should certainly be wary of purchasing software applications written by starving North Korean programmers toiling in front of Soviet-era workstations with Kalashnikovs pointed at their heads. And it also should be on guard against denial-of-service attacks of the kind Russia launched against Estonia earlier this year. But when Max cites that episode and concludes that “the U.S. is just as vulnerable to such an attack,” for the first time since I met Max a decade ago, I suddenly began to doubt his command of Estonian.

Silicon Valley is located in California not in Tallinn. Microsoft is located in Seattle not in Tartu. The GDP of Estonia last year was $26.8 billion. The market value of Lehman Brothers last year—one Fortune 500 corporation alone—was $38 billion. Is the mighty U.S. truly just as vulnerable to cyber-attack as mouse-sized Estonia? The U.S. may face dangers in the realm of malicious software and from hacking, but we also clearly face dangers from those who would exaggerate those dangers.

Max Boot is a good friend but I am afraid that there are only two ways that this bitter dispute can be settled. The first is that he and I face off in a duel. The second is that just before sundown on Sunday he should admit that he has been doing some groping in the dark. I will simultaneously make the same admission.

Before either of us reaches any firm conclusions about the Pentagon’s software problems, it would behoove us both to hear from computer experts in the financial industry—not just from those who are captives of our military-industrial-computer complex—about our real vulnerabilities and about the most cost-efficient way to address them.

Read Less

Susceptible to Cyber-Terror

Gabe Schoenfeld has written skeptically about the new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks, especially in light of the fact that so much of our software code is written abroad, “some in countries that may have interests inimical to those of the United States.”

Gabe wonders:

If our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

The short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.

The Financial Times broke the story of one such attack that occurred in 2005. Israeli-Russian mobsters based in Tel Aviv succeeded in hacking into the London offices of the Japanese bank Sumitomo, and almost managed to transfer some $500 million to their own bank accounts. According to one account, this was how the operation was carried out:

Thieves masquerading as cleaning staff with the help of a security guard installed hardware keystroke loggers on computers within the London branch of Sumitomo Mitsui, a huge Japanese bank.

These computers evidently belonged to help desk personnel. The keystroke loggers captured everything typed into the computer including, of course, administrative passwords for remote access.

By installing software keystroke loggers on the PC’s that belonged to the bank personnel responsible for wire transfers over the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network, the thieves captured credentials that were then used to transfer 220 million pounds (call it half-a-billion dollars).

These thieves were nabbed in time by Scotland Yard, but if they had succeeded it would have been the greatest bank robbery of all time.

Read More

Gabe Schoenfeld has written skeptically about the new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks, especially in light of the fact that so much of our software code is written abroad, “some in countries that may have interests inimical to those of the United States.”

Gabe wonders:

If our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

The short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.

The Financial Times broke the story of one such attack that occurred in 2005. Israeli-Russian mobsters based in Tel Aviv succeeded in hacking into the London offices of the Japanese bank Sumitomo, and almost managed to transfer some $500 million to their own bank accounts. According to one account, this was how the operation was carried out:

Thieves masquerading as cleaning staff with the help of a security guard installed hardware keystroke loggers on computers within the London branch of Sumitomo Mitsui, a huge Japanese bank.

These computers evidently belonged to help desk personnel. The keystroke loggers captured everything typed into the computer including, of course, administrative passwords for remote access.

By installing software keystroke loggers on the PC’s that belonged to the bank personnel responsible for wire transfers over the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network, the thieves captured credentials that were then used to transfer 220 million pounds (call it half-a-billion dollars).

These thieves were nabbed in time by Scotland Yard, but if they had succeeded it would have been the greatest bank robbery of all time.

There are also, of course, countless cyber-attacks being carried out every day against the information infrastructure of the U.S. and our allies. The most famous of these was the assault by Russian hackers on Estonia’s computers earlier this year. (For details, see here.)

The U.S. is just as vulnerable to such an attack. In fact, as Ralph Peters argues in this New York Post column, our reliance on computer networks and satellites constitutes one of our biggest strategic vulnerabilities. He calls it a “ ‘high-tech’ Maginot Line,” and I would have to agree with him.

The comparison may seem overwrought, but only because no enemy has tried to exploit this vulnerability in a major way. Yet. We do know, however, that China, Russia, and various non-state actors are working to ramp up their capabilities in this sphere. We’d better step up our defenses, or else face the prospect of many of our super-expensive weapons and surveillance systems being rendered useless in a war. There is also the very real threat of cyber-terrorism wreaking havoc with our financial systems. Just imagine what would happen if the fidelity of banking or trading records were compromised on a massive scale: That could be a more severe blow to our economy than the loss of the World Trade Center.

Read Less

Sins of Commission

It was announced in May that Britain’s Prince Charles has commissioned a piano concerto in memory of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at 101. Charles had previously commissioned (also in memory of his grandmother) Reflections on a Scottish Folksong, a work for cello and orchestra by Richard Rodney Bennett, which premiered in London last year. Bennett (born 1936), a student of Pierre Boulez, is an adept composer of classical works, as a bewitching CD of his choral works on Collegium Records proves. Bennett is also a noted composer of popular scores for hit films like Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Unfortunately, few composers share Bennett’s range of talents. Nigel Hess, the composer chosen by Prince Charles for the forthcoming concerto, is known mostly for his work in TV and films, as composer of the theme music for such BBC-TV series as Hetty Wainthropp Investigates and the score of the film Ladies in Lavender. Prince Charles, who briefly studied the cello in his youth, is a self-proclaimed fan of classical music and opera. But he expresses his appreciation with the kind of backward-looking stance he has notoriously applied to modern architecture. In 2000, Charles appointed a young Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch, to be official harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales—an honor last granted in 1871.

Read More

It was announced in May that Britain’s Prince Charles has commissioned a piano concerto in memory of his late grandmother, the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 at 101. Charles had previously commissioned (also in memory of his grandmother) Reflections on a Scottish Folksong, a work for cello and orchestra by Richard Rodney Bennett, which premiered in London last year. Bennett (born 1936), a student of Pierre Boulez, is an adept composer of classical works, as a bewitching CD of his choral works on Collegium Records proves. Bennett is also a noted composer of popular scores for hit films like Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Unfortunately, few composers share Bennett’s range of talents. Nigel Hess, the composer chosen by Prince Charles for the forthcoming concerto, is known mostly for his work in TV and films, as composer of the theme music for such BBC-TV series as Hetty Wainthropp Investigates and the score of the film Ladies in Lavender. Prince Charles, who briefly studied the cello in his youth, is a self-proclaimed fan of classical music and opera. But he expresses his appreciation with the kind of backward-looking stance he has notoriously applied to modern architecture. In 2000, Charles appointed a young Welsh harpist, Catrin Finch, to be official harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales—an honor last granted in 1871.

Musical traditions dating back to 1871 may appeal to the prince, but those of only slightly later vintage apparently do not. The late UK arts administrator John Drummond revealed in his autobiography Tainted by Experience that, after a concert performance of Alban Berg’s String Quartet, written in 1910, Charles declared: “Well, you can’t call that music.” Dealing with living composers is necessarily a challenge to anyone who still finds 1910 too avant-garde.

If Charles ever does decide to devote any time to new music, he need not look far. Two of Europe’s most exciting younger composers, Thomas Adès (born 1971) and Mark-Anthony Turnage (born 1960) are flourishing in England today. Outside the UK, the venerable French maestro Henri Dutilleux (born 1916) is still thriving, while Germany’s Wilhelm Killmayer (born 1927), Russia’s Sofia Gubaidulina (born 1931), Hungary’s György Kurtág (born 1926), Switzerland’s Heinz Holliger (born 1939), Norway’s Arne Nordheim (born 1931), Estonia’s Arvo Pärt (born 1935), and America’s Frederic Rzewski (born 1938) have all produced recent work of permanent value. To overlook composers of this stature when it is time to commission new works may be called a sin of omission. In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas states that such sins are generally less grave than sins of commission—but he was not referring to piano concertos.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.