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January 24 2015

January 27, 2015

24 January 2015


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Shrouded in Mystery, New Bomber Makes Waves

By Aaron Mehta 4:14 p.m. EST January 18, 2015


WASHINGTON — In late spring or early summer, the US Air Force will decide who will build its next-generation bomber. Yet, despite all the hype and public interest, the program remains shrouded in mystery.

The Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program is stealthy, literally and figuratively. Few details are actually known about the bomber’s capabilities or design. But the program’s impact is already being widely felt throughout the Pentagon and its industry partners.

The half a dozen analysts and experts interviewed by Defense News for this piece all agree on one thing: the LRS-B has the chance to shape American military aerospace for the next 20 years. Whichever competitor wins will reap a windfall of development money; the loser could find itself out of the military attack airframe business entirely.

And while the program appears to be on track, Congress is waiting in the wings for any sign of cost overrun or technological problems.

“This is crunch time,” said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group. “It’s the biggest single outstanding DoD competition by a very wide margin. That makes it important in and of itself.”


Known Unknowns

The program is targeting a production line of 80-100 planes. It will replace the fleet of B-52 and B-1 bombers. It will be stealthy, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and optional manning has been discussed. A down-selection will be made this spring or early summer, with initial operating capability planned for the mid-2020s. Nuclear certification will follow two years after that.

The target price, set by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is $550 million a copy. To keep the price down, the Air Force is looking to use mature technologies that are available now, rather than launching new developments. At the same time, the program will have an open architecture approach for future technologies.

Unless there is a secret competitor still unknown — highly unlikely, but like many things with the program, impossible to rule out — there are two teams are bidding for the contract. One is Northrop Grumman, which developed the B-2 stealth bomber. The other is a team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Together, those companies represent three of the top five defense firms in the nation.

Breaking down the rest of the program is a master class in the classic “known unknowns” phrase coined by Donald Rumsfeld. What equipment will it carry? Will it be in a flying wing shape? What is more important, stealth or speed? Will the planes, like the B-2, be so classified that they cannot be stationed abroad? If so, does that affect the range vs. payload tradeoff?

A source with knowledge of the program said the Air Force is likely looking at something smaller than a B-2, perhaps as small as half the size, with two engines similar in size to the F135 engines that power the F-35, so enhancement programs can also be applied to the bomber.

“They should go bigger [in terms of airframe], but Gates threw that $500 million figure out there without thinking through the overall effect and requirement,” the source said.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, former deputy chief of staff for ISR, agreed that the focus on the $550 million figure may end up hurting the bomber’s capabilities by driving the discussion from what the plane does to what can keep the price down.

“One of the biggest concerns is that this is going to turn into a cost shootout, and whomever can produce a ‘technically acceptable’ airplane at the lowest cost will be the winner, without any judgment or look at the ability for growth, the ability to connect to new technologies,” he said. “That is a big concern amongst folks out there who are involved in this evolution.”

And then there are the theories that the bomber is further along in its development cycle than it appears. Last year, J.J. Gertler, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service penned a memo noting that the bomber’s budget profile looks more like a production than a research and development program, hinting that much of the technological development and testing has already occurred behind the scenes.

One analyst noted that some of that work could be based on technologies developed for the previous bomber recapitalization, which was canceled in 2009.

Mark Gunzinger, a retired Air Force official and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, argued that the mystery around the jet isn’t a bad thing.

“We don’t know performance specifics in terms of range, payload, low observability, what weapons, what missions, radar capabilities — all these specific performance details,” he said. “Nor should we. Those should not be announced publicly. It is a black program and those kind of details now would do nothing but give our potential enemies more time to develop countermeasures.”


Industrial Impact

One of the larger unknowns is how much weight the Air Force — or higher ups at the Pentagon — is putting on industrial base impact. The answer to that question could seriously affect on which of the Boeing/Lockheed or Northrop teams win.

Deptula said industrial base considerations “absolutely” need to be part of the calculus.

“It has been a factor in other segments of our defense architecture, and one could make the case that in the aerospace industry, it is perhaps even more important than in the shipbuilding industry,” he said.

Asked about that topic on Jan. 14, William LaPlante, the civilian acquisition head for the service, indicated that while industrial base concerns are something the Pentagon is aware of in a broad sense, that is not specifically one of the criteria for the bomber program.

“There is a bigger picture of just making sure we understand when will [different programs] have a downselect, what will come out of that — it’s almost like a game theory thing to understand the implications,” LaPlante said. “It’s at the strategic level. Occasionally you might put it into a single competition. I don’t think that’s the case on the LRS-B.”

The stakes are high for all three companies, Aboulafia said. After this contract, the next attack airplane will be a new fighter in the 2030s, and then a follow-on bomber sometime after that.

If Northrop loses, the chances of it still having the infrastructure to compete for a jet 15 years from now, or on a bomber longer out, seem slim. Losing the contract now would essentially end that part of their business.

Boeing, too, is coming to the end of its time as an attack aircraft manufacturer, despite the company’s best efforts to keep the F/A-18 Super Hornet line humming. While the KC-46A tanker remains a Boeing program, it, and many other products from the company, are commercial derivatives rather than a brand new design.

Awarding Northrop the bomber would spread out the US Air Force’s three top recapitalization priorities among three companies. On the flip side, giving the contract to the Lockheed/Boeing team would mean that Lockheed Martin, the producer of the F-35, essentially has full control over Air Force combat aviation production.

Analysts are divided as to who would be favored if the industrial base is a high priority. On the one hand, an industrial base angle should benefit Northrop, as it would spread the major programs among competitors.

“If you want Northrop to stay in the game as a prime, and you don’t want to see the entire combat air forces at Lockheed, you have to go with Northrop,” noted the first source familiar with the program.

Aboulafia, however, questions whether there is truly enough work available to spread among the three firms.

“That presupposes the Pentagon has this illusion that there can be three military airframers, and that’s living in a fantasy land,” he said, adding that strengthening the two military primes in Boeing and Lockheed would be “appealing” to DoD.

Aboulafia also points out that the contract could have major implications for one long rumored transaction among aerospace analysts — the potential sale of Northrop’s aerospace group to Boeing.

“If Northrop loses, it could tip things to being bought by Boeing because it would not have a new airframe to build,” Aboulafia said. “If Northrop wins, it could make them a more attractive target, and do the same.”

Once the primes are settled, the subcontractor battle is likely to be just as fierce, Aboulafia noted.

Spokespeople for both teams expressed confidence that they were offering the better option to the Air Force.

Another thing to keep an eye on is the fight over the engine. If F135-maker Pratt & Whitney wins that competition, it would give it a stranglehold on the US military engine market. Whether the Pentagon be OK with that, or look to award a contract to General Electric instead, is another known unknown.


Challenges Ahead?

Right now, the program is humming along, with strong support from inside the Pentagon.

Last week, outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel threw his weight behind the new bomber in a speech at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

“I think the Long-Range Strike Bomber is absolutely essential for keeping our deterrent edge,” Hagel said. “We need to do it. We need to make the investments. We’ll have it in the budget. It’s something I have particularly put a priority on.”

That commitment was echoed by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James at a Jan. 14 speech.


“When we roll out the FY16 budget, the budget line will be similar to what you saw in ’15 projected into ’16,” James said. “We’re on track for our competition, it remains a top priority and it is truly the future of our bomber force.”

But some foresee challenges ahead as the bomber moves from a black, hypothetical program to one actually bending metal — and one that can become a high profile target for government spending watchdogs and the nonproliferation community.

“As the F-35 gets spun up, LRS-B will become a new target, especially with the arms control people,” said the source with knowledge of the program. “This a big airplane, and it will cost a lot.”

Several experts agreed that the larger threat to the program comes from internal budgetary pressures, as the bomber will be competing not just with other service priorities, but with programs like the Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement, something Rebecca Grant of ISIS Research says the Navy is positioning as a “national asset” on Capitol Hill.

“The black program status makes it harder in my opinion to build support for the bomber,” Grant said. “With new [Senate Armed Services Committee] leadership, the program will come under additional scrutiny as the first big budget wedges appear this year and beyond. So the USAF had best have its act together on why the bomber they pick is the right bomber now, in the hands of the right manufacturer.”

Congress could also interfere with the program in another way. The loser could protest the award, which could set up not only a battle at the Government Accountability Office, but a public relations fight. High profile contract protests often result in each company tapping its preferred congressmen to lobby on its behalf.

According to public data analyzed by the non-profit, Lockheed ($4 million), Northrop ($3.9 million) and Boeing ($3.1 million) were the top three contributors to congressional campaigns and affiliated political action committees from the defense sector in 2013-2014. All three companies also rank in the top 25 of US companies in terms of dollars spent on lobbying.

Drawing a direct line from dollars spent on campaigns and lobbying and results for certain programs is always a bit risky, especially given the breadth of each company’s portfolio. After all, Boeing and Lockheed traditionally work against each other, while both companies work with Northrop on different programs.

But those figures illustrate how strong the ties are between industry and members of Congress, even before the key issue of industrial base in various districts comes into play. After all, representatives will always rally around whichever side will bring jobs to their constituents.

While Boeing and Lockheed each have their own local supporters, Northrop may be able to call on the California and Florida delegations following its decision to expand facilities at Melbourne International Airport, on Florida’s Space Coast.

While a company official did not confirm that Northrop plans to work on a potential LRS-B in Florida, Sen Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told media in May that the company plans on using the facility for that purpose.


Air Force UFO files hit the web

By Stephen Losey, Staff Writer 10:20 a.m. EST January 17, 2015



This week, nearly 130,000 pages of declassified UFO records — a trove that would make Agent Fox Mulder’s mouth water — hit the web.

The truth is out there — and it’s now on the web.

The fabled Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s files on UFO sightings and investigations, have tantalized and frustrated extraterrestrial enthusiasts for decades. But this week, nearly 130,000 pages of declassified UFO records — a trove that would make Agent Fox Mulder’s mouth water — hit the web.

UFO enthusiast John Greenewald has spent nearly two decades filing Freedom of Information Act requests for the government’s files on UFOs and other phenomena. On Jan. 12, Greenewald posted the Blue Book files — as well as files on Blue Book’s 1940s-era predecessors, Project Sign and Project Grudge — on his online database, The Black Vault.

Project Blue Book was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Between 1947 and 1969, the Air Force recorded 12,618 sightings of strange phenomena — 701 of which remain “unidentified.”

According to a 1985 fact sheet from Wright-Patterson, posted online by the National Archives, the Air Force decided to discontinue UFO investigations after concluding that “no UFO reported, investigated and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security [and] there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ are extraterrestrial vehicles.” Wright-Patterson also said the Air Force has not seen any evidence suggesting the sightings “represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present-day scientific knowledge.”

Skeptics smelled a whitewash. The private and now-defunct National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, for example, charged throughout the 1960s that the federal government was covering up what it knew about UFOs and pushed for congressional hearings.

The National Archives has made these files available to public on microfilm in its Washington headquarters. Parts of the Project Blue Book files have previously been posted online in various locations, Greenewald said. But his webpage is the first time the complete files have been posted in PDF form in a searchable database, he said.

The more than 10,000 cases include a 1950 incident at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where an Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent reported a star-like craft that shifted from a bright white color to red and green as it moved erratically in several directions.

And in 1965, Air Force Maj. Jack Bond, the deputy for reconnaissance at the Directorate of Advanced Recon Planning, reported seeing an unidentified object moving in a sine wave pattern while on a flight out of Wright-Patterson. Bond said the object strongly reflected the sunlight as it rose and appeared gray as it descended. It rose and fell three times at varying speeds, before leveling off and accelerating away at more than 600 knots.

The investigator dismissed Bond’s observation as a mirage caused by the sun, due to the motion of Bond’s plane and the hazy atmospheric conditions.

One thing you won’t find online are records related to the alleged 1947 Roswell, New Mexico, incident, where conspiracy theorists maintain the military recovered a crashed alien spacecraft and its occupants.

But Roswell does pop up several times in the files. There are several blurry photographs of lights in the sky taken at Roswell in 1949, for example. And in 1950, airmen there spotted a circular object 10 feet in diameter with a bluish-white color going fast at 8,000 feet and taking a sharp turn to the right.

The National Archives maintains it “has been unable to locate any documentation among the Project BLUE BOOK records which discuss the 1947 incident in Roswell, New Mexico.”

But that is just what they would say, wouldn’t they?


Top 10 states with the most UFO sightings

USA Today Network

Mary Bowerman, USA TODAY Network

1:43 p.m. EST January 19, 2015


From seeing streaks of light across the sky to floating orbes in the backyard, people across the USA have reported unidentified objects over the years. The National UFO Reporting Center has a State Report Index that breaks down UFO sightings by state, duration of sighting, shape and description.

Here are the 10 states with the most UFO sightings, according to the center:

1. California: 11,092

2. Florida: 5,017

3. Washington: 4,951

4. Texas: 4,313

5. New York: 3,799

6. Illinois: 3,031

7. Arizona: 3,143

8. Ohio: 2,883

9. Michigan: 2,424

10. North Carolina: 2,247


Sightings in the database range from the 1950s to 2015.

In the past week, almost 136,000 pages of declassified UFO records, known as Project Blue Book or the Air Force’s files on UFO sightings and investigations, were put online.


Project Blue Book was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The project investigated sightings of strange phenomena from 1947 to 1969. While many of the sightings were attributed to air traffic or Mother Nature, 701 remain “unidentified.”




Don’t Believe the Defense Acquisition Reform Hype

Alex Ward    

January 19, 2015 ·


The likely nomination of Ashton Carter as Secretary of Defense has increased expectations of substantial reform in the Pentagon’s acquisition system. Conventional wisdom holds that the quintet of Carter, Robert Work, Frank Kendall, John McCain, and Mac Thornberry will work together to bring about meaningful — almost revolutionary — change in the way the Department of Defense obtains its weaponry.

Don’t believe the hype. Delivery times are too slow. Weaponry is too costly. Competition barely exists. Government and industry still struggle to interact with one another. All of these are deep-seeded problems with the defense acquisition process that no group of men, even with Carter at the helm, can fix all at once.

Despite the certainty that these five will try to reform the current acquisition process, massive, wholesale change is highly unlikely for three reasons: Carter will not have a lot of time to focus on defense acquisition; Congress will focus mostly on oversight, not reform, which will lead to incremental change at best; and the current path of reform is already the accepted path.

To the first point, as much as Carter may want to focus on acquisition reform, the tides of global events are against him. Over the next two years, the United States will be involved with combating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, handling the Iranian nuclear issue, tensions in the South China Sea, confronting a resurgent Taliban, spreading terrorism, and rapidly-developing humanitarian crises like Ebola. All of these issues require substantial attention and Carter only has two years (unless he is asked to stay on by President Obama’s successor. And, as world affairs have proven recently, we are likely in for some sort of under-the-radar surprise that will require even more American forward engagement in the world. Even though this White House notoriously micromanages the country’s foreign and defense policies, Carter will still be expected to contribute substantively on shaping the policy and strategy, all while being the face of the administration abroad related to the defense dimensions of these matters. So, even if Carter did want to devote the majority of his time to defense acquisition reform, sadly the clock and calendar are not on his side.

Second, those who are more sanguine about reform’s chances point to Senator John McCain and Representative Mac Thornberry, who run the Armed Services Committees in their respective chambers. They will undoubtedly draw attention to the issue, but expect strict and vociferous oversight as opposed to meaningful and substantive reform. McCain will surely host multiple hearings on cost overruns and delivery delays as he has in the past on systems like the Littoral Combat Ship, and will therefore not do much to change the system other than point out its faults. Most of Senator McCain’s attention will be diverted toward grand strategy and repurposing America’s role in the world as he considers his legacy during his last years in the Senate. Representative Thornberry will be the most active on the reform front, most likely working to rewrite existing legislation. However, he will likely fail to simplify the defense acquisition process because his sole attention to the issue will not be enough solve its near intractable problems. Without substantive support from his Senate counterpart and Pentagon officials, Thornberry will work hard to make something happen but will not be able to fix the system. That said, Thornberry will be able to get some measures through, but they are more likely to be aimed at keeping costs down as much as possible, hindering research, development, and experimentation — which could ultimately leave to lower costs in the long run, to the cost of our defense capabilities and efforts such as the new “offset strategy.” Yet, it is important to note that, this Republican-led Congress will be friendlier to ending the financial constraints on the Department of Defense (the sigh of relief from American defense contractors is audible.) That still will not change the overall tone in Congress toward defense acquisition reform which is that it is too hard to fix, partially because it is very technical but mostly because the status quo brings money to the districts of many Congressmen. If the system changes, the money and the votes may go away. At best, then, we can expect Congress to point all the problems, but not legislation to finds solutions.

Lastly, Better Buying Power 3.0 (BBP 3.0), the path chosen by the Department of Defense to improve the defense acquisition process — started by Carter and currently put into action by Kendall — has not received much pushback from Congress. In fact, there is bipartisan agreement that the system is broken and needs fixing, and BBP 3.0 is as good a strategy to deal with the issue as any. A letter from Kendall to McCain last June showed they both agree that “defense acquisition improvement, as opposed to defense acquisition reform, should be our goal.” Not surprisingly, a report from the National Defense Industrial Association is in agreement, with most of the proposals having to do with improving the workforce and culture within the Pentagon’s acquisition department, as opposed to reforming the system from the ground up. With Congress taking a mostly oversight role, and the Department of Defense out in front with a proposed way forward, it is reasonable to expect that not much will change between now and the end of 2016. The Pentagon will continue apace with its incremental change agenda and Congress will bloviate whenever something goes awry.

There is certainly movement and appetite for reform. The problem is that the “change is nigh” refrain has become a tired prediction that never pans out. The next two years may see the most quantitative movement on defense acquisition reform, but not the most qualitative. That said, it is imperative that change come soon, because “even a small improvement in performance of the acquisition system can make a difference of billions in the cost of equipping the military,” according to a defense acquisition expert. One can only hope that “The Trinity” in the Pentagon and the “Dynamic Duo” in Congress can make wholesale change happen, but it is not likely.

With Carter at the helm, expect small steps, but nothing major, in the acquisition process.


N.S.A. Breached North Korean Networks Before Sony Attack, Officials Say


JAN. 18, 2015


WASHINGTON — The trail that led American officials to blame North Korea for the destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November winds back to 2010, when the National Security Agency scrambled to break into the computer systems of a country considered one of the most impenetrable targets on earth.

Spurred by growing concern about North Korea’s maturing capabilities, the American spy agency drilled into the Chinese networks that connect North Korea to the outside world, picked through connections in Malaysia favored by North Korean hackers and penetrated directly into the North with the help of South Korea and other American allies, according to former United States and foreign officials, computer experts later briefed on the operations and a newly disclosed N.S.A. document.

A classified security agency program expanded into an ambitious effort, officials said, to place malware that could track the internal workings of many of the computers and networks used by the North’s hackers, a force that South Korea’s military recently said numbers roughly 6,000 people. Most are commanded by the country’s main intelligence service, called the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and Bureau 121, its secretive hacking unit, with a large outpost in China.

Kim Heung-kwang, a defector, said that in the early 1990s, North Korean computer experts had an idea: Use the Internet to attack the nation’s foes. Credit Jean Chung for The New York Times

The evidence gathered by the “early warning radar” of software painstakingly hidden to monitor North Korea’s activities proved critical in persuading President Obama to accuse the government of Kim Jong-un of ordering the Sony attack, according to the officials and experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the classified N.S.A. operation.

Mr. Obama’s decision to accuse North Korea of ordering the largest destructive attack against an American target — and to promise retaliation, which has begun in the form of new economic sanctions — was highly unusual: The United States had never explicitly charged another government with mounting a cyberattack on American targets.

Mr. Obama is cautious in drawing stark conclusions from intelligence, aides say. But in this case “he had no doubt,” according to one senior American military official.

“Attributing where attacks come from is incredibly difficult and slow,” said James A. Lewis, a cyberwarfare expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The speed and certainty with which the United States made its determinations about North Korea told you that something was different here — that they had some kind of inside view.”

For about a decade, the United States has implanted “beacons,” which can map a computer network, along with surveillance software and occasionally even destructive malware in the computer systems of foreign adversaries. The government spends billions of dollars on the technology, which was crucial to the American and Israeli attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, and documents previously disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former security agency contractor, demonstrated how widely they have been deployed against China.

But fearing the exposure of its methods in a country that remains a black hole for intelligence gathering, American officials have declined to talk publicly about the role the technology played in Washington’s assessment that the North Korean government had ordered the attack on Sony.

The extensive American penetration of the North Korean system also raises questions about why the United States was not able to alert Sony as the attacks took shape last fall, even though the North had warned, as early as June, that the release of the movie “The Interview,” a crude comedy about a C.I.A. plot to assassinate the North’s leader, would be “an act of war.”


Dinner in Pyongyang

The N.S.A.’s success in getting into North Korea’s systems in recent years should have allowed the agency to see the first “spear phishing” attacks on Sony — the use of emails that put malicious code into a computer system if an unknowing user clicks on a link — when the attacks began in early September, according to two American officials.

Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. says he had dinner last fall with the man who later oversaw the Sony attack. Credit Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

But those attacks did not look unusual. Only in retrospect did investigators determine that the North had stolen the “credentials” of a Sony systems administrator, which allowed the hackers to roam freely inside Sony’s systems.

In recent weeks, investigators have concluded that the hackers spent more than two months, from mid-September to mid-November, mapping Sony’s computer systems, identifying critical files and planning how to destroy computers and servers.


“They were incredibly careful, and patient,” said one person briefed on the investigation. But he added that even with their view into the North’s activities, American intelligence agencies “couldn’t really understand the severity” of the destruction that was coming when the attacks began Nov. 24.

In fact, when, Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, had an impromptu dinner in early November with his North Korean counterpart during a secret mission to Pyongyang to secure the release of two imprisoned Americans, he made no mention of Sony or the North’s growing hacking campaigns, officials say.

In a recent speech at Fordham University in New York, Mr. Clapper acknowledged that the commander of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, Kim Yong-chol, with whom he traded barbs over the 12-course dinner, was “later responsible for overseeing the attack against Sony.” (General Clapper praised the food; his hosts later presented him with a bill for his share of the meal.)

Asked about General Clapper’s knowledge of the Sony attacks from the North when he attended the dinner, Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said that the director did not know he would meet his intelligence counterpart and that the purpose of his trip to North Korea “was solely to secure the release of the two detained U.S. citizens.”

“Because of the sensitivities surrounding the effort” to win the Americans’ release, Mr. Hale said, “the D.N.I. was focused on the task and did not want to derail any progress by discussing other matters.” But he said General Clapper was acutely aware of the North’s growing capabilities.

Jang Sae-yul, a former North Korean army programmer who defected in 2007, speaking in an interview in Seoul, said: “They have built up formidable hacking skills. They have spent almost 30 years getting ready, learning how to do this and this alone, how to target specific countries.”

Still, the sophistication of the Sony hack was such that many experts say they are skeptical that North Korea was the culprit, or the lone culprit. They have suggested it was an insider, a disgruntled Sony ex-employee or an outside group cleverly mimicking North Korean hackers. Many remain unconvinced by the efforts of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to answer critics by disclosing some of the American evidence.

The northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, where there are North Korean-run hotels and restaurants, and an “attack base” to which some I.P. addresses have been traced. Credit Sheng Li/Reuters

Mr. Comey told the same Fordham conference that the North Koreans got “sloppy” in hiding their tracks, and that hackers periodically “connected directly and we could see them.”

“And we could see that the I.P. addresses that were being used to post and to send the emails were coming from I.P.s that were exclusively used by the North Koreans,” he said. Some of those addresses appear to be in China, experts say.

The skeptics say, however, that it would not be that difficult for hackers who wanted to appear to be North Korean to fake their whereabouts. Mr. Comey said there was other evidence he could not discuss. So did Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the N.S.A. director, who told the Fordham conference that after reviewing the classified data he had “high confidence” the North had ordered the action.


A Growing Capability

North Korea built its first computer with vacuum tubes in 1965, with engineers trained in France. For a brief time, it appeared ahead of South Korea and of China, which not only caught up but also came to build major elements of their economic success on their hardware and software.

Defectors say that the Internet was first viewed by North Korea’s leadership as a threat, something that could taint its citizens with outside ideas.

But Kim Heung-kwang, a defector who said in an interview that he helped train many of the North’s first cyberspies, recalled that in the early 1990s a group of North Korean computer experts came back from China with a “very strange new idea”: Use the Internet to steal secrets and attack the government’s enemies. “The Chinese are already doing it,” he quoted one of the experts as saying.

Defectors report that the North Korean military was interested. So was the ruling Workers’ Party, which in 1994 sent 15 North Koreans to a military academy in Beijing to learn about hacking. When they returned, they formed the core of the External Information Intelligence Office, which hacked into websites, penetrated fire walls and stole information abroad. Because the North had so few connections to the outside world, the hackers did much of their work in China and Japan.

According to Mr. Kim, the military began training computer “warriors” in earnest in 1996 and two years later opened Bureau 121, now the primary cyberattack unit. Members were dispatched for two years of training in China and Russia. Mr. Jang said they were envied, in part because of their freedom to travel.

“They used to come back with exotic foreign clothes and expensive electronics like rice cookers and cameras,” he said. His friends told him that Bureau 121 was divided into different groups, each targeting a specific country or region, especially the United States, South Korea and the North’s one ally, China.

“They spend those two years not attacking, but just learning about their target country’s Internet,” said Mr. Jang, 46, who was a first lieutenant in a different army unit that wrote software for war game simulations.

Mr. Jang said that as time went on, the North began diverting high school students with the best math skills into a handful of top universities, including a military school specializing in computer-based warfare called Mirim University, which he attended as a young army officer.

Others were deployed to an “attack base” in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, where there are many North Korean-run hotels and restaurants. Unlike the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the cyberforces can be used to harass South Korea and the United States without risking a devastating response.

“Cyberwarfare is simply the modern chapter in North Korea’s long history of asymmetrical warfare,” said a security research report in August by Hewlett-Packard.


An Attack in Seoul

When the Americans first gained access to the North Korean networks and computers in 2010, their surveillance focused on the North’s nuclear program and its leadership, as well as efforts to detect attacks aimed at United States military forces in South Korea, said one former American official. (The German magazine Der Spiegel published an N.S.A. document on Saturday that provides some details of South Korea’s help in spying on the North.) Then a highly destructive attack in 2013 on South Korean banks and media companies suggested that North Korea was becoming a greater threat, and the focus shifted.

“The big target was the hackers,” the official said.

That attack knocked out almost 50,000 computers and servers in South Korea for several days at five banks and television broadcasters.

The hackers were patient, spending nine months probing the South Korean systems. But they also made the mistake seen in the Sony hack, at one point revealing what South Korean analysts believe to have been their true I.P. addresses. Lim Jong-in, dean of the Graduate School of Information Security at Korea University, said those addresses were traced back to Shenyang, and fell within a spectrum of I.P. addresses linked to North Korean companies.

The attack was studied by American intelligence agencies. But after the North issued its warnings about Sony’s movie last June, American officials appear to have made no reference to the risk in their discussions with Sony executives. Even when the spear-phishing attacks began in September — against Sony and other targets — “it didn’t set off alarm bells,” according to one person involved in the investigation.

The result is that American officials began to focus on North Korea only after the destructive attacks began in November, when pictures of skulls and gruesome images of Sony executives appeared on the screens of company employees. (That propaganda move by the hackers may have worked to Sony’s benefit: Some employees unplugged their computers immediately, saving some data from destruction.)

It did not take long for American officials to conclude that the source of the attack was North Korea, officials say. “Figuring out how to respond was a lot harder,” one White House official said.


Cyber warfare: Capitol staffers aren’t ready

“It’s amazing we weren’t terribly hacked, now that I’m thinking back on it.”

By Tal Kopan

| 1/19/15 7:00 PM EST



Congressional staffers are the gateway to all lawmaking on the Hill, but they also may be unwittingly opening the door to hackers.

The Hill’s networks are under constant attack. In 2013 alone, the Senate Sergeant at Arms’ office said it investigated 500 potential examples of malicious software, some from sophisticated attackers and others from low-level scammers. And that’s just the serious cases — in a different measurement, the House IT security office said in 2012 it blocked 16.5 million “intrusion attempts” on its networks.

But the thousands of men and women who keep Congress running every day are committing the basic cybersecurity mistakes that attackers can exploit to do harm — like in the CENTCOM social media hack or crippling breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

POLITICO interviews with nearly a dozen current and former staffers, as well as congressional IT security staff, reveal a typical array of poor cyber habits.

Most of the staffers interviewed had emailed security passwords to a colleague or to themselves for convenience. Plenty of offices stored a list of passwords for communal accounts like social media in a shared drive or Google doc. Most said they individually didn’t think about cybersecurity on a regular basis, despite each one working in an office that dealt with cyber or technology issues. Most kept their personal email open throughout the day. Some were able to download software from the Internet onto their computers. Few could remember any kind of IT security training, and if they did, it wasn’t taken seriously.

“It’s amazing we weren’t terribly hacked, now that I’m thinking back on it,” said one staffer who departed the Senate late this fall. “It’s amazing that we have the same password for everything [like social media.]”

“This is a problem waiting to happen, not even just on the institutional security side but in terms of mischievous hackers trying to break into social media sites or dropboxes of senators or any of that stuff.”

While the House and Senate IT security staffs work to ensure that human mistakes are backstopped by technology, experts and lawmakers say they’re hampered by the unique challenge of securing an enterprise divided into hundreds of networks each overseen by an empowered elected official.

“I think people would be shocked to know how little people know about these things and care about things,” said one former longtime Senate staffer who left the Hill this fall. She noted offices have access to a lot of constituents’ personal information just like banks and businesses.

“I don’t think the Senate as a whole does a very good job of teaching people what matters as to how to do cyber hygiene and advice on how to come up with good passwords, because when you think about it, some of the lowest-level staff have the most access, and this is their first job and isn’t self-explanatory. It needs to be taught to staff,” the former aide said.

Another former staffer who worked for years in both chambers but left in recent months said that people who work on the Hill can easily feel a false sense of security.

“You feel very secure up there in terms of the IT services that are provided, and I think the reasoning behind that is twofold, you fall into the trap that you’re on the Hill and you’re in a bubble up there, and it’s also the fact that the House and Senate IT folks bring up that fact a lot that you should be safe online and there are firewalls to prevent any breaches,” the former staffer said. “Looking back, I would say that it’s a false sense.”

Even the best security techniques and technologies are undermined by poor user practices like password reuse and sharing. Part of the problem is that even if the House and Senate staff that secure their respective networks do a great job, there’s still a lot of autonomy in every office, and they may have different levels of interest and expertise in security.

“The House administration, they’re doing everything they can to keep the House network as secure as possible, given the constraints that they operate under,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who co-chairs the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.

“Managing risk in the House is particularly difficult because its organizational structure is unusual. In most organizations, you have a very hierarchical structure,” he said.

“No [other] organization has 435 CEOs each responsible for a completely independent division.”

Langevin said a huge number of individuals and “perhaps” nation-states try to breach the House network every day — as former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) learned in 2006 when he says the Chinese hacked four computers in his office used by staffers working on human rights issues.

Wolf and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) — two longtime China critics — revealed their office computers had been breached by Chinese sources in 2008, and Wolf said the FBI told him to keep the attack quiet for some time.

Wolf said he believes the House IT security team works very hard, but there’s more to be done.

“I don’t think any federal agency, and probably including the Hill, is doing a very good job,” Wolf said, citing his own hacking experience. Wolf, a high-profile China critic with staffers investigating human rights abuses, was an obvious target. And for foreign hackers more generally, congressional computer systems represent a cornucopia of intelligence about the thoughts and intentions of lawmakers.

The problem, said Wolf, is a lack of understanding and a lack of will.

Langevin also said more could be done on outreach, saying a positive step was a change recently for the House to require regular password changes. Not all members and staffs are focused on cybersecurity like his office, he added.

“It goes back to constant education and reeducation,” Langevin said. “People are people, and if you’re not focused on something or constantly reminded, it’s easy to let things fall through the cracks.”

A study released last week found that IT security professionals identify negligent employees as the No. 1 threat they deal with.

The offices tasked with securing Hill networks are well-aware of the threat. In an interview, an official for the Senate Sergeant at Arms said along with constant research and innovation, training and education is a core focus of the office as they try to keep bad guys out of the Senate network.

That means contacting new members as soon as they’re elected and offering briefings for full staff. The Senate-wide team coordinates with each office’s system administrator or point person, sending out advisories and recommendations, offering support and conducting monthly vulnerability assessments of every office that are shared with staff.

While some controls are managed at the office level, including downloading permissions on computers, the SAA monitors the entire network for Web traffic (without seeing the content) and anything out of the ordinary coming in or out. They also control software updates, testing all software patches before deploying them to check they work on Senate software and network configuration, and they scan mobile devices used by members and staff overseas.

The office of the House Chief Administrative Officer would not speak with POLITICO about its practices, but said in a statement the office takes a “dynamic approach” to security and recently hired a full-time trainer. In congressional testimony, CAO has said it provides firewall protection and intrusion detection as well as services for individual offices like training and foreign travel mobile device scanning.

In testimony submitted to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee this spring, then-Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer said in the previous year, 2013, his office analyzed more than 500 potential malicious software incidents and shared their analysis with other federal agencies. In some cases, his team discovered previously unidentified zero-day vulnerabilities — a clear sign of advanced intruders at work. In separate testimony before its committee of jurisdiction, the House CAO budget request measured the challenge differently, saying the House IT security office in 2012 blocked 16.5 million intrusion attempts, 11.4 million efforts at spyware and 17,763 viruses.

Attackers in the Senate primarily used spearphishing — targeted emails designed to trick a specific person into clicking a bad link or opening a weaponized attachment — and watering holes — otherwise innocent sites known to be frequented by Senate staffers that could be hacked and used to distribute malicious software to visitors. In one recent example of a watering hole-style attack, advertisements on the AOL ad network were configured to distribute malicious software, meaning unsuspecting visitors to The Huffington Post could be hit.

The example shows that even seemingly safe and important uses of the Internet, like surfing news websites and opening email attachments, can be turned into the pathway for an attack by a skilled adversary. Without constant vigilance, even the lowest-level staffer can unwittingly invite bad guys into Hill computers.

The SAA official, like all security experts, acknowledges no network can be made 100 percent secure, and any network has to be workable for the employees.

“I think our biggest issue really is finding the balance between the protections that we want to have in place to keep the Senate secure and balancing that against the business needs of the Senate community,” the official said in the interview. “Being able to find that middle ground, where we still are doing what we need to do to keep our Senate safe, but yet allowing the staff and the senators to do the job that they were elected to do.”

Simple security measures can seem like major hurdles for staffers just trying to get their work done. A recent change to House password change rules — requiring changes every three months instead of six months — meant staffers had to change their email and computer login passwords at different times, one former staffer who left at the end of the 113th said. And having to call an IT person every time you need to update Firefox, say, can be a hassle.

Asked if that meant that there are times when security measures face pushback from members or staffs that aren’t thinking about security first and foremost, the official said that’s “true,” but they try to engage the community to work on solutions.

Even the most technically secure network needs the buy-in of every employee to be as safe as possible, experts say. Tony Cole, vice president and global government chief technology officer at major security firm FireEye, said having every staff member see themselves as part of cybersecurity is “extremely critical.”

“In the federal government and many other allied nations as well, cybersecurity is not part of the culture, very clearly it’s not,” Cole said. Most attackers are highly sophisticated at researching potential targets, like Hill staffers, and using information on social media to craft emails that they are likely to click on.

“Even with a robust architecture, having all of the best practices laid out across the board and the latest tools, you really need the security culture in place as well if you’re going to be successful at identifying attacks,” Cole said, “and even then, a place like the Hill, attackers are going to get in.”

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New rules could speed up DoD cloud migration

Aaron Boyd, Senior Writer 5:50 p.m. EST January 19, 2015


Until now, the Defense Department has trailed considerably behind civilian agencies when it comes to taking advantage of new commercial cloud capabilities, namely because of stringent procurement and security rules. But that’s about to change.

Pentagon leaders last month announced new procurement rules that empower DoD agencies to buy cloud services more quickly and easily. And this month, tight security rules that effectively closed off the option of using public cloud services in most cases were loosened.

Experts say the changes will set in motion a flurry of projects across the Defense Department to migrate networks, data and applications to the cloud.

“I think there is some genuine, real excitement about going to the cloud in the DoD,” said Gregory Garcia, executive director of the Army Information Technology Agency.

Initial forays into the cloud are likely to be uncoordinated and small in scale. Once the cloud concept proves successful with those early endeavors, more ambitious enterprise-scale projects will likely follow, experts like Garcia say.

“As we build success stories of those early adopters, we’ll see more people embrace that idea,” Garcia said. “Five years from now, I think it’s going to be all in the cloud.”

The first key policy change announced in November by acting DoD CIO Terry Halvorsen aimed to speed up and expand the department’s procurement of cloud services by removing the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) as the department’s sole cloud broker, thereby empowering all DoD agencies to buy cloud services on their own.

And earlier this month, DISA loosened security restrictions on certain classes of data that previously were off-limits to commercial cloud service providers. The new guidelines spell out how and where DoD data can reside, setting the stage for how component agencies will purchase cloud services.

The result is a new security requirements regime that is more willing to accept some increased risk for less mission-critical data, said Mark Orndorff, mission assurance executive for DISA.

“Where is that right balance point that will allow us to get the full benefits of commercial cloud providers while doing that with the right level of security?” Orndorff said. “This is an opportunity to get the agility, economic and technical advantages from commercial cloud and do that without putting the department at risk by leveraging the virtual separation capabilities that commercial cloud providers have, up to a level of sensitivity.”

In a nutshell, DoD data now will fall into one of three levels of security, based upon the impact there would be on DoD operations if that data were compromised.

For example, public-facing data, websites and information discoverable through FOIA could reside on a public cloud. A higher level of security would cover controlled unclassified information, which can be kept separate on virtual servers but require logging in to a secure DoD connection. The highest level of security is reserved for unclassified and classified national security data, which must be housed on physically separate servers.

Garcia said the policy changes are sure to ignite many cloud ventures, but he added, “I think the economic question and the security question are going to really drive people to make that assessment.”

The Pentagon appears open to the possibility of further relaxing security requirements in the future, if warranted.

“We are very open minded to it, but we want to do due diligence to assess: What is the risk, what are the mitigations and how do we want to press forward,” Orndorff said. “We just want to spend more time before we decide if that’s a goal.”

In time, as more DoD services are managed by commercial cloud providers, agencies could move to single, enterprise contracts for all their cloud needs, experts say. But, early on, the varied missions within DoD components and different security requirements likely will force agencies to look at their cloud needs one application and network at a time.

“This will be piecemeal, at least at first,” said Stu Fleagle, vice president of government solutions for Carpathia. “It will probably be much more limited before it’s wholesale and enterprisewide.”


Where does DoD begin?

Steven Kousen, vice president of cloud strategy and integration services at Unisys, said the earliest initiatives likely will focus on “things that are already virtualized and make sense.”

“If that’s public data, they’ll solicit for that sort of data. Other areas they know are sensitive but unclassified — those things can be moved,” Kousen added.

Another factor likely determining what moves to the cloud first will be technical compatibility with cloud service providers’ infrastructure. So, for example, Fleagle of Carpathia noted that the .mil domain was built on VMware technology, making DoD websites an easy first choice for migration as many cloud systems are built on the same stack.

Chris Spina, government cloud specialist with VMware, agrees. “Having cloud service provider networks that are all using the same core stack will make it easier,” he said. “If [a DoD application] is running VM on-prem today, it will be easier to move on a cloud with VMware.”

In addition to setting the right balance between security and economics in their cloud plans, DoD executives will need to address another issue: what to do with their networks, data and applications once their cloud services contracts expire.

“That question has to be asked,” Garcia said. “Is it portable from a cloud to a cloud? There are many constraints in getting it there, but there are also many, many constraints in getting it out of there.”

Despite the challenges, all parties are expecting a much faster transition to the cloud for DoD agencies under the new guidelines.


Confusing a “Revolution” with “Terrorism”

by Eric C. Anderson

Journal Article | January 19, 2015 – 5:27am


That the world should be so simple Washington could “bin” offshore challenges in a small set of categories that expedite planning and policy options. The Cold War dichotomy made life in the Pentagon a much simpler affair. You were either “communist” or you were not. In the wake of Gorbechev’s failure, you were a “rogue” state, or not. Osama Bin Laden only served to further add a category, “terrorist,” or not. This dichotomous sorting process made it relatively easy to explain policy options to the American electorate and direct the expenditure of taxpayer blood and treasure. Iraq, “rouge,” Afghanistan and all things al-Qaeda “terrorism.” Respond appropriately. Iraq meant deployment of large conventional force and time spent with boots on the ground. Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, pin-point targeting and late night visits to remote locales with black helicopters and US Special Forces. But what happens when the problem does not fit into the bins?

Welcome to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), otherwise known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State.[i] The new caliphate—Washington’s latest “terrorist.” Pull out the drones, tag the troops who can arrive without drawing attention, and fly 2,700 sorties in 30 days. Mission achieved. Well, maybe not.

What happens when your “terrorist” has 30,000 armed recruits, is occupying territory the size of West Virginia and has proclaimed an ideology that includes establishing a formal government with an identified constituency and offers a school curriculum? What does it mean when they control the regional wheat supply, are poised to do the same with fresh water, and essentially own the electric power grid? Are they still “terrorists”?

Webster might have thoughts to the contrary. I certainly do.

The ability to challenge an existing regime with an organized armed force, focused on sustained operations, occupying terrain and imposing a new government might be more appropriately declared a “revolution.” And requires a very different response than rooting out “terrorists.” Ask King George. Ask Louie the 16th. Ask Batista. Ask the former Shah of Iran.

Revolutions are hard. They do not succumb to link-analysis—find your individual adversaries via who they communicate with—or precision strike. A movement with thousands of men and women under arms is not terrorism that can be rooted out by flying remote control missions with armed, unmanned airframes from Nevada or Idaho. This requires a “presence,” and not one that is “rented”—see the Hessians—but rather is ready for a sustained engagement that demonstrates a willingness to die in the name of preserving a competing ideology. Welcome to Iraq and Syria. Welcome to Yemen and Mali. Welcome to Somalia and Nigeria. It appears we are on the cusp of a brave new world that will make your skin crawl unless medieval judicial standards were a ready practice in the adjacent neighborhood. And Washington is seemingly unwilling to embrace this new reality.

Not that one can blame decision makers for seeking the most cognitively straightforward assessment. The human mind is, in most cases, attuned to avoiding complexity and employing proven solutions. We seek familiar patterns and recoil when things deviate from the expected. Newspapers call this “headlines.” In the Intelligence Community it is called “indications and warning,” a means of preparing the policy maker or war fighter for events that might not turn out as desired. Welcome to ISIS.

That is to say, we are witnessing an evolution in the threat environment confronting the U.S. Intelligence Community, policy makers, and war fighters. The terrorism-focus that largely predominated in our campaign against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Sunni uprisings in Iraq is being outpaced by a transition in many of these organizations’ modus operandi. In the case of certain al-Qaeda elements—particularly al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Shabaab, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In each of these cases the primary focus no longer appears random acts of terror intended to disseminate a message that otherwise might be ignored or forgotten. These groups, and very specifically ISIS, have stepped from terrorism into revolutionary movements. That is to say, they are busily engaged in the process of seizing territory, establishing a form of governance, implementing a new ideology, and brutally putting an end to opposition and the old regime.

One could argue we are witnessing a return to the French Revolution—a violent uprising that may give way to Robespierre’s “Reign of Terror”—in this case the imposition of a draconian version of Sharia law. Just as the monarchies of Europe were not prepared for the “new” France, despite having witnessed the American colonialists break with Great Britain, we now contend the U.S. National Security apparatus is not recognizing the implications of powerful entities willing to declare the rise of a new caliphate. This is a problem—unlike terrorism—that cannot be addressed with the intellectual tools or kinetic options that seemingly succeeded in decapitating Bin Laden’s vision for al-Qaeda.

To explain the depth of this problem and facilitate an understanding of the type of organizations emerging in this new threat environment, this text will focus on the rise of ISIS by outlining the events that gave rise to its formation, examining its ideology and governance strategy, and then turning to a consideration of its potential courses of action. In accomplishing that task we also hope to lay out the implications for the U.S. intelligence, policy, and war fighting communities. Ultimately, the goal is to make clear we are witnessing the rise of new non-state actors who appear to have little interest in observing the dictates of, or even maintaining, the Westphalian system that shaped existing international mores and modes of behavior.


A Brave New World?

The U.S. national security apparatus periodically needs a call to heed the sea changes taking place within the Westphalian “system.” In the opening round of the Cold War it was George Kennan’s long cable from Moscow, subsequently published under a pseudonym in Foreign Affairs. Kennan’s argument that: “The possibilities for American policy are by no means limited to holding the line and hoping for the best. It is entirely possible for the United States to influence by its actions the internal developments, both within Russia and throughout the international Communist movement…”gave rise to the policy of “containment” and led to a U.S. Intelligence Community, Defense Department and national security strategy suited to the perceived greatest danger—Moscow’s global ambitions.[ii]

Kennan’s ideas had greater staying power than even the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—the term “containment” periodically appears in Chinese literature evaluating Washington’s approach to Beijing’s reappearance on the global stage—but was poorly suited for the world that emerged during the 1990s. So, seemingly, was the U.S. national security collective. The Intelligence Community shed employees and went in search of a mission; the Defense Department worried a threat of suffering deep budget cuts; and, politicians sought to realize a “peace dividend” in the face of an apparently much more benign threat environment. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda would bring an end to that perceived erosion in attention, capabilities and policymaker imagination.

Arguably, the next fundamentally formulative document for the national security community as a whole was the 9-11 Commission Report. In a document totaling 585 pages, the report’s authors called for a new national security strategy, a revision of the Intelligence Community’s operating procedures—to include establishing a Director of National Intelligence—and a press for the policy makers to seek greater unity in their efforts. Broad ambitions, but for a nation engaged in a Global War on Terror,” a clarion call that resulted in significant changes.

The 9-11 Commission Report, in many senses as aspirational as Kennan’s work, created a national security apparatus that seemed to be remarkably adept at defeating terrorists before they could execute attacks on the homeland. It also appeared to lend cohesion to National Security Council deliberations that facilitated a “whole of government” approach to addressing al-Qaeda and other untoward actors who came to the fore in Afghanistan and Iraq. What it did not do, however, is prepare the Intelligence Community, policy makers, or war fighter for the emergence of non-state revolutionary entities with the ability to seize large swaths of territory—think of ISIS in Syria and Iraq or AQIM in Mali.

This article will attempt to start that conversation. While I harbor no delusion of being as smart as George Kennan nor as broadly staffed or experienced as the 9-11 Commission, it now is time to begin the intellectual transition away from the War on Terrorism and turn to the threat of increasingly powerful non-state actors that could begin redrawing national boundaries and challenge the international norms that have prevented World War III. The last line is not in jest—given the religious identification of these non-state revolutionaries, there is a very real possibility of igniting a conflict that pits Islam against any other competing religion. A recipe for disaster.


What is Terrorism?

We are perhaps best served by starting with what is terrorism. Sadly, even in the wake of spending over a decade battling “terrorism” there is no agreed upon definition. Suffice it to say, at one point the Intelligence Community even classified its definition and refused to share with the general public. So here’s what one will find in explaining the phenomenon we have been battling since the anarchists started their campaign at the end of the 19th century. Given the consequences of Arch Duke Ferdinand’s assassination, it should not be surprising the first official—that is outside a dictionary—definition appeared in Article 1.1 of the League of Nations’ 1937 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism. In that document, the collected wise men declared “acts of terrorism” were “criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public.”[iii] What’s missing here, of course, is why the act of terror was committed in the first place.

This is no minor oversight. As more than one author has noted, “one man’s terrorist is another’s revolutionary.” Or, as attorneys pithily remark, good luck in separating “terrorist organizations” from “liberation movements.” Please recall that Osama Bin Laden and the nascent Taliban were celebrated mujahedeen—freedom fighters—before they launched an assault on the West for the perceived endless infidel presence in the home of Mecca and Medina. In any case, the Soviet Union spent a decade attempting to crush “Charlie Wilson’s War.” A just campaign from Washington’s perspective, a terrorist nightmare according to Moscow. This suggests a requirement for further refinement of our terms.

In 1991, Edward Luttwak, then the strategy chair at the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Stuart Koehl, a professional military analyst, jointly published The Dictionary of Modern War: A Guide to the Ideas, Institutions and Weapons of Modern Military Power. A hefty tome, weighing in at nearly 700 pages, the book is an effort to precisely define the history, issues, and tools confronting Washington and the Western world. These two prestigious authors, however, apparently have difficulty in discerning the difference between a terrorist and revolutionary. Here’s their definition of “terrorism:”

The use of violence against civilians by covert or clandestine organizations for political purposes….By bombings, shootings, kidnappings, hijacking, and assassinations, terrorists seek to lower public morale, reduce confidence in official authorities and institutions, obtain concessions, and force governments into acts of repression which they hope will lead to a popular revolt.[iv]

Helpful, in that we are led to believe this is not a state-actor or uniformed force, but a bit confounding in that the term revolt inherently implies revolution, and the targets, “official authorities and institutions” are two of the three areas Chalmers Johnson—as we shall see—constitute the type of change a revolutionary is intent on accomplishing.

Back to the United Nations. In 2002, that body set about drafting the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Accordingly, the diplomats suggested—they have still not agreed in a vote—that terrorism is identified when:

1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person, by any means, unlawfully and intentionally, causes:

(a) Death or serious bodily injury to any person; or

(b) Serious damage to public or private property, including a place of public use, a state or government facility, a public transportation system, an infrastructure facility or the environment; or

(c) Damage to property, places, facilities, or systems referred to in paragraph 1 (b) of this article, resulting or likely to result in major economic loss, when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.

Again, the problem is how to discern between the terrorist and the revolutionary, and who gets to make that decision. Which drives us forward to 2004. Here we find the United Nations Security Council engaged in a semantic waltz that comes up with the following word play in Resolution 1566:

Criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitute offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.

A vague hand wave at attempting to categorize particular forms of activity as outside the realm of politically acceptable…so long as you are a member of the existing governmental structure and frown upon upstarts who would replace the status quo with a different version of governance. Then revolution becomes a “criminal act.”

Washington, as one might suspect, has had its own problems in defining terrorism. Here is the official Federal Bureau of Investigations solution:

18 U.S.C. § 2331 defines “international terrorism” for purposes of Chapter 113B of the Code, entitled “Terrorism:”

International terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

• Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law

• Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping

• Occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum


And then we have the Department of Defense:

The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

Followed by the State Department—which buries this in an annex to its annual report on terrorism:

Section 2656f(d) of Title 22 of the United States Code defines certain key terms used in Section 2656f(a) as follows:

(1) The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country;

(2) The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents; and

(3) The term “terrorist group” means any group practicing, or which has significant subgroups which practice, international terrorism.


Not satisfied with this collection of definitions—but with a nod of approval for the Department of Defense approach—in his seminal text, Inside Terrorism, Bruce Hoffman offers his own effort at delineating the difference between such activity and criminal or revolutionary movements.

To that end, Hoffman argues terrorism can be identified through five key attributes:

1. Terrorism is political in aims and motives

2. Terrorism is violent or threatens violence

3. Terrorism is designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions

4. Terrorism is conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or cell structure—whose members wear no uniform or insignia

5. Terrorism is perpetuated by a subnational group or non-state entity[v]


Hoffman goes on to contend we can now define terrorism as “the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence.” And, he seeks to refine the definition by contending terrorists seek to have “psychological effects beyond the immediate victim,” “[one] designed to create power where there is none,” or, he continues to “consolidate power where there is very little.”[vi]

The bottom line, any organization that engages in armed revolt against an existing regime can almost automatically be characterized as a terrorist plot. But is that helpful? Well if one wants to circumvent or avoid the War Powers Act this is good stuff. Congressional blessing for employment of the Department of Defense’s impressive capabilities is typically hard to acquire. The last official United States government declaration of war against a foreign power took place in 1942. There has been subsequent Congressional approval of the use of force—recall the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or the January 1991 Congressional vote approving military action against Saddam Hussein. But Bin Laden and al-Qaeda created a new problem, how to go to war with a non-state actor? The solution was the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed as Senate Joint Resolution 23 by the United States Congress on 14 September 2001.

There is little argument this was an expedient and widely accepted means of meeting an immediate threat. The bill passed in the House of Representatives with 420 ayes, 1 nay and 10 not voting. The Senate was equally cooperative, 98 ayes, 0 nays, 2 present/not voting. Very similar legislation was rolled out for the subsequent 2003 attack on Iraq. Introduced in Congress on 2 October 2002, in conjunction with the Administration’s proposals, House Joint Resolution 114 passed in the lower chamber by a vote of 296-133, and passed in the Senate by a vote of 77-23. The White House had a powerful political tool in its kit and was unlikely to abandon the option, regardless of comments made on the campaign trail.


Which Begs the Question—What is a Revolution?

But what happens if you are confronting a revolution. Let’s return for a moment to the issue of cognitive processing. Depending on one’s education and upbringing—culture, entertainment, national myths, religion—terms take on mental images that are hard to eradicate or override. Ask Americans about terrorism, and visions of the collapsing Twin Towers in New York flash through the psyche. Ask them about revolution, and a picture of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson pass through the synopsis. For intelligence analysts, this “background” tends to engender “mirror imaging” or flash evaluations. No need to ponder through this, “I know what ‘terrorism’ is and is not.” In the same vein, “I know what a ‘revolution’ is and is not.” Think, however, if you were born and raised in Cuba after Castro came to power. Now what is a revolution? Take the same perspective and apply it to an Iranian born and raised after 1979. What is a revolution? What does it accomplish? Who are the heroes?

This renders important the definition of “revolution” for academics, intelligence analysts, policy makers, and war fighters who must motivate forces in dangers’ way. Academics want an “ivory tower” value-free term. Intelligence analysts should seek the same, but are often influenced by their audience—policy—to come up with something more communicative to the desired reader. (Analysts seek approval from the audience, just like novelists.) And the war-fighter wants visions of George Washington or Simon Bolivar. So what do we get?

Semantically, we run into the same problem apparent during an investigation of what constitutes terrorism. Thomas Jefferson was famous for writing to James Madison, that, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Jefferson, however, does not spell out what that rebellion would look like. Interestingly, Alexis De Tocqueville is equally vague in Democracy in America. The closest he comes is in Volume Three of the tome, when the following appears:

Every revolution enlarges the ambition of men. That is above all true of the revolution that overturns an aristocracy. …. In this first exaltation of triumph, nothing seems impossible to anyone. Not only do desires have no bounds, but the power to satisfy them has almost none. In the midst of this general and sudden renovation of customs and laws, in this confusion of all men and all rules, citizens raise themselves and fall with unheard of rapidity; and power passes so quickly from hand to hand that no one must despair of seizing it in his turn.[vii]

This at least offers hint at the strum and angst associated with revolution, but I highlight the fact De Tocqueville is particularly focused on the toppling of the ancien regime and suggests the new would-be rulers are more than a bit chaotic in their bid to establish a new order. This chaos is suggestive of an opposition that is not completely in synch on their ambitions or end state. Also of note, De Tocqueville free admits such revolutions can come the barrel of a gun and may not always end in a democracy—leading one to suspect he is looking back on the French revolution as much as he is discussing the outcome of George Washington’s efforts.


A more contemporary academic effort to parse out “revolution” begins in 1962 with a paper published in Political Science Quarterly. Titled “Revolution: A Redefinition,” the author, Peter Amann, opens with the admission, “There is no ‘true’ definition of an abstraction”—in this case “revolution.”[viii] Nonetheless, this is a political scientist at work, so Amann makes a stab at wrestling with the alligator. His first step is to set forth conditions for a revolution—starting with a sovereign state, “a political organization exercising, or able to exercise, a monopoly of armed force, justice and administration over a given area and population. Add to that, he continues, the argument this monopoly on power “depends largely, not on the consent of the governed, but on their habit of obedience, whatever its motive.”[ix] So we have moved beyond De Tocqueville’s focus on aristocracy and can now take aim at all forms of the governmental status quo. And arrive at a definition of revolution, “a breakdown, momentary or prolonged, of the state’s monopoly of power, usually accompanied by a lessening of the habit of obedience.” As for the duration of such events, “revolution prevails when the state’s monopoly of power is effectively challenged and persists until a monopoly of power is re-established.”[x]

I hasten to point out at this stage Amann makes no qualifications concerning the revolutionaries’ attire (recall Hoffman’s definition of “terrorism” included an assumption such groups would be without uniform) nor does he spell out or subscribe particular tactics to a revolution. Rather Amann declares the revolutionaries may vary from small groups to a large element of the population and that the “most obvious hallmark” of their deserving the title is the exercise of military force.[xi] Amann does not spell out what constitutes “military force.” Is it shooting at Red Coats from behind stone walls? Is it fighting Batista from the hills and jungle? Or is it direct symmetric contact with the armed forces protecting the status quo? All tactics are fair game in such a situation—but one thing is clear, the revolutionaries are seeking to create fear and exploit same by operating in an environment where there is little to no power, or they would already be out of business. So perhaps Hoffman has not saved us with his definition of “terrorism,” as Amann’s “revolution” looks remarkably like the same phenomena.

So let’s move forward with the conversation, turning now to Chalmers Johnson’s text, Revolution and the Social System. As a political scientist, Johnson sought to define revolution as change, effected by use of violence, to a government, regime, or society.[xii] (Back to Tocqueville.) The phraseology is important here. As a subsequent scholar explains, “society” is community collective consciousness concerning means of cohesion, “regime” is the existing political power arrangement—from constitutional to monarchy—and “government” is the bureaucratic institutions used to exercise political power. More importantly for our conversation, “violence” is differentiated from “force.” “Violence,” we are told, is force “used with unnecessary intensity, unpredictability, and usually destructively.”[xiii] Now Johnson’s definition of “revolution” takes on a much broader scope, particularly as to Hoffman’s contention that “terrorism” is identified by the “creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence.” Seems that Johnson’s “revolutionaries” do exactly the same thing.

Revolution and the Social System becomes, arguably, more helpful in separating “terrorism” from “revolution” in Johnson’s six typologies of a revolt. The first, Jacquerie, finds the peasants massed outside the walls with torches and pitchforks at the ready.[xiv] In this form of revolution, Johnson argues, the mass is acting in the name of the church and king with the intent of removing local or national elites—i.e., the Taliban. The second, Millenarian Rebellion, trods down a similar path, but adds an inspirational leader with a utopian dream—think Mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden or al-Baghdadi.[xv] The third type, Anarchistic Rebellion, is a reactionary response to change, harkening back to the “good old days.”[xvi] Potentially, the Salafist

movement in Egypt.


Which brings us to Johnson’s fourth “revolution” typology, Jacobin Communist. This he defines as: “A sweeping fundamental change in political organization, social structure, economic property control and the predominant myth of social order, thus indicating a major break in the continuity of development.”[xvii] In his 1966 essay, “Theories of Revolutions,” Lawrence Stone decrees this is a “very rare” phenomenon that can only occur within “a highly centralized state with good communications and a large capital city, and its target is government, regime and society.”[xviii] Rare, perhaps in 1966, but what we have now watched, at least transitorily, occur in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and possibly Tunisia. The same may be underway in Nigeria and Yemen. The problem here, of course, is that Chalmers Johnson’s label—Jacobin Communist—pulls the analyst off target. We mirror image Marx, not the Prophet Mohammed.

Type five is the Conspiratorial Coup d’Etat.[xix] This falls in the realm of work done by Edward Luttwak, who penned Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook.[xx] It only falls into the “revolutionary” category as such events may cause fundamental change in society, regime and government. Consider, for instance, Qaddafi coming to power in Libya or Saddam Hussein taking the reins in Baghdad. Finally, Johnson holds out for Militarized Mass Insurrection. In this case we are looking for a guerilla war founded on an ideology not military strategy, as the revolutionaries are dependent upon popular support and solace.[xxi] Here we find examples like Mao in China, potentially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

All of which is to say, Chalmers Johnson offers a clearer perspective on what might be considered a revolution and overlays the academic’s heuristic devices, but then opens the door to pulling the ISIS campaign into his fourth typology. Leaving us again to beg for a definition of “revolution” that steps clearly outside the boundaries of “terrorism.

The next significant academic attempt at this problem comes in 1972, when Isaac Kraminick publishes “Reflections on Revolution: Definitions and Explanation in Recent Scholarship.” Kraminick opens his discussion on the subject with the apt warning: “There are few concepts over which there has been so much contention as that of revolution…Few things are so ambiguous.”[xxii] That admonition laid before the reader, Kraminick plunges in, coming away with what appears to be a refined definition of the central concept. His first stab comes in the form of guiding historians seeking to separate “simple” internal social strife from a sea change. To that end, he suggests we consider a revolution as something with, “a particular direction and purposive orientation to the change; a novel structuring of society, a new and millennial order must be sought.”[xxiii] As examples he offers the “great historical revolutions”—English, French, Russian—and modern—China and Cuba. He also notes “revolution is a cultural phenomenon involving fundamental changes in norms and values.”[xxiv] This looks mightily like what we are seeing with the ISIS campaign, a transition from the sectarian, nondenominational “liberal democracy” in Iraq or Assad’s dictatorship in Syria, to a secular regime guided a council seeking to meet the dictates of the Koran as they understand the words of the Prophet.

Kraminick, however, is not finished, six pages later, he adds further elucidation. Focusing on the political elements within such a sea change he argues, “Revolutions are the substitution of one governing elite for another….Revolution is thus an event primarily found in the political arena; governments, elites, and the masses are the players and power is the fruit of victory.”[xxv] We would note he does not restrict the players to uniformed forces or other established governments or states. Rather, that these are simply potential participants. ISIS has its own elite, al-Baghdadi, a spiritual head with a PhD in political science, and a number of formerly well-placed Baathist party members who are suspected of serving to guide the military campaign. As for the masses, 30,000 armed militants did not only come from the upper crust of Iraqi or Syrian society—to say nothing of the foreign fighters who have drifted in from Europe and even the United States.

Not surprisingly, Kraminick steers us back to that now-departed seer, Samuel Huntington. Drawing upon Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies, Kraminick offers the following quote from the Harvard professor:



A full-scale revolution involves the destruction of the old political institutions and patterns of legitimacy, the mobilization of new groups into politics, the redefinition of the political community, the acceptance of new political vales and new concepts of political legitimacy, the conquest of power by a new, more dynamic political elite, and the creation of new and stronger political institutions.[xxvi]

Given this definition, it is easy to argue there was no revolution when Saddam was removed from office. Instead, the existing elite, to use a very broad sense of the term, assumed governmental functions and went about practicing politics in a manner Saddam would have surely recognized. ISIS threatens to undo all of that and bring in a new crop of leaders, cultural values, and a very different justification for recognizing its political legitimacy.

Let’s move on by returning to Luttwak and Koehl’s Dictionary of Modern War. While they do not provide an explicit definition of “revolution,” the two scholars make this observation on what they find to be “revolutionary war:”

Armed conflict between a government and opposing forces, wherein the latter rely mainly on guerrilla warfare and subversion rather than formal warfare. The revolutionary side operates by establishing a rival state structure which embodies a political ideology, and which is intended to replace the existing order….the covert ‘administration’ collects taxes, conscripts, and information—all of which can be extracted from the population even if the government is in apparent military control of the area in question. These resources are supplied to the guerrilla arm, which strives to erode the government’s control and undermine its prestige. That in turn facilitates subversion (propaganda + terror) to extend the reach of the covert administration, which sustains the guerrilla.[xxvii]

This is ISIS in practice as we know it today. And raises a vexing observation. Following this definition of “revolutionary war,” one is drawn to conclude terrorism is a tactic employed by revolutionaries, it does not, ipso facto, make them terrorists.

This conversation is briefly resumed in 1996, when Clifton Kroeber publishes an essay titled, “Theory and History of Revolution.” Plowing through a mountain of academic writing on the subject, he comes to the conclusion most definitions have employed the following three terms: “brief,” “violent,” and “successful.”[xxviii] (It seems losing revolutionaries are not allowed retain the honorific adjective in histories written on their efforts—was Che Guevara a “terrorist” or a “revolutionary”? Depends on if you are asking Hollywood or Washington.) One can argue if “brief” is truly a fitting term—recall our own revolution took eight years and Mao was on the road much longer than that—nonetheless, we are on to something here, particularly the catch phrase “violent.” In any case, Kroeber steers us to a much simpler definition with few modifiers or semantic qualifications. “Revolution and revolutions,” he argues, “signify all demands, suggestions, and attempts at radical change—and, in addition, all unplanned changes equally basic.” He goes on to observe, “Revolutions signify drastic, fundamental changes in their full depth, duration, and complexity.”[xxix] Now we have arrived at the situation in Iraq and Syria as ISIS pushes toward Baghdad.

Finally, a nod to the most recent attempt to separate revolution from terrorism. The most recent version of the US Army’s Field Manual 3-24, “Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies,” seeks to avoid this definitional nightmare by instead focusing on “irregular warfare,” “a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s).” As an “insurgency,” it is described as “a struggle for control and influence, generally from a position of relative weakness, outside existing state institutions.”[xxx] One could contend this is just intricate verbal sparring, but there is a point to be taken from these two definitions, neither implies a fundamental change in regime, society or government within the conflict. But even the US Army cannot avoid eventually pigeonholing “revolution.” In Chapter Four of the guide to solving the American armed services’ seeming most perplexing problem of the 21st Century we are told:



A revolution is a popular insurgency with plans to overthrow a government and transform its society and government from one form of government to another. Revolutions generally evolve from a rebellion, but in revolutions popular support comes in the form of a fully mobilized population, which differs from simply passive or active support. A fully mobilized population is part of a revolution and it is generally seeking fundamental lasting change in a society’s political, economic or social order.[xxxi]

Oh, to be fair, a “rebellion” is defined a scant ten lines above this statement. A “rebellion (also known as an insurrection),” according to the US Army, “may be fomented by a group that challenges state control.” The difference between “revolution” and “rebellion” is that the population only offers “passive” support to the latter.

Now we are back to splitting semantic hairs. The US Army’s definition of “revolution” is remarkably similar to that offered by Chalmers Johnson, but we must be able to discern between a “passive” and “full mobilized” population or we will be looking to counter a “rebellion.” Reading a bit further, it would appear one wants to be confronted with a “rebellion” and not a “revolution.” “Rebellions,” the US Army holds, are illegal acts that can be prosecuted as a crime by virtue of the fact they are an effort to “incite, assist or engage in violent acts against a constituted government.” “Revolutions,” on the other hand, are a far more dicey proposition as this type of conflict requires an effort to “reintegrate the mobilized population and not only reintegrate members of the insurgency.”[xxxii] Two things to immediately take away from the US Army doctrine here, first, there is no mention of “terrorism” in either “rebellion” or “revolution,” and we have no idea of how to decide what qualifies as a “passive” versus “fully mobilized” population. The operational planner is on his or her own for that decision.

Time to return to the situation in Iraq and Syria for a moment. Within the Sunni population in both nations we find a disenfranchised population who see little purpose in acceding to the existing regime. I could contend the two sitting governments at least safe-guarded their property rights, but that was a tenuous guarantee at best. Neither Baghdad nor Damascus was holding out the promise of equal representation within the “democracies” they supposedly practiced, so “civil rights” were also tenuous for the Sunni. Perhaps, then, they are no longer “passive,” but instead a source of support for the opposition—willingly or unsubtly compelled. This explains the 30,000 under arms working for ISIS and strongly nudges an analyst toward employing the term “revolution” as opposed to “terrorism;” making al-Baghdadi a modern-day George Washington, a situation that causes cognitive dissonance in capitols from Riyadh to Washington.


A Potential Way Forward

In conversations with policy makers and war fighters it quickly becomes clear they have little patience for the academic or intelligence community’s preoccupation with factual minutia and contentious debates over terminology. “Tell me what time it is, don’t build me a clock,” was a favorite phrase of one now-retired National Intelligence Officer. Inevitably, the analyst would forget this guidance and resume a description of cutting gears and tuning movements, a course of action that frequently ended with yelling in the front office and demands for more “competent” persons to work the problem. Having no desire to go in search of a new occupation, I recommend the following as a definition of “revolution.” It is a movement of sufficient size to form a shadow government, challenges the existing regime with a new ideology, seeks to replace the sitting government and presents an alternative to standing cultural or social norms. This is the American “rebellion” the French revolution, Lenin coming to Saint Petersburg, Mao finishing the “Long March,” and Castro riding a jeep into Havana. In contemporary times it could have been the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood’s failed bid to rule in Egypt, AQIM in Mali or Ennahda as it struggles to govern in Tunisia.


In contrast, “terrorism” is the employment of violence intended to shock a target population by a group or organization that is not positioned to serve as a national governing body in the event these activities result in a collapse of the ruling elite. Here we have the 19th Century Anarchists, West Germany’s Baader-Meinhof Gang, Italy’s Red Brigades, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (Carlos the Jackal), Timothy McVeigh, and al-Qaeda as originally crafted under Osama Bin Laden’s tutelage. These are organizations with a political message but no apparent thought to long-term staying power. They would clear the way for a new government and perhaps a different social order, but do not seemingly want to be responsible for the mundane task of constituent services and diplomatic niceties. Which begs the question, what is Hamas or Hezbollah? A revolution or terrorist organization? Questions that are beyond the scope of this work, but illustrate the difficulty in drawing clear lines between “revolution” and “terrorism.” For political reasons it is sometimes more expedient or convenient to have fuzzy definitions—at least so long as one is not drawn into the possibility of having to kinetically dispatch or dispel the “trouble-makers.” “Revolutions” suggest a need for heavy munitions and boots on the ground—an operational plan that requires winning hearts and minds. “Terrorists” imply a more transitory target,[xxxiii] normally handled by police forces and discrete use of explosives.

And so we are back to the dilemma of where to “bin” ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State. This is no minor concern, as the Washington Post has ably demonstrated for its readership. In the week following beheading of two journalists and the Obama administration’s debate over ramping up airstrikes, the newspaper started almost every article on ISIS with the adjective “terrorist.” The reporters were in good company. Here’s what the President of the United States called the Islamic State on 10 September 2014: “Tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.”[xxxiv] But look what happens in the week following the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s testimony before Congress.

To set the stage, let’s return to General Dempsey’s remarks. He is sitting before the Senate Armed Forces Committee on 16 September 2014 following a request to explain how the administration plans to defeat this new threat. In his response we find this description of ISIS:

I want to emphasize that our military actions will be part of a whole of government effort that works to disrupt ISIL financing, interdict the movement of foreign fighters across borders, and undermine the ISIL message…

ISIL will ultimately be defeated when their cloak of religious legitimacy is stripped away and the populations on which they have imposed themselves reject them. Our actions are intended to move in that direction.

This will require a sustained effort over an extended period of time. It is a generational problem. And we should expect that our enemies will adapt their tactics as we adjust our approach.[xxxv]

The terminology Dempsey employs to describe the Islamic State looks remarkably familiar to the verbiage used to define a “revolution.” There is no discussion of “terrorism,” this is about “messaging,” stripping away “legitimacy,” and a “generational” problem. In other words, we have something very different than the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq; this needs more than an F-16 pilot with good intelligence and smart munitions.

President Obama seemingly made the same transition within a ten-day period. Speaking with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes 28 September 2014, the President described the Islamic State as: “sort of a hybrid of not just the terrorist network, but one with territorial ambitions, and some of the strategy and tactics of an army.”[xxxvi] This verbal footwork came a little late in the game. On 23 September 2014, a day after the US air campaign began over Syria, the Washington Post was no longer starting its articles with the “terrorist” Islamic State, but had moved its readership on to the term “political Islam.” This transition brings its own baggage.


“Political Islam,” one quickly discovers upon wading into the literature, is one of the most nebulous terms an academic or journalist can employ to define a public movement or organization. In a book published in 1997, Political Islam,” Joel Beinin and Joe Stork offer this attempt at explaining the phenomena:

We term the movements examined in this volume ‘political Islam’ because we regard their core concerns as temporal and political. They use the Koran, the hadiths (reports about the words and deeds of Muhammad and his companions), and other canonical religious texts to justify their stances and actions.[xxxvii]

Not terribly helpful. “Political Islam” in this context is anything that is window dressed with the terminology or mythology of the Koran and related writings? Yes, that does indeed seem the case. Writing on the same subject six years later, Graham Fuller declares, “I use the terms ‘political Islam’ and ‘Islamism’ synonymously.” He then goes on to state, “An Islamist is one who believes that Islam as a body of faith has something important to say about how politics and society should be ordered in the contemporary Muslim world and who seeks to implement this idea in some fashion.”[xxxviii] Other academics offer similar vague pronouncements.[xxxix]

We are stuck in an endless “do-loop” here in the sense “Political Islam” is like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of “pornography,” “I know it when I see it.” To wit, I offer the following, “political Islam” is the practice of justifying one’s form of governance by arguing your ideology is based upon the Koran and other Muslim foundational documentation or mythology. The reason for taking such a course of action is entirely logical. As Moorthy Muthuswamy writes in Defeating Political Islam, “If an individual wants to capture, control, and rule a land and its people; it is hard to think of a better way than to declare oneself so close to the almighty God as to be the sole purveyor of his ‘revelations’.”[xl] Taken from this perspective, the ISIS decision to wrap themselves in the cloak of the Prophet makes complete sense. The revolution they are bringing is made more palatable for the masses as it is justified in the name of Muhammad and Allah. This appeal to a higher authority worked for the leaders of the Muslim conquests from 634-750, and for the Christian Crusaders three hundred years later.

Which brings us back to the issue of how to respond the Islamic State?

In response, we point to an article Alireza Doostdar, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School, wrote in early October 2014. Using the quirky title, “How Not to Understand ISIS,” Doostdar bids caution in trying to “bin” the Islamic State as yet another example of Islamic revival and fundamentalism. Doostdar is not dismissing the influence of “Salafi Islam” on the movement, but he notes there are other factors at play. For instance, “What we call ISIS is more than just a militant cult. At present, ISIS controls a network of large population centers with millions of residents, in addition to oil resources, military bases, and roads. It has to administer the affairs of the populations over whom it rules, and this has required compromise and coalition-building, not just brute force.”[xli] Furthermore, he continues, lacking a “good grasp of the motivations of those who fight for or alongside ISIS” we have simply subscribed to an argument it is driven by religion. But, he notes, ISIS emerges from a decade of “war, occupation, killing, torture, and disenfranchisement” in Iraq, and more recently in Syria. Thus, he argues, we should not be surprised by the ISIS brutality—it is not Islam that brings forth this behavior, “it is a whole ecology of cruelty spread out over more than a decade.”

Doostdar further complicates the situation in his attempt to unearth the allure for foreign fighters who join ISIS. He admits it could be visions of the utopian caliphate, but it is equally possible they are motivated by “compassion for suffering fellow humans or of altruistic duty.”[xlii] This is an unsettling proposition for Western audiences that have been shocked by beheading clips on U-Tube and television footage of an entire town being subjected to apparently random shelling. This is “compassion” or altruism?” Again we return to the issue of relative definitions and personal perspective. What seems compassionate to one—dog ownership—may be cruelty to another—for example, members of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

So how do we respond to ISIS? It will take more than kinetic shock and awe. The argument this is a revolution suggests a hearts and minds campaign, a sustained presence on the ground, and a plan for the future. Nation building has to be part of the dialogue. We are now in a “whole of government” problem and the Department of Defense is but one tool in the repair kit. The alternative option is to let ISIS carve its own space within the Middle East. To establish the Caliphate and be weighed down with the administrative burden of governing and providing constituent services so as to maintain a veneer of legitimacy. (Recall al-Anbar revolted against al-Qaeda in Iraq when its members “over-stepped” the tribal leaders’ bounds, ISIS will likely find the setting no easier to control.)

This latter option is enticing. It would save billions of dollars that are currently being expended on munitions and aviation fuel. However, it sets a discomforting—to say the least—precedent. If ISIS wins in Syria and Iraq—essentially trifurcating Iraq and carving away half of Syria—what message are we sending to AQAP in Yemen, to AQIM in Mali, to al-Shabaab in Somalia, and Boko Haram in Nigeria? Does this open the door to a Confederation of the Caliphate that then seeks to follow in the footprints of the 7th Century Muslim conquest? These are the questions one should ask as you proceed through the essays that follow. We are on the cusp of a “brave new world” and the paradigms that served us so well in the Cold War and Global War on Terrorism may no longer be an appropriate framing mechanism.


End Notes

[i] Others argue it should be called Da’esh:


D (dal in Arabic د) stands for Dawla = state


A (aleph in Arabic ا) stands for islamiya = Islamic


‘E (ein in Arabic ع) stands for iraq = iraq


Sh (sheen in Arabic ش) stands for Sham = Levant


[ii] George Kennan, July 1947, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington DC, p. 581.

[iii] League of Nations 1937 “Convention for the prevention and punishment of Terrorism.”

[iv] Edward Luttwak and Stuart Koehl, 1991, The Dictionary of Modern War: A Guide to the Ideas, Institutions and Weapons of Modern Military Power, Harper Collins, New York, p. 609.

[v] Bruce Hoffman, 2006, Inside Terrorism, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 40.

[vi] Ibid., pp. 40-41.

[vii] Alexis De Tocqueville, 2000, Democracy in America, edited by Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 600.

[viii] Peter Amann, March 1962, “Revolution: A Redefinition,” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 77, Number 1, The Academy of Political Science, p. 36.


[ix] Ibid., p. 38

[x] Ibid., p. 39.

[xi] Ibid., p. 43.

[xii] Chalmers Johnson, 1964, Revolution and the Social System, Hoover Institution Studies, Stanford, p. 3-26.

[xiii] Sheldon Wolin, January 1963 “Violence and the Western Political Tradition,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.” Pp. 15-28.

[xiv] Johnson, pp. 31-34.

[xv] Ibid., pp. 35-39.

[xvi] Ibid., pp. 40-45.

[xvii] Ibid., pp. 45-49.

[xviii] Lawrence Stone, January 1966, “Theories of Revolution,” World Politics, Volume 18, Number 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 163.

[xix] Johnson, pp. 49-57.

[xx] Edward Luttwack, 1968, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

[xxi] Johnson, pp. 57-68.

[xxii] Isaac Kraminick, 1972, “Reflections on Revolution: Definitions and Explanation in Recent Scholarship,” History and Theory, Volume 11, Number 1, Wiley, p. 26.

[xxiii] Ibid., p. 30.

[xxiv] Ibid., p. 31.

[xxv] Ibid., p. 36.

[xxvi] Ibid., p. 37.

[xxvii] Luttwak and Koehl, p. 487.

[xxviii] Clifton Kroeber, 1996, “Theory and History of Revolution,” Journal of World History, Volume 7, Number 1, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, p. 24.

[xxix] Ibid., p. 25.

[xxx] ___, May 2014, FM 3-24, MCWP 3-33.5, Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies, Headquarters, Department of the Army, p. 1-1.

[xxxi] Ibid., p. 4-1

[xxxii] Ibid., p. 4-2.

[xxxiii] We recognize “transitory” is a relative term in this context. As Audrey Kurth Cronin documents in How Terrorism Ends Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist

Campaigns (Princeton University Press 2009), a terrorist movement can survive a full generation of more than 20 years.

[xxxiv] ___, 10 September 2014, “Transcript: President Obama’s speech outlining strategy to defeat Islamic State” Washington Post,” Washington.

[xxxv] ___, 16 September 2014, “TRANSCRIPT: Dempsey testifies to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Islamic State,” Washington Post, Washington.


[xxxvi] Barrack Obama, 28 September 2014, “President Obama: What America Makes Us,” CBS, New York.

[xxxvii] Joel Beinin and Joe Stork, 1997, Political Islam, University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 3-4.

[xxxviii] Graham Fuller, 2003, The Future of Political Islam, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, p. xi.

[xxxix] For instance see: Charles Butterworth, 1992, “Political Islam: The Origins,” Academy of Political and Social Science,” Volume 524, Sage Publications, pp. 26-37; Charles Hirschkind, 1997, “What is Political Islam?” Middle East Report, Number 205, Middle East Research and Information Project, p. 12-14; and, ___, 2010, Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad, edited by Joseph Skelly, Preager Security International, Santa Barbara.

[xl] Moorthy Muthuswamy, 2009, Defeating Political Islam, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, p. 54.

[xli] Alireza Doostdar, 2 October 2014, “How Not to Understand ISIS,” Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, University of Chicago, p. 2.

[xlii] Ibid., p. 3.


Eric C. Anderson is a faculty member with the National Intelligence University. As a long-standing member of the U.S. intelligence community, he has written over 600 articles for the President’s Daily Brief, National Intelligence Council, International Security Advisory Board and the Department of Defense



Britain could become a world leader in the billion-pound drone industry

by Press • 19 January 2015


Alex Wood

Sales of consumer drones were up 24% in 2014, with Selfridges describing them as “the ultimate toy that spans the generations”.

But as sales rose, drones quickly picked up a lot of negative publicity. Onemarketing stunt featuring mistletoe suspended by drones at TGI Friday’sspectacularly backfired after a unit sliced off part of a photographer’s nose. In another incident, a drone had a near-miss with an Airbus A320 as it began its descent into Heathrow.

Analysts predict that the market for drones could be worth billions. In the US alone, drones could create up to 70,000 new jobs for a booming new industry.

But the consumer end of the market is a mere drop in the ocean. The potential for drones to revolutionise the way we do business is where the real opportunity lies, and Britain has the potential to become the world leader.

E-commerce and drones were made for each other. Imagine a world where your next Amazon order is delivered to your door in minutes by an unmanned drone. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos sold this dream to much fanfare a year ago, but little has changed since then, leaving many to question if it was all a marketing stunt. The odds are stacked against Amazon launching the service as regulators in the US appear to have tied themselves up in knots over how to control the new industry.

As it stands, drone-based delivery services are illegal in America. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it intends to work on regulation this year, but this is just one of many roadblocks for America’s drone industry.

“The biggest problem in the US is they’ve invested $5bn in a new traffic control system, but it was started years before drones were on the radar, meaning the industry has been stopped in its tracks,” says Rohan Sinclair Luvaglio, chief executive and founder of Bizzby.

Luvaglio’s London-based startup is a mobile app that offers services, including handymen, cleaners and beauty therapists to customers’ doors in just 30 minutes. He wants to launch his own answer to Amazon’s drone-delivery concept in the UK. Late last year Bizzby successfully demonstrated Bizzby Sky, a delivery service operated by its mobile app, from a test centre outside the capital.

Unlike in the US, a drone-delivery service in the UK would not be illegal. However current regulations exclude drones from what the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) defines as “crowded areas”, preventing Luvaglio from launching it in cities such as London, where many potential customers live.

“We need a DVLA for drones,” he says. “Without proper regulation with a central database of approved units, it’s impossible to make sure your drones adhere to no-fly zones.”

Like many areas of high technology, it is not yet clear where responsibilities lie within government, which makes it hard to drive change. Policymakers have not responded to letters or requests to engage, according to Luvaglio.

Despite the struggles for new delivery drone services, Britain has recently become a leader in the field of drone-based aerial photography. “A lot of countries already use the UK’s regulations on drones as a benchmark,” says Giles Moore, CEO atAirstoc, the world’s first marketplace for stock footage shot by drones.

Airstoc works with operators from 62 different countries and many face much more draconian regulations than in the UK.

His company is now part of ARPAS UK, association for the drone industry in the UK, and works closely with the CAA to reform regulation.

Much of the recent negative publicity towards drones appears to stem from a very small selection of hobbyists who give the industry a bad name. “The big issue here is the cheap drones flown by people without licenses. As a hobbyist its fine in a controlled area like a park or open land, but these devices are like a remote control car you used to play with as a kid – you don’t drive it down the M1.”

Unlike in the US, professional drone operators in the UK have to acquire a licence, which Moore points out is a major plus to the industry. Despite the fact that aerial drone photography is illegal across much of America, the country still boasts the highest number of operators in the world.

Without significant investment in a new air traffic control system and a nationwide overhaul of already restrictive regulations, America could find itself quickly outmatched by Britain’s burgeoning drone industry.

If our regulators here in the UK act quickly, we could be just years away from a potential golden age, where deliveries can take place 24 hours a day from the sky and we become a leading centre for imagery shot by drones. And with pioneers like Bizzby and Airstoc driving the technology forward, drones could well be Britain’s next billion- pound industry.



Forget Windows 10 — here are the four most important words Microsoft said today

By Preston Gralla

Computerworld | Jan 21, 2015 2:17 PM PT



Microsoft’s wide-ranging announcements today about Windows 10 covered things as mundane as new customizations for the Windows 10 Start screen and as mind-blowing as a new computing holographic platform.

It showed off a new browser code-named Spartan, promised a unified development platform for all Windows devices, displayed the Cortana digital assistant running on a PC, pointed to the future of Xbox and wowed the audience with its holographic computing platform.

Microsoft executives even got a chance to publicly root for the Seahawks and to subtly dis Patriot coach Bill Belichick in a news story they showed running on a Windows app.

Windows 10


    But the four most important words they uttered may have slipped right by you: Windows as a Service.

    You can be forgiven if they’re the kind of words that make your eyes glaze over. Everyone these days seems to be promoting their products as an “as a Service” offering: Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS). So Windows as a Service may sound more like a marketing concept than an actual product.

    But Windows as a Service is real and seems to be the future of Windows, and of Microsoft’s attempt to solve its struggles in mobile. Although Microsoft threw around the term several times at the announcement, it hasn’t yet provided many details on what it means. But it provided some very strong hints.

    Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the operating systems group, said that anyone running Windows 7, Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1 will be able to upgrade for free to Windows 10 in the first year after the operating system launches. And he noted that it’s not just a one-time upgrade — Windows will continue to be upgraded for free for the life of the device.

    On his blog, he says, “We’ll deliver new features when they’re ready, not waiting for the next major release. We think of Windows as a Service — in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet. And just like any Internet service, the idea of asking ‘What version are you on?’ will cease to make sense.”

    In doing that, Microsoft is taking a page from the success of its Office 365 subscription service, in which you pay not to download and use a single, static version of Office, but rather for an annual subscription which continually auto-updates to the newest version.

    Myerson seems to be saying that with Windows being delivered as a service, Windows 10 may well be the last “big-bang” version of the operating system, the last time that Windows gets a major single overhaul. Instead, it will be continually updated like any Web service — like Gmail, for example.

    What’s not clear yet is Microsoft’s revenue model for this. Will you only need to buy Windows once and will it automatically auto-upgrade for free forever? Will you need to pay a subscription fee every year? Will you be able to buy subscriptions for multiple devices? Microsoft is playing coy at this point and not giving out any answers.

    Going for mobile

    Turning Windows into a service also appears to be part of Microsoft’s latest attempt to gain traction in mobile. In providing Windows as a single, unified service to developers as well as users, Microsoft is combining its Windows 10 and Windows Phone 10 developer platforms into a single platform, with one Windows Store.

    Microsoft apparently hopes that this will ultimately lead to more apps being developed for Windows Phones. Although Windows Phone has a small user base, Windows has a massive one — Microsoft claimed back in late 2011 that 1.25 billion Windows PCs were running worldwide. Developers who may not want to write apps for the small Windows Phone user base may well want to write for the much larger one number of traditional PCs — and those apps could then be run on mobile devices, according to Microsoft.

    Microsoft emphasized several times during its presentation that it sees Windows as a single experience (a single service, really) across multiple devices — that what you start on your PC you can continue to work with on a tablet and then finish it up on a phone. Files created on one device will be synched with all your other devices. Microsoft is building a number of common apps into its unified Windows platform, including apps for mail, photos and entertainment, as well as Office, which will be free for devices under eight inches. That’s one more way the company hopes that providing Windows as a single service across multiple devices will spur people to buy Windows mobile hardware.

    Will doing all this with Windows as a Service help Microsoft accomplish what it wants? And is it something that users will want?

    For users of traditional PCs, it’s a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want Windows to upgrade itself automatically, no big-bang install required, for as long as a device lives? It’s a win for users and Microsoft here. (I’ll talk about how much of a win within a week or so, when I review the new version of Windows 10.)

    As for mobile, it’s not quite so clear. Windows Phone has only a 3% market share, according to IDC, and that share fell in the last year. Windows as a Service may be too little, too late to make up for that.


    Carter, Not Hagel, to Brief the Defense Budget on Capitol Hill

    January 21, 2015 – 7:16 pm

    Kate Brannen, Gopal Ratnam


    One of Ashton Carter’s first jobs as defense secretary? Head to Capitol Hill to present and defend the Pentagon’s 2016 budget, a planning document he’s had little opportunity to shape.


    Chuck Hagel, who is planning to stay on as SecDef until his successor is sworn in, was expected to handle the annual round of congressional budget hearings. But, according to defense and Hill sources, that task is now going to fall to Carter, who only stepped down as deputy defense secretary a year ago.

    Because work on the defense budget begins at least a year out, it’s likely Carter was involved in the early stages of the 2016 budget. But even with a Pentagon pro like Carter, who knows the department inside and out, the budget schedule will throw him into some of the thorniest acquisition and personnel issues right off the bat.

    Carter is not losing any time when it comes to cultivating good relations on Capitol Hill, and has begun meeting with senators in preparation for his confirmation hearing. On Tuesday, he met with Sen. John McCain, the new Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    “Great meeting today with the future Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter — I’m confident he’ll do a fine job,” McCain tweeted.

    Hagel is being spared the congressional budget briefings partly because Rep. Mac Thornberry, the new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is looking to delay testimony from the defense secretary to give the panel time to delve more deeply into the Defense Department’s budget request, a Capitol Hill staffer told FP.

    That means the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will serve as wrap-up witnesses — rather than kicking off the congressional budget season, as is typically done.

    Under the new timeline, Hagel will most likely have left the Pentagon by the time the House Armed Services Committee holds its briefing. It looks like the other three congressional defense committees are following suit — waiting until Carter takes over the job.

    Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said he had no new information to share about precisely when Hagel might leave.

    Hagel “remains firmly focused on his duties and on making sure our troops and their families continue to get the support they need to conduct missions around the world,” Kirby said. “For him, a big part of that commitment means overseeing the final preparations of the fiscal year 2016 budget submission.”

    Hagel’s last day on the job is dependent on when Carter is confirmed by Congress, but his formal farewell ceremony is planned for Jan. 28 at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Arlington, Va.

    Carter’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for the first week of February. The Obama administration will release its 2016 budget request that same week, on Feb. 2.

    At the Pentagon, budget day usually involves back-to-back briefings on each of the military services’ spending plans. Typically, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs hold the first briefing of the day, but last year was a little different: Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey gave a preview of the budget a few weeks before it was rolled out.

    Hagel will still be in the job Feb. 2, but it hasn’t been decided yet whether he’ll brief the public that day. If he doesn’t, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work could stand in.

    Later that week, Hagel is planning to head to Brussels for a NATO meeting of defense ministers on Feb. 5. This will likely be his last trip abroad as defense secretary.


    Rasmussen Reports

    What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

    Bottom of Form

    Saturday, January 24, 2015

    Maybe it’s just the improving economy, but voters are less critical of the job President Obama is doing and even appear receptive to some of the new government programs he’s proposing. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want to pay for them, though.

    A number of economic indicators including our daily readings of consumer and investor confidence are now at levels we haven’t seen since before the Wall Street meltdown in 2008. 

    But only 21% of voters agree with the president’s contention in his State of the Union address Tuesday night that the economic crisis is over. Just over half, however, like his proposals from that speech including increased spending on infrastructure, mandatory paid sick leave and tax cuts of up to $3,000 per child per year to help middle- and lower-income families afford child care.

    Voters also tend to like Obama’s plan for free community college for millions of Americans – as long as it doesn’t cost taxpayers anything.

    Prior to the State of the Union address, just 17% said the president should focus on new spending programs, while 68% thought he should focus instead on programs that can be accomplished within current spending levels.

    To pay for his new proposals, the president has called for $320 billion in tax increases on the wealthiest Americans including raising capital gains and inheritance taxes. Voters support those tax increases by a 49% to 41% margin, but 66% think it’s likely that middle-class taxes will go up, too.

    Voters also still place more importance on government policies that encourage a free market over ones that reduce the income gap between rich and poor.

    Obama’s daily job approval ratings have been improving since his party’s major reverses on Election Day. Following his State of the Union speech, they have risen to some of the highest levels of his entire presidency.

    While Americans are sending positive signals about much of the economy, they remain deeper in debt than they were last year at this time.

    Still, homeowners are more confident than they have been since the housing bubble burst that their homes will be worth more in one year and in five years’ time. They’re also more optimistic about the current value of their home.

    But Americans as a whole still aren’t convinced that now is a good time to put a house on the market where they live.

    Americans are also well aware that lower gas prices and the surging energy industry are critical to the improving economy, even as Congress and the president battle over the future of the Keystone XL pipeline from Western Canada to Texas.

    Despite increasing economic confidence, only 30% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction. This is consistent with findings for over two years now. Just 32% believe America’s best days are still to come.

    Players in both major parties think they can do better and are already angling for position in next year’s race to be Obama’s successor.

    Generally, at this stage of the game, it’s mostly about name recognition, and Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, is the leader in the race to be his party’s standard-bearer in 2016. But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and retired neurosurgeon and conservative columnist Ben Carson show surprising support early on.

    For many though, the early GOP battle is between Romney and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Many see it as the battle of the moderates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. How do Republicans vote in a Bush/Romney matchup?

    We’ll give you a look at the presidential race on the Democratic side early next week, including a one-on-one matchup between Hillary Clinton and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

    Following last November’s midterm elections, voters are more confident in the fairness of U.S. elections than they have been in over two years, but they’re still highly skeptical of their own representatives in Congress.

    Democrats hold a one-point lead over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

    In other surveys last week:

    — Voters are more critical of the health care they personally receive but don’t expect it to get better under Obamacare. Most think consumers are better off with less government involvement in the health care marketplace

    — Americans are starting off 2015 with their most positive view of the country’s banking system since before the Wall Street meltdown.

    Concern about inflation appears to be trending down, and Americans are more confident in the federal government to handle it.

    Most voters still oppose closing the terrorist prison camp at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba and worry that the suspected terrorists who are released will attack the United States and its allies. 

    — Americans continue to hold Martin Luther King Jr. in high esteem nearly 50 years after his murder, but most think his dream of equality still hasn’t been fulfilled.

    — It’s been a difficult year for race relations in the United States, but most Americans still think they can talk honestly about race with each other.

    Half of Americans have now seen the film “American Sniper” or plan to go, while most dismiss its critics as politically motivated.


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