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The time for a fundamental overhaul of the US intelligence and security architecture

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It is Biden’s turn now. The time has come for a fundamental overhaul of the dysfunctional and disintegrating US intelligence and security agencies, which are supposed to be the backbone of international cooperation and the key to the effectiveness of any US foreign policy.

In the new Biden era, the attitude towards international partners cannot be the Trumpian “once we have our way with you, we’ll throw you to the wolves”, as I have argued previously at length – also in the New York Times and Euronews. Intelligence agencies such as the CIA and the FBI are at the root of international cooperation in the security and intelligence gathering and sharing field; they are the underlying framework. If transatlantic relations are to be rebuilt in the Biden era, the US repressive apparatus will have to be examined, discussed and revamped. This should be among Biden’s top priorities, stepping into the Oval Office.

FBI Director James Comey’s early firing in 2017 showed the American public that the President of the United States has the power to throw out the boss of the FBI as soon as the FBI chief is found to be investigating the President himself. And no one can do anything about it. The same goes for the top prosecutor of the country – the Attorney General’s appointment and confirmation process should also undergo a reform and transformation.

The process of hiring and firing of the agency chiefs should be more complex and have added steps such as considering more than one candidate nominated for the agency’s top post, Congress and/or Senate having an open debate on the qualifications and suitability of several candidates, and then holding an appointment process as a mixture of President approval and Congress/Senate vote. The firing of agency chiefs should also be more complex than an authoritarian impulse. Congress and/or Senate should have a role at that stage too, including, for example, by looking at a list of reasons for the unsuitability of or misconduct by the agency chief. “Because he is investigating me” cannot be a firing reason and will surely not fly before Congress or Senate at such a stage, if they had a say.

The integrity of the US intelligence and security institutions cannot be left to the individual character of the top position holder. At the end of the day, it should not be down to the personal character differences between Comey – Wray, or Haspel – Morell to make sure that these agencies do not become the dark hand of the President. Institutional integrity should not be at the mercy or chance of personal integrity. As the above comparisons show, when it is up to that, the odds are split at just about 50/50.

Someone like Donald Trump could come back in four years’ time. If the system of appointment and firing of agency chiefs does not change, we will be watching the 2017 FBI episode all over again.

The need for reform at the end of Republican Administrations is cyclical and often the product of the state in which Republican Presidents leave the US repressive apparatus.

Towards the end of the Bush Era in 2007, American society faced the need for reform of the security and intelligence agencies, and a thorough overview of the government’s use of private military contractors – all subjects of numerous draft legislation that I worked on by assisting and cooperating with the office of Senator Obama, including by helping introduce amendments to proposed legislation on the rules for use of force. The neocon version of “Jesus on steroids” left its mark on the way that the Administration had stretched and eroded the US security and intelligence apparatus. The Bush era was the time when military contractors and the government agencies that hired them ran around unbridled at the expense of the American tax payer. These were all issues that I worked on together with the House Committee on Armed Services and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for a 2007 report.

The Bush days were also the time when US government’s military contractors were embarrassing the US government by engaging in human trafficking crimes – an issue on which I helped the American government make strides by addressing it for the first time through direct engagement on compliance with the industry, partnering with the leading congressional leaders on human trafficking, Congressman Smith and Presidential candidate Senator Brownback, and the State, Defense and Justice Departments.

The Bush era was the era of torture in the war on terror. Torture and extrajudicial rendition flights by the CIA were shedding a light on what the American democracy and principles had really turned into. I was 2m away from Republican Congressman Rohrabacher when, in the middle of a congressional hearing, he uttered his infamous line that he hoped that those opposed to torture by the US government got tortured themselves, together with their families. I was on the other side, having worked for the Chairman of the Sub-committee on International Organizations and Human Rights, Congressman Bill Delahunt, who was chairing the hearing.

The absolute ban on torture, which I argued for in the Essex Human Rights Law Review  in 2011, with support by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, was actually a question open for debate in American society back in the Bush days. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s opposition to confirming Trump’s appointee, Gina Haspel as the CIA Director in 2018, on the grounds of torture involvement, was actually a loud scream from the Democrats to American society that the Bush torture days were supposed to be over. A long time ago. Today, Gina Haspel’s days in office are numbered, as a Biden-Harris Administration would have always removed Haspel right away.

At the end of every cycle, the US system needs to look at itself and have an honest discussion about its repressive apparatus. The new Biden era will open up a whole new discussion on the operations and functions of agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the police. New architectures will appear and old methods of operations will be questioned, publically debated and denounced.

The automatic, straight A to B modus operandi of dealing with a political opponent cannot be opening a terrorism or spying investigation on them. The US intelligence and security agencies will soon face questions on how they deal with those defending media freedom at the global level or those opposed to institutionalized racism in US law enforcement.

Back in 2013, in the Economist, I warned of the danger of intelligence services’ control over the media. This is precisely what US agencies, part of the American repressive apparatus, have been doing during the Trump period. How to reform that thinking and the procedures allowing it will very much be the subject of the reform about to be led by the Biden Administration.

American agencies are obsessed with American election rigging because they very well know what they themselves have been doing to fix elections and overturn regimes in other countries. This is another topic that American society will have to face if the US wants to have an honest discussion about preventing illegal foreign interference in American elections.

The US repressive agencies will soon also face a discussion on the use of drones on civilians and whistleblowers. Now is the time to revamp and get rid of outdated and obvious FBI and CIA investigative techniques, which are simply slowing down and dragging down the effectiveness of investigations led by the agencies.

The US intelligence and security architecture is about to undergo the greatest overhaul in its modern history. The time has come.

Iveta Cherneva is an Amazon best-selling author, political commentator and human rights activist. Her latest book is “Trump, European security and Turkey”. Cherneva’s career includes Congress and the UN; she was a top finalist for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech in 2020. Iveta’s opinions appear in Euronews, New York Times, Salon, The Guardian, Jurist, Washington Examiner, Modern Diplomacy, Emerging Europe, EurActiv, The Fletcher Forum, LSE, Daily Express. She comments on TV and radio for Euronews, DW, Voice of America and others.

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Cyber-attacks-Frequency a sign of Red Alert for India

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The biggest target is in terms of transportations, nuclear power plants, Power system Operation Corporation Limited, V.O. Chidambaram Port Trust, Telangana State Load Dispatch Centre, logistic industries and research organisations which eventually can lead to destruction of the whole ecosystem. The confidentiality breach in the case of medical data leak as reported by a German cyber security firm –Greenbone Sustainable Resilience wherein Picture Archiving and Communication Servers were linked to public internet without any requisite protection is a point of concern. Then, there are certain individualistic attacks such as hacking email and financial crimes (banking), etc. In the last two years the attacks radar of focus has been defence, government accounts and the vaccine manufacturing companies.

Cyber Security – Individualistic awareness need of the hour

The target of the individual in a peculiar case which led to heinous crimes casted was due to opening of a document which was a bait to install Netwire- a malware. The bait was eventually delivered through a file and what prompted a person to open that link was a Drop box sent to him on his email was actually opening a Pandora Box of malicious command and control server. An emphasis to understand the technicality that Netwire stands for a malware which gives control of the infected system to an attacker. This in turn paves way for data stealing, logging keystrokes and compromise passwords. In the similar vein the Pegasus used the tactic to infiltrate the user’s phones in 2019.

Cyber Security – Attacking Power Distribution Systems

The intrusions by Chinese hacker groups in October, 2020 as brought out by Recorded Future was done through Shadow Pad which opens a secret path from target system to command and control servers. And, the main target is sectors such as transportation, telecommunication and energy .And , there are different tags that are being used by the Chinese Espionage Industry such as APT41, Wicked Spider and Wicked Panda , etc.

The institutions backing legitimisation

The Institutions which are at working under the cyber security surveillance are the National Security Council and National Information Board headed by National Security Adviser helping in framing India’s cyber security policy .Then, in 2014 there is the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre under the National Technical Research Organisation mandating the protection of critical information infrastructure. And, in 2015 the National Cyber Security Coordinator advises the Prime Minister on strategic cyber security issues. In the case of nodal entity , India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) is playing a crucial role under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology(MEITY).But, there is a requirement of clarity in National Cyber Security Policy of 2013 and the needed updates desired in it respectively.

A cohesive approach – Data Protection and Privacy Importance

The Data privacy i.e. the personal data protection bill is an important imperative in which services of private actors can be bridged through a concerned law which is missing link in that sense. The point of Data localisation falls squarely within this dimension of Section 40 and 41 of the draft bill where in the Indian stakeholders have the capacity to build their own data centres .In this contextualisation there also a need to understand certain technicalities involved in terms of edge computing which in a way is enabling the data to be analysed, processed, and transferred at the edge of a network. An elaboration to this is the data is analysed locally, closer to where it is stored, in real-time without delay. The Edge computing distributes processing, storage, and applications across a wide range of devices and data centres which make it difficult for any single disruption to take down the network. Since more data is being processed on local devices rather than transmitting it back to a central data centre, edge computing also reduces the amount of data actually at risk at any one time. Whereas on the other hand, there is insistence on data localisation has paved the way for companies such as Google Pay to adhere to the policy and synchronise their working with the United Payments Interface (UPI).

What do you understand by Data Share?

In the recent case of WhatsApp privacy issue and drawing in parallel other organisation a similar platform such as Facebook and Google shared the data to the third party with a lopsided agreement and with continuance of the data trade business industry. In 1996 the internet was free so was perceived as carte blanche , a safe harbour falling under the Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act in the United States but with the evolution of the circumstances the laws in that specifications are also required to change in that respect. In relations to the Indian law under the Information Technology Act, 2000 under the Section 69 the Indian government has the powers to monitor and decrypt any information that’s store in any computer resource but on certain conditions such as in regards to the sovereignty, defence and security of the country.

Cyber-attacks understanding on the International Forums

In terms of Lieber Code of Conduct of 1863 or be it Hague Convention of 1899 there is a need of updating the definitions and where in the cyber army falling under the categorisation  of civilians , not possessing any of the warfare weapons cause the main weapon that they possess is a malware which is invisible but can have deep repercussions leading to destruction of that particular economy altogether .So, in recent evolving circumstances there is an undue importance to for the target country to respond with equal force and having a right to self-defence in this manner regardless of the attack being from a non-state actor from a third country and masquerading under the civilian garb .Henceforth , there a thorough understanding of the complex environment that one is dealing with , there is undue emphasis to change and respectively update with the current world.

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Incidents of Uranium Theft in India: Depleting Nuclear Safety and International Silence

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Terrorism

In yet another incident of the capture of nuclear-related materials from unauthorized persons in India has made headlines in the Indian media but largely ignored in the international media. On 4th June 2021, as reported in the Indian media, the authorities arrested seven people possessing approximately 6.4 kilograms of Uranium in the Eastern State of Jharkhand. This is the second time in less than a month where Indian authorities have captured such a gang in an attempt to sell uranium illegally. An incident of the same nature was reported just a few days ago in May 2021 where authorities apprehended unauthorized persons, who were trying to sell nearly 7 kilograms of natural uranium on the black market. Notably, Indian authorities themselves believe that these events might be linked to a “national gang involved in illegal uranium trade”. This is a very serious issue because it means two things; first, that Indian local uranium reserves, radioactive nuclear materials, and facilities are not protected and are prone to black marketing. Secondly, this scenario has emerged because India is not adhering to international bindings of nuclear safety and security such as UN resolution 1540 and (Convention on Physical Protection on Nuclear Material) CPPNM under IAEA to secure its materials, reserves, and facilities. But, the most damaging aspect in this scenario is the discriminatory behavior of the international community, which is criminally silent on the violations of norms, practices, and regulations necessary for nuclear safety and security.

Though in both incidents, Uranium was in natural condition, which cannot be used for making bombs; however; it should be of great concern, as even in its natural state the Uranium can spread considerable radioactivity if used with conventional explosives. Moreover, Indian authorities themselves are considering that these activities could be linked with national gangs involved in the illegal supply of uranium. This raises the point that actually how much natural uranium is illegally sold in the black market by India. Since these are only incidents that are being reported in the Indian media, there might be many incidents that have never been reported. Also, this gang was captured from near the area where Indian Uranium mines of Jharkhand are allocated, the likelihood of access of non-state actors to these mines cannot be denied. These incidents are critical for international security and stability because such radioactive material when sold in black markets could be brought by the non-state and states aspiring for nuclearization. Unfortunately, in such a scenario all the efforts currently going on to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons would be hampered. The recurring of these incidents reflect that India, despite being a member of CPPNM is not ensuring the protection of its nuclear materials from theft and sabotage by proper regulations, stringent mechanisms, and control. Other than CPPNM, India has also signed UN resolution 1540, which makes it mandatory for the states to ensure security regulations, mechanisms, equipment required for the security of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) from the non-state actors. But, surprisingly, so far the UN or any other international organization has not taken notice of these recurring events. Rather, these mishaps by Indian authorities are shoved under the carpet. These incidents have been reportedly re-occurring in India, media reported these events in 2003, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2019, and now again in 2021. 

Nuclear safety and security is a national matter of any state; however, against the backdrop of the potential damage, which these weapons can bring, they have become an international concern. Specifically, to an extent, where states are sometimes criticized, lauded, and sometimes rewarded for their behavior in this realm. In this regard, India appears as an exceptional case, where the formation of Nuclear Suppliers Group NSG to stop such events in the future has its roots in the Indian so-called peace nuclear explosion (PNE) in 1974. Ironically, a few years down the road, the same NSG gave a waiver to India for conducting nuclear export. Moreover, India was made part of many other regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement. Although, these decisions were carried out in lieu of geo-political realities, where the West regards India as a balancer against China but it gave a free hand to India. Even the US-based NTI Report on Nuclear Security Index gives India less score in nuclear safety and security regulations. At a time when many nuclear theft-related incidents have occurred in India in recent years, disgracefully, India still desires to become a member of NSG based on its so-called nuclear record.

To sum up the situation, the occurrence of back-to-back nuclear theft-related incidents has further exposed India’s nuclear credentials and its non-adherence to international practices of nuclear safety and security. If legal bindings such as CPPNM and 1540 would not be implemented in the future by India, the South Asian stability, as well as the international security, would be undermined. Moreover, if the international non-proliferation continues to remain lenient towards states like India, the rest would likely regard the international non-proliferation mechanism not just as discriminatory but even as hoaxing. Many states might prefer to proliferate for their own interests, which would not serve the non-proliferation mechanism and regime. A very candid example is that today even after two years of the last NPT review conference, the next has not been conducted and chances are that it might not be conducted this year.

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Uranium is being traded freely in the open market in India

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Terrorism

The Times of India has reported that a special police team arrested seven persons and recovered 6 Kgs of Uranium from them following raids at different parts of the city on Thursday. Bokaro SP Chandan Kumar Jha said, “We have seized the yellow substance and will send it to experts for tests. Uranium is a highly radioactive substance used at nuclear facilities.”

Police said the accused, suspected of being part of a national gang involved in the illegal uranium trade, searched for customers and fixed its price at Rs 50 lakhs per kg. Notably, a kilogram of Uranium sells for around Rs 18 crores in the global market, sources said. For the first time, Uranium has been seized in this industrial town, but in other parts of India, similar cases were reported several times recently.

Those arrested have been identified as Bapi Da alias Bapi Da alias Bapi Chandra, Anil Singh, Deepak Kumar, Krishna Kant, Hare Ram Sharma, Mahavir Mahto, and Pankaj Mahto. They are residents of different parts of the district. Deepak and Bapi have a criminal history. It is illegal to possess Uranium without a license in India, and violation of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, can attract stringent punishment.

Jha said police received information that some criminals are preparing to sell Uranium. A nine-member team headed by Chas DSP Mukesh Kumar and City DSP Kuldeep Kumar were involved in the raids. “It is still unclear how they got their hands on the radioactive metal. During interrogation, they mentioned West Bengal, Giridih, and a few other places. Seven mobile phones and a motorcycle were also seized from them,” he said.

Notably, Jharkhand is among a few states in the country that has uranium mines. Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) also has a uranium processing plant at Jaduguda, about 150km from Bokaro city.

Sources said police are also investigating to ascertain whether the arrested accused have any links with a similar racket busted by Maharashtra Anti- Terror Squad (ATS) on May 5 after it nabbed two persons. A total of 7.1 kg of natural Uranium worth Rs 21.3 crore was seized from the duo identified as Jigar Jayesh Pandya (27) and Choudhary (31).

It is a severe failure of the Government that hazardous materials are accessible by common people. It is the state’s responsibility, and the state must ensure the safety of the ordinary people. However, PM Modi has different priorities and over-engaged in non-issues. His focus to undermine minorities and the illegal occupation of Kashmir has made him over busy and left no time to safeguard the public interest. His extremist policies and brutalities against minorities are strongly condemned.

It is not the first time that Uranium has been traded like a regular commodity in the open market. It can be dangerous for India as well as the whole world. The law and order situation in India has deteriorated adversely, and criminals may avail this opportunity. The worst scenario will be if the RSS Hindu extremists got access to Uranium, then, definitely, the subcontinent is a one case. The fanatic RSS members are so vulnerable that they can go to any extent without considering the consequences.

Therefore it is appealed to the International community, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the UN to take serious notice and place preventive measures on the ground.

Being the next-door neighbor, Pakistan is under threat and has a responsibility to highlight such severe violations and may involve the international community to avoid similar cases in the future.

Pakistan on Friday, describing the reports of yet another incident of attempted illegal sale of Uranium in India as a “matter of deep concern,” reiterated its call for the thorough investigation of such incidents and measures for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion.

In a statement, FO Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said the similar incident in Maharashtra last month and other such reports in the past “are a matter of deep concern as they point to lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as the possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India.”

The UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) make it binding on states to ensure stringent measures to prevent nuclear material from falling into the wrong hands, the statement noted.

“Pakistan reiterates its call for [a] thorough investigation of such incidents and measures for strengthening the security of nuclear materials to prevent their diversion,” it added.

The press release said it was “equally important to ascertain the intent and ultimate use of the attempted uranium sale given its relevance to international peace and security as well as the sanctity of global non-proliferation regime.”

Uranium is used in several areas, including nuclear explosives and medical techniques. The very fact that some people stole or illegally mined Uranium raises concerns about nuclear safety and security in India. It also indicates the possibility of a nuclear market existing in India that could be connected to international players.

Pakistan had voiced serious concern last month, too, after reports of the Maharashtra seizure emerged, pointing to gaps in state control mechanisms there.

“We have noted with serious concern the reports about the seizure of more than 7kg natural uranium from unauthorized persons in India,” Chaudhri had said at the time.“Security of nuclear materials should be the top priority for all countries,” he added.

“There is a need for a thorough investigation of the matter as to how such sizeable quantity of uranium could become available outside any state control and identify the gaps which made this possible.”

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