We’re on the brink of disaster

Violent protests and riots are breaking out everywhere as economies collapse and governments fail. War is bound to follow.

The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow.

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Islamists Gain Ground in Sarajevo

Radical Muslim imams and nationalist politicians from all camps are threatening Sarajevo’s multicultural legacy. With the help of Arab benefactors, the deeply devout are acquiring new recruits. In the “Jerusalem of the Balkans,” Islamists are on the rise. By Walter Mayr in Sarajevo more…

Sarajevo is the capital city and largest urban center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a population of 304,065 people in the four municipalities that make up the city proper, and an estimated urban area population of 419,030 people in the Sarajevo Canton as of June 2007. It is also the capital of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entity, as well as the center of the Sarajevo Canton. Sarajevo is located in the Sarajevo valley of Bosnia proper, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated around the Miljacka river. The city is famous for its traditional religious diversity, with adherents of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism coexisting there for centuries.

Although settlement in the area stretches back to prehistoric times, the modern city arose as an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th century. Sarajevo has attracted international attention several times throughout its history: In 1914 it was the site of the assassination that sparked World War I, while seventy years later it became the host city of the 1984 Winter Olympics. More recently, Sarajevo underwent the longest siege in modern military history during the Bosnian War. Today the city is recovering and adjusting to a post-war reality, as a major center of culture and economic development in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sarajevo was also the first city in Europe and the second city in the world to have a full-time operational electric tram network running through the city, the first being San Francisco.

New Israel killer drone can take out Iran’s S-300 anti-air missile

The Israeli air industries first unveiled its new Harop “loiter drone” for taking out ground-to-air missiles at the annual Aero-India 2009 air show which closed recently at Bangalore.

The Iranian media were first to disclose that this sophisticated Israeli drone is capable of targeting the Russian radar-equipped S-300 anti-air missile before it enters attack mode.

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Herop Short

Link to video

The IAI Harop (or IAI Harpy 2) is an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) developed by the Malat (UAV) division of Israel Aerospace Industries. Rather than holding a separate high explosive warhead, the drone itself is also the main munition. This hunter-killer is designed to loiter the battlefield and attack targets by self-destructing onto them. IAI developed the Harop for suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) missions.

It is a larger version of the IAI Harpy and is launched from ground- or sea-based canisters, but can be adapted for air-launch. Unlike the fully-autonomous Harpy, however, the Harop is controlled in flight by a remote operator. The Harop features two guidance modes: it can either home in on radio emissions by itself with its anti-radar homing system, or the operator can select static or moving targets detected by the aircraft’s electro-optical sensor. This latter mode allows the Harop to attack radars that are presently shut down and therefore not providing emissions for the aircraft to automatically home in on.

Turkey may have been the launch customer for the Harop in 2005. In October 2005, MBDA submitted the Harop (under the name “White Hawk”) to the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence for consideration as the system for the Ministry’s Loitering Munition Capability Demonstration (LMCD) program, otherwise known as “Fire Shadow”. The Harop was selected as one of the finalists, but was rejected when the MoD decided that the contract should go to a British team. In August 2007, the government of India was negotiating to purchase eight to ten Harop systems. The Harop was publically unveiled to the world for the first time in India, in the lead-up to the Aero-India 2009 show.


Russia focuses on upgrading its nuclear arsenals

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that upgrading ground, sea and air components of the nation’s strategic forces is costly but necessary.

“It’s expensive, it’s very expensive, but there is no other way,” Ivanov told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament. “We will develop and modernize our strategic deterrent forces.”

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Russia to Develop Strategic Nuclear Forces Despite Deficit
Voice of America – 8 hours ago
Addressing lawmakers in the lower house of the Russian Parliament, Sergei Ivanov said Russia’s military industrial complex has been considerably less
Russia to continue modernizing its nuclear deterrent – deputy PM RIA Novosti
Russia focuses on upgrading its nuclear arsenals The Associated Press
Official: upgrading Russian nuclear forces is top military priority KPTM-TV
Reuters IndiaThe Moscow Times
all 170 news articles »

The Long Arm of the [Mexican] Lawless

By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

Last week we discussed the impact that crime, and specifically kidnapping, has been having on Mexican citizens and foreigners visiting or living in Mexico. We pointed out that there is almost no area of Mexico immune from the crime and violence. As if on cue, on the night of Feb. 21 a group of heavily armed men threw two grenades at a police building in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero state, wounding at least five people. Zihuatanejo is a normally quiet beach resort just north of Acapulco; the attack has caused the town’s entire police force to go on strike. (Police strikes, or threats of strikes, are not uncommon in Mexico.)

Mexican police have regularly been targeted by drug cartels, with police officials even having been forced to seek safety in the United States, but such incidents have occurred most frequently in areas of high cartel activity like Veracruz state or Palomas. The Zihuatanejo incident is proof of the pervasiveness of violence in Mexico, and demonstrates the impact that such violence quickly can have on an area generally considered safe.

Significantly, the impact of violent Mexican criminals stretches far beyond Mexico itself. In recent weeks, Mexican criminals have been involved in killings in Argentina, Peru and Guatemala, and Mexican criminals have been arrested as far away as Italy and Spain. Their impact — and the extreme violence they embrace — is therefore not limited to Mexico or even just to Latin America. For some years now, STRATFOR has discussed the threat that Mexican cartel violence could spread to the United States, and we have chronicled the spread of such violence to the U.S.-Mexican border and beyond.

Traditionally, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations had focused largely on the transfer of narcotics through Mexico. Once the South American cartels encountered serious problems bringing narcotics directly into the United States, they began to focus more on transporting the narcotics to Mexico. From that point, the Mexican cartels transported them north and then handed them off to U.S. street gangs and other organizations, which handled much of the narcotics distribution inside the United States. In recent years, however, these Mexican groups have grown in power and have begun to take greater control of the entire narcotics-trafficking supply chain.

With greater control comes greater profitability as the percentages demanded by middlemen are cut out. The Mexican cartels have worked to have a greater presence in Central and South America, and now import from South America into Mexico an increasing percentage of the products they sell. They are also diversifying their routes and have gone global; they now even traffic their wares to Europe. At the same time, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations also have increased their distribution operations inside the United States to expand their profits even further. As these Mexican organizations continue to spread beyond the border areas, their profits and power will extend even further — and they will bring their culture of violence to new areas.

Burned in Phoenix

The spillover of violence from Mexico began some time ago in border towns like Laredo and El Paso in Texas, where merchants and wealthy families face extortion and kidnapping threats from Mexican gangs, and where drug dealers who refuse to pay “taxes” to Mexican cartel bosses are gunned down. But now, the threat posed by Mexican criminals is beginning to spread north from the U.S.-Mexican border. One location that has felt this expanding threat most acutely is Phoenix, some 185 miles north of the border. Some sensational cases have highlighted the increased threat in Phoenix, such as a June 2008 armed assault in which a group of heavily armed cartel gunmen dressed like a Phoenix Police Department tactical team fired more than 100 rounds into a residence during the targeted killing of a Jamaican drug dealer who had double-crossed a Mexican cartel. We have also observed cartel-related violence in places like Dallas and Austin, Texas. But Phoenix has been the hardest hit.

Narcotics smuggling and drug-related assassinations are not the only thing the Mexican criminals have brought to Phoenix. Other criminal gangs have been heavily involved in human smuggling, arms smuggling, money laundering and other crimes. Due to the confluence of these Mexican criminal gangs, Phoenix has now become the kidnapping-for-ransom capital of the United States. According to a Phoenix Police Department source, the department received 368 kidnapping reports last year. As we discussed last week, kidnapping is a highly underreported crime in places such as Mexico, making it very difficult to measure accurately. Based upon experience with kidnapping statistics in other parts of the world — specifically Latin America — it would not be unreasonable to assume that there were at least as many unreported kidnappings in Phoenix as there are reported kidnappings.

At present, the kidnapping environment in the United States is very different from that of Mexico, Guatemala or Colombia. In those countries, kidnapping runs rampant and has become a well-developed industry with a substantial established infrastructure. Police corruption and incompetence ensures that kidnappers are rarely caught or successfully prosecuted.

A variety of motives can lie behind kidnappings. In the United States, crime statistics demonstrate that motives such as sexual exploitation, custody disputes and short-term kidnapping for robbery have far surpassed the number of reported kidnappings conducted for ransom. In places like Mexico, kidnapping for ransom is much more common.

The FBI handles kidnapping investigations in the United States. It has developed highly sophisticated teams of agents and resources to devote to investigating this type of crime. Local police departments are also far more proficient and professional in the United States than in Mexico. Because of the advanced capabilities of law enforcement in the United States, the overwhelming majority of criminals involved in kidnapping-for-ransom cases reported to police — between 95 percent and 98 percent — are caught and convicted. There are also stiff federal penalties for kidnapping. Because of this, kidnapping for ransom has become a relatively rare crime in the United States.

Most kidnapping for ransom that does happen in the United States occurs within immigrant communities. In these cases, the perpetrators and victims belong to the same immigrant group (e.g., Chinese Triad gangs kidnapping the families of Chinese businesspeople, or Haitian criminals kidnapping Haitian immigrants) — which is what is happening in Phoenix. The vast majority of the 368 known kidnapping victims in Phoenix are Mexican and Central American immigrants who are being victimized by Mexican or Mexican-American criminals.

The problem in Phoenix involves two main types of kidnapping. One is the abduction of drug dealers or their children, the other is the abduction of illegal aliens.

Drug-related kidnappings often are not strict kidnappings for ransom per se. Instead, they are intended to force the drug dealer to repay a debt to the drug trafficking organization that ordered the kidnapping.

Nondrug-related kidnappings are very different from traditional kidnappings in Mexico or the United States, in which a high-value target is abducted and held for a large ransom. Instead, some of the gangs operating in Phoenix are basing their business model on volume, and are willing to hold a large number of victims for a much smaller individual pay out. Reports have emerged of kidnapping gangs in Phoenix carjacking entire vans full of illegal immigrants away from the coyote smuggling them into the United States. The kidnappers then transport the illegal immigrants to a safe house, where they are held captive in squalid conditions — and often tortured or sexually assaulted with a family member listening in on the phone — to coerce the victims’ family members in the United States or Mexico to pay the ransom for their release. There are also reports of the gangs picking up vehicles full of victims at day labor sites and then transporting them to the kidnap ping safe house rather than to the purported work site.

Drug-related kidnappings are less frequent than the nondrug-related abduction of illegal immigrants, but in both types of abductions, the victims are not likely to seek police assistance due to their immigration status or their involvement in illegal activity. This strongly suggests the kidnapping problem greatly exceeds the number of cases reported to police.

Implications for the United States

The kidnapping gangs in Phoenix that target illegal immigrants have found their chosen crime to be lucrative and relatively risk-free. If the flow of illegal immigrants had continued at high levels, there is very little doubt the kidnappers’ operations would have continued as they have for the past few years. The current economic downturn, however, means the flow of illegal immigrants has begun to slow — and by some accounts has even begun to reverse. (Reports suggest many Mexicans are returning home after being unable to find jobs in the United States.)

This reduction in the pool of targets means that we might be fast approaching a point where these groups, which have become accustomed to kidnapping as a source of easy money — and their primary source of income — might be forced to change their method of operating to make a living. While some might pursue other types of criminal activity, some might well decide to diversify their pool of victims. Watching for this shift in targeting is of critical importance. Were some of these gangs to begin targeting U.S. citizens rather than just criminals or illegal immigrants, a tremendous panic would ensue, along with demands to catch the perpetrators.

Such a shift would bring a huge amount of law enforcement pressure onto the kidnapping gangs, to include the FBI. While the FBI is fairly hard-pressed for resources given its heavy counterterrorism, foreign counterintelligence and white-collar crime caseload, it almost certainly would be able to reassign the resources needed to respond to such kidnappings in the face of publicity and a public outcry. Such a law enforcement effort could neutralize these gangs fairly quickly, but probably not quickly enough to prevent any victims from being abducted or harmed.

Since criminal groups are not comprised of fools alone, at least some of these groups will realize that targeting soccer moms will bring an avalanche of law enforcement attention upon them. Therefore, it is very likely that if kidnapping targets become harder to find in Phoenix — or if the law enforcement environment becomes too hostile due to the growing realization of this problem — then the groups may shift geography rather than targeting criteria. In such a scenario, professional kidnapping gangs from Phoenix might migrate to other locations with large communities of Latin American illegal immigrants to victimize. Some of these locations could be relatively close to the Mexican border like Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, San Diego or Los Angeles, though they could also include locations farther inland like Chicago, Atlanta, New York, or even the communities around meat and poultry packing plants in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states. Such a migration of ethn ic criminals would not be unprecedented: Chinese Triad groups from New York for some time have traveled elsewhere on the East Coast, like Atlanta, to engage in extortion and kidnapping against Chinese businessmen there.

The issue of Mexican drug-traffic organizations kidnapping in the United States merits careful attention, especially since criminal gangs in other areas of the country could start imitating the tactics of the Phoenix gangs.

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Georgia Prepares to Repel Russian Aggression

Speculation over a possible military provocation by Russia against Georgia intensified after the statement by Pavel Felgenhauer, a well-known Russian military analyst, that Russia will try to renew hostilities with Georgia with the arrival of spring:

At present the Georgian army is much less battle-ready than it was before August. As a result, “the security and the country’s level of defense ability are in question” (Georgian Times, February 12, 2009).

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The Russian Federation is developing signs of the initial stage of a breakup

“As a scholar, I establish the fact that the Russian Federation is developing signs of the initial stage of a breakup,” Professor Alexei Malashenko, Scholar-in-Residence of the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Jamestown on February 12. “Not unlike the case of the USSR, the current economic crisis threatens to bring already badly strained internal ties to the breaking point.”

The first parts to break away, Malashenko believes, will be the Kaliningrad enclave, wedged between Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus and firmly oriented to Europe, and the Far East on the opposite side of this country, firmly locked economically to China, Japan, and South Korea.

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Eastern Europe Credit Crisis

Economic Crisis Hits Eastern Europe
(See 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.) The IMF, which has
already provided $39 billion in emergency loans to shore up Eastern
European economies …

As It Falters, Eastern Europe Raises Risks
New York Times, United States – Feb 23, 2009
“International credit markets are linked, and so a snowballing credit crisis in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries could cause New York municipal bonds
Eastern Europe: The Makings Of A Cross-Border Banking Nightmare? RGE Monitor
Let The East Into The Eurozone Now! RGE Monitor
While Rome Burns RGE Monitor

The Looming Collapse of European Banking Lew Rockwell
Next Wave of Banking Crisis to Come from Eastern Europe The Market Oracle

World Bank Urges Eastern Europe Help
BusinessWeek – Feb 19, 2009
While central and eastern economies have been harmed by the economic slowdown that resulted from the financial crisis in the west, several western European
Eastern European banks Economist

A tale of two Labors
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia – Feb 23, 2009
The potential financial meltdown in Eastern Europe is more dire than the Asian economic crisis of the 1990s. The International Monetary Fund has staged

EU mulls action as Ukraine crumble triggers contagion fears for Europe
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom – Feb 18, 2009
Europe’s institutions are scrambling for ways to prevent financial contagion from Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe from setting off a full-blown

Eastern Europe 1
Ninemsn, Australia – Feb 18, 2009
Central and eastern Europe faces a classic emerging markets crisis and, like all such crises, its troubles spread afar. The pattern is familiar.
EMERGING MARKETS-E.Europe wins respite, rouble sinks Alibaba News Channel
all 7 news articles »

EU leaders turn to IMF amid financial crisis
International Herald Tribune, France – Feb 22, 2009
Eyeing a contagion that is rapidly spreading to eastern Europe and even countries that use the euro, the leaders highlighted the crisis-prevention role of

Eastern crisis that could wreck the eurozone
Baltic Business News, Europe – Feb 23, 2009
A far more imminent danger lurks in central and eastern Europe. The possibility of a financial collapse there is the most urgent policy issue the European

ForexTV.com, NY – Feb 18, 2009
First, Eastern European markets remain in rough shape. Credit default swaps on some sovereign debt are at all-time highs with Hungarian CDS rates around

‘Bombed Syrian reactor now missile base’

Syria has revealed that it has built a missile facility over the ruins of what the US says was a nuclear reactor destroyed by IAF warplanes, diplomats said Tuesday.

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Syria set up missile facility at suspect nuclear site
CNN International?41 minutes ago?
(CNN) — Syria’s nuclear chief told members of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency Tuesday that his country has built a military missile facility at

Syria Discloses Missile Facility, Europeans Say
New York Times?1 hour ago?
By WILLIAM J. BROAD Syria has built a missile facility on the ruins of a possible nuclear reactor that Israeli warplanes bombed in 2007, European diplomats

Syria built missile facility on alleged reactor site
Jewish Telegraphic Agency?5 hours ago?
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Syria built a missile facility on the site of an alleged nuclear reactor, according to reports. Syria’s nuclear chief reportedly told the

Syria dismisses IAEA uranium find at bombed site
Reuters?8 hours ago?
By Mark Heinrich VIENNA (Reuters) – Syria said on Tuesday UN inspectors’ discovery of uranium traces at an alleged secret nuclear site was not “significant”

Diplomats:Syria puts missile facility on hit site
The Associated Press?8 hours ago?
VIENNA (AP) — Diplomats say Syria has indicated it has built a missile facility on the site of an alleged nuclear reactor that Israeli warplanes bombed.

No graphite found by IAEA at suspect site: Syria
AFP?9 hours ago?
VIENNA (AFP) — Syria rejected Tuesday a claim by a UN watchdog that traces of graphite, a key element used in the core of nuclear reactors, had been found

Can Iran make a nuclear bomb? No so fast, analysts say (Feature)
Monsters and Critics.com?2 hours ago?
By Albert Otti Feb 25, 2009, 1:07 GMT Vienna – It’s an argument over one figure: With 1010 kilogrammes of low-enriched uranium, does Iran have the

Does Iran Care About Having Safe Nuclear Reactors?
UN Dispatch?5 hours ago?
Judah Grunstein of World Politics Review sees an opportunity for international cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program in what would seem to be a pretty

Syria rejects IAEA claims of uranium at desert site
IranVNC?5 hours ago?
Washington, 24 February (IranVNC)—Syria today rejected a claim by the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] that “significant” amounts of uranium had

Syria Masked Suspected Bombed Nuclear Site with Missile Facility
Arutz Sheva?6 hours ago?
by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu (IsraelNN.com) Syria told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it built a missile facility at the site of a suspected