Category Archives: Asia

Someone is learning & practicing how to take down the Internet

Bruce Schneider is an expert in cyber-security, the Chief Technology Officer of Resilient, an IBM Company, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, and a board member of Electronic Frontier Foundation — an organization defending our rights in the digital world.

In a blog post, Schneider sounds the alarm that in the past year, the websites of major companies that provide the Internet’s basic services repeatedly have been attacked, each time more sophisticated than the last, which suggests “someone” is practicing how to take down the Internet by learning from the companies’ defensive moves.

cyberwar

Below is Bruce Schneider’s blog post of Sept. 13, 2016, “Someone is Learning How to Take Down the Internet“:

Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down. We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large nation state. China or Russia would be my first guesses.

First, a little background. If you want to take a network off the Internet, the easiest way to do it is with a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS). Like the name says, this is an attack designed to prevent legitimate users from getting to the site. There are subtleties, but basically it means blasting so much data at the site that it’s overwhelmed. These attacks are not new: hackers do this to sites they don’t like, and criminals have done it as a method of extortion. There is an entire industry, with an arsenal of technologies, devoted to DDoS defense. But largely it’s a matter of bandwidth. If the attacker has a bigger fire hose of data than the defender has, the attacker wins.

Recently, some of the major companies that provide the basic infrastructure that makes the Internet work have seen an increase in DDoS attacks against them. Moreover, they have seen a certain profile of attacks. These attacks are significantly larger than the ones they’re used to seeing. They last longer. They’re more sophisticated. And they look like probing. One week, the attack would start at a particular level of attack and slowly ramp up before stopping. The next week, it would start at that higher point and continue. And so on, along those lines, as if the attacker were looking for the exact point of failure.

The attacks are also configured in such a way as to see what the company’s total defenses are. There are many different ways to launch a DDoS attack. The more attack vectors you employ simultaneously, the more different defenses the defender has to counter with. These companies are seeing more attacks using three or four different vectors. This means that the companies have to use everything they’ve got to defend themselves. They can’t hold anything back. They’re forced to demonstrate their defense capabilities for the attacker.

I am unable to give details, because these companies spoke with me under condition of anonymity. But this all is consistent with what Verisign is reporting. Verisign is the registrar for many popular top-level Internet domains, like .com and .net. If it goes down, there’s a global blackout of all websites and e-mail addresses in the most common top-level domains. Every quarter, Verisign publishes a DDoS trends report. While its publication doesn’t have the level of detail I heard from the companies I spoke with, the trends are the same: “in Q2 2016, attacks continued to become more frequent, persistent, and complex.”

There’s more. One company told me about a variety of probing attacks in addition to the DDoS attacks: testing the ability to manipulate Internet addresses and routes, seeing how long it takes the defenders to respond, and so on. Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services.

Who would do this? It doesn’t seem like something an activist, criminal, or researcher would do. Profiling core infrastructure is common practice in espionage and intelligence gathering. It’s not normal for companies to do that. Furthermore, the size and scale of these probes — and especially their persistence — points to state actors. It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the US’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.

What can we do about this? Nothing, really. We don’t know where the attacks come from. The data I see suggests China, an assessment shared by the people I spoke with. On the other hand, it’s possible to disguise the country of origin for these sorts of attacks. The NSA, which has more surveillance in the Internet backbone than everyone else combined, probably has a better idea, but unless the US decides to make an international incident over this, we won’t see any attribution.

But this is happening. And people should know.

A reader of Schneider’s blog-post, Random Guy 17, wrote this interesting comment:

“An attack on a service is best done by an attacker that doesn’t need that service. You don’t pull the plug on the power company that supplies your own home/business.

With that in mind, a closed, not highly Internet enabled country makes the most sense- like China.”

It should be noted that in two weeks, on October 1, control of the Internet — specifically, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — will pass from U.S. administration to a multilateral body, most likely the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU). (Breitbart)

-StMA

Advertisements

International tribunal rejects China’s territorial claims in South China Sea

China’s territorial claims over the South China Sea were dealt a blow today when in a landmark ruling, an international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, rejected Beijing’s claims.

Six regional governments have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, waters that are rich in fishing stocks and potential energy resources and where an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year.

South China Sea - China's claim

South China Sea – China’s claims

The AP reports that China claims vast areas of the South China Sea have been Chinese territory since ancient times and demarcated its modern claims with the so-called nine-dash line, a map that was submitted under the U.N. treaty.

In 2013, under a U.N. treaty governing the seas, the Philippines had asked The Hague for arbitration on a number of issues it had with treaty co-signee China, on the grounds that China’s claims infringe upon the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

On July 12, 2016, the five-member panel from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, unanimously ruled against China. The tribunal also found the following:

  • Any historical resource rights China may have had in the South China Sea are nulled if they are incompatible with exclusive economic zones established under the U.N. treaty signed by both China and the Philippines.
  • China had violated its obligations to refrain from aggravating the regional dispute while the settlement process was ongoing.
  • By building up artificial islands in the Sea, China had caused “permanent irreparable harm” to the coral reef ecosystem.
  • China had violated the Philippines’ maritime rights by:
    • Disrupting Philippine’ oil exploration at Reed Bank.
    • Disrupting fishing by Philippine vessels within the country’s exclusive economic zone, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal.

China, which boycotted the entire proceedings, immediately rejected the ruling as a “farce” and “a US-led conspiracy,” and declared it does not accept the panel’s jurisdiction. Beijing regards bilateral talks with the other claimants as the only way to address the South China Sea disputes.

China’s foreign ministry declared that “the award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it,” and that “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards.” The ministry repeated China’s often-expressed stance that the Philippines’ move to initiate arbitration without China’s consent was in “bad faith” and in violation of international law.

The editor-in-chief of China.org.cn writes:

The U.S. actions near China, particularly those on the South China Sea issues, are part of its Asia-Pacific Rebalance strategies. Its intentions are no more than containing China to preserve its interests in the Asia-Pacific region and its global hegemony.

The U.S. motives are apparent to the world, especially to the Chinese people. The current China is nothing like the country it was one hundred years ago. Any act that tries to violate China’s territorial sovereignty will fail.

Although the tribunal has no power of enforcement, nor can its findings reverse China’s actions, nevertheless the ruling constitutes a rebuke with the force of the international community’s opinion. A professor of Asian political economy said the ruling could be a “transformative moment” in the region. Speaking outside the Peace Palace in The Hague, Leiden University professor Jonathan London said the decision will “give countries with a common interest in international norms something to point to and to rally around.” He said they can say to China: “Look, here are the results of an international organization that has found that your claims have zero historical basis.”

The tribunal’s decision also gives heart to small countries in Asia that have helplessly chafed at China’s expansionism, backed by its military and economic power.

In Manila, dozens of rallying Filipinos jumped for joy, wept, embraced each other and waved Philippine flags after news of their victory. One held up a poster that said: “Philippine sovereignty, non-negotiable.”

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay hailed the ruling as a “milestone decision” and “an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea,” and called on “all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety.” For his part, Philippines’ former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who helped oversee the filing of the case at Hague, said the ruling underscored “our collective belief that right is might and that international law is the great equalizer among states.” He urged that the ruling be accepted by all relevant countries — without exception — in order to maintain international order “so that we can work together on how remaining issues can be peacefully resolved.”

Vietnam’s government also welcomed the ruling. Just today, Vietnam accused Chinese vessels of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in disputed waters. Nguyen Thanh Hung, a local fisheries executive in the central province of Quang Ngai, said two Chinese vessels chased and sank the Vietnamese boat around midday Saturday as it was fishing near the Paracel islands. The five fishermen were rescued by another trawler around seven hours later.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the tribunal’s decision is “final and legally binding” and that the two sides should comply with it. He said in a statement that “Japan strongly expects that the parties’ compliance with this award will eventually lead to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.”

The disputes have also increased friction between China and the United States. Washington has ramped up U.S. military presence in the region as China expands its navy’s reach farther offshore.

At a news conference in Afghanistan where he was meeting with U.S. commanders, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the ruling is an opportunity for everyone in the region to act in a sensible way in accordance with the rule of law in order to settle disputes. The United States has not taken sides in the South China Sea disputes but has worked to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

See also:

Israel aids Muslim jihadists in Syria with weapons, air strikes, and medical care for the wounded

5 years ago, on December 18, 2010, a popular uprising in Tunisia began a wave of protests, demonstrations, riots and civil wars in the Arab world which the West enthusiastically praised and romanticized by calling the convulsions “Arab Spring.

By the end of February 2012, rulers had been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen; civil uprisings had erupted in Bahrain and Syria; major protests had broken out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan; and minor protests had occurred in Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Western Sahara, and Palestine.

Instead of the West’s expectation that the convulsions heralded a springtime for democracy in the Arab world, what resulted was the electoral success of Islamist parties, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. All of which led some to characterize the convulsions as an Islamist Winter.

The on-going civil war in Syria between so-called “Syrian rebels” and the duly elected Ba’athist government of Bashar al-Assad had begun as “Arab Spring” civil uprisings in the spring of 2011.

In 2013, the Obama administration, together with Senate Republicans like John McCain, had agitated for a war to topple Assad. (See “Pulitzer-award journalist says Obama admin made up intelligence for war on Syria“)

Since then, the United States has continued to provide aid in training and weapons to the “Syrian rebels” hellbent on overthrowing the Assad government — the main opponent of ISIS or Islamic State in Syria. (See “CIA expands Obama-approved training of Syrian militants”)

The Obama administration insists that only “moderate” rebels are aided, but it is a known fact that those insurgents include al-Qaeda and ISIS. If Assad is overthrown, the overwhelming likelihood is that Syria will descend into chaos, with the apocalyptic and brutal Islamic State eventually seizing political power. (See “Despite months of U.S. air strikes, ISIS now controls a third of Syria“)

And now, with the Russian and Chinese military aiding Assad, the stakes are raised even higher, transforming Syria into an arena for a WWIII between superpowers.

None of that is in the interests of the United States, or so a rational person would think.

A little-reported and little-publicized fact is that Israel is exacerbating the descent of Syria into chaos by providing so-called Syrian “rebels” with:

1. free medical care to wounded “rebels”

Foreign Policy reports that according to a United Nations report, Syrian “rebels” have transported scores of wounded Syrians across a cease-fire line that has separated Israel from Syria since 1974. Once in Israel, they receive medical treatment in a field clinic before being sent back to Syria to continue their civil war against Assad. 

Daily Mail journalists embedded with Israeli troops report:

Almost every night, Israeli troops run secret missions to save the lives of Syrian fighters, all of whom are sworn enemies of the Jewish state…. Analysts suggest the Jewish state has in fact struck a deadly ‘deal with the devil’ – offering support to the Sunni militants who fight the Syrian ruler Assad in the hope of containing its arch enemies Hezbollah and Iran…. Many of the casualties rescued by Israel belong to Salafist groups …. Some may be members of Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian group affiliated to Al Qaeda that has kidnapped scores of UN peacekeeping troops in this area, and has massacred Christians deeper in Syria…. In the three years that Israel has been running these operations, it has saved the lives of more than 2,000 Syrians – at least 80 per cent of whom are male and of fighting age – at a cost of 50 million shekels (£8.7 million)…. 

2. Weapons

Israel is also providing weapons to those Syrian “rebels”.

The Times of Israel reports that Sharif As-Safouri, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Haramein Battalion, who was arrested on July 22 by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front near the Israeli border, told his captors he collaborated with Israel in return for medical and military support.

Safouri can be seen in the video above admitting to having entered Israel five times to meet with Israeli officers who later provided him with Soviet anti-tank weapons and light arms:

“The [opposition] factions would receive support and send the injured in [to Israel] on condition that the Israeli fence area is secured. No person was allowed to come near the fence without prior coordination with Israel authorities.”

Safouri said that at first he met with an Israeli officer named Ashraf at the border and was given an Israeli cellular phone. He later met with another officer named Younis and with the two men’s commander, Abu Daoud. In total, Safouri said he entered Israel five times for meetings that took place in Tiberias. Following the meetings, Israel began providing Safouri and his men with “basic medical support and clothes” as well as weapons, which included 30 Russian [rifles], 10 RPG launchers with 47 rockets, and 48,000 5.56 millimeter bullets.

3. Bombing Syria

The Guardian reports that the Syrian government claimed that, on Dec. 7, 2015, Israeli jets bombed two installations in Syria, one near the capital, Damascus, and the second in a town near the Lebanese border.

The report by Syrian state television described the attack as “an aggression”. The state news agency Sana said: “The Israeli enemy attacked Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the area of Damascus international airport.”

No casualties were reported and there was no immediate comment from Israeli officials.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the country’s civil war through a network of activists on the ground, said the strike near the Damascus airport hit a warehouse, and it was unclear what was in the building. The target of the strikes might have been advanced Russian-made S300 surface-to-air missiles.

The December 7 bombings are not the first Israeli air strikes in Syria. Israel has carried out several air strikes in Syria since the revolt against the Assad government began in March 2011. In June 2015, Israel struck targets inside Syria, including a military installation, following a cross-border attack that killed an Israeli teenager. Israel said at the time that it had struck nine military targets inside Syria and had confirmed “direct hits”.

Why

George Washington writes for ZeroHedge, Dec. 14, 2015, that although Israel claims to be in a mortal struggle with Islamic terrorists, apparently some Islamic terrorists — Sunnis — are better than others.

Michael Stephens, Research Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), explains:

“Above all, Israel wants to prevent Hezbollah from gaining control on the other side of the border. The Sunni militants are fighting Hezbollah, so for now they share the same objectives as Israel. That’s why we’re seeing this odd cooperation between people who would be enemies under any other circumstances.”

Indeed, an Israeli spokesman confirmed that no medical support has been provided to any militants from the Shia (or Shi’ite) alliance.

Kamal Alam, research analyst at RUSI and an expert in Syrian affairs, said:

“From an Israeli viewpoint, it’s a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. There is no one they can trust in the Syrian quagmire, but if you get rid of Hezbollah, that’s the end of Iran in the region. Israel’s main aim has to be to eliminate Hezbollah – and whoever takes on Hezbollah is an uneasy but necessary ally. [But in] giving medical support to these fighters, Israel has done a deal with the devil.

In fact, Israel has made no secret of the fact that it prefers ISIS and Al Qaeda to the Iranian backed terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. In September 2013, outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview:

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc.… We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.

He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

In June 2014, speaking at an Aspen Institute conference, Oren extended Israel’s preference to include the apocalyptic Islamic State or ISIS. He said: “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail.”

Washington’s Blog points out that Israel’s support for al-Qaeda and Islamic State isn’t just about Iran or Shia Muslims. Israel decided long ago to break up Syria and Iraq into numerous mini-states, in part because a compliant government in Syria would allow Israel’s pipelines to win out over competing pipelines.

All of which would explain why, as Reuters puts it, “Israel loses no sleep over Islamic State”. Reuters’ Dimi Reider writes:

At first sight, it seems that Israel is just as preoccupied with the rise of Islamic State as anyone else….

Still, Israel remains the least concerned and least directly threatened country in a region increasingly rocked by Islamic State’s advance. It certainly does not see the group as an external threat. Shocking though the events in Syria and Iraq are, Israel is far beyond the range of even the most sophisticated of Islamic State’s weapons. The group’s immediate territorial interests do not extend to anywhere near Israeli borders, and its support in areas adjacent to Israel is still negligible.  What’s more, unlike many militant groups and states in the region, Islamic State has declared itself emphatically disinterested in intervening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, preferring instead to draw its support from Sunni revanchism and introducing a semblance of order into war-torn regions of Iraq.

Islamic State also does not yet pose an internal threat to Israel. Unlike most countries bordering Syria, Israel has not been politically or demographically unsettled by the civil war there….

Even attempts by Israeli centrists and the U.S. to tie progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to the fight against Islamic State have left Israel unmoved…. Israel has been able to extract some short-term gains from unfolding catastrophe. With the West again mobilizing against a radical Islamist group, Netanyahu find himself on the familiar turf of the “war on terror.” He is capitalizing on this by trying to equate Palestinian nationalism — especially the religious wing of it — with Islamic State at every conceivable opportunity….

More shockingly, there are some who say ISIS, which became the Islamic State, was a creation of Israel:

The 97-year-old wire service Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Aug. 13, 2014:

A senior employee of the Dutch Justice Ministry said the jihadist group ISIS was created by Zionists seeking to give Islam a bad reputation.

Yasmina Haifi, a project leader at the ministry’s National Cyber Security Center, made the assertion Wednesday on Twitter, the De Telegraaf daily reported.

“ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. It’s part of a plan by Zionists who are deliberately trying to blacken Islam’s name,” wrote Haifi, who described herself on the social network LinkedIn as an activist for the Dutch Labor Party, or PvdA.

Haifi later removed her original message, explaining, “I realize the political sensitivity in connection with my work. That was not my intention.”

Blogger George Washington of ZeroHedge asks: “Perhaps that’s why ISIS, Al Nusra and the other Islamic terrorists in Syria haven’t tried to lay a glove on Israel?” He points out the following disturbing facts:

Writing for Consortiumnews.com, Robert Parry warns:

The Saudi-Israeli alliance has gone on the offensive, ramping up a “regime change” war in Syria and, in effect, promoting a military victory for Al-Qaeda or its spinoff, the Islamic State. But the consequences of that victory could toll the final bell for the American Republic….

As much fun as the “who lost Syria” finger-pointing would be, it would soon give way to the horror of what would likely unfold in Syria with either Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front or the spin-off Islamic State in charge – or possibly a coalition of the two with Al-Qaeda using its new base to plot terror attacks on the West while the Islamic State engaged in its favorite pastime, those YouTube decapitations of infidels….

Such a spectacle would be hard for the world to watch and there would be demands on President Obama or his successor to “do something.” But realistic options would be few, with a shattered and scattered Syrian army no longer a viable force capable of driving the terrorists from power.

The remaining option would be to send in the American military, perhaps with some European allies, to try to dislodge Al-Qaeda and/or the Islamic State. But the prospects for success would be slim. The goal of conquering Syria – and possibly re-conquering much of Iraq as well – would be costly, bloody and almost certainly futile.

The further diversion of resources and manpower from America’s domestic needs also would fuel the growing social discontent in major U.S. cities…. A new war in the Middle East would accelerate America’s descent into bankruptcy and a dystopian police state.

The last embers of the American Republic would fade. In its place would be endless war and a single-minded devotion to security. The National Security Agency already has in place the surveillance capabilities to ensure that any civil resistance could be thwarted.

See also:

-StMA

70% of U.S. youth are too fat, uneducated, and criminal to serve in military

childhood obesity rates of U.S., China, Japan, So. Korea & India

Michael Cook reports for MercatorNet, Nov. 9, 2015, that in a 2009 report, Ready, Willing, And Unable To Serve, more than 450 retired generals and admirals in a lobby group called Mission Readiness concluded that young Americans are “too fat to fight” and that “The best aircraft, ships and satellite-guided weaponry alone will not be enough to keep our country strong”.

According to the report:

Startling statistics released by the Pentagon show that 75 percent of young people ages 17 to 24 are currently unable to enlist in the United States military. Three of the most common barriers for potential recruits are failure to graduate high school, a criminal record, and physical fitness issues, including obesity.

That was in 2009. Alas, nothing has changed since.

Mission Readiness 2014 report, Retreat is Not an Option,  found that:

Obesity is one of the main reasons why more than 70 percent of young Americans are unable to serve in today’s military. This includes young adults in families with generations of military service, and others who have the critical skills our military needs but cannot join simply because of too many extra pounds.

There are 3 reasons for why 75% of young Americans are unfit to serve in the U.S. military:

  1. Inadequate education: About 25% of young Americans lack a high school diploma. Even those who have one, many are substandard at reading and mathematics, which explains why as many as 30% of potential recruits with a diploma fail the Armed Forces Qualification Test.
  2. Criminal records: About 10% of young U.S. adults are disqualified because they have had at least one prior conviction for a felony or serious misdemeanour. According to the Pew Center on the States, “One in 30 [American young] men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars.”
  3. Obesity and other health problems: 27% of young Americans are too fat to join the military. Many never even try to join. But of those who do, 15,000 fail their entrance physicals every year because they are too fat. Another 32% of all young people have other disqualifying health problems –asthma, eyesight or hearing problems, mental health issues, or recent treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In total, half of young U.S. adults cannot join because of health problems.

Study after study show that the best early education program is a stable home with a loving mother and father. But the Obama administration’s Pentagon, instead of realising that young Americans need the strength and security that comes from intact biological families, recommend the usual government solution — better early education programs, better school meals, and better physical education programs. What the Pentagon refuses to say for politically correct reasons, is that America’s national security is at risk because America’s families are dysfunctional.

This is emphasized by a 2014 report by Brad Wilcox and Robert I. Lerman for the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, which concluded that:

“what is largely missing from the public conversation about economics in America is an honest discussion of the family factor. The retreat from marriage … plays a key role in the changing economic fortunes of American family life. Growing up with both parents (in an intact family) is strongly associated with more education, work, and income among today’s young men and women.”

And they make better soldiers, too.

Retired Rear Admiral James Barnett said, “Our national security in the year 2030 is absolutely dependent upon what is going on in pre-kindergarten today.” In healthy families, kids learn to respect authority, value education and take responsibility for their health. They learn how to cooperate and to work as a team. They build a stronger moral sense. And all this costs the taxpayer nothing, unlike the government-funded programs recommended by the retired generals and admirals.

But after two generations of me-centred marriages and unstable families, America’s human capital increasingly is degraded. The introduction of same-sex marriage would only accelerate the process. As The Economist says about the challenges ahead: “The result is that America may be unable, within reasonable cost limits and without reinstituting the draft, to raise the much bigger army it might need for such wars.

At the moment, the Pentagon relies upon a weak job market to lure young men and women into the services. But it worries and should worry about what will happen when the economy eventually picks up.

Lastly, America’s obese young are not just bad for the military, they constitute a looming national health crisis.

Time magazine reports that researchers at a recent American Heart Association annual meeting in Florida warned that excess weight in children can lead to potentially harmful changes in the hearts of kids as young as 8.

Linyuan Jing, a post doctoral fellow from the Geisinger Health System, and her colleagues studied 20 obese children—i.e., those with a body mass index over 35, whereas a healthy range is 18.5 to 25—and 20 normal-weight children. All had MRIs of their hearts.

The researchers found that obese children:

  1. have 12% thicker heart muscle overall compared to the normal-weight children. Thicker heart muscle means the heart is working harder to pump blood. Previous studies have linked thickened heart muscle in adults to premature death from heart-related causes.
  2. show 27% thicker left ventricles, the chamber of the heart responsible for pumping blood to the body.
  3. show signs of having less cardiac muscle contractility, which is a possible early sign of decreased heart function.

Jing said, “It’s surprising to see evidence of heart disease among eight year olds. Because that implies that children younger than eight could have signs of heart disease as well.”

-StMA

China announces biggest overhaul of military in 60+ years

Xi Jinping, President & head of PLA

Xi Jinping, President & head of PLA

Citing China’s official Xinhua News Agency, Bloomberg News reports on Nov. 26, 2015 that at the end of a three-day meeting in Beijing attended by about 200 top Chinese military officials, President Xi Jinping Xi announced a major overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest army, to make it more combat ready (“an elite combat force”) and better equipped to project force beyond China’s borders by 2020.

Upon taking power in 2012, Xi also became chairman of the Central Military Commission. He is directly managing the overhaul.

“This is the biggest military overhaul since the 1950s,” said Yue Gang, a retired colonel in the PLA’s General Staff Department. “The reform shakes the very foundations of China’s Soviet Union-style military system and transferring to a U.S. style joint command structure will transform China’s PLA into a specialized armed force that could pack more of a punch in the world.”

The overhaul of the PLA will include:

  1. All branches of the PLA would come under a joint military or forces command. In its annual report to the U.S. Congress in May, the Pentagon said creating joint-command entities “would be the most significant changes to the PLA’s command organization since 1949.”
  2. China’s seven military regions may be merged into four. (The PLA’s last major overhaul — carried out under Deng Xiaoping in 1985 — had reduced the number of military regions to 7 from 11.)
  3. The PLA will be leaner by shedding 300,000 troops. (The reform of 1985 reduced the PLA by some 1 million soldiers.)
  4. Stronger top leader: Yue said “The reform enhanced the power of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and its chairman [Xi Jinping] . . . as the former CMC chairman had little real power over the armed forces.” Xi Jinping has made the military one of the targets of his anti-corruption campaign as he consolidates his power over the PLA. Two former CMC vice-chairman were both expelled from the party since Xi took power in 2012, as were dozens of generals accused of everything from embezzling public funds to selling ranks.
  5. Strengthen the Communist Party’s grip on the military by building a new disciplinary structure and a new legal and political committee to make sure the army is under “the rule of law”.

Under Xi, China has been more assertive over territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea, raising tensions with neighbors such as Japan and the Philippines, as well as with the United States. In the South China Sea, the PLA is constructing artificial islands with military installations.  Xi’s policy marks a shift from China’s previous approach under Deng Xiaoping of keeping a low profile and not attracting attention on the world stage.

The overhaul of the Chinese military into “an elite combat force” also includes armed attack robots.

PLA armed attack robotAs reported by Neil Connor for The Telegraph, Nov. 26, 2015, “armed attack” robots that carry rifles and grenade launchers were recently unveiled at the 2015 World Robot Conference in Beijing. China’s state media called the robots the latest line of defense in the fight against “global terror”.

Xinhua news agency said the toy-sized attacker is one of a trio of new “anti-terror” machines that “can coordinate with each other on the battlefield.”

The first model is known as a “reconnaissance” robot, which scouts for poisonous gases, dangerous chemicals and explosives before transmitting its findings back to base. If this initial investigation detects a simple bomb is the source of danger, the second robot model – a small explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) machine – would be sent in to diffuse it.

But with other, more complicated threats, an attacker robot would start its mission, armed with “minor-caliber weapons, recoilless rifles and grenade launchers”. Xinhua said, “With a sighting telescope, a trigger and a safe installed, the attacker can hit its target from a long distance.

The local police force in Beijing was reported to be among the buyers for the three robots, which are priced at 1.5 million yuan (£156,000) for the set by manufacturers HIT Robot Group, based in the northern city of Harbin. The company’s sales manager Chen Deqiang said, “Apart from anti-terror operations, they can also be applied in fire fighting, public security, forestry and agriculture.”

-StMA

Russian intelligence says ISIS and Taliban amassing on Afghan border for invasion of Central Asia

ISIS to invade Central Asia

Nick Gutteridge reports for the UK Express, that Russian intelligence claims that huge numbers of Islamist fighters — ISIS and Taliban — are massing on Afghanistan’s northern border, ready for an invasion of central Asia.

Speaking at a meeting of special services from the Commonwealth of Independent States, Moscow’s spy chief Alexander Bortnikov warned that heavily-armed Taliban fighters, many of whom have pledged allegiance to ISIS or the Islamic State, are prepared to pass through porous border controls.

Bortnikov said:

“The international community has now hit a new geopolitical challenge, an international criminal group in the name of the Islamic State. This project, which grew out of the ‘Arab Spring,’ has gained momentum thanks to the double standards of certain world regional powers by using ‘a terrorist battering ram’ to reach their own strategic goals in Asia and Africa.

According to our estimates, citizens from more than 100 countries are currently fighting in the ranks of terrorist structures and the recruits constitute up to 40 percent of their forces.

The escalation in tensions in Afghanistan has brought on serious dangers. There are numerous criminal groups included in the Taliban movement on the northern borders of this country right now. Some of them have also begun operating under the Islamic State flag, which has led to a sharp rise in the threat of terrorists invading Central Asia.

After being pegged back in Syria by Russian airstrikes, with its economy is ailing and its command structure close to collapse, the Islamic State could be trying to open up a new front to the north of its territories by invading the former Soviet states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia, which are still beholden to Moscow. The jihadists would also secure control of lucrative drug trafficking routes taking raw opium from Afghanistan to be sold as heroin on the streets of Russia and Europe.

ISIS has been looking to grow its presence in Asia and has active cells in India, Pakistan and Malaysia. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month called the situation in Afghanistan “close to critical” and called on other ex-Soviet nations to be prepared to act together to repel a possible attack by ISIS. 

H/t Joseph F.

-StMA

Chinese military joins Russia in Syria

“The board is set . . . the pieces are moving.” -Gandalf, Lord the Rings: The Return of the King

According to The New York Times and FT, in addition to nine T-90 tanks and more than 500 marines for possible ground attacks, Russia is building up its air base near the port city of Latakia in Syria with some of its most advanced ground attack planes and fighter jets, and 2,000 troops as the “first phase” of its mission to shore up the Assad government. The planes are protected by at least two or possibly three SA-22 surface-to-air, antiaircraft systems, and unarmed Predator-like surveillance drones are being used to fly reconnaissance missions.

Russian air base near Latakia, Syria

Now, China is entering the fray.

The pro-Assad Al-Masdar (The Arab Source) reports on Sept. 23, 2015:

[T]he Russians appear to have a contingency that involves another world power that was absent from the U.S. led Anti-ISIS Coalition: China.

On Tuesday morning, a Chinese naval vessel reportedly traveled through Egypt’s Suez Canal to enter the Mediterranean Sea; its destination was not confirmed.

However, according to a senior officer in the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) that is stationed inside the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, Chinese military personnel and aerial assets are scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks (6 weeks) to the port-city of Tartous – he could not provide anymore detail.

Russia has made it abundantly clear that they are taking an active role in this conflict, but the news of the Chinese military to Syria provides more insight into their contingency.

It appears that Russia is not going to combat ISIS alone: the plan is similar to the U.S.’ idea of a “coalition” of air forces, but far more involved on the ground; this is something the U.S. and their allies have avoided since the inception of their war against ISIS.

Despite all of this, Russia and the U.S. appear to be at it again; however, this is no space or arms race, they are actively flexing their muscles through their proxies (U.S.: rebels and Russia: Syrian Army).

Map of Syria - Latakia and Tartus

ZeroHedge reminds us that it is not as if China had not given sufficient warning: “This comes two years after China warned that turmoil in Syria could have negative implications for the global economy and 18 months after Beijing, along with Moscow, used their security council vetoes to undercut a UN resolution calling for the crisis in Syria to be referred to the Hague.”

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports on Sept. 21 that “Russia and Iran have stepped up coordination inside Syria as they move to safeguard President Bashar al-Assad’s control over his coastal stronghold, according to officials in the U.S. and Middle East, creating a new complication for Washington’s diplomatic goals.”

-StMA