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Showing posts from March 19, 2014

NSA Program Reaches ‘Into The Past’ to Retrieve, Replay Phone Calls

By Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani

- "WP"- The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.

A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.

In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day r…

Mexico's Self-Defense Militias

Since February 2013, so-called self-defense groups in Michoacan have expanded their armed campaign into areas of the state with a Knights Templar presence. Meanwhile, Mexico City expanded its own efforts targeting Knights Templar leaders and operations (efforts that are greatly aided by the self-defense groups). Such efforts have helped Mexico City effectively bring the self-defense groups into the fold through a Jan. 27 agreement between militia leaders and the federal government, providing for the integration of the militias into federal security forces.

The now-coordinated efforts of the self-defense groups and the federal government have caused substantial leadership losses for the Knights Templar since December 2013, including most recently the death of top Knights Templar leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez in a confrontation with Mexican authorities March 9 in Tumbiscatio, Michoacan state. This cooperation coupled with substantial progress in targeting the Knights Templar has given t…

Uncertainty Looms Over Algerian Elections


Algeria, a relative bastion of North African stability, has withstood the sweeping social unrest of 2011, the rise of regional militants in 2012 and a major terrorist attack on an energy installation born out of destabilizing security environments on its borders. Algerian President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, suffered a stroke in April 2013 that has created a new political perplexity and left serious doubts in many Algerians' minds about the ailing leader's ability to successfully oversee the country's looming political transition. In moving away from a tradition of strongly nationalistic and vigorous campaigning, the Bouteflika political machine has to contain backroom political struggles that are now regularly spilling over into public debate rather than focusing on the upcoming election and Bouteflika's transition strategy.

Algeria's April 17 elections will not end the current political impasse and nagging concern regarding the country'…

Against Russia, Ukraine Has Few Military Options

On Tuesday, the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Moscow's intent to annex Crimea, unmarked soldiers entered a military base in Simferopol, sparking a limited exchange of gunfire in spite of the standing cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia. The firefight reportedly left one Ukrainian soldier and one of the unmarked soldiers dead. Kiev responded quickly; the Defense Ministry authorized its troops to use deadly force in response to any more incursions on its bases. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the conflict had entered a "military phase."

But there is very little Ukraine can do militarily. First, its geography works against it. Crimea is an isolated peninsula that connects to mainland Ukraine through a small and easily controllable land bridge. In earlier stages of the Ukraine crisis, Russian troops strategically moved to seize not only this land bridge but also all potential points of resistance within Crimea. Their maneuvering in…

Crimea Comes One Step Closer to Joining Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Russian parliament on March 18. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)


Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an accession treaty March 18 between Crimea and the Russian Federation, taking a vital next step toward the annexation of Crimea and further raising the stakes in the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

There are still several steps for Russia's annexation of Crimea to become official. The Russian Constitutional Court must verify the treaty, and then both houses of the Russian parliament, the Duma and the Federation Council, must vote on it. Deliberations are currently scheduled for March 21. After the vote, a transitional period would be set for Crimea's integration into Russia's legal, economic and financial systems, including the incorporation of the ruble as Crimea's currency. But it appears probable that formal annexation will take place by the end of the week.

The Strategic Importance of…