May 16, 2008

Innovation and inspiration

Source: OXFORD ANALYTICA

Do we put too much emphasis on invention rather than innovation?

In the most recent edition of New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell dedicates eight pages to former Microsoft wunderkind Nathan Myhrvold and his private company, Intellectual Ventures. The company has a lofty mission statement; to 'empower the next generation of Bells and Einsteins.' In practice, Intellectual Ventures' work is more prosaic: Myhrvold gathers a group of eggheads in a room to come up with ideas, patents them, and then licenses them to interested companies.

Nevertheless, Gladwell is impressed by Myhrvold's collaborative approach, apparently in the name of invention. And Intellectual Ventures is a successful enterprise, proving that the kind of insight that leads to invention can be engineered. Such collaborative approaches to scientific progress are seen as the unexplored 'third way.' Yet bloggers are questioning if the world gets anything useful from such ventures and if there are better ways to encourage innovation.

We is better than me?
Myhrvold’s formula for idea generation relies upon a multiplier effect; he knows that a group of really smart people brainstorming for a day can be prolific. The original expectation was that Intellectual Ventures would file a hundred patents a year. Now it is filing five hundred per year and has a backlog of three thousand ideas.
Myhrvold encourages knowledge sharing between those from different backgrounds, temperaments and perspectives so that insight can be orchestrated; Gladwell writes that "if someone who knew how to make a filter had a conversation with someone who knew a lot about cancer and with someone who read the medical literature like a physicist, then maybe you could come up with a cancer treatment."
Ideas are cheap
Yet Techdirt's Mike Masnick writes that Gladwell misses the point. He writes: "while ideas may be a dime a dozen, executing on those ideas is what's difficult." He even argues that Myhrvold's initiatives inhibit innovation, as filed patents make it more difficult for others to help actually make inventions useful. Portfolio's Felix Salmon agrees that ideas generation and appropriation is meaningless: "one thing I found unconvincing about Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, was that she constantly cited how many patents were being filed under her leadership as if that proved something.". He adds that Intellectual Ventures, far from encouraging innovation, actually acts as a 'patent troll', joylessly accumulating patents not to develop products, but to squeeze licensing fees out of large companies.

Cash for solutions?
There is still hope for genuine inventors and innovators amid the patent squatters. Tim Harford, the Financial Times' 'Undercover Economist' writes that governments, private foundations and even corporations are rediscovering the value of offering prizes for innovative products.

Mojave Aerospace Ventures won the $10 million Ansari X Prize, designed to promote private space flight in 2004, after the successful flights of SpaceShipOne.
Five national governments and the Gates Foundation are offering a $1.5 billion "advanced market commitment" to subsidise the developers and suppliers of a more effective vaccine against pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and bronchitis.

Innocentive provides an exchange where 'seekers' can offer cash to 'solvers.'

You can’t force 'em

Inducing innovation may be a phenomenal waste of time and money. The proof is Toyota, which defines innovation as an incremental process in which the goal is not making quantum leaps, but improving ideas and work processes on a daily basis. The principle is often known by its Japanese name, kaizen -- continuous improvement. James Surowiecki writes that the Japanese company "rejects the idea that innovation is the province of an elect few; instead, it’s taken to be an everyday task for which everyone is responsible." He adds that Japanese companies get a hundred times as many suggestions from their workers as US companies do.

Jaipur Blasts expose - More Useful Idiots and still more Dangerous Consequences

Source: OFFSTUMPED
No I am not referring to the newly christened Indian Mujahideen. Nitin has done a good job taking on their now confirmed cyber habits. Perhaps Sriprakash Jaiswal would like to comment the foreign nature of the otherwise “Indian” mujahideen. In the aftermath of the Hyderabad Blasts, Offstumped had warned of the Rd-X. It appears that our worst fears of the hunt for the unknown radical mind are coming true.

The public e-mail message from the Indian Mujahideen and a not so public e-mail from a section of the Psuedo-intellectual brigade bear an eerie similarity. It is this expose that Offstumped is focusing on in this post.

So who exactly are these “Useful Idiot” Apologists for the Indian Mujahideen ?

Offstumped today was alerted to an e-mailer titled “Jaipur Blasts Statement” signed “Concerned Citizens” which was circulated interestingly to the International Human Rights Organization, IRHO by an entity called the NAPM - National Association of People’s Movements.

Before we get to the identities and the backgrounds of the Useful Idiots who scripted this e-mail, let us focus on the dangerous consequences of their mischief mongering.

The e-mail from the Indian Mujahideen specifically calls out as its chief grouse India’s “support” for the United States in the International Arena. A match of the time-stamps of this e-mail from the Mujahideen and the other one by their apologist Useful Idiots should make for an interesting topic in another post. But for now it is pertinent to point out relevant text from the Apologist e-mail which after the usual sanctimony gets to the root cause, and surprise surprise ….

These acts of terror have deeper political causes. These causes relate to U.S. lust for oil, its help in forming Al Qaeda and local rise of communal politics around issues of religious identity.

Any guesses for how telepathically the Indian Mujahideen and the “Concerned Citizens” zeroed in onto the exact same root cause. They say great minds think alike, well idiots think alike too and dangerously so.

But the mischief mongering of this pack of Useful Idiots does not stop there. These Idiots then go on to lay out far deeper root causes, and as evidence they manufacture the mythical bogey of “Hindutva Terrorism”. Yep, the same myth that The Hindu first tried to peddle unsuccesfully after the Malegaon Blasts and then Digvijay Singh tried to peddle during the Gujarat elections campaign.

The present theory of investigating agency deliberately overlooks the case of two Bajarang Dal workers getting killed in Nanded in April 2006. It also does not want to give serious thought to the narco-analysis of one of the survivors of the Nanded episode who said that now we Hindus should also do the acts of terror, in front of crowded mosques, else we will be regarded as eunuchs.

The e-mail further goes onto make a very serious and dangerous allegation against the BJP

In a way, now communal violence is being substituted by the acts of terror to consolidate the electoral base by communal party.

These Useful Idiots then go on to remind us why they are “Useful” to Terrorists and more importantly “what makes them idiots” when they make this seemingly silly but profoundly subversive demand

There is a need to have a National body with due representation from the socially concerned citizens and Human rights activists who can have a say in these matters and also who in an unbiased way can go to the truth of these acts

So who are these Useful Idiots who lost no time in issuing an apology for the Indian Mujahideen ?

Well leading the pack of Useful Idiots is retired IIT Mumbai Professor and known Communal Socialist Ram Puniyani who is the author of the original e-mail. Keeping him idiotic company are fellow Useful Idiots and known apologists for all things leftist, maoist and jihadist - Asghar Ali Engineer, Digant Ozha, Shabnam Hashmi, M Hasan, L.S. Hardenia, Irfan Engineer.

Now some background on Useful Idiot-in Chief Ram Puniyani. Since yours truly is an almnus of IIT Mumbai I have had first hand experience of Ram Puniyani’s Left wing Acitivism and Political Correctness during the 1990s which he pursues with Taliban like Fanaticism. This is the same guy who amongst others ensured that IIT Mumbai disrobed Swami Vivekananda from Saffron to Blue for fear of hurting Muslim sentiments. This is also the same guy who amongst others pressured the IIT Mumbai Administration from denying permission to Chandraprakash Dwivedi of Chanakya from speaking on Campus on grounds that it would vitiate the atmosphere.

That the IIT Mumbai Administration allowed a Left wing extremist like Ram Puniyani to pursue his activism on campus while snuffing any kind of intellectual challenge speaks to the insipid and moribun intellectual environment in the IITs for all the academic excellence. It also is a reminder that JNU is not the only intellectual wasteland where Left Wing rodents breed.

Offstumped Bottomline: We may not know who the Indian Mujahideen are or where they are holed up. But we now know who their Useful Idiot Apologists are and how dangerous their agenda is. Perhaps some Narco-Analysis of Ram Puniyani and Co. would be in order to aid in the Hunt for the Unknown Radical, RD-X

May 14, 2008

Why Terrorist Attacks on Soft Targets?


Source : South Asia Analysis Group
by B. Raman

(In connection with the serial blasts by unidentified terrorists in Jaipur on May 13, 2008, I am reproducing below a chapter from my forthcoming book titled "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" being published by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi later this month . www.lancerpublishers.com)

Soft targets are those not subject to special protection that are frequented by the public, which could be local nationals or foreigners. Attacks on such targets cause many human fatalities and demonstrate the capability of the terrorist groups to operate without being detected by the intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies. Destruction of or damage to economic or other capabilities is not the primary aim of such attacks. The primary aim is to kill human beings, though destruction or damage of capabilities may also result from such attacks.

For such attacks on soft targets, a long period of preparations such as keeping a surveillance on the target etc is not required. All that is required is the creation or infiltration of a sleeper cell to undertake such attacks and reaching to the cell the weapons or explosive devices to be used. A sleeper cell is a small group of operatives specifically raised to undertake a terrorist strike. The cell generally consists of persons, who will actually undertake the strike with the help of hand-held weapons or IEDs, and some others, who will provide the logistics such as smuggling in the weapons or explosives, storing them safely till the time for the strike comes, providing a hide-out for those who will actually undertake the strike if they come from outside the area and facilitating their get-away after they have carried out the strike. Those, who carry out the strike, are generally specially trained in the handling of weapons and in the assembly of IEDs. Those, who help in the logistics, need not be specially trained, but they should support the ideology and objectives of the terrorist organization, which undertakes the terrorist strike, and should enjoy its confidence.

Those who carry out the strikes are generally from outside the area where a target is chosen for attack. A resident of the area may develop qualms of conscience about killing people whom he had known and with whom he had grown up. Moreover, his absence from the area after the terrorist strike makes the identification of the perpetrators by the police easier. An outsider is unlikely to have such qualms of conscience and his get-away may not attract attention. Those providing the logistics back-up could be from the same area or from outside. Thus, a sleeper cell could consist completely of outsiders infiltrated into the area of intended operation or could be a mix of outsiders and residents of the area. These are called sleeper cells because its members are specially trained or have a natural aptitude for maintaining a low profile and are able to lead a normal life as students or in some occupation without attracting attention to themselves. In the case of the Mumbai blasts of March,1993, the perpetrators were easily identified by the Police because many of them except Dawood Ibrahim were normal residents of Mumbai and not from outside. Their get-away from Mumbai after the explosions attracted the suspicion of the Police.

A new modus operandi (MO) for attacks on soft targets noticed in recent years is the use of unconscious bombers by the sleeper cells so that the explosions cannot be easily traced back by the Police to the real perpetrators. The ULFA in Assam has been periodically using this MO by paying unsuspecting individuals for leaving bicycles fitted with IEDs in markets and other crowded areas. Al Qaeda was reported to have used this MO in Casablanca in May,2003, and in Baghdad on February 1, 2008. In Casablanca, an unsuspecting individual was asked to carry a package containing a remote-controlled IED to a third person. As the carrier was walking in front of a restaurant the IED was activated through remote control. In Baghdad, two mentally disturbed women, who used to beg in market places, were fitted with IEDs and these were exploded through remote control as they were begging in the markets. The Chechens had also used this M.O.

There are various reasons for which terrorists periodically attack soft targets in widely dispersed areas. Firstly, they want to demonstrate their reach. They want to show that they can operate in any part of the country in the case of indigenous organizations and in any part of the world in the case of the pan-Islamic jihadi organizations. Outside J&K, the pan-Islamic jihadi organizations have struck on soft targets in places such as Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi, Lucknow, Faizabad (in UP), Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Coimbatore. Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organizations have struck in places such as Bali (twice), Jakarta, Mombasa, Casablanca, Istanbul, Madrid, London and Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Secondly, they want to discredit the intelligence agencies, the Police and other security agencies in the eyes of the people by demonstrating their capability to strike despite the vigilance of these agencies. In their calculation, this could result in a gradual loss of faith of the people in the efficacy of these agencies.

Thirdly, they want to make the Police and the security agencies over-react in response to their successful strikes. Such over-reactions often come in the form of large-scale arrests of the members of the community from which the terrorists have arisen and the alleged use of harsh methods to interrogate them. This creates animosity towards the Police and the Government in the victim-community and adds to their sense of alienation. Such over-reactions could also create a divide between different communities, thereby resulting in the flow of more recruits to the ranks of the terrorists. Anger resulting from over-reactions facilitates their recruitment.

Fourthly, attacks on soft targets are also undertaken in reprisal for perceived wrongs allegedly committed by the Government or the Police towards the members of the community from which the terrorists have arisen or even towards the terrorists themselves. If they are not able to retaliate against hard (well-protected) targets, they retaliate against soft targets. The LTTE in Sri Lanka often resorts to such attacks on soft targets in retaliation for the government’s strikes against it. Such retaliatory attacks are meant to intimidate the security forces into going slow in their counter-terrorism operations. Reprisal attacks on soft targets may also be directed against foreign nationals, though local nationals may also die during the strikes. The two explosions in Bali in October, 2002, and October, 2005, by the Jemmah Islamiyah (JI) were directed mainly against Australian tourists in reprisal for Australia’s co-operation with the US in the so-called war against terrorism. Many Indonesian nationals also died during the strikes, but the possibility of such deaths of local nationals did not deter the terrorists from exploding IEDs in places crowded by Australian tourists. During the subsequent trial of the perpetrators, they apologized in public for the deaths of fellow-citizens and fellow-Muslims, but did not regret their action in carrying out the strikes. Similarly, Al Qaeda’s attack on a hotel in Mombasa in November, 2002, and in the Egyptian tourist resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh in July, 2005, targeted Israeli tourists in reprisal for Israeli’s policies towards the Palestinians, but many local citizens also died.

The three explosions outside courts in Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh on November 23, 2007, were also reprisal strikes against soft targets to protest against the perceived harsh sentences awarded to some of the accused in the Mumbai blasts of March, 1993, by a Mumbai court and against the alleged failure of the Government of Mumbai to act against certain police officers, who were blamed by an enquiry commission for allegedly committing excesses against Muslims during the communal riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December,1992. An anonymous E-mail received by some TV channels on the day of the explosions alleged that the criminal justice system in India was unfair towards the Muslims.

While these are essentially tactical strikes, certain kinds of strikes against soft targets have a strategic purpose. Strikes in certain places of economic importance such as stock exchanges, crowded market places, offices of business companies and tourist resorts have the objective of disrupting the economy and discouraging the flow of foreign investments by creating a feeling of nervousness about security conditions in the minds of potential investors. The Mumbai blasts of March,1993, and the Delhi blasts of October,2005, would fall in this category. Strikes in places of religious significance-----whether holy cities or places of worship----- are meant to create a communal divide in the long-term interests of the terrorist organization. The blasts in Varanasi in March, 2006, in Malegaon in Maharashtra on September 8,2006, in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007, and in Ajmer Sharif on October 11, 2007, would fall in this category.

Soft targets do not have the benefit of protection of physical security measures by the Government, though some of them such as places of worship, business establishments etc may have their own physical security measures. There are hundreds of thousands of potential soft targets of terrorists all over the country. It would be just impossible for the Government to provide them with physical security. One cannot totally eliminate attacks on soft targets, but one can reduce them by effective intelligence capability and policing in order to detect and neutralize sleeper cells before they go into action, educating the public in matters such as looking out for suspicious-looking persons and objects, close police-community relations and close liaison between the police and those in charge of security in those cases where soft targets have their own security arrangements.

While there have been successful instances of sleeper cells being detected and neutralized in time by the intelligence agencies and the police acting in tandem, there are many other cases where the sleeper cells managed to evade detection and carry out the strike. Every successful terrorist strike on a soft target is due to the failure of the agencies and the police to detect the sleeper cell responsible. The agencies and the police do face difficulties due to the fact that the terrorists operate in a vast area and keep moving from State to State in order to attack. They operate like the old so-called criminal tribes, who used to keep attacking in different places in different times in order to make it difficult for the police to detect them. The only way of effectively countering this is through effective co-ordination of the police in all the States, the creation of a national data base to which the police of different States can have direct access and the quick sharing of the results of the enquiries and investigations through this data base. The creation of a Federal Counter-Terrorism Agency patterned after the FBI of the US, with powers to investigate all terrorism-related cases occurring in any part of the country, would facilitate action and prevention, but there continues to be strong resistance from the States to proposals for the creation of such an agency.

The ease with which the terrorists have been operating in different parts of the country is also due to a deterioration in the quality of policing in the urban as well as rural areas. Normal tasks, which the police are expected to perform such as making enquiries about suspicious-looking persons in hotels, inns, railway stations and airports , making a random background check of arrivals from outside etc no longer receive the required attention. Similarly, intense police-community relations, which encourage the people to share with the police information, which could have a bearing on terrorism, are increasingly neglected. The public will come forward to share information only with a police officer whom they know and in whose discretion they have confidence.

Close interactions between the police and the security officers of private establishments is more an exception than the rule. Sometimes, I am invited to address gatherings of such security officers in different urban areas. Almost all of them complained of a lack of accessibility to senior police officers and the reluctance of the police to keep them briefed on developments having a bearing on terrorism. They complained that it was rarely that police officers took the initiative in briefing them when the media carried sensational stories about the plans of the terrorists. When they asked for a briefing, they were asked to meet junior officers, who often were not in a position to brief them adequately and did not have the required self-confidence to be able to answer their questions. It is important that senior police officers interact with the security officers of important private establishments----particularly those from abroad---- at least once or twice a year as a matter of routine and also on other occasions, when there is a need for it. Senior police officers cannot be expected to interact with the private security officers of all establishments---big or small, important or unimportant. However, such interactions should take place with the private security officers of large establishments, which play an important role in our economy. Perceptions of police indifference towards them could have a negative impact on the investors’ confidence in the security environment in the country and in their particular areas of operation.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

India braces for surge in terror

Asia Time Online
By Sudha Ramachandran

BANGALORE - The serial blasts that killed 80 people and injured 200 in the western Indian city of Jaipur on Tuesday occurred less than a week after a major infiltration attempt by militants was thwarted on the international border with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir state.

That incident set off a heavy exchange of fire along the border, the first major flareup since an India-Pakistan ceasefire took effect in 2003.

Intelligence contacts have told Asia Times Online that while there is "no direct cause-effect link" between the incidents on the border and the Jaipur blasts, the former indicate that "infiltration from across the border in Pakistan will increase as summer progresses and more attacks like the ones at Jaipur can be expected".

The contacts point out that in a week from now, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee goes to the Pakistani capital Islamabad for his first interaction with the new government there. The "composite dialogue" between the countries, in cold storage for several months, will be revived.

The possibility of elements in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) seeking to disrupt this process with terror attacks in India cannot be ruled out. The ISI is known to have acted in the past to weaken initiatives by democratic governments in Pakistan to normalize relations with India. Pakistan only ended nearly eight years of military rule with parliamentary elections in February.

Any surge in violence is unlikely to be restricted to Jammu and Kashmir. Over the past couple of years, jihadi groups have clearly indicated that their agenda extends across India. They have carried out attacks in places as far apart as Ajmer, Panipat, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Varanasi, Rampur, Lucknow, Delhi, Mumbai, Gandhinagar, Faizabad, Ayodhya, Malegaon and now Jaipur. There are now few states in India that have not fallen under the shadow of the jihadis.

In 2007, outside Jammu and Kashmir and the turbulent northeast and excluding deaths due to Maoist violence in the country, civilian deaths from terrorist attacks ran into several hundreds.

No terror outfit has so far claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blasts in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, although about a dozen suspects have been detained. Intelligence contacts say the needle of suspicion points to the Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), with Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) operatives providing the local logistical support.

The HuJI is a Bangladesh-based jihadi outfit and the LeT is Pakistan-based. Both have links with al-Qaeda and are constituents of the International Islamic Front, an umbrella organization founded by Osama bin Laden in 1998.

The string of eight blasts occurred on the 10th anniversary of India's nuclear tests at Pokhran, 500 kilometers from Jaipur. Noted terrorism expert B Raman said the "blasts could be to send across the message that India may have nuclear power, but you are powerless against terrorism".

The significance of the date notwithstanding, it does seem that the blasts were aimed at stirring communal trouble rather than sending out a message - there are a large number of Hindu temples in the vicinity of the attacks.

A curfew has been declared in parts of Jaipur to prevent the eruption of riots. The blast sites are close to the communally sensitive Ramganj area, which witnessed communal riots in 1992 following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by Hindu hardliners.

Although this is the first terrorist attack ever in Jaipur, Rajasthan is no stranger to terrorist activity. The state borders Pakistan. Consignments of cartridges, explosives and detonators have been interdicted in the past in the state. Intelligence sources say the SIMI, a banned outfit, has sleeper cells in Rajasthan. In October last year, a powerful bomb blast occurred in a highly revered Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisthi in Ajmer, 135 kilometers southwest of Jaipur. That blast left two people dead and 17 others injured.

Located 265 kilometers to the west of the capital Delhi, Jaipur is also known as the "Pink City" for the color of its stucco buildings. It is a popular tourist destination; several thousand tourists visit Jaipur every day. Almost 60% of foreign tourists visiting India drop in at this city.

Emerging patterns

Terror attacks in India over the past couple of years indicate that terrorists are targeting Hindu and Muslim places of worship and crowded areas to stir communal passions and trigger Hindu-Muslim riots.

The eight powerful bomb blasts that rocked Jaipur took place within 13 minutes of each other and occurred in the city's most crowded areas, in markets, near historic monuments and places of worship.

Indeed, the blasts confirm another feature of this worrying pattern. Temples are being targeted on Tuesdays (an auspicious day for Hindus) and mosques and shrines are being attacked on Fridays, when thousands of Muslims go to the mosque to offer special prayers.

A blast at Varanasi's Sankat Mochan Temple on March 7, 2006, a Tuesday, left 28 dead and over a 100 injured. The blasts occurred at the time of the aarti (a prayer ritual, which thousands attend) when the temple was packed with devotees.

Low intensity blasts occurred at Delhi's Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, on April 14, 2006, a Friday, even as Muslims were preparing for evening prayers.

A blast occurred at a mosque in Malegaon and an adjacent Muslim cemetery on September 8, 2006, a Friday. The day was Shab-e-barat (night of salvation), a festival when Muslims visit graveyards to offer night-long prayers for their dead relatives. Blasts in Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid on May 18, 2007, a Friday, during prayers killed a dozen people.

And now the blasts at Jaipur, near temples, on a Tuesday and at the time of the evening aarti. Clearly, those behind these attacks aim at stirring communal passions and riots by targeting places of worship at a time when people are praying.

Just as there is a pattern in the terror attacks, so also is there a pattern in the response of the government. Every attack is followed by profound observations that it is the work of terrorists. Top politicians express "deep regret" and anger at the "dastardly attack" and are quick to quash the rage of victims' families with offers of financial compensation.

Officials speedily reach conclusions regarding who carried out the attack within a couple of hours, if not minutes, of the incident. Senior ministers used to invariably blame and name Pakistan, now they are more circumspect, pointing an accusing finger at a "foreign hand". Within days of the blasts, the matter is forgotten, until the next terror attack happens and the same drama is enacted.

Police blame politicians for politicizing national security and for refusing to give the police a free hand in making arrests. Indeed, political parties with an eye on votes stand in the way of arrests or action against extremist outfits.

But the police are as much to blame. Their unprofessional approach is on public display every time bombs rip through Indian cities. Blast sites are never cordoned off to the public. Within minutes of a blast, it is not uncommon to see media and the public walking unhampered through the site. Investigations that follow then are unlikely to be any more professional.

Intelligence sources argue that it is unfair to blame security agencies as they are successful in preventing many attacks. They also point out that policing a country such as India is very difficult. Indeed, ensuring foolproof security in crowded Indian cities and railway stations is a near-impossible task. This becomes more daunting given the deficiencies in manpower of the police and intelligence agencies.

Despite several reports recommending augmentation of manpower in police and intelligence agencies, upgrading of electronic and other surveillance and better coordination between various security agencies, little has been done to put these recommendations into effect.

And yet the government does not see a problem, or rather does not want to admit to it. In a statement to the Upper House of parliament, the government said on April 30 that "the overall internal security situation has remained largely under control".

It is in a state of denial.

Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.

How the Pentagon is Organizing its Cyber Warfare System

Source: IntelligenceOnline
15/05/2008 United States


With the US Strategic Command preparing for the debut of its Cyber Command, cyber warfare has cropped up on the agenda of both Congress and NATO.

Defense secretary Robert Gates last month received proposals concerning American doctrine on infowar operations that had been drafted by the Joint Staff’s Division for Cyber Policy. Two units within the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) will be tasked with applying the recommendations: the offensive side will be coordinated by JFCC-Network Warfare, a unit which has been carrying out covert computer attacks since 2005 and answers to the director of NSA, Keith Alexander; the defensive side will fall to the Joint Task Force -Global Network Operations. The Pentagon’s operational resources in the defensive and offensive cyber warfare fields will be marshalled by the Air Force Cyber Command which is to start functioning in October (see graph below).

Elsewhere, Congress is taking a close look at the matter. Its recent report “Information Operations, Electronic Warfare and Cyberwar” drafted by Clay Wilson raises a number of questions concerning the legality of cyber war operations, particularly when they target civilian infrastructure.

NATO, too, has taken up the subject. During its summit meeting in Bucharest in April, the Atlantic alliance confirmed the creation of a Cyber Defense Management Authority (CDMA). Based in Brussels and headed by major general Georges d’Hollander, it will see to the protection of computer networks in member countries. The move to set up the Authority followed on the heels of prolonged attacks on Estonia’s communications infrastructure (banking systems and government servers) last spring. A training center for NATO’s civil and military personnel is to be inaugurated.

May 13, 2008

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Padma Shri Award : Dr. Nirupam Bajpai



The President of India, Her Excellency Pratibha Devisingh Patil conferred the Padma Shri Award on Monday, May 5, 2008 at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi. Among those who attended the ceremony included the Vice President of India, the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers, former Prime Ministers, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and a number of Members of Parliament among others.


Dr. Nirupam Bajpai
Senior Development Adviser &
Director, South Asian Programs
Center on Globalization & Sustainable Development
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
2910 Broadway, A-Level, Hogan Hall, #102
New York, NY 10025

U.S.A.



T: (212)854-9494

Cell: (212)203-3969

F: (212)854-5637



E: nirupam.bajpai@columbia.edu



Columbia University Homepage:

http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/cgsd/bajpai.html



CGSD Website:

http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/cgsd/advising/india_detailed.html

May 12, 2008

Lebanon: Hezbollah's Communication Network

Source: STRATFOR
May 9, 2008 | 2252 GMT

ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images

A Shiite Hezbollah militant takes pictures with his mobile phone of a destroyed house

Summary
The Lebanese government has decided to dismantle Shiite militant group Hezbollah’s communications network — the very thing that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called the group’s most important weapon. Not only did the government’s decision spark protests and violence, but the network — which spans Beirut and reaches through the Bekaa Valley to the area along the Israeli-Lebanese border — could prove difficult to take down.

Analysis
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared May 8 that the Shiite militant group’s communications network is its most important weapon, and that the government’s decision to target the network was tantamount to a declaration of war. As Nasrallah spoke, Beirut was swarming with Hezbollah supporters flashing victory signs, waving flags, burning tires, blockading roads and attacking rival government forces with everything from rocks to mortar fire.

Nasrallah was referring to a decision made by members of the Western-backed Lebanese government’s Cabinet two days earlier. After eight hours of deliberation, the Cabinet announced to the public that Hezbollah’s communications network was illegal and represented an attack on the country’s sovereignty.

The government crossed a red line when it decided to go after Hezbollah’s communications network. In Hezbollah’s view, its communications technology is just as essential for the group’s survival as its missiles. With the help of Iranian electronic engineers, the group has built an expansive network that stretches across Beirut and through the Bekaa Valley to the south along the Israel-Lebanon border. Indeed, during the 2006 summer conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, Hezbollah was effective in preventing Israeli electronic warfare (EW) units from jamming its networks south of the Litani River and even reportedly had the assets in place to jam parts of Israel’s radar and communications systems.

The Lebanese government is very aware of what it means to single out Hezbollah’s communication network. However, the government faces a daunting task in attempting to dismantle the Shiite group’s communications network. This analysis explores the intricacies of Hezbollah’s communications technologies, the EW tactics the group and its opponents face and the sheer difficulty of taking the system apart.

Hezbollah’s Tactical Communications Network
Land Lines/Hard Lines
Of the telecommunications networks available to Hezbollah, land line systems are among the simplest and cheapest to construct. Primarily, land line networks are constructed using either copper wires or fiber optic cable, the former being very vulnerable to EW practices (such as tapping and jamming) and the latter almost immune.

Copper wiring, the core material in traditional wiring applications, acts as an electrical conductor and transmits information via electrical signals. This design, however, allows anyone who discovers the cable to easily open it, splice in a connection and intercept communications taking place across the line.

But this vulnerability has not dissuaded Hezbollah from using it, at least in part, within their greater communications network. In fact, in addition to using the current national land line systems, Hezbollah has for several years constructed its own network of copper land lines and cables. Much of the organization’s network was laid alongside national phone companies’ and communications firms’ cables and wires, in an effort to take advantage of existing infrastructure and ensure a degree of security for the network itself. The remaining portions that were not built in proximity to the national networks extend throughout the country, connecting disparate offices and outposts to the centralized network. However, this portion of the land line system should not be viewed as a primary communication tool due to its vulnerabilities; it is best considered a secondary or emergency communication system.

The other type of land line communication network is constructed out of fiber optic cables and, because of the cables’ properties and operating principles, quickly is becoming one of the kinds of networks Hezbollah uses most frequently. Unlike copper and other types of cables, fiber optic cables are not vulnerable to electromagnetic interference; some have even claimed that it is impossible to tap a fiber optic cable and intercept data, but this is only partially true.

Related Special Topic Pages
Cyberwarfare
Hezbollah
The basis for this claim is rooted in the underlying design of the cables and technology, which transmit data via pulses of light rather than electrically. This renders them immune to electromagnetic interference, and that alone is of considerable benefit. However, their real worth is that they can be incredibly difficult to tap into.

There are two possible procedures to choose from to attempt to tap a fiber optic cable. The first of these is locating a coupling point between two strands of cable. Once the strands are detached, a signal interceptor can be inserted and data potentially can be captured. The second method relies upon physically severing the cable, inserting the interceptor, and reattaching the two ends. Regardless of which method is employed, a sharp drop in optical power transmission will occur. In a robust network the cables’ data stream would be rerouted automatically, but will still draw attention. Furthermore, when an interceptor is inserted, it has to absorb or divert some of that light in order to obtain the data being sent. This ultimately causes a noticeable decrease in optical power. If these two events take place in sequence, network technicians can be almost certain that someone has deliberately tampered with the cable. And even if the intruders were able to avoid detection, there is the issue of being able to decrypt the data stream and sort out relevant information, which is difficult even if the amount of data is fairly limited.

Though the process is difficult, many organizations and governments — including the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan — are known to have successfully intercepted data or engaged in cyber attacks through hijacked fiber optic cable connections. Although limited thus far, Hezbollah has also been able to engage in fiber optic cable tapping, enabling data interception and the hijacking of Internet and communication connections. All this being said, however, fiber optics will continue to be one of the most secure forms of communication.

Mobile and Satellite Phone Networks
Within Hezbollah’s communication infrastructure, the use of mobile phones is highly prevalent. Used for everything from battlefield communication to general organizational communication, the mobile phone is critical to Hezbollah’s ability to function efficiently.

Mobile phones and other wireless communication devices are very vulnerable to EW operations, even more so than land lines. Mobile phones function as full-duplex devices, simultaneously using two frequencies for wireless communication within a network. One of these is used to send voice and data from the user while the other receives; both must pass through a network tower. All that is required to cut off most mobile phones and systems is an active frequency jammer that floods the airwaves with a single frequency or a wide range of frequencies, cutting off access to the tower. Single-frequency jamming works for many mobile phones; once the phone loses one of its frequencies, it automatically drops the other one. Newer and more advanced models, however, often use multiple frequencies, and denying them access requires wide ranges of frequencies to be blocked simultaneously.

While the principles behind the jamming process are relatively simple, they are far more difficult to implement in large-scale military and counterterrorism operations. During the 2006 summer conflict with Hezbollah, the Israeli military deployed jammers into southern Lebanon in an attempt to disrupt Hezbollah members’ mobile phone communications. However, even the most powerful jammers can only flood a small range. In a combat theater like southern Lebanon, Israel would have needed hundreds of jammers to saturate the entire electromagnetic spectrum enough to actually block Hezbollah’s communication. Israel could only deploy jammers around high-value assets and selected areas due to the size and terrain of the area.

After recognizing Israel’s inability to block its mobile phone networks during the 2006 summer conflict, Hezbollah made a strategic decision to expand its own independent mobile phone network to enhance its operational security. The decision was made not only because Hezbollah’s communications went uninterrupted during the 2006 conflict while the group used the national phone networks and their own mobile networks but because Hezbollah also anticipates a future war with Israel.

The Israeli military knows how important mobile communications are to Hezbollah’s operations and likely will attack Lebanon’s cellular towers in order to cut off the group’s access in a rematch with the Shiite militant group. If this should happen, having a secondary mobile phone network to rely upon would be crucial to Hezbollah.

Should both of these networks fail, Hezbollah also operates several satellite phones to ensure reliable communications in all contingencies. The phones themselves are often reserved for high-ranking personnel or members performing critical tasks. Even if there were significant numbers of the phones in operation within a combat environment, their use would still be limited.

Satellite phones primarily use two types of satellites: geosynchronous and low Earth orbit (LEO). While both of these types offer users satellite uplinks in almost every corner of the globe, each has fundamental limitations. Geosynchronous satellites, which operate at an average altitude of 22,000 miles, allow for constant uplink access to a limited geographic range. The uplink itself, however, often suffers from significant travel time for voice calls and data transfers. In a future military conflict, the lack of real-time communications could significantly impede Hezbollah’s operations. LEO satellites overcome this issue by operating at altitudes ranging from 400-700 miles. Though real-time communication is possible, satellites are usually only in range at certain intervals in their orbits. With large satellite networks, LEO phones can often have considerable amounts of dedicated service times, but the process of constantly switching between satellites is a significant drawback.

Internet Networks
Though mobile phone networks are used most frequently by Hezbollah, the group also relies heavily on the Internet for secure communication. While today the Internet is often associated with insecurity and vulnerability for its many users, it is in fact one of the most secure forms of communication. Of particular use are secure, free e-mail accounts.

Within the field of electronic and cyberwarfare, intercepting an e-mail is not a particularly difficult task so long as the computer or device which accesses it can be reliably identified. Once this is done, it can be intercepted by a wide range of programs, including keylogger programs, which have the ability to copy the keys that are pressed on a computer to pick up things like passwords, log-ins and other information.

But without pinpointing the target computer or device, cyberwarfare technicians would have to rely on picking up messages directly off a cable and deal with the sheer volume of information that comes along with it. This would require vast amounts of data farming, as tens of thousands of e-mails across a number of different networks would be collected every day. Not only is this impractical for intelligence gathering, but the information gleaned from it is often dubious without knowledge of the source of the information.

Under these circumstances, Hezbollah fully uses e-mail for a wide range of organizational activities, from basic communication to tactical planning. Not only does it not have to be too concerned about its messages being intercepted, but if members feel that their accounts or messages might have been hacked, they can simply change the account or the device which accesses the account. During the construction of its cellular phone networks, Hezbollah not only made the networks capable of supporting e-mail and Short Message Service (SMS) messages, but designed the networks to handle e-mail and SMS as the primary communication methods.

In addition to using e-mail and electronic messages, Hezbollah’s hacker corps has long been known to hijack servers and Web sites to meet the organization’s needs. These electronic resources, once hijacked, often serve as centralized communication nodes for members to relay valuable information on things like recruiting, tactical planning and fund-raising. In the process of hijacking these resources the hackers will often make a note of not disrupting the services the resources offer so that it is less likely that their activities will be discovered. That being the case, few of the hackers’ activities have been noticed or disrupted, which allows for a highly reliable and secure external communication mode.

While these two methods serve as the primary communication uses of the Internet for Hezbollah, there are still many other services the group employs, albeit to a lesser extent. Among these are instant messaging applications and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) programs. Although Hezbollah uses these capabilities less frequently, instant messaging and VoIP are likely to eventually become backup communication media or be integrated directly into Hezbollah’s primary communication networks. VoIP is the most likely to be given greater priority due to the large numbers of fiber optic cable networks Hezbollah has. Once VoIP services are paired with these cables, Hezbollah would possess an extremely resilient communication medium that would be largely immune to standard EW disruption or interception.

The Scale of Hezbollah’s Communication Networks
The early version of Hezbollah’s internal telecommunications network was comparatively small in scale. The earliest portions were centralized in Beirut and branched off to critical nodes and facilities within the organization’s hierarchy. This included standard copper wiring, a primitive and experimental mobile phone network, limited radio use and some Internet/electronic networks. In recent years, much of these early networks have been supplanted by more advanced and expansive versions, which have enhanced Hezbollah’s operational security and efficiency.

The copper wire-based communication and Internet networks were among the first of the networks to be displaced. Fiber optic cables, with their numerous benefits — including high data stream capacity and EW defenses — make an ideal communication medium for the organization and are undoubtedly the most prolific type within the organization. Almost every facility and building — including Hezbollah’s headquarters, television and radio stations, military compounds and most recently the group’s mobile rocket launch facilities — is wired within this network. This newest addition not only enables secure e-mail, instant messaging and other useful applications, but also the remote control of rocket facilities without risking personnel or possibly losing communication. Much of the network is concentrated in Beirut, but it now effectively covers the entire southern, western and eastern portions of Lebanon and can be easily expanded to connect new facilities or nodes to the greater network. More recently, new work has begun to push the network far into Lebanon’s northern regions so that communications can be conducted anywhere in the country.

Mobile phone networks have experienced a similar expansion, although the organization also continues to use public mobile phone networks. The earliest experimental networks were based in Beirut, but soon after technical hurdles were overcome the network quickly expanded into southern Lebanon. This region was chosen first to support operations against Israel and years later proved instrumental in Hezbollah’s fight against the Israeli military in 2006. Today the network provides almost complete coverage in western and eastern Lebanon, and there is evidence of limited service in the north.

The Challenge of Dismantling Hezbollah’s Communication Network
Though the Lebanese government has threatened to dismantle Hezbollah’s communication networks, a number of obstacles stand in the way. The biggest complication is that the scale and layout of the network is largely unknown except to a small number of the organization’s officials and technicians, so many of the networks quite simply cannot be disassembled. As discussed earlier, several different communication networks are used simultaneously to support the needs of the greater organization. Each of these networks presents its own challenges, and dismantling them will be extraordinarily difficult.

The most basic (yet critical) of the networks are those composed of land lines, such as copper or fiber optic cable, which were laid down alongside or within existing bundles or were spliced into national networks. With so much of Hezbollah’s systems in close proximity or tied into national networks, any attempts to remove Hezbollah’s network will undoubtedly cause significant disruption to the national network, driving up the economic cost nationwide of going after Hezbollah.

As for the components that were installed independent of the national networks, the principal issue is not of removal, but rather of simply locating components. This is far easier said than done. Trying to locate a single cable or cluster of cables without a detailed map is extremely difficult. Detection methods, such as metal detecting, are often time consuming and costly in terms of resources and manpower and often do not yield results. For fiber optic cables this method does not work at all. Most often, communication nodes must be captured or identified so that their land lines can be traced. No matter how good the detection systems are, many of these cables will not be discovered without insider knowledge.

Unlike landline systems, wireless communication networks — such as those that support mobile phone networks — are simpler to locate. Much of this is because of their distinct physical presences and the fact that they are emitting carrier signals, which are easily traced and intercepted. Jamming is another option, but doing this often proves difficult even for nations with substantial resources and technical expertise. In the Lebanese government’s case, the only option is to attempt to locate the emitter stations and communication nodes and shut them down. Hezbollah communication officials could go mobile with many of these systems, since the technological principles are simple, but mobility would also compromise reliability. A rapidly shifting mobile or wireless network will inherently leave gaps in the communication network and disrupt Hezbollah’s activities. But the group is well-prepared to switch over to national networks if their local networks were seriously threatened.

Locating and disassembling the networks is only part of the equation. While the government can certainly attempt to pursue this policy, it must also consider the distinct possibility that Hezbollah will simply replace the portions that are lost. Such interference will certainly complicate matters for Hezbollah, but they likely will be able to replace connections faster than the government can locate and terminate them.

Most of the networks Hezbollah uses, such as mobile phone networks, the Internet and others, are all available for public use. Should Hezbollah’s private networks be cut off, Hezbollah would simply have to increase its usage of these networks to retain its current capacities. Since many of these networks offer anonymity to their users due to their nature or the quantity of users, it is possible that Hezbollah’s communications could become even harder to intercept, further frustrating the Lebanese government and Hezbollah’s foreign rivals.

Egypt: bread riots and mill strikes

‘Work is politics’
Source: mondediplo.com/2008/05/08egypt

The Mubarak regime has promoted a new, privatised Egypt in which only 10% of Egyptians participate; the rest of society is trying to cope with high inflation and shortages of crucial subsidised food. Strikes and collective action have provoked reprisals, yet also secured some pay rises.

By Joel Beinin

Outrage against soaring inflation, the scarcity of subsidised bread and discontent with the regime of President Hosni Mubarak exploded on 6 April in Mahalla al-Kubra, a major industrial city north of Cairo. Muhammad al-Attar told Al-Ahram Weekly: “The city is burning. Thousands of demonstrators are out on the street, throwing stones, chanting anti-government slogans and defying the batons of the riot police, tear gas and bullets” (1). Al-Attar is a member of the elected strike committee of the 25,000 workers at the gigantic Misr Spinning and Weaving Co, a public-sector textile conglomerate and the largest industrial enterprise in Egypt. In January, the committee announced that the Misr workers would strike on 6 April to force the company to fulfil promises made after successful strikes in December 2006 and September 2007.

This developed into a call for a nationwide strike to protest against the sharp increase in the prices of many basic foods, especially bread, and to demand a rise in the minimum wage from $21 a month, set in 1984, to $222. Between 2005 and 2008 food prices rose by 33% for meat and as much as 146% for chicken, and this March inflation reached 15.8%. Severe shortages of subsidised bread, the main source of calories for most Egyptians, have made things worse – low-paid government inspectors often sell subsidised flour on the black market. Rows in long bread lines caused injuries and even deaths. The cost of unsubsidised bread has nearly doubled in the past two years.

On 2 April security forces occupied the city of Mahalla and the Misr mill, and pressed al-Attar, Sayyid Habib and other members of the committee to call off the strike. The company granted several outstanding demands: increases in basic monthly pay to $65 for unskilled workers, $69 for high school and trade school graduates, and $74 for college and university graduates; a doubling of the monthly food allowance; and a commitment to implement a promise of free transport to work. These gains will raise the rates of the best-paid Misr workers to about $185 a month.

Carrot and stick
The National Council on Wages and the state-sponsored Egyptian Trade Union Federation also began discussing raising the national minimum wage. They will certainly recommend far less than the $222 a month proposed by the Misr workers, which is still below the World Bank poverty line of $2 a day for each person in a family of four.

The combination of carrot and stick induced the committee to call off the strike but some workers were not happy. Just after the 3.30pm shift change, a few workers mingled with a crowd of mostly young boys and women in the main square of Mahalla al-Kubra. The leaderless crowd began chanting: “Oh pasha, oh bey, a loaf of [unsubsidised] bread costs a quarter of a pound.” In response, hired thugs threw volleys of rocks to disperse them. Uniformed Central Security forces fired tear gas and prepared to beat the demonstrators with batons. As the violence escalated, the crowd burned the banners of ruling National Democratic Party candidates for the municipal elections scheduled two days later.

The elections aroused little interest and had no legitimacy: hundreds of Muslim Brothers candidates were arrested in the weeks before the balloting, eliminating the main opposition.

On 7 April violence continued for a second day when a crowd of several thousand, much larger than the day before, gleefully defaced a large poster of President Mubarak. Security forces arrested 331 people, beat up hundreds, critically wounded nine, and killed 15-year-old Ahmad Ali Mubarak with a bullet to his head as he was standing on the balcony of the family flat.

On 8 April a delegation of high government officials led by prime minister Ahmad Nazif rushed to Mahalla al-Kubra to restore calm. Nazif announced a bonus of a month’s pay for Misr workers and 15 days for all other textile workers. The minister of investment promised better transport, special bakeries for subsidised bread, and a revival of the cooperative store to provide subsidised rice, oil, sugar and flour. The city’s general hospital will receive new medical equipment and specialised staff. (Faulty equipment may have caused the deaths of eight patients in Mahalla’s cardiac centre in March.)

As the first Egyptian-owned mechanised textile mill (established in 1927) and the largest industrial enterprise of the public sector nationalised in 1960, Misr has enormous symbolic importance. Events there often set the pace for wages and working conditions for other industrial workers. So the government was willing to pay a high price, as it has in the past, to satisfy its workers.

Call for a general strike
The Mahalla workers’ plan for a national labour strike escalated into a call for a general strike endorsed by the Egyptian Movement for Change – Kifaya (a multi-tendency pro-democracy coalition), the Islamist Labour Party, the Nasserist Karama Party and the Bar Association. A FaceBook group with more than 60,000 members also called on Egyptians to remain at home on 6 April. Some went on strike and there were large demonstrations on the steps of the Bar Association and at several universities. In downtown Cairo there was less traffic, and reduced activity in poorer districts such as the market area of Imbaba.

But the general strike was aborted by the arrest of nearly 100 political activists on the eve of 6 April. Khalid Ali Umar, a lawyer at the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, criticised the call as a “premature act on behalf of the leaders of ineffective political parties and groupings”. He regarded organising through text messages, emails, and FaceBook as “political opportunism” (2).

The 11 December 2004 demonstration organised by Kifaya began political ferment in Egypt. Breaking a taboo, demonstrators personally criticised Mubarak and demanded that he should not run for re-election in 2005 (he did), that his son Gamal should not succeed him in the presidency (most Egyptians expect he will) and that the powers of the presidency should be reduced (the constitutional amendments of March 2007 expanded them). Although Kifaya initially showed much promise, it lost steam after the 2006 Lebanon war. The Communist Party, the newly established Social Democratic Party and the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialists have made some gains among workers since 2004. But Kifaya has not been a big factor in the labour movement.

Kifaya’s support for a general strike on 6 April was considered so threatening that on 9 April George Ishak, a founding member of Kifaya, was arrested followed by 50 others. The charges against Ishak were typical of the spurious accusations the Mubarak regime directs against opponents: “Organisation of a gathering in collaboration with others with the aim to commit crimes of aggression against individuals, treasury and public property; the use of force and violence with the aim of affecting the performance of public authorities” (3).

Twenty-five academics organised by Kifaya travelled to Mahalla on 11 April to visit families of the injured. They were detained 20km from the city and prevented from entering. This suggests that the Mubarak regime is escalating repressive measures against its secular opponents besides repressing the Muslim Brothers.

Their successful strikes projected the Mahalla workers into the leadership of a massive upsurge of working class collective action, in which as many as 400,000 have occupied factories, gone on strike, demonstrated or taken other collective action since 2004. Industrial workers have inspired strikes or strike threats by professionals such as doctors, university professors and dentists. It is the largest and most sustained social movement in Egypt since the campaign to oust the British after 1945.

Primary impulse
The main cause is the neo-liberal agenda which is creating a new Egypt for 10% of the population while disenfranchising industrial workers and white collar employees, especially those in the diminishing public sector. Following Egypt’s Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Programme agreements with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, Law 203 of 1991 stipulated that 314 public sector enterprises were eligible for privatisation. By mid-2002 190 had been privatised (4). Then, in July 2004, a new government headed by Ahmad Nazif took office. The economic portfolios were entrusted to western-educated PhDs or businessmen close to Gamal Mubarak (5). The government of Gamal Mubarak’s entourage initiated more sell-offs: a record 17 firms were sold in its first fiscal year in office (6).

This provoked fears about the loss of jobs and unwillingness of new private investors to pay long overdue social benefits, such as dividends in shares of firms owned by workers or contributions to retirement funds, which some public sector managers had neglected for as long as a decade. Real wages have declined sharply, and the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. A common estimate is that 40% of Egyptians live below the poverty line.

These conditions have impelled the unprecedented strikes and collective action since 2004. There were 74 collective actions in the first half of 2004 and 191 after the installation of the Nazif government in July (7). Some 25% were in the private sector, more than before. On 2 March 2008 the liberal daily Al-Misri al-Yawm reported 222 strikes, factory occupations and protests during 2006. Egyptian Workers and Trade Union Watch reported more than 580 episodes of industrial action in 2007.

During 2007, strikes spread from the textile and clothing industry to workers in building materials, transport, the Cairo metro, food processing, bakeries, sanitation, telecommunications, oil workers in Suez, the Helwan Iron and Steel Mills, the National Cement Company in Helwan and many others. Private sector industrial workers were a significant part of the labour movement for the first time in many decades.

In summer 2007 the movement broadened to white-collar employees, civil servants and professionals. The single largest collective action was the December 2007 strike of 55,000 real estate tax collectors employed by local authorities. After months of demonstrations, they went on strike for 10 days and won their demand for wage parity with their counterparts employed directly by the ministry of finance.

The workers’ movement – even more than the demonstrations of the intelligentsia organised by Kifaya – has popularised a culture of protest and is contributing to consciousness of citizenship and rights far more successfully than the moribund secular opposition political parties or the most active NGOs. Addressing a rally after his release from jail during the September 2007 strike at Misr, Muhammad al-Attar said: “I want the whole government to resign – I want the Mubarak regime to come to an end. Politics and workers’ rights are inseparable. Work is politics. What we are witnessing here – this is as democratic as it gets.”

This strike ended after the workers forced the government to negotiate with their elected strike committee; the tax collectors’ strike was ended likewise. These are significant political defeats for the state-sponsored trade union federation, which many hope are steps towards establishing an independent trade union. While there is not yet an adequate organisational vehicle to express this new culture of protest, it has radically undermined the legitimacy of the Mubarak regime.