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House committee chair asks to double Socom budget for info campaign

April 27, 2015

By Howard Altman | Tribune Staff Howard Altman on Google+
Published: April 27, 2015   |   Updated: April 27, 2015 at 06:08 PM

Because the Russians and jihadi groups like Islamic State have been so successful in using the internet and other means to tell their stories and deliver their messages around the world, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is recommending more than doubling the among of money given to U.S. Special Operations Command for countering those narratives.

In his $604.2 billion defense spending recommendation for the 2016 fiscal year which begins in October, U.S. Rep.Mac Thornberry (R-TX) on Monday announced he is asking for Socom to receive $54.7 million for a “Global Inform and Influence Activities” program. That’s $30 million more than the White House, seeking $10.6 billion total for Socom, had requested.

The command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, is responsible leading the development, coordination and integration of Military Information Support Operations, known as MISO. Formally known as psychological operations, MISO “are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals in a manner favorable to the originator’s objectives,” according to a 2011 Pentagon report outlining how MISO should work.

In Ukraine, the Russians have been using “coercive techniques against its neighbor using [special operations] forces, other clandestine capabilities, information operations, other cyber operations and groupings of ethnic proxies and surrogates to drive wedges into our key allies in East Europe,” Socom commander Army Gen. Joseph Votel recently told an industry association meeting in Washington, according to the Pentagon.

And Islamic State and al-Qaida have been notoriously using the internet, particularly social media sites like Twitter, to brand, recruit and fundraise. The video that showed the immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kassassebeh was perhaps the most gruesome example. However, the group has also released many other videos, like one showing the beheading of Ethiopian Christians captured by Islamic State in Libya.

“The committee expresses concern with the information operations being conducted by the Federation of Russia in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and provides additional authority for a pilot program to support information operations and strategic communications capabilities,” according to the proposed legislation, which also “fully resources and enables Special Operations Forces and U.S. Special Operations Command activities and programs for today and tomorrow.”

Recognizing that ISIL and al Qaeda “have taken to the Internet to spread their message and attract supporters to their cause,” Thornberry said he “welcomes the proposal to give the Secretary of Defense the authority to establish a pilot program to counter these adversarial propaganda efforts, as well as additional funding for U.S. Special Operations Command inform and influence activities.”

The legislation would require the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Low Intensity Conflict to brief the committee on those activities no later than July 30, “with an emphasis on efforts to counter Russian and ISIL propaganda.”

Socom officials declined to comment about the proposal.

Thornberry’s idea gets mixed reviews from three Tampa military messaging experts.

In theory, it is a workable approach, said Karla Stevenson, Director of Engagement of the Global Initiative on Civil Society and Conflict at the University of South Florida.

But if not properly designed and targeted, the MISO campaign could be a waste of money at best and dangerous at worst, said Stevenson, who used to run the analytics outreach program at U.S. Central Command.

There are no specifics in Thornberry’s proposal and it will be up to Socom to develop it.

“You have to do it right,” said Stevenson. “You have to understand your objective. You have to understand your audience. You have to have a measure of effectiveness and you have to be able to judge what your goals are. If you don’t understand what the outcome should be, you are just blowing money.”

There are several layers of understanding required for an effective MISO campaign, said Stevenson. There needs to be a solid understanding of the cultures in question, the key leaders and influencers, how people communicate, how they use social media and which sites they use.

In the worst case, a misdirected MISO campaign can be dangerous, said Stevenson, “because it could do absolutely the opposite of what you intended.”

Violent extremists “propagating the messages tend to know and understand their target audiences much better than Americans do,” said Randy Borum, Coordinator, Strategy & Intelligence Studies at USF who served as a principal investigator on the “Psychology of Terrorism” initiative for a U.S. government agency. “But one of the biggest challenges for information operations is demonstrating their effectiveness because it is notoriously difficult to prove what has been prevented.”

Like Stevenson, Borum recommends greater investment in measuring effectiveness.

“The more we know about what (information operations) strategies are working, for whom, and in what contexts, the better able MISO will be to plan and implement operations that make a difference,” he said. “Having more messages, more venues for messaging or more personnel involved in information support, by themselves, will not guarantee success.”

A MISO campaign against the jihadi groups makes much more sense than against Russia, said Michael Pheneger, Socom’s first director of intelligence who now serves as chairman of the Tampa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Frankly, what we are prepared to do is a drop in the buck with what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is prepared to do,” said Pheneger. “Look at the geography. We can’t match Russian capabilities in that area at a price where anyone is willing to pay.”

Most Urgent Issue: Finland Creates Group to Counter ‘Russian Propaganda’

April 27, 2015

I love it when Sputnik News highlights Western efforts at countering their propaganda.

Finland sees Russia’s use of Information Warfare and is seeking to counter it. Sputnik will belittle Finland’s efforts, but this is yet another country actively opposing Russian IW.

Helsinki has created a working group comprising representatives from various ministries and government agencies to counter what it defines as “disinformation” spread by Russian media, Finnish Kaleva newspaper reported Sunday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — According to head of the Finnish Government Communications DepartmentMarkkuMantila, Russia is waging “a full-fledged information war” against a number of states, including Finland.The working group strategy, to combat “false information,” will involve experts speaking on hot-button policy issues at schools and enterprises.

Mantila criticized Russian media for “selective quoting” of Finnish politicians that, in his point of view, is so widespread that it is “clearly no coincidence.” He also said that one of the objectives of “Russian propaganda” could be to weaken European Union unity.

Total Eclipse of the Mind
Total Eclipse of the Mind

Relations between Moscow and the West hit a low point after Crimea’s 2014 reunification with Russia and the escalation of Ukrainian crisis. The United States, the European Union and their allies accused Russia of meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs – claims that Moscow repeatedly denied — and began imposing economic sanctions.

Both Russia and the West have repeatedly accused each other of biased coverage of the situation in Ukraine.Earlier this year, Broadcasting Board of Governors, a US government agency, requested an additional $15.4 million to expand its Russian-language programming and social media content.

At the same time, its anti-Islamic State campaign amount only to $6.1 million.


Ukraine releases own version of Ballad of the Green Berets

April 27, 2015

Article by: Adrian Bryttan

In 1966, the song “Ballad of the Green Berets” was the No. 1 hit for many weeks on American music charts. In the midst of the Vietnam War, it was one of the very few songs that proudly portrayed the military in a positive light. It sold over nine million single discs and albums, and was even the top single of a year in which the Beatles and Rolling Stones dominated the music industry. It was originally written to honor the first native Hawaiian serviceman who died in Vietnam, executed by the Viet Cong. The song was written by Robin Moore, author of the novel and movie “The Green Berets” with John Wayne, and singer-songwriter Barry Sadler, Staff Sergeant, Green Berets. “The Ballad of the Green Berets” has been translated into many languages and has been adapted for the combat forces of Netherlands, Rhodesia, Sweden, Croatia, Italy, Switzerland, and now – Ukraine.

The author of the lyrics Oleksa Nehrebeckyj presented the song at his Facebook page: “I wrote some lyrics to a song. Just in time for the Army Day [6 December 2014]. Never mind the video – it’s just a rough draft. The music is American.”

The song was created by four people’s effort: lyrics by Oleksa Nehrebeckyj, music adapted by Vitalii Telezin, the singer – Yulia Donchenko and the production director – Andrii Partyka. The video for the song was created by Olena Bilozerska, Information Agency “Poriad z Vamy” [“By Your Side”]

Ballad of the Green Beret
by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler and Robin Moore
copyright 1966Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Trained to live off nature’s land
Trained in combat, hand-to-hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage peak from the Green Berets

Silver wings upon their chest
These are men, America’s best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret

Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her his last request

Put silver wings on my son’s chest
Make him one of America’s best
He’ll be a man they’ll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret.

100 warriors: Ukrainian version of Ballad of the Green Beret
by  Oleksa Nehrebeckyj, translated by Adrian BryttanLike a blood stream flowing fine
On the steppes a thin red line:
Battles to the left and right,
Lurking death – a dreadful sight.

We advance, one hundred strong,
We march on, however long.
Hour by hour, day by day,
Our one command – to fight and stay.

Day by day, to who knows where
We follow orders – our squad is there,
Through the blazing bullets hail
On our charred and rocky trail.

We advance, one hundred strong,
We march on, however long.
Hour by hour, day by day,
Our one command – to fight and stay.

As we face the vast unknown,
We approach uncharted zones,
While we meet our distant fate,
In our homes our sweethearts wait.

Here today and gone tomorrow –
Morning brings us joy and sorrow.
No one knows what fate has planned,
We’ll give our life for our dear land.

Any moment can be your last,
The time for fear is now long past,
Ready, aim – repulse the foe!
Don’t drag your feet – let valor show.We advance, one hundred strong,
We march on, however long.
Hour by hour, day by day,
Our one command – to fight and stay.

Dearest heart, don’t you cry!
He’ll return – he will not die!
Our Donbass they’ll never take
Our resolve they’ll never shake!

We advance, one hundred strong,
We march on, however long.
Hour by hour, day by day,
Our one command – to fight and stay.

Here’s What Social Science Says About Countering Violent Extremism

April 27, 2015

Anthropologist; Author, ‘Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists’

This post is adapted from an address in the UN Security Council’s Ministerial Debate on “The Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace.”

I am an anthropologist. Anthropologists, as a group, study the diversity of human cultures to understand our commonalities and differences, and to use the knowledge of what is common to us all to help us bridge our differences. My research aims to help reduce violence between peoples, by first trying to understand thoughts and behaviors as different from my own as any I can imagine: such as suicide actions that kill masses of people innocent of direct harm to others. The key, as Margaret Mead taught me long ago, when I worked as her assistant at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, was to empathize with people, without always sympathizing: to participate in their lives to the extent you feel is morally possible. And then report.

I’ve spent much time observing, interviewing and carrying out systematic studies among people on six continents who are drawn to violent action for a group and its cause. Most recently with colleagues last month in Kirkuk, Iraq among young men who had killed for ISIS, and with young adults in the banlieus of Paris and barrios of Barcelona who seek to join it.

With some insights from social science research, I will try to outline a few conditions that may help move such youth from taking the path of violent extremism.

But first, who are these young people? None of the ISIS fighters we interviewed in Iraq had more than primary school education, some had wives and young children. When asked “what is Islam?” they answered “my life.” They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith, or of the early caliphs Omar and Othman, but had learned of Islam from Al Qaeda and ISIS propaganda, teaching that Muslims like them were targeted for elimination unless they first eliminated the impure. This isn’t an outlandish proposition in their lived circumstances: as they told of growing up after the fall of Saddam Hussein in a hellish world of constant guerrilla war, family deaths and dislocation, and of not being even able to go out of their homes or temporary shelters for months on end.

In Europe and elsewhere in the Muslim diaspora the recruitment pattern is different: about 3 out of every 4 people who join Al Qaeda or ISIS do so through friends, most of the rest through family or fellow travelers in search of a meaningful path in life. It is rare, though, that parents are ever aware that their children desire to join the movement: in diaspora homes, Muslim parents are reluctant to talk about the failings of foreign policy and ISIS, whereas their children often want desperately to understand.

Most foreign volunteers and supporters fall within the mid-ranges of what social scientists call “the normal distribution” in terms of psychological attributes like empathy, compassion, idealism, and wanting mostly to help rather than hurt other people. They are mostly youth in transitional stages in their lives: students, immigrants, between jobs or mates, having left or about to leave their native family and looking for a new family of friends and fellow travelers with whom they can findsignificance. Most have had no traditional religious education, and are often “born again” into a socially tight, ideologically narrow but world-spanning sense of religious mission. Indeed, it is when those who do practice religious ritual are expelled from the mosque for expressing radical political beliefs, that the move to violence is most likely.

Last summer, an ICM poll revealed that more than 1 in 4 French youth — of all creeds — between the ages of 18 and 24 have a favorable attitude towards ISIS; and in Barcelona just this month 5 of 11 captured ISIS sympathizers who planned to blow up parts of the city were recent atheist or Christian converts. The unholy alliance of narrow xenophobic nationalism and militant jihad, which play off one another’s fears, are beginning to destabilize the European middle class much as fascism and communism did in the 1920s and 30s, while inciting willingness to sacrifice among both nationalist xenophobes and militant jihadis. By contrast, our own research shows that even among native Western youth, ideals of liberal democracy no longer elicit willingness to make costly sacrifices for their defense.

Europe has a birth rate of 1.4 per couple, which means that without massive immigration it cannot sustain a viable middle class upon which every successful democratic society depends. Yet, Europe is arguably further from effectively dealing with problems of immigration than ever before. As one young woman from the Paris banlieu of Clichy-sur-Bois told us, she like so many others she hangs out with, feels neither French nor Arab, and because she will always be looked on suspiciously, she will choose the Caliphate to help create a homeland where Muslims can pool their resources, be strong again, and live in dignity.

But the popular notion of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West is woefully misleading. Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. This is the dark side of globalization. They radicalize to find a firm identity in a flattened world: where vertical lines of communication between the generations are replaced by horizontal peer-to-peer attachments that can span the globe. Young people whose grandparents were Stone Age animists in Sulawesi, far removed from the Arab world, told me they dream of fighting in Iraq or Palestine in defense of Islam.

Although typically viewed in military terms, Al Qaeda, ISIS and related groups pose the greatest threat as the world’s most dynamic countercultural movement, one whose values run counter to the nation-state system represented here in the United Nations, and to its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has drawn youth from many places into the largest, most potent extraterritorial fighting force since WWII. And just as it took more than a decade for Al Qaeda to mature into a global menace, it may be many years before we see the full effect of ISIS, even if it is kicked out of its current territorial base.

Unless we understand these powerful cultural forces, we will fail to address the threat. When, as now, the focus is on military solutions and police interdiction, matters have already gone way too far. If that focus remains, we lose the coming generation.

So what might be done?

Foremost, continue your important work on problems of development, and on immigration and integration, with a goal to transform the much-lamented “youth bulge” into a “youth boom” by unleashing youth’s inherent energy and idealism.

Let me propose three conditions that I believe young people need, with brief illustrations. But each country will have to create and mobilize these conditions, suited to its own circumstances.

1. The first condition: Offer youth something that makes them dream of a life of significance through struggle and sacrifice in comradeship.

That is what ISIS offers. According to Idaraat at-Tawahoush (“The Management of Savagery”), the manifesto of the Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and now ISIS, a global media plan should compel youth to “fly to the regions which we manage … [For] the youth of the nation are closer to the innate nature [of humans] on account of the rebelliousness within them, which… the inert Islamic groups [only try to suppress].”

When I hear another tired appeal to “moderate Islam,” usually from much older folk, I ask: Are you kidding? Don’t any of you have teenage children? When did “moderate” anything have wide appeal for youth yearning for adventure, glory, and significance?

Ask yourselves: What dreams may come from most current government policies that offer little beyond promises of comfort and security? Young people will NOT choose to sacrifice everything, including their lives — the totality of their self-interests — just for material rewards. In fact, research shows that offering material rewards or punishments may only push truly “Devoted Actors” to greater extremes.

Research also shows that the greatest predictor of willingness to sacrifice is joining comrades in a sacred cause, which gives them a sense of special destiny and the will to fight. That is what enablesinitially low-power insurgent and revolutionary groups to resist and often prevail against materially more powerful foes who depend on material incentives, such as armies and police that rely mainly on pay and promotion rather than heartfelt duty to defend the nation. Sacred values must be fought with other sacred values, or by sundering the social networks in which those values are embedded.

2. The second condition: Offer youth a positive personal dream, with a concrete chance of realization.

The appeal of Al Qaeda or ISIS is not about jihadi websites, which are mostly blather and bombast, although they can be an initial attractor. It’s about what comes after. There are nearly 50,000 Twitter hashtags supporting ISIS, with an average of some 1000 followers each. They succeed by providing opportunities for personal engagement, where people have an audience with whom they can share and refine their grievances, hopes and desires. In contrast, government digital “outreach” programs typically provide generic religious and ideological “counter-narratives,” seemingly deaf to the personal circumstances of their audiences. They cannot create the intimate social networks that dreamers need.

Moreover, counter-narrative messaging is mostly negative: “So DAESH wants to build a future, well is beheading a future you want, or someone controlling details of your diet and dress?”

Can anyone not know that already? Does it really matter to those drawn to the cause despite, or even because of, such things? As one teenage girl from a Chicago suburb retorted to FBI agents who stopped her from flying to Syria: “Well, what about the barrel bombings that kill thousands? Maybe if the beheading helps to stop that.” And for some, strict obedience provides freedom from uncertainty about what a good person is to do.

Besides, once you are convinced of the mission’s moral virtue, then spectacular violence is not a turn off, but sublime and empowering as Edmund Burke noted about the French Revolution, which introduced the modern notion of Terror as emergency defense of radical political change.

And make no mistake, few if any of those who join militant jihad, or xenophobic nationalisms for that matter, are nihilists. That is an accusation leveled by those who wishfully refuse to consider the moral appeal, and hence real danger, of such movements. Being willing to die to kill others requires a deep conviction of moral virtue.

In Singapore last week, some speaking for Western governments argued that the Caliphate is mythology, covering traditional power politics. Research with those drawn to the cause show that this is a dangerous misconception. The Caliphate has re-emerged as a mobilizing cause in the minds of many Muslims. As one imam in Barcelona told us: “I am against the violence of Al Qaeda and ISIS, but they have put our predicament in Europe and elsewhere on the map. Before, we were just ignored. And the Caliphate…. We dream of it like the Jews long dreamed of Zion. Maybe it can be a federation, like the European Union, of Muslim peoples. The Caliphate is here, in our hearts, even if we don’t know what real form it will finally take.”

Without recognizing these passions, we risk fanning them.

And any serious engagement must be attuned to individuals and their networks, not to mass marketing of repetitive messages. Young people empathize with each other; they generally don’t lecture at one another. From Syria, a young woman messages another:

“I know how hard it is to leave behind the mother and father you love, and not tell them until you are here, that you will always love them but that you were put on this earth to do more than be with or honor your parents. I know this will probably be the hardest thing you may ever have to do, but let me help you explain it to yourself and to them.”

3. A third condition: Offer youth the chance to create their own local initiatives.

Social science researchshows that local initiatives, begun with small-scale involvement, are better than national and large-scale programs in reducing violence. It doesn’t matter which government agencies you want to help facilitate this. Let youth engage youth in the search for meaningful ways to make sense of the issues on their personal agenda, whether that be about oppression and political marginalization, lack of economic opportunity, the trauma of exposure to violence, or problems of identity and social exclusion. And most of all support personal engagement, through mutual support and community-based mentors – because it is almost always a particular personal circumstance, shared with friends, that radical extremism probes for, draws out, and tries to universalize into moral outrage and violent action.

Consider this:

At just 16, Gulalai Ismail, and her sister Saba, set up the Seeds of Peace networkwith a group of school friends to change the lives of young women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, NW Pakistan. They began by focusing on women’s place in society, and as their membership has grown, they are now training young activists to become local peace builders, challenging violence and extremism. They trained 25 young people in each of the last two years to join together to promote tolerance, non-violence and peace. The initiative is proving so popular that last year they had over 150 applicants.

The 50 trained young volunteers are now, in turn, reaching out to people in their communities who are vulnerable to radicalization. They hold study circles and one-to-one meetings with these people to develop and promote ideas for a peaceful future. Still in its early stages, the program will reach almost 1,500 young people in the next three years, growing a movement of activists against religious and political extremism. The results are a lot more remarkable, but Gulalai Ismail will not claim them publicly.

Imagine a global archipelago of such peace builders: If you can find concrete ways to help and empower them without trying too hard to control, they could well win the future.

In sum, what is most important is quality time and sustained follow-up of young people with young people, who understand that motivational factors can vary greatly with context despite commonalities — be it for a young father from Kirkuk, a teenage girl from Paris, neighborhood friends from Tetuan, Morocco, or high school soccer buddies from Fredrikstad, Norway. It takes a dynamic movement that is at once intimately personal and global — involving not just entrepreneurial ideas, but also physical activity, music and entertainment — to counter the growing global counterculture of violent extremism.


More Proof of Russian Weapons Used in Ukraine: ATGM 9M133F-1 Kornet

April 26, 2015

Russia continues to deny supplying weapons to the “separatists”. Bullshit.

Components of Russian ATGM 9M133f-1 Kornet found near Ukrainian checkpoint #29

Representatives of the Military Cooperation and Peacekeeping Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine presented another proof of the use of Russian weapons in the territory of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts to Kyiv Association of Military Attaches.

Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and Kiev Association of Military Attaches

Several days ago, a Ukrainian platoon defensive post near Zholobok village (located in Luhansk Oblast) was shelled by Russian aggressors, who used a 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missile system (NATO designation AT-14 Spriggan), specifically, the 9M133F-1 variant, armed with a thermobaric warhead. According to its markings, it was manufactured in 2012. It did not explode due to a malfunction, and it was presented to the public in Kyiv.

Russian ATGM 9M133f-1 Kornet with marking on it.

Russian ATGM 9M133f-1 Kornet electronic component

Military Attaches examine Russian ATGM 9M133 Kornet

According to the markings, the missile was manufactured in 2012 in Russia. These systems are used by the Russian Army. The Ukrainian Army does not possess them.

This report was published by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine at The original photos of ATGM 9M133F-1 Kornet were posted on April 21 by Igor Gurchik on his Facebook page here.

Ukrainian checkpoint #29, located near Zholobok village, which is controlled by the Russian forces, was attacked on April 18, 2015. Below we post all ten photos that are of a much better quality than the photos posted by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. The photos were taken by a Ukrainian soldier immediately after the attack, when the missile warhead was found.

Ukrainian soldier with Russian ATGM 9M133f-1 Kornet

Components of Russian ATGM 9M133f-1 Kornet found near Ukrainian checkpoint #29

Components of Russian ATGM 9M133f-1 Kornet found near Ukrainian checkpoint #29

Components of Russian ATGM 9M133f-1 Kornet found near Ukrainian checkpoint #29







Former Warsaw Pact countries rally behind US convoy

April 26, 2015

Excuse the long delay, but I only just discovered this.

All the Russian propaganda, that the US convoy was not well greeted, is just that. Propaganda.

The Army puts on a heavy metal tour of Eastern Europe for Mr Putin: US armor mobbed by delighted citizens waving Stars and Stripes as it rolls across former Warsaw Pact countries

  • Three American armored convoys today converged in Czech Republic’s capital on tour of Eastern Europe
  • Vehicles have traveled more than 1,000 miles through Poland and the Baltic States as warning to Putin
  • Countries in the region are nervous after Russian annexation of Crimea and military unrest in the area
  • U.S. Army said that Nato maneuvers are ‘a highly-visible demonstration of U.S. commitment’ to the region

Flag-waving supporters of the United States flooded the streets of Prague today to cheer on a highly visible display of U.S. military might rolling through Europe.

Dozens of Stars and Stripes flags, as well as symbols of the Nato military alliance, thronged the capital of the Czech Republic as American soldiers were given a warm welcome by the locals.

Armored carriers, including Stryker multi-purpose fighting vehicles, rolled down the highways before coming to a temporary stop in the city’s historic streets as part of an overt show of strength to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Scroll down for video  

Armored column: Row on row of American firepower rolled through Prague today as Stars and Stripes filled the air

Warm welcome: Locals turned out in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, and waved the Stars and Stripes and the blue flag of Nato as a welcome to visiting U.S. troops

Warm welcome: Locals turned out in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, and waved the Stars and Stripes and the blue flag of Nato as a welcome to visiting U.S. troops

Show of strength: A huge column of armored might has been working its way through Eastern Europe and the Baltic States in the past week as a show of strength in the region

Show of strength: A huge column of armored might has been working its way through Eastern Europe and the Baltic States in the past week as a show of strength in the region

Route: The U.S. armored column began in three different locations before converging in Prague. It will finish in Germany

Route: The U.S. armored column began in three different locations before converging in Prague. It will finish in Germany

Are you watching, Vlad? The U.S. Army’s Stryker armored assault vehicles, above, were supported by Air Force fighter jets and Army attack choppers for parts of the route

The armored column is headed to an army base in Vilseck, Germany, in a journey spanning more than 1,000 miles. The troops are travelling through Nato member states, including the Czech Republic, in the wake of fears over Russian military intervention in the region.

They were given similarly enthusiastic receptions in other European cities.

States in the Baltic feel at particular risk as they share a border with Russia. The convoy, part of a mission dubbed Atlantic Resolve, is designed to reassure members and demonstrate that Nato is prepared to defend its member states.

Ukraine, which had its Crimea territory annexed by Russia last year, and claims military intervention is ongoing, applied to join Nato in 2008, but the process was never completed.

Under the rules of the alliance, any attack on a member state is regarded as an attack on all of them, a tenet credited with checking Soviet expansion during the Cold War.

Happy to see them: Czech locals were pleased to see an American military presence as fears continue over Russia's military action in the region

Bringing the sunshine: The overt military operation is designed to reassure Eastern Europe that the U.S. is ready to act

Bringing the sunshine: The overt military operation is designed to reassure Eastern Europe that the U.S. is ready to act

Shaking hands: A Czech man approached an Army reconnaissance vehicle to greet a soldier in person

Big guns: The U.S. has rolled its heavy arms more than a thousand miles from Estonia, with an eventual destination of Germany

The Dragoon Ride convoy began in three separate branches; one in Talinn, Estonia, one in Vilnius, Linthuania and one in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland.

They converged in Prague and will continue along a single route to Germany, where the U.S. Army has a base. The convoy has in parts received air support from U.S. Air Force jet planes and Army attack helicopters.

Supporters of Russia had threatened to disrupt – or even halt – the convoy, but local reports say that agitators were far outnumbered by supporters and that no untoward incidents took place.

An army spokesman said: ‘Dragoon Ride is a complex mission involving a significant amount of international diplomatic and military cooperation.

‘It will allow all units involved an opportunity to exercise key command and control systems across all levels of command, test their unit leadership and maintenance capabilities, while simultaneously providing a highly-visible demonstration of U.S. commitment to its NATO allies and demonstrating NATO’s ability to move military forces freely across allied borders in close cooperation.’

Lining the streets: Crowds are pictured above earlier in the mission, waving in support from the Czech border

Lining the streets: Crowds are pictured above earlier in the mission, waving in support from the Czech border

Waving: Soldiers in heavy camo waved to the crowds on their long journey

'Stay with us!': The message from these Czech supporters was unambiguous amid fears over Putin's Russia

Air support: Army helicopters hovered overhead parts of the march, pictured above in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland

Local flavor: An U.S. soldier hands a beer to a colleague as they pause in Prague on their long journey

Local flavor: An U.S. soldier hands a beer to a colleague as they pause in Prague on their long journey

Read more:

Estonia recruits volunteer army of ‘cyber warriors’

April 26, 2015

The country’s reserve force, the Estonian Defence League, has a Cyber Unit consisting of hundreds of civilian volunteers, including teachers, lawyers and economists.

The Baltic nation of 1.3 million people is one of the most technologically advanced in the world: almost every banking transaction takes place online and 30 per cent of all votes in the last general election were cast electronically.

But this also makes Estonia acutely vulnerable. In 2007, the country sufferedone of the biggest cyber attacks in history when the websites of banks, government ministries and the national parliament were swamped with data.

Responsibility for this assault was never established, but the finger of suspicionpointed towards neighbouring Russia. The trigger for the event was a controversial decision to relocate a Soviet war memorial in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

If an emergency of this kind were to recur, Estonia’s cyber defenders would be mobilised. “We call them guys with ponytails – but we don’t all have ponytails,” said Tanel Tetlov, a 33-year-old volunteer member of the Cyber Unit.

“The worst part of being a defender is you never know where the attacker is going to hit you,” added Mr Tetlov. “He can choose a clear strike, but you have to defend every door and window.”

The methods of cyber warfare are constantly changing. One common form of attack is a “distributed denial of service”- known as a “D-DOS” – whereby a server is jammed with cascades of data. This can paralyse vital websites, including those handling financial transactions.

Most of the cyber assaults on Estonia in 2007 fell into this category. Today, “D-DOS” incidents are regarded as one of the less sophisticated forms of attack. Criminal gangs or even individuals are capable of launching them.

As a volunteer, Mr Tetlov has helped to fend off dozens of “D-DOS” events. The danger is that a hostile state could employ them as a diversionary tactic. “You could use it as a pawn, as the first move in the game,” said Mr Tetlov. “It could be a diversion to turn your attention elsewhere while they are doing something more damaging.”

Thwarting a cyber attack of this kind starts with identifying where the flood of data is coming from. Once that has been established, the relevant network can be isolated.

This takes expertise and manpower. Governments often find it difficult to employ people with the required skills because they command high salaries in the private sector. Estonia’s solution is to have a pool of civilian volunteers available in an emergency.

General Jonathan Shaw says Britain should follow Estonia’s lead (EPA)

General Jonathan Shaw, who was head of Britain’s Defence Cyber Security Programme from 2011 until 2012, said the UK should follow Estonia’s example.

“We need a cyber reserve and that reserve should be largely civilian,” said Gen Shaw. “Don’t think camouflage, short-back-and-sides and weapons training. It’s ponytails, earrings and thick spectacles – that’s what we need.”

Estonia’s Cyber Unit has a permanent staff of just three people, based in a building in Tallinn once used by Soviet Signals Intelligence. In his office, Andrus Padar, the commander of the unit, organises volunteers and monitors the continuous round of cyber attacks across the world.

One website tracks these events in real time, identifying – so far as possible – the origins and targets of the assaults. The same countries tend to appear: America, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

Cyber warfare gives hostile states the ability to damage their foes covertly and deniably. A full scale offensive might destroy power systems, paralyse financial transactions and freeze essential services – all without the culprit being known.

“What will happen for the next three weeks if you cannot use your credit card or your bank card?” asked Mr Padar. “You can’t buy food or gas – then life will stop.”

The exact number of volunteers who would try to save Estonia from this fate is classified, but Mr Padar said that about 1 per cent of all the country’s information technology experts had joined the Cyber Unit.

He added: “Cyber war is a little bit close to a nuclear war: you are talking about critical services being removed.”



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