Posts Tagged Warfare

China unmoved on Iran sanctions (BBC)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, New York (23 Sept 2009)

Mr Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to shake “honestly extended” hands

China says placing sanctions on Iran is not the right way to resolve the controversy over its nuclear plans.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called on all sides to “redouble diplomatic efforts” to persuade Iran to end its nuclear programme.

Her remarks came after Russia indicated it could soften its longstanding opposition to further sanctions.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are set to lead Thursday’s nuclear proliferation debate at the UN General Assembly.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is for civilian use only but many Western states believe it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Speaking in Beijing, Ms Jiang said: “We believe that sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems and are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue.”

Correspondents says Iran’s oil and gas industries are likely to be affected if sanctions are strengthened, which could explain China’s reluctance to back further restrictions.

Wide focus

Russia has already agreed to limited sanctions on Iran but has so far opposed any additions.

ANALYSIS
Quentin Sommerville
Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beijing

When Jiang Yu said that sanctions and pressure would not solve the Iranian nuclear issue, she was simply repeating China’s stated policy of non-interference in another country’s sovereignty.

China rarely votes “no” in the Security Council, but often abstains. However, Beijing has backed a number of resolutions that would open the way to sanctions against Iran, but did so with its nose firmly held. Sanctions don’t work says China, they only victimise ordinary citizens. But is this sound principle or just smart business?

Trade between China and Iran is booming – it jumped by a third between 2007 and 2008. The United States and others accuse China of sanctions-busting and helping Tehran’s weapons programme, something that Beijing has consistently denied.

On Wednesday, however, President Dmitry Medvedev said although they were rarely productive, sanctions were in some cases “inevitable”.

“We need to help Iran to [make] the right decisions,” he said, following a meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York.

The move was welcomed by the White House. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Russia’s “willingness to play a constructive role is extremely important”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Paul Reynolds, says Russia’s apparent change of direction could have been influenced by the US announcement last week that it was dropping plans for an anti-missile defence shield close to Russian borders.

But exactly how far Russia might go is not yet clear, our correspondent says.

In his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not refer directly to the nuclear stand-off, but said Iran was ready to shake all hands “that are honestly extended to us”.

US officials have stressed that Thursday’s talks at the UN aim to create a “framework” for dealing with nuclear issues rather than focusing specifically on Iran.

Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama 23.9.09

“There is a deliberate effort here to focus on this issue comprehensively, and not use this meeting to focus on any specific country or problem,” said the US deputy permanent representative to the UN, Alex Wolff.

However, Iran is expected to dominate the agenda.

Six world powers are preparing to hold talks with Iranian officials on 1 October that are expected to cover global nuclear disarmament.

Mr Obama is hoping for a united position among the group but analysts say that if the talks yield nothing, he wants to pursue tougher sanctions against Tehran.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Minister David Miliband said the six powers had agreed Iran must give a “serious response” to accusations against it.

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Microsoft increases search share (BBC)

Bing.com

Microsoft recently introduced visual search

Microsoft’s Bing search engine is making inroads into Google’s dominance of the search market according to data from US net measurement firm ComScore.

Its latest figures show Microsoft’s share of the search market has grown from 8.9% in July to 9.3% in August.

The news saw Microsoft’s shares rise while Google’s dipped slightly.

Microsoft’s modest 9.3% share of the US search market is small but is a significant increase for a new entrant, say analysts.

The Bing search engine was launched by Microsoft in June 2009 and was followed in July by a search tie-up with rival Yahoo.

Google is still far and away the search leader, with 65% of the US market.

Tiny ripple

The fact Google is losing any market share to Microsoft could indicate that it is no longer the immediate choice for everyone, thinks search expert John Batelle.

“I think the service is starting to gain footholds with users who see it as a regular alternative to Google,” he wrote in his blog.

He is a fan of Bing’s newly-released visual search interface.

“I think it augurs some serious new – and useful – approaches to sifting through massive amounts of related data,” he said.

In the UK, Bing has also made small inroads into Google’s market share.

In August the number of searches on Bing increased by 5%, while Google searches were down 1.7%, according to UK online measurement firm Nielsen.

“It is a very tiny ripple but reflects that Microsoft has done a lot of marketing around it and that people are curious about anything new that is launched,” said Alex Burmaster, communications director at Nielsen.

Google is already working on an update to its current search engine.

Nicknamed “Caffeine” the new version is still in the testing phase and will replace the current engine once tests are complete.

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Obama shelves Europe missile plan (BBC)

Barack Obama: “I’m confident… we have strengthened America’s national security”

US President Barack Obama has shelved plans for controversial bases in Poland and the Czech Republic in a major overhaul of missile defence in Europe.

The bases are to be scrapped after a review of the threat from Iran.

Mr Obama said there would be a “proven, cost-effective” system using land- and sea-based interceptors against Iran’s short- and medium-range missile threat.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed the US decision, calling it a “responsible move”.

Russia had always seen the shield as a threat.

However, there has been criticism of the decision in conservative circles in the US.

The US signed a deal in August 2008 with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.

ANALYSIS
Kevin Connolly
Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Washington

It would be hard to invent a news story that tied together more strategic and political issues than the Obama administration’s decision to change its stance on the deployment of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

It touches on Washington’s assessment of Iran’s military capabilities. There is an underlying assumption that Tehran’s capacity for mounting warheads on long-range missiles does not pose an immediate strategic headache.

It also sends a signal to the peoples of Central Europe about how President Barack Obama proposes to manage the post Cold War order in their neck of the woods in the next few years. And it raises questions about the administration’s much-talked-about desire to “hit the reset” button on its relationship with Russia.

The US had said the missile shield would be fully operational by 2012.

But President Obama this year ordered a review of the defence system, which was strongly backed by his predecessor George W Bush.

‘Stronger and smarter’

On Thursday, President Obama said in a live TV address that the change was needed to “deploy a defence system that best responds to the threats we face”.

He said a review had shown the need to switch strategy to defending against the short- and medium-range missiles that Iran could use to target Europe.

Twice Mr Obama referred to the need for a system that was “proven and cost effective”.

He said the new approach would provide “a stronger, smarter and swifter defence” of US and allied forces in Europe.

Mr Obama said he had spoken to both the Czech Republic and Poland and stressed his commitments to their defence.

But he said again that Russia’s concerns about the old system were “entirely unfounded”.

It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return
John Bolton,
former Bush undersecretary

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later stressed the overhaul was “not about Russia”.

Although the White House said the US “no longer planned to move forward” with the old shield scheme for Poland and the Czech Republic, Defence Secretary Robert Gates stressed the US was not abandoning missile defence of Europe.

He said negotiations were under way with both nations about deploying upgraded SM-3 interceptors from 2015.

The first phase of the new strategy, he said, would be to deploy “current and proven missile defence systems in the next two years”, including the sea-based Aegis and the current SM-3.

Iran says its missile development programme is solely for scientific, surveillance or defensive purposes, but there are concerns in the West and among Iran’s neighbours that the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

‘Responsible’

Mr Medvedev said the US decision was a “positive” one.

He said he would discuss the missile defence issue with President Obama during a visit to the United Nations in New York next week.

Mr Medvedev said in a TV address: “We value the US president’s responsible approach towards implementing our agreements. I am ready to continue the dialogue.”

Ground-based Midcourse Defense locations map

The two countries are currently in talks about reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the US move could influence Russia to be more co-operative, correspondents say.

Mr Medvedev said there were now “good conditions” for talks on missile reduction.

Gates on missile shield overhaul

However, there has already been some criticism in the US.

John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, said the move was “unambiguously a bad decision”.

He said: “This gives away an important defensive mechanism against threats from countries like Iran and other rogue states, not only for the US but for Europe as well.

“It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return.”

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the US move was “a positive step”, Associated Press reported.

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Arctic Sea Iran arms link denied (BBC)

The Arctic Sea, file image

The ship’s disappearance continues to puzzle experts

Russia has denied media reports that a cargo ship which was apparently hijacked in July was carrying Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the reports that the ship had illegal arms on board were “absolutely untrue”.

The Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea vessel with 15 Russian crew went missing for more than two weeks. It was found on 16 August off West Africa.

Eight men were later charged with hijacking and piracy over the case.

The men, mostly from Estonia, are suspected of seizing the ship and its crew after raiding it disguised as police.

‘Serious people’

Speaking in Moscow, Mr Lavrov dismissed media speculation about S-300 missiles on board the Arctic Sea as “groundless”.

Russia’s top diplomat also promised a “transparent” investigation in which Maltese officials would also be invited to take part.

The 4,000-tonne vessel vanished in July days after leaving Finland with an apparent cargo of timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m), destined for the Algerian port of Bejaia.

Last week, Britain’s Sunday Times quotes sources in Russia and Israel claiming that the Arctic Sea was carrying arms to Iran and not timber.

It said that the sources claimed the ship had been loaded with S-300 missiles, Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon, while undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad.

The arms were sold by former military officers linked to the underworld, the Sunday Times reported.

Also last week, a Russian journalist fled his country after suggesting that the ship might have been carrying illegal weapons.

Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of the Sovfracht online maritime journal, said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The FSB has made no public comments on the allegations.

There has also been speculation the ship may have been intercepted by Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – in order to prevent a shipment of illegal arms to the Middle East.

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Arctic Sea transported Russian missiles (Interfax)

TALLINN. Aug 19 (Interfax) – The dry cargo ship Arctic Sea that was
reportedly attacked by pirates recently could have been involved in arms
trafficking, which is indirectly evident from the fact that Russian
combat planes and ships were dispatched to release the vessel, said
Tarmo Kouts, an EU rapporteur on piracy and former commander of the
Estonian defense forces.
“Only the presence of cruise missiles on board the ship can explain
Russia’s strange behavior in this whole story,” Kouts said in an article
published in the Wednesday issue of the Estonian newspaper Postimees.
If the vessel had been transporting illegal drugs, Russia would not
have taken such energetic steps to find the missing vessel, he said.
“This whole story looks so farfetched that it would have been naive
to believe Russia’s official version,” he said.
“First, the dry cargo ship’s owner officially tied to Finland but
having relation to Latvians, who were ethnic Russians, reported the
ship’s disappearance to the Russian president, after which three big
battleships and a frigate from the Black Sea were sent to chase it,”
Kouts said.
This naval unit was significantly stronger than that engaged in a
recent Somali piracy crisis, he noted.
The cargo that was on board the Arctic Sea, i.e. timber bound for
Algeria, could have been the best camouflage for arms contraband, Kouts
said.
“A whole alley of guided missiles can easily be hidden under stacks
of timber, because, in order to uncover them, the vessel needs to be
brought to a port, and its hold has to be emptied. They are not so easy
to uncover at sea,” he said.
Kouts emphasized that only the transportation of weapons can
explain Russia’s controversial behavior during the incident.

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Putin condemns Nazi-Soviet pact (BBC)

Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov signs the Nazi-Soviet pact as his German counterpart Joachim Von Ribbentrop (left), and Stalin look on, Moscow, 23 August 1939

The pact led to the carving-up of Poland and eastern Europe

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact signed a week before Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland as “immoral”.

In a piece for the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, he also expressed sorrow over the massacre of Polish army officers by Soviet forces at Katyn in 1940.

His words are seen as a bid to ease tensions with Poland over World War II.

But he also argued the Munich agreement signed by France and Britain wrecked efforts to build an anti-Nazi alliance.

A year earlier France and England signed a well-known agreement with Hitler in Munich, destroying all hope for the creation of a joint front for the fight against fascism
Vladimir Putin
Russian prime minister

Mr Putin is among several statesmen attending a service in the Polish port city of Gdansk on Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of Poland’s invasion.

“Our duty is to remove the burden of distrust and prejudice left from the past in Polish-Russian relations,” said Mr Putin in the article, which was also published on the Russian government website.

“Our duty… is to turn the page and start to write a new one.”

Katyn regret

Memories of the 1939 pact – in which the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany essentially agreed to carve up Poland and the Baltic States between them – have long soured Moscow’s relations with Poland and other east European states.

Joachim von Ribbentrop signing the ratification of the Nazi-Soviet pact in Berlin, 28 September 1939

Within a month of the pact being signed, Soviet troops had invaded and occupied parts of eastern Poland.

“It is possible to condemn – and with good reason – the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact concluded in August 1939,” wrote Mr Putin, referring to the two foreign ministers who signed the pact at the Kremlin.

It was clear today, he said, that any form of agreement with the Nazi regime was “unacceptable from the moral point of view and had no chance of being realised”.

“But after all,” he added, “a year earlier France and England signed a well-known agreement with Hitler in Munich, destroying all hope for the creation of a joint front for the fight against fascism.”

The Munich Agreement of September 1938, widely seen as the low point of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, allowed Germany to annex Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland region.

Mr Putin added that Russian people understood “all too well the acute emotions of Poles in connection with Katyn”.

In 1940 Soviet secret police massacred more than 21,000 army officers and intellectuals on Stalin’s direct orders in the Katyn forest near the city of Smolensk.

Moscow only took responsibility for the killings in 1990, having previously blamed the massacre on the Nazis.

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Web tool oversees Afghan election (BBC)

By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News

Kabul campaign posters (AP)

Crowd-sourcing information on the election could ensure its fairness

Any attempt to rig or interfere with Afghanistan’s election could be caught out by a system that allows anyone to record incidents via text message.

The Alive in Afghanistan project plots the SMS reports on an online map.

Citizens can report disturbances, defamation and vote tampering, or incidents where everything “went well”.

Their reports feature alongside those of full-time Afghan journalists to ensure the election process and reporting of it is as “free and fair” as possible.

“We hope to enable people to report on what is going on in the country,” explained Brian Conley, who helped set up the project.

“In the rural areas there are not going to be monitors, and it is questionable how much international media coverage there will be in these areas.”

Additional text and video reports will be added by a network of 80 reporters from the Afghan Pajhwok news agency, he said.

Some will be willing not to eat that evening [in order to be able] to tell the international community what is going on in the country
Brian Conley
Alive in Afghanistan project

Mr Conley said that he hoped the results would be used by national and international media along with members of the international community.

In addition, he said, they may also be sent to the Electoral Commission if there are reports of tampering or rigging.

Content of crowds

The system relies on two established open-source technologies to gather the election reports.

The text messages are collected via a free-platform known as FrontlineSMS, developed by UK programmer Ken Banks.

The system was originally developed for conservationists to keep in touch with communities in national parks in South Africa and allows users to send messages to a central hub.

It has previously been used to monitor elections in Nigeria, and has now been combined with a “crowd-sourced, crisis-mapping” tool known as Ushahidi, which plots the reports on a freely-accessible map.

The system was developed in Kenya when violence erupted following the disputed presidential elections between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.

Since then, the platform has also been used to document anti-emigrant violence in South Africa and problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Duplicate Afghan voting cards (FEFA)

Thousands of duplicate voting cards were discovered in an investigation

Together they allow reports to be gathered from any part of the country with mobile phone coverage.

Mr Conley hopes “hundreds of thousands of people” will use the system, which has been promoted by distributing “thousands of leaflets” and radio reports.

“I am confident that because of Pajhwok’s support we will see a good amount of content coming in,” he said.

However, he added, the project had to be “realistic about what is possible”.

“In a lot of parts of the country – for whatever reason – people don’t use SMS,” he said. “It is still a developing technology.”

In addition, he said, each text message is relatively expensive, costing the equivalent of two minutes of talk time.

“Even though that is the same amount of money it costs to buy bread for your family people have told me that some will be willing not to eat that evening [in order to be able] to tell the international community what is going on in the country.”

‘Government pressure’

Any content that is sent to the service is cross-checked, he said, to ensure its authenticity.

Reports that are not verified will be marked as such.

In addition to the citizen reports, the map will be populated by reports form a network of journalists from Pajhwok, he said.

The reporters would report “every aspect of the election, good and bad,” he said.

The National Security Council of Afghanistan has asked all domestic and international media agencies to “refrain form broadcasting any incidence of violence during the election process”.

The Foreign Ministry has reportedly told Afghan media organisations that any domestic group defying the ban will be shut down.

“There is lots of pressure from the government not to cover these things,” said Mr Conley.

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Defending virtual borders (BBC)

By Mark Cieslak
BBC Click

The risk to government networks and major financial institutions from cyber warfare is increasing every day but what is being done to defend national borders?

Globe

“Cyber war” is an emerging global security risk

Estonia is an online savvy state and champion of so called ‘e-government,’ a paperless system with many government services online. The population can even vote via the web.

In 2007 a large number of Estonian government and financial websites were brought to a standstill as they came under sustained online attack.

On 4 July 2009, US and South Korean government websites and those of certain banks and businesses ground to a halt as they came under denial of service assaults. In the United States, the Pentagon and the White House were also targeted.

These cyber attacks were all initially thought to be orchestrated by countries unfriendly to Estonia, South Korea and the US and to date have been the highest profile examples of so-called cyber warfare.

Digital battlefield

Conventional warfare relies on tanks, troops, artillery, aircraft and a whole gamut of weapons systems. Cyber warfare requires a computer and an internet connection.

Professor Sommer

Professor Sommer claims that most of the attacks are over the internet

Rather than sending in the marines, the act of typing a command on a keyboard can have a devastating effect on computer systems and networks.

According to Clive Room of Portcullis Computer Security: “It is possible to bring an entire state to a standstill theoretically and we’ve seen it done on a small scale practically, so the threat ahead of us is very big indeed.”

From criminal gangs trying to steal cash, to foreign intelligence services trying to steal secrets, the threat of cyber warfare is now very real.

Nato suspects that along with the tanks and troops involved in the conflict in Georgia in 2008, Russian forces also engaged in cyber attacks against Georgian government computer systems.

Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics explained that cyber warfare should just be seen as a part of modern warfare in general:

“[Carl Von] Clausewitz said war is diplomacy conducted by other means. What cyber warfare gives you is a whole range of new types of technologies which you can apply.”

Zombie machines

These international attacks are not isolated instances. Everyday government and corporate websites fend off thousands of attempts to infiltrate hack and cause disruption.

Twitter, Facebook and other high-profile sites have recently been brought to their knees by similar attacks.

The popular weapon of choice in cyber warfare is the directed denial of service attack or DDOS. Unknown to their owners, infected computers become zombie machines digitally press-ganged to do the bidding of hackers, this is known as a botnet.

My experience of doing investigations of all sizes is that very often the initial diagnosis is wrong
Professor Sommer, London School of Economics

In their thousands these zombie machines attempt to log on to a particular website, forcing it to fail or collapse under the sheer weight of data it is receiving.

The threat of cyber warfare is being taken seriously by Western governments and Nato. Online assets are being deployed to bolster national and international digital defences.

NATO has set up a cyber defence facility in Estonia codenamed K5. The American government has launched a national cyber security strategy and the UK has responded by creating two organisations, the Office of Cyber Security and the Cyber Security Operations Centre based at GCHQ in Cheltenham.

However the amount of people involved is still small, said Clive Room.

“The government’s own reckoning is about 40. About 20 people within each of those two offices.”

In comparison he estimates that there are about 40,000 people “listening in to us in China” and “working round the clock.”

For Professor Sommer, the UK has had a response to cyber warfare in place for 10 years, but “it’s been pretty hidden so far.”

“You tended to get to know about it if you were an academic or you moved in certain sort of technical circles,” he said.

“More recently because the problems got bigger and because of greater public alarm and interest they have decided to make it more public.”

Misdiagnosis

If defending against cyber warfare is tough, trying to pin point, track back and identify the origin of an online attack can be a near impossible task.

Computer mouse and keyboard

PCs inside a botnet can be forced to carry out instructions

In the case of the Estonian attacks, initial reports suggested that Russia was to blame. These allegations have been strongly denied by Russian authorities, and to date only one individual, an ethnic Russian student living in Estonia, has been fined as a result of the attacks.

For Professor Sommer, misdiagnosis is easy: “All too quickly people say they know where the attack is coming from.”

“My experience of doing investigations of all sizes is that very often the initial diagnosis is wrong.”

“If you look at the recent Korean attacks it seems, at a political level, a reasonable supposition that it originated in North Korea because they’re the people that are most active at the moment.

“On the other hand, some of the reports say at a technical level they seem to have originated here in the United Kingdom, which makes no sense. So diagnosis is quite difficult.”

However, one thing is certain: cyber warfare is here to stay.

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How vital were Cold War spies? (BBC)

By Gordon Corera
BBC Security Correspondent

Kim Philby

British spy Kim Philby handed over secrets to the Soviets

The world of espionage lies at the heart of the mythology of the Cold War.

Along with nuclear weapons, spies were the emblems of the conflict.

But while the tales of adventure, betrayal and mole hunts have proved a source of rich inspiration for thriller writers, did they actually make a difference to the outcome?

Did intelligence make the Cold War hotter or colder?

It is difficult to know the answer.

“There were secrets that were important to keep secret and there was intelligence which it would be very helpful to have known,” argues former British Foreign Secretary David Owen.

“But my own instinct is that we didn’t really – with a few exceptions and a few important exceptions – really know exactly what was going on.”

One reason it is hard to make a judgement is that much of the intelligence collected was military or tactical in nature, and would only have proven useful if the Cold War had gone hot.

Much effort was expended in stealing secrets like the Soviet order of battle or the design of new Soviet tanks which would have been invaluable in case of war.

Intelligence during the Cold War had a very big impact on the shape and size of the British defence programme
Sir David Omand
Former UK Intelligence and Security Coordinator

This type of intelligence was collected by electronic means and satellite reconnaissance, as well as by human spies. It was used to work out how to best equip and prepare the military.

Sir David Omand, the former UK Intelligence and Security Coordinator, says: “Intelligence during the Cold War had a very big impact on the shape and size of the British defence programme, on the kinds of equipment we bought and very specifically the actual capabilities that were built into that equipment to be able to encounter whatever intelligence showed was the capability of Warsaw Pact forces.”

During times of “hot war”, intelligence plays an important but ultimately secondary role in supporting military operations.

But, during periods of tension short of full-scale military action like the Cold War, intelligence takes on a more central position.

In the absence of traditional warfare, intelligence becomes itself the primary battleground as each side tries to understand the enemy’s capabilities and intentions, as it seeks to undermine their position using covert action, psychological operations and forms of subversion.

Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) had a troubled beginning to the Cold War, not least because it was penetrated by its Soviet counterpart, with men like Kim Philby and George Blake handing over secrets.

But slowly it became more professional, recruiting and running agents who could provide information on the activities of the Soviet bloc.

Intelligence sceptic

Some former diplomats query the record of intelligence in providing insight into political trends.

Rodric Braithwaite, a former ambassador to Russia at the end of the Cold War and later Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, is something of an intelligence sceptic.

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan in 1987

A Soviet spy’s insights changed Thatcher and Reagan’s approach

“I was always rather encouraged by the Joint Intelligence Committee, who used to send us drafts of their assessments on Soviet affairs with the secret bits cut out because they didn’t want to have them sloshing about in Moscow.

“With the secret bits out, the conclusions they were coming to were exactly the same ones that we were coming to in Moscow because the information that mattered was available at both ends and it was mostly either conversations with people, which were not particularly secret, or what was in the newspapers.”

But Sir Gerry Warner, a former deputy chief of MI6, believes intelligence helped ensure politicians had a realistic understanding of what the Soviet Union was up to.

“It is always a temptation if somebody is saying ‘I am a friend of yours and I don’t mean any harm’ to accept that.

“But if you are being told all the time by a microphone in your ear that it is totally untrue and that he’s holding a knife behind his back, he’s about to kick you where it hurts, the temptation is less to trust him.”

Running agents behind the Iron Curtain involved risk – risk to the life of an agent but also politically in terms of raising the temperature.

“The main concern was always balancing the value of possible intelligence against the risk,” explains Sir Gerry Warner.

“If an espionage operation was uncovered it was always an important public event – the media got into it, the other side would play it up – and therefore there was a political risk clearly.”

Understanding intentions

Spy rows flared periodically. In the early 1970s, the UK expelled more than 100 Soviet diplomats from its embassy in London.

So did these kind of operations and activities fuel distrust and paranoia?

The identity of most agents remains secret but a few have become public and one or two of those can be claimed to have made a real impact.

One was Oleg Penkovsky, a colonel in Soviet military intelligence.

Knowing your enemy is very important indeed
Baroness Daphne Park
Former MI6 controller

His information – passed to MI6 and the CIA in the early 1960s – helped President Kennedy manage the Cuban missile crisis successfully by identifying the extent of Soviet missile capability and how far the Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev was likely to push events.

The most useful strategic intelligence comes from penetrating the leadership of your enemy so that you understand not just their military capability but their intentions.

That was something MI6 only managed late in the Cold War largely thanks to KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who spent a decade towards the end of the Cold War supplying intelligence to MI6 which revealed how paranoid the Soviet leadership was of a first nuclear strike by Nato.

“The British service could not believe it but because I proved it very well they eventually believed it,” he said.

“Knowing your enemy is very important indeed,” argues Baroness Daphne Park, a former MI6 controller.

“It was very important that we should know that they were as paranoid as that. I don’t see how we would have known it any other way.”

Col Gordievsky’s insights had a profound effect on both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in rethinking how they approached the Soviet Union, which in turn helped them manage the end of the Cold War.

“What nobody wanted was to be surprised,” Sir John Scarlett, the chief of MI6, told me in his office.

“And that intelligence knowledge, intelligence base if you like, gave knowledge which greatly reduced that fear of a surprise attack.

“And, as the Cold War developed, more confidence developed that the other side was understood, and that helped manage the situation and was a key reason why we got to the end without a blowout.”

The one thing the spies failed to predict, along with everyone else, was of course the end of the Cold War itself.


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The cyber raiders hitting Estonia (BBC)

As Estonia appeals to its Nato and EU partners for help against cyber-attacks it links to Russia, the BBC News website’s Patrick Jackson investigates who may be responsible.

Image of Soviet soldier with words "Happy Victory Day! My grandfather's victory is mine too"

One Estonian website was defaced to show a Soviet soldier

Estonia, one of the most internet-savvy states in the European Union, has been under sustained attack from hackers since the ethnic Russian riots sparked in late April by its removal of a Soviet war memorial from Tallinn city centre.

Websites of the tiny Baltic state’s government, political parties, media and business community have had to shut down temporarily after being hit by denial-of-service attacks, which swamp them with external requests.

Some sites were defaced to redirect users to images of Soviet soldiers and quotations from Martin Luther King about resisting “evil”.

And hackers who hit the ruling Reform Party’s website at the height of the tension on 29 April left a spurious message that the Estonian prime minister and his government were asking forgiveness of Russians and promising to return the statue to its original site.

Getting hit hard

The government’s response has been to close down sites under attack to external internet servers while trying to keep them open to users inside Estonia, but the attacks are taking a toll and have been likened by the defence ministry to “terrorist activities”.

Pirate message which appeared on Estonian Reform Party's website (image: Russian news website lenta.ru)

Estonia’s ruling party had its website hacked early on (image: lenta.ru)

“Of course [sites] can be put up again, but they can be attacked also again,” Mihkel Tammet, head of IT security at the Estonian defence ministry, told BBC World Service’s Newshour programme.

Estonia, he said, depended largely on the internet because of the country’s “paperless government” and web-based banking.

“If these services are made slower, we of course lose economically,” he added.

While the government in Tallinn has not blamed the Russian authorities directly for the attacks, its foreign ministry has published a list of IP addresses “where the attacks were made from”.

The alleged offenders include addresses in the Russian government and presidential administration.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I used to download “hacking manuals” when I was at the university, and most of them were written in US
Alex
BBC News website reader, London

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s chief spokesman, told the BBC’s Russian Service there was “no way the [Russian] state [could] be involved in cyber terrorism”.

“When you look at the IP addresses showing where the attacks are coming from, then there’s a wide selection of states from around the world,” he added.

“But it does not mean that foreign governments are behind these attacks. Moreover, as you probably know, IP addresses can be fake.”

Russia’s own presidential website, he said, came under attack itself “hundreds” of times daily.

‘Private attacks’

David Emm, senior technical consultant at Moscow-based antivirus software company Kaspersky Lab, believes the hackers are likely to be “younger types who, in other days, would have been writing and spreading viruses”.

Compared to the scale of the problem in general, Estonia is small
Anton Nossik
Russian internet pioneer

“I would not be surprised if switched-on people were using technical means of expressing themselves,” he told the BBC News website’s technology correspondent, Mark Ward.

Anton Nossik, one of the pioneers of the Russian internet, sees no reason to believe in Russian state involvement in the hacking, beyond the fanning of anti-Estonian sentiment.

“Unlike a nuclear or conventional military attack, you do not need a government for such attacks,” he told the BBC News website.

“There were anti-Estonian sentiments, fuelled by Russian state propaganda, and the sentiments were voiced in articles, blogs, forums and the press, so it’s natural that hackers were part of the sentiment and acted accordingly.”

Hackers, he points out, need very little money and can hire servers with high bandwidth in countries as diverse as the US and South Korea.

Pro-Estonian hacking on a Russian website (image: Russian news website lenta.ru)

Hackers hit both ways: a pro-statue site hacked to show Estonia’s flag

The expertise is “basic”, he says, with virus scripts and source codes available online and there are “hundreds of thousands of groups who have the resources to launch a massive virus attack”.

“The principle is very simple – you just send a shed load of requests simultaneously,” he says.

Estonia’s blocking of external servers is in his opinion a smart response but can only work for a country of “1.4 million with a non-international language”. In Russia, for instance, foreign servers account for 60% of the net, he says.

For Mr Nossik, of more concern is how the global net can protect itself against the big virus attacks like the Backbone Denial-of-Service attack in February which hit three key servers making up part of the internet’s backbone.

“Compared to the scale of the problem in general, Estonia is small,” he says.

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