Sunday, April 2, 2017

UK Airports and nuclear power stations on terror alert

Britain's airports and nuclear power stations have been told to tighten their defences against terrorist attacks in the face of increased threats to electronic security systems.

Security services have issued a series of alerts in the past 24 hours, warning that terrorists may have developed ways of bypassing safety checks.

Intelligence agencies believe that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and other terrorist groups have developed ways to plant explosives in laptops and mobile phones that can evade airport security screening methods.

It is this intelligence which is understood in the past fortnight to have led the US and Britain to ban travellers from a number of countries carrying laptops and large electronic devices on board.

Now there are concerns that terrorists will use the techniques to bypass screening devices at European and US airports.

There were also fears that computer hackers were trying to bypass nuclear power station security measures. Government officials have warned that terrorists, foreign spies and "hacktivists" are looking to exploit "vulnerabilities" in the nuclear industry's internet defences.

Jesse Norman, the energy minister, told The Telegraph that nuclear plants must make sure that they "remain resilient to evolving cyber threats".

Mr Norman said: "The Government is fully committed to defending the UK against cyber threats, with a £1.9 billion investment designed to transform this country's cyber security."

He said the civil nuclear strategy published in February sets out ways to ensure that the civil nuclear sector "can defend against, recover from, and remain resilient to evolving cyber threats".

Prof Malcolm Chalmers, deputy  director-general of the Royal United Services Institute, an independent think tank for defence and security, said: "It is important for the Government to respond rapidly to evolving cyber security threats.  "The potential threats are wide-ranging and are coming from government and non-government sources.  "Crucially there has to be clear  co-operation with the private sector to tackle this, especially as airports are usually in private hands."

US intelligence officials have warned that groups including Isil and al-Qaeda may have developed ways to build bombs in laptops and other electronic devices that can fool airport security.

There are fears that terrorists made the breakthrough after obtaining airport screening equipment to allow them to experiment.

FBI experts have tested how the explosives can be hidden inside laptop battery compartments in a way that allows a computer still to be turned on.

They were said to have found that the technique would be achievable  using everyday equipment.

The US Department of Homeland Security said in a statement: "Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in electronics.

"The US government continually reassesses existing intelligence and collects new intelligence. This allows us to constantly evaluate our aviation security processes and policies and make enhancements when they are deemed necessary to keep passengers safe."

Manny Gomez, a former FBI special agent, said: "We had the shoe bomber, cartridge attempt, now this is the next level. We need to be several steps ahead of them."

Last year al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda  affiliate in Somalia, detonated a bomb on a flight from Mogadishu to Djibouti.

The explosives were hidden in a part of a laptop where bomb-makers had  removed a DVD drive.

The bomber was blown out of the window but the plane survived.

However, experts have said the bomb would have been far more devastating had the plane reached cruising altitude. The warnings come as Britain remains on a "severe" state of alert following last month's attack at Westminster, in which four people were killed and more than 50 injured.

Warnings that the nuclear industry has to do more to protect itself were contained in the five-year Civil Nuclear Cyber Security Strategy.

It says: "The volume and complexity of cyber attacks against the UK are growing and the range of actors is  widening." Government officials say that the threat from cyber attacks is "growing" and add: "These attacks could disrupt supply, damage facilities, delay hazard and risk reduction, and risk adverse impacts to workers, the public or the  environment."

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Since obtaining nuclear weapons capability in 1967, India has traditionally subscribed to a purely defensive doctrine when it comes to the use of atom bombs.

However, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Vipin Narang asserted at the recent Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington DC that the long-standing defensive posture of New Delhi with regard to the use of nuclear weapons could be at an end and a new "pre-emptive" mentality put in its place, Business Insider reports.

Affirming these claims, General Ehsan ul Haq, a former chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, has asserted that India is rethinking its nuclear posture, in what he suggests are only the latest in a series of increasingly provocative actions toward Pakistan.

These include former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar questioning the point of the no-first-use policy in a speech in November 2016, New Delhi's dropping out of the Saarc Summit (an annual conference attended by member states Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), increased war hysteria at home, attempts to isolate Islamabad diplomatically and noticeably-heightened border tensions.

Haq has affirmed that India is "challenging the credibility of Pakistan's nuclear deterrence through doctrinal as well as technological developments," cited by the Times of India.

Naeem Salik, a former Strategic Plans Division official with the Pakistan government, asserted that India's suggestions about changing from a "passive [no-first-use] to pre-emptive disarming strikes" has created an air of fear among Pakistani strategists.

"We have not only got to study our side of the game, we also have to watch out what is happening on the other side so that we learn from there also and adapt and reform own processes as well," Salik said.

Adding to the disquiet in Islamabad, former Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said New Delhi's nuclear posture now has 'far greater flexibility,' according to In Menon's memoir, he wrote, "There is a potential gray area as to when India would use nuclear weapons first" against a similarly armed enemy, presumably Pakistan.

"It's very scary because all the 'first-strike instability' stuff is real," Narang said.

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NEW YORK –  India and Pakistan have in recent months adopted duelling steps to test new nuclear weapons aimed at gaining strategic advantage over each other, according to a US media report.

"The nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan is intensifying, with new weaponry and more aggressive doctrines that are stoking tensions between two powers at growing risk of confrontation," The Wall Street Journal reported from Islamabad.

Each has more than 100 nuclear warheads and new ways to deliver them from land, air and sea, with India appearing to be considering changing its nuclear doctrine to allow a first strike against Pakistan, correspondent Saeed Shah said, citing analysts.

Among rival developments, India tested interceptor missiles twice this year as part of its plan to develop a ballistic missile-defence shield, the report pointed out. Pakistan in January tested a missile with multiple warheads capable of evading it.

India said last year it began testing its first homemade nuclear-powered submarine at sea and a nuclear missile capable of striking all of Pakistani territory from far offshore. Then Pakistan this year said it had tested its own undersea nuclear missile capable of carrying out a retaliatory strike, the report said.

India's army chief said for the first time this year that it devised a plan for a rapid, shallow, conventional invasion of Pakistan that some analysts say could be unleashed in response to a cross-border terror attack like the Mumbai assault of 2008.

India has calibrated such an invasion so as not to provoke Pakistan to retaliate with its big, strategic nuclear weapons, the report said citing current and former officials from both sides.

Pakistan, in response, has developed a capability to strike such an advance with tactical nuclear weapons-which have a smaller detonation-that it calculates wouldn't trigger a massive retaliation from India, it said.

"We assess that these types of attacks and the potential reactions increase the likelihood for miscalculation by both countries," warned the head of US Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, in congressional testimony in March. "A significant conventional conflict between Pakistan and India could escalate into a nuclear exchange."

The US State Department declined to comment, the report said. The foreign ministries of Pakistan and India didn't respond to requests for comment. Both countries say they are developing a "credible minimal" nuclear deterrent.

While Pakistan races to keep pace with India, India is vying with the larger nuclear programme of Pakistan's ally China, according to the report. China, meanwhile, is in competition with the US, which has drawn close to India in recent years.

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, an advocacy group, said even a limited nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan would have such a devastating impact on global climate that it would put two billion people at risk of famine.

Pakistan says the driver of the current round of nuclear competition is the US move in 2005 to legitimize India's nuclear programme and allow it to buy fissile material on the international market. The US claims the deal strengthened non-proliferation.

That accord was intended to cement US ties with India to help contain a rising China, it said, citing analysts. Meanwhile, Pakistan's relationship with the US has suffered as the two nations blamed each other for chaos in Afghanistan.

"With the US closer to India and an untested president in the White House, some nuclear strategists question whether Washington can still play its former honest-broker role to defuse India-Pakistan tensions," correspondent Shah wrote.

Pakistan is increasingly relying on its nuclear deterrent against a neighbour that has a five-time bigger defence budget and twice the military manpower, it was pointed out. Pakistan is out producing India's nuclear weapons by four to one, according to the Stimson Center, a Washington research group. Islamabad disputes that assessment.

India's bigger stockpile of nuclear fuel and new reactors set to soon start producing substantial amounts of plutonium give New Delhi the potential to overtake Pakistan's production of nuclear weapons in the future, it said, citing experts.

Pakistan's recent development of tactical devices raises the risk of a nuclear weapon being used and of them falling into the hands of militants, the report cited "some experts" as claiming.

Another risk, they say, is India's stated belief that a limited conventional war with Pakistan is possible despite nuclear arms on both sides.

India seems to be rethinking its declared policy of not using nuclear weapons first, Vipin Narang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was quoted as saying.

If India believes Pakistan is about to use its tactical weapons, it would need to hit them first-and take out Pakistan's strategic arsenal with nuclear strikes before Pakistan could retaliate against Indian cities, the report said.

To destroy Pakistan's arsenal, India would need many more nuclear weapons; Pakistan would need to dramatically increase numbers to have a good chance of some weapons surviving an Indian first strike.

"Pakistan would have to go first and with everything because it can't afford to lose. And the Indians would have to go even earlier. Iteratively, it is very destabilising. No side could afford to go second," Prof Narang said.

India, now led by a Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government, will respond to any terror attacks in a more determined manner, as demonstrated with its special forces [so-called] incursion into Pakistani territory after an attack against an Indian base at Uri last year, Rajeswari Rajagopalan, a former Indian National Security Council official now at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in Delhi, was quoted as saying.

As neighbours, India and Pakistan would have just 10 minutes to react to the launch of a missile by the other side and judge whether it is nuclear armed.

Though the two have diplomatic ties, no dialogue exists to rein in the nuclear rivalry, the report said.

"If this kind of arms competition continues between India and Pakistan, the rhetoric continues to increase, and non-state actors continue to run amok, sooner or later we'll have a crisis," Feroz Khan, a former senior official in Pakistan's nuclear programme, who now teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School, California, said. "South Asia sits on a tinderbox."

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 02-Apr-2017 here

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