TIME Terrorism

Twitter Hacking Gives Pentagon a Black Eye

Twitter

Embarrassing, sure. But classified info apparently secure

Live by the tweet, die by the tweet.

The latest cyberwar skirmish involves an embarrassing—but apparently nothing more—breach of U.S. Central Command’s social-media accounts by alleged Islamist hackers. Nonetheless, it’s a black eye for the Pentagon, with its multi-billion-dollar preoccupation with cybersecurity.

Centcom is the regional Pentagon command that oversees U.S. military action in 20 nations stretching from Egypt to Pakistan, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Centcom, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., began displaying messages allegedly from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria starting about 12:30 p.m. EST on its Twitter account. At least two ISIS YouTube posts also showed up in Centcom’s account on the video site.

“AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS.” the first apparently non-official Twitter message said (ISIS doesn’t refer to itself as “ISIS,” which immediately led to speculation in the Pentagon and elsewhere that the hackers might not be who they claim to be).

It was followed in quick succession by others. “ISIS is already here, were are in your PCs, in each military base,” a second tweet said. “We know everything about you, your wives and children.”

But a quick review of documents posted suggested they are unclassified. At most, they appear to fall into the category of documents the Pentagon often labels “for official use only,” which are routinely posted on the Internet by the Pentagon itself. Reporters located posted documents involving U.S. military acquisition and strategy on public Pentagon websites.

Twitter suspended Central Command’s account shortly after 1 p.m., with all the prior posts—both legitimate and otherwise—inaccessible.

About 5 p.m. Monday, Centcom issued a statement saying the breaches didn’t affect “operational military networks” and that apparently no classified data was jeopardized. “We are viewing this purely as a case of cybervandalism,” Centcom said. The social-media accounts, it added, “reside on commercial, non-Defense Department servers.”

In an interview broadcast Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that while the Pentagon has an edge when it comes to firepower, it’s merely tied with prospective foes when it comes to cyber warfare. “We don’t have an advantage,” Army General Martin Dempsey told Fox News. “It’s a level playing field, and that makes this chairman very uncomfortable.”

Shortly before the hack began, President Obama was speaking at the Federal Trade Commission on computer security. “This extraordinary interconnection creates enormous opportunities but also creates enormous vulnerabilities for us as a nation and for our economy and for individual families,” he said. “If we are going to be connected, then we need to be protected.”

The White House said that a Twitter hack isn’t the same thing as a major data breach, like Sony recently experienced. “This is something that we’re obviously looking into and something that we take seriously,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

As the Centcom attack unfolded, the Government Accountability Office was issuing a report warning of the soft underbelly of the U.S. government’s dependence on networked computer systems. “To further highlight the importance of the threat, on October 11, 2012, the Secretary of Defense stated that the collective result of attacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure could be ‘a cyber Pearl Harbor, an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life,’” the GAO said.

Thankfully, except for a few outfits, social media doesn’t yet constitute “critical infrastructure.”

– With reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME foreign affairs

Three Reasons France Became a Target for Jihad

Global Reaction To The Terrorist Attack On French Newspaper Charlie Hebdo
Carsten Koall—Getty Images Papers with 'I am Charlie' displayed are left near candles at a vigil in front of the French Embassy following the terrorist attack in Paris on Jan. 7, 2015 in Berlin.

John R. Bowen is a Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis.

The country has long and tangled history with the Muslim world and organized religion

Jihad seems to hit France harder than other countries, with more than 1,000 young people leaving to fight on the side of ISIS or other jihadis in Iraq and Syria, and now the murderous attack by two men of Algerian descent on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Why, and where will this latest attack lead?

There are three points to keep in mind as we watch the investigations play out.

First, France has been more closely engaged with the Muslim world longer than any other Western country. Since 1830, when it conquered Algeria, it has seen much of Muslim Africa as its own backyard. And after World War I, France took control of Syria and Lebanon as well. Many French settled in North Africa, and after World War II, many North Africans came to France to work in new factories, most settling in poor areas in Paris, Lyon, and the industrialized north. In the post-industrial era, factories were shut down but the settlers stayed. And it is their children and grandchildren who in 2005 exploded in rage over their exclusion from French society. The 1995 movie La Haine showed this rage before the fact—and also made clear that these explosions had nothing to with religion.

France left Algeria only at the end of a long and bloody war, from 1954 to 1962, which continues to reverberate throughout the country, especially in the south, where Algerians who fought on both sides of the war settled in Provence and kept the conflict alive. Here is where the far-right National Front was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a paratrooper nourishing anger against De Gaulle’s “abandonment” of French Algeria. His daughter Marine now leads the party.

But unlike other European colonial powers, the French never really left their former colonies, continuing to intervene economically and militarily to defend France’s national interests in Africa and the Near East. Now this means battling al Qaeda and ISIS in Mali, Iraq, and, perhaps in the future, Syria. So when disaffected young men and women tune in to jihadi web sites, they find French-speaking Muslims telling them of the sins their government is committing against their “brothers and sisters” in Iraq and Syria. Resentment at French racism, at the series of largely symbolic measures taken against Muslims, such as the 2010 ban on wearing face-veils in public, add to this anger, and lead some towards fighting.

Second, the French Republic has nourished a sense of combat with the Church—which for some means with religion of any sort. If in the 19th century, the Church retained its hold on young minds through its monopoly of primary schools, by the end of that century the state had built a secular and free system of schools. Thereafter, the Dreyfus affair pitted an openly anti-Semitic Catholic establishment against pro-Republican intellectuals, Vichy gave powers to anti-Jewish French officials, and after the war schools continued to be the focal point, a microcosm, of the battle between religious and secularist camps.

Modern France thus produced a strong tradition, especially in Paris, of opposition to organized religion, and satire of its pretensions. Charlie Hebdo succeeded a long line of satirical magazines that ridiculed religion, and Charlie took down all with pretensions: Christians, Muslims, Michael Jackson—everyone.

Third, the attack risks to add fuel to the rise of the Far Right in France and throughout Europe. The National Front is already spinning the attack as showing up the basic incompatibility of Islam and the values of France. Even as its leader, Marine Le Pen, the much smoother political heir to her father, Jean-Marie, maintains a moderate line, officially stating that France was united for freedom of expression, she added that “the time for hypocrisy was over,” and that not confusing Islam with terrorism not ought to lead us to deny the obvious. Some of her lieutenants went further, attacking Islam directly, and the immediate commentators to Le Monde’s on-line coverage overwhelmingly took this line: anti-religion and anti-Islam.

France will not change its decades-old foreign policy, nor are rights and practices of satire likely to fade away. But the main impact may be to use the attacks as an excuse to blame Islam and immigration for broad anxieties about where things are going in Europe today. Such a confusion can only strengthen the far right.

John R. Bowen is a Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and author of Can Islam be French, Blaming Islam, and the forthcoming Shari’a in Britain.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Syria

Kurdish Fighters Push Back ISIS in Kobani

Kurdish troops now control at least 80% of the Syrian city's territory

Kurdish troops fighting militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have captured an important district in the city of Kobani in northern Syria, a Syria-monitoring group said Monday.

Kurdish troops now control at least 80% of the city’s territory, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a U.K.-based monitoring group.

ISIS fighters invaded the area in September but Kurdish fighters aided by Iraqi troops and air strikes from the U.S.-led coalition have since been able to push ISIS back.

SOHR said the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as the Kurdish troops are known, successfully took control of the government square and security district of the city, following gun battles in which 14 ISIS fighters were killed.

It was not yet clear whether YPG suffered any losses in the battle. Kobani official Idriss Nassan told the BBC that “the advance has become faster and the air strikes are more intense”, adding that it may not be long until YPG units are in control of the entire city.

Read more: The fight against ISIS on the border between Turkey and Syria

TIME Military

U.S. Troops Now Under ‘Frequent’ Attack at Iraqi Base

U.S. Marines at Al Asad Air Base in Iraqís Anbar Province.
Ayman Oghanna—The New York Times—Redux U.S. Marines at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq's Anbar province, Dec. 28, 2014.

ISIS lobs `sporadic' rounds at base where Americans are training Iraqis

Last month, the Pentagon declared there were “no reports” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria firing on U.S. troops stationed at Iraq’s huge al-Asad base. This month, the Pentagon acknowledged Monday, ISIS has been routinely lobbing “completely ineffective” rounds at the U.S. troops training Iraqi forces at the base north of Baghdad.

Who knows what next month will bring?

Firing crude rockets and mortar rounds is an inexact science, to be sure, but it’s basically like shooting at fish in a barrel. Yes, the fish are very small—and the barrel very big (the base is 25 square miles)—but no military force likes to be pinned down by mortar and rocket barrages. With every incoming round, the chances go up that someone on the base is going to be wounded, or worse.

This is President Obama’s dilemma: he has declared there will be no U.S. combat boots on the ground inside Iraq, yet he has dispatched American soldiers to a base with at least a smattering of enemy forces around it. If ISIS gets lucky—and wounds or kills U.S. troops—the political pressure on Obama to escalate will be intense.

Since Christmas, the U.S. and its allies have launched air strikes at ISIS targets near al Asad on five days, including a pair Monday that “struck two [ISIS] tactical units and destroyed three [ISIS] vehicles,” according to a Pentagon release.

But air power is a tough way to take out shoot-and-scoot mortar teams. It takes ISIS fighters only moments to set up and fire several rounds, before likely returning to dwellings shared with civilians, which U.S. policy bars attacking. Ground units, with the capability to gather intelligence before busting down doors and apprehending perpetrators, are a far more effective weapon against such attacks.

al Asad air base was the second-biggest U.S. base in Iraq during the 2003-11 Iraq war. About 100 miles west of Baghdad in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, the base sits on the Syrian Desert. About 320 U.S. troops are now there, earning hazardous-duty pay while training Iraq’s 7th Infantry Division to take on ISIS. There are just over 2,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, and Obama has authorized the dispatch of 1,000 more.

There have been grim reports from the region in recent weeks. The BBC reported Dec. 19 that the base “has been encircled by militants from Islamic State (IS).” Four days later, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a branch of the U.S. government, reported that Iraqi military forces and tribal fighters, backed by U.S.-led air strikes, had thwarted an ISIS effort to overrun the base.

“al Asad air base has received some indirect fire in the last week or so, couple of weeks,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told CNN Monday. “It happens frequently, but it’s not like multiple attacks every single day.” The Pentagon, he says, calls it “unguided— it’s just random, sporadic, you might get one, one day, and three the next day. It’s done no damage, it has hurt nobody.”

While that may be true in a physical sense, there is a psychological cost that comes with being under persistent fire. It’s a signal that you’re vulnerable, and that your foes retain at least some initiative that could prove deadly for you or your comrades.

“It’s not too bad,” Marine Corporal Zak Taylor recently told NPR of his deployment to the base. “You kind of get used to everything.” He paused. “Not the rockets—that’s definitely one thing we’ll never get used to.”

 

US army soldiers board a plane to begin
ALI AL-SAADI / AFP / Getty ImagesU.S. troops leave al Asad air base in November 2011 heading for home.

 

TIME Syria

More Than 76,000 Killed in Syria in 2014, Making it the Deadliest Year Yet

Residents look for belongings amid debris of a collapsed building in Aleppo
Hamid Khatib—Reuters Residents look for belongings amid debris of a collapsed building in Aleppo December 31, 2014.

Much of the violence has been caused by the advance of ISIS and other militant groups

More than 76,000 people were killed in Syria’s civil war in 2014, including thousands of children, making it the deadliest year yet, activists say.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday it has recorded 17,790 civilian deaths, 3,501 being children.

The monitoring group said more than 200,000 people have died since the conflict began in 2011, when anti-regime protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime descended into bloody conflict after a government crackdown.

More than 15,000 rebel fighters were also killed in Iraq in 2014, as were 17,000 militants from groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front, making the worst nationwide death toll since 2007, reports the BBC.

Much of last year’s bloodshed comes as a result of ISIS and other militant groups advancing into Syria and Iraq.

TIME Military

The True Cost of the Afghanistan War May Surprise You

General Motors Corp. Hummer vehicles sit on display at Humme
Jeff Kowalsky / Bloomberg via Getty Images A row of Hummers for sale in 2009 at a Michigan dealer.

Calculating the cost of a war is a little like finding the true cost of a car

Amid the revelry, did you notice that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan ended New Year’s Eve at midnight? Now that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are officially over—or merely “paused” as many in the Pentagon believe—it’s a fair time to check the meter to see how much these two conflicts cost the nation.

First rule: there are as many ways to measure the cost of a war as there are to measure the cost of a car.

Suppose, for example, you were a Pentagon war planner with a hankering for a GM Hummer back in 2009 when both wars were rumbling along. That’s the nifty, if not nimble, civilian variation of the U.S. military’s High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (Humvee, for short).

A quick check of Edmunds.com’s True Cost to Own calculator (after plugging in one of the Pentagon’s six Zip Codes) shows you’d pay the dealer $35,752 for the behemoth. But its true cost to own—depreciation, financing, fuel, insurance etc.—would more than double, to $78,616, over five years of ownership.

The analogy’s not precise, but it’s close enough to show that paying for wars doesn’t end when the fighting does. (And not only then: the nation won’t be paying for these wars only over the next five years, but for more than a generation). And while you can no longer buy a new Hummer, there’s always a new war sitting on out the lot, waiting to be waged. But it’s critical to be aware of its total cost.

The Congressional Research Service, for example, just fired up its calculators and concluded that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 trillion. That’s a fine figure, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough, and anyone who cites it as the conflicts’ cost is more Hummer salesman than steward of taxpayer funds.

Congressional Research Service via Federation of American Scientists

A truer measure of the wars’ total costs pegs them at between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. This fuller accounting includes “long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs,” Harvard economist Linda Bilmes calculated in 2013.

The Pentagon and its civilian overseers don’t like to talk about war costs, either before or after the shooting. That’s because a high price tag beforehand acts as an economic brake, making war—assuming that’s the goal—less likely. The nation may no longer draft soldiers, but when it wages war it has to draft dollars (borrowed or otherwise). Far better to try to sell a war with a low-cost estimate to mute possible public opposition.

And after the war—especially when victory is MIA—toting up the bottom line is just too depressing.

There are downsides to straying from such dogma. The George W. Bush Administration, for example, forced Lawrence Lindsey to resign as head of its National Economic Council shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, after he said the cost of a war with Iraq might reach $200 billion. A month later, just before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested the war’s total cost would be “something under $50 billion.” And the U.S., he added, would share that bill with its allies.

The new CRS report says the war in Iraq ended up costing $814.6 billion. Afghanistan has cost $685.6 billion.

Congressional Research Service via Federation of American Scientists

Bilmes, in her 2013 study, said the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been “the most expensive wars in U.S. history.” That, of course, was before the U.S. entered its third Iraq war in August, and before the U.S. decided to keep troops in Afghanistan through 2016.

But just because those U.S. troops in Afghanistan no longer have a combat mission doesn’t mean they’re a bargain: the CRS report says the cost of keeping a single American soldier there this year is an eye-watering $3.9 million.

TIME Iraq

Civilian Deaths in Iraq Spiked Sharply in 2014

Double the year before

The number of civilians killed in Iraq doubled in 2014 from 2013, according to a new report out Thursday.

The public database project Iraq Body Count recorded 17,049 civilian deaths in Iraq in 2014, approximately double its tally in 2013 (9,743), which itself had doubled from the year prior (there were 4,622 civilian deaths in 2012). IBC, which has been recording civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the American and British invasion of the country 12 years ago, attributed the growing violence on the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

The sharp rise in civilian deaths makes 2014 the third worst year for civilians over the entire 12 years of the conflict, after the bloodiest years of the Iraq War in 2006 and 2007.

TIME Syria

ISIS Executed Almost 2,000 People in Syria Over the Past Six Months

Google Top Searches of 2014 List
STR—AP In this June 16, 2014, file photo, supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria chant slogans as they carry the group's flags in Mosul, Iraq

The great majority of them were civilians

ISIS executed 1,878 people in Syria over the past six months, including 120 of its own members, a U.K.-based Syrian human-rights group said on Sunday.

Most of the people killed by the Islamist terrorist group were civilians, including 930 members of a Sunni Muslim tribe from eastern Syria, Reuters reports, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

All but four of those executed within ISIS’s own ranks were fighters trying to leave and go back home.

ISIS, which has declared a caliphate across a broad swath of Syria and Iraq, and regards breaches of strict Islamic law as punishable by death, frequently releases videos of its executions, including the killings of two U.S. journalists and three aid workers from the U.S. and Britain.

[Reuters]

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Police: Coalition Airstrikes Kill ISIS Governor of Mosul

Hassan Saeed Al-Jabouri is the second ISIS-appointed governor to be killed in the extremist stronghold in December

Coalition airstrikes killed the latest Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)-appointed governor of Mosul on Thursday, according to Iraqi police.

Hassan Saeed Al-Jabouri, known as Abu Taluut, is the second ISIS governor of Mosul to be killed in December, CNN reports.

According to Maj. Gen. Watheq Al-Hamdani, the Iraqi police commander leading the government’s efforts to retake Mosul, Jabouri was killed 29 km south of the city in the village of Qayyara. He had been in office less than 25 days.

Mosul has been a stronghold for ISIS fighters since they took the city from Iraqi forces earlier this year. The Pentagon says they will move to retake the city beginning in January.

[CNN]

TIME faith

Pope Francis Singles Out Iraq and Syria in Christmas Prayer for Peace

VATICAN-POPE-URBI ORBI-CHRISTMAS
Osservatore Romano/AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis gives his traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on Dec. 25, 2014

"There are so many tears this Christmas"

Pope Francis used his Christmas address at the Vatican to pray for peace for those suffering through conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and Africa.

Speaking to thousands amassed below his perch on St. Peter’s Basilica, USA Today reports, he singled out residents and refugees of Iraq and Syria “who for too long now suffer the effects of ongoing conflict and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution.” He also mentioned the families of the children killed in the recent school attack in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“There are so many tears this Christmas,” he said, later adding: “May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world.”

Other restive areas noted by the Pope included Central African Republic, Nigeria and South Sudan.

The annual address came the day after he placed a satellite phone call to an Iraqi refugee camp, informing displaced families that they were in his thoughts this holiday season.

“Dear brothers, I am close to you, very close to you in my heart,” the Pope said to refugees outside the Kurdish city of Erbil, according to AFP.

Many of the refugees had fled a campaign of ethnic cleansing waged by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in the northwestern provinces of the country. The Pope condemned ISIS, accusing its members of carrying out attacks against “innocent children, children who have died, exploited children.”

“I am thinking, too, about grandparents, about the older people who have lived their lives, and who must now bear this cross,” he said, hours before he led midnight mass at the Vatican.

[USA Today]

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