Archive for the ‘Hezbollah’ Category

Here’s something interesting. You may remember this story from back in November about the CIA spy network in Lebanon that met at a Pizza Hut they codenamed PIZZA, and which was rolled up by a joint Hezbollah-Lebanese military intelligence investigation. The key detail is as follows:

U.S. officials also denied the source’s allegation that the former CIA station chief dismissed an email warning that some of his Lebanese agents could be identified because they used cellphones to call only their CIA handlers and no one else.

Lebanon’s security service was able to isolate the CIA informants by analyzing cellphone company records that showed the numbers called, duration of each call and location of the phone at the time of the call, the source said.

Using billing and cell tower records for hundreds of thousands of phone numbers, software can isolate cellphones used near an embassy, or used only once, or only on quick calls. The process quickly narrows down a small group of phones that a security service can monitor.

If the top paragraph is true, it would have been catastrophically ill-advised. Even somebody special, like a CIA agent under diplomatic cover, has a relatively large number of weak ties to normal people. This is the reverse of the small-world principle, and is a consequence of the fact that the great majority of people are real human beings rather than important persons. As a result, things like STELLAR WIND, the illegal Bush-era effort to analyse the whole pile of call-detail records at AT&T and Verizon in the hope that this would find terrorists, face a sort of Bayesian doom. We’ve gone over this over and over again.

However, phone numbers that only talk to special people are obviously suspicious. Most numbers with a neighbourhood length of 1 will be things like machine-to-machine SIMs in vending machines and cash points, but once you’d filtered those out, the remaining pool of possibles would be quite small. It is intuitive to think of avoiding surveillance, or keeping a low profile, but what is required is actually camouflage rather than concealment.

There are more direct methods – which is where electronic warfare and shopping mall management intersect.

Path Intelligence, a Portsmouth-based startup, will install a network of IMSI-catchers, devices which act as a mobile base station in order to identify mobile phones nearby, in your shopping centre so as to collect really detailed footfall information.

Similarly, you could plant such a device near that Pizza Hut to capture which phones passed by and when, and which ones usually coincided. Alternatively, you could use it in a targeted mode to confirm the presence or absence of a known device. Which makes me wonder about the famous Hezbollah telecoms network, and whether it was intended at least in part to be an electronic-intelligence network – as after all, nothing would be a better cover for a huge network of fake mobile base stations than a network of real ones.

Meanwhile, this year’s CCC (like last year’s) was just stuffed with GSM exploits. It really is beginning to look a lot like “time we retired that network”.


There’s a new strategy blog about, this time a French one. They have an interesting discussion about the suggestion/rumour/story that Hezbollah might be trying to acquire Scud missiles. They’re dubious about it, although open to the suggestion that the organisation might be developing its own inter-service politics, with the big rocket people perhaps constituting the “air force”. Relatedly, this pair of Tom Ricks posts is stuffed with interesting links about the 2006 war. In the light of those, you might almost think that any effort to acquire something like a Scud, with its huge transporter-erector-launcher truck, would be more of a deception or disinformation tactic than anything else.

Peter Beaumont goes for a Holt’s battlefield tour of southern Lebanon:

Cruising through the serene green wadis that connect south Lebanon to the Litani river to the north, the commander explains what happened at the end of the last war. “We knocked out three of their tanks on the first day, as they tried to enter,” he explained at a turn-off by the village of al-Qantara. “But after they entered the wadi, we knew they were going for the river and had to be stopped. So we called out to all the special forces anti-tank teams in the area. And they all swarmed the wadi. Boys would set up and wait for the tanks, fire off their rounds and then pull back. Then they would pull back a kilometre or so down the wadi and wait for them again.”

According to Israeli military reports, after the first and last tanks were hit by rocket fire or mines, killing the company commander, the 24 tanks were essentially trapped inside a valley, surrounded on all sides and pinned down by mortars, rockets and mines. Eleven tanks were destroyed and the rest partially damaged and Israel lost at least 12 soldiers.

Go read the rest; there’s a fair amount of speculation of the informed sort, and an appearance from Andrew Exum opining that the reinforced UNIFIL has succeeded in moving Hezbollah away from the border, rather as it was meant to. Actually, the reinforced UNIFIL should surely be counted as one of the unexpected successes of the last few years – especially if you remember all the yelling at the time.

However, this may be less important than it appears, especially if the Hezbollah guy’s account of their tactics in 2006 is representative – there’s no reason why they couldn’t keep doing that every kilometre, and indeed that’s what the original idea of a screen of small groups of men with guided anti-tank weapons was meant to do in front of the main NATO armies in Germany (remember this post and Stephen Biddle’s analysis?)

Further, the whole concept of a buffer force assumes that both sides would rather not fight, but that neither is willing to make the first move – that a classic security dilemma is operating. If one or both parties are determined to initiate more violence, though, this breaks down. And it’s worrying to see how a lot of Israeli commentary about 2006 has changed over time – in the first 18 months or so, there was a lot of frankness around. The war had clearly been a failure, and Hezbollah had surprised everyone by defending southern Lebanon effectively. Roughly since Gaza, there’s been a denialist phase – a bit like David Lloyd’s crack that “we flippin’ murdered them” after the England cricket team ran out of time trying to beat Zimbabwe. A lot of stuff was blown up in Beirut, and if it wasn’t for those pathetic politicians, we’d have won. You know the pattern.

The U.S. Army’s top historian has a paper out on the war between Israel and Hezbollah (and most of Lebanon) in 2006. It was worth reading when I read it before Christmas, and it’s even more so now.

Specifically, Dr Biddle’s view of Hezbollah strategy is interesting; in his opinion, they adapted to the fact that really long-range rockets would be easy for the Israelis to spot from the air by changing their tactics so as to keep the smaller and more mobile rockets in range of northern Israel, while not over-committing the core army they needed to remain a power in Lebanese politics. In practice, this meant moving from a guerrilla war to a mobile defence in depth, rolling with the punches rather than getting out of the way.

This is roughly what this blog said at the time about NATO reconnaissance screen tactics, the self-declared insecurity zone, and the fleet-in-being inside Lebanon. There’s a lot of interesting stuff about their surprisingly good command and control, the use of anti-tank missiles, and much else. I’m slightly surprised that Biddle thinks that the incident where Hezbollah fired a volley of 13 guided missiles at a group of 15 Israeli tanks and destroyed three of them was a failure, but then, this is an American way of seeing. Targets, probabilities, and the like.

In today’s context, it’s clear that many of the same points apply to Hamas. Their top priorities are to stay in charge in Gaza, which is achievable with a thin layer of supporters with access to aid and rifles, and to maintain their insecurity zone, which they are able to do with very primitive rockets that can probably be made under occupation conditions. Sten guns were made in thousands in clandestine workshops in occupied Europe in the second world war, and those had quite precise mechanical workings.

Here’s one political movement struggling with the technological environment, at the Washington Monthly:

Frank Luntz, speaking at a panel discussion at the Republican Governors Association yesterday, noted Barack Obama’s enormous email list. “He’s got 10 million names and our candidate doesn’t know how to use this,” Luntz said, holding up a BlackBerry. “There is a problem there.”

Yes, and his running mate is so far behind, she thinks bloggers are pajama-clad basement-dwellers.

Here’s the real issue, though; the guy who’s hammering them for not knowing anything about the Internet’s best argument is that the other side have a huge pile of e-mail addresses. Luntz is thinking in terms of 1990s hard-right campaigning – blast-faxing, talk radio, direct mail, robocalls. We need to collect more e-mail addresses so we can spam them with talking points, beg for money, and push out plausibly deniable scare stories they can circulate. We’ll club them to death with our spam.

Here’s more, in an instant-classic post by Marc Lynch.

In short, Movement X adapted very quickly and effectively to the multichannel television revolution.. but its competitors have caught up, its advantage has diminished, and it is not likely to ever again enjoy the TV advantage it had in the past. Information overload, intense competition and fragmentation, and the increasingly aggressive counter-ideology campaigns all stand in the way.

What about internet forums? Such forums allowed X to circumvent editors by posting videos and statements directly to forums where all news producers could pick them up directly – and once anybody, however obscure, ran with it the others were sure to follow. Beyond that, though, they were not really useful for mass audiences, who were unlikely to find their way to the forums, whether or not they were password protected. Instead, they were ‘semi-public spheres’ where those already committed to the identity could download materials and engage in arguments about tactics and strategy and doctrine. The forums built group cohesion, boosting morale and strengthening identity – and offering recruiters a pool of potentials.

But forums also had problems. Their audience was limited to those already at the second or even third stage of mobilization. The doctrinal arguments on the forums tended to reward the most doctrinaire at the expense of the pragmatists, arguably driving X’s doctrine even farther from the mainstream. Sometimes, the debates could undermine morale or turn into open dissent, to the dismay of movement leaders.

You’ll probably have guessed by now that Movement X is actually Al-Qa’ida. I suppressed it in this post and made a couple of small changes so as to point up the astonishing similarities. You may also notice that the last paragraph is a case of the Daniel Davies theory of Internet counter-mobilisation. But I found this bit especially interesting:

This could potentially strengthen the ‘organization’ part… but at the expense of a greater distance from the pool of potential recruits who would not be sufficiently trusted to join. Overall it’s hard to see how AQ could adapt social networking without creating such vulnerabilities. Its rivals, on the other hand, have no such problems – Muslim Brotherhood youth are all over Facebook.

This is a special case of a general trend. Are we not seeing a structural shift away from the elite model of political organising – neoconservatives and Al-Qa’ida International, as opposed to its local franchises – towards something else we haven’t quite defined yet, like the Obama campaign, the European Union, and Hezbollah? In the first, it’s all about message discipline, ideological purity, and entryism. You seek inner purity in order to contaminate the others. In the second, it’s almost as if you’re aiming to be subverted yourself.

First: the Ethiopian army claims to have killed a Canadian colonel fighting with Somali insurgents. I assume they mean a Canadian who claims to be a colonel in the insurgency, rather than a Canadian colonel who joined, but who can tell these days?

Secondly, here’s a special one – Jewish settler caught firing improvised rockets into his Palestinian neighbours’ land. If you’ve got a grievance these days, improvised rocket artillery is the way to go, clearly. Maybe I should dust off that article I wrote back in the autumn of 2006, widely rejected by a cross-section of the national and international press?

I’m especially amused by the Danish design collective that published details of a rocket “intended to help the citizen express his or her protest at events such as the G8”; sometimes, 2001 seems as far away as the 1960s. I suspect anyone doing so now would be shot, which among other things is why I am mostly encrypting my stuff today.

(BTW, Jim Henley is wrong about this. Improvised multiple-launch rigs with RPGs on the back of a Toyota are a tactic that served the Afghan mujahedin very well, as a quick way to bring down a volley of explosions an shrapnel an stuff on targets some distance off. Further, don’t forget the rocketing of the Palestine Hotel in 2003, which nicely capsized the CPA’s decision loops and scared the living shits out of Paul Wolfowitz. Further, the Viet Cong were past masters at arranging for a barrage of mortars or rockets to happen, and then vanishing. Steve Gilliard did a very good post on this stuff years ago.)

There is a fascinating post at Pat Lang’s about a study trip to Lebanon which involved meeting some interesting and alarming people (Samir Geagea, described here as “a bit Lyndon LaRouche” – well, whatever hard things have been said, quite understandably, about the latter, he never commanded a militia that cut huge crosses in the bodies of its enemies). Bashir Assad’s wife is apparently an Obama Girl, Walid Jumblatt is losing his wits, Saad Hariri is an arrogant twit, Rafiq Hariri’s sister is considerably smarter than Saad, Siniora is a Mann ohne Eigenschaften, and all the Hezbollah representatives they met were very impressive indeed, once they laid off the war porn propaganda pix.

Apart from this Lebanese version of the Spectator at its best, I was interested by this:

Amin Gemayel was not particularly forthcoming, and seemed badly out of touch. When pressed for details on a number of points he was completely at a loss. He seemed to resort to stock politician phrases even in personal conversation. My impression was of a man losing vitality. I tried to push him on the question of what a real ‘national defense strategy’ would be, seeking some common ground between him and Hezbollah. He replied that he envisaged a ‘Swiss model’ of every citizen owning a gun. Incredulous, I asked him if that would really deter Israeli or Syrian aggression. He responded evasively, citing the importance of various UN resolutions. When I cornered him privately after the session, he said that in the 1970s they had tried to acquire Crotale air defense systems but were thwarted by Israeli pressure, indicating that similar factors were at play today.

Not that he means much these days, but I can’t see what the objection to a “Swiss model” would be. In fact, Hezbollah’s total strategy down south appears to have been exactly that in 2006. And given that Lebanon will always be surrounded by bigger powers with dubious intentions, and it is unlikely to be allowed to create a manoeuvre-warfare capability even if it can afford to (see above), it’s hard to see what other policy is available.

Further, the availability of cheap ATGWs and electronics is a big boost to the strength of such a force, and there is no shortage of people to use them. In some ways it’s a lot like the development of another well-known army in the Levant, which was founded on the guerrilla wing of an integrated political party/economic development organisation/rebel army. Can anyone guess which it was? Of course, the Israelis concentrated on buying tanks – but then, they weren’t in the mountains. The other good thing about such a policy is that it would be a handy way of dealing with the existence of militias – wrapping them into some sort of national command structure.

And, of course, Lebanon used to call itself the Switzerland of the Middle East. The similarities are actually more than you think – cantons of differing linguistic/religious identities, mountain frontiers, a profitably discreet and profitably dubious banking sector. You can even ski. But, you know, Switzerland as an island of perfect peace is quite a new idea, created by its neutrality in the world wars – before then, well…there’s a reason why the pope has Swiss guards, which is that back in the day, Swiss mercenaries scared the hell out of Europe so much that some international treaties specifically bound the parties not to recruit them for use against Christians. (Savages, well, that was OK.)

The overall impression is that the system is gradually working its way back into equilibrium, not least as a result of Bush no longer having an active policy. “Have you figured them out?” asked Zaphod. “No, I’ve just stopped fiddling with them..”

Well, I asked for details of that Hezbollah converged telecoms network, and some appeared via the comments at Abu Muqawama. First of all, there’s a map. My first reaction on seeing this was that it looked a lot like a rather underdeveloped, dated official backbone network – there’s not much redundancy anywhere, and there’s only one path between Beirut and the Beka’a, or between either place and the South, which goes far too close to the southern border for comfort. The long lines follow precisely two routes, each of them along the highway right-of-way; there’s more redundancy down south, but it doesn’t look like you’d need more than three cuts to thoroughly partition the whole thing. However, breaking up useful comms within the southern area itself would be considerably more difficult; and this does seem to fit with their tactics.

And here’s an interesting point – there appear to be some very critical nodes in the upper Litani valley, not far at all from the main Israeli incursion in 2006, and for that matter from where the UNTSO post was destroyed. It’s also clear that they have put in several loops right along this sector, close to the border, which should come as no surprise. But the backbone goes that way, too.

Of course, it’s far from obvious that the map is honest, accurate, or comprehensive, or that there aren’t radio links that thicken it up but aren’t shown on the map. “Salem” provides the answer, which is that this network at least is the old official one before Oger took over running it, and Hezbollah took it over. This doesn’t mean, however, its capabilities are necessarily the same or even remotely similar.

The single biggest cost in a telco deployment is always the rights-of-way, cell sites, and digging the holes. Essentially, it’s Baumol’s cost disease, seen from the opposite end – rather than some labour-intensive goods becoming relatively more expensive than capital-intensive ones because they are excluded from technological progress, it’s more that the inputs with the greatest manufactured content – switches, routers, Node-Bs – get cheaper due to Moore’s law and economies of scale, while the civil engineering doesn’t display any such trend. Further, the electronic kit goes obsolete quickly, the bearer – fibre or copper – not for 20 years at least. And the holes in the ground don’t – ever.

Pat Lang posted an article of his from the 1970s at the time of the 2006 war entitled “The Best Defense is…” As I recall, there was quite an emphasis on wired comms in that, too. This sort of investment implies a strategy based on the control of land, and an intention to command the informational terrain as well as they do the physical and human sort.

OK, so I was wanting to know about that Hezbollah WiMAX net. The original source of the story appears to be this Time report:

Although Hizballah is known for its massive Iran-funded social welfare system that provides everything from soup to education, construction materials and matchmaking services for Lebanon’s Shi’ite underclass, cell-phone service is not part of the package — except for those who join its guerrilla army.

Hell, there’s a cracking affinity-marketed MVNO opportunity in there.

One of the world’s most technically advanced and resourceful guerrilla organizations, Hizballah had some time ago installed its own, in-house dedicated fiber-optic telephone network, connecting its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut to its offices, military posts and cadres as far south as the Israeli border. During the summer 2006 war, Israel had jammed cellphone signals throughout south Lebanon and monitored the Lebanese telephone system, but Hizballah’s internal communications channels had survived thanks to its private fiber-optic system. Since the war, however, Hizballah has expanded the network to cover its new military frontline north of the United Nations–patrolled southern border district, and into the Bekaa Valley to the east. Part of the system incorporates a WiMAX network allowing long-distance wireless access for the Internet and cell phones.

More recently, Hizballah has dug trenches for fiber-optic cables in the mainly Christian and Druze Mount Lebanon district and in north Lebanon, according to Marwan Hamade, the Lebanese minister of telecommunications. “It was confined to one or two small areas before and we overlooked it as part of their internal communications. But now it’s spread all over Lebanon,” Hamade told TIME.

We’ll have to get used to this stuff; with the falling price of fancy technology, the days when sophisticated networking was confined to the rich are gone. After all, Hezbollah isn’t the only army that’s deploying WiMAX. South Korea maintains formidable armed forces for reasons that should be obvious, and they are planning to build their entire command-and-control structure on the technology – which has plenty to do with the fact that Samsung developed most of what the world knows as IEEE802.16e Mobile WiMAX, before it was called that. The US Army bought a large quantity of WiMAX gear for evaluation. I have in the past suggested that the British Army check it out as well; we’d be fools not to, as Airspan‘s test deployment is in Stratford.

And so did Israel. If encrypting your data before hurling it over the air is good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for Hezbollah; and WiMAX is suited to a mesh network topology, where each participating node is a router, therefore simplifying the problem of deployment and increasing the system’s resilience. The basic nodes are cheap, too, considerably more so than full size GSM or UMTS base stations.

The Complex Terrain Lab reminds us that the Hezbollah TV station stayed on the air in 2006, despite the Israelis bombing it; a broadcast TV station is in radio terms the biggest target there is. It just sits there, yelling with multiple kilowatts of power in all directions, and by definition it has to be obvious to work; but they couldn’t catch it. I always wondered about that. Their satellite transponder would surely be part of the answer, but uplinking is also a noisy radio activity; one use for a secure, redundant, and private fibre loop or four would be to support a gaggle of mobile satellite TV uplinks.

So we had the world’s first military coup motivated by a 3G network licence, in Thailand; we had the shootout between the Chalabi Boys and Orascom security men in Baghdad. Now, there’s the Hezbollah/Amal coup de force (or de folie as Robert Fisk preferred), motivated in part by the Lebanese government’s desire to control their secret telecoms network, including a CCTV system they installed at the airport to monitor the comings and goings.

Curiously, I’ve yet to hear any actual details of the system, except that it provides 99,000 “lines” (an increasingly meaningless metric, but one that implies it has a softswitch architecture rather than straight IP) and uses buried fibre. But there are also tales of WiMAX and other things radio. Apparently, the leader of Hezbollah has claimed that their signals were their most important weapon back in 2006. Perhaps – you’ve got to know when to move your ATGW team back over the reverse slope, I suppose. Some doubt this on the grounds that a fixed net doesn’t seem that useful, but then, all mobile networks are fixed at some point, and if the fibre is dual SONET it needs a minimum of four independent cuts to partition the system. The Lebanese Army has now said that

it would handle the issue of the communications network in a way “that would not harm public interest and the security of the resistance”. It also said it was reinstating the head of airport security [CCTV Guy].

Which, I think, means they’re going to let it slide, if they don’t actually hook it up to their own signals network. This is of course one of the least obvious features of the whole crisis; all the territory Hezbollah and Amal took was immediately handed over to the official Lebanese military, an increasingly powerful force in politics.

Arguably, this suggests that some of the ideas floated in 2006 about incorporating Hezbollah in the Lebanese military as some sort of reserve/militia/national guard/territorial army/jagers/greenjackets/cossacks/whatever else you call those crazy bastards on the border, as long as they don’t bother you and keep the roads open, are being put in effect de facto. Perhaps the military have a deal, under which the Shia will support their commander in chief for president (and they do), and in return they will have a free hand to create their not-state in the south? It’s a solution to the problem of a bunch of dangerous and independent-minded borderers that has a long pedigree indeed.

You could call it the Haganah-isation of Hezbollah; it’s changing not just from a guerrilla force to an army, but also from a political party to an unstate with a shadow administration, an economy, and its own infrastructure, just as the Israeli founding generation built a mixed economy, a trade union movement, a shadow civil service, and a highly capable semiguerrilla army/intelligence service long before the state became a formal reality. I’m only surprised they didn’t start a commercial GSM network as cover for their own command-and-control system; perhaps they will.

Meanwhile, again, this is an example of the democratisation of technology. You don’t have to invoke a secret Dr Evil to explain how they built this; annoyingly, I see some people are yelling about Huawei and how it’s all teh secret Chinese-Iranian plot. Perhaps. But they’ll sell to anyone. And if there is WiMAX gear in there, it’s cheap; the base stations are already under $10,000, and the biggest expense in a fibre build is always at Layer Zero, that is to say the business of going and digging the holes and renting the transmitter sites. I suspect right-of-way is less expensive in southern Lebanon than it is in Surrey, armies are rarely short of people if they need to dig a hole, and Hezbollah presumably doesn’t have much trouble with NIMBYs. (See also.)

Was this a civil war? Perhaps the idea is wrong; it seems to me more like one of Gwyn Prins’ “diplomatic-military operations” in one country, perhaps something an unstate like Hezbollah – or the Sadr movement – is uniquely suited to, as this superb article of Spencer Ackerman’s argues.