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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘New Cold War’ requires both new and old tactics

    As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ostensibly wind down, another phase of conflict for the United States seems to be just beginning. Though the merits of both wars as battlefronts for the war on terror are heavily disputed, it is still clear that combating terrorism is a reality for the foreseeable future.

    Though al-Qaida’s central command is weak for many reasons (not least of which because many of its leaders have been killed), its affiliates in other parts of the world are steadily gathering strength. America’s relationship with Pakistan is growing ever shakier, as evidenced by Pakistan’s dubious Inter-Services Intelligence playing a double game with information as important as Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. And this adds up to a resurgent al-Qaida if its remaining leaders play their cards right.

    As this “hot war” continues, however, another Middle Eastern conflict of a somewhat cooler variety has also grabbed the headlines. This is America’s conflict with Iran, the virulent theocracy with nuclear ambitions that has doggedly matched wits with the Western superpower as well as Britain, Israel and anyone else who appears to stand in its way. Along with Hezbollah, one of the Iranian government’s closest associates and a cagey operator in its own right, Iran represents a new adversary in what is looking more and more like a new cold war of sorts for the United States.

    The most recent example of this phenomenon is Iran’s claim that it shot down an American spy drone over its airspace. Though at least one American government official has claimed that there is no credibility to this assertion, neither American intelligence sources nor the Iranian media are particularly trustworthy when it comes to situations like this.

    This is hardly the first recent semi-covert wrangling between the forces, however. A high ranking Iranian general associated with the nation’s nuclear program was killed while, Iran claims, he was working on intercontinental ballistic missiles. Though Iran also claims his death was purely accidental, there is not entirely unfounded speculation that Mossad, the crack Israeli foreign intelligence organization, was responsible.

    Some weeks before that a complicated Iranian plot emerged on U.S. soil to kill the ambassador from Saudi Arabia, a major regional rival of Iran, by engaging the help of Mexican drug cartels. As if that weren’t convoluted enough, a recent report by an expert on cyber security, John Bumgarner of the independent US Cyber Consequences Unit, has a very interesting theory about Stuxnet, a computer program, probably of American or Israeli origin, that crippled a uranium enrichment facility in Iran last year. He claims that Conficker, a particularly strong worm that tore across cyberspace beginning in 2008, actually acted as the delivery system for Stuxnet. Though he has been silent on Conficker’s origin, if his theory is correct this would likely mean that Conficker was unleashed on the world’s networks not by criminals, but by government forces lined up against Iran.

    Whether even half of these speculations are valid or not, it is clear that a semi-secret war is being waged between Iran, America and various allies on either side. To be sure there are a wide variety of differences between the last Cold War and this one, so much so that calling this conflict a Cold War is an admittedly inexact comparison. But there are lessons to be learned by the intelligence community from the largely covert conflict with the Soviet Union. If Stuxnet or spy drones are any indication, America is clearly prioritizing high tech action in the conflict with Iran.

    That’s not a bad thing by any means. But recent examples have shown that conventional intelligence has been dangerously neglected. Not long ago, Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and militia that is closely allied with Iran, claimed to have captured CIA informants within its midst. Iran quickly made similar claims about informants within its own ranks.

    From what little can be publicly gleaned about such secretive affairs, Hezbollah was able to catch these spies partly because of sloppiness by the CIA informants. Though Hezbollah is considered to be a top of the line organization when it comes to counter intelligence, reports indicate that the CIA informants fell into predictable patterns that drew Hezbollah’s suspicions. These failures are also apparent in the ‘hot’ Middle Eastern war against terrorism.

    In the wars of the 21st century, technology will play a huge and ever increasing role. But the wiliness of the enemy means that it is hardly time to retire the likes of James Bond from the spy game.

    — Andrew Conlogue is a junior studying philosophy, politics, economics and law. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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