By Alan W. Dowd

Signs of Life in Iraq
65 percent--Iraq’s inflation rate in 2007
5 percent--Iraq’s projected inflation rate this year
7 percent--Iraq’s projected GDP growth this year
9.1 percent--Increase in new businesses registered in Iraq during 2007, compared to the previous year

Smart Helmets
The Army is outfitting 101st Airborne soldiers deploying to Afghanistan with special helmets that collect data on how bomb blasts impact the brain, USA Today recently reported.

“It’s basically a computer chip in a helmet,” according to Gen. Mark Brown.

The chip only weights six ounces. More than 1,100 soldiers are wearing the specially-equipped helmet, which can track up to 527 events and is checked every 30 days.

Most of this war’s head injuries are caused by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which “account for almost 80 percent of all wounds and are responsible for 60 percent of those killed,” according to the USA Today report. 

The Army plans to use the data it gleans to study the effects of bomb blasts and to engineer safer helmets.

Dangerous World
Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell recently delivered his annual threat assessment to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, offering a mix of good news and bad.

At Home: “Over the next year, attacks by ‘homegrown’ extremists inspired by militant Islamic ideology but without operational direction from al-Qaeda will remain a threat to the United States or against US interests overseas.”

Iraq: “Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) suffered major setbacks last year, although it still is capable of mounting lethal attacks. Hundreds of AQI leadership, operational, media, financial, logistical, weapons, and foreign fighter facilitator cadre have been killed or captured.”

Iran: “We remain concerned about Iran’s intentions and assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Pakistan: "We judge the ongoing political uncertainty in Pakistan has not seriously threatened the military’s control of the nuclear arsenal, but vulnerabilities exist…We judge that the Army’s management of nuclear policy issues—to include physical security—has not been degraded by Pakistan’s political crisis.”

Cyber-defense: “We assess that nations, including Russia and China, have the technical capabilities to target and disrupt elements of the US information infrastructure and for intelligence collection.”

Energy: “OPEC countries earned an estimated $690 billion from oil exports last year, nearly three times the revenues earned in 2003. The increased revenues also have enabled producers like Iran, Venezuela, Sudan, and Russia to garner enhanced political, economic and even military advantages…Russia is positioning to control an energy supply and transportation network spanning from Europe to East Asia...We also see a sharp rise in Russia’s investment abroad, much of it driven by Russian energy companies. Moscow is using the power of its energy monopoly to ensure that East-West energy corridors remain subject to Russian influence.”

Web of Terror
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is helping U.S.-based internet service providers identify and take down websites promoting jihadism and terrorism. Under MEMRI’s Islamist Websites Monitor Project, the organization provides its translation capabilities “to any ISP that wants to investigate the content of a suspicious foreign-language site,” as The Weekly Standard recently reported.

In an era when the internet is used to rally the enemy, coordinate attacks, train and recruit new fighters, and demoralize Americans, the problem is deadly serious. And American internet providers are unwittingly contributing to it because a majority of jihadist sites are actually hosted by U.S. firms. The Weekly Standard cites examples such as “Supporters of Jihad in Iraq,” which greets visitors with the caption “Kill Americans Everywhere,” and “The al Saha Forum,” which has posted videos produced by al Qaeda. U.S.-based internet service providers host both sites.

Find out more at http://www.memri.org/.

As a contributing editor to The American Legion Magazine, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.