January 11, 2012
By Greg Miller
The Obama administration’s counterterrorism accomplishments are most apparent in what it has been able to dismantle, including CIA prisons and entire tiers of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But what the administration has assembled, hidden from public view, may be equally consequential.
In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents.
The emergence of hunter-killer and surveillance drones as revolutionary new weapons in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in counterterrorism operations in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, has spawned a multibillion-dollar industry.
Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.
The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.
In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don’t match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.
The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view.
With a year to go in President Obama’s first term, his administration can point to undeniable results: Osama bin Laden is dead, the core al-Qaeda network is near defeat, and members of its regional affiliates scan the sky for metallic glints.
October 27, 2011
The Washington Post
By Craig Whitlock
The Air Force has been secretly flying armed Reaper drones on counterterrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethiopia as part of a rapidly expanding U.S.-led proxy war against an al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, U.S. military officials said.
The Air Force has invested millions of dollars to upgrade an airfield in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs. The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over neighboring Somalia, where the United States and its allies in the region have been targeting al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group connected to al-Qaeda.
Mindful of the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in which two U.S. military helicopters were shot down in the Somali capital of Mogadishu and 18 Americans killed, the Obama administration has sought to avoid deploying troops to the country.
As a result, the United States has relied on lethal drone attacks, a burgeoning CIA presence in Mogadishu and small-scale missions carried out by U.S. special forces. In addition, the United States has increased its funding for and training of African peacekeeping forces in Somalia that fight al-Shabab.
The Washington Post reported last month that the Obama administration is building a constellation of secret drone bases in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, including one site in Ethiopia. The location of the Ethiopian base and the fact that it became operational this year, however, have not been previously disclosed. Some bases in the region also have been used to carry out operations against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
October 25, 2011
By Robert Johnson
The FBI has released a new gang assessment announcing that there are 1.4 million gang members in the US, a 40 percent increase since 2009, and that many of these members are getting inside the military (via Stars and Stripes).
The report says the military has seen members from 53 gangs and 100 regions in the U.S. enlist in every branch of the armed forces. Members of every major street gang, some prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) have been reported on both U.S. and international military installations.
From the report:
Through transfers and deployments, military-affiliated gang members expand their culture and operations to new regions nationwide and worldwide, undermining security and law enforcement efforts to combat crime. Gang members with military training pose a unique threat to law enforcement personnel because of their distinctive weapons and combat training skills and their ability to transfer these skills to fellow gang members.
The report notes that while gang members have been reported in every branch of service, they are concentrated in the U.S. Army, Army Reserves, and the Army National Guard.
Many street gang members join the military to escape the gang lifestyle or as an alternative to incarceration, but often revert back to their gang associations once they encounter other gang members in the military. Other gangs target the U.S. military and defense systems to expand their territory, facilitate criminal activity such as weapons and drug trafficking, or to receive weapons and combat training that they may transfer back to their gang. Incidents of weapons theft and trafficking may have a negative impact on public safety or pose a threat to law enforcement officials.
The FBI points out that many gangs, especially the bikers, actively recruit members with military training and advise young members with no criminal record to join the service for weapon access and combat experience.
The full assessment is definitely worth checking out, if only for the pictures.
April 6th, 2011
By: Lolita C. Baldor
The Air Force secretary says the service has been spending about $4 million a day to keep 50 fighter jets and nearly 40 support aircraft in the Libya conflict, including the cost of munitions.
Secretary Michael Donley tells reporters that the Air Force has spent $75 million as of Tuesday morning on the war. He says the U.S. decision to end its combat strike role in the conflict will cut costs, but he could not say by how much.
He says the Air Force has spent close to $50 million on the relief effort for the Japan earthquake, including $40 million to evacuate between 5,000-6,000 U.S. personnel.
The total U.S. costs for the Libya air campaign as of March 28 were $550 million, not counting normal deployment spending.
Today, Kevin explains how buying organic not only creates a healthier new you, but also saves you money in the long run.
Take Trudeau on the Go! Click here to download this show to your iPod, mp3 player, or PC through iTunes!
March 4th, 2011
By: Sharon Weinberger
Teenage children of U.S. Air Force personnel no longer face the threat of being charged with espionage for reading secret diplomatic cables freely available on the Internet.
The Air Force Materiel Command printed an official news story Monday quoting its legal office as saying, “If a family member of an Air Force employee accesses WikiLeaks on a home computer, the family member may be subject to prosecution for espionage under U.S. Code Title 18 Section 793.”
Now, Air Force headquarters has backed away from that that hard-line position and is disavowing the original statement.
“The release was not previously coordinated with Headquarters Air Force and has been removed from the AFMC website,” Air Force Lt. Col. Richard L. Johnson said in a statement, according to Secrecy News, which has followed the issue closely.
The Air Force flip-flopping is just the latest in the contentious — and often bizarre — saga of the government’s attempt to contain fallout over the massive release of Pentagon and State Department documents by WikiLeaks. The anti-secrecy organization is in the process of releasing some 250,000 diplomatic cables — many classified — in addition to the tens of thousands of military documents it has already posted on its website.
The Pentagon and other government agencies have taken the position that even though the documents are freely available on the Internet, government employees and contractors should continue to treat them as classified. The Air Force, however, has gone even further than some other parts of government, blocking access to news websites that reprint WikiLeaks cables. But it appears that Air Force leadership recognizes that threatening legal sanction against nonemployees may be a step too far.
“The Air Force guidance did not address family members who are not Air Force members or employees,” Johnson said. “The Air Force defers to the Department of Justice in all non-military matters related to WikiLeaks.”
November 9th, 2010
By: Luis Martinez
The mystery of a missile launch last night off the Southern California coast deepened today as U.S. military officials said they were still checking to see if the missile was one of theirs.
The unmistakable contrail of a missile streaking into the California sunset was captured on video last night by a KCBS news helicopter flying over Los Angeles at around 5 p.m. Pacific time.
The missile firing drew more attention when local news stations were told by Navy and Air Force officials that they did not launch a missile last night.
Flying above Los Angeles, the crew aboard the helicopter estimated the missile was fired approximately 35 miles west out to sea, north of Catalina Island.
The missile appeared to have been launched at sea, which prompted speculation that it had been launched by a U.S. Navy vessel.
However, Navy officials contacted by local news stations said they were unaware of a missile launch in that area. Contacted by ABC News, a Navy official said today they were still looking into the report, but, a preliminary check indicated it was not a Navy asset.
U.S. Northern Command said it’s investigating. They say there was no launch last night from Vandenberg Air Force Base which is a regular launch point for the testing of missiles.
“NORAD and USNORTHCOM are aware of the unexplained contrail reported off the coast of Southern California yesterday evening,” the agency said in a statement. “At this time, we are unable to provide specific details, but we are working to determine the exact nature of this event. We can confirm that there is no indication of any threat to our nation and we will provide more information as it becomes available.”
August 25, 2010
By Peter Farquhar
AMATEUR astronomers are enjoying a cat-and-mouse game with the US military in keeping track of its secret space plane, the X-37B.
The X-37B was launched in April amid much publicity, but scant detail about its true use.
Built by Boeing’s Phantom Works division, the X-37B program was originally headed by NASA.
It was later turned over to the Pentagon’s research and development arm and then to a secretive Air Force unit.
Only a very select few in the US military know what it’s for, but observers on Earth believe they’re putting together the puzzle piece by piece.
Several sources claim quote arms control advocates who say it’s clearly the beginning of the “weaponisation of space”.
In May, avid skywatcher Ted Molczan studied the X-37B’s orbit from his home in Toronto and said its behaviour suggested it was testing sensors for a range of new spy satellites.
Since then, the X-37B been arguably the least-secret secret project on the planet, as fellow backyard astronomers joined in the scrutiny, aided by how-to video guides and apps such as the Simple Satellite Tracker.
That is, they did until July 29, when the shuttle disappeared, causing all kinds of consternation and conspiracy theories about its fate.
It took amateur skywatcher Greg Roberts of Cape Town, South Africa, who noticed that it failed to appear as scheduled above his base on August 14, another five days to find it.
When he did, he noticed it was some 30km higher and on a different trajectory, according to calculations from other colleagues in Rome and Oklahoma.
The X-37B’s new track takes it on a six-day orbit of the Earth, as opposed to its original four-day orbit.
Mr Molczan believes this may be another small piece to the puzzle about what role the shuttle may play in US military operations.
“This small change of orbit may have been a test of OTV-1′s manoeuvring system, or a requirement of whatever payload may be aboard, or both,” he said in a release paper about Roberts’ X-37B find.
The shuttle has been in orbit now for 124 days. It uses a solar array once in space for power, which theoretically will allow it to stay airborne for up to 270 days.
But the additional presence of large fuel tanks and a rocket motor allows it to change orbit, as evidenced by the latest sudden change of course.
According to the The Register, this is a key component of its surveillance-related capabilities, along with the fact it can land in a much more versatile fashion than other shuttles.
Using its “cross-range” wings, it can duck off elsewhere once its entered the Earth’s atmosphere rather than follow its oribital track to a pre-specified landing pad.
This means the X-37B can get up and down from space in one orbit, as its wings allow it to compensate for the slight turn in the Earth and bend it back to its original launch pad.
The Register says that capability would make it difficult to track, as it would only pass over a region once.
Theoretically, it could drop a spy satellite on one run, then pick it up on the next without the satellite having ever been detected.
Other observers claim the X-37B can carry a payload roughly the size of a medium-sized truck bed, or enough to hold a spy satellite.
According to the Pentagon, a second X-37B is under construction, so expect the guessing game to continue for some time about what the US military is really up to in space.
Until now, all that remains known about the X-37B is that is it has at least one trick – the ability to hide from skywatchers for two weeks.
May 24, 2010
by Peter Beaumont
The US military has appointed its first senior general to direct cyber warfare – despite fears that the move marks another stage in the militarisation of cyberspace.
The newly promoted four-star general, Keith Alexander, takes charge of the Pentagon’s ambitious and controversial new Cyber Command, designed to conduct virtual combat across the world’s computer networks. He was appointed on Friday afternoon in a low-key ceremony at Fort Meade, in Maryland.
The creation of America’s most senior cyber warrior comes just days after the US air force disclosed that some 30,000 of its troops had been re-assigned from technical support “to the frontlines of cyber warfare”.
The creation of Cyber Command is in response to increasing anxiety over the vulnerability of the US’s military and other networks to a cyber attack.
James Miller, the deputy under-secretary of defence for policy, has hinted that the US might consider a conventional military response to certain kinds of online attack.
Although Alexander pledged during his confirmation hearings before the Senate committee on armed services last month that Cyber Command would not contribute to the militarisation of cyberspace, the committee’s chairman, Senator Carl Levin expressed concern that both Pentagon doctrine, and the legal framework for online operations, had failed to keep pace with rapid advances in cyber warfare.
In particular Levin voiced concern that US cyber operations to combat online threats to the US, routed through neutral third countries, “could have broad and damaging consequences” to wider American interests.
Plans for Cyber Command were originally conceived under President George W Bush. Since taking office Barack Obama has embraced the theme of cyber security, describing it last year as “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges [the US faces] as a nation”.
During his confirmation hearing, Alexander said that the Pentagon’s networks were being targeted by “hundreds of thousands of probes every day” adding that he had “been alarmed by the increase, especially in this year”.
Cyber warfare has increased rapidly in scale and sophistication with China accused of being at the forefront of prominent recent attacks, including the targeting of Google and 20 other companies last year as well as “Titan Rain” in 2003 – a series of coordinated attacks on US networks. Russian and North Korean hackers have also been accused of large-scale attacks.
Moscow was accused of being behind a massive cyber assault on Estonia in 2007 – the second largest cyber warfare operation ever conducted.
While Alexander has tried to play down the offensive aspects of his command, the Pentagon has been more explicit, stating on Friday that Cyber Command will “direct the operations and defence of specified Department of Defense information networks [involving some 90,000 military personnel] and prepare to, when directed, conduct full-spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, [to] ensure US allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”
The complex issues facing Cyber Command were thrown into relief earlier this year when the Washington Post revealed details of a so-called “dot-mil” operation by Fort Meade’s cyber warfare unit, backed by Alexander, to shut down a “honeytrap website” set up by the Saudis and the CIA to target Islamist extremists planning attacks in Saudi Arabia.
The Pentagon became convinced that the forum was being used to co-ordinate the entry of jihadi fighters into Iraq.
Despite the strong objections of the CIA, the site was attacked by the Fort Meade cyber warfare unit. As a result, some 300 other servers in the Saudi kingdom, Germany and Texas also were inadvertently shut down.
Of equally concern to those who had opposed the operation, it was conducted without informing key members of the Saudi royal family, who were reported to be “furious” that a counter-terrorism tool had been shut down.
The issue of cyber warfare – and how to combat it – has become an increasingly fraught one.
The need to have electronic warfare capabilities, say those who support them, has been proven repeatedly by the apparent success of hostile attacks on government networks, including last year’s massive denial of service assault on networks in both the US and Korea.
Last year, hackers also accessed large amounts of sensitive data concerning the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter programme.
The difficulties facing the new command were underlined in March by former CIA director Michael V Hayden, who said that the Saudi operation had demonstrated that cyber warfare techniques were evolving so rapidly that they were now outpacing the government’s ability to develop coherent policies to guide its use.
“Cyber was moving so fast that we were always in danger of building up precedent before we built up policy,” Hayden said.
April 23, 2010
A US Air Force unmanned spacecraft has blasted off from Florida, amid a veil of secrecy about its military mission.
The robotic space plane, or X-37B, lifted off from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas V rocket at 7:52 pm local time (2352 GMT) Thursday, according to video released by the military.
“The launch is a go,” Air Force spokeswoman Major Angie Blair told AFP.
The lift-off appeared to proceed as planned without major problems, judging by the commentary in the Air Force webcast.
Resembling a miniature space shuttle, the plane is 8.9 meters (29 feet) long and has a wing-span of 4.5 meters.
The reusable space vehicle has been years in the making and the military has offered only vague explanations as to its purpose or role in the American military’s arsenal.
The vehicle is designed to “provide an ‘on-orbit laboratory’ test environment to prove new technology and components before those technologies are committed to operational satellite programs,” the Air Force said in a recent release.
Officials said the X-37B would eventually return for a landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but did not say how long the inaugural mission would last.
“In all honesty, we don’t know when it’s coming back,” Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary for Air Force space programs, told reporters in a conference call this week.
Payton said the plane could stay in space for up to nine months.
Flight controllers plan to monitor the vehicle’s guidance, navigation and control systems, but the Air Force has declined to discuss what the plane is carrying in its payload or what experiments are scheduled.
Pentagon officials have sidestepped questions about possible military missions for the spacecraft, as well as the precise budget for its development — estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.
The results of the test flight will inform “development programs that will provide capabilities for our warfighters in the future,” Payton said.
Industry analysts have speculated the Pentagon must have military capabilities in mind for the unmanned spacecraft or else would not have invested so much time and money in the effort.
The space plane — manufactured by Boeing — began as a project of NASA in 1999, and was eventually handed over to the US Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
Once in space, the vehicle is powered by solar cells and lithium-ion batteries.
The Air Force has plans for a second X-37B, scheduled to launch in 2011.