July 28, 2010
By: Nat Hentoff
When I broke into news reporting during the 1950s, the advice from veteran journalists was: “Kid, if a story is important, stay with it, even if few other reporters do.” Since news of our pilotless killer drones hurling more Hellfire missiles abroad has largely vanished from our press, here is more evidence of President Obama’s fixation on this dark side of our war on terrorism.
An impressive exception to the inattention to Obama’s favorite weapon is investigative reporter Adam Entous of Reuters. In “How the White House learned to love the drone” (May 18), he quotes two administration officials (who, of course, refused to be named) saying that killing wanted terrorists is simply “easier than capturing them.”
In a previous column, I quoted another U.S. intelligence officer in Yemen saying the same thing. Particularly revealing is Entous’ conversation with another intelligence official who confidently pointed out that this long-distance way of avoiding American combat deaths is “politically foolproof” for Obama because political campaigners of both parties compete “on who can kill more” of the jihadists.
Fearing no reprisals from American public opinion, Entous reports that, contrary to the administration’s claim that only high-level terrorists researched are targeted, “the CIA has killed around 12 times more low-level fighters than mid-to-high-level al-Qaida and Taliban leaders since the drone strikes intensified in the summer of 2008.”
Another of his sources, who was involved in our robotic warfare and has since left the service, added that the CIA’s targeting low-level foot soldiers worries him because “If it becomes a more generalized ‘kill anybody’ (approach), it degrades the notion we’re going after serious threats to the United States.
“It’s a slippery slope.”
The slope can be so steep that it does serious injury to our standing in the world, not only among our allies but also by becoming a boon to terrorism recruiters. On Scott Simon’s always-illuminating Weekend Edition program on National Public Radio, Mary Ellen O’Connell, a research professor at the University of Notre Dame said:
“I am not at all against the use of technology that protects our soldiers, and I’m with the American public on that entirely. But I do think a lot about not only the legal but the moral ramifications of the drone, the ability to kill from thousands of miles away, not just a mile or two away. And what is that doing to us a nation?
“Are we really thinking through our leadership obligations to think, since we’re the first ones to have this technology and to use it regularly, are we really setting the pattern for the rest of the world? Are we really setting the legal and moral norms that should be governing their use only in situations of real necessity?” (“Drones Add Dangerous Silence to War,” NPR, July 17.)
Also troubled, as Reuters noted, are certain American military officers who are very much aware that the most murderous of the drone planes are run by the CIA.
“This is a proud military,” Adam Entous writes, “and many hate the drone program because it is a constant reminder that they’re not in control,” a former U.S. intelligence officer said. The CIA has sometimes been a law unto itself.
But, Entous adds, other American intelligence officers “proudly tout the drone campaign as the most precise and possibly humane targeted killing program in the ‘history of warfare.’”
President Obama, please tell us how you define “precise” and “humane.”
Adds Jeffrey Addicott, a former legal adviser to Army Special Operations Forces, as he asks Entous: “Are we creating more enemies than we’re killing or capturing by our activities? Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes. These families have 10 sons each. You kill one son and you create 9 more enemies. You’re not winning over the population.”
Last year, another ever-vigilant reporter, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, did tell us how enamored of the drones President Obama already was. He reported (Aug. 11, 2009): “The Air Force will train more pilots to fly unmanned aerial systems from ground operations centers (thousands of miles away) than pilots to fly fighter or bomber aircraft, Gen. Stephen R. Lorenz, the commander of Air Education and Training Command, told an audience.”
And this year, as more drones hover in the skies of Pakistan, a New York Times editorial reported that Obama diplomacy in Pakistan nonetheless pressed forward: “The State Department has committed to spend $107 million over two years to help Pakistanis better understand the United States. Plans include bringing 2,500 Pakistani academics and others on exchange visits and expanding after-school English classes in Pakistan.”
The Times adds: “There also are proposals to bring more American academics to Pakistan and to reopen cultural centers” (May 29).
“They should move ahead,” the New York Times urged the State Department.
Do you suppose that any of our visiting academics in Pakistan – in order to also learn more about the culture of sizable parts of the population that may scorn taking our English classes – will find the time to visit some of the Pakistan families continuing to mourn the loss of their loved ones who have been torn apart by Hellfire from our drones?
And back in our homeland, the Nation (June 24) reports: “Thanks to newly announced federal contracts, Wisconsin National Guard is planning to build a new $8 million base for unmanned drones. Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri is to be a drone base control. Rapid City’s nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base also recently ‘won’ a drone contract.
“In none of these places was there much of anything but joy at the news.” Maybe the State Department will bring visiting Pakistani academics there as well as to Whiteman.
Will there be anything but joy in Congress and the White House?
July 8, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
By: Siobhan Gorman
The federal government is launching an expansive program dubbed “Perfect Citizen” to detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and nuclear-power plants, according to people familiar with the program.
The surveillance by the National Security Agency, the government’s chief eavesdropping agency, would rely on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be triggered by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyber attack, though it wouldn’t persistently monitor the whole system, these people said.
Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. recently won a classified contract for the initial phase of the surveillance effort valued at up to $100 million, said a person familiar with the project.
An NSA spokeswoman said the agency had no information to provide on the program. A Raytheon spokesman declined to comment.
Some industry and government officials familiar with the program see Perfect Citizen as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs, while others say it is an important program to combat an emerging security threat that only the NSA is equipped to provide.
“The overall purpose of the [program] is our Government…feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security,” said one internal Raytheon email, the text of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal. “Perfect Citizen is Big Brother.”
Raytheon declined to comment on this email.
A U.S. military official called the program long overdue and said any intrusion into privacy is no greater than what the public already endures from traffic cameras. It’s a logical extension of the work federal agencies have done in the past to protect physical attacks on critical infrastructure that could sabotage the government or key parts of the country, the official said.
U.S. intelligence officials have grown increasingly alarmed about what they believe to be Chinese and Russian surveillance of computer systems that control the electric grid and other U.S. infrastructure. Officials are unable to describe the full scope of the problem, however, because they have had limited ability to pull together all the private data.
Perfect Citizen will look at large, typically older computer control systems that were often designed without Internet connectivity or security in mind. Many of those systems—which run everything from subway systems to air-traffic control networks—have since been linked to the Internet, making them more efficient but also exposing them to cyber attack.
The goal is to close the “big, glaring holes” in the U.S.’s understanding of the nature of the cyber threat against its infrastructure, said one industry specialist familiar with the program. “We don’t have a dedicated way to understand the problem.”
The information gathered by Perfect Citizen could also have applications beyond the critical infrastructure sector, officials said, serving as a data bank that would also help companies and agencies who call upon NSA for help with investigations of cyber attacks, as Google did when it sustained a major attack late last year.
The U.S. government has for more than a decade claimed a national-security interest in privately owned critical infrastructure that, if attacked, could cause significant damage to the government or the economy. Initially, it established relationships with utility companies so it could, for instance, request that a power company seal a manhole that provides access to a key power line for a government agency.
With the growth in concern about cyber attacks, these relationships began to extend into the electronic arena, and the only U.S. agency equipped to manage electronic assessments of critical-infrastructure vulnerabilities is the NSA, government and industry officials said.
The NSA years ago began a small-scale effort to address this problem code-named April Strawberry, the military official said. The program researched vulnerabilities in computer networks running critical infrastructure and sought ways to close security holes.
That led to initial work on Perfect Citizen, which was a piecemeal effort to forge relationships with some companies, particularly energy companies, whose infrastructure is widely used across the country.
The classified program is now being expanded with funding from the multibillion-dollar Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which started at the end of the Bush administration and has been continued by the Obama administration, officials said. With that infusion of money, the NSA is now seeking to map out intrusions into critical infrastructure across the country.
Because the program is still in the early stages, much remains to be worked out, such as which computer control systems will be monitored and how the data will be collected. NSA would likely start with the systems that have the most important security implications if attacked, such as electric, nuclear, and air-traffic-control systems, they said.
Intelligence officials have met with utilities’ CEOs and those discussions convinced them of the gravity of the threat against U.S. infrastructure, an industry specialist said, but the CEOs concluded they needed better threat information and guidance on what to do in the event of a major cyber attack.
Some companies may agree to have the NSA put its own sensors on and others may ask for direction on what sensors to buy and come to an agreement about what data they will then share with the government, industry and government officials said.
While the government can’t force companies to work with it, it can provide incentives to urge them to cooperate, particularly if the government already buys services from that company, officials said.
Raytheon, which has built up a large cyber-security practice through acquisitions in recent years, is expected to subcontract out some of the work to smaller specialty companies, according to a person familiar with the project.