Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Missile Officer Charged With Stealing Classified Device

Missileer charged with stealing tamper device
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Sep 30, 2008 6:40:02 EDT
An Air Force missile officer charged with stealing a classified device designed to protect nuclear missile launch secrets will face an Article 32 investigation hearing on Tuesday.

Capt. Paul A. Borowiecki was charged after he allegedly admitted stealing the tamper device, said Maj. Laurie Arellano, a service spokeswoman.

During a recent interview for a new assignment that requires a security clearance, Borowiecki allegedly admitted that he and another unnamed officer didn’t destroy the bandage-sized devices that dispense a residue to alert security personnel if launch code components have been improperly removed, Arellano said.

The investigation into the second officer is still ongoing, she said.

The two signed a document in July 2005 stating they had destroyed them.

Borowiecki, assigned to the 91st Space Wing, was charged with dereliction of duty, false official statements, and wrongful appropriation of military property under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. His Article 32 will be held at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

First Privately Owned Rocket Makes Orbit

Rocket successfully launched from South Pacific

The Associated Press
Article Last Updated: 09/28/2008 04:42:39 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES—An Internet entrepreneur's latest effort to make space launch more affordable paid off Sunday when his commercial rocket carrying a dummy payload was lofted into orbit.
It was the fourth attempt by Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to launch its two-stage Falcon 1 rocket into orbit.

"Fourth time's a charm," said Elon Musk, the multimillionaire who started up SpaceX after making his fortune as the co-founder of PayPal Inc., the electronic payment system.

The rocket carried a 364-pound dummy payload designed and built by SpaceX for the launch.

"This really means a lot," Musk told a crowd of whooping employees. "There's only a handful of countries on earth that have done this. It's usually a country thing, not a company thing. We did it."

Musk pledged to continue getting rockets into orbit, saying the company has resolved design issues that plagued previous attempts.

Last month, SpaceX lost three government satellites and human ashes including the remains of astronaut Gordon Cooper and "Star Trek" actor James Doohan after its third rocket was lost en route to space. The company blamed a timing error for the failure that caused the rocket's first stage to bump into the second stage after separation.

SpaceX's maiden launch in 2006 failed due to a fuel line leak. Last year, another rocket reached some 180 miles above Earth, but its second stage prematurely shut off.

70-foot-long rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, is the first in a family of low-cost launch vehicles priced at $7.9 million each.
Besides the Falcon 1, SpaceX is developing for NASA a larger launch vehicle, Falcon 9, capable of flying to the international space station.

A Glorious Death: Jules Verne's ATV reentry spectacular

The unmanned Jules Verne ATV cargo ship breaks up in a spectacular display
during re-entry, as seen on Monday over the Pacific from an observation plane.
The European Space Agency's first cargo mission to the international space station ended in a spectacular fireworks show today, with the fiery re-entry of the unmanned Jules Verne ATV spaceship over the South Pacific.

"Jules Verne has now successfully completed its mission," ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain declared at the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, Scotland.

The end came at around 9:30 a.m. ET, when controllers back at Europe's mission control in Toulouse, France, directed the 17-ton craft into its final plunge. Jules Verne, the first of Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicles, was launched from the ESA spaceport in French Guiana early March 9. It linked up with the space station almost a month later, delivering tons of food, water and equipment.

During its stay, Jules Verne periodically boosted the space station's orbit, and in fact helped the station dodge a passing piece of Russian space junk last month.

But all good things must come to an end: Unlike the Italian-built space cargo modules that are carried back and forth inside NASA's space shuttle, the Euroean-built ATVs are not designed for return or reuse. Instead, each spent craft has to be disposed of safely, by directing it remotely on a plunge through the atmosphere. The wide-open South Pacific is the favorite dumping ground for such space junk, as we saw back in 2001 when Russia's Mir space station fell to its doom.

Jules Verne's re-entry was witnessed by an international team of scientists flying aboard a NASA DC-8 observation plane. Studying the spacecraft's controlled fall could lead to fresh insights about the chemical and radiation effects of falling meteors - as well as better computer models for predicting how objects fragment as the blast through the atmosphere.

The Jules Verne ATV cargo craft glows during its atmospheric re-entry, in a view
captured Monday from a DC-8 observation plane flying over the Pacific. A lens
diffraction flare can be seen in rainbow colors at lower right.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hubble Breaks/ Shuttle Delayed

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) -- NASA said Monday that it is delaying its mission to the Hubble Space Telescope until next year because of a serious breakdown of the observatory in orbit.

The Atlantis team was scheduled to blast off October 14 to make other repairs and upgrades on the Hubble.

Space shuttle Atlantis had been scheduled to blast off in just two weeks, but an unexpected problem with the Hubble appeared Saturday night, when the telescope stopped sending science data.

That potentially means a new repair issue for the astronauts to confront, one they haven't trained for and never anticipated.

The failure of the command and data-handling system for Hubble's science instruments means the telescope is unable to capture and beam down the data needed to produce its stunning deep space images.

Early Monday afternoon, NASA announced that the October 14 launch had been postponed until at least early next year, possibly February.

When Atlantis does fly, NASA may send up a replacement part for the failed component.

It would take time to test and qualify the old replacement part and train the astronauts to install it in the telescope, NASA spokesman Michael Curie said. NASA also would have to work out new mission details for the astronauts who have trained for two years to carry out five Hubble repair spacewalks.

"The teams are always looking at contingencies, and this is just something that has cropped up we have the ability to deal with. They're just trying to decide what direction we want to go," Curie said.

There is a backup channel for the science instruments' command and data-handling system, and NASA may be able to activate it successfully so that data transmission resumes, Curie said. But if NASA relies solely on the backup channel, there would be no other options if it malfunctioned.

Work has begun to switch the telescope to the backup channel. It is a complicated process; the backup channels on the various modules that must be switched over have not been turned on since the late 1980s or early 1990, right before Hubble was launched. The Hubble team hopes to complete the job by the end of the week.

Curie stressed that the telescope is not in trouble; it just cannot send science information to ground controllers. That means NASA is unable to receive the dramatic pictures Hubble is known for.

The mission by Atlantis and a seven-person crew will be the fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble.

Now, Endeavour will be the next shuttle up, on a trip to the international space station in November. Endeavour is at the launch pad; it was supposed to serve as a rescue ship for Atlantis in case of trouble

Saturday, September 27, 2008

No its not a UFO.

What it is - is a NASA high altitude instrument package flying ( as I write this ) somewhere just north east of Plainview. After sunset it will glow bright like a star and undoubtedly (like it does every time) prompt dozens of UFO reports.

What alerted me to the balloon were some military pilots chatting it up on their radios. They also said it was bound to spur UFO reports "Just like Stephenville" one pilot reported.

Special thanks to Dale Stanton took this photo with his long telephoto lens from SE Amarillo. The balloon is flying above 100,000 feet and at a speed of 22 kts. To track the balloon in real time visit the link to the right.

-Steve Douglass

Update: Dale Stanton shot additional photos just after sunset showing it glowing after dark.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Obama's suitcase nukes a myth?

Suitcase nukes said unlikely to exist

During last night's presidential debate Barak Obma said he was more worried about suitcase nukes than a nuclear missile attack .

Quote: "And the biggest threat that we face right now is not a nuclear missile coming over the skies. It's in a suitcase".

Apparently Mr. Obama hasn't read the following:

Suitcase Nuclear Weapons, Favorite Threat of Hollywood Scriptwriters, Are Probably a Myth

AP News

Members of Congress have warned about the dangers of suitcase nuclear weapons. Hollywood has made television shows and movies about them. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency has alerted Americans to a threat — information the White House includes on its Web site.

But government experts and intelligence officials say such a threat gets vastly more attention than it deserves. These officials said a true suitcase nuke would be highly complex to produce, require significant upkeep and cost a small fortune.

Counterproliferation authorities do not completely rule out the possibility that these portable devices once existed. But they do not think the threat remains.

"The suitcase nuke is an exciting topic that really lends itself to movies," said Vahid Majidi, the assistant director of the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate. "No one has been able to truly identify the existence of these devices."

Majidi and other government officials say the real threat is from a terrorist who does not care about the size of his nuclear detonation and is willing to improvise, using a less deadly and sophisticated device assembled from stolen or black-market nuclear material.

Yet Hollywood has seized on the threat. For example, the Fox thriller "24" devoted its entire last season to Jack Bauer's hunt for suitcase nukes in Los Angeles.

Government officials have played up the threat, too.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., once said at a hearing that he thought the least likely threat was from an intercontinental ballistic missile. "Perhaps the most likely threat is from a suitcase nuclear weapon in a rusty car on a dock in New York City," he said.

In a FEMA guide on terrorist disasters that is posted in part on the White House's Web site, the agency warns that terrorists' use of a nuclear weapon would "probably be limited to a single smaller 'suitcase' weapon."

"The strength of such a weapon would be in the range of the bombs used during World War II. The nature of the effects would be the same as a weapon delivered by an intercontinental missile, but the area and severity of the effects would be significantly more limited," the paper says.



During the 1960s, intelligence agencies received reports from defectors that Soviet military intelligence officers were carrying portable nuclear devices in suitcases.

The threat was too scary to stay secret, government officials said, and word leaked out. The genie was never put back in the bottle.

But current and former government officials who have not spoken out publicly on the subject acknowledge that no U.S. officials have seen a Soviet-made suitcase nuke.

The idea of portable nuclear devices was not a new one.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. made the first ones, known as the Special Atomic Demolition Munition. It was a "backpack nuke" that could be used to blow up dams, tunnels or bridges. While one person could lug it on his back, it had to be placed by a two-man team.

These devices never were used and now exist — minus their explosive components — only in a museum.

Following the U.S. lead, the Soviets are believed to have made similar nuclear devices.

Suitcase nukes have been a separate problem. They attracted considerable public attention in 1997, thanks to a "60 Minutes" interview and other public statements from retired Gen. Alexander Lebed, once Russia's national security chief.

Lebed said the separatist government in Chechnya had portable nuclear devices, which led him to create a commission to get to the bottom of the Chechen arsenal, according to a Center for Nonproliferation Studies report. He said that when he ran the security service, the commission could find only 48 of 132 devices.

The numbers varied as he changed his story several times — sometimes he stated that 100 or more were missing. The Russians denied he was ever accurate.

Even more details emerged in the summer of 1998, when former Russian military intelligence officer Stanislav Lunev — a defector in the U.S. witness protection program — wrote in his book that Russian agents were hiding suitcase nukes around the U.S. for use in a possible future conflict.

"I had very clear instructions: These dead-drop positions would need to be for all types of weapons, including nuclear weapons," Lunev testified during a congressional hearing in California in 2000, according to a Los Angeles Times account.

Naysayers noted that he was never able to pinpoint any specific location.

In a 2004 interview with the Kremlin's Federal News Service, Colonel-General Viktor Yesin, former head of the Russian strategic rocket troops, said he believes that Lebed's commission may have been misled by mock-ups of special mines used during training.

Yesin believed that a true suitcase nuke would be too expensive for most countries to produce and would not last more than several months because the nuclear core would decompose so quickly. "Nobody at the present stage seeks to develop such devices," he asserted.

Some members of Congress remained convinced that the suitcase nuke problem persists. Perhaps chief among these lawmakers was Curt Weldon, a GOP representative from Pennsylvania who lost his seat in 2006.

Weldon was known for carrying around a mock-up of a suitcase nuke made with a briefcase, foil and a pipe. But it was nowhere near the weight of an actual atomic device.



Majidi joined the FBI after leading Los Alamos National Laboratory's prestigious chemistry division. He uses science to make the case that suitcase nukes are not a top concern.

First, he defines what a Hollywood-esque suitcase nuke would look like: a case about 24 inches by 10 inches by 12 inches, weighing less than 50 pounds, that one person could carry. It would contain a device that could cause a devastating blast.

Nuclear devices are either plutonium, which comes from reprocessing the nuclear material from reactors, or uranium, which comes from gradually enriching that naturally found element.

Majidi says it would take about 22 pounds of plutonium or 130 pounds of uranium to create a nuclear detonation. Both would require explosives to set off the blast, but significantly more for the uranium.

Although uranium is considered easier for terrorists to obtain, it would be too heavy for one person to lug around in a suitcase.

Plutonium, he notes, would require the cooperation of a state with a plutonium reprocessing program. It seems highly unlikely that a country would knowingly cooperate with terrorists because the device would bear the chemical fingerprints of that government. "I don't think any nation is willing to participate in this type of activity," Majidi said.

That means the fissile material probably would have to be stolen. "It is very difficult for that much material to walk away," he added.

There is one more wrinkle: Nuclear devices require a lot of maintenance because the material that makes them so deadly also can wreak havoc on their electrical systems.

"The more compact the devices are — guess what? — the more frequently they need to be maintained. Everything is compactly designed around that radiation source, which damages everything over a period of time," Majidi said.



A former CIA director, George Tenet, is convinced that al-Qaida wants to change history with the mushroom cloud of a nuclear attack. In 1998, Osama bin Laden issued a statement called "The Nuclear Bomb of Islam."

"It is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God," he said.

Among numerous of avenues of investigation after the Sept. 11 attacks, Tenet said in his memoir that President Bush asked Russian President Vladamir Putin whether he could account for all of Russia's nuclear material. Choosing his words carefully, Tenet said, Putin replied that he could only account for everything under his watch, leaving a void before 2000.

Intelligence officials continued digging deeper, hearing more reports about al-Qaida's efforts to get a weapon; that effort, it is believed, has been to no avail, so far.

But intelligence officials are loath to dismiss a threat until they are absolutely sure they have gotten to the bottom of it.

In the case of suitcase nukes, one official said, U.S. experts do not have 100 percent certainty that they have a handle on the Russian arsenal.

Laura Holgate, a vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, says the U.S. has not appropriately prioritized its responses to the nuclear threat and, as a result, is poorly using its scarce resources.

Much to many people's surprise, she noted, highly enriched uranium — outside of a weapon — is so benign that a person can hold it in his hands and not face any ill effects until years later, if at all. It can also slip through U.S. safeguards, she says.

The Homeland Security Department is planning to spend more than $1 billion on radiation detectors at ports of entry. But government auditors found that the devices cannot distinguish between benign radiation sources, such as kitty litter, and potentially dangerous ones, including highly enriched uranium.

Holgate considers the substance the greatest threat because it exists not only at nuclear weapons sites worldwide, but also in more than 100 civilian research facilities in dozens of countries, often with inadequate security.

Her Washington-based nonproliferation organization wants to see the U.S. get a better handle on the material that can be used for bombs — much of it is in Russia — and secure it.

The big problem, she said, is not a fancy suitcase nuke, but rather a terrorist cell with nuclear material that has enough knowledge to make an improvised device.

How big would that be? "Like SUV-sized. Way bigger than a suitcase," she said.

Israel asked US for green light to bomb nuclear sites in Iran

Israel asked US for green light to bomb nuclear sites in Iran
US president told Israeli prime minister he would not back attack on Iran, senior European diplomatic sources tell Guardian

Jonathan Steele
guardian.co.uk, Thursday September 25 2008 19:02 BST
Article history

Israel gave serious thought this spring to launching a military strike on Iran's nuclear sites but was told by President George W Bush that he would not support it and did not expect to revise that view for the rest of his presidency, senior European diplomatic sources have told the Guardian.

The then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, used the occasion of Bush's trip to Israel for the 60th anniversary of the state's founding to raise the issue in a one-on-one meeting on May 14, the sources said. "He took it [the refusal of a US green light] as where they were at the moment, and that the US position was unlikely to change as long as Bush was in office", they added.

The sources work for a European head of government who met the Israeli leader some time after the Bush visit. Their talks were so sensitive that no note-takers attended, but the European leader subsequently divulged to his officials the highly sensitive contents of what Olmert had told him of Bush's position.

Bush's decision to refuse to offer any support for a strike on Iran appeared to be based on two factors, the sources said. One was US concern over Iran's likely retaliation, which would probably include a wave of attacks on US military and other personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on shipping in the Persian Gulf.

The other was US anxiety that Israel would not succeed in disabling Iran's nuclear facilities in a single assault even with the use of dozens of aircraft. It could not mount a series of attacks over several days without risking full-scale war. So the benefits would not outweigh the costs.

Iran has repeatedly said it would react with force to any attack. Some western government analysts believe this could include asking Lebanon's Shia movement Hizbollah to strike at the US.

"It's over ten years since Hizbollah's last terror strike outside Israel, when it hit an Argentine-Israel association building in Buenos Aires [killing 85 people]", said one official. "There is a large Lebanese diaspora in Canada which must include some Hizbollah supporters. They could slip into the United States and take action".

Even if Israel were to launch an attack on Iran without US approval its planes could not reach their targets without the US becoming aware of their flightpath and having time to ask them to abandon their mission.

"The shortest route to Natanz lies across Iraq and the US has total control of Iraqi airspace", the official said. Natanz, about 100 miles north of Isfahan, is the site of an uranium enrichment plant.

In this context Iran would be bound to assume Bush had approved it, even if the White House denied fore-knowledge, raising the prospect of an attack against the US.

Several high-level Israeli officials have hinted over the last two years that Israel might strike Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent them being developed to provide sufficient weapons-grade uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Iran has always denied having such plans.

Olmert himself raised the possibility of an attack at a press conference during a visit to London last November, when he said sanctions were not enough to block Iran's nuclear programme.

"Economic sanctions are effective. They have an important impact already, but they are not sufficient. So there should be more. Up to where? Up until Iran will stop its nuclear programme," he said.

The revelation that Olmert was not merely sabre-rattling to try to frighten Iran but considered the option seriously enough to discuss it with Bush shows how concerned Israeli officials had become.

Bush's refusal to support an attack, and the strong suggestion he would not change his mind, is likely to end speculation that Washington might be preparing an "October surprise" before the US presidential election. Some analysts have argued that Bush would back an Israeli attack in an effort to help John McCain's campaign by creating an eve-of-poll security crisis.

Others have said that in the case of an Obama victory, the vice-president, Dick Cheney, the main White House hawk, would want to cripple Iran's nuclear programme in the dying weeks of Bush's term.

During Saddam Hussein's rule in 1981, Israeli aircraft successfully destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak shortly before it was due to start operating.

Last September they knocked out a buildings complex in northern Syria, which US officials later said had been a partly constructed nuclear reactor based on a North Korean design. Syria said the building was a military complex but had no links to a nuclear programme.

In contrast, Iran's nuclear facilities, which are officially described as intended only for civilian purposes, are dispersed around the country and some are in fortified bunkers underground.

In public, Bush gave no hint of his view that the military option had to be excluded. In a speech to the Knesset the following day he confined himself to telling Israel's parliament: "America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.''

Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, tonight reacted to the Guardian's story saying: "The need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is raised at every meeting between the prime minister and foreign leaders. Israel prefers a diplomatic solution to this issue but all options must remain on the table. Your unnamed European source attributed words to the prime minister that were not spoken in any working meeting with foreign guests".

Three weeks after Bush's red light, on June 2, Israel mounted a massive air exercise covering several hundred miles in the eastern Mediterranean. It involved dozens of warplanes, including F-15s, F-16s and aerial refueling tankers.

The size and scope of the exercise ensured that the US and other nations in the region saw it, said a US official, who estimated the distance was about the same as from Israel to Natanz.

A few days later, Israel's deputy prime minister, Shaul Mofaz, told the paper Yediot Ahronot: "If Iran continues its programme to develop nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The window of opportunity has closed. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no alternative but to attack Iran in order to stop the Iranian nuclear programme."

The exercise and Mofaz's comments may have been designed to boost the Israeli government and military's own morale as well, perhaps, to persuade Bush to reconsider his veto. Last week Mofaz narrowly lost a primary within the ruling Kadima party to become Israel's next prime minister. Tzipi Livni, who won the contest, takes a less hawkish position.

The US announced two weeks ago that it would sell Israel 1,000 bunker-busting bombs. The move was interpreted by some analysts as a consolation prize for Israel after Bush told Olmert of his opposition to an attack on Iran. But it could also enhance Israel's attack options in case the next US president revives the military option.

The guided bomb unit-39 (GBU-39) has a penetration capacity equivalent to a one-tonne bomb. Israel already has some bunker-busters.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blackswift: The Ultimate Armed UAV?

Blackswift: Cost vs. capability
Officials, experts debate merits of armed, hypersonic ISR craft
By Nick Adde and Ben Iannotta - Special to the Times
Posted : Wednesday Sep 24, 2008 12:27:40 EDT
If Osama bin Laden turns up to order a cup of tea at an outdoor cafĂ©, Mark Lewis, the Air Force’s chief scientist, wants to take him out before he can pay his check. The question is how.

Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles armed with Hellfire missiles won’t work unless a terrorist leader decides to sip tea where the U.S. has uncontested control of the airspace, which is where the relatively low-flying Reapers must travel. Cruise missiles, at least for now, are either too easy to shoot down or not fast enough.

The answer, Lewis said, might lie in winning political commitment to explore an unmanned, faster-flying successor to the retired SR-71 Blackbird to be called the SR-72.

Defense officials are still analyzing whether there would be a mission for an SR-72, but Lewis said he’s “pretty optimistic on its utility.” Either way, Lewis said he wants research to go forward. That would mean construction of a demonstration plane called Blackswift as a takeoff on the Blackbird.

At the moment, Blackswift consists of an artist’s rendering and some conceptual work completed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in California, builder of the SR-71. In 2004, the Pentagon hired Skunk Works to build a series of hypersonic test aircraft, and, as part of that effort, engineers drew up plans for the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-3X, a proposed Blackswift demonstration plane.

Read the full story at airforcetimes.com

Pakistan denies shooting down UAV.

By Asif Shahzad - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Sep 24, 2008 19:35:08 EDT
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani army said Wednesday it found the wreckage of a suspected U.S. spy plane near the Afghan border, but denied claims that it had been shot down.

The incident comes amid strained ties between Washington and Islamabad over a series of missile strikes from American drones at suspected militants targets on the Pakistan side of the border.

In more signs that the militancy was escalating, a suicide bomber killed an 11-year-old girl and wounded 11 troops in the frontier city of Quetta while security forces killed 20 militants in another border zone.

On Wednesday, a militant group that claimed responsibility for last weekend’s Marriott hotel bombing threatened more attacks. The warning came in a cell phone message sent to reporters.

“All those who will facilitate Americans and NATO crusaders ... will keep on receiving the blows,” said the message from the group calling itself “Fedayeen al-Islam” or “Islam commandos.”

Authorities were not immediately available to comment on the threat.

The Pakistan army statement on Wednesday said security forces had recovered the crashed surveillance aircraft. It said a technical problem appeared to have brought it down and that it was investigating further.

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said one of its drones, which can be equipped with video surveillance equipment, went down Tuesday in the Afghan province bordering Waziristan. But it said coalition forces retrieved it and that no others were missing. The CIA also operates drones in the region.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials earlier had said troops and tribesmen had shot down the drone late Tuesday near Jalal Khel, a village in Pakistan’s South Waziristan region.

Confirmation of Pakistani forces firing on U.S. troops or aircraft could trigger a crisis in relations between the two countries, who are close but uncomfortable allies in the American-led war on terrorism.

Pakistani leaders are condemning stepped-up American operations across the border from Afghanistan — especially a highly unusual raid into South Waziristan by U.S. commandos on Sept. 3.

The government says it is trying to resolve the dispute diplomatically.

However, the army has vowed to defend Pakistan’s territory “at all cost,” and Tuesday’s incident was at least the third this month in which Pakistani troops have reportedly opened fire to counter an incursion.

President Bush did not directly refer to the incursions after he met his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, for the first time in New York on Tuesday.

“Your words have been very strong about Pakistan’s sovereign right and sovereign duty to protect your country, and the United States wants to help,” Bush said.

The three Pakistani intelligence officials said the drone was hit after circling for several hours. Wreckage was strewn on the ground, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

A senior U.S. official challenged the account. “We’re not aware of any drones being down,” said the official, who also asked for anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

American officials have been pressing Pakistan to take stiffer action against militants in its tribal belt, a wild mountainous region considered a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Saturday’s massive truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed 53 people.

Pakistan insists it is doing what it can and complains that cross-border raids fuel Islamic extremism.

Troops are already locked in grinding campaigns against militants in three regions of the northwest. Hundreds have died and more than 500,000 were forced to flee their homes.

A government official in the Bajur region said Wednesday that security forces backed by helicopter gunships had killed at least 20 more militants in fighting that erupted the previous day near Khar, the main town.

Militant warlords have established virtual mini-states in the tribal belt, levying taxes and enforcing strict Taliban-style social codes and justice.


Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Habib Khan in Khar and Terrence Hunt in Washington contributed to this report.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

B-2 Is An Old Spirit/ Needs Upgrading USAF says

Stealth bomber is due for upgrade
Its computers, other electronics 2 decades old
By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer Air Force tTmes

Posted : Sunday Sep 21, 2008 9:03:01 EDT
The iPod lying on your desk is higher tech than the stealth B-2 Spirit bomber.

At least that’s the case when you’re talking electronics.

Upgrading the stealth bomber’s two-decade-old flight computers, cockpit displays, radar and communications gear is part of the ambitious improvement efforts for the bomber being undertaken by the Air Force and B-2 builder Northrop Grumman.

“We’ve been flying this plane for almost 20 years,” said Dave Mazur, vice president of long-range strike at Northrop. “We’ve never had a [computer] processor upgrade. The iPod you carry around has more processing power than a computer onboard a B-2.”

Still, the bomber’s first upgrade is arriving soon. A new digital “active electronically scanned array” radar is well into the flight testing phase on a B-2 used only for evaluation and is installed on the first of 20 operational Spirits scheduled for modifications, Mazur said.

By the end of 2010, the radar should be on six bombers, and by the end of 2013, approved for initial operating capability and all Spirits.

The new radar is needed, in part, because the Federal Communications Commission sold the X-band radio frequency used by the B-2’s old radar to a commercial user, Mazur said Sept. 16 at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference. Security concerns prevented him from naming the firm or frequency.

The cost of the radar project is about $1.15 billion.

As the radar project ends, work begins on communications, computer and cockpit display upgrades.

Added to the B-2 will be computer processing units, disc drives and fiber-optics cables. In the cockpit, nine flat-panel screens able to handle digital signals will replace tube-based display screens.

The electronics will be connected to a pair of new extreme high-frequency satellite dishes that link the B-2 via satellite to commanders and aircraft anywhere in the world. Installing the 3-foot-diameter dishes will require cutting open the top of the B-2’s center fuselage and fabricating mounting positions for the two 300-pound dishes. Fielding the satellite dishes is expected in 2013 and beyond.

In a parallel project, the B-2 will be outfitted to carry up to 64 laser-guided Small Diameter Bomb IIs, enabling the jet to strike moving targets.

To improve flight-line maintenance of the airframe, Northrop is using a new coating for the B-2 fuselage, called the “advanced topcoat system.” The coating is expected to shorten time maintainers spend preserving the airplane’s stealthiness after they open access panels.

The difficulty of maintaining the B-2’s stealth coating is a factor leading to the bomber’s low mission-capable rate of 48.7 percent in 2007, the lowest of any Air Force fighter or bomber, Air Force officials have said. Improvements to the stealth skin helped improve the rate in recent years from a low of 30.6 percent in 2005.

Generals face discipline over nuclear woes

Generals face discipline over nuclear woes
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer Air Force Times
Posted : Friday Sep 19, 2008 15:49:26 EDT
Several Air Force generals and colonels will be disciplined next week for mistakes made handling nuclear weapons and nuclear-related materials over the past year, said congressional and Air Force sources.

One congressional aide said to expect the announcement on Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered Navy Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, director of naval nuclear propulsion, to investigate the Air Force’s nuclear mission after it was discovered in March that sensitive ballistic missile components were wrongly shipped to Taiwan in 2006 and airmen mistakenly flew six nuclear tipped cruise missiles on a B-52 across the country in August 2007.

Donald’s report includes recommended disciplinary actions for top Air Force leaders in the nuclear business. The punishments will be handed out next week based on these recommendations, according to Air Force sources.

The chapter that contained the disciplinary recommendations was not initially released to Congress. In fact, congressional members threatened to hold up the confirmation of Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz until they received it.

Air Force leaders plan to announce these punishments a week after the service held its Nuclear Summit that was attended by defense department and other agency partners.

It also comes after the Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Management headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger released their report which ripped the Air Force’s ability to handle nuclear weapons and recommended sweeping changes to halt the erosion of the service’s nuclear enterprise.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

NSA Spooks Sued

The Electronic Frontier Foundation Thursday opened what attorney Kevin Bankston called the "second front in our battle to stop the NSA's illegal surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans," with a lawsuit targeting top administration officials who approved or implemented the National Security Agency's program of warrantless surveillance. At the heart of the suit is a surprising and complex question that legal experts say remains radically unsettled: Can a computer eavesdrop?

The first front in this fight is EFF's ongoing lawsuit against telecom firms believed to have participated in the NSA program, which the group once thought would be the quickest way to get at the underlying question of whether the NSA program was itself lawful. But that litigation spurred Congress to pass the FISA Amendments Act this summer, granting retroactive immunity to the defendant companies, provided the Attorney General certifies that they received assurances from the government that the surveillance was lawful. While EFF believes the immunity provision to be unconstitutional, Bankston acknowledged in a press teleconference this afternoon that "litigating that question is going to slow us down." They've therefore decided to cut out the middleman and target the government directly.

The new suit, Jewel v. NSA, seeks both injunctive relief—the cessation of the program and the destruction of records obtained through it—and civil damages from the officials most responsible for the program. EFF's complaint alleges that the program violates the Constitution, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Wiretap Act, and the Stored Communications Act. Bankston believes the new suit is likely to be shunted to the docket of California judge Vaughn Walker, who has heard both the consolidated telecom lawsuits and a number of other cases implicating the NSA program.

President Bush is a named defendant
In addition to government agencies—the Department of Justice and National Security Agency—the lawsuit names a number of administration officials as defendants, in both their official capacities and as private individuals: President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, as well as the the attorneys general, NSA directors, directors of national intelligence, and an indeterminate number of unknown "John Does" who played some role in authorizing and implementing the warrantless wiretapping. Bankston said that EFF is asking for civil damages from all of these officials—with the exception of the president, who enjoys immunity from civil liability for actions in office—in order to secure "personal accountability from the architects of the program, and to provide a strong incentive against future lawbreaking by these or other government officials."

The plaintiffs are the same as those in the telecom case, Hepting v. AT&T, with one more added for good measure. All are ordinary citizens of a "nationwide class of customers of all AT&T residential phone and internet service providers," and their standing to bring suit relies not on any contention that they were specific targets of NSA surveillance, but on the claim that the government was indiscriminately vacuuming up vast quantities of data, to be filtered by the government according to algorithms known only to them.

This claim rests in large part on evidence provided by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, who has provided documentation attesting to the existence of a secret room in AT&T's Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, where fiber optic cables were diverted through a sophisticated Narus traffic analysis machine. As EFF attorney Cindy Cohn notes, this is a hub facility through which both purely domestic and international traffic are routed, whereas a program targeting exclusively international or domestic-to-foreign communications should be situated at the point where "the wire hits the beach." The Folsom Street room is believed to be only one of many similar interception stations. According to a March report in the Wall Street Journal, "current and former intelligence officials confirmed a domestic network of hubs, but didn't know the number."

This is where things get murky.

The case EFF plans to make—and, indeed, their plaintiffs' standing to bring suit—rests on the premise that the wholesale diversion of domestic communications to the government's filtering device in itself constitutes a search or seizure beyond the bounds of both the Fourth Amendment and federal wiretap statutes—including the new FISA Amendments Act, which gave the Attorney General broad discretion to authorize the collection of communications, including domestic-to-international communications, provided the "target" of the investigation is a foreign person or group.

But the government has never accepted that premise. During the 2000 controversy over the FBI's use of (now superseded) packet-sniffing software dubbed "Carnivore," officials argued that the ephemeral copying of data into memory for the purpose of filtering out targeted material did not itself impinge upon privacy interests. Sifting that took place "inside the box" did not amount to a Fourth Amendment "search" until data was actually recorded in a human-readable form.

Judge Richard Posner applied this argument to still more intrusive data mining practices in a much-discussed 2006 article in The New Republic. "A computer search does not invade privacy or violate FISA, because a computer program is not a sentient being," wrote Posner. "But, if the program picked out a conversation that seemed likely to have intelligence value and an intelligence officer wanted to scrutinize it, he would come up against FISA's limitations."

Breaking News; Islamabad Hotel Bombing

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- A car bomb detonated Saturday night in the heart of Islamabad, killing at least 20 people and wounding at least another 20, police said.

Rescue workers pulled bloodied victims from vehicles, and other casualties could be seen in the street. Officials predicted the casualty tolls would rise.

GEO TV's Hamid Mir, who was at the explosion site, said he saw at least 52 bodies. Most of the fatalities appeared to be drivers who were waiting with their cars outside the hotel, and hotel staff -- most of them security guards.

Mir said a witness saw the gates of the hotel rammed open by a small car, followed by an explosive-laden truck that detonated.

The blast caused a natural gas leak that set the top floor of the five-story, 258-room Marriott Hotel on fire. The blaze quickly engulfed the entire structure. More than a dozen cars were reduced to twisted steel. Watch firefighters battle fire at hotel »

Police described the blast, which occurred at 8 p.m. (10 a.m. ET), as a car bomb.

Nearby trees were felled by the blast, which occurred hours after newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari addressed a joint session of Parliament and promised to root out terrorism.

Video showed a deep crater in the pavement where the bomb is thought to have detonated.

At the CNN bureau, more than two miles from the hotel, the explosion sounded like it occurred just outside, said CNN's Reza Sayah, who was at his desk at the time.

"All of a sudden, the bureau roared and rumbled," he said. "It was a roaring rumble that would not stop. Seconds later, the windows shattered."

The Marriott, a Western brand-name hotel, has been the site of attacks in the past.

Located near the diplomatic section of the city and heavily guarded by police and military, the facility is popular among tourists. Any car entering the facility is searched, its underside scrutinized for bombs, before it is allowed to pass through heavy steel gates.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gen. Schwartz:"More V-22s, more C-130s and reforming UAV culture."

Schwartz pledges to remake UAV culture
By Ben Iannotta - Staff writer Air Force Times

Posted : Thursday Sep 18, 2008 16:49:23 EDT

Near the end of the U.S. Air Force’s annual “Four Star Forum” session Sept. 17, one of the 13 assembled generals made a quip that summed up the challenge the Air Force will face as it attempts to reclaim what Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz called its “ass-kicking good” performance status.

The moderator asked Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, commander of the service’s special operations command, what he would do if he had “another dollar” to spend in his budget. Wurster said he would buy more CV-22 tilt-rotors and MC-130 transports. “Then I’d walk down the table here and knife each of these gentleman in the back and take their one dollar,” he joked.

Schwartz has the challenge of fixing a service that is weighing multiple and sometimes competing issues, from the proper roles of ISR aircraft to where to apply dollars to its aging manned aircraft. Schwartz said the Air Force would remake its UAV “culture” and make sure UAV operators no longer feel like they are living in a “leper colony.” He said he would reach an agreement with the Army to end the internal debate over the respective roles of each in unmanned ISR. He promised to restore confidence in his service’s stewardship of nuclear weapons. And, he said, these issues would be sorted out with the highest ethical standards.

Schwartz said retired generals “have an obligation to refrain from taking sides in public debates on key acquisition programs.” He was even more blunt with reporters later: “What I think we need to avoid is to have Americans believe that their military leadership can be bought,” he said.

Schwartz appeared to be referring to the retired generals who have taken sides publicly in the fight between Northrop Grumman and Boeing over the service’s new refueling tanker. He might also have been referring to Northrop Grumman’s successful effort to win more funds for its E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar aircraft by enlisting retired generals, including one on the company’s payroll, to write letters.

In terms of unmanned aircraft ISR, Schwartz conceded that the roles of the Air Force and Army needed to be made clearer. “In the end it will get decided in the [joint staff’s] tank and I’m comfortable with that,” he said.

Schwartz did not rule out drawing some lessons from the Army, which routinely uses enlisted people to fly UAVs and fire cannons and missiles. The Air Force has so far insisted on entrusting UAV ordnance to officers. “For the near-term, we will draw from the officer talent pools. But I don’t dismiss the possibility that we could go a different way. No options are off the table,” he said.

As for ISR strategy, the service’s role in Africa consumed much of the conversation among the generals because of the scheduled “initial operating capability” for the new Africa Command Oct. 1. “Africom is a strange animal. It is a [combatant command] with no assigned forces,” said Gen. Roger Brady, who for the time being oversees Air Force operations in Africa as commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

“Although the Horn of Africa is a significant issue, obviously, it’s going to be largely at least for the short term an ISR big lift, command, and also partner-building” effort, Brady said.

Wurster, the special operations commander, said his forces would use ISR equipment to deny sanctuary to the continent’s terrorists: “If we can make it difficult for them to move money, if we can make their movements traceable, then we’ll arrive at the position where every night they’ll go to bed and say, ‘Maybe today I made the mistake that will let them find me,” he said. “We want to roll these people up so they don’t have a place to go and nest like they did in the south of Afghanistan before 2001.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CNN Video: Yemen al Queda attack.

Al Qaeda takes credit for Yemen attack that killed 16

16 Die in Attack on U.S. Embassy in Yemen


Published: September 17, 2008
Heavily armed militants opened fire on the United States Embassy in Sana, Yemen, on Wednesday and detonated a car bomb at its gates, killing at least 16 people, Yemeni officials said.

No Americans were killed or injured in the blast, said a Yemeni official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

Yemeni security officials and witnesses said the death toll was at least 16, including four bystanders, one of them an Indian woman. The other dead were six attackers and six security guards, the Yemeni officials said, speaking in return for anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. Yemen’s official Saba news agency also reported that 16 people were killed.

Ryan Gliha, an embassy spokesman, said via e-mail that the attack took place at 9:15 a.m. The embassy would remain closed for now, he said, but gave no further details.

It was the deadliest attack in years on an American target in Yemen, a poor south Arabian country of 22 million where militants aligned with Al Qaeda have carried out a number of recent strikes.

The attack began when a car raced up to the heavily fortified embassy compound. Several attackers got out and began firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles at the guards who returned the fire, the Yemeni official said.

A second car then drove into the compound’s gate and exploded in what appeared to be a suicide bombing, the official said.

The attack was especially shocking to many Yemenis because it came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Yemen has long been viewed as a haven for jihadists. It became a special concern for the United States in 2000, after Al Qaeda operatives rammed the U.S.S. Cole in Aden harbor, on Yemen’s southern coast, killing 17 American sailors.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Yemen actively pursued a counter-terrorism partnership with the United States, and its American-trained forces have had some important successes in fighting militants.

But over the past two years, jihadists claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda appear to have reorganized, releasing more propaganda material on the Internet and carrying out attacks.

In July 2007, suicide bombers killed eight Spanish tourists in eastern Yemen, and there were two unsuccessful attacks on oil installations.

Earlier this year there were several attacks on foreign embassies. In March, mortars fired at the U.S. Embassy compound in Sana struck a nearby school for girls instead, killing a security guard and wounding more than a dozen students.

The U.S. compound has also been the scene of occasional political violence in previous years, including a large demonstration against the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, in which two Yemenis were fatally shot and dozens injured.

Yemen has also faced serious security threats on other fronts, including an intermittent rebellion in the north that has kept the country’s military engaged, and continuing riots and instability in the south.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Air Force Going To War Against Nebraska - but its only an exercise.

The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Sep 16, 2008 12:51:58 EDT
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — Officials say neighbors of Offutt Air Force Base should ignore what sounds like an attack.

The Air Force’s 55th Wing will be conducting training exercise Tuesday and Wednesday.

The base sits south of Omaha, adjacent to the suburb of Bellevue.

Officials say members of the public may hear loud noises from ground-burst simulators and see clouds of smoke from smoke grenades.

Sirens will be heard and the base public address system will be used.

Local authorities have been told about the training.

What We Thought The B-2 Looked Like

Going through some old back issues of Popular Science, I found this gem. it was a 1982 cover story about the B-2 bomber ( then known only as the Advanced Technology Bomber) and what aviation journalists speculated it looked like.

Although some will say the B-2 doesn't look at all like the artist representation here, Pop Science did get it right in some aspects.

The B-2 did turn out to be a flying wing with engine inlets not that all different than you see here. What they got wrong were the twin canted tails and B-1/X-15 looking nose. However, twin canted tails were considered in early versions of the B-2s design.

Its apparent the artist was also influenced by the markings and paint job on an SR-71.

All in all, the artist's rendering is about eighty percent right.

It is also interesting to note that the same image was ripped-off and published in the Soviet military journal Aviatsiya e Kosmonautika as an exclusive rendering of the real thing.

-Steve Douglass

Click to enlarge.

Intercepts Newsletter Archive Created!

With the sudden renewed interest in Black Projects, I have decided to dig up my old Intercepts Newsletters and create an online archive. The Intercepts Newsletter was produced for hard-core military monitors and stealth chasers from mid 1991 to 1995.

Until recently these back issues were located in a cardboard box in a barn in Ben Hur Texas, gathering dust and spider eggs, but with many requests by the original Interceptors to see if they could obtain copies, I decided rather than go through the expense of making copies, I'd turn them into Adobe Acrobat PDFs for free download.

I have to admit, as i was looking at the newsletter. I became a bit nostalgic for the early days and comraderie of the the original Interceptors and how much fun we had. We functioned like a mini-intelligence agency, gathering hard data, delving into Pentagon budget reports, looking for suspicious "line items" monitoring the military airwaves from mountaintops and motel rooms, and generally doing everything we could to try and piece together the amazing history of the development of covert military technology.

While reading the newsletters, keep in mind these were written over a decade ago, way before the Internet came into household vogue and became the repository of the information age.

In future (back) issues you'll discover the first writings of the now famous original Interceptors, including Glenn Campbell ( not the singer) who became the thorn in the side of Area 51 security. It's interesting to see his interests in Area 51 change from observer to activist.

It's easy to look back and see where we got it wong, but just as importantly where we got it right.

A lot of what you will read in these dated Intercepts newsletters concerns projects that never were or will never be declassified.

Some of what we printed turned out to be rumors and intentionally leaked disinformation, while others hinted at projects that are flying today.

I will try and post one newsletter each week on my blog at deepbluehorizon.com. My bandwidth is limited so as new ones go up, old ones will come down so download them while you can.

-Steve Douglass

Monday, September 15, 2008

US officials: Al-Qaida ‘imploding’

By Pamela Hess - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Sep 15, 2008 21:58:15 EDT

WASHINGTON — Top U.S. counterterrorism officials Monday said al-Qaida is “imploding” and that its violent tactics have turned Muslims worldwide against the organization.

“Absolutely it’s imploding. It’s imploding because it’s not a message that resonates with a lot of Muslims,” said Dell Dailey, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism.

Al-Qaida still remains the most dangerous threat to the United States. But of growing concern are organizations like Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas, which combine social services, local governance, national politics with extremist attacks, said Undersecretary of State James Glassman.

“These are models that have a lot more popular appeal than al-Qaida, that has almost no popular appeal,” he said.

Vastly more Muslims than Westerners are killed by al-Qaida car and suicide bombs, particularly in Iraq, where local tribes have largely turned against al-Qaida in Iraq in the last two years. Extremist violence claimed more than 9,500 civilian victims in Muslim countries in 2007.

U.S. intelligence agencies caution against predicting al-Qaida’s demise too soon, noting its Pakistan safe harbor and the persistent efforts of its affiliates to conduct attacks in North Africa and elsewhere.

U.S. intelligence officials told The Associated Press in July that al-Qaida leaders learned from Iraq to temper their local activities to ensure continued access and freedom of movement throughout the organization’s safe haven in Pakistan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

Some hardline religious leaders who once wielded significant influence in al-Qaida have begun to criticize its violence against civilians, said Ted Gistaro, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, in an August speech. Gistaro said al-Qaida senior leaders have devoted nearly half their airtime this year to defending the group’s legitimacy.

Despite these apparent fissures, al-Qaida is the most potent threat to the United States, according to U.S. intelligence officials and reports. A national intelligence assessment released last year said al-Qaida had regenerated its leadership and ability to conduct attacks in the ungoverned tribal region of western Pakistan.

Afghanistan has grown increasingly violent because of the close ties and collaboration between the Pakistan tribes, the Taliban and the terrorist organization. Al-Qaida continues to attract new fighters to fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and radical Internet sites that provide religious justification for attacks and violent anti-Western rhetoric are spreading.

Glassman said he is “skeptical” about claims that al-Qaida is changing its ways, or is even capable of changing its ways.

“The death-cult mentality is part of al-Qaida’s DNA. An al-Qaida that could adapt would be a far more dangerous al-Qaida,” he said.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Vulture UAVs could stay up for years.

Vultures could one day perform satellite jobs
By Jim Hodges - Special to the Times
Posted : Sunday Sep 14, 2008 15:37:30 EDT

When a solar-powered Zephyr unmanned aerial vehicle, made by the British firm QinetiQ, completed a flight over Arizona July 28 that lasted three and a half days, it not only made history but also gave credibility to a quest by a number of companies and agencies to develop ultralong-endurance drones for reconnaissance or communications relay.

No longer does the idea of a UAV flying at altitudes as high as 90,000 feet for five continuous years sound like science fiction. But it’s only recently that such a notion has been taken seriously.

Derek Bye, who designs airplanes for Lockheed Martin, remembers the titter that ran through the audience when the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency held an industry day in Arlington, Va., to announce Vulture, an unmanned plane that would fly for five years carrying a half-ton of payload and drawing just 5 kilowatts of power.

But such a thing wasn’t completely out of the blue. Seven years earlier, a strange-looking, unmanned solar-powered plane called Helios set an altitude record for propeller-driven craft of 96,863 feet. The Helios flying wing eventually broke apart off Hawaii, but U.S. defense officials saw potential in the idea.

So DARPA hatched the Vulture program. In April, the agency awarded $4 million design contracts to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, and to the specialty-UAV company Aurora Flight Sciences. They will study competing Vulture designs under an initial 12-month analytical effort.

The winner or winners will advance to a second phase, in which they will attempt to keep a subscale aircraft aloft for three months. A third phase would extend that goal to a year.

A Vulture flying at 60,000 feet could produce a continuous high-resolution image of a battlefield within a 750-mile-diameter viewing footprint, which could take some of the pressure off traditional military UAV.

Read the full story at airforcetimes.com

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Never Forget

Next "Cuban missile crisis?" Russian bombers in Venezuela

(CNN) -- Two Russian bombers have landed at a Venezuelan airfield where they will carry out training flights for several days, the Russian defense ministry said Wednesday.

The Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers landed at Venezuela's Libertador military airfield and "will spend several days carrying out training flights over neutral waters, after which they will return to the base," the ministry added.

NATO fighters followed the bombers on their 13-hour flight over the Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic, the defense ministry said.

It said the Russian flights were carried out in strict accordance with international rules governing airspace above neutral waters, and that the aircraft did not violate the borders of other states.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said such joint exercises between nations are not unusual. "We exercise all around the globe and have joint exercises with countries all over the world. So do many other nations."

The U.S. will monitor the Russian-Venezuelan training, said Pentagon officials who asked not to be identified as they are not authorized to speak on the information.

On Monday, Russia announced it might hold joint naval maneuvers with Venezuela in the Caribbean.

The declaration came amid increased tension between Russia and the United States over Russia's invasion last month of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a U.S. ally that aspires to join NATO.

Read the full story on CNN.com

Monday, September 8, 2008

What is Bob Woodward's Big Military Secret?

By Steve Douglass

I watched with great interest the 60 Minutes interview with author and investigative reporter/editor Bob Woodward.

For those of you who may not know ( most likely anyone under 30) Bob Woodward, along with his (then) Washington Post colleague Carl Berstein almost single-handedly broke the Watergate scandal that ultimately forced President Richard M. Nixon to resign.

Bob was on Sixty Minutes talking about his latest book "The War Within" that details the decisions that led the U.S. from the brink of catastrophe in Iraq to the successes that followed the 2007 troop surge.

All very interesting, but one part of the interview really piqued my interest.:

>Woodward: "This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target, and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs," Woodward told Pelley.

"But what are we talking about here? It's some kind of surveillance? Some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you're looking for? The leadership of the enemy?" Pelley asked.

"I'd love to go through the details, but I'm not going to," Woodward replied.

The details, Woodward says, would compromise the program.

"For a reporter, you don’t allow much," Pelley remarked.

"Well no, it’s with reluctance. From what I know about it, it's one of those things that go back to any war, World War I, World War II, the role of the tank, and the airplane. And it is the stuff of which military novels are written," Woodward said.

"Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?" Pelley asked.

"Yeah," Woodward said. "If you were an al Qaeda leader or part of the insurgency in Iraq, or one of these renegade militias, and you knew about what they were able to do, you'd get your ass outta town."


So what is this big military breakthrough - this secret (that Bob could hardly contain) one that is on a par with the invention of tanks and warplanes?

Bob says he couldn't tell us because it would compromise the program, but there is no law against speculation and that's just what I'll do here.

So now I'll digress.

Way back in the fall of 2003 ( in my first Popular Communications column) I wrote about an ominous and angular- looking long-winged black aircraft that u-2 pilots flying over Iraq encountered.

"Rumor" has it that it was a top-secret spin-off of Lockheed's cancelled UAV (DarkStar) called "DistantStar" a high-flying electronic-intelligence gathering reconnaissance drone that was tasked with eavesdropping on Saddam Hussein's (and his upper echelon leaders) wireless phone network and was also used over Afghanistan and Pakistan in the (ongoing) hunt for Osama Bin Laden.


Inside sources said DistantStar was also invaluable during the hunt for Saddam and has also been a huge asset in intercepting the communications of Iraqi insurgents and al Queda cells in Iraq.

In one instance , the super-sensitive radio receivers on a DistantStar drone intercepted Saddam Hussein himself talking on his personal satellite telephone.

In less than ten minutes DistantStar (linked via satellite in near real-time to NSA computers employing advanced voice-analyzing algorithms) was able to confirm it was indeed Iraq's ruler in hiding and was able to pinpoint the GPS coordinates and relay them to a B-1B bomber already in position over Bagdad on another mission.

The B-1 dropped GPS guided bombs on the location only missing Saddam by several hundred yards.

Apparently he had heard the jets and moved to a bunker in another building.

So - the question remains- was Bob Woodward (not) talking about DistantStar?

Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe he was (not) talking about just DistantStar - but - DistantStar coupled to a new weapon system that can surgically take out terrorists without having to call in an air strike or an aircraft carrying conventional weapons.

Remember the quote: "If you were al Qaeda leader or part of the insurgency in iraq, or one these renegade militia and you knew what they were able to do, you'd get your ass out of town."

A UAV (even a smart signal-seeking brilliant UAV) is hardly enough to strike fear into the hearts of insurgents - but a revolutionary weapon - one - they had no defense against - something amazingly scary - would.

And what would that something be?

I talked at length with William Scott about Woodward's (almost) revelation.

William Scott is a retired Rocky Mountain bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and a former U.S. Air Force flight-test engineer, who served with the National Security Agency and as aircrew on nuclear-sampling missions.

Scott was also struck by what Woodward had said and theorized what he might (not) be talking about.

According to Scott, in his next book, Counterspace: The Next Hours of World War III ( a sequel to Space Wars - The First Six Hours of WW III) is a chapter - based on an actual secret weapon that could be the one Woodward is alluding to.

In this chapter, a group of terrorists are taken out by a electromagnetic surge that can disrupt the nerve impulses in a human body leading to what amounts to a heart attack.

Imagine a focused beam of undetectable energy, fired by a stealthy and silent UAV, causing everyone in a secret lair to suddenly die of what seems to be acute heart failure.

No big bombs going off. No collateral damage and no blast damage to buildings or valuable infrastructure.

Not to mention the psychological impact the sudden death of twenty men (by no apparent means) would have on anyone who happened to stumble on the scene.

"What killed these men? There are no wounds on the body. No signs of chemical agents. Was it the Americans or was it the Angel of Death himself?" a terrorist might wonder.

Right about now, some writer is thinking about incorporating the above scenario into his latest Hollywood script, but as gee-whiz as it seems, the theory behind such a weapon has been around for some time.

It is a fact that the Pentagon has been funding the development of "Directed Energy Weapons" since the late 1980s.

Imagine what such a weapon could do when coupled with the ultimate artificially-intelligent flying robotic radio-wave sniffing hound dog. Use a wireless phone or a two-way radio and - zap! - you (and yours) drop dead of a heart attack.

But what if the enemy puts two and two together and is able to relate using RF emitting devices (such as cell-phones or radios) to the sudden deaths of high-ranking terrorist leaders?

Then you have someone on the inside, tag a terrorist with an RF-emitting device.

So by now, you might be asking yourself, why reveal the existence of such a secret system to a reporter, especially Bob Woodward? You know he's going to write about it - or as in this case - allude to it. What purpose does it serve?

Shouldn't a secret weapon system, especially one that has helped turn the tide in iraq remain a secret?

William Scott and I pondered this conundrum and came to two conclusions:


As happened during the development of the atomic bomb, someone, possibly from within the program thinks the use of such a weapon is repugnant, even though (as also was the case with the atom bomb) it saves lives in the long run.

Or ...


Someone in the Pentagon wants to keep the enemy guessing, wondering if we have such a weapon (even if it doesn't really exist) causing them to loose sleep and be kept off balance, always wondering if the American hand of death is waiting to swoop down on them and take them out.

Therefore, in either scenario, to serve your agenda - you leak the program to Bob Woodward, a widely respected award-winning-journalist.

At the end of the day, Woodward's non-revealing revelation (like the identity of Deep Throat) may serve many purposes, the least of them being boosting Bob Woodward's book sales.

Not only is Bob not talking about it on CBS, but he is also not talking about it on CNN and I'm sure you'll see him not taking about it on many future newscasts to come. After all, it sales books.

I don't know about you, but I'm buying a copy- just to read about what Bob is not talking about.

-Steve Douglass

Update: According to a recent statement in a CNN interview Bob Woodward said "must remain secret for now or it would "get people killed. "

Then why talk about it at all?

If Bob is to believed (or his source for that matter) the weapon must be delivered up close and personal, maybe by a team of specially trained Special Ops commandos, directed to the location by DistantStar.

So it stands to reason disclosure of the program could compromise those tasked with deploying the weapon or RF tagging the enemy targets.

Remember, all this falls under the realm of speculation, but it could work this way:

A terrorist uses a RF emitting device (or has been tagged with an RF emitting device) is tracked by DistantStar (or its' upgraded follow-on) to their secret safe house.

Once pinpointed, Special Ops commandos are called in to use the weapon. Zap!- sudden chest pain and an enclave of terrorists drops dead.

I have no problem with that.

-Steve Douglass

Bob Woodward's Sixty Minutes Interview

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Facebook - For Spies?

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When you see people at the office using such Internet sites as Facebook and MySpace, you might suspect those workers are slacking off.

A social-networking site for the world of spying officially launches for the U.S. intelligence community this month.

But that's not the case at the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency, where bosses are encouraging their staff members to use a new social-networking site designed for the super-secret world of spying.

"It's every bit Facebook and YouTube for spies, but it's much, much more," said Michael Wertheimer, assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analysis.

The program is called A-Space, and it's a social-networking site for analysts within the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

Instead of posting thoughts about the new Avenged Sevenfold album or Jessica Alba movie, CIA analysts could use A-Space to share information and opinion about al Qaeda movements in the Middle East or Russian naval maneuvers in the Black Sea.

The new A-Space site has been undergoing testing for months and launches officially for the nation's entire intelligence community September 22.

"It's a place where not only spies can meet but share data they've never been able to share before," Wertheimer said. "This is going to give them for the first time a chance to think out loud, think in public amongst their peers, under the protection of an A-Space umbrella."

Wertheimer demonstrated the program to CNN to show how analysts will use it to collaborate.

"One perfect example is if Osama bin Laden comes out with a new video. How is that video obtained? Where are the very sensitive secret sources we may have to put into a context that's not apparent to the rest of the world?" Wertheimer asked.

"In the past, whoever captured that video or captured information about the video kept it in-house. It's highly classified, because it has so very short a shelf life. That information is considered critical to our understanding."

The goal of A-Space, like intelligence analysis in general, is to protect the United States by assessing all the information available to the spy agencies. Missing crucial data can have enormous implications, such as an FBI agent who sent an e-mail before September 11, 2001, warning of people learning to fly airplanes but not learning to land them.

"There was the question, 'Was that a dot that failed to connect?' Well, that person did this via e-mail," Wertheimer said. "A-
Even though Facebook, MySpace and other social-networking sites that inspired A-Space are predominantly the domain of young people, there apparently is no such generational divide on A-Space.

"We have found that participation in A-Space crosses every conceivable age line and experience line. People are excited, no matter what age group," Wertheimer said.

Of course, the material on A-Space is highly classified, so it won't be available for the public. Only intelligence personnel with the proper security clearance, and a reason to be examining particular information, can access the site. The creators of A-Space do not want it to be used by some future double agent such as Jonathan Pollard or Robert Hanssen to steal America's 21st-century secrets.

"We're building [a] mechanism to alert that behavior. We call that, for lack of a better term, the MasterCard, where someone is using their credit card in a way they've never used it before, and it alerts so that maybe that credit card has been stolen," Wertheimer said. "Same thing here. We're going to actually do patterns on the way people use A-Space."

Yes, analysts can collect friends on A-Space the way people can on Facebook. But nobody outside the intelligence community will ever know -- because they're secret

B-1B Bad Brakes Costs Big Bucks!

By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer Air Force Times
Posted : Friday Sep 5, 2008 11:53:19 EDT

A broken parking brake caused the multi-million dollar flight line accident that damaged a B-1B Lancer and two fire trucks at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, in March, according to Air Force investigation.

And two separate crash landings in May were caused by pilot errors, investigations decided.

On March 7, a B-1B assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, made an emergency landing at Andersen after the bomber’s Number 3 hydraulic system malfunctioned, the accident investigation board said in a report issued Sept. 3.

After the jet came to a stop on a taxiway with the parking brake on, Andersen’s emergency response team spotted a large hydraulic leak on the plane’s right side. To prevent a fire, the aircrew shut down the jet’s four engines. That’s what caused the emergency brake system to lose pressure, investigators concluded.

Twenty seconds later, the plane began to roll forward. First, the jet’s nose struck a fire truck. Then, the left wing hit a second truck, wedging the truck under the wing and stopping the jet.

A pilot onboard the B-1B as the jet started rolling tried to stop the plane using emergency brakes, but those failed, too.

The repair bill for the bomber and fire trucks totaled $5.8 million.

The investigators didn’t fault the aircrew, but said the accident could have been prevented if emergency crews had chocked the jet’s front wheels.

Two other accident investigation reports also came out Sept. 3.

* The May 21 hard landing of T-1A Jayhawk training jet near the Lubbock, Texas, airport resulted from severe windshear and several mistakes by the aircrew, the investigation found. The two pilots, instructor Capt. Justin M. Gray and student Capt. Brady S. McConnell, both of the 47th Flying Training Wing, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, weren’t injured when the jet landed in plowed farm field a mile short of the Lubbock runway.

The crew was practicing a landing approach in gusting winds when windshear pushed the plane downward, the report said. The crew struggled to get the jet climbing, but the plane did not respond in time.

The report concluded the crew made multiple errors, including ignoring weather warnings, poor mission planning, complacency and lack of procedural knowledge.

Damage to the two-engine jet was set at $3.7 million.

* An E-9A Widget landed wheels-up in Florida on May 1 because the two pilots forgot to lower the plane’s landing gear, an accident investigation board decided.

The E-9A is an Air Force version of the twin-propeller driven Bombardier Dash 8. The service’s two E-9As, part of the 53rd Wing, fly out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., to monitor the test range over the Gulf of Mexico.

On May 1 instructor pilot Capt. Justin T. Allen was flying with a civilian student pilot, Joseph C. Cannizzo, and practicing landings at Tallahassee Regional Airport. As the crew flew a mock emergency landing, the pilots did not lower the landing gear. The plane hit the runway belly first and skidded 2,200 feet. Neither pilot suffered injuries.

The plane’s repair bill totaled $1.4 million

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

CNN: U.S. Special Forces In Pakistan Raid

(CNN) -- U.S. military forces landed at a compound in Pakistan to battle targets linked to recent attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official confirmed Wednesday.

Security in the South Waziristan area of Pakistan has deteriorated in recent years.

The official declined to be identified, citing the extreme sensitivity of U.S. forces operating within Pakistan's borders.

The action was an uncommon one for the U.S. military. Generally, NATO forces do not enter Pakistan except when pursuing insurgents in Afghanistan who slipped over the border or, in an extreme case, to pursue a high-value target.

The Pentagon has refused to comment officially on the attack, but several defense officials acknowledged that U.S. military activity had taken place inside Pakistan.

The senior U.S. official said a small number of U.S. helicopters landed troops in the village near Angoor Adda in South Waziristan, where Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have hunkered down over the years.

Local media reports said the troops came out of a chopper and fired on civilians. The U.S. official said there may have been a small number of women and children in the immediate vicinity, but when the mission began "everybody came out firing" from the compound.

He said the U.S. troops specifically attacked three buildings in the compound. They were believed to contain individuals responsible for training and equipping insurgents who have been crossing the border into Afghanistan in increasing numbers in recent months and staging large-scale, high-profile attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.

Read the full story at CNN.com


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