Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Suspected Russian agent on the run!

CNN) -- A suspected Russian spy is missing after being arrested in Cyprus and released on bail, a police spokesman told CNN on Wednesday.

Authorities arrested Robert Christopher Metsos, 55, in Larnaca after an Interpol "red notice" was served on him, Cypriot police said Tuesday.

Police said he was released on bail pending further proceedings but was told not to leave the country and was ordered to check in nightly with police. He did not check in Wednesday, and police are searching for him, a spokesman said.
Metsos is among 11 suspects in an alleged Russian spy ring in the United States.

At the time of his arrest, he was traveling on a Canadian passport and was about to board a flight to Budapest, Hungary. Metsos faces extradition to the United States.
His disappearance came two days after the U.S. Justice Department announced the arrest of 10 people on charges of being Russian agents involved in a long-term mission in the United States.

How to build a $5,000 dollar UHF SATCOM antenna for under $20 Part II

DIY: Military UHF SATCOM antenna
By Steve Douglass

Is it just me (probably) or do antennas cost way too much? Sure that’s an odd statement to make.

I mean-how often does the average Joe think about the costs of antennas – right?

But I have never been an average Joe – and never wanted to be one.

I’ll admit - I’m an odd duck.

My idea of relaxing entertainment is to sit back with the headphones on, listening to emergency action messages on HF or scanning the MILAIR bands for Top Guns in training, fighter jocks going at it in one the nearby MOAs.

I like to be wired in – to everything – to the world. I take pride in the fact that I probably know more about what is going on in my neighborhood, city, state, world … then probably anyone I know – all because of my obsession with monitoring radio communications.

This hobby (addiction) has (time and time again) put me front-row center at some of the most tumultuous events of our times.

I once was hired (by a major news network) to ferret out and monitor the bugs and baby-monitors transmitting from inside the Branch Davidian complex during the infamous “Siege in Waco” 1993. On a cold day in February, 2003, I ran outside in my underwear and photographed the Space Shuttle Columbia as it plunged to its tragic demise over Texas.

On September, 11, 2001 I monitored the mass-confusion surrounding the FAA’s order to ground every aircraft flying over the U.S. or to shoot down any aircraft that wasn’t responding to the order. I also knew exactly where Air Force One was going when the rest of the world’s media hadn’t a clue, including the Vice President - for a time.

Because of my addiction to communications monitoring, I have become a trusted source for national, international and local news media, especially when it comes to breaking news.

My reputation was made when in 1986 (while casually tuning through the shortwave bands) I happened across an errant U.S. Navy communications involving the accidental explosion of missile propellant aboard “K-219” a Soviet submarine prowling the sea lanes off Bermuda. From then on I became obsessed with radio monitoring and since, if there isn’t a scanner or the hiss of a shortwave radio playing low (almost buried) in the background, I feel cut-off.

It was then I realized that there was this entire amazing-invisible world of wireless signals, out there, just waiting to be snatched out of the ether - carrying on their backs the electromagnetic emanations of modern human condition, from tragedy to triumphs.

I’m tapped into this invisible world of waves (that are passing through your brain even as you read this) from my humble two-bedroom apartment in Texas.

It is my great passion to not let these radio emanations go undisturbed and unheard.

So that’s why I worry about the cost of antennas.

Antennas are the proverbial fly-traps that snare the waves- and (in my opinion) they cost too much.

One day-while the idea of building a UHF SATCOM antenna was rattling around in my brain-I came upon this site that sold them to soldier-of-fortune types.

I was stunned that a simple folding TACSAT antenna cost almost $3,000 dollars!

In the demonstration video it looked like nothing-made of ABS plastic and flexible metal. What a rip-off!

But wait there’s more!

As an extra incentive they threw in a hand-dandy flexible tripod and carry pouch – and all this for just under three grand!

Let’s not tell them the same tripod could be had at Walmart for under twenty bucks and the pouch was just like one I saw for less than $10 at the local sporting goods super-store, as a pistol case.
Oh- lest we forget “special pricing available for GSA employees.”

I shouldn’t be surprised – general service contractors have been ripping off the government (i.e taxpayers) for years with $600 toilet seats and $100 space diapers (MilSpec) of course since – forever.

Note: This firm also sells a 20 foot run of coax for $89.00 something RadioShack sells (100 feet) for $24.95.

Needless to say – seeing that video was just another thing that pushed me to start my DIY UHF SATCOM antenna project.

To be continued …



Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to build a $5,000 dollar UHF SATCOM antenna for under $20

Ultimate DIY: Military UHF SATCOM antenna
By Steve Douglass

I remember the first time I saw a Dorne & Margolin UHF portable SATCOM antenna. I know that may seem a bit weird and esoteric (an antenna leaving that kind of lasting impression) but the moment I saw one - I knew I wanted one.

It was many years ago at the annual “ROVING SANDS” military exercises held in southern New Mexico. I was there covering the games as an aviation journalist.

The world's largest air and missile defense exercise, ROVING SANDS overseen by the JFACC, combines Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force units and pits them against each other over the White Sands Missile Range and Biggs Army Ranges.

For many years Roving Sands afforded me a unique opportunity to observe (very up-close and personal) military aviation operations that didn’t require going through the laborious task of obtaining government-vetted-sanctioned press credentials, which is exactly what I didn’t want.

Once one is allowed on the inside - you only see the stuff they want you to see. Sure you have better access-but it is chaperoned access.

My job (then) was to look for the “unacknowledged” black-project aircraft that were rumored to be involved in the games, reporting for magazines such as Popular Science and Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Almost needless to say, my compatriots and I weren’t disappointed- but that’s different story for another day.

Anyway, (being a rabid military-monitoring hobbyist) I couldn’t help but spot the uber-cool milspec-looking-fishbone-yagi antenna on a building at the Roswell Industrial Airfield (where the Red Forces were based) pointing up at what I could easily deduce was a military satellite hanging 22,000 miles above the equator in geosynchronous orbit.

Later in the week, I summoned up my courage and asked an airman (eating his lunch near the antenna at a picnic table) what it was. Apparently he was the right man to ask.
He said it was a Dorne & Margolin portable antenna used for UHF-TACSAT/DAMA voice, data and telemetry work.

The airman (a com-tech) was proud of his MOS and even took time from his lunch to show me his radio rig. It was impressive, big and bulky over-built by Harris and looked like you cold have dropped it out of the back of a C-130 without damage.

He then graciously demonstrated it for me by doing a radio check (voice) with the Joint Training Analysis and Simulation Center (JTASC) in Suffolk, VA.

I was surprised at the high-fidelity and clarity of the return com-check, considering it was relayed off a rotating hunk of spinning metal and wires located some 22,000 miles in space, making the round-trip just under 50,000 miles.

As the tech continued with his demonstration, he rattled off a list of technical specifications, frequency ranges and communications parameters and protocols that I’m sure he thought I wouldn’t understand. I played dumb, scratched my head all the while trying as hard as I could to take it all in. He had no idea that he was talking to man who had written a hobbyists guide to military monitoring.

As impressive as the radio equipment was, I knew I’d never be able to afford one - even sometime in the far-flung future, when it had become obsolete and sold as surplus. It was kind of like taking a test drive in a Ferrari, all the while knowing you couldn’t even afford a Yugo.

But the antenna was a different matter entirely. I did own more than one receiver that could (with the right antenna) intercept satellite signals in the bands the airman had detailed (240 to 310 MHz) and had done so (with very limited success) from time to time.

The trouble was – UHF TACSAT satellite downlink transmissions were what was technically described as being (right-hand circularly polarized) making reception on commercial and consumer grade antennas (usually vertically or horizontally polarized) problematic at best.

Without getting too technical, rotating satellites have forced the use of circular polarization. The fundamental advantage of circular polarization is that all reflections change the direction of polarization, precluding the usual addition or subtraction of main and reflected signals. Therefore there is far less fading and flutter when circular polarization is used at each end of the link.

Over the years I tried building my own high-gain UHF Yagi antennas to receive military satellite communications with very limited success. Main trouble was, as the satellite rotated, the signal would swing out of phase and fade (rapidly) in and out and sound much like a record skipping – making interception just plain irritating.

To put it simply, it was like trying to have a conversation with someone riding on a merry-go-round. If you weren’t running along side them (constantly) all you would here were bits and bursts of voice.

Radio hobbyists (with more technical knowledge than moi) had built home-brew helical antennas and were reporting (via Internet news-groups) great success but the antennas were difficult to engineer and build, especially for a man who barely squeaked by with a C in high-school algebra.

For me, looking at the formulae for calculating the spacing and turns on a helical antenna was like trying to read Greek, but that wasn’t what turned me off to ever attempting to build one.

The main problem was, none of the antennas looked like the one I saw at Roving Sands, with the majority of the home-brew designs looking like the coils of razor wire ringing the local prison, plus they were huge -sometimes doubled-arrays hardly portable or easily mounted on the back balcony of my tiny apartment.

What I wanted was a Dorne & Margolin (now EDO) portable SATCOM antenna, transportable, easy to set up and tear down – and not to mention – tough-looking and black-like those used by covert operators, Rangers, SEAL teams and DELTA.

I wanted an antenna that didn’t say “ham radio operator” but instead said “government spy” and “If I tell you what it is I’d have to kill you – so don’t ask.” type of antenna.

Anyways –

Over the years I’ve held out hopes that some military surplus outlet advertising on the Internet would acquire one of these beauties (and not knowing what it was) offer it for sale at a reasonable price.

A few years ago – it happened. Dorne & Margolin/EDO and Trivec Avant (the major military contractors building SATCOM gear) surplus antennae began showing up sporadically on Ebay.

Unfortunately they were snapped up fast (and at premium prices) by the well-heeled radio hobbyists.

The going price was around 3K to (for pristine units) with even broken or heavily used and abused specimens going at over 1,000 dollars.

Refurbished (and new) antennas can also be (now) bought through various re-sellers, who equip shady-military-security for hire companies like Blackwater/Xe Services LLC.

These controversial firms are authorized to communicate with the military via SATCOM in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackheart International ( offers a mini-satcom antenna on their site for the walk-away price of $3,000. Heavy-duty antennas (Bigger-more gain) could be had for 5K.

I couldn’t (and still cannot) fathom why a simple assembly of electronics and aluminum sticks could cost so durn-much! For the life of me – they looked like a simple X-wing Yagi design. Was there something super-secret or complicated (hidden within the design) that made their construction complicated and thusly (and rightly-so) so expensive?

Still, hope springs eternal and I thought it would only be a matter of time before one popped up at a price I could afford.

In the meantime – I acquired a new super-scanning radio released by Uniden the BCD-996XT. The 996XT is a computer-controlled-programmable scanner with a 25,000-channel capability.

To quote Uniden: "This new scanner significantly raises the bar with much improved APCO-25 digital decoding as well as a host of new features and more memory. For those who like GPS scanning, a feature no other manufacturer offers, you can now enable and disable not only Systems but Groups as well depending on your location (the optional GPS antenna that we sell is required).

The radio offers a band-scope feature, a Fire Tone Out search feature to help you determine the tone out frequencies being used, improved Close Call, APCO-25 NAC code decoding, and more. The 996XT is a big leap forward."

The main reason I acquired the BCD-996XT was for its digital-decoding capabilities. I run a small news-gathering company for the local and (sometimes national) news media called “The Reporter’s Edge.” Recently, the Texas Department of Public Safety had “gone digital” employing APCO-25 digital encoding.

It is my job to scan the public safety bands for their producers and reporters and be a sort of safety net for the breaking-news stories that sometimes fall between the cracks while already over-tasked and under-staffed TV journalists took time to write, edit and produce the news as well have a life that didn’t dictate them spending their sacred off-time with their ears glued to a scanning radio.

Since I always have a scanning radio droning on in the background wherever I am- it was only natural I found a way to make my obsession (for intercepting radio communications) pay off. Once the Texas DPS went digital, the only way to listen in on their communications was with an APCO-25 digital scanning radio. The BCD-996XT filled the bill nicely.

The BC-996XT didn’t disappoint. In fact I can say without hesitation it is the finest scanning radio I have ever owned, only second to the handheld version Uniden’s BC396XT which I also own. Computer aided scanning software of choice is Butel’s ARC396, followed closely by Freescan.

The BCD996XT (with its’ more than ample 25,000 channel capacity) freed my BCT396XT for use as a MILCOM scanner, something I have wanted to do for a long while.

I love intercepting military aircraft (MILAIR) and associated communications on all the bands and to have a scanner dedicated to just MILCOM was a real treat.

I even went so far as to custom outfit a case (containing an ASUS netbook computer loaded with scanning software) that also housed the BCT396XT making it look somewhat like a retro SAC “nuclear football” capable of sending the emergency action messages triggering WWIII. It comes complete with an Cold-War era SAC badge that General Jack D. Ripper would trade his Cuban cigars to have.

Okay, I admit-its’ kind off geeky – but that’s just my way.

The “football” does have a utilitarian function. Underneath the netbook are two gel-cell batteries that can power the scanner and computer for up to twelve hours. Both can be charged by plugging it into a wall or a cigarette/accessory plug in an automobile.

(C) Steve Douglass

Continued soon in PART II


Today's excerpt from "The Interceptors Club & the Secret of the Black Manta.

Author's note: In light of the recent Russian spy-flap - I couldn't help but post this excerpt. It seems the Russian spy ring arrested in New york used the same technique to transmit their reports.
Sometimes fact does mirror fiction.

-Steve Douglass

> Pepper typed up two progress reports on two separate computers. One was on his official AFOSI work computer located in his office, the second he composed a few hours later on his personal laptop he always kept in his sight at all times.

The first report was for General Hogle, a skillfully written fictional report detailing his meeting with the Interceptors and how they were just a bunch of precocious kids who accidentally encountered Excalibur and made a model of it.

It was Pepper’s recommendation he have the kids sign an inadvertent disclosure to a classified program agreement and have the model confiscated and destroyed.

He also explained he had sufficiently put the fear of prosecution into these kids (who really didn’t mean any harm) and who were just in the wrong place at the right time. Since it was displayed as a “hypothetical” design, the damage was minimal and the cat hadn’t been let out of the proverbial bag.

It was Pepper’s recommendation that the case be considered closed.

The second report was for his spy-handler Chin. It also included a report on the Interceptors, and how they could be used unwittingly to fill their needs, gathering intelligence for them on Excalibur.

Although this report did include his interviews with Static and his gang, he did leave out one important fact that he felt that Chin did not need to know.

He didn’t tell them they were just teenagers. He knew his North Korean intelligence contact would not believe kids were able to succeed where their best-trained agents had failed.

The report for Hogle would be printed and hand-delivered to the General via a secure courier.

The other (to his North Korean spy masters) would travel over the internet and be posted on a public site in plain sight, but encrypted to prevent interception.

To insure that he would never be uncovered as a spy, Pepper took great efforts to keep his secret files safe.

He never typed up his reports on a computer attached to the internet. He knew from experience that by hooking up a phone line to a computer it became a gateway to almost anyone and especially to the FBI or CIA.

Although he used a laptop computer to covertly send his reports, he did so in a unique way that left no trace.

As part of his duties as an AFOSI agent, he was well aware there were powerful programs that could recover even erased files from a computer's hard drive,so he took great pains to insure the hard drive on his personal computer remained pristine. To do this he saved his secret files on tiny secure media cards, the type usually used inside digital cameras.

These cards could hold over 2 gigabytes of documents and were only half size of a tea bag (but wafer thin) and could be easily hidden in places that even the most diligent spy hunter would never look.

But Pepper didn’t bother to hide his files in some remote location. He knew they would only be safe if kept close at hand.

Since AFOSI officers were routinely investigated by internal Air Force security agents (charged with finding spies) he kept them close by at all times, inside his compact digital camera tucked away in the breast pocket of his uniform.

Since a camera was part of his normal investigating gear it would not seem out of place for him to be carrying one. If by chance he was ever suspected of being a spy (and the camera was confiscated) all one would find on the card were what looked like ordinary snapshots any amateur shutterbug might take.

But cleverly imbedded in the images were all of Pepper’s stolen secrets, interlaced inside innocuous looking photographs of sunrises, landscapes and vacation snapshots.

To hide his files inside the photographs, he used a commonly available program known as “Outguess” utilizing a technique in intelligence circles known as steganographic encoding.

Since it would also be very suspect to have such a program on his personal computer it was kept stored on another photo media card and never mounted on his hard drive. In this way a routine search of his computer would show nothing to arouse suspicions.

To transmit the imbedded documents to his handlers he just simply posted them on a photography website known as, where amateur photographers could display their talents.

It made Pepper smile to think that at any given moments thousands of people could be viewing his photos without knowing they were looking at top-secret military documents. <


Hiding in plain site: Russian couple spies

LONDON — One of the Cold War's most famous defectors says Russia may have as many as 50 deep-cover couples spying inside the United States.
Oleg Gordievsky, a former deputy head of the KGB in London who defected in 1985, said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would know the number of illegal operatives in each target country.

The 71-year-old ex-double agent told The Associated Press on Tuesday that, based on his experience in Russian intelligence, he estimates that Moscow likely has 40 to 50 couples operating under cover in the U.S.

"For the KGB, there's usually 40 to 50 couples, all illegal," said Gordievsky, who defected to Britain after supplying information during the Cold War to the U.K.'s MI6 overseas spy agency.
Gordievsky said he spent nine years working in the KGB directorate in charge of illegal spy teams. "The president will know the number, and in each country how many — but not their names," Gordievsky said.

The FBI announced Monday the arrests of 10 alleged deep cover Russian agents after tracking the suspects for years. They are accused of attempting to infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles while posing as ordinary citizens. All 10 are charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. attorney general — an offense that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

An 11th person allegedly involved in the Russian spy ring was arrested Tuesday in Cyprus.
In Moscow, Russia called the arrests an unjustified throwback to the Cold War, and senior lawmakers said some in the U.S. government may be trying to undercut President Barack Obama's warming relations with Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it was regrettable that the arrests came amid Obama's push for a "reset" in Russian-U.S. ties."

These actions are unfounded and pursue unseemly goals," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We don't understand the reasons which prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to make a public statement in the spirit of Cold War-era spy stories."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that U.S. authorities announced the arrest just days after Medvedev visited the United States and Obama.

"They haven't explained to us what this is about," Lavrov said at a news conference during a visit to Jerusalem. "I hope they will. The only thing I can say today is that the moment for doing that has been chosen with special elegance."

Medvedev met with Obama at the White House last week after the Russian leader visited high-tech firms in California's Silicon Valley. The two presidents went out for cheeseburgers, exchanged jokes and walked together in the park.
When ask if those arrested were Russian spies, the Russia Foreign Ministry and the foreign intelligence service refused to comment.

Countries often have a number of intelligence officials whose identities are declared to their host nation, usually working in embassies, trade delegations and other official posts.
Gordievsky said he estimates there are 400 declared Russian intelligence officers in the U.S., and likely 40 to 50 couples charged with covertly cultivating military and diplomat officials as sources of information.

He said the complexity involved in training and running undercover teams means Russia is unlikely to have significantly more operatives than during his career.
"I understand the resources they have, and how many people they can train and send to other countries," Gordievsky said. "It is possible there may be more now, but not many more, and no more than 60."

The ex-KGB official said deep cover spies often fail to deliver better intelligence than their colleagues who work in the open.
"They are supposed to be the vanguard of Russian intelligence," Gordievsky said. "But what they are really doing is nothing, they just sit at home in Britain, France and the U.S."
He said undercover operatives may report to Russia once or twice a year, but otherwise work largely without any support network.

"The illegals don't have the support of the office behind them, and they are very timid as a result, so they don't produce a lot," Gordievsky said.

In Britain, the case stirred memories of the country's own illegal Soviet spy — Melita Norwood, a civil servant who spent about 40 years passing atomic research and other secrets to Moscow. Authorities ruled against prosecuting the elderly grandmother when she was exposed in 1992. Norwood died in 2005 at the age of 93.
Britain and Ireland's foreign ministries said Tuesday they are seeking clarification over the alleged use of forged passports by suspects arrested in the case by the FBI.

Documents filed at the U.S. District Court for the southern district of New York allege that suspect Richard Murphy used a false Irish passport and accuse suspect Tracey Lee Ann Foley of using a fraudulent British passport.

Ireland's foreign ministry said it had asked the U.S. embassy in Dublin for confirmation. In London, the Foreign Office said it was checking the claim.

Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.

Update: Russian spy a hottie:

A ring of 10 Russian moles right out of a Cold War spy novel was smashed yesterday — and among those busted was a flame-haired, 007-worthy beauty who flitted from high-profile parties to top-secret meetings around Manhattan.

Russian national Anna Chapman — a 28-year-old divorcee with a masters in economics, an online real-estate business, a fancy Financial District apartment and a Victoria’s Secret body — had been passing information to a Russian government official every Wednesday since January, authorities charged.

In one particularly slick spy exchange on St. Patrick’s Day, Chapman pulled a laptop out of a tote bag in a bookstore at Warren and Greenwich streets in the West Village while her handler lurked outside, receiving her message on his own computer, the feds said. A similar exchange occurred at a Midtown coffee shop at 47th Street and 8th Ave.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: The Interceptors Club and the Secret of the Black Manta


Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by

Russia says spy allegations baseless

Allegations that Moscow ran a spy ring in the US are baseless and a throwback to the Cold War, a Russian foreign ministry official has said.

The claims had set back attempts by President Barack Obama to reset ties with Moscow, the official added.

The response comes a day after 10 people were arrested in the US.

They are accused of conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of a foreign government, a crime which carries up to five years in prison.

Nine of those arrested also face a charge of conspiracy to launder money.

An 11th suspect named as "Christopher R Metsos" was arrested on Tuesday on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, police there said. They said he was arrested at Larnaca airport as he tried to leave for Budapest and was released on bail pending US extradition proceedings.

The 11 were allegedly part of an operation where agents posed as ordinary citizens, some living together as couples for years.

'Special finesse'
A statement by the Russian foreign ministry official on Tuesday said of the allegations: "In our opinion, such actions are groundless and pursue unseemly aims."

So what were the alleged spies up to? The Department of Justice has made clear that none of the information at stake was classified. Most of what the alleged spies were after seems almost anodyne.

While the incident does not look good for the Russians, the initial US reaction has been sanguine.

Russian spy stories may be a throwback to the Cold War and sound alarming but they probably don't surprise anyone in Washington, especially not in the government.

US officials who travel to Moscow routinely turn off their Blackberries and leave them on the plane to make sure data on their phones remains out of reach of any tech-savvy Russian intelligence agents.

Cold War meets 'burger summit'

It added: "In any case, it is highly deplorable that all of this is happening against the background of the reset in Russia-US ties announced by the US administration itself."

Earlier, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow expected Washington to provide an explanation over the arrests.

"The moment when it was done has been chosen with a special finesse," he added with apparent sarcasm, declining further comment.

Mr Lavrov's comments suggest that he thinks it is an attempt by someone or some group within the US power structure to undermine newly warming relations between Moscow and Washington, the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Moscow reports.

One Russian academic told the BBC he believed the case would serve as a warning to US President Barack Obama not to trust Russia and not to get too close to the Kremlin, our correspondent adds.

A senior government official told the BBC that it was unfortunate that such activity was taking place in the US, but that it should not affect the momentum established in the relationship with Russia.

Last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in Washington for talks, and was seen having lunch with President Obama.

'Deep cover'

Alleged intercepted messages in court documents suggest the 10 people arrested in the US were asked to find information on topics including nuclear weapons, US arms control positions, Iran, White House rumours, CIA leadership turnover, and political parties.

Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc - all these serve one goal: fulfil your main mission, ie to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels

Message to alleged agents

The US Department of Justice says that eight of the suspects allegedly carried out "long-term, 'deep-cover' assignments" on US soil, working in civilian jobs so as not to arouse suspicion.

They were allegedly trained by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) to infiltrate policy-making circles and collect information, according to papers filed in the US court for the southern district of New York.

They were told to befriend US officials and send information using various methods to Russian government handlers.

US officials say the spy ring was discovered in a "multi-year investigation" by FBI agents who posed as Russian handlers and gleaned information from two of the suspects.

Investigators say some of the agents had been using false identities since the early 1990s, using codes and engaging in advanced computer operations, including posting apparently innocent pictures on the internet which contained hidden text.

The FBI also reported observing older techniques, such as messages sent by invisible ink, money being buried next to a beer-bottle marker and "brush pasts" in parks, where agents swap identical bags as they pass each other.

"You were sent to USA for long-term service trip," says one purported message to two of the suspects that was intercepted by US intelligence.

"Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc - all these serve one goal: fulfil your main mission, ie to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels."

Generally, spies were allegedly tasked with becoming "Americanised" to be able to do this, with some pursuing university degrees, holding jobs, and joining relevant professional associations, court documents said.

The group allegedly got close to a scientist involved in designing bunker-busting bombs and a top former intelligence official.

Five of the suspects briefly appeared in a Manhattan federal court on Monday, where a judge ordered them to remain in prison until a preliminary hearing set for 27 July.

These included a couple known as "Richard Murphy" and "Cynthia Murphy", who were arrested in Montclair, New Jersey; Vicky Pelaez and a man known as "Juan Lazaro" who were arrested in Yonkers, New York state; and Anna Chapman, who was arrested in Manhattan, New York City.

Another three - Mikhail Semenko and a couple known as "Michael Zottoli" and "Patricia Mills" - appeared in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, after being arrested in Arlington, Virginia.

The final two people - a couple known as "Donald Howard Heathfield" and "Tracey Lee Ann Foley" - were arrested in Boston, Massachusetts, and appeared in a federal court in the city.

All the suspects except Ms Chapman and Mr Semenko have also been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

U.S moves big guns to NK border

CNN) -- North Korean officials are criticizing the U.S. for bringing heavy weapons into a border village in the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula, state media reported Monday.
State-run KCNA claims U.S. forces brought weapons into the Panmunjom area Saturday morning. A U.S. military spokesperson did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

"The introduction of heavy weapons to the area around the conference hall where armed forces of both sides stand in acute confrontation is a premeditated provocation aimed to spark off a serious military conflict," the agency said.

North Korean military officials have said they will "take strong military countermeasures" if the weapons are not removed, according to KCNA.

Tensions have been running high on the Korean peninsula since the sinking in March of a South Korean warship.

Last week G8 leaders condemned North Korea's communist government for its alleged role in the sinking of the ship.

"Such an incident is a challenge to peace and security in the region and beyond," the G8 final communique said.
"We demand that the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea refrain from committing any attacks or threatening hostilities against the Republic of Korea," the statement said.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Iranian Nuclear Spy vs Spy unfolds on YouTube.

Videos Deepen Mystery of Iranian Scientist

The mystery of an Iranian nuclear scientist who Iran says was kidnapped and tortured last year by American agents deepened Tuesday, as Iran publicized what it called a videotaped statement from him that proved its claim. That videotape was contradicted by a second videotape posted on the Internet in which a man who identified himself as the same scientist said he was studying happily in the United States.
Enlarge This Image

A video in which Shahram Amiri says he is safe and free in the United States and studying for a Ph.D

The rival videos that claimed to show the scientist, Shahram Amiri, 32, emerged on the eve of an expected United Nations Security Council vote on a new set of American-backed economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Iran has accused the United States of extracting information about its program from Mr. Amiri.

In preparing for the vote, the Obama administration has been offering classified intelligence briefings to members of the Security Council. In these sessions, American officials have used new evidence to revise previous conclusions about whether Iran has suspended efforts to design nuclear warheads, according to foreign diplomats and some American officials.

It is not clear whether information from Mr. Amiri contributed to these revised assessments.

The United States government has never acknowledged Mr. Amiri’s existence, much less admitted to having any role in his disappearance. But one United States official, declining to speak on the record about an intelligence matter, said the very fact that the video released by Iran showed someone talking over an Internet connection would suggest that he was not being held under duress.

“The United States doesn’t force people to defect or hold them here if they do,” the official said. “That’s ridiculous. It’s ultimately their decision.”

The official added: “Does anyone really believe that someone supposedly held captive has Internet access and the ability to make and send videos? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Mr. Amiri, whom Iran has described as one of the country’s top nuclear scientists, vanished during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia a year ago. He worked at Iran’s Malek Ashtar University, an institution linked to the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guards.

ABC News reported on March 30 that Mr. Amiri had defected to the United States, citing current and former C.I.A. officials.

But Iranian authorities said Tuesday that the video it publicized was the first document that proved Mr. Amiri had been abducted. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador in Tehran to press a formal complaint, the ISNA student news agency reported.

The Swiss handle American interests in Tehran because Iran and the United States severed diplomatic ties after the 1979 revolution.

“In the meeting with the Swiss envoy, Iran emphasized that America is responsible for the life and well-being of Mr. Amiri,” the ISNA report said. “It stressed that his abduction was against international laws and human rights.”

The report said Iranian officials also submitted other documents to the Swiss ambassador that they said proved their claim of Mr. Amiri’s abduction, and also that of a former Iranian deputy defense minister, Alireza Asgari, who disappeared during a trip to Turkey in 2007.

In the Iranian video of Mr. Amiri, which was broadcast on state-run television, an announcer identified a young man, in a blurry video wearing a T-shirt and talking in Persian through a computer phone hookup, as Mr. Amiri. He said he had been kidnapped in a joint operation involving the C.I.A. and the Saudi intelligence service in Medina on June 3, 2009. He said that he was taken to a house in Saudi Arabia, that he was injected with a shot, and that when he awoke he was on a plane heading to the United States.

He said he recorded the video on April 5 in Tucson, Ariz. The announcer said that he could not disclose how the video was obtained. The second video, which was released shortly afterward on YouTube, showed a young man, slightly more overweight than the man in the first video, wearing a suit in a well-decorated room, who also identified himself as Mr. Amiri. He said in Persian that he was free and safe in the United States and was working on his Ph.D. He also demanded an end to what he called faux videos about himself, saying he had no interest in politics or experience in nuclear weapons programs.

“My purpose in today’s conversation is to put an end to all the rumors that have been leveled at me over the past year,” he said. “I am Iranian, and I have not taken any steps against my homeland.”

The rival videos emerged as Iranian officials in Tehran denied some speculation that they would be willing to swap three American hikers, who have been in jail there since last summer, for Mr. Amiri.

Ramin Mehmanparast, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in Iranian government news accounts that it was not Iran’s practice to “exchange people whose cases are still with the judiciary,” referring to the cases of the three hikers, who are accused of entering Iran illegally and spying.

“The two cases are not comparable,” Mr. Mehmanparast said. “Iran will use legal channels to secure the release of Mr. Amiri.”

David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.

Uniden reveals new I-phone like scanner

$3 billion takes flight from Kabul


KABUL—More than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the past three years, a sum so large that U.S. investigators believe top Afghan officials and their associates are sending billions of diverted U.S. aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad.

The cash—packed into suitcases, piled onto pallets and loaded into airplanes—is declared and legal to move. But U.S. and Afghan officials say they are targeting the flows in major anticorruption and drug trafficking investigations because of their size relative to Afghanistan's small economy and the murkiness of their origins.

Officials believe some of the cash, if not most, is siphoned from Western aid projects and U.S., European and NATO contracts to provide security, supplies and reconstruction work for coalition forces in Afghanistan. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization spent about $14 billion here last year alone. Profits reaped from the opium trade are also a part of the money flow, as is cash earned by the Taliban from drugs and extortion, officials say.

The amount declared as it leaves the airport is vast in a nation where the gross domestic product last year totaled $13.5 billion. More declared cash flies out of Kabul each year than the Afghan government collects in tax and customs revenue nationwide. "It's not like they grow money on trees here," said a U.S. official investigating corruption and Taliban financing. "A lot of this looks like our tax dollars being stolen. And opium, of course."

Most of the funds passing through the airport are being moved by often-secretive outfits called "hawalas," private money transfer businesses with roots in the Muslim world stretching back centuries, officials say.

The officials believe hawala customers who have sent millions of dollars of their money abroad include high-ranking officials and their associates in President Hamid Karzai's administration, including Vice President Mohammed Fahim, and one of the president's brothers, Mahmood Karzai, an influential businessmen.

Where they allegedly get the money is one of the questions under investigation.

Vice President Fahim, responded through his brother, A.H. Fahim, a businessman, who denied the allegations. "My brother? He doesn't know anything about money," Mr. Fahim said.

Mahmood Karzai said in an interview he has engaged in only legitimate businesses and has never transferred large sums of cash from the country.

In a Jan. 22 financial disclosure form that he gave the Wall Street Journal to review, Mr. Karzai declared his net worth was $12,157,491 with assets of $21,163,347 and liabilities of $9,006,106. He reported an annual income of just over $400,000 but didn't provide dates.

Mahmood Karzai, an American citizen, blamed the allegations that he was transferring illicitly earned cash from Afghanistan on political opponents.

"Yes, millions of dollars are leaving this country but it is all taken by politicians. Bribes, corruption, all of it," he said. "But let's find out who is taking it. Let's not go on rumors. I've said this to the Americans."

President Karzai addressed the matter at a news conference Saturday, calling for greater scrutiny of business run by relatives of officials.

"Making money is fine and taking money out of the country is fine," he said. "The relatives of government officials can do this, starting with my brothers. But there's a possibility of corruption," he said without being specific.

Between the beginning of 2007 and February of this year, at least $3.18 billion left through the airport, according to Afghan customs records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Jo'l van Houdt for The Wall Street Journal

The Sharay-e-Shahzada financial trading center, the main money exchange market in Kabul. More than $3 billion in cash has been openly flown out of Kabul International Airport in the past three years.

U.S. officials say the sum of declared money may actually be higher: One courier alone carried $2.3 billion between the second half of 2008 and the end of 2009, said a senior U.S. official, citing other documents that are in the possession of investigators.

The officer said officials believe the money was declared, and that Afghan customs records may not be complete.

In their declarations, couriers must record their own names and the origins of the money they are transporting. Instead, they usually record the name of the Afghan hawala that is making the transfer and the one in Dubai that is accepting the cash. Often, the actual sender of the money isn't named, officials said.

"We do not even know about it. We don't know whose it is, why it is leaving, or where it is going," Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said at a December conference about the money leaving the airport.

The capital flight has continued apace in 2010. In the week ending May 29, more than $20 million, about half of it in U.S. currency, left the airport, according to a senior Afghan customs official. Apart from U.S. dollars, the currencies being flown out range from Saudi riyals and Pakistani rupees to Norwegian kroners and even outdated Deutsche marks now redeemable for euros.

"You get boxes loaded on the back of airplanes. You get guys, literally, bringing boxes of cash onto the plane," said the senior U.S. official.

The declared cash is believed to represent only "a small percentage" of the money moving out of the airport and all of Afghanistan, said Gen. M. Asif Jabar Khail, the chief customs officer at Kabul's airport.

Hundreds of millions of undeclared dollars, maybe billions, are being carried across Afghanistan's porous border with Iran and Pakistan, where a number of Afghan hawalas have branches, he said.

One figure often cited by Afghan and Western officials is $10 million a day leaving Afghanistan. That is $3.65 billion a year, more than a quarter of the current GDP.

Officials can't say how much money is coming into Afghanistan; that isn't tracked by Afghan authorities.

Afghanistan's endemic corruption and the suspected involvement of high-ranking officials in the opium trade has left the government deeply unpopular and fueled support for the Taliban, undercutting a war effort that is now focused on convincing Afghans to support their own state and turn away from the insurgents.

U.S. officials are also trying to disrupt the flow of money to the Taliban.

The insurgency is believed to earn a sizable portion of its operating expenses from extortion and the opium trade, funds that can easily be moved abroad to avoid detection or seizure.

But anticorruption efforts have increasingly taken center stage for the U.S. and its Western allies.

Restoring the credibility of the Afghan government is a central tenet in the American counter-insurgency strategy. Combating corruption by the government is now as important a priority as actually fighting insurgents. The investigations into the money flow are part of the shift in focus.

The U.S.-led initiatives carry significant risks: many of those believed by U.S. officials to be involved in shipping money out of the country are key Afghan power brokers who are important allies in the fight against the Taliban.

Balancing demands to clean up the government with the need to keep them on the same side will not be easy, especially after so many years of Western officials effectively turning a blind eye to allegations of wrongdoing by their Afghan allies, U.S. officials say.

Gen. David Petraeus, who is to take over shortly as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, faces the added burden of getting to know many of the main players in the country at the same time that officials under his command are investigating some of them and their associates.

The formal banking system here is in its infancy, and hawalas form the backbone of the financial sector. The State Department says that 80% to 90% of all financial transactions in Afghanistan run through hawalas.

Hawala networks run on what is effectively an honor system and much of the business they do is legitimate.

At their simplest, a customer drops off money at one dealer and is given a numeric code or password, which is then used by the money's recipient when the cash is picked up elsewhere.

The hawala operators then settle up among themselves.

Hawala fees are far cheaper than standard banks, often as little as $150 to move $100,000, and transfers can be done in minutes or hours as opposed to days.

The United Nations, NATO and international aid groups in Afghanistan have at times even used hawalas to move money and pay staff.

Afghanistan, shattered by three decades of war, is a predominantly cash society. "Afghanistan is a country that is built on personal connections and trust.

If someone trusts them, he will do business with them," said Haji Najib, the chairman of Kabul's hawala association. "It is the same for hawala."

But those ties also make hawalas especially difficult for investigators to penetrate to find the identity of funds being transferred.

Most of the cash loads are taken on one of the eight flights a day from Kabul to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Wealthy Afghans have long parked their money in Dubai.

Dubai and neighboring emirates, with their tight banking secrecy laws, also have been used by the Taliban and al Qaeda as a convenient locale to move or stash money, although Emirati authorities have aided American efforts to shut the flow of terror money.

Investigators say it is tough to trace where the Afghan money goes from Dubai. Some of it likely stays in Dubai, either in banks or property, some is probably moved to U.S. and Europe or back to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dubai officials didn't respond to requests to comment.

Over the past year, U.S. and other Western officials have grown alarmed by the ways in which corruption was fueling support for the Taliban and indications that the massive infusions of poorly monitored Western dollars were helping foster a culture of graft.

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-led operation to disrupt Taliban finances created last year is now largely focused on corruption, and military intelligence is dedicating more assets to fighting the problem. NATO is also creating a task force to scrutinize contracts given to provide security, supplies and reconstruction work for coalition forces.

American officials have been working with Afghanistan's central bank to impose Western-style regulation on hawalas.

Under Afghan regulations enacted in the last few years, hawalas must report to the central bank every transaction they made monthly.

When they suspect illicit activity, they are required to file suspicious activity reports, as banks do in the U.S.

Compliance has been spotty, say central bank officials. Most still keep track of their transactions in handwritten ledger books, sometimes transcribed in code.

So far, not one suspicious activity report has been filed, said a central bank official who deals with enforcement matters.

Cash also moves easily without detection or declaration through the airport's VIP section, where officials aren't searched and often driven straight up to their planes, according to Gen. Asif and U.S. and Afghan officials.

Gen. Asif said that last year, his men found a "pile of millions of dollars," all undeclared, and tried to stop it from being put on a flight to Dubai.

But "there was lots of pressure from my higher ups," Gen. Asif said. He refused to name the officials who were pressuring him, but said: "It came from very, very senior people. They told me there was an arrangement with the central bank and told me to let it go."
—Mark Schoofs in New York and Maria Abi-Habib in Kabul contributed to this article.

FBI snares Russian spy ring

Ten alleged Russian spies -- including a Cambridge couple -- were arrested Sunday on charges that they plotted to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation inside the United States.

The US Department of Justice issued a press release this afternoon announcing that the 10 people, who allegedly used fictitious names like Murphy and Foley, were arrested in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia.

All 10, and an additional suspect who is being sought, are charged in criminal complaints filed in US District Court in Manhattan.

A couple who went by the names Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley were arrested on Trowbridge Street in busy Harvard Square around 7:30 pm Sunday by a team of FBI agents.

The pair appeared briefly today in US District Court in Boston. A prosecutor asked to have them moved to New York to face charges, but Heathfield and Foley asked for a detention hearing in Boston.

US Magistrate Judge Jennifer Boal ordered them held without bail pending a hearing Thursday on whether they should be held without bail pending resolution of the charges.

The arrests served as a reminder that over two decades after the end of the Cold War, and despite the Obama administration's declared effort to "reset" relations with Moscow, Russia and the United States remain suspicious rivals.

Spying between the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals remains a fact of life, said John Pike director of a military information website.
"They're the only other country on the planet that can wipe out civilization," Pike said. "They are one of the few countries on the planet that could pose a military challenge to us."

But while Washington's intelligence effort centers around Russia's military secrets, the Kremlin's spies on US soil are usually after trade secrets.

"Computer chips, pharmaceuticals, the secret formula for Coke," Pike said, adding that industrial espionage has not often brought Moscow intelligence coups.

"Pretty much the last time they were really successful was when they stole the secret for the atomic bomb," he said.

In court papers, federal prosecutors said all of the spies, including the husband and wife team of 'Heathfield' and 'Foley,' were supposed to become as American as they possibly could.

The Cambridge couple and the others are charged with conspiring from the 1990s to the present to serve as agents in the United States of a foreign government.

Nine of those charged, including Heathfield and Foley, are also accused of money laundering.

According to Massachusetts Secretary of State records, "Heathfield'' incorporated a company called Future Map Strategic Advisory Services LLC this February and listed its business as "consulting.''

The FBI alleges that "Heathfield'' and "Foley'' both claimed to be Canadian by birth but who became naturalized Americans. Heathfield, according to the FBI, took his name from a man who died in Canada in 2005.

The FBI suggests they have long suspected both Heathfield and Foley of being someone other than who they claim to be. In 2001, the FBI said, they searched a safe deposit box at a Cambridge bank and found film negatives of 'Foley' that had been prepared by TACMA, a Russian film company.

They also found a Canadian birth certificate that they used to match the dead Canandian man to the Heathfield living in Cambridge, the affidavit said.

The FBI said the ''Boston conspirators'' would get "info tasks'' from their handlers in Moscow. The requests have included information about "United States policy with regard to the use of the internet by terrorists, United States policies in Central America, problems with United States military policy and 'Western estimation of (Russian) foreign policy.''

The alleged Boston spies, in a May 2006 message, reported about the new boss of the CIA and the upcoming 2008 campaign that ended with the election of the nation's first African-American president.

In cryptic references in the FBI affidavit, the government reported that the Boston spies had established ties to former congressional staffers and faculty members of an unidentified university.

Heathfield, the report said, also had ties with a "former high-ranking United States Government national security official'' whose name was not included in the FBI affidavit.


CIA defends Blackwater contract worth $100m


The head of CIA has defended awarding a large contract to the controversial security company formerly known as Blackwater.

The director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, said the company's bid was US $26m less than its nearest rival.

The contract, worth $100m, is to provide security at US consulates in the cities of Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.

Blackwater guards allegedly opened fire on unarmed civilians in Baghdad in 2007 killing 17 people.

In the wake of the killings, the company rebranded itself Xe Services.

The company ended its operations in Iraq in 2009, in line with a ban by the government.

The US government said in January 2009 that it would not renew the company's task orders.

An Iraqi inquiry found Blackwater quards killed 17 civilians in 2007
The new contract with the company initialy runs for a year but could be extended to 18 months.

In a rare television interview with ABC News on Sunday, Leon Panetta said the CIA had come to rely on such companies to provide security for forward bases.

"[Xe] provided a bid that… underbid everyone else by about US $26m. And a panel that we had said that they can do the job, that they have shaped up their act. So there really was not much choice but to accept that contract," Mr Panetta explained.

As Blackwater the company provided the US government with bodyguards both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It hit the headlines when four of its bodyguards were ambushed in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and their bodies left hanging from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

Earlier this month the company was put up for sale.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

McChrystal Forces Us to Focus


Now Petraeus owes us a candid assessment of the Afghan effort.Gen. Stanley McChrystal's greatest contribution to the war in Afghanistan may turn out to be forcing everyone to focus on it. The real news there this week was not Gen. McChrystal's epic faux pas and dismissal but that 12 soldiers were killed on June 7-8, including five Americans by a roadside bomb, making that "the deadliest 24 hour period this year," as The Economist noted. Insurgency-related violence was up by 87% in the six months prior to March. Agence France-Presse reported Thursday that NATO forces are experiencing their deadliest month ever.

There have been signal moments in this war since its inception, and we are in the middle of one now.

It has gone on almost nine years. It began rightly, legitimately. On 9/11 we had been attacked, essentially, from Afghanistan, harborer of terrorists. We invaded and toppled the Taliban with dispatch, courage and even, for all our woundedness, brio. We all have unforgettable pictures in our minds. One of mine is the grainy footage of a U.S. cavalry charge, with local tribesman, against a Taliban stronghold. It left me cheering. You too, I bet.

But Washington soon took its eye off the ball, turning its focus and fervor to invading Iraq. Over the years, the problems in Afghanistan mounted. In 2009, amid a growing air of crisis, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates sacked the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan—institutional Army, maybe a little old-style. He was replaced by Gen. McChrystal—special forces background, black ops, an agile and resourceful snake eater. "Politicians love the mystique of these guys," said a general this week. Snake eaters know it, and wind up being even more colorful, reveling in their ethos of bucking the system.

Last August, Gen. McChrystal produced, and someone leaked, a 66-page report warning of "mission failure." More troops and new strategy were needed. The strategy, counterinsurgency, was adopted. That was a signal moment within a signal moment, for at the same time the president committed 30,000 more troops and set a deadline for departure, July 2011. The mission on the ground was expanded—counterinsurgency, also known as COIN, is nation building, and nation building is time- and troop-intensive—but the timeline for success was truncated.

COIN is a humane strategy not lacking in shrewdness: Don't treat the people of a sovereign nation as if they just wandered across your battlefield. Instead, befriend them, consult them, build schools, give them an investment in peace. Only America, and God bless it, would try to take the hell out of war. But the new strategy involved lawyering up, requiring troops to receive permission before they hit targets. Some now-famous cases make clear this has endangered soldiers and damaged morale.

The Afghan government, on which COIN's success hinges, is corrupt and unstable. That is their political context. But are we fully appreciating the political context of the war at home, in America?

The left doesn't like this war and will only grow more opposed to it. The center sees that it has gone on longer than Vietnam, and "we've seen that movie before." We're in an economic crisis; can we afford this war? The right is probably going to start to peel off, not Washington policy intellectuals but people on the ground in America. There are many reasons for this. Their sons and nephews have come back from repeat tours full of doubts as to the possibility of victory, "whatever that is," as we all now say. There is the brute political fact that the war is now President Obama's. The blindly partisan will be only too happy to let him stew in it.

Republican leaders such as John McCain are stalwart: This war can be won. But there's a sense when you watch Mr. McCain that he's very much speaking for Mr. McCain, and McCainism. Republicans respect this attitude: "Never give in." But people can respect what they choose not to follow. The other day Sen. Lindsey Graham, in ostensibly supportive remarks, said that Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. McChrystal's replacement, "is our only hope." If he can't pull it out, "nobody can." That's not all that optimistic a statement.

The U.S. military is overstretched in every way, including emotionally and psychologically. The biggest takeaway from a week at U.S. Army War College in 2008 was the exhaustion of the officers. They are tired from repeat deployments, and their families are stretched to the limit, with children reaching 12 and 13 without a father at home.

The president himself is in a parlous position with regard to support, which means with regard to his ability to persuade, to be believed, to be followed. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows more people disapprove of Mr. Obama's job performance than approve.

When he ran for president, Mr. Obama blasted Iraq but called Afghanistan the "good war." This was in line with public opinion, and as a young Democratic progressive who hadn't served in the military, he had to kick away from the old tie-dyed-hippie-lefty-peacenik hangover that dogs the Democratic Party to this day, even as heartless-warlike-bigot-in-plaid-golf-shorts dogs the Republicans. In 2009 he ordered a top-to-bottom review of Afghanistan. In his valuable and deeply reported book "The Promise," Jonathan Alter offers new information on the review. A reader gets the sense it is meant to be reassuring—they're doing a lot of thinking over there!—but for me it was not. The president seems to have thought government experts had answers, or rather reliable and comprehensive information that could be weighed and fully understood. But in Washington, agency analysts and experts don't have answers, really. They have product. They have factoids. They have free-floating data. They have dots in a pointillist picture, but they're not artists, they're dot-makers.

More crucially, the president asked policy makers, in Mr. Alter's words, "If the Taliban took Kabul and controlled Afghanistan, could it link up with Pakistan's Taliban and threaten command and control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons?" The answer: Quite possibly yes. Mr. Alter: "Early on, the President eliminated withdrawal (from Afghanistan) as an option, in part because of a new classified study on what would happen to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if the Islamabad government fell to the Taliban."

That is always the heart-stopper in any conversation about Afghanistan, terrorists and Pakistan's nukes. But the ins and outs of this question—what we know, for instance, about the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, and its connections to terrorists—are not fully discussed. Which means a primary argument in the president's arsenal is denied him.

It is within the context of all this mess that—well, Gen. Petraeus a week and a half ago, in giving Senate testimony on Afghanistan, appeared to faint. And Gen. McChrystal suicide-bombed his career. One of Gen. McChrystal's aides, in the Rolling Stone interview, said that if Americans "started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular."

Maybe we should find out. Gen. Petraeus's confirmation hearings are set for next week. He is a careful man, but this is no time for discretion. What is needed now is a deep, even startling, even brute candor. The country can take it. It's taken two wars. So can Gen. Petraeus. He can't be fired because both his predecessors were, and because he's Petraeus. In that sense he's fireproof. Which is not what he'll care about. He cares about doing what he can to make America safer in the world. That means being frank about a war that can be prosecuted only if the American people support it. They have focused. They're ready to hear.

Weird Or What? Stephenvile UFO segment

Someone finally posted on You Tube the "Weird Or What" segment I appeared in.
Other than implying (not my doing) the sighting was caused by "The Beast" its not an entirely bad piece. They also use footage of the X-47 (in place of the RQ-170 Sentinel) which I also had no control over.

The crew was Canadians - what are you going to do? ; )

-Steve Douglasss

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Military official disputes Rolling Stone article

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
June 26, 2010 10:59 a.m. EDT
Gen. Stanley McChrystal resigned as commander in Afghanistan after the publication of a Rolling Stone article.

Washington (CNN) -- In the Rolling Stone article that got him fired, Gen. Stanley McChrystal says of the aides who surround him "I'd die for them. And they'd die for me." But the military men around McChrystal are now silent.

Not one of those anonymously quoted has come forward, according to a source close to the general. No one has acknowledged they told Rolling Stone McChrystal thought President Barack Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" in his first meeting with military brass or that the general was personally "disappointed" after a meeting with the commander-in-chief.

It's no surprise he never claimed he was misquoted, several military sources who personally know McChrystal told CNN. They say, despite his fatal mistake in judgment, it is in his character to take sole responsibility for the inappropriate statements and command atmosphere.

The general has remained silent except for a statement of apology and a brief statement announcing his resignation.

But days after his ouster, one military official who worked for McChrystal in Afghanistan has told CNN that many of the controversial quotes in the article were never meant to be used on-the-record. But at no point did the official dispute the accuracy of comments about the president or other key administration officials that appeared in the article.

"Many of the sessions were off-the-record and intended to give him (writer Michael Hastings) a sense of how we operated as a team," wrote the International Security Assistance Force official who communicated with CNN on the condition no name was used.

"Hastings conducted several one-on-one interviews -- some of those were on background and others were on the record. I have found no evidence to suggest that any of the salacious political quotes were from any of these one-on-one interviews. They all appear to have been in settings that were off the record."

Since the beginning, Rolling Stone magazine has insisted it abided by the understanding between the publication and military about what Hastings could use in his reporting.

"Everything we published was on the record," Rolling Stone Executive Editor Eric Bates said to CNN on Tuesday. "We were very clear about the boundaries, for attribution or off the record."

Bates maintained that position when told of the objections by the military official.

"In every instance we abided by the ground rules," Bates told CNN Friday in a telephone interview.

The military official said that the magazine confirmed facts in the article but suggested they did not check any of the controversial elements.

"They asked us to check the facts of series of issues. In total, they don't come close to revealing what ended up in the final article," the official said.

Bates said there was no need to check the quotes because Hastings had either tape recordings or extensive notes on material such as specific quotes.

A spokesman for the magazine e-mailed CNN later Friday to reiterate the point.

"We never fact check quotes given to us from our interview subjects, as is common practice," wrote Mark Neschis, a spokesman for Rolling Stone's publisher, in an e-mail to CNN. "Our reporters obviously either recorded the comment, or wrote it down, so it's not necessary."

Rolling Stone also says it never sent the whole article to the military for fact checking but rather sent a number of questions to Duncan Boothby, the press aide who resigned in the wake of the controversy, to make sure of the accuracy of the story.

The military official provided a copy of the exchange between Rolling Stone's fact checker and Boothby in which the fact checker poses about 30 questions. The official provided the e-mail to demonstrate McChrystal and his staff did not know the article was going to cause such a firestorm and to show that perhaps, in the military's view some, ground rules were violated.

For example, the fact checker asks if McChrystal voted for Obama, saying that information came directly from the general.


In the Rolling Stone article, Hastings reported that the general "had voted for Obama." Despite Boothby's insistence that the information should not be included in the article, it does not appear he was contesting that it was said on the record.

Allowing statements to be declared off-the-record after the fact is not accepted journalistic practice.

Most of the questions focused on confirming specific details about McChrystal, such as the number of times the general traveled around the country with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Other questions tried to confirm information that could only be learned from McChrystal's spokesman, such as some of the private jokes between the general and his staff that were in the article.

"Does Gen. McChrystal carry a custom-made set of nunchuks in his convoy that are engraved with his name and four stars?" the Rolling Stone fact checker asks.


It's a drag to be a Taliban commander.

In Afghanistan, a Taliban commander disguised as a woman was shot dead Friday night in Afghanistan when he fired at troops, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said.
Authorities identified the man as Ghulam Sakhi, the senior Taliban commander in northern Logar province.

ISAF said intelligence sources tracked Sakhi to a compound near the village of Qal-eh Saber in Pul-e 'Alam district.

After Afghan troops called for women and children to leave a building, Sakhi came out with the group, disguised in women's attire.

ISAF said he pulled out a pistol and a grenade and fired at troops. Afghan and coalition forces shot him and he dropped the grenade, which detonated and wounded a woman and two children.

Authorities say Sakhi was involved in improvised explosive device attacks, ambushes and indirect fire attacks. He also kidnapped and killed a National Directorate of Security chief in Logar province.
In other Afghan fighting, several insurgents in Zabul province were killed in a "precision airstrike" on Friday night and bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan killed three NATO-led service member on Saturday.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Boss’s Firing May Result in Departures From Kabul

Published: June 24, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — The business of running the war in Afghanistan went on seemingly as usual on Thursday, although many in the NATO command headquarters here were reeling over the rapid-fire events that culminated in their boss’s dismissal, forcing many of them to polish their résumés.

While no one said he was leaving, there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that most of those closest to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was fired on Wednesday by President Obama, would leave with him. That would be partly in a show of solidarity and partly because the new commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would not request their services.

The senior people around General McChrystal, much like the top advisers to the president, serve at the general’s request. When a new commander is appointed, he almost always assembles his own team. That is somewhat more complicated in this case, because precipitous changes in the middle of a war could mean a loss of continuity and institutional knowledge.

“A lot of people will stay for the transition and then you’ll see them gradually pack up,” said a senior NATO officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly on the subject. The goal is to ensure that broad policy and day-to-day operations are not interrupted.

Several NATO officials said they expected that aides to General McChrystal who were quoted in Rolling Stone magazine making disparaging remarks about senior Obama administration officials would leave, possibly sooner rather than later.

Many people are watching closely to see whether some senior figures remain, including Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who leads the intelligence operation, and Maj. Gen. William C. Mayville, the deputy chief of staff in charge of operations. Both are viewed as important to the mission and both have relationships with General Petraeus, although they were also close to General McChrystal, said two NATO officers who work with them. They are also respected figures, viewed as bringing a nuanced understanding of counterinsurgency tactics.

But even those officers may leave. In particular the officer in charge of operations, a critical job, must have the complete trust of the commanding general. General Mayville’s relationship with General McChrystal might make it impossible for him to make the switch to General Petraeus.

Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the chief of communications, was among a very small group of aides who accompanied General McChrystal to Washington this week. He was scheduled to return to Afghanistan over the weekend, which suggested that he would stay on, at least for now.

As a general relieved of his command, General McChrystal will not return to Afghanistan, according to his staff.

General Petraeus is known for bringing a large and diverse team to work with him, one with civilians and military personnel. They tend to be fiercely loyal to him. In Iraq, where he served for much of the war, he had several advisory groups to ensure that he was looking at all potential solutions to different problems.

General Petraeus must be confirmed by the Senate before he can assume command.

The military said Thursday that six NATO service members died on Wednesday. Four British soldiers were killed in a vehicular accident and two Romanian soldiers were killed by a homemade bomb while on patrol.

In all, 80 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan in June, making it the deadliest month for the United States-led coalition since the war began in 2001, according to the Web site

McCrystal's story dismays Pentagon brass

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, who had sponsored Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan, expressed profound disappointment in his judgment on Thursday — tempered with thanks for his years in combat — after he was fired from the post. The dismissal followed publication of a profile of the four-star general in Rolling Stone that quoted him and his aides disparaging other officials.

“Honestly, when I first read it, I was nearly sick,” said Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Gates said he wholly supported the decision by President Obama to remove General McChrystal, who had helped devise the administration’s risky and expensive strategy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and was in charge of carrying it out.

Mr. Gates said that the statements attributed in the article to General McChrystal and his inner circle of aides “are unacceptable under our form of government and are inconsistent with the high standards expected of military leaders.”

During a Pentagon news conference, Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen made their first lengthy comments on the controversy and the command change. They were both clearly saddened by the sidelining of one of the military’s most combat-tested Special Operations officers.

Mr. Gates conceded that in his advice to Mr. Obama about the matter, he had expressed concern that a change of command would sap the war effort of momentum at a pivotal moment, when by all accounts it is already proceeding more slowly than expected.

It was Mr. Obama’s suggestion to give the job to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq who now leads American forces across the Middle East; Mr. Gates said that the choice of General Petraeus eased his mind.

“My primary concern over the past few days has been to minimize the impact of these developments on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan,” Mr. Gates said. “The president’s decisions fully and satisfactorily address that concern.” He described the decision to give the Afghan command to General Petraeus as “the best possible outcome to an awful situation.”

Well aware that a perception of disarray in the American and NATO military headquarters in Kabul might worry American troops and allies while emboldening the insurgency, Mr. Gates spoke directly to all of those audiences.

“No one — be they adversaries or friends, or especially our troops — should misinterpret these personnel changes as a slackening of this government’s commitment to the mission in Afghanistan,” Mr. Gates said. “We remain committed to that mission and to the comprehensive civil-military strategy ordered by the president to achieve our goals there.”

For his part, Admiral Mullen spoke of the pre-eminence of civilian control of the military.

“We do not have the right, nor should we ever assume the prerogative, to cast doubt upon the ability or mock the motives of our civilian leaders, elected or appointed,” Admiral Mullen said. “We are and must remain a neutral instrument of the state, accountable to and respectful of those leaders, no matter which party holds sway or which person holds a given office.”

The Rolling Stone article contained a number of quotations attributed to General McChrystal and his aides that were rude and dismissive of members of Mr. Obama’s national security team.

In the hours after the article surfaced in public, Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen discussed it with General McChrystal. “In my meeting with him, he didn’t try to explain it,” Mr. Gates said on Thursday. “He just acknowledged that he had made a terrible decision.”

Mr. Gates, who has questioned what he calls the negative narrative of the war in news reports and Washington political discussions, said the mission in Afghanistan was “hard but not impossible.”

“I do not believe we are bogged down,” he said. “I believe we are making some progress. It is slower and harder than we anticipated.”



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