Thursday, September 30, 2010

Meet the new boss - same as the old boss.

North Korean has released video footage and a photograph which appears to show the heir apparent Kim Jong-un.

It is the world's first up-to-date glimpse of the young man who appears set to succeed his father, Kim Jong-il, in a gradual transfer of power.

He is pictured sitting on the front row in a group shot of senior leaders.

The TV footage shows him at this week's rare meeting of the ruling Workers' Party, where he was promoted to top political and military positions.

Continue reading the main story

Kim Jong-un, who is thought to be about 27 years old, was named vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party and was appointed to its central committee, state media said.

Mr Kim was also given the rank of a four-star general.

Kim Jong-il, thought to be in poor health, was re-elected as leader at the party's first congress for 30 years.

A North Korean delegation has now gone to China, reportedly to brief officials about the meeting.

Rapid rise
One day after the historic conference drew to a close, North Korea state television screened pictures of the event.

The leader's son, Kim Jong-un can be seen applauding along with the other senior officials.

It's a somewhat pudgy one, showing as we'd expect a young man much better fed than the overwhelming majority of his fellow countrymen.

Kim Jong-un's remarkable, rapid promotion this week to senior military and political office has already been reported - his first ever mention by name - in North Korea's government-controlled press.

But his special family connection has not been made clear. Now, for your average North Korean poring over the group photograph of the assembled officials, the symbolism won't need to be explained.

Kim Jong-un's front-row proximity to his father, as well as the clear family likeness, makes it all too clear.

Here is the chosen successor, with for good measure, the backing of the military, represented by a stern-faced officer in the middle.

Kim Jong-un's remarkable rise
The official photograph was published on the front page of a state-controlled North Korean newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun.

It showed 200 officials at the Workers' Party convention. Seated in the front row, just two seats along from his father, is Kim Jong-un.

Although the caption did not identify him, state media reported that he had attended the photo session.

Previously only grainy images from his childhood have been seen in the West.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul says the family likeness is clear, and North Koreans, seeing the photo for the first time, are unlikely to miss the significance.

Kim Jong-un is Kim Jong-il's third son and had already been identified as the most likely successor to the Communist dynasty started by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, in 1948.

Our correspondent says his rise is remarkable, even by the standards of one of the world's most totalitarian states.

He says there can now be little doubt that Swiss-educated Kim Jong-un has been chosen to eventually take over from his ailing father, who is thought to have had a stroke in 2008.

The few still photographs released from the conference hall show Kim Jong-il apparently chairing proceedings.

Analysts say that, at least, confirms that, although thin and frail, he is well enough to attend and seemingly still in control.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hotel with one helluva view!

A Russian company has unveiled an ambitious plan to launch a "cosmic hotel" for wealthy space tourists. Guests would be ferried to the hotel on a Soyuz shuttle of the type used to transport cosmonauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Moscow-based firm did not reveal how the hotel would be built or funded.

Up until now space tourists, such as American businessman Dennis Tito, have squeezed into the cramped ISS, alongside astronauts and their experiments.

The new hotel would offer greater comforts, according to Sergei Kostenko, chief executive of Orbital Technologies.

High flyers
"Our planned module inside will not remind you of the ISS. A hotel should be comfortable inside, and it will be possible to look at the Earth through large portholes," he told RIA Novosti.

The hotel would be aimed at wealthy individuals and people working for private companies who want to do research in space, Mr Kostenko said.

It would follow the same orbit as the International Space Station.

The first module would have four cabins, designed for up to seven passengers, who would be packed into a space of 20 cubic metres (706 cubic feet).

Mr Kostenko did not reveal the price of staying in the hotel.

However he did say that food would be suited to individual preferences, and that organisers were thinking of employing celebrity chefs to cook the meals before they were sent into space.

It is not clear how the "cosmic hotel" would be built, but the company's website names Energia, Russia's state-controlled spacecraft manufacturer, as the project's general contractor.

Energia builds the Soyuz capsules and Progress cargo ships which deliver crew and supplies to the ISS.

Mr Kostenko said that "a number of agreements on partnership have already been signed" with Energia and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

The project has Russian and American investors willing to inject hundreds of millions of dollars, he added.

Alexey Krasnov, head of manned space missions at Roscosmos, told the Associated Press news agency the proposed hotel could provide a temporary haven for the crew of the ISS, in case of an emergency.

However, doubts about the project were raised by Jim Oberg, a Houston-based space consultant and expert on the Russian space program.

"Why Russia would spend the required funds is a compelling question that has significant implications for its future commitment to the ISS," he told AP.

This latest plan is not the first time a space hotel has been mooted.

In 2009 the Barcelona-based architects of The Galactic Suite Space Resort said their orbiting hotel was on target to accept its first paying guests by 2012.

In 2007, Genesis II, an experimental spacecraft designed to test the viability of a space hotel, was successfully sent into orbit by Bigelow Aerospace, a private company founded by an American hotel tycoon.

Wannabee terrorist planned second bomb.

A new video has emerged of the man convicted of the Times Square bomb plot

A man convicted of an attempted bomb attack in New York's Times Square said he planned to detonate a second bomb two weeks later, prosecutors say.

Faisal Shahzad also said he thought the first bomb, which failed to go off, would kill at least 40 people, prosecutors say in new court documents.

They argue Shahzad, a Pakistani-born US citizen, should be given a life term when he is sentenced, due on 5 October.

Shahzad pleaded guilty in June to 10 weapons and terrorism charges.

In the court documents, prosecutors say Shahzad left the US in 2009 to learn how to build bombs and attack targets in the US.

"I have been trying to join my brothers in jihad since 9/11 happened. I am planning to wage an attack inside America," Shahzad said in a 40-minute video released by prosecutors on Wednesday.

'A terrorising strike'

In the video, the 30-year-old fires a machine gun and says he has met members of the Pakistani Taliban and has decided "to raise an attack inside America".

The government said Shahzad had not shown any remorse when he pleaded guilty after confessing to the attempted bombing.

Prosecutors wrote that the financial analyst "spoke with pride about what he and his co-conspirators had done".

They argued Shahzad had "every intention of delivering a powerful and terrorising strike to the heart of New York City".

Shahzad was arrested two days after the attempted 1 May bomb attack in busy Times Square, where the explosives he had packed into the back of a vehicle failed to detonate.

The plot thickens ...

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A deadly plan uncovered by Western intelligence services to attack targets across Europe could indicate a change in tactics by al Qaeda, security analysts say.

German intelligence officials say much of the information about the plot has come from a German citizen with suspected links to al Qaeda who was detained in Kabul in July and handed over to U.S. forces.

The officials say he has spoken of a plan similar to the 2008 assault on the Indian city of Mumbai and had told interrogators the plan had the blessing of Osama bin Laden.

In that attack, spread over three days, more than 160 people were killed as 10 men attacked and occupied a number of prominent buildings including the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and Oberoi-Trident hotels, the city's Victoria Terminus train station, and the Jewish cultural center, Chabad House.

India blamed the attacks on the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a Pakistan-based terror group allied with al Qaeda.

With al Qaeda struggling to replicate attacks on the scale of the devastation witnessed on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, security experts believe the Mumbai attack, which gained worldwide publicity, may provide the template for its future operations.

"This new plot is perhaps an indication that al Qaeda is trying to change its strategy," said CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson. "The high-profile attacks that it has always liked using explosives are clearly getting harder and harder to perpetrate.

"The cells are being spotted and it's harder to keep undercover when you're making bombs. Even buying the material to make bombs is getting harder, so many analysts believe al Qaeda would be unable to mount a 9/11-style attack in the current climate.
Video: Clinton: Al Qaeda wants to attack Video: Terror threats shift to soft targets

"Therefore Mumbai would have been viewed as successful by the al Qaeda leadership as it killed a large number of people. This type of attack is just as deadly but harder to stop."
In the last year, a number of plots targeting the West have been foiled, including the failed Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner; the failed car bomb attempt in New York City's Times Square and an alleged plan to attack shopping malls in Manchester, England over one holiday weekend in 2009.

CNN Terrorism Consultant Paul Cruickshank says Western intelligence officials are extremely worried about a Mumbai-style attack if al Qaeda chooses "softer" economic targets.
"We're so vulnerable in Europe and the United States," he said. "Guns and ammunition can be concealed easily. They may be harder to access in Europe, but not impossible on the black market."

Last week, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the terrorism threat against the United States has evolved, with homegrown terrorists and a greater diversity in the scope and methods of attack -- making it more difficult to prevent them.

"It is diversifying in terms of sources; it is diversifying in terms of tactics," she said. "The results of these changing tactics are fewer opportunities to detect and disrupt plots."

Al Qaeda's hideouts in the tribal areas that straddle the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have come under greater pressure.
Operations by the Pakistani Army have forced the group into a diminishing area; and the much expanded U.S. drone campaign has disrupted its operations and killed senior figures. But enough of the leadership remains at large and it is a supremely adaptive organization.

"They're down but not out," warned Cruickshank. "Osama bin Laden most definitely signed off on this operation and this is a major fact to bear in mind.
"This is interesting because there has been little in recent times to pinpoint his role in various plots. So he's still in charge, he's still the strategic driving force but not the details guy.

"They may go to him for the big decisions but the detailed operations will be taken care of by people under him who have risen through the ranks in tribal areas of Pakistan, where it has its center, or have come recently from Europe or the U.S."

This diversification has also meant forging links with groups around the world that share al Qaeda's anti-western and jihadist ideology, such as al Shabaab in Somalia and Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.
"Al Shabaab is involved in a nationalist struggle in Somalia but has already shown it is willing to strike outside its borders with the recent attack in Uganda," said Robertson. "It has attracted people from the U.S. to go there and join the fight and al Qaeda would like to turn many of them around, creating a wider potential threat there."

Despite a number of failed plots, al Qaeda has retained a command structure -- and has a external operations chief planning operations around the world. U.S. officials say evidence of this emerged in the case of Najibullah Zazi, a U.S. resident, who this year confessed to a plot to carry out suicide bombings in the New York City subway.

U.S. officials allege that a senior al Qaeda handler, Adnan El Shukrijumah, recruited Zazi to conduct suicide bombings in the city with bombs made of hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and high explosive detonators.

An accomplice also confessed to being involved in the plot; a third man is due to go on trial in New York also accused of involvement. Prosecutors allege all three went to Pakistan and received training in making bombs at al Qaeda camps. Shukrijumah is a U.S. citizen who had lived in New York and Florida.

"Even though many al Qaeda plots failed, they have shown they can still send personnel to western countries, said Cruickshank. "The feeling is some attacks will eventually get through. Al Qaeda may be smaller now but they are still very capable of launching deadly attacks."

Obama had secret plan to attack Pakistan camps

Woodward excerpts: Obama: 'We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan'

By Bob Woodward
Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010
The third of three articles adapted from "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward.

President Obama dispatched his national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, and CIA Director Leon Panetta to Pakistan for a series of urgent, secret meetings on May 19, 2010.

Less than three weeks earlier, a 30-year-old U.S. citizen born in Pakistan had tried to blow up an SUV in New York City's Times Square. The crude bomb - which a Pakistan-based terrorist group had taught him to make - smoked but did not explode. Only luck had prevented a catastrophe.

"We're living on borrowed time," Jones told Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at their meeting in Islamabad. "We consider the Times Square attempt a successful plot because neither the American nor the Pakistani intelligence agencies could intercept or stop it."

Jones thought that Pakistan - a U.S. ally with an a la carte approach of going after some terrorist groups and supporting others - was playing Russian roulette. The chamber had turned out to be empty the past several times, but Jones thought it was only a matter of time before there was a round in it.

Fears about Pakistan had been driving President Obama's national security team for more than a year. Obama had said toward the start of his fall 2009 Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review that the more pressing U.S. interests were really in Pakistan, a nuclear power with a fragile civilian government, a dominant military and an intelligence service that sponsored terrorist groups.

Not only did al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban operate from safe havens within Pakistan, but - as U.S. intelligence officials had repeatedly warned Obama - terrorist groups were recruiting Westerners whose passports would allow them to move freely in Europe and North America.

Safe havens would no longer be tolerated, Obama had decided. "We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan," he declared during an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009, near the end of the strategy review. The reason to create a secure, self-governing Afghanistan, he said, was "so the cancer doesn't spread there."

Jones and Panetta had gone to Pakistan to tell Zardari that Obama wanted four things to help prevent a terrorist attack on U.S. soil: full intelligence sharing, more reliable cooperation on counterterrorism, faster approval of visas for U.S. personnel traveling to Pakistan and, despite past refusals, access to airline passenger data.

If, God forbid, the SUV had blown up in Times Square, Jones told Zardari, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Should a future attempt be successful, Obama would be forced to do things that Pakistan would not like. "No one will be able to stop the response and consequences," the security adviser said. "This is not a threat, just a statement of political fact."

Jones did not give specifics about what he meant. The Obama administration had a "retribution" plan, one of the most sensitive and secretive of all military contingencies. The plan called for bombing about 150 identified terrorist camps in a brutal, punishing attack inside Pakistan.

Wait a second, Zardari responded. If we have a strategic partnership, why in the face of a crisis like the one you're describing would we not draw closer together rather than have this divide us?

Zardari believed that he had already done a great deal to accommodate his strategic partner, at some political risk. He had allowed CIA drones to strike al-Qaeda and other terrorist camps in parts of Pakistan, prompting a public outcry about violations of Pakistani sovereignty. He had told CIA officials privately in late 2008 that any innocent deaths from the strikes were the cost of doing business against senior al-Qaeda leaders. "Kill the seniors," Zardari had said. "Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me."

As part of the partnership, the Pakistani military was billing the United States more than $2 billion a year to combat extremists operating in the remote areas near the Afghan border. But that money had not prevented elements of the Pakistani intelligence service from backing the two leading Afghan Taliban groups responsible for killing American troops in Afghanistan.

"You can do something that costs you no money," Jones said. "It may be politically difficult, but it's the right thing to do if you really have the future of your country in mind. And that is to reject all forms of terrorism as a viable instrument of national policy inside your borders."

"We rejected it," Zardari responded.

Jones and Panetta had heard such declarations before. But whatever Pakistan was doing with the many terrorist groups operating inside its borders, it wasn't good or effective enough. For the past year, that country's main priority was taking on its homegrown branch of the Taliban, a network known as Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP.

Panetta pulled out a "link chart," developed from FBI interviews and other intelligence, that showed how TTP had assisted the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad.

"Look, this is it," Panetta told Zardari. "This is the network. Leads back here." He traced it out with his finger. "And we're continuing to pick up intelligence streams that indicate TTP is going to conduct other attacks in the United States."

This was a matter of solid intelligence, Panetta said, not speculation.

Jones and Panetta then turned to the disturbing intelligence about Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group behind the horrific 2008 Mumbai attacks that had killed 175, including six Americans.

Pakistani authorities are holding the commander of the Mumbai attacks, Jones said, but he is not being adequately interrogated and "he continues to direct LeT operations from his detention center." Intelligence shows that Lashkar-e-Taiba is threatening attacks in the United States and that the possibility "is rising each day."

Zardari didn't seem to get it.

"Mr. President," said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was also at the meeting, "This is what they are saying. . . . They're saying that if, in fact, there is a successful attack in the United States, they will take steps to deal with that here, and that we have a responsibility to now cooperate with the United States."

"If something like that happens," Zardari said defensively, "it doesn't mean that somehow we're suddenly bad people or something. We're still partners."

No, both Jones and Panetta said. There might be no way to save the strategic partnership. Underscoring Jones's point, Panetta said, "If that happens, all bets are off."

Afterward, the Americans met privately with Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, chief of the Pakistani army and the most powerful figure in the country.

Although Kayani had graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., he was a product of the Pakistani military system - nearly 40 years of staring east to the threat posed by India, its adversary in several wars since both countries were established in 1947.

This was part of a Pakistani officer's DNA. It was hard, perhaps impossible, for a Pakistani general to put down his binoculars, turn his head over his shoulder and look west to Afghanistan.

Jones told Kayani that the clock was starting now on Obama's four requests. Obama wanted a progress report in 30 days, Jones said.

Kayani would not budge much. He had other concerns. "I'll be the first to admit, I'm India-centric," he said.

Panetta laid out a series of additional requests for CIA operations. Obama had approved these operations during an October 2009 session of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review.

The CIA director had come to believe that the Predator and other unmanned aerial vehicles were the most precise weapons in the history of warfare. He wanted to use them more often.

Pakistan allowed Predator drone flights in specified geographic areas called "boxes." Because the Pakistanis had massive numbers of ground troops in the south, they would not allow a box in that area.

"We need to have that box," Panetta said. "We need to be able to conduct our operations."

Kayani said he would see that they had some access.

Jones and Panetta left feeling as though they had taken only baby steps. "How can you fight a war and have safe havens across the border?" Panetta asked in frustration. "It's a crazy kind of war."

The United States needed some kind of ground forces to eliminate the safe havens, Panetta concluded. The CIA had its own forces, a 3,000-man secret army of Afghans known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. Some of these pursuit teams were now conducting cross-border operations in Pakistan.

"We can't do this without some boots on the ground," Panetta said. "They could be Pakistani boots or they can be our boots, but we got to have some boots on the ground."

Army Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the National Security Council coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, also traveled with Jones and Panetta to Pakistan. He supervised the writing of a three-page trip report to the president that Jones signed.

It contained a pessimistic summary, noting first the gap between the civilian and military authority in Pakistan. The United States was getting nowhere fast with these guys. They were talking with Zardari, who could deliver nothing. Kayani had the power to deliver, but he refused to do much. Nobody could tell him otherwise. The bottom line was depressing: This had been a charade.

Jones said he was alarmed that success in Afghanistan was tied to what the Pakistanis would or would not do. As he saw it, the United States could not "win" in Afghanistan as long as the Pakistani safe havens remained. It was a "cancer" on the plan the president had announced at the end of 2009.

Second, the report said the Pakistanis did not have the same sense of urgency as the Americans. There were regular terrorist strikes in Pakistan, so they could not understand the traumatic impact of a single, small attack on the U.S. homeland.

The Pakistanis were making another mistake by applying that same logic to India, in Jones's view. If Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group behind the Mumbai attacks, struck there again, India would not be able to show the kind of restraint that it had then. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had barely survived Mumbai politically, would have to respond.

The options for Obama would be significantly narrowed in the aftermath of an attack originating out of Pakistan. Before such an attack, however, he had more options, especially if Pakistan made good on his four requests.

After the Jones-Panetta trip, Pakistan's cooperation on visa requests did improve. When I interviewed Obama two months after the failed Times Square bombing, he highlighted Pakistan's recent counterterrorism efforts. "They also ramped up their cooperation in a way that over the last 18 months has hunkered down al-Qaeda in a way that is significant," he said.

"But still not enough," I interjected.

"Well, exactly," Obama said.

Joshua Boak and Evelyn Duffy contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1996-2010 The Washington Post Compan

Spy Sat - spies on satellites.

By Michael Mecham

SAN FRANCISCO — Into clear, balmy skies, an Orbital Sciences Minotaur IV lifted the U.S. Air Force’s Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite into a 335-mi. high orbit inclined 98-deg. from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., on Sept. 25.

Built by Boeing and Ball, SBSS weighs close to 2,200 lb. and features a gimbaled telescope on a beryllium mount that provides a high degree of agility for its 2.4 megapixel focal plane shutter to slew across the sky to image spacecraft and space debris without obstruction or vibration.

Although other space assets have occasionally been employed to observe satellites or debris, SBSS represents the first Air Force asset dedicated to that purpose. Being in space, SBSS is not constrained by weather, daylight or being blanked out by line-of-sight issues.

The launch was an important check-off for Orbital Science’s Minotaur IV. SBSS required its full four-stage configuration.

The first three solid-propellant stages are derived from Peacekeeper-class intercontinental ballistic missiles while the fourth is a commercial Orion-38 from Alliant.

The launcher’s first use came in April from Vandenberg when it boosted a Hypersonic Test Vehicle for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but that was a suborbital mission.

The SBSS launch has suffered repeated delays due to launcher issues, the latest in July. It required a reload and test of software for the guidance system.

But when it came, the Sept. 25 liftoff was reported nominal. Separation from the upper stage came at 9:55 p.m. PDT, 14 min. 50 sec. after the 9:41 p.m. liftoff. A Boeing executive later reported that the “satellite is healthy.”

The satellite now enters a checkout period expected to last 210 days before handover to Air Force Space Command’s 1st Space Operations Squadron.

Much of the interest in the launch has focused on its ability to track space debris that poses a threat to government and commercial spacecraft. But SBSS also will play a major role in assessing the capabilities of secret satellites and tracking the movements of other nations’ reconnaissance spacecraft.

Super -Duper F-350 Tactical Vehicle not your father's picke'mup truck!

If you were at a traffic stop next to Ceradyne Armor Systems’ black Ford F350 in downtown Quantico, you’d never know it’s armored. It’s a sleek street vehicle with secrets.

At 350 pounds each, the front doors are as light as feathers compared with other, earlier armor kits with doors that weigh up to 600 pounds. Just swing the doors closed with a pinky finger.

And, there are no after-market parts. If it breaks , you call Ford.

Ceradyne uses composite, steel composite and ceramic composite components, the same materials it uses on the tactical vehicles driven by U.S. and NATO troops.

There will be blood ...

War-crimes probe of Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs reveals grisly allegations

By Craig Whitlock
Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010
When Army investigators tried to interrogate Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs in May about the suspected murders of three Afghan civilians, he declined to answer questions. But as he was being fingerprinted, Gibbs lifted up his pant leg to reveal a tattoo.

Engraved on his left calf was a picture of a crossed pair of pistols, framed by six skulls. The tattoo was "his way of keeping count of the kills he had," according to a report filed by a special agent for the Army's Criminal Investigations Command. Three of the skulls, colored in red, represented kills in Iraq, Gibbs told the agent; the others, in blue, were from Afghanistan.

Gibbs said he acted in self-defense each time, but Army officials came to a different conclusion. They have charged him with conspiring with other soldiers from the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division to murder three unarmed Afghans, allegedly for sport, and dismembering and photographing the corpses.

The war-crimes investigation is the gravest to confront the Army in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. In echoes of the Abu Ghraib scandal that unfolded from Iraq in 2004, the Army is scrambling to locate dozens of digital photographs that soldiers allegedly took of one another posing alongside the corpses of their victims. Military officials worry disclosure of the images could inflame public opinion against the war, both at home and abroad.

In addition to Gibbs, 25, the Army has charged four other soldiers with involvement in the killings, which occurred between January and May in Kandahar province. So far, the Army has released limited information about the case, although a pretrial hearing for one of the accused soldiers began this week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., home of the Stryker Brigade.

Summaries of Army investigative reports obtained by The Washington Post provide previously undisclosed details about how the murders were allegedly committed and covered up. The reports also indicate that a fourth unarmed Afghan was killed. And they show that soldiers in Gibbs's unit - 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment - have given sworn statements in which they assert that he was the one who came up with the idea of targeting Afghan civilians at random and developing cover stories.

Gibbs's civilian defense attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, did not return phone messages seeking comment. He has previously told reporters that the killings Gibbs has been charged with were combat-related and therefore justified. Lawyers for the other accused soldiers have also denied wrongdoing.

Conflicting reports

According to Army investigative reports, Gibbs and other members from his unit shot and killed the fourth unarmed Afghan on Jan. 28. Afterward, some soldiers told investigators, platoon members planted ammunition next to the body so their superiors would rule the shooting justifiable.

Two soldiers told Army special agents that their patrol came upon the Afghan as he was sitting along Highway 1 in Kandahar. According to the statements, Gibbs and another soldier fired warning shots at the man's feet; other soldiers then opened fire as well, killing the Afghan.

Army criminal investigators later decided not to press murder charges, citing soldiers' stated fears that the Afghan may have been a suicide bomber and determining that they had given appropriate warnings before using deadly force.

According to the two soldiers' statements, however, the Afghan hadn't made any aggressive movements and there was no sign he was armed. Some unit members admitted they placed a magazine from an AK-47 rifle next to the corpse "to give the appearance the Afghan was an insurgent," according to an investigators' reports.

Officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Wash., declined to explain why the Army did not file charges related to the Jan. 28 killing. They also declined to comment on the fresh disclosures in the criminal investigative reports.

"That's all part of the ongoing investigation," said Maj. Kathleen Turner, a base spokeswoman. "Nothing is closed."

In fact, the investigative reports indicate that Army is now scrutinizing Gibbs's previous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. (He has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.) In particular, they are reexamining a 2004 incident in which Gibbs and other soldiers are alleged to have fired on an unarmed Iraqi family riding in a car, killing two adults and a child.

Several soldiers who served with Gibbs in Afghanistan told investigators that he repeatedly tried to persuade other soldiers to carve fingers off Afghan corpses and that he kept at least two fingers for himself, which he wrapped in cloth and hid in an empty water bottle. They said he would display the digits when he wanted to intimidate other unit members into maintaining their silence; one soldier said Gibbs claimed he was collecting the fingers to make a necklace.

According to a statement to investigators by Cpl. Emmit R. Quintal, a member of Gibbs's unit, Gibbs once produced a black pair of shears after viewing the badly mangled corpse of a suspected insurgent.

"I wonder if these can cut off a finger?" Gibbs said, according to Quintal.

Quintal said Gibbs and another soldier sliced off one finger, and that Gibbs kept it. (Quintal has been charged with drug use, attempting to impede the investigation and other offenses, but not with murder.)

Later, as the body was taken to an Army base for processing, Gibbs helped a soldier from a different unit, Sgt. Eric J. Skinner, record the corpse's fingerprints and other biometric data. According to a statement from Skinner, Gibbs asked him whether he wanted to cut off a finger from the corpse. When a shocked Skinner asked why, Gibbs replied: "Because it would be fun messing with people, like sticking a finger on a care package."

Skinner declined. He told Gibbs the idea was "pretty [screwed] up" but told investigators, "nothing else was said about it."

Breaking the rules

Gibbs grew up in Billings, Mont., where he attended high school and lived in a modest house near downtown with his parents. His mother, Diane Gibbs, declined to speak with a reporter.

In the yard are two signs featuring an American flag and the words, "God Bless America: We Support the Young Marines." The Gibbses also have a teenage son; neighbors said he is a member of the Marine Corps recruiting program.

Calvin Gibbs is married to another soldier, Pfc. Chelsy M. Gibbs, a member of the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion at Goodfellow Air Force Base, near San Angelo, Tex. She told an Army special agent that she had been in limited contact with her spouse and didn't know anything about the killings in Afghanistan.

She said she did recognize a photograph of her husband's pistols-and-skulls tattoo but "did not know when he got them or what they meant," according to the agent's report.

The 5th Stryker Brigade deployed to Afghanistan in July 2009. Gibbs joined Bravo Company in November, as a replacement for a wounded sergeant. Soon, he began confiding to his new platoon mates that it had been easy for him to get away with "stuff" during his time in Iraq and floated "scenarios" for how they could do it in Afghanistan, according to statements other soldiers have given to investigators.

The 3rd Platoon was a unit accustomed to breaking rules. Many soldiers confessed to investigators that drug use was rampant at Forward Operating Base Ramrod, where they were stationed. Quintal told a special agent that "nearly his entire platoon had been smoking hashish consistently . . . sometimes as often as every day or every other day."

Other soldiers told investigators that there was no shortage of the drug. They would obtain it from their Afghan interpreters - nicknamed Yama, Crazy Kid and Mad Max - or the numerous Afghan truck drivers who made deliveries to Ramrod.

Gibbs has not been charged with any drug offenses, but he is accused of wrongfully possessing grenades, mortar rounds and other weapons.

One soldier told investigators that Gibbs bartered with Afghan security forces, trying to "trade porn in exchange for AK-47s, RPG rounds [and] mortars." Others reported that he kept Russian grenades and AK-47 ammunition in a storage bin inside the unit's Stryker vehicle, an eight-wheeled infantry carrier, in case they needed false evidence to plant.

A non-commissioned officer from a different 5th Stryker Brigade unit told agents he received a box from Gibbs in March. It contained a grenade and a dirty green sock. The officer said in a statement that he kept the grenade but threw away the sock, not bothering to check inside. Gibbs later told him that the sock held a severed finger, according to his statement.

After the final killing on May 2, two soldiers told agents that Gibbs removed a tooth from the corpse and sliced off a finger. In a statement, Quintal said that he told Gibbs "he was a savage" and that Gibbs "got really mad" in response.

Almost two weeks later, investigators reported finding two fingers inside an empty water bottle, wrapped in cloth. The bottle had been hidden on top of a protective barrier at Forward Operating Base Ramrod. They also found two other bone fragments nearby.

Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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"No soup for you Iran!" Obama sanctions Revolutionary Guard

US President Barack Obama has ordered the imposition of sanctions on eight senior Iranian officials for "sustained and severe violations of human rights".

The treasury department said they would face a travel ban and asset freeze.

They include the head of the Revolutionary Guards, a former interior minister and the prosecutor-general.

The alleged abuses include the killings and beatings of anti-government protesters after the disputed presidential election in June 2009.

Hydrogen race balloonists missing in Adriatic storm

Two balloonists taking part in the Gordon Bennett Cup race are missing in thunderstorms over the Adriatic.

The Italian coastguard said boats would continue to search for them through the night but aircraft would have to stop at 1900 BST when it got dark.

The missing hydrogen balloon, piloted by Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis, is one of three US entries. No distress beacon has been picked up from Mr Abruzzo's balloon

A spokeswoman at race control in Bristol said contact had been lost with the American pilots.

Maximo Macaroni, of the Italian Coastguard, said they last had contact with the pair at 0800 local time (0700 BST).

He said the pilots reported bad weather conditions and that the balloon was losing air.

He said: "We are searching the sea 13 miles off Cap Gargano in the Puglia area.

"We have three boats, two helicopters and two aircraft involved in the search at present.

"The balloon could also have landed on the ground near Foggia and we have also been advised that it could have possibly landed in Croatia."

One of the British entries, piloted by Wiltshire-based David Hempleman-Adams and Steve Carey, landed in third place.

The balloon landed in eastern Serbia having travelled 1,248 miles (2,009.54km), some 270 miles from the American balloon.

Mr Hempleman-Adams said the weather was starting to change.

"Around the mountains here there was a convection which was taking us up and down 700ft so the whole basket was shaking underneath. It was like being in a very fast lift up and down.

"So this morning it was a bit scary at times.

"It took quite a long time to find a suitable place but Simon did a fantastic landing. A fabulous landing."

Don Cameron, from race control, said the last satellite tracker report from the missing balloon - USA2 - was at 0658 BST.

"The Italian Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre have initiated an operation with a helicopter and fast boat although no ELT [distress beacon] activation has been detected so far," he said.

Don Cameron, from race control: "They do have good safety equipment"
"The Croatian authorities and all shipping have been informed.

"Thunderstorm activity has been reported in the area. We are very concerned, but can only wait for news now."

The spokeswoman from race control in Bristol said organisers were in touch with the missing balloon's ground team and Italian air traffic control.

The balloons took off from a launch site to the north of Bristol on Saturday night.

The winning team is the one to travel the furthest and crew control the balloon by letting gas out to descend or throwing sandbags out to ascend.

At first light on Wednesday just three teams of the 20 that started, including the Americans, were still flying in the Gordon Bennett 2010 international gas balloon race.

By 1140 BST all other competitors had landed.

The Swiss team - SWI2 - made up of Kurt Frieden and Pascal Witpraechtiger, landed near Constanta, Romania, in first place, having travelled 1,513 miles (2,435.08km).

A German balloon piloted by Wilhelm Eimers and Ullrich Seel landed in second place, in Moldova, having travelled 1,438 miles (2,313.40km)

European terrorist threat

A German citizen of Afghan descent was the source of much of the information on a potential "Mumbai-style" terror plot in Europe, a German counterterrorism official said Wednesday.
The man, Ahmed Sidiqi, was detained in Kabul in July and transferred to U.S. custody where he has "revealed details about the terror plot," said the official, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

The man and several other Germans traveled from Hamburg to the Afghan-Pakistan border area in 2009, where he joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an extremist group allied with al Qaeda, German intelligence officials said.
Sidiqi, once captured, "started to talk a lot," and detailed a "Mumbai-style" attack in Europe, the German official said.

Eiffel Tower evacuated after bomb threat

Ten men launched a carefully planned attack on buildings in Mumbai, India, on November 26, 2008. The attack on such prominent sites -- such as the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, the Oberoi-Trident hotels, the historic Victoria Terminus train station and a Jewish cultural center -- lasted three days and killed 164 people.
Sidiqi is from Hamburg where he worked for a cleaning company at the Hamburg international airport, the German official said.

He attended the Masjid Taiba mosque, formerly known as the Al-Quds mosque, in Hamburg, which became known as the meeting place of those behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Among those who prayed there was Mohammad Atta, one of the hijackers who commandeered the first plane that crashed into New York's World Trade Center. Sidiqi was part of Atta's circle, the official said.

Hamburg shut down the mosque this year, not long after Sidiqi's capture.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper would not talk about a plot Tuesday evening.
"We are not going to comment on specific intelligence, as doing so threatens to undermine intelligence operations that are critical to protecting the U.S. and our allies," he said. "As we have repeatedly said, we know al Qaeda wants to attack Europe and the United States."

Meanwhile, a federal law enforcement official in the United States, said "the volume seems to be turned up" on the threat information coming out of Europe.
The intelligence indicates there is interest in using people with Western passports in an attack, that official said. This source says the potential operatives may be a mix of Europeans and others possibly including North Africans, Pakistanis, Turks, Uzbeks, and Tajiks.

There is concern about an "active shooter" scenario that would create as many casualties and as much chaos as possible in a short period of time.
The Mumbai attacks showed how effective this kind of an attack can be in drawing attention.
According to this source, economic targets in Europe could be possible targets, including institutions such as banks and stock exchanges.

A separate law enforcement source said "the belief is" that Osama bin Laden signed off on a European attack plan, and that source confirmed the intelligence related to a Mumbai-style attack.
The German government is increasingly concerned about the number of Germans becoming jihadists. According to a senior German counterterrorism source, some 200 individuals have traveled to train with Jihadist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region since the 9/11 attacks.
We would be remiss not to try to take action to thwart what might be under way in Europe.

The Taliban
The potential plot against Europe was one factor contributing to the uptick this month in missile strikes by unmanned drones against terrorist targets in Pakistan, according to a U.S. official.
"We would be remiss not to try to take action to thwart what might be under way in Europe," said the official.

The official emphasized that the potential plot was not the sole factor.
U.S. officials say they are taking advantage of what they call "precise intelligence."
Most of the drone attacks this year have been focused on North Waziristan, a mountainous area bordering Afghanistan where Pakistani security forces have little control. That has continued to be the pattern this month.

Based on information from Pakistani officials, CNN estimates there have been 20 drone attacks in the area in September alone, a higher number than in any previous month, and more than twice the monthly average.

Acknowledging the spike, one U.S. official told CNN: "Our operational tempo has been up for a while now, we have good information driving it, and given the stakes involved, we hope to keep the pressure on as long as we can."
According to the official, the mix of threats remains the same. It comes from groups like the Haqqani network, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban. The threats they pose are "all deadly," said the official.

Pakistani officials say many recent strikes have been aimed at compounds in or around the town of Miramshah, a stronghold of the Haqqani network.
Western intelligence officials have long regarded the Haqqanis as one of the most dangerous terror groups and have linked them to several attacks in Kabul.
Intelligence analysts point to other reasons for the escalated drone attacks.

They include better information from sources in the border area and better surveillance technology -- including the growing use of spy balloons fitted with high-powered cameras.
In addition, the rising number of drone strikes is designed to deprive the Afghan Taliban of "strategic depth" as the Obama administration's campaign to defeat the insurgency enters a crucial phase and tighten the noose on the senior al Qaeda leadership.

Pakistani officials say one strike last weekend killed Sheikh Mohammad Fateh al Masri, described as the group's senior operational commander.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spike in Predator attacks due to imminent threat?

(CNN) -- A potential plot against Europe was one factor contributing to the uptick this month in missile strikes by unmanned drones against terrorist targets in Pakistan, according to a U.S. official.
"We would be remiss not to try to take action to thwart what might be underway in Europe," said the official.
The official emphasized that the potential plot was not the sole factor in the U.S. decision to raise missile attacks by unmanned drones against targets in Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan to an unprecedented level.

U.S. officials say they are taking advantage of what they call "precise intelligence."
Based on information from Pakistani officials, CNN estimates there have been 20 drone attacks in the area in September alone, a higher number than in any previous month, and more than twice the monthly average.

Acknowledging the spike, one U.S. official told CNN: "Our operational tempo has been up for a while now, we have good information driving it, and given the stakes involved, we hope to keep the pressure on as long as we can."
According to the official, the mix of threats remains the same. It comes from groups like the Haqqani network, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban. The threats they pose are "all deadly," said the official.

Earlier this month the Pakistani Taliban said it planned further attacks against Western targets. "We will launch attacks in America and Europe very soon," Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior Pakistani Taliban leader, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

One possible source of information on terrorists' plans is a German citizen of Afghan descent who is thought to be held in Afghanistan by U.S. forces. German intelligence officials confirm the man -- known only as Ahmad S. -- was detained in July, but they have not had access to him. They say he and several other Germans traveled from Hamburg to the Afghan/Pakistan border area in 2009, where he joined the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an extremist group allied with al Qaeda.

German media reports, quoting intelligence sources, say Ahmad S. talked about possible attacks in Europe while under interrogation at the U.S. Bagram Air Force Base. But the reports did not link his information directly to the stepped-up drone campaign.
Meanwhile, a federal law enforcement official, said "the volume seems to be turned up" on the threat information coming out of Europe.

The intelligence indicates there is interest in using people with Western passports in an attack, that official said. This source says the potential operatives may be a mix of Europeans and others possibly including North Africans, Pakistanis, Turks, Uzbeks, and Tajiks.

There is concern about an "active shooter" scenario that would create as many casualties and as much chaos as possible in a short period of time. The 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, showed how effective this kind of an attack can be in drawing attention.

According to this source, economic targets in Europe could be possible targets, including institutions such as banks and stock exchanges.
A separate law enforcement source said "the belief is" that Osama bin Laden signed off on a European atttack plan, and that source confirmed that intelligence related to a Mumbai-style attack.

The German government is increasingly concerned about the number of Germans becoming jihadists. According to a senior German counter-terrorism source, some 200 individuals have traveled to train with Jihadist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region since the 9/11 attacks.

Most of the drone attacks this year have been focused on North Waziristan, a mountainous area bordering Afghanistan where Pakistani security forces have little control. That has continued to be the pattern this month.

Pakistani officials say many recent strikes have been aimed at compounds in or around the town of Miramshah, a stronghold of the Haqqani network. Western intelligence officials have long regarded the Haqqanis as one of the most dangerous terror groups and have linked them to several attacks in Kabul.

Intelligence analysts point to other reasons for the escalated drone attacks. They include better information from sources in the border area and better surveillance technology -- including the growing use of spy balloons fitted with high-powered cameras.
In addition, the rising number of drone strikes is designed to deprive the Afghan Taliban of "strategic depth" as the Obama administration's campaign to defeat the insurgency enters a crucial phase and tighten the noose on the senior al Qaeda leadership. Pakistani officials say one strike last weekend killed Sheikh Mohammad Fateh al Masri, described as the group's senior operational commander.

CNN Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.

DARPA - dreams of flying Humvees!

DARPA funds numerous research projects and some of them sound like science fiction more than a product that could see reality. One of the more interesting projects that DARPA has talked about in the past year or so is the Transformer flying car. The idea behind the Transformer is that the soldiers could fly the vehicle over IEDs and rough terrain to make insertions into combat zones.

DARPA expects the flying Humvee to be piloted by troops with about the same amount of training that it takes to drive an armored vehicle. The basic premise of the vehicle is to take a Humvee that is lightened for flight and equip it with a rotor system to allow quick vertical takeoff and landings. Defense News reports that in the weeks to come, DARPA will turn the Transformer idea over to several defense contractors for research.

The Transformer would have to be able to carry four combat ready soldiers and over 1,000 pounds of gear into battle. The car is expected to have a range of 250 miles when flying or driving on a single tank of fuel. One interesting aspect of the vehicle is that it would have automated flight capabilities as well. Using the automated flight capability, the flying Humvee could be sent to remote field locations with supplies offering the soldiers the gear and transportation they need for an objective.

The need to lighten the vehicle for flight would mean less armor. DARPA states that the vehicle would be able to stop most small arms fire and the reduction in armor would be offset by the ability to fly over IEDs and bombs.

Officials with the U.S. Marine core state that they are more interested in how the research into a flying Humvee might help unmanned helicopters they are developing more than they are interested in the flying car. James Lasswell, head of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, said, "The idea of having a flying car is interesting, but that is kind of a gee-whiz kind of thing."
DARPA first announced the Transformer program in January 2010.

Related : Farnborough 2010: Textron pursues 'flying Humvee' programme

Textron Systems is looking to take advantage of a slowed-rotor compound aircraft design developed by Carter Aviation as it pursues the Transformer (TX) programme.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project is studying the feasibility of a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), road-worthy vehicle capable of carrying four troops on road and for distances in the air.
DARPA recently issued a broad agency announcement (BAA) solicitation, which a number of companies are known to have responded to, including Textron.

The multi-phase $54 million programme is looking to develop a concept vehicle as well as key enabling technologies for a ‘robust ground vehicle’ capable of converting into a VTOL aircraft with a maximum payload of 1000lbs.

Speaking to at the Farnborough Internatiobnal Air Show, Textron representatives said the company’s design leveraged a 40-year deal giving AAI, a Textron subsidiary, exclusive use of the slowed-rotor technology developed by Carter Aviation.

AAI vice president for unmanned aircraft systems, Steve Reid, said the company was looking at slowed rotors for unmanned applications, such as the US Marine Corps’ unmanned cargo aircraft requyirement, but the Transformer programme was also seen as an ideal use for the technology.
Reid said the engine was able to retain enough ‘optimise stored energy’ to provide a vertical take off while landings were performed similar to a helicopter autorotation.

‘Then in forward flight when it is flying like a traditional fixed-wing aircraft, the rotor blades are free wheeling for minimal drag,’ Reid said.
Carter Aviation has demonstrated the slowed rotor concept as part of the CarterCopter Technology Demonstrator (CCTD) and claim the design could allow a compound aircraft to reach high speed flight up to 500 mph but with less complexity than a tilt-rotor or other vectored thrust vehicle.
DARPA is dividing the Transformer programme into two disparate tasks.

Task A will develop and integrate a full vehicle and Task B will develop individual critical technologies components for the full vehicle. Multiple awards are envisioned for the first two phases with DARPA settling on a final design at the end of Phase II.

Other companies that are known to have responded to the BAA include AVX Aircraft, with a design similar to its proposal for the US Army’s Armed Aerial Scout programme, and Logi AeroSpace with a ‘shrouded propellor’ design.

The TX vehicle would be designed for military scouting, personnel transport, and logistics missions.
According to the BAA, technical areas to be explored include: hybrid electric drive ducted fan propulsion system, ring motors, energy storage methods such as batteries and ultra capacitors, morphing vehicle bodies, and advanced flight controls and flight management systems.

‘The TX vehicle is intended to make roads irrelevant for military small unit maneuvers. These units can use TX air vehicles to fly over obstacles or impassible terrain, avoid ambushes and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Personal TX vehicles could be dispatched for downed airman recovery or for evacuating injured personnel from difficult to access locations, or to resupply isolated small units,’ the BAA stated.

In news from the future: Al Qaeda training pigeons to carry IEDs to counter flying Humvee threat. ; )


Drone kills al Queda commander

(CNN) -- A recent drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region killed one of al Qaeda's top commanders, two Pakistani security officials told CNN Tuesday.

Sheikh Mohammad Fateh al Masri, described as the group's senior operational commander, was killed in North Waziristan, one of the seven districts of the country's volatile tribal region.

One of the sources said al Masri was killed recently, and the other said he was killed in a strike on Sunday. The sources did not want to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

While the United States is the only country in the region of Pakistan and Afghanistan known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones -- which are controlled remotely -- U.S. officials normally do not comment on suspected drone strikes.

Al Masri was emir, or leader, for Qaidat al-Jihad fi Khorasan, or the base of the jihad in the Khorasan -- the region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran.

He replaced Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda's former leader in Afghanistan, who was killed in May by a drone strike in Datta Khel in North Waziristan. And, al Masri has led military operations in Afghanistan as well as carried out attacks in Pakistan, which he viewed as a vital theater in the war.

The Khorasan is considered by jihadis to be the place where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant -- Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.

Mentions of the Khorasan began to increase in al Qaeda's propaganda starting in 2007. After al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq, the group began shifting its rhetoric from promoting Iraq as the central front in its jihad and have placed the focus on the Khorasan.

Several U.S. military and intelligence officials said the report of al Masri's ascension to lead al Qaeda in Afghanistan is accurate. Yazid, who, like al Masri, was an Egyptian, also served as al Qaeda's chief financier and paymaster.

However, little is publicly known of al Masri. According to the Asia Times, he was not a formal member of al Qaeda. Al Masri may have been a member of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, or the Egyptian Islamic Group, an intelligence official told The Long War Journal. That journal is an online publication that follows the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda and its allies.

The Egyptian Islamic Group is a rival to Ayman al Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which is believed to have formally merged with al Qaeda in June 2001. Al Zawahiri is now the No. 2 official in al Qaeda, under leader Osama bin Laden. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad worked closely with al Qaeda long before the formal merger, however. Egyptians hold or have held some of al Qaeda's top positions.

Drone strikes have occurred regularly against militants in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, a suspected U.S. drone strike killed four suspected militants in the country's tribal region, two intelligence officials told CNN. That strike followed similar attacks Saturday, Sunday and Monday that left eight suspected militants dead, the officials said.

The intelligence officials said two missiles hit an alleged militant hideout in the Angoor Ada area of South Waziristan. These intelligence officials asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Al Masri's death comes as the CIA stepped up missile strikes in Pakistan against groups like the Haqqanis, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban, with the majority of strikes hitting targets in North Waziristan.

Pakistan's volatile tribal region -- which borders Afghanistan -- has been targeted by drones more than 65 times this year, according to a CNN count. September has seen more attacks than any other month since the unmanned aerial strikes began.

In news of the future: New al Qaeda commander killed by a drone.

Monday, September 27, 2010

National Press Club "UFO" disclosure ...

Eurocopter's X3 unveiled - part plane part copter.

Eurocopter has revealed its hand in the race for high-speed rotary-wing flight, unveiling the extraordinary-looking X³ high-speed prototype on 27 September.

The aircraft was shown to reporters for the first time during a ceremony at Istres airbase in the south of France, where the X³ - short for High-speed, long-range Hybrid Helicopter - has been undergoing testing since the beginning of September.
Clearly recycled from the fuselage of an EC155, the demonstrator is a compound design equipped with two turboshaft engines powering a five-bladed main rotor and two propellers on stub wings. At the rear, the fenestron has been removed and replaced with a standard tail plane and twin-vertical stabilisers fitted with rudders.

Eurocopter says this configuration allows it to offer the speed of a turboprop-powered aircraft as well as the capabilities of a helicopter.
The X³ flew for the first time on 6 September from Istres AB – the flight test base of the French armed forces – 24km southwest of the Eurocopter factory at Marignane.

The aircraft was built at Marignane and then trucked to Istres for flight testing.
Eurocopter CEO, Lutz Bertling, said all the OEMs were looking to increase the range and speed of helicopters but argued that the technology demonstrated by the V-22 Osprey and BA609 tiltrotors and Sikorsky's X2 Technology demonstrator might be costly to implement and operate.
'We are looking at a lower level of complexity and cost,' explained Bertling. 'We believe it makes more sense to increase speed, but generate that speed by not over-compensating on cost.'
Phillippe Roesch, VP of technology and product innovation said the idea to deliver 50 % more speed but do this without pushing up operational costs beyond 20-25 %.

The entire programme is funded by Eurocopter and the aircraft is more than just a hybrid by design but also in terms of parts. The airframe was the development frame for the AS365N4 which became the EC155. The main rotor is also from the EC155 while the gearbox and engines came from the EC175 and NH90 respectively.

Eurocopter test pilots will now take the aircraft through initial flight testing opening the flight envelope to speeds of up to 180kts. The aircraft will then go into a three-month layup before resuming flight in March 2011 with the goal to achieving 220kts.

According to Eurocopter, the company envisions a wide range of uses for the X³ configuration, including long-distance search and rescue (SAR), coast guard duties, border patrol missions, passenger transport and inter-city shuttle services.
‘It also may be well-suited for military missions in special forces operations, troop transport, combat SAR and medical evacuation – benefiting from the hybrid aircraft’s combination of higher cruise speeds with excellent vertical takeoff/landing performance,’ the company said in a statement. reported on the existence of the X³ programme when it was inadvertently revealed during a Rolls-Royce press briefing at Heli-Expo in Anaheim in 2009.

Feds want a more spy-friendly Internet

WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.

James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design.

“They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

But law enforcement officials contend that imposing such a mandate is reasonable and necessary to prevent the erosion of their investigative powers.

“We’re talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” said Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”

Investigators have been concerned for years that changing communications technology could damage their ability to conduct surveillance. In recent months, officials from the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the National Security Agency, the White House and other agencies have been meeting to develop a proposed solution.

There is not yet agreement on important elements, like how to word statutory language defining who counts as a communications service provider, according to several officials familiar with the deliberations.

But they want it to apply broadly, including to companies that operate from servers abroad, like Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of BlackBerry devices. In recent months, that company has come into conflict with the governments of Dubai and India over their inability to conduct surveillance of messages sent via its encrypted service.

In the United States, phone and broadband networks are already required to have interception capabilities, under a 1994 law called the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act. It aimed to ensure that government surveillance abilities would remain intact during the evolution from a copper-wire phone system to digital networks and cellphones.

Often, investigators can intercept communications at a switch operated by the network company. But sometimes — like when the target uses a service that encrypts messages between his computer and its servers — they must instead serve the order on a service provider to get unscrambled versions.

Like phone companies, communication service providers are subject to wiretap orders. But the 1994 law does not apply to them. While some maintain interception capacities, others wait until they are served with orders to try to develop them.

The F.B.I.’s operational technologies division spent $9.75 million last year helping communication companies — including some subject to the 1994 law that had difficulties — do so. And its 2010 budget included $9 million for a “Going Dark Program” to bolster its electronic surveillance capabilities.

Beyond such costs, Ms. Caproni said, F.B.I. efforts to help retrofit services have a major shortcoming: the process can delay their ability to wiretap a suspect for months.

Moreover, some services encrypt messages between users, so that even the provider cannot unscramble them.

There is no public data about how often court-approved surveillance is frustrated because of a service’s technical design.

But as an example, one official said, an investigation into a drug cartel earlier this year was stymied because smugglers used peer-to-peer software, which is difficult to intercept because it is not routed through a central hub. Agents eventually installed surveillance equipment in a suspect’s office, but that tactic was “risky,” the official said, and the delay “prevented the interception of pertinent communications.”

Moreover, according to several other officials, after the failed Times Square bombing in May, investigators discovered that the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, had been communicating with a service that lacked prebuilt interception capacity. If he had aroused suspicion beforehand, there would have been a delay before he could have been wiretapped.

To counter such problems, officials are coalescing around several of the proposal’s likely requirements:

¶ Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.

¶ Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.

¶ Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

Providers that failed to comply would face fines or some other penalty. But the proposal is likely to direct companies to come up with their own way to meet the mandates. Writing any statute in “technologically neutral” terms would also help prevent it from becoming obsolete, officials said.

Even with such a law, some gaps could remain. It is not clear how it could compel compliance by overseas services that do no domestic business, or from a “freeware” application developed by volunteers.

In their battle with Research in Motion, countries like Dubai have sought leverage by threatening to block BlackBerry data from their networks. But Ms. Caproni said the F.B.I. did not support filtering the Internet in the United States.

Still, even a proposal that consists only of a legal mandate is likely to be controversial, said Michael A. Sussmann, a former Justice Department lawyer who advises communications providers.

“It would be an enormous change for newly covered companies,” he said. “Implementation would be a huge technology and security headache, and the investigative burden and costs will shift to providers.”

Several privacy and technology advocates argued that requiring interception capabilities would create holes that would inevitably be exploited by hackers.

Steven M. Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor, pointed to an episode in Greece: In 2005, it was discovered that hackers had taken advantage of a legally mandated wiretap function to spy on top officials’ phones, including the prime minister’s.

“I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said. “If they start building in all these back doors, they will be exploited.”

Susan Landau, a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study fellow and former Sun Microsystems engineer, argued that the proposal would raise costly impediments to innovation by small startups.

“Every engineer who is developing the wiretap system is an engineer who is not building in greater security, more features, or getting the product out faster,” she said.

Moreover, providers of services featuring user-to-user encryption are likely to object to watering it down. Similarly, in the late 1990s, encryption makers fought off a proposal to require them to include a back door enabling wiretapping, arguing it would cripple their products in the global market.

But law enforcement officials rejected such arguments. They said including an interception capability from the start was less likely to inadvertently create security holes than retrofitting it after receiving a wiretap order.

They also noted that critics predicted that the 1994 law would impede cellphone innovation, but that technology continued to improve. And their envisioned decryption mandate is modest, they contended, because service providers — not the government — would hold the key.

“No one should be promising their customers that they will thumb their nose at a U.S. court order,” Ms. Caproni said. “They can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text.”

FBI caught cheating?

FBI agents cheated on an internal exam by conferring, using crib sheets, and finding answers on computers, a Department of Justice probe has found.

Staff were required to take a test on their knowledge of new unified guidelines on domestic investigations.

Suspicions were raised when many passed the 90-minute exam in just 20 minutes.

The authors of the report said "a significant number of FBI employees engaged in some form of improper conduct or cheating".

After the controversial guidelines were introduced, staff were required to take 16.5 hours of classroom tuition and then take a 51-question computerised exam that was expected to take most people between 90 minutes and two hours.

They were allowed access to the guidelines while taking the test, which was mostly sat between May 2009 and January 2010.

The Office of the Inspector General was called in to investigate after 200 workers passed the test in under 20 minutes.

After interviewing staff in a number of field offices, investigators found people taking the exam had conferred, and that direct cheating had been employed.

In one field office, staff had exploited a lack of computer security to call up the answers to the test.

In another office, of 11 workers interviewed, three supervisors and four agents said they had used answer sheets for the exam. Some tried to justify the usage on the basis that these were "notes".

They also found that tutors were "training to the test", indicating which part of lessons would be on the exam by stamping their feet loudly during the relevant sections.

The Office of the Inspector General is recommending that those who directly cheated be disciplined and that there be a wider investigation than the small sample they spoke to.

Breaking: 13 drown during Navy rescue attempt

USS WINSTON CHURCHILL, Gulf of Aden – USS Winston S. Churchill, assigned to Combined Task Force 151 identified a skiff drifting in the Gulf of Aden, Sept. 26. The skiff was initially discovered at approximately 7:30 a.m. local (Bahrain) by the Republic of Korea vessel, ROKN Wan Geon who passed the skiff’s position to Winston S. Churchill, operating in the vicinity. The skiff was carrying approximately 85 passengers, consisting of 10 Somalis and 75 Ethiopians.

Once on station, CTF 151 commander, Turkish Navy Rear Adm. Sinan Ertugrul, directed Winston S. Churchill to render assistance to the skiff. Using a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, Churchill crew members boarded the skiff and immediately rendered assistance, providing food and water to the skiff’s passengers. Churchill crew members determined the engines were inoperable and attempted to effect repairs, but were unsuccessful.

The RHIB then began towing the vessel to safety out of the Gulf’s maritime traffic corridor and toward the coast of Somalia.

The following morning at 8:30 local (Bahrain), Sept 27, while transferring humanitarian supplies to the skiff, the passengers rushed to one side and the skiff began taking on water, quickly capsizing and sinking rapidly, leaving all 85 passengers in the water. Winston S. Churchill immediately began conducting search and rescue operations using an additional RHIB assisted by an Australian maritime patrol aircraft.

Despite the effort, approximately 13 passengers drowned, while 61 passengers were rescued and brought safely onboard Winston S. Churchill. Eight passengers have been listed as missing.

The event is under investigation. Additional details will be released as they become available.

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

In Hogle’s tiny windowless office the General tried three times to open his safe, but for some reason it would not open. Taking a card from his wallet, he double checked the combination and tried again.

After three tries it finally opened.

The General reached in the safe and pulled out another official looking envelopes bearing a bold, Top Secret -- Special Access Required stamp across the cover.

After signing yet another non-disclosure agreement, the General opened the file and handed Pepper some glossy photos.

“These were taken a few days ago by Excalibur’s imaging system when it was on final approach here at Holloman. Notice anything unusual?”

Pepper took a pair of reading glasses out of an inside pocket and began scrutinizing the photos one at a time. He caught sight of the runway and a Humvee parked just to the left of the approach apron.

“It’s a Humvee.” Pepper asked.

“That’s the remote control unit. It’s supposed to be there.”

Pepper studied the photos more closely. The images weren’t highly detailed and look muddied.

“Not the best quality to work with. These can’t be high-resolution images.” Pepper said.

Pepper looked down at the photos again studying them closer. Suddenly his eyes caught something in an arroyo crossing just to the right on the runway.

“What are these?” He said as his finger pointed to a series of hot spots in the drainage ditch.”

“My guess - unauthorized persons.” The General replied. “Looks like the heat signatures from five people.”

“And you want me to find out who the five are?”

“Yes. We have to ascertain if the program has been compromised.” the General said in all seriousness. “I can’t impress on you how serious this is Adam. There isn’t a government on earth that wouldn’t kill to know about this project. The technology is a veritable quantum jump beyond anything, and unfortunately at this point in development the project is very vulnerable to penetration.”

“Why is that?” Pepper asked.

“Because the Pentagon has pressing plans for Excalibur and rushing it through flight tests. We are so rushed that our communications are unencrypted and even our remote control frequencies are subject to interception. We haven’t had the time to put in place even normal special access program safeguards and security procedures. Any spy worth half his salt could sweep in and steal everything we’ve done here.”

Pepper but the photos back in the envelope.

“I’ll find out who they are, sir. Then what?”

“Depends on who they are.” Hogle replied.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jet bomber was a hoax.

Canadian police are investigating whether a telephone threat to a Pakistani jet which forced a diversion to Sweden was a hoax.

The Canadian authorities were contacted by a woman on Saturday claiming that a passenger was carrying explosives.

Passengers were taken off the plane in Sweden and a man was detained for questioning before being released.

The plane resumed its flight and has now arrived safely in Karachi.

Canadian police say they received two anonymous phone calls from a woman who contacted them from within Canada.

She gave few details in her first call, police say, but in the second one she said a man on board was carrying explosives with the intention of blowing up the aircraft.

The Pakistan International Airlines plane, a Boeing 777, was carrying more than 270 people when it was diverted to Arlanda airport near Stockholm.

Police used sniffer dogs to search the plane, but no explosives were found.

Swedish police detained a man described as a Canadian of Pakistani origin in his 30s.

He was later released without charge and allowed to leave Sweden, prosecutors said. However, the plane departed on Saturday afternoon before he was released. Police said he would receive help to reach his destination.

The plane flew on to the English city of Manchester, where a fresh crew took over the controls before continuing on to Karachi.

If the call was a hoax, the caller could be charged with public mischief, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Take me to your UN leader ...

The United Nations was set today to appoint an obscure Malaysian astrophysicist to act as Earth’s first contact for any aliens that may come visiting.
Mazlan Othman, the head of the UN's little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), is to describe her potential new role next week at a scientific conference at the Royal Society’s Kavli conference centre in Buckinghamshire.

She is scheduled to tell delegates that the recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before - and that means the UN must be ready to coordinate humanity’s response to any “first contact”.

During a talk Othman gave recently to fellow scientists, she said: “The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials.

"When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.”
Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law and governance at the UK Space Agency and who leads British delegations to the UN on such matters, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’ person.”
However, he thinks humanity’s first encounter with any intelligent aliens is more likely to be via radio or light signals from a distant planet than by beings arriving on Earth. And, he suggests, even if we do encounter aliens in the flesh, they are more likely to be microbes than anything intelligent.

DoD book burning ...

Washington (CNN) -- The Department of Defense recently purchased and destroyed thousands of copies of an Army Reserve officer's memoir in an effort to safeguard state secrets, a spokeswoman said Saturday.

"DoD decided to purchase copies of the first printing because they contained information which could cause damage to national security," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. April Cunningham said.
In a statement to CNN, Cunningham said defense officials observed the September 20 destruction of about 9,500 copies of Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's new memoir "Operation Dark Heart."
Shaffer says he was notified Friday about the Pentagon's purchase.

"The whole premise smacks of retaliation," Shaffer told CNN on Saturday. "Someone buying 10,000 books to suppress a story in this digital age is ludicrous."
Shaffer's publisher, St. Martin's Press, released a second printing of the book that it said had incorporated some changes the government had sought "while redacting other text he (Shaffer) was told was classified."

From single words and names to entire paragraphs, blacked out lines appear throughout the book's 299 pages.

CNN obtained a memo from the Defense Intelligence Agency dated August 6 in which Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess claims the DIA tried for nearly two months to get a copy of the manuscript. Burgess said the DIA's investigation "identified significant classified information, the release of which I have determined could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security."
Burgess said the manuscript contained secret activities of the U.S. Special Operations Command, CIA and National Security Agency.

Shaffer's lawyer, Mark Zaid, said earlier this month that the book was reviewed by Shaffer's military superiors prior to publication.

"There was a green light from the Army Reserve Command," Zaid told CNN.
But intelligence agencies apparently raised objections when they received copies of the book.

The Pentagon contacted St. Martin's Press in early August to convey its concerns over the release of the book. According to the publisher, at that time the first printings were just about to be shipped from its warehouse. Shaffer said he and the publisher worked hard "to make sure nothing in the book would be detrimental to national security."

"When you look at what they took out (in the 2nd edition), it's lunacy," Shaffer said.
The Pentagon says Shaffer should have sought wider clearance for the memoir.
"He did clear it with Army Reserve but not with the larger Army and with Department of Defense," Department of Defense spokesman Col. David Lapan said earlier this month. "So he did not meet the requirements under Department of Defense regulations for security review."

One of the book's first lines reads, "Here I was in Afghanistan (redaction) My job: to run the Defense Intelligence Agency's operations out of (redaction) the hub for U.S. operations in country."
In chapter 15, titled "Tipping Point," 21 lines within the first two pages are blacked out.
In the memoir, Shaffer recalls his time in Afghanistan leading a black-ops team during the Bush administration.

The Bronze Star medal recipient told CNN he believes the Bush administraton's biggest mistake during that time was misunderstanding the culture there.

Defense officials said they are in the process of reimbursing the publisher for the cost of the first printing and have not purchased copies of the redacted version.

At least one seller on the online auction site eBay claiming to have a first-edition printing is selling it for an asking price of nearly $2,000. The listed retail price for the second printing is $25.99.


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