Friday, September 10, 2010
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military almost launched fighter jets and discussed a possible shoot-down when an errant Navy drone briefly veered into restricted airspace near the nation's capital last month, a senior military official said Thursday.
The incident underscores safety concerns with unmanned aircraft as defense officials campaign to use them more often during natural disasters and for homeland security.
Navy Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., head of Northern Command, said Thursday that the August mishap could hamper the Pentagon's push to have the Federal Aviation Administration ease procedures for drone use by the military in domestic skies.
"It certainly doesn't help our case any time there's a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that wanders around a little bit outside of its controlled airspace," said Winnefeld, who also is commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. "We realize the responsibility on our part to include the technical capability and proper procedures. We'd just like to be able to get at it quicker."
Currently drones are used for patrols and surveillance along the nation's southern border, and sometimes at the northern border. But the military wants to use them more during hurricanes and other disasters to evaluate damage or target rescue efforts.
The FAA has been working for some time on new regulations governing the use of drones, but has yet to complete them. And the August incident brought one of the FAA's key concerns to bear — the prospect that remote operators can lose communications with the aircraft.
Drones routinely operate in war zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where there is much less business jet or small plane traffic. FAA officials say there is a greater danger of collisions with such smaller aircraft in the U.S., particularly when drones are flying at lower altitudes away from large cities and airports, in areas where planes aren't required to have transponders or collision warning systems.
In such cases, according to the FAA, it is more important for pilots to be able to see each other and take action.
Winnefeld said he was in the operations center watching when controllers lost the link to their Navy MQ-8B Fire Scout during a test at the naval air station at Patuxent River, Md., and it flew into the capital region's restricted airspace.
"Do you let it fly over the national capital region? Let it run out of gas and hopefully crash in a farmer's field? Or do you take action and shoot it down?" said Winnefeld. "You don't want to shoot it down over a populated area if you can avoid it. We were going through all of that calculus."
As the fighter jets were about to be launched, he said, the Navy was able to reprogram the helicopter-like craft and bring it back.
Winnefeld said he agrees with the need for airspace safety, but maintains there is great demand for the drones and the military should be able to get them into the air more quickly when needed.
"We can't move quickly enough for me to solve this problem," Winnefeld said. "We need to push forward into getting the technology and the permission and the comfort level up to where we can do this as a matter of routine. This is where the future is going."
Speaking to defense reporters, Winnefeld said discussions are continuing with the FAA to find ways to streamline the approval process. At the same time, he said the Defense Department also must address FAA's safety concerns by insuring that the drones have the software and systems necessary to fly safely.
He also said he is considering the need for a slower and lighter piloted aircraft that could be used during events such as outdoor sports games, political conventions or inaugural activities. The high-flying F-16 fighter jets are too fast for some missions.
While his review is only just beginning, Winnefeld said there may be a need for an aircraft that can fly much more slowly and at lower levels to monitor events. He said he'd like to have some answers within a year.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 2:42 PM
ePntagon aims to buy up book
By Peter Finn and Greg Miller
Friday, Sep 10, 2010
The Defense Department is attempting to buy the entire first printing - 10,000 copies - of a memoir by a controversial former Defense Intelligence Agency officer so that the book can be destroyed, according to military and other sources.
"Operation Dark Heart," which was scheduled to be published this month by St. Martin's Press, recounts the adventures and frustrations of an Army reservist, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who served in Afghanistan in 2003, a moment when the attention of Washington and the military had shifted to Iraq.
Shaffer, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington, describes a number of planned covert operations, including an aborted cross-border surveillance operation using sophisticated eavesdropping technology that targeted high-level al-Qaeda operatives based in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The operation was shut down by military officials concerned about offending Pakistan, according to Shaffer's account.
Shaffer's book was reviewed and cleared in writing by the Army Reserve earlier this year, but this summer the Defense Intelligence Agency objected to the use of the names of American intelligence officers, among other issues.
A senior Pentagon official said that the DIA obtained a copy of the manuscript in mid-July, adding that the agency "did a quick review" and found "some issues we were very concerned with." The agency then referred the matter to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which distributed the manuscript to other agencies, presumably including the CIA, "all of whom had major objections to things in the book," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official said the Defense Department "sent up a team to talk with the publisher some time ago," and has been negotiating an agreement that might allow the Pentagon to purchase already printed copies of the book and permit a subsequent version to go forward as long as it complies with U.S. government requests.
Both sides now appear to have agreed on the contents of the second printing, but negotiations are focused on what to with the 10,000 copies already published.
The Pentagon is now negotiating with Shaffer's publisher to buy the entire first print run, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The Pentagon's plan to destroy all 10,000 copies of the initial printing was first reported Thursday night by the New York Times.
A new print run, without the disputed passages, is being prepared by the publisher. Meanwhile, the first printing is sitting in a warehouse in Virginia. Several dozen review copies of the first edition have already been circulated to media outlets, including The Washington Post.
"Tony proceeded through the proper review process and his manuscript was approved for release," said Shaffer's attorney, Mark Zaid. "Months later, other agencies informed us otherwise and that led to us to cooperate fully with the Defense Department to eliminate any concerns they have. There are certain things outside of our control, however. We do not control the publisher. And we do not control the fact that copies were disseminated prior to that second review process."
Pentagon officials said the books should have been submitted to the Pentagon in the first place. "It had never been submitted for a full review," the senior Defense official said, adding that Shaffer had shown the manuscript only to his unit.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the "manuscript did not undergo a pre-publication information security review as required by DoD regulation. This became known to the Department only recently, and after the manuscript was printed by the publisher. DoD has been working closely and cooperatively with the publisher, LTC Shaffer and his counsel to address the problem and any potential issues involving classified information."
Shaffer was previously known for alleging before the 9/11 Commission and Congress that a covert Pentagon task force called "Able Danger" had identified Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks, before the assaults on New York and the Pentagon. Shaffer's claim was later rejected by congressional investigators, among others. But he repeats the assertion in the book.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 2:18 PM