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.

© Copyright 1996-2010 The Washington Post Company

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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.


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