Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Canada buying F-35

Canada will buy a fleet of F-35 stealth fighters to replace aging CF-18s and won't pay more than what's already pledged for the 65 planes, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said.

MacKay made the promise to hundreds of people attending a military conference in Ottawa that included a number of defence industry executives.

"We have been clear that we will operate within that budget," he said at the Conference of Defence Associations' annual meeting.

"And we will give our airmen and women the best available aircraft, which I believe is the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II." MacKay said.

The F-35 stealth fighter program has been dogged by controversy as the manufacturer – Lockheed Martin – and the U.S. Pentagon restructure the program for a third time.

The Conservatives have repeatedly said they will pay US$75 million for each plane, but critics argue that cost is more than likely to double.

Canada is part of a joint effort involving Britain, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Turkey and Australia to buy the aircraft.

MacKay said the purchase will go ahead despite deep cuts expected in the upcoming federal budget, expected in March.

"We will make sure the Royal Canadian Air Force has the aircraft necessary to do the dangerous and important work that we ask of them," he said.

He also said the government will go ahead with billions of dollars in new spending for military equipment.

MacKay cited recent decisions by the government to commit to a national shipbuilding strategy that will create years of work for shipyards in Halifax and British Columbia as part of the upgrade of the military.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pakistan Army knew about Bin Laden compound

Mid-ranking Pakistani army officials may have known that Osama Bin Laden had a safe house in Pakistan, leaked material appears to indicate.

The claim was made in e-mails allegedly from US-based security think tank Stratfor, which were published by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.

Stratfor warned ahead of publication it would make no comment on whether the emails were authentic or inaccurate.

Pakistan's government and military have denied knowing Bin Laden's whereabouts.

The al-Qaeda chief was killed in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May last year in a covert mission by US special forces.

The compound in the north-western town was demolished by Pakistani authorities last weekend.

by Gordon Corera
Security correspondent, BBC News

There has been intense suspicion over how much Pakistani authorities knew of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts but never any definitive proof - or at least none that has been made public. There's no smoking gun, as one Western intelligence official told me.

The Stratfor emails - if they are genuine - on the surface might appear to contradict that and seem remarkably specific about the details of who knew what. But the problem remains knowing whether they amount to real evidence.

The fact Stratfor itself never made more of the information might indicate that they were not sure of its truthfulness or had other information to contradict it. The claims could of course be true but one email from an un-named source to a private intelligence company that has been leaked is not really enough to constitute a smoking gun.

One email from a senior Stratfor employee to colleagues is quoted as saying: "Mid to senior level ISI and Pak Mil with one retired Pak Mil General that had knowledge of the OBL arrangements and safe house."

The messages go on to say that the names and specific ranks of these generals were unknown to the writer, but adds that US intelligence may have that information.

The emails allege that as many as 12 officials may have known, but says it is unclear exactly what position they may have had or even if they were retired personnel.

The information was allegedly obtained from material taken from the compound last May, according to the email exchange which took place in the weeks after the al-Qaeda chief's death.

It is unclear if the information was passed to the Pakistani government but the employee is quoted saying "I would not pass the info to the GOP [government of Pakistan], because we can't trust the them.


Israel says won't notify US if they attack Iran

Israeli officials say they won't warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions told the Associated Press. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.

Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel's potential attack. The U.S. has been working with the Israelis for months to persuade them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic negotiations.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment, and the Pentagon and Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, as did the Israeli Embassy.

Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the International Atomic Energy Agency has raised alarms that its uranium enrichment program might be a precursor to building nuclear weapons. The US has said it does not know whether the government has decided to weaponize its nuclear material and put it on a missile or other delivery device.

The secret warning is likely to worry US officials and begin the high level meetings with Israel and the US far apart on how to handle Iran.

But the apparent decision to keep the U.S. in the dark also stems from Israel's frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in particular, they became convinced the Americans would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran. The Israelis concluded they would have to conduct a strike unilaterally -- a point they are likely to hammer home in a series of meetings over the next two weeks in Washington, the official said.

Barak will meet with top administration and congressional officials during his visit. Netanyahu arrives in Washington for meetings with President Barack Obama next week.
The behind-the-scenes warning belies the publicly united front the two sides have attempted to craft with the shuttle diplomacy to each other's capitals.

"It's unprecedented outreach to Israel to make sure we are working together to develop the plan to deter Iran from developing a nuclear weapon," and to keep them from exporting terrorism, said Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
He traveled there with the intelligence committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., to meet Israel's prime minister and defense minister, along with other officials.

"We talked about the fact that sanctions are working and they are going to get a lot more aggressive," Ruppersberger added.

They also discussed talked about presenting a unified front to Iran, to counter the media reports that the two countries are at odds over how and when to attack Iran.

"We have to learn from North Korea. All those (peace) talks and stalling and they developed a nuclear weapon," he said. "We are going to send a message, enough is enough, the stalling is over. ... All options are on the table."

"I got the sense that Israel is incredibly serious about a strike on their nuclear weapons program," Rogers told CNN on Monday. "It's their calculus that the administration ... is not serious about a real military consequence to Iran moving forward

Read more: FOXNEWS

Monday, February 27, 2012

Plot to kill Putin "disclosed" by FSO

RIANOVOSTI: The Russian Federal Protective Service (FSO) confirmed on Monday that it had received information about a “terrorist attack” plotted against “Russia’s leadership.”

State-run Channel One reported earlier on Monday that Ukrainian and Russian security services had gathered information about a plot to assassinate Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is poised to be elected president on Sunday.

“The Federal Security Service has taken all necessary measures to ensure security of the country’s authorities,” FSO spokesman Sergei Devyatov told RIA Novosti, adding that the information about the “potential threat” was received in January.
“Members of a criminal gang preparing the terrorist attack have been detained,” he said.

The Channel One report said the plotters were on the international wanted list and were detained in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa in early January, following an explosion in their rented apartment.

Two men were arrested, while a third man, who was also in the apartment, died in the explosion, the TV channel said. They had reportedly been trying to produce home-made explosives.

According to the TV channel, after weeks of interrogation, the gang members confessed they were planning to assassinate Putin in Moscow, soon after the March 4 presidential elections.

One of the surviving militants, Ilya Pyanzin, said that the Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov, who is believed to be behind the deadliest terrorist attacks in Russia, hired him and the late Ruslan Madayev to kill Putin.

Pyanzin and Madayev came from the United Arab Emirates via Turkey to Ukraine. In Odessa, they were met by a local fixer, Adam Osmayev, who was supposed to brief the militants about the plan and send them to Moscow.

The TV report, featuring Osmayev 's interrogation, says that the militant, who had been on the international wanted list since 2007, is cooperating with investigators, as he hopes not to be extradited to Russia.

“The final task was to go to Moscow and carry out an assassination attempt on premier Putin,” Osmayev said during questioning, adding that the late Madayev was ready to be a suicide bomber.

According to the assassination plan that was found in the militants’ laptop, they had to learn the structure of Putin’s security team and how his bodyguards worked, the report said.

“The deadline was set up for the period after the presidential elections,” Osmayev said.

Osmayev confessed that he scrutinized the routes of government motorcades and that the preparation for the attack was in its final stage.

Osmayev was quoted as saying in an interview with Channel One that had learned how to produce explosives during his time at the University of Buckingham in Britain. According to the report, he also met “militants who had fled Russia” there.
The TV channel said the militants were going to use mines hidden near Moscow’s Kutuzovsky Avenue, which Putin passes every day on his way to the government building in downtown city.

An unknown security official told the TV channel that the mines were powerful enough to “tear apart a truck.”

Osmayev reportedly told the TV channel that part of the mines were produced in Moscow from “components that can be bought in the shop.”
Ukrainian Security Services confirmed the information released about the assassination plot.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was not available for comment.
Putin, who served as president from 2000 to 2008, is expected to return to the Kremlin for a third, non-consecutive term in office in elections on March 4.

MUOS satellite launched

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., February 24, 2012 – The first Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite, built by Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] for the U.S. Navy, was successfully launched today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The MUOS constellation will replace the legacy Ultra High Frequency Follow-On (UFO) system and provide significantly improved assured communications, including simultaneous voice, video and data, for mobile warfighters.

“MUOS is a revolutionary new satellite system that will provide unprecedented new communications capabilities for the armed forces,” said Kevin Bilger, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of Global Communications Systems. “We look forward to executing a smooth and efficient on-orbit checkout, paving the way for operational use.”

MUOS satellites feature a wideband code division multiple access payload that incorporates advanced technology to provide a 16-fold increase in transmission throughput over the current UFO satellite system. A single MUOS satellite will provide four times the capacity of the entire legacy UFO constellation of 10 satellites. The satellites also include a hosted legacy UHF payload that will be fully compatible with the current UFO system and legacy terminals.

The first MUOS satellite and associated ground system will provide initial on-orbit capability this year with the four-satellite global constellation achieving full operational capability in 2015, extending UHF narrowband communications availability well past 2025.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif., is the MUOS prime contractor and system integrator. The Navy's Program Executive Office for Space Systems, Chantilly, Va., and its Communications Satellite Program Office, San Diego, Calif., are responsible for the MUOS program.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security company that employs about 123,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The Corporation's net sales for 2011 were $46.5 billion.

Lockmart unveils F-16V - interops with F-35 & F-22s

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon has been around for over three decades and so far there have been nearly 4,500 delivered. The F-16 will continue for many years to come and Lockheed Martin has today unveiled a new version called F-16V. The new version of the fighter jet was unveiled at the Singapore Airshow and has new feature enhancements to make the aircraft more formidable.

The F-16 V gets new active electronically scanned array radar (AESA), an upgraded mission computer and architecture, along with improvements inside the cockpit. Lockheed Martin says that all of those new features are things that have been identified by the USAF and international buyers as needing improvement. The AESA radar promises significant capability improvements for the aircraft and Lockheed Martin has developed a solution to affordably retrofit the new radar to existing F-16s.

The new F-16V configuration is now an option for new production aircraft with most elements of the upgrade available for earlier F-16s. The V designation comes from Viper, which is the nickname pilots have given the F-16 since it entered service.

“We believe this F-16V will satisfy our customers’ emerging requirements and prepare them to better interoperate with the 5th generation fighters, the F-35 and F-22,” said George Standridge, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics’ vice president of business development.

Today 26 different countries fly the F-16 and it is hailed as the world's most successful fourth-generation fighter. The upgraded AESA radar will also help F-16V to be more interoperable with fifth-generation fighters like the F-35 and F-22. The USAF is reportedly interested in upgrading between 300 and 350 of its F-16s to the new version.

Lockheed Martin has an order from Iraq that is large enough to keep F-16 production line open until the end of 2015; after that it needs additional orders to keep F-16 production going into 2016.

Friday, February 24, 2012

B-3 is underway - under wraps ...

AOL NEWS ORLANDO: America's new long-range bomber program is "underway," will involve somewhere between 80 and 100 planes and will be delivered sometime in the mid-2020's.
For more news and information on the swiftly-changing defense industry, please sign up for the AOL Defense newsletter. For the quickest updates, like us on Facebook.

"And that's about all we're saying," Air Force Secretary Mike Donley told reporters. It's been known for some time that the bombers will not fly alone but will be part of a family of systems that may include UAVs and other systems.

The really interesting part of all this is the secrecy and why it's so dark. It would seem to indicate several things: that the U.S. does not want potential competitors such as China or Russia to know how advanced a system will be delivered or exactly what capabilities it will involve; that the Air Force is still putting the larger architecture together, deciding which capabilities will be available.

The bomber will almost certainly include an unmanned capability, but no one has made a formal decision yet, an Air Force source told me. Many of the important subsystems have not yet been chosen, this source said. Even presuming that the $4 billion for the bomber in the 2013 budget submission spread over five years is supplemented by a few billion more in the black budget that is not much money to build 80 to 100 planes that will cost at least $550 million each. Even if that is flyaway cost -- which excludes research and development costs -- building a bomber able to penetrate denied airspace and fly thousands of miles to do it without refueling has never been cheap.

And then there are the arcane details about just what we're talking about when it comes to the Long Range Strike Bomber, as the Air Force's head of Global Strike, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, calls it. On the one hand, Kowalksi told reporters today that there is a family comprising: the long-range standoff missile (nuclear warhead for striking targets deep inside a country); conventional Prompt Global Strike, designed to strike any target in the world within one hour; and the ground-based successor to the Minuteman ICBM, which he called the ground-based strategic deterrent..

But the bomber also comprises a family of systems, thought to include an array of highly capable sensors, the long range standoff missile, some sort of stealth approach and the usual communications suites. It is also assumed by many to include a highly capable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance suite -- something like a successor to those on-board the F-35. There's been persistent talk of UAVs that fly with the bomber or supplement it, but almost no details are known.

And we know the Pratt & Whitney is doing development work -- at least -- on the plane's engines.

So, we have a system that's "underway," is secret and about which we know very little other than it will be amazing and be relatively cheap, somehow

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Marine helicopters collide in Arizona killing seven.

(CNN) -- Two helicopters collided in midair during a training exercise in Arizona, killing seven Marines, the U.S. Marine Corps said Thursday.

Wednesday night's crash occurred during routine training operations at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Carl B. Redding, Jr., said in a statement.

The two aircraft, an AH-1W "Super Cobra" and a UH-1Y "Huey," were part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Authorities were investigating the collision, which occurred in a remote area of a training range complex, Redding said.

He said officials would not release the names of the Marines involved until their families were notified.

Marine Corps Air Station Yuma has about 4,000 active-duty Marines and sailors, and supports 80% of the Marine Corps air-to-ground aviation training. It covers five square miles in southeastern Yuma and is home to a number of units.

The air station "hosts approximately 70 aviation units, bringing an average of 600 aircraft and 14,000 personnel for ongoing training that takes place throughout the year," utilizing U.S. and NATO forces, the station's website said.

The military describes the AH-1W as "the backbone of the United States Marine Corps' attack helicopter fleet." The UH-1Y is a twin-engine, medium-size helicopter, according to the military.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

AVWK: New Bomber Force May Need 200 Aircraft

By David Fulghum , Amy Butler
Washington, Washington:

The U.S. Air Force chief of staff says the service is not going to go through the B-2 experience again—overdesigning a bomber and then having to buy fewer of them.

Analysts suggest the requirement for the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program could be as high as 200 aircraft as the aircraft begins to replace aging B-1s and ­B-52s.

The problem is how to take advantage of the new technology without breaking the budget or generating so much political backlash that the bomber program is reduced or canceled. The B-2s ended up costing more than $2 billion apiece because the program was closed down so early.

The 2013 budget request asked that the LRS program receive $292 million. The total through 2017 is $6.3 billion. Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale suggests a per-unit cost target of $550 million per aircraft.

“We see it as an important goal,” Hale says. “I’d like to treat it as absolutely [hard and] fast.”

However, industry executives attending the Defense Technology and Affordability Requirements conference in Washington last week contend the unit-cost target is far too optimistic. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is publicly squeezing the Air Force to keep the cost of the classified project down.

“We are going to make our best effort to not over-design the aircraft,” says Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. “We are intent on ordering a capability that is not extravagant.”

Schwartz calls for delivery of a bomber by the mid-2020s that is capable of intelligence gathering, conducting electronic warfare and linking to offboard sensors. The combination is expected to produce a stealth aircraft that can penetrate enemy air defense, but that is sufficiently affordable to buy in numbers.

The first question then is what is the magic number? The Air Force has called for 80-100 aircraft. However, analysts are saying that twice that number is needed to create a sustainable, operationally effective force, which can continually be modified and upgraded as technology evolves.

“I would double that and look at something near 200 aircraft to provide a credible deterrent force and begin to look at replacement of the entire bomber fleet,” says Rebecca Grant, author of “The Case for a New Stealth Bomber,” a white paper recently published by Washington Security Forum. “I think we see the need for more rather than less.”


Monday, February 20, 2012

John Glenn to mark 50 years since orbit of Earth

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- John Glenn plans to mark the 50th anniversary of his historic spaceflight with a series of events at Ohio State University, including a special dinner and a live chat with crew members aboard the International Space Station.

The former astronaut and senator from Ohio became the first American to orbit Earth on Feb. 20, 1962. The trip helped the United States catch up to the Soviet Union's accomplishments in space, and Glenn says he thinks it was a turning point for America's national psyche.

The 90-year-old is now the namesake of a public affairs school at Ohio State. That's where he and NASA administrator Charles Bolden will speak with the space station Monday before a celebratory dinner and a speech by former astronaut Mark Kelly.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Arrest made in Capitol terror plot - more expected.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A 29-year-old Moroccan man was arrested Friday near the U.S. Capitol as he was planning to detonate what he thought was a suicide vest, given to him by FBI undercover operatives, said police and government officials.

Amine El Khalifi of Alexandria, Va., was taken into custody with an inoperable gun and inert explosives, according to a counterterrorism official.

El Khalifi made a brief appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Va., on Friday afternoon, wearing a green shirt and black pants and holding his arms together behind his back. A judge set a bail hearing in his case for Wednesday at 2 p.m.

A criminal complaint charges him with knowingly and unlawfully attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against property that is owned and used by the United States.

El Khalifi expressed interest in killing at least 30 people and considered targeting a building in Alexandria and a restaurant, synagogue and a place where military personnel gather in Washington before he settled on the Capitol after canvassing that area a couple of times, the counterterrorism official said. During the investigation, the official said, El Khalifi went with undercover operatives to a quarry in the Washington area to detonate explosives.

El Khalifi came to the U.S. when he was 16 years old and is unemployed and not believed to be associated with al-Qaida. He had been under investigation for about a year and had overstayed his visitor visa for years, according to the counterterrorism official and a government official briefed on the matter who spoke on a condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

A former landlord in Arlington, Va., said he believed El Khalifi was suspicious and called police a year and a half ago.

Frank Dynda said when he told El Khalifi to leave, the suspect said he had a right to stay and threatened to beat up Dynda. Dynda said he thought El Khalifi was making bombs, but police told him to leave the man alone. Dynda had El Khalifi evicted in 2010.

El Khalifi had several men staying with him and based on packages left for him, Dynda said. It appeared that he was running a luggage business from the apartment, though Dynda never saw any bags.

"I reported to police I think he's making bombs," Dynda said. "I was ready to get my shotgun and run him out of the building, but that would have been a lot of trouble.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

F-16s intercept drug carrying Cessna near Air Force One

As Air Force One sat on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport this morning, the North American Aerospace Defense Command scrambled two F-16 fighter jets to intercept a small private plane that had invaded the airspace.

The disturbance occurred just minutes before President Obama was scheduled to depart for San Francisco. His plane ultimately took off at 11:40 a.m. PT without incident.

The jets intercepted the general aviation plane – a Cessna 182 – just before 11:30 a.m. PT, according to a statement from NORAD. It was soon forced to land at Long Beach Airport in California and met by local law enforcement officials and the U.S. Secret Service, agency spokesman Brian Leary told ABC News.

Agents interviewed the pilots before they were turned over to the Long Beach Police Department and arrested, an official said.

“We determined the incursion of restricted airspace was of no protective interest,” said Leary.

In other words, there was no intended threat to the president.

But the pilot was in possession of narcotics, the Secret Service said.

One law enforcement source told ABC News the plane was carrying 40 pounds of marijuana. Officials with the Long Beach Police Department did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request to confirm the type or quantity of the drugs.

President Obama landed in San Francisco after an uneventful one-hour flight at 12:40 p.m. PT. He is attending three fundraisers in the city before heading to Seattle on Friday.

Blue Angel #7 stops in Amarillo.

Click to enlarge:

The two seat Blue Angle Number 7 (sporting an unpainted right tail) stopped to refuel in Amarillo today. I manged to just make it out to Rick Husband and captured it as it departed. I heard the tower say "Blue Angel #7 - you are cleared to make some noise."

-Steve Douglass

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Iran feeling sanctions - making threats

TEHRAN — In a new show of defiance against tightened sanctions, Iran on Wednesday threatened to cut oil exports to several European Union countries and unveiled advances in its nuclear fuel programs.

In a day of fiery speeches, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also lashed out at the West, condemning the recent assassinations of Iranian scientists.

Iran says it has begun loading domestically made nuclear fuel rods into its Tehran research reactor. The official IRNA news agency said Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inserted the first Iranian-made nuclear fuel rod into the reactor in north Tehran. (Feb. 15)

A string of volatile incidents between the two countries in the past few months has increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of six E.U. states and warned at least four of them — Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece — that they must extend their long term oil-purchasing contracts with Iran or face a cutoff, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported Wednesday.

France and the Netherlands, close U.S. allies in supporting international sanctions against the Islamic Republic, were told that they would no longer receive any oil at all, the agency reported.

Earlier, the official Press TV said Iran would stop exporting oil to all six countries. The announcement helped drive the price of crude to nearly $102 a barrel Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. Europe accounts for about 18 percent of Iran’s crude exports, with Greece, Italy and Spain among the main buyers, AP said.

Iran’s Oil Ministry subsequently denied the Press TV report. Another Iranian media outlet, Fars News Agency, quoted an Oil Ministry source as saying that the exports to Europe have not been stopped yet but that Iran has given an ultimatum to those countries to continue their long-term contracts. Iran’s Arabic -language state television channel al-Alam said the ministry would provide more details Thursday.

Iran’s move was aimed at preempting a European Union boycott of Iranian oil, which is scheduled to start in July.

The threatened cutoff was announced after state media reported that Iran has started loading fuel rods into the Tehran Research Reactor, an aging U.S.-supplied nuclear reactor used to make medical isotopes, and has begun operating a new generation of centrifuges at the country’s main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. While official media had reported that Ahmadinejad would also formally declare fully operational the underground Fordow uranium-enrichment facility, he did not mention the complex in his speech.

In Washington, the State Department played down the nuclear accomplishments, describing them as “hyped” and “not terribly impressive.” She added that Iran remains “many, many months behind” its own schedule.

“Iran is clearly feeling the pressure of its international and diplomatic isolation,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.


One step closer to the abyss; Iran loads fuel rods into reactor

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran flaunted mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle Wednesday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clad in a white lab coat, was on hand to load domestically made fuel rods into the core of a Tehran reactor.

Also announced were a new generation of advanced centrifuges and an intent to start production of yellowcake, a material used in enriching uranium.

United Nations sanctions ban Iran from importing yellowcake. Domestic production would further Iranian nuclear self-sufficiency.

In a speech outlining the latest developments, Ahmadinejad said Iran was willing to share its nuclear knowledge with other nations that subscribe to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency.

State-run Press TV broadcast live images of the Tehran event, hailed by the Iranians as a major scientific advancement for the Islamic republic.

The first Iranian made nuclear fuel rods, produced by Iranian scientists at the Natanz facility in central Iran, are to be used at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center, which Iran says is used primarily for medical purposes.

The Tehran facility creates radio isotopes used for cancer treatment, Press TV reported, adding that 850,000 cancer patients were in dire need.
Ahmadinejad had announced in a speech marking the 33rd anniversary last week of the Iranian revolution that Iran would be unveiling something big.

Wednesday, he lashed out again at Western powers who, he said, attempt to monopolize nuclear technology and prevent other nations from acquiring a key energy source.
Ahmadinejad, surrounded by photos of assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists, said Iran has shown the West up.

Iran's latest activities have spiked tensions with Western powers, which believe Iran's atomic ambitions are focused on building a bomb.

Punitive measures have disrupted Iran's economy and in response to the latest European Union sanctions on the energy and banking sectors, Iran, reported Press TV Wednesday, was cutting oil exports to six European countries: Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal.

But despite Iran's drift from the international community, Tehran's clerical leaders have refused to bow down on its nuclear program that it insists is intended for civilian energy purposes.

Recent Iranian announcements appear aimed at demonstrating to its foes the sophistication it has attained in its home-grown nuclear program.

In January 2008, the semi-official Fars news agency had reported that Iran was able to produce everything it needs for the nuclear fuel cycle, making its nuclear program self-sufficient. But it was not clear that Tehran actually had the technology to turn enriched uranium into fuel rods.

Then, last month, Iran said it had succeeded in building and testing a nuclear fuel rod, or a stack of low-enriched uranium pellets bundled together at the core of a nuclear reactor.

"Because Western countries were unwilling to help us, we began enriching uranium to 20% to make nuclear fuel rods," Ali Bagheri, deputy chief of Iran's national security council, told the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti on Tuesday. Iranian news agencies quoted the Russian news agency report.


A November report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog found "credible" information that Tehran has carried out work toward nuclear weapons -- including tests of possible bomb components.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bell unveils "Relentless" B-525 helicopter

ACN Newswire via COMTEX) -- Bell Helicopter, a Textron Inc. company TXT +1.78% , announced the world's first "super-medium" helicopter, the Bell 525 Relentless, at the 2012 Heli-Expo in Dallas, Texas.

"Today, we celebrate with our customers - not only the launch of this new product - but the result of our collective efforts to define a new class of helicopter that raises the bar on innovation in the industry," said John Garrison, President & CEO, Bell Helicopter.

The Bell 525 Relentless defines the new "super medium" product class - positioned at the upper end of the medium class and designed to offer best-in-class capabilities to our customers. It features superior payload and range, cabin and cargo volumes and crew visibility.

"The new Bell 525 Relentless is a culmination of our research and development efforts, which were informed by a representative product development panel of our customers, including PHi, an industry leader in helicopter operations. Relentlessly listening to our customers and using their feedback to provide them with the right product at the right time has been the winning combination," he said.

"Having PHi and our other customers engage with us on this unprecedented new aircraft validates our product development strategies - placing our customers at the center of everything we do. We appreciate the collaborative spirit we share with all of our customers who have participated in this innovative process," he said.

The new Bell 525 Relentless will be powered by the reliable performance of world-class GE engines - the GE CT7-2F1.

This latest version of the highly successful CT7 family is designed with an emphasis on low fuel consumption, low cost of operation and with other technical features to ensure aircraft meet the requirements of long range, high payload missions. The CT7-2F1 engine includes a state-of-the-art Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) plus advanced materials, primarily in the turbine section.

Capable of carrying up to 16 passengers, the Bell 525 Relentless is designed to support our customers in various mission configurations including oil & gas, search & rescue, helicopter emergency medical services and VIP/corporate transport.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

CIA website hacked.

(CNN) -- Websites affiliated with the CIA, Mexico's mining ministry and the state of Alabama were down Friday, allegedly done in by hackers, government officials and a well-known hacking group reported.

A message Friday on a Twitter page and Tumblr feed affiliated with the hacking group known as Anonymous celebrated that the Central Intelligence Agency's website had been taken down.

The posting read: "CIA TANGO DOWN: #Anonymous." A later one pointed to a news story indicating "#Anonymous hackers hit CIA, U.N., Mexico websites."

Numerous outside reports indicated the CIA's website was down, and CNN's attempts from late Friday afternoon into the evening to get onto the site failed.

Asked about the outage, CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said Friday night, "We are aware of the problems accessing our website, and are working to resolve them."
By early Saturday morning, the website was back.

Additionally, information was "compromised" in a hacking of Alabama state websites, the Alabama Department of Homeland Security said in a news release.

"We are aware of the current situation regarding individual(s) claiming responsibility for hacking into a state of Alabama ... public website," Alabama Department of Homeland Security Director Spencer Collier said in the release.
Jack Doane, director of Alabama's Information Services Division, told CNN later by e-mail that state technology experts "are conducting a forensic analysis to determine what if any information has been compromised."

It was not immediately clear what websites were hacked or who was responsible. A web page that included Anonymous' signature tag line stated the hacking was in response to Alabama's "recent racist legislation in an attempt to punish immigrants as criminals" -- referring to legislation, signed last June, aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration in the state.

The Anonymous-related Twitter page also provided links to documents, messages and other files that it said it had taken off a website tied to Mexico's mining ministry.
"Hello Mexican Chamber of Mines," a related Twitter post read. "Want to see your emails exposed?"

Friday, February 10, 2012

Russian rocket scientist was a spy for CIA.

BBC: An engineer at Russia's Plesetsk space station has been jailed for 13 years after being convicted of selling missile test data to the CIA.

Lt-Col Vladimir Nesterets, a senior test engineer at the station, was convicted of treason, Russia's FSB secret police announced.

He admitted passing on information about tests involving Russia's latest strategic missiles, it said.

Russia's missile programme has recently been hit by apparent design faults.

Plesetsk, a base in north-western Russia near the Arctic Circle, is used by the military for launching satellites into orbit and testing missiles.

The FSB (Federal Security Service) gave no further details of the case against Nesterets.

Recent years have seen embarrassing setbacks for Russia's missile programme, though not necessarily involving the Plesetsk base.

Most prominently, the submarine-launched Bulava ballistic missile was hit by a series of test failures before being finally approved in December.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

MQ-X candidate Avenger C - first flight

The U.S. Air Force’s plan to acquire a next-generation, stealthy, precision-attack MQ-X unmanned aerial system has a candidate with the first flight of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ extended second variant of its jet-powered Predator C Avenger.

The closely held flight took place Jan. 12 at the company’s Palmdale, Calif., facility. USAF, in its 2025 road map, has stated a preference for a stealth signature (but not very low observability) and long endurance (the latest Avenger can fly for 16 hr.). Predator C offers a serpentine inlet for its Pratt & Whitney engine and a ducted exhaust to shield the aircraft’s heat signature.

General Atomics is building four Avenger Cs. Starting with the second aircraft, the fuselage was extended 4 ft. for additional fuel capacity. A third aircraft is expected to fly this summer followed by the fourth by early next year.

“The Air force wants the MQ-X to operate and survive in a contested or degraded operational environment,” says Chris Pehrson, the company’s director of strategic development.

That means that competitors might substitute electronic attack and electronic warfare for some of the stealth capability. Any design would combine reduced signature, jamming self-protection and long-range surveillance.

“The kind of sensors you put on a platform can allow a greater standoff distance by looking deeper into enemy territory,” the official says. “Avenger is a jet-powered UAV, so it can fly faster and respond more quickly to time-sensitive targets and threats.”

General Atomics is pushing the flight envelope of Avenger beyond 400 kt., to almost twice the speed of the turboprop-powered, workhorse MQ-9 Reaper. It will not be highly maneuverable because it’s not a fighter, nor will it have the speed to keep up with a package of strike aircraft.

“But the speed does allow it to transit to a target area or react to pop-up threats faster,” Pehrson says. “You are looking at a trade space of endurance, altitude, speed and agility. The Avenger has wings like a powered glider so it can operate at about 50,000-55,000 feet. That’s not as high as a U-2, but it will be above most of the traffic.”

Sensors of interest for the Avenger include the Raytheon surveillance ball that is on the Reaper now and multi-spectral sensors like those on the U-2 that can broaden the amount of the electromagnetic spectrum that can be monitored for targeting and reconnaissance.

Various Air Force and Navy officials have indicated that Raytheon’s jamming variant of the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD-J) is being considered as a standoff electronic attack capability for the Avenger and other aircraft involved in suppressing air defenses.


Senior al-Qaeda leader killed in drone strike

One of the most senior al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan, Badar Mansoor, has been killed in a US drone strike, local officials say.

The attack took place in Miranshah in North Waziristan tribal area, close to the border with Afghanistan.

Badar Mansoor is suspected of killing dozens of people in attacks in Pakistan and further afield.

If confirmed, his death would be seen by the US as a vindication of its drone programme, correspondents say.

Al-Qaeda has so far not publicly commented on the claim, but AFP news agency has quoted one Mansoor loyalist confirming the death.

Pakistani officials say he was among at least four militants killed in the pre-dawn strike.

Badar Mansoor had moved between the militant groups of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Pakistani Taleban and al-Qaeda where he became a key figure, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says.

He is thought to have trained new fighters and planned numerous suicide attacks, including one against Pakistan's Ahmadi Muslim minority in Lahore in which about 90 people died, our correspondent adds.

The drone attack was the second in North Waziristan in as many days. On Wednesday, 10 suspected militants were killed, Pakistani security officials said.

Drone attacks cause huge anger in Pakistan, which has previously complained that they violate its sovereignty. However, correspondents say the authorities are believed privately to give their support to the US for the attacks.

Last month, US President Barack Obama defended the use of drones to target militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The US does not normally comment on drone operations, which have killed hundreds of people in recent years. The dead include senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, as well as an unknown number of other militants and civilians.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Daredevil to make 27 mile leap from near space.

BBC: An Austrian adventurer planning the highest skydive in history has announced that he will make the record attempt later this year.

Felix Baumgartner will jump from a balloon 36.5km (120,000ft) up, where a leak in his pressurised suit could lead to a rapid loss of consciousness.

He will fall so fast that he becomes the first person to go faster than the speed of sound unaided by a machine.

Many have sought to achieve the feat down the decades but all have failed.

Mr Baumgartner is famous for stunts such as jumping off the Petronas Towers in Malaysia.

In a video released to promote the attempt, Mr Baumgartner said the last test before he goes on the jump had been successful.

"It means I can deliver, I can perform. The equipment will function," he said.

Mr Baumgartner's most important piece of equipment will be his suit, which completely encases him to maintain air pressure and provide an oxygen supply.

The suit is similar to those worn by astronauts but it has to be tougher and more mobile than a Nasa space suit.

It will have to maintain its integrity in the near vacuum of the very high atmosphere: if there is a serious breach in the suit, Mr Baumgartner's tissues would start to swell and the moisture in his eyes and mouth would start to boil.

Pressurised test
Engineers tested the suit with Mr Baumgartner inside by recreating the flight conditions with a pressurised capsule.

"The suit does its job," said Mr Baumgartner.

The suit will also have to protect him from the extreme cold, with temperatures dropping to minus 70C. And it will have to withstand the forces of passing through the sound barrier.

Gp Capt David Gradwell is head of aviation medicine for the UK's Royal Air Force (RAF). He describes the attempt as a remarkable effort, fraught with challenges.

"[Mr Baumgartner] will be falling very fast so he will have to be sure he remains stable so that he doesn't spin out of control," he told BBC News.

"He needs to see through the visor of his pressure helmet to see what's going on in order to operate his parachute properly and see that it has properly deployed."

If the attempt succeeds, it will have beaten a record set in 1960 by Joe Kittinger, who leapt out from a balloon at 31km (102,800ft).

Kittinger is part of Baumgartner's team and believes the new attempt will succeed. But the retired former USAF colonel admits that when the Austrian makes his leap he will be "saying a prayer for the jump".

A BBC/National Geographic documentary is also being made about the project.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The secret war to stop the Iranian bomb ...

Published: January 25, 2012

As the Sabbath evening approached on Jan. 13, Ehud Barak paced the wide living-room floor of his home high above a street in north Tel Aviv, its walls lined with thousands of books on subjects ranging from philosophy and poetry to military strategy. Barak, the Israeli defense minister, is the most decorated soldier in the country’s history and one of its most experienced and controversial politicians.

He has served as chief of the general staff for the Israel Defense Forces, interior minister, foreign minister and prime minister. He now faces, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and 12 other members of Israel’s inner security cabinet, the most important decision of his life — whether to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran. We met in the late afternoon, and our conversation — the first of several over the next week — lasted for two and a half hours, long past nightfall.

“This is not about some abstract concept,” Barak said as he gazed out at the lights of Tel Aviv, “but a genuine concern. The Iranians are, after all, a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map.”
The Nuclear Assassinations

When I mentioned to Barak the opinion voiced by the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi — that the Iranian threat was not as imminent as he and Netanyahu have suggested and that a military strike would be catastrophic (and that they, Barak and Netanyahu, were cynically looking to score populist points at the expense of national security), Barak reacted with uncharacteristic anger. He and Netanyahu, he said, are responsible “in a very direct and concrete way for the existence of the State of Israel — indeed, for the future of the Jewish people.” As for the top-ranking military personnel with whom I’ve spoken who argued that an attack on Iran was either unnecessary or would be ineffective at this stage, Barak said: “It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions.

But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.”

Netanyahu and Barak have both repeatedly stressed that a decision has not yet been made and that a deadline for making one has not been set. As we spoke, however, Barak laid out three categories of questions, which he characterized as “Israel’s ability to act,” “international legitimacy” and “necessity,” all of which require affirmative responses before a decision is made to attack:

1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?

2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?

For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes.

At various points in our conversation, Barak underscored that if Israel or the rest of the world waits too long, the moment will arrive — sometime in the coming year, he says — beyond which it will no longer be possible to act. “It will not be possible to use any surgical means to bring about a significant delay,” he said. “Not for us, not for Europe and not for the United States. After that, the question will remain very important, but it will become purely theoretical and pass out of our hands — the statesmen and decision-makers — and into yours — the journalists and historians.”

Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, is the third leg in the triangle supporting a very aggressive stance toward Iran. When I spoke with him on the afternoon of Jan. 18, the same day that Barak stated publicly that any decision to strike pre-emptively was “very far off,” Ya’alon, while reiterating that an attack was the last option, took pains to emphasize Israel’s resolve. “Our policy is that in one way or another, Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped,” he said. “It is a matter of months before the Iranians will be able to attain military nuclear capability.

Israel should not have to lead the struggle against Iran. It is up to the international community to confront the regime, but nevertheless Israel has to be ready to defend itself. And we are prepared to defend ourselves,” Ya’alon went on, “in any way and anywhere that we see fit.”

For years, Israeli and American intelligence agencies assumed that if Iran were to gain the ability to build a bomb, it would be a result of its relationship with Russia, which was building a nuclear reactor for Iran at a site called Bushehr and had assisted the Iranians in their missile-development program. Throughout the 1990s, Israel and the United States devoted vast resources to weakening the nuclear links between Russia and Iran and applied enormous diplomatic pressure on Russia to cut off the relationship.

Ultimately, the Russians made it clear that they would do all in their power to slow down construction on the Iranian reactor and assured Israel that even if it was completed (which it later was), it wouldn’t be possible to produce the refined uranium or plutonium needed for nuclear weapons there.

But the Russians weren’t Iran’s only connection to nuclear power. Robert Einhorn, currently special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the U. S. State Department, told me in 2003: “Both countries invested huge efforts, overt and covert, in order to find out what exactly Russia was supplying to Iran and in attempts to prevent that supply. We were convinced that this was the main path taken by Iran to secure the Doomsday weapon. But only very belatedly did it emerge that if Iran one day achieved its goal, it will not be by the Russian path at all.

It made its great advance toward nuclear weaponry on another path altogether — a secret one — that was concealed from our sight.”

That secret path was Iran’s clandestine relationship with the network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atom bomb. Cooperation between American, British and Israeli intelligence services led to the discovery in 2002 of a uranium-enrichment facility built with Khan’s assistance at Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran. When this information was verified, a great outcry erupted throughout Israel’s military and intelligence establishment, with some demanding that the site be bombed at once. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not authorize an attack.

Instead, information about the site was leaked to a dissident Iranian group, the National Resistance Council, which announced that Iran was building a centrifuge installation at Natanz. This led to a visit to the site by a team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who were surprised to discover that Iran was well on its way to completing the nuclear fuel cycle — the series of processes for the enrichment of uranium that is a critical stage in producing a bomb.

Despite the discovery of the Natanz site and the international sanctions that followed, Israeli intelligence reported in early 2004 that Iran’s nuclear project was still progressing. Sharon assigned responsibility for putting an end to the program to Meir Dagan, then head of the Mossad.

The two knew each other from the 1970s, when Sharon was the general in charge of the southern command of the Israel Defense Forces and Dagan was a young officer whom he put in charge of a top-secret unit whose purpose was the systematic assassination of Palestine Liberation Organization militiamen in the Gaza Strip.

As Sharon put it at the time: “Dagan’s specialty is separating an Arab from his head.”

Sharon granted the Mossad virtually unlimited funds and powers to “stop the Iranian bomb.” As one recently retired senior Mossad officer told me: “There was no operation, there was no project that was not carried out because of a lack of funding.”

At a number of secret meetings with U.S. officials between 2004 and 2007, Dagan detailed a “five-front strategy” that involved political pressure, covert measures, counterproliferation, sanctions and regime change. In a secret cable sent to the U.S. in August 2007, he stressed that “the United States, Israel and like-minded countries must push on all five fronts in a simultaneous joint effort.” He went on to say: “Some are bearing fruit now. Others” — and here he emphasized efforts to encourage ethnic resistance in Iran — “will bear fruit in due time, especially if they are given more attention.”

From 2005 onward, various intelligence arms and the U.S. Treasury, working together with the Mossad, began a worldwide campaign to locate and sabotage the financial underpinnings of the Iranian nuclear project. The Mossad provided the Americans with information on Iranian firms that served as fronts for the country’s nuclear acquisitions and financial institutions that assisted in the financing of terrorist organizations, as well as a banking front established by Iran and Syria to handle all of these activities.

The Americans subsequently tried to persuade several large corporations and European governments — especially France, Germany and Britain — to cease cooperating with Iranian financial institutions, and last month the Senate approved sanctions against Iran’s central bank.

In addition to these interventions, as well as to efforts to disrupt the supply of nuclear materials to Iran, since 2005 the Iranian nuclear project has been hit by a series of mishaps and disasters, for which the Iranians hold Western intelligence services — especially the Mossad — responsible.

According to the Iranian media, two transformers blew up and 50 centrifuges were ruined during the first attempt to enrich uranium at Natanz in April 2006. A spokesman for the Iranian Atomic Energy Council stated that the raw materials had been “tampered with.” Between January 2006 and July 2007, three airplanes belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards crashed under mysterious circumstances. Some reports said the planes had simply “stopped working.” The Iranians suspected the Mossad, as they did when they discovered that two lethal computer viruses had penetrated the computer system of the nuclear project and caused widespread damage, knocking out a large number of centrifuges.

In January 2007, several insulation units in the connecting fixtures of the centrifuges, which were purchased from a middleman on the black market in Eastern Europe, turned out to be flawed and unusable. Iran concluded that some of the merchants were actually straw companies that were set up to outfit the Iranian nuclear effort with faulty parts.

Of all the covert operations, the most controversial have been the assassinations of Iranian scientists working on the nuclear project. In January 2007, Dr. Ardeshir Husseinpour, a 44-year-old nuclear scientist working at the Isfahan uranium plant, died under mysterious circumstances. The official announcement of his death said he was asphyxiated “following a gas leak,” but Iranian intelligence is convinced that he was the victim of an Israeli assassination.

Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a particle physicist, was killed in January 2010, when a booby-trapped motorcycle parked nearby exploded as he was getting into his car. (Some contend that Mohammadi was not killed by the Mossad, but by Iranian agents because of his supposed support for the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi.)

Later that year, on Nov. 29, a manhunt took place in the streets of Tehran for two motorcyclists who had just blown up the cars of two senior figures in the Iranian nuclear project, Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani. The motorcyclists attached limpet mines (also known as magnet bombs) to the cars and then sped away. Shahriari was killed by the blast in his Peugeot 405, but Abbassi-Davani and his wife managed to escape their car before it exploded.

Following this assassination attempt, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed Abbassi-Davani vice president of Iran and head of the country’s atomic agency. Today he is heavily guarded wherever he goes, as is the scientific head of the nuclear project, Mohsin Fakhri-Zadeh, whose lectures at Tehran University were discontinued as a precautionary measure.

This past July, a motorcyclist ambushed Darioush Rezaei Nejad, a nuclear physicist and a researcher for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, as he sat in his car outside his house. The biker drew a pistol and shot the scientist dead through the car window.

Four months later, in November, a huge explosion occurred at a Revolutionary Guards base 30 miles west of Tehran. The cloud of smoke was visible from the city, where residents could feel the ground shake and hear their windows rattle, and satellite photos showed that almost the entire base was obliterated. Brig. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ missile-development division, was killed, as were 16 of his personnel. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader, paid respect by coming to the funeral service for the general and visiting the widow at her home, where he called Moghaddam a martyr.

Just this month, on Jan. 11, two years after his colleague and friend Massoud Ali Mohammadi was killed, a deputy director at the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility named Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan left his home and headed for a laboratory in downtown Tehran. A few months earlier, a photograph of him accompanying Ahmadinejad on a tour of nuclear installations appeared in newspapers across the globe. Two motorcyclists drove up to his car and attached a limpet mine that killed him on the spot.

Israelis cannot enter Iran, so Israel, Iranian officials believe, has devoted huge resources to recruiting Iranians who leave the country on business trips and turning them into agents. Some have been recruited under a false flag, meaning that the organization’s recruiters pose as other nationalities, so that the Iranian agents won’t know they are on the payroll of “the Zionist enemy,” as Israel is called in Iran.

Also, as much as possible, the Mossad prefers to carry out its violent operations based on the blue-and-white principle, a reference to the colors of Israel’s national flag, which means that they are executed only by Israeli citizens who are regular Mossad operatives and not by assassins recruited in the target country. Operating in Iran, however, is impossible for the Mossad’s sabotage-and-assassination unit, known as Caesarea, so the assassins must come from elsewhere. Iranian intelligence believes that over the last several years, the Mossad has financed and armed two Iranian opposition groups, the Muhjahedin Khalq (MEK) and the Jundallah, and has set up a forward base in Kurdistan to mobilize the Kurdish minority in Iran, as well as other minorities, training some of them at a secret base near Tel Aviv.

Officially, Israel has never admitted any involvement in these assassinations, and after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against the killing of Ahmadi-Roshan this month, President Shimon Peres said he had no knowledge of Israeli involvement.

The Iranians vowed revenge after the murder, and on Jan. 13, as I spoke with Ehud Barak at his home in Tel Aviv, the country’s intelligence community was conducting an emergency operation to thwart a joint attack by Iran and Hezbollah against Israeli and Jewish targets in Bangkok. Local Thai forces, reportedly acting on information supplied by the Mossad, raided a Hezbollah hideout in Bangkok and later apprehended a member of the terror cell as he tried to flee the country. The prisoner reportedly confessed that he and his fellow cell members intended to blow up the Israeli Embassy and a synagogue.

Meir Dagan, while not taking credit for the assassinations, has praised the hits against Iranian scientists attributed to the Mossad, saying that beyond “the removal of important brains” from the project, the killings have brought about what is referred to in the Mossad as white defection — in other words, the Iranian scientists are so frightened that many have requested to be transferred to civilian projects.

“There is no doubt,” a former top Mossad official told me over breakfast on Jan. 11, just a few hours after news of Ahmadi-Roshan’s assassination came from Tehran, “that being a scientist in a prestigious nuclear project that is generously financed by the state carries with it advantages like status, advancement, research budgets and fat salaries. On the other hand, when a scientist — one who is not a trained soldier or used to facing life-threatening situations, who has a wife and children — watches his colleagues being bumped off one after the other, he definitely begins to fear that the day will come when a man on a motorbike knocks on his car window.”

As we spoke, a man approached and, having recognized me as a journalist who reports on these issues, apologized before asking: “When is the war going to break out? When will the Iranians bomb us?” The Mossad official smiled as I tried to reassure the man that we wouldn’t be nuked tomorrow. Similar scenes occur almost every day — Israelis watch the news, have heard that bomb shelters are being prepared, know that Israel test-fired a missile into the sea two months ago — and a kind of panic has begun to overtake Israeli society, anxiety that missiles will start raining down soon.

Dagan believes that his five-fronts strategy has succeeded in significantly delaying Iran’s progress toward developing nuclear weapons; specifically “the use of all the weapons together,” he told me and a small group of Israeli journalists early last year. “In the mind of the Iranian citizen, a link has been created between his economic difficulties and the nuclear project. Today in Iran, there is a profound internal debate about this matter, which has divided the Iranian leadership.” He beamed when he added, “It pleases me that the timeline of the project has been pushed forward several times since 2003 because of these mysterious disruptions.”

Barak and Netanyahu are less convinced of the Mossad’s long-term success. From the beginning of their terms (Barak as defense minister in June 2007, Netanyahu as prime minister in March 2009), they have held the opinion that Israel must have a military option ready in case covert efforts fail. Barak ordered extensive military preparations for an attack on Iran that continue to this day and have become more frequent in recent months. He was not alone in fearing that the Mossad’s covert operations, combined with sanctions, would not be sufficient.

The I.D.F. and military intelligence have also experienced waning enthusiasm. Three very senior military intelligence officers, one who is still serving and two who retired recently, told me that with all due respect for Dagan’s success in slowing down the Iranian nuclear project, Iran was still making progress. One recalled Israel’s operations against Iraq’s nuclear program in the late 1970s, when the Mossad eliminated some of the scientists working on the project and intimidated others. On the night of April 6, 1979, a team of Mossad operatives entered the French port town La Seyne-sur-Mer and blew up a shipment necessary for the cooling system of the Iraqi reactor’s core that was being manufactured in France.

The French police found no trace of the perpetrators. An unknown organization for the defense of the environment claimed responsibility.

The attack was successful, but a year later the damage was repaired and further sabotage efforts were thwarted. The project advanced until late in 1980, when it was discovered that a shipment of fuel rods containing enriched uranium had been sent from France to Baghdad, and they were about to be fed into the reactor’s core. Israel determined that it had no other option but to launch Operation Opera, a surprise airstrike in June 1981 on the Tammuz-Osirak reactor just outside Baghdad.

Similarly, Dagan’s critics say, the Iranians have managed to overcome most setbacks and to replace the slain scientists. According to latest intelligence, Iran now has some 10,000 functioning centrifuges, and they have streamlined the enrichment process. Iran today has five tons of low-grade fissile material, enough, when converted to high-grade material, to make about five to six bombs; it also has about 175 pounds of medium-grade material, of which it would need about 500 pounds to make a bomb. It is believed that Iran’s nuclear scientists estimate that it will take them nine months, from the moment they are given the order, to assemble their first explosive device and another six months to be able to reduce it to the dimensions of a payload for their Shahab-3 missiles, which are capable of reaching Israel.

They are holding the fissile material at sites across the country, most notably at the Fordo facility, near the holy city Qom, in a bunker that Israeli intelligence estimates is 220 feet deep, beyond the reach of even the most advanced bunker-busting bombs possessed by the United States.


About to hit the fan ... US pulls diplomats out of Syria

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration closed the U.S. Embassy in Damascus on Monday and pulled all American diplomats out of violence-wracked Syria as the U.S. stepped up pressure on President Bashar Assad to leave power.

Robert Ford, the American ambassador, and 17 other U.S. officials left Syria and were expected to travel back to the United States. Ford informed Syrian authorities of the decision to leave earlier in the day, State Department officials said. Two diplomats left by air and the others went overland to Jordan.

Their departure comes two weeks after the State Department warned that it would close the embassy unless Assad's government better protected the mission, citing safety concerns about embassy personnel and a recent series of car bombs. And it coincides with a U.S. effort to build an international coalition in support of Syria's opposition.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that Ford remains the U.S. ambassador "to Syria and its people," and said he would continue his work on Syria, maintaining contacts with the Syrian opposition and supporting "the peaceful political transition which the Syrian people have so bravely sought."

The Polish embassy will provide emergency consular services for Americans remaining in Syria, the State Department said.

The U.N. estimates that well over 5,400 people have been killed since March, when mostly peaceful protesters rose up to voice their anger toward four decades of dictatorship by the Assad family. A brutal crackdown ensued, prompting armed rebels to take the fight to regime troops and try to establish control in pro-opposition areas. The government has responded with even more violence, raising fears of an all-out civil war.

Despite the increased bloodshed, world powers are bitterly divided over how to deal with the situation. The U.S., its European partners and much of the Arab world want Assad to step down and transfer power to his vice president as part of a transition to democracy. But Russia and China, wary after watching the West help Libyan militia oust Muammar Qaddafi, reject any talk of military intervention or regime change. They vetoed a U.N. resolution over the weekend that would have endorsed an Arab League plan for Syria's post-Assad future.

President Barack Obama said the ongoing conflict in Syria should be resolved without outside military intervention, saying a negotiated solution in Syria is still possible. And he defended his administration's actions during the 11-month uprising against Assad's regime.

"We have been relentless in sending a message that it is time for Assad to go," Obama said during an interview with NBC. "This is not going to be a matter of if, it's going to be a matter of when."

Obama deflected questions about whether the U.S and its partners should intervene militarily in Syria as they did in Libya, saying those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

"Not every situation is going to allow for the kind of military solution we saw with Libya," he said.

"I think it is very possible for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention."

With diplomacy at an impasse, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Sunday for "friends of democratic Syria" to unite and rally against Assad's regime, previewing the possible formation of a group of like-minded nations to coordinate assistance to the Syrian opposition.

Speaking in Bulgaria, she said the world had a duty to halt the violence and see Assad out of power. She called the U.N. setback a "travesty."


Sunday, February 5, 2012

North Korea recycling target drones to use as weapons.

YONGYANG – North Korea's hard-line communist regime is using old US-made target drones to develop unmanned attack aircraft, South Korea intelligence sources said Sunday.

"North Korea recently bought several US MQM-107D Streakers from a Middle Eastern nation that appears to be Syria, and is developing unmanned attack aircraft based on them," the South's Yonhap news agency quoted an intelligence source as saying.

Its powerful military placed explosives on the drones in a number of tests, but was yet to master the technology, the report said.

The US drone flies at 40,000 feet and a maximum speed of 575 mph, and South Korea fears it could be used to target its troops stationed on islands near the tense border.

The MQM-107 Streaker series was developed in the late 1970s. Almost 700 MQM-107Ds were built for the US armed forces after its introduction in 1987. The Streaker drones have been sold to a number of allies in the Middle East and Asia.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Droids for the military ...

CNN) -- Some U.S. officials this year are expected to get smartphones capable of handling classified government documents over cellular networks, according to people involved in the project.

The phones will run a modified version of Google's Android software, which is being developed as part of an initiative that spans multiple federal agencies and government contractors, these people said.

The smartphones are first being deployed to U.S. soldiers, people familiar with the project said. Later, federal agencies are expected to get phones for sending and receiving government cables while away from their offices, sources said. Eventually, local governments and corporations could give workers phones with similar software.

The Army has been testing touchscreen devices at U.S. bases for nearly two years, said Michael McCarthy, a director for the Army's Brigade Modernization Command, in a phone interview. About 40 phones were sent to fighters overseas a year ago, and the Army plans to ship 50 more phones and 75 tablets to soldiers abroad in March, he said.

"We've had kind of an accelerated approval process," McCarthy said. "This is a hugely significant event."
Currently, the United States doesn't allow government workers or soldiers to use smartphones for sending classified messages because the devices have not met security certifications.

Officials have said they worry that hackers or rogue apps could tap into the commercial version of Android and spill state secrets to foreign governments or to the Web through a publisher such as WikiLeaks. As many as 5 million Android users may have had their phones compromised by a recent virus outbreak rooted in apps found on Google's market, said security software maker Symantec.

But with a secure smartphone, a soldier could see fellow infantry on a digital map, or an official could send an important dispatch from Washington's Metro subway without fear of security breaches.

Developers in the government program have completed a version that has been authorized for storing classified documents but not transmitting them over a cell network, said two people contributing to the initiative. Smartphones cleared for top-secret dispatches -- high-level classified information that would compromise national security if intercepted -- are expected to be ready in the next few months, they said.

Rather than building special handsets hardwired with secure components, the government plans to install its software on commercially available phones, the people familiar with the project said. This approach is far less expensive and allows the government to stay up to date with the latest phones on the market, they said.

Emphasis on security:

Government programmers are making security modifications to Android's kernel, which is the operating system's central component, the people involved said. The version will allow users to choose which data from Android and its applications can be sent over the Internet, they said.

"When you download an application on your phone, you don't really know what it does," Stavrou said. "We test the application in labs before the user consumes that application."

After testing more than 200,000 apps, the researchers discovered that many programs ask for access to far more personal information contained in the phone than they need and, more alarmingly, send some of that superfluous data to the app developers' servers, Stavrou said.

Even some well-intentioned features can compromise national security if left unchecked. For example, a weather app may automatically send a phone's GPS coordinates over the Internet to deliver a local forecast, or games may send the device's unique identifier along with a high score.

On government phones, officials will be prompted with detailed reports about what data may be sent, and they can decline or allow each transmission, the people involved said.

"People want to play 'Angry Birds,' and we do want our people to be able to download 'Angry Birds,' " Stavrou said. But he added, "If a clock application gets your GPS and transmits something over the network, that's not something that we would want to support."

Stavrou, along with seven others at George Mason and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are developing the smartphone software. They are also consulting with several federal agencies, many within the Department of Defense, he said. He declined to name them.

"The government is actually working pretty hard in getting this technology to most agencies," Stavrou said. "Security is everybody's concern."


Pantetta: Israel could attack Iran this spring ...


Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expressing new concerns about Iran's underground nuclear program, this time telling Washington Post columnist David Ignatius he's worried Israel may decide to attack it as early as this spring.

Traveling with the defense secretary in Brussels to cover his meeting with NATO defense ministers, Ignatius writes, "Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June.”

This is the first time we've heard such a specific timeframe. Fox News has previously reported concerns from former members of President Obama's national security team that a unilateral strike from Israel could occur sometime in 2012 and that Central Command has been planning for the possibility the U.S. could be drawn in.

One former government official who was involved in national security affairs agreed with Panetta's assessment on timing. "I think the likelihood of an attack is high, and the timing seems about right," the former official said, but added that Panetta "may have interrupted and delayed the timing by his disclosure."
Panetta and the administration have made clear in recent weeks that Iran would cross a "red line" by developing a bomb and that if that occurred, all options, including military action, would be on the table.

But Israel is less patient. It appears Israeli officials' red line would be crossed when Iran has the material to build a bomb. In other words, it appears they believe that by this spring Iran will have stockpiled enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear warhead.

By that point, it will be too late for Israel to act alone. Unlike the United States, Israel does not have the capacity to strike Iran's hardened enrichment facilities 200 feet underground. That, along with Iran's arsenal of missiles that can reach Israel, add to Panetta's concerns that Israel is preparing to strike as early as this spring.

There are essentially two obvious methods for striking the underground facility that could be used. The first involves the Pentagon’s newly developed Massive Ordnance Penetrator, known simply as the MOP. The largest of its kind, it's a 30,000 pound bunker-busting bomb designed to hit underground targets. Yet in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Panetta acknowledged the MOP has some shortcomings and needs further development to reach areas as deeply buried as Iran's nuclear facilities.

Since the MOP is the largest conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the second option could involve using smaller-scale nuclear weapons. It's not likely a card the Obama administration would play, one that would make him the first president since Harry Truman to drop a nuclear bomb.

Another clue about Israel's intent was the sudden cancellation of long-planned joint U.S.-Israeli military exercises that would have culminated in live-fire drills this May. The Israelis apologized for postponing the exercises, and a Pentagon spokesmen said at the time of the cancellation the Israelis explained they needed to postpone in order to "assume optimum participation," suggesting their forces could be needed elsewhere.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Skyquakes rattle Northwest

Mystery fireballs & noises from the sky? Natural? Black Projects? Armageddon? Hoaxes Viral Marketing??

Brad McGavock was on duty this morning when we called the Tulsa National Weather Service office about the possible meteor ripping through the sky.

"Around 8 p.m. there was reported to be a sonic boom that was heard over the DFW area."

McGavock says there was a report that a highway patrolman inadvertantly caught a glimpse of the sighting.

"His dash cam on his car actually recorded the meteor as it went through the sky."
He says the FAA confirmed that the object indeed was a meteor.

Some people said the object had a long tail and that it appeared to fall apart. Others said they heard or felt an explosion as it passed.

Police, fire and weather officials all reported receiving a high volume of calls.
Information from the American Meteor Society said that the object was a bolide.

A bolide is a fireball or very bright meteor.

It explodes often with visible fragmentation and sometimes a sonic boom, according to AMS.

Case closed right?

But wait there's more? Strange noises from the sky are coming in from around the globe - with explanations ranging from meteors to "Auroral noise " to Gabriel's horn calling down the Apocalypse.

Here are a few related videos:

From Canada:

From my hometown of Amarillo:

From New York:

Maybe this explains it?

Damn Interesting:

If you happen to be reasonably close to one of the Earth’s magnetic poles, the next time there’s a particularly intense aurora, go outside. Get as far as you can from sources of noise – traffic, barking dogs, TVs – and listen. Listen carefully.

If conditions are right, you may hear some unusual noises. Earwitnesses have said the sound is like radio static, a small animal rustling through dry grass and leaves, or the crinkling of a cellophane wrapper. Inuit folklore says it’s the sound of the spirits of the dead, either playing a game or trying to communicate with the living.

It’s the sound of the aurora itself. And the cause is currently unknown. Understanding the phenomenon is made more difficult by the fact that though there are many anecdotal reports, the sound has yet to be recorded.

Aurora displays are caused by the solar wind interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. Because these interactions happen at altitudes of at least sixty kilometers, the sounds heard cannot be made by the aurora directly. Even if the air up there were dense enough to support sound waves, they would disperse and fade long before they reached the ground.

The sounds aren’t common, and there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in their occurrences. What’s more, one observer of an aurora may hear the sounds distinctly, while another observer of the same display– even at the same location– may not.

The inconsistency makes it difficult to determine the underlying cause of the sounds. As with any faint phenomenon that is difficult to observe and study, theories abound. One hypothesis claims it’s all in the observer’s head. Modern media has made us used to hearing sound along with visual display, so we sometimes believe we are hearing things even when there is no actual sound. But this doesn’t account for those Inuit legends that predate the technological era, nor does it account for observations made by blindfolded or indoor observers.

Another theory also claims it’s all in your head, but for a different reason. Electrophonic hearing is the direct stimulation of the auditory nerves by external electromagnetic fields. There are reports of people hearing “clicks” and “pops” coincident with lightning flashes, and well ahead of any thunder, that can only be explained this way.

The theory is unable to explain why only the sense of hearing is affected – though there are rare reports of people noting odd smells accompanying an aurora display.

The Earth did experience a solar storm last week: Here's an excerpt from a report on this storm:

A wave of charged particles from an intense solar storm is pummeling the Earth right now. NASA scientists say.

The storm began when a powerful solar flare erupted on the sun(Jan. 23), blasting a stream of charged particles toward Earth. This electromagnetic burst, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), hit Earth at about 9:31 a.m. EST (1430 GMT), according to scientists at the Space Weather Center at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"It's a minor to moderate storm," Yihua Zheng, a lead researcher at the Space Weather Center, told "Probably in the next 10 hours or so, people at high latitudes can see auroras. This could maybe cause communication errors at the polar caps, but the magnetic activities are probably not too strong."
The northern lights displays will be especially visible for people in northern latitudes where it is currently night.

"For parts of Europe already, and further points to the east, we should expect to see strong magnetic storm conditions," Harlan Spence, an astrophysicist at the University of New Hampshire, director of its Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, told "There's a very good chance tonight that we'll be seeing some very strong auroral displays. Typically auroras occur at relatively high latitudes, but for events like this, you could get auroras down at mid to low latitudes."

When a coronal mass ejection hits Earth, it can trigger potentially harmful geomagnetic storms as the charged particles and the fields within it interact with the planet's magnetic field lines. This can amp up normal displays of Earth's auroras (also known as the northern and southern lights), but a strong CME aimed directly at Earth can also cause disruptions to satellites in orbit, as well as power grids and communications infrastructures on the ground.

The recent solar flare set off an extremely fast-moving CME, Zheng said, and the associated radiation storm was the strongest since 2005. But the ejected cloud of plasma and charged particles was not directly aimed at Earth, and is hitting the planet at an angle instead. This glancing blow will likely lessen any impacts on Earth, she added.

But wait - maybe it's a sign of the coming 2012 Apocalypse or the magnetic poles flipping? Here's an interesting video:

Then there are those who suggest we are all the victims of a viral advertisng campaign as suggested HERE.

Or how about emitted from flying triangles? Spoiler alert: bad audio dub to follow:

It's getting weird out there folks!
Stay tuned!

-Steve Douglass

This just in - a smoking gun? Could the sky sounds all be a fake?

This just in ...

Don't fear the Reaper: (start at 2:45 mark)


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