Thursday, June 27, 2019

Air Force drones on despite Iranian shoot-down.

WASHINGTON — Iran’s downing of a U.S. surveillance drone has not slowed the U.S. Air Force’s flight operations in the Middle East, its top general said Wednesday.

“We’re continuing to fly. And we continue to fly where we need to be, when we need to be there,” Air Force Chief of Staff Dave Goldfein said at an Air Force Association event.

“This is a conversation we could have in the South China Sea, this is a conversation we could have anywhere in terms of international airspace. In the global commons, we continue to protect those global commons for everyone and we continue to operate where we need to operate.”

On June 19, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance—Demonstrator drone, a version of the RQ-4 Global Hawk used by the Air Force and a precursor to the Navy’s MQ-4 Triton. BAMS-D, like other versions of the RQ-4, conducts its high-altitude surveillance missions without weapons.

Iran has maintained that the RQ-4 had been flying inside its airspace — a claim that U.S. officials have repeatedly denied. On June 20, Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, presented a map showing the drone’s location over international waters and told reporters that the aircraft had been operating at high altitude approximately 34 kilometers from Iran at the time it was attacked by Iranian surface-to-air missiles.

The downing of the BAMS-D was also precipitated by a number of attacks on less expensive MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the U.S. Defense Department ties to Iran.

Both Iranian and U.S. leaders have publicly stated that they contemplated actions that could have led to loss of life, which would have greatly escalated the dispute between the two nations. Iranian leaders have said they opted not to strike down a manned P-8 maritime plane operating near the RQ-4 that was shot.

U.S. President Donald Trump also considered a strike on Iranian missile and radar sites as retaliation for the RQ-4 attack, but he stopped the mission because the response — which could have killed as many as 150 people — was not proportionate to shooting down one unarmed drone, he said in a tweet.

Goldfein downplayed U.S.-Iran tension on Wednesday, saying he didn’t see a “significant change” in the Iranian military’s capabilities and that his role as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff continues to be providing Trump with a range of military options.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Advanced Russian warship makes port in Havana

HAVANA — One of the Russian navy’s most advanced warships entered Havana’s harbor Monday and docked at the port used until this month by U.S. cruise lines.

The Admiral Gorshkov entered service last year. It is one of the Russian navy’s most advanced warships and is armed with cruise missiles, air defense systems and other weapons. The frigate is based at the Arctic port of Severomorsk and is part of Russia’s Northern Fleet. It’s the first ship in a new class of frigates intended to replace aging Soviet-era destroyers to project power far away from Russian shores. It is accompanied by the multifunctional logistics vessel Elbrus, the medium sea tanker Kama and the rescue tug Nikolai Chiker, the Russian navy says.

The navy says the Admiral Gorshkov crossed through the Panama Canal into the Caribbean Sea on or around June 18. The naval group has covered a distance of over 28,000 nautical miles since leaving Severomorsk in February, with stops in China, Djibouti, Sri Lanka and Colombia, the navy says. It says the ships are scheduled to make calls at several Caribbean ports, without specifying which. The naval group was greeted with a 21-gun salute from Cuban forces stationed at the entrance to the Bay of Havana. The Gorshkov responded with its own salute.

Russia has not provided details about the purpose of its trip, but the Kremlin has moved to bolster Russia’s military capability amid tensions with the West following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Russian armed forces have received hundreds of new warplanes and dozens of warships in recent years as part of a sweeping military modernization program that allowed Moscow to project power abroad.

As the U.S.-Russian relations have sunk to the lowest levels since the Cold War, Moscow has been considering further steps to boost its global presence. An air base and a naval facility in Syria are currently Russia’s only military outposts outside the former Soviet Union but Russian military officials have talked repeatedly about plans to negotiate deals for Russian warships and aircraft to use foreign ports and air bases.

Russian ships have become an occasional presence in Havana over the last decade. In 2008, after a visit by then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a group of Russian ships entered Cuban waters in what Cuban media described as the first such visit since 1991. Another group visited the southern city Cienfuegos in 2010, reportedly with a cargo of wheat. Others visited in 2013 and in 2014.

In January 2015, the reconnaissance and communications ship Viktor Leonov arrived unannounced in Havana a day before the start of discussions between U.S. and Cuban officials on the reopening of diplomatic relations. The Viktor Leonov returned again in March 2018.

All of the Russian naval missions to Cuba have been seen as a projection of military power close to U.S. shores, although neither Cuba nor Russian have described them as anything other than routine.

Early during his presidency, Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered the military to shut a Soviet-era electronic surveillance outpost in Cuba and a naval base in Vietnam as he sought to warm ties with the United States. Amid tensions with the U.S., Russian military officials talked about the possibility of reinstating a presence on Cuba and in Vietnam.

Russian warships and aircraft have periodically made forays into the Caribbean. In a show of power, a pair of Russian nuclear-capable Tu-160 strategic bombers visited Venezuela in December in what the Russian military described as a training mission. The deployment came before the latest crisis in Venezuela. Russia also sent Tu-160s and a missile cruiser to visit Venezuela in 2008 amid tensions with the U.S. after Russia’s brief war with Georgia. A pair of Tu-160s also visited Venezuela in 2013.

It is not publicly known if the Admiral Gorshkov will visit Venezuela.

Russians were once the most important group of foreigners in Cuba, with many thousands of Soviet workers and advisers collaborating on projects in fields ranging from agricultural production to military defense. That ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, which saw the end of the Soviet and Russian presence and the start of a grueling depression in Cuba known as the “Special Period.” That period ended with the start of Venezuelan aid around 2000.

Cuba also somewhat diversified its economy by attracting Latin American, European and Asian investment, and tourism primarily from Canada, Europe and the U.S. U.S. tourism surged in 2015 and 2016 as the Obama administration loosed restrictions on travel to Cuba as part of the opening with the communist government. That opening included allowing cruise ships. But the Trump administration has been trying to cut off income to Cuba and reduce the number of travelers to the island. The latest blow was ending cruise ship travel to the island, a measure that went into effect this month.

In what some Cubans saw as a potent symbol of changing times, the Admiral Gorshkov is moored at the cruise terminal where ships from cruise lines like Carnival and Norwegian loomed over Old Havana as recently as June 6.

• Associated Press writers Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez reported this story in Havana and AP writer Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

AC/DC attacks Iran computers

Between 2009 and 2010, Iran's nuclear program was the target of a devastating cyber attack. A virus, reportedly developed by the American and Israeli governments and known as Stuxnet, took control of centrifuge controls in facilities across the country, causing thousands of machines to break. But apparently the attackers weren't content with just crippling the country's nuclear efforts — they wanted to show their control in another way. To do that, they reportedly hijacked the facilities' workstations and used them to play AC/DC.

And they played it loud. Speaking at the Black Hat security conference, Finnish computer security expert Mikko Hypponen recalled an email he received from an Iranian scientist at the time of the Stuxnet attacks. VentureBeat quotes from the correspondence.

"There was also some music playing randomly on several of the workstations during the middle of the night with the volume maxed out. I believe it was the American band AC-DC Thunderstruck. It was all very strange and happened very quickly. The attackers also managed to gain root access to the machine they entered from and removed all the logs."

Of course, "Thunderstruck" is a song from 1990 album Razor's Edge, not a suffix to the Australian band's name, but the scientist can be forgiven for getting it wrong. Under the country's censorship laws, only Iranian folk, classical, or pop music are acceptable. Since the Stuxnet attack, President Obama has reportedly warned against using cyber weapons to target other countries, for fear their source code could be repurposed and turned back on the United States. As yet, the president hasn't commented on the dangers of deploying AC/DC.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Libyan National Found Guilty of Terrorism Charges in Benghazi Attack

Libyan National Found Guilty of Terrorism Charges in 2012 Attack on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi

Mustafa al-Imam, a Libyan national approximately 48 years old, was found guilty of terrorism charges for his participation in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya.  Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. government personnel Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty died in the attack at the Mission and the nearby Annex in Benghazi.
The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, Assistant Director Michael McGarrity of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office.
“We will never forget those we lost in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 – Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Ambassador Christopher Stevens,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “And we will not rest in our pursuit of the terrorists who attacked our facilities and killed these four courageous Americans – they must be held accountable for their crimes.  I want to thank the agents, analysts, and prosecutors – and all of their partners in the U.S. government – who are responsible for this important investigation.”
“Mustafa al-Imam was found guilty and will be held accountable for his role in the terrorist attack that destroyed the U.S. Mission in Benghazi,” said U.S. Attorney Liu.  “Four American heroes lost their lives and others were seriously wounded during that attack. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue justice against those who commit terrorist acts against the United States no matter how far we must go or how long it takes.”
“Mustafa Al-Imam has been found guilty for his role in a brutal terrorist attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans,” said Assistant Director McGarrity.  “This case shows the FBI's commitment to bring to justice those who commit acts of terror against the United States and our citizens — no matter how far away those acts take place or how long an investigation may take.”
“Mustafa al-Imam played a significant role in the 2012 Benghazi attack, one that ultimately claimed American lives,” said Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney.  “While nothing will ever change the outcome of this horrific event, today’s verdict is a reminder that the safety of Americans — whether at home or abroad, civilian or otherwise — will always be our top priority.  If you commit an act of terrorism, we will find you and bring you to justice.”
Al-Imam was captured in Libya on Oct. 29, 2017.  He was found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists and maliciously destroying and injuring a dwelling and placing lives in jeopardy by a jury on June 13, 2019.  The former charge is punishable by up to a maximum of 15 years in prison, while the latter charge is punishable by up to a maximum of 20 years in prison. The jury failed to reach a verdict on 15 other charged counts, leading the court to declare a mistrial on June 17, 2019.  The government has not yet announced whether it plans to retry Al-Imam on the remaining counts.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes.  The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court after considering the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The trial began with opening statements on May 8, 2019, before a jury in the courtroom of the Honorable Judge Christopher R. Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Over the next four weeks, the government presented testimony from 27 witnesses.  The witnesses included those who were wounded in the attack, as well as others who survived the attacks.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s New York Field Office with substantial assistance from various other government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the two victim agencies, the CIA and the Department of State.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Cummings and Karen Seifert of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.  Assistance was provided by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nicholas Coleman and Jolie Zimmerman, Paralegal Specialist Donna Galindo, detailed Paralegal Specialist Ashley Davis, Intelligence Research Special Dustin Powell, contract Document Management Analyst Michael Watts, Victim-Witness Advocates Yvonne Bryant, Tonya Jones, Laverne Perry and Wanda Queen, and Litigation Technology Chief Leif Hickling.  Earlier stages of the prosecution were handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiLorenzo and former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Opher Shweiki and Julieanne Himelstein.  The National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section provided significant assistance.


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