Monday, December 21, 2020

Libyan bombmaker charged with 1988 Lockerbie 747 bombing

The US has announced charges against a Libyan suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Abu Agila Mohammad Masud has been charged with terrorism-related crimes, Attorney General William Barr said on Monday, 32 years on from the atrocity.

The deadly bomb attack on the Boeing 747 killed 270 people, including 190 American citizens.

Prosecutors will seek the extradition of Mr Masud to stand trial in the US.

The attack on the London to New York flight remains the deadliest terrorist incident ever to have taken place in the UK, and the second deadliest air attack in US history.

Eleven people on the ground in Scotland were also killed. The victims included 35 study abroad US students who were returning home for Christmas.

The new charges bring Mr Barr's role in this lengthy terrorism investigation full circle, as he was also US Attorney General when charges were first announced against two Libyan suspects in 1991.

Back then, serving under President George H W Bush, Mr Barr tasked his criminal division head Robert Mueller to look into the bombing. Mr Mueller is now best known for leading the inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Both Mr Barr and Mr Mueller have taken part in remembrance events with families over the years.

Police Scotland's chief constable, Iain Livingstone, said the charges were a "significant development" and that they will "continue to work closely" with the US and other international authorities. He said it was "inappropriate to comment further" at this time.


Friday, December 18, 2020

Hack may have exposed deep US secrets; damage yet unknown

 BOSTON (AP) — Some of America’s most deeply held secrets may have been stolen in a disciplined, monthslong operation being blamed on elite Russian government hackers. The possibilities of what might have been purloined are mind-boggling.

Could hackers have obtained nuclear secrets? COVID-19 vaccine data? Blueprints for next-generation weapons systems?

It will take weeks, maybe years in some cases, for digital sleuths combing through U.S. government and private industry networks to get the answers. These hackers are consummate pros at covering their tracks, experts say. Some theft may never be detected.

What’s seems clear is that this campaign — which cybersecurity experts says exhibits the tactics and techniques of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency — will rank among the most prolific in the annals of cyberespionage.

U.S. government agencies, including the Treasury and Commerce departments, were among dozens of high-value public- and private-sector targets known to have been infiltrated as far back as March through a commercial software update distributed to thousands of companies and government agencies worldwide. A Pentagon statement Monday indicated it used the software. It said it had “issued guidance and directives to protect” its networks. It would not say — for “operational security reasons” — whether any of its systems may have been hacked.

On Tuesday, acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller told CBS News there was so far no evidence of compromise.

In the months since the update went out, the hackers carefully exfiltrated data, often encrypting it so it wasn’t clear what was being taken, and expertly covering their tracks.

Thomas Rid, a Johns Hopkins cyberconflict expert, said the campaign’s likely efficacy can be compared to Russia’s three-year 1990s “Moonlight Maze” hacking of U.S. government targets, including NASA and the Pentagon. A U.S. investigation determined the height of the documents stolen — if printed out and piled up — would triple the height of the Washington Monument.

In this case “several Washington Monument piles of documents that they took from different government agencies is probably a realistic estimate,” Rid said. “How would they use that? They themselves most likely don’t know yet.”

The Trump administration has not said which agencies were hacked. And so far no private-sector victims have come forward. Traditionally, defense contractors and telecommunications companies have been popular targets with state-backed cyber spies, Rid said.

Intelligence agents generally seek the latest on weapons technologies and missile defense s

ystems — anything vital to national security. They also develop dossiers on rival government employees, potentially for recruitment as spies.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, cut short an overseas trip to hold meetings on the hack and was to convene a top-level interagency meeting later this week, the White House said in a statement.

O’Brien had been scheduled to return Saturday and had to scrap plans to visit officials in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Britain, said an official familiar with his itinerary who was not authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Earlier, the White House said a coordinating team had been created to respond, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

At a briefing for congressional staffers Monday, DHS did not say how many agencies were hacked, a reflection of how little the Trump administration has been sharing with Congress on the case.
Critics have long complained that the Trump administration failed to address snowballing cybersecurity threats — including from ransomware attacks that have hobbled state and local governments, hospitals and even grammar schools.

“It’s been a frustrating time, the last four years. I mean, nothing has happened seriously at all in cybersecurity,” said Brandon Valeriano, a Marine Corps University scholar and adviser to the Cyber Solarium Commission, which was created by Congress to fortify the nation’s cyber defenses. “It’s tough to find anything that we moved forward on at all.”

Trump eliminated two key government positions: White House cybersecurity coordinator and State Department cybersecurity policy chief.


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

CNN: CIA officer killed in combat in Somalia

CNN) A CIA officer was killed in Somalia last weekend, according to a former senior administration official with knowledge of the matter. The officer was wounded in an operation in the country and later died, the source said.

The identity of the officer has not been made public but the source said the officer was a former Navy SEAL.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Accused in U.S. Embassy Attacks, Is Secretly Killed in Iran

 By Adam Goldman, Eric Schmitt, 

Farnaz Fassihi and Ronen Bergman

Nov. 13, 2020Updated 9:19 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda’s second-highest leader, accused of being one of the masterminds of the deadly 1998 attacks on American embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran three months ago, intelligence officials have confirmed.

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down on the streets of Tehran by two assassins on a motorcycle on Aug. 7, the anniversary of the embassy attacks. He was killed along with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden.

The attack was carried out by Israeli operatives at the behest of the United States, according to four of the officials. It is unclear what role if any was played by the United States, which had been tracking the movements of Mr. al-Masri and other Qaeda operatives in Iran for years.

The killing occurred in such a netherworld of geopolitical intrigue and counterterrorism spycraft that Mr. al-Masri’s death had been rumored but never confirmed until now. For reasons that are still obscure, Al Qaeda has not announced the death of one of its top leaders, Iranian officials covered it up, and no country has publicly claimed responsibility for it


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

What a shock USAF reveals it's built and flown a 6th Gen stealth fighter.


The U.S. Air Force revealed this week that it has secretly designed, built, and tested a new prototype fighter jet. The fighter, about which we know virtually nothing, has already flown and “broken records.” (The image above is Air Force concept art from 2018). The Air Force must now consider how it will buy the new fighter as it struggles to acquire everything from intercontinental ballistic missiles to bombers.

The Air Force’s head of acquisition, Will Roper, made the announcement yesterday in an exclusive interview with Defense News, in conjunction with the Air Force Association’s virtual Air, Space, and Cyber Conference.

according to Defense News, the Air Force developed the new fighter in about a year—a staggeringly short amount of time by modern standards. The Air Force first developed a virtual version of the jet, and then proceeded to build and fly a full-sized prototype, complete with mission systems. This is in stark contrast to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The X-35, an early technology demonstrator, first flew in 2000, four years after Lockheed Martin signed the contract to build it. It might be better, however to compare this new mystery jet to the first actual F-35 fighter, which flew in 2006.

The Air Force designed the NGAD to ensure the service’s “air dominance” in future conflicts versus the fighters of potential adversaries. The new fighter, then, is almost certainly optimized for air-to-air combat. It’s a safe bet the fighter uses off-the-shelf avionics, engines, and weapons borrowed from other aircraft, such as the F-35 and F/A-18E/F. In fact, NGAD may look a lot like one of these fighters, though if the Air Force wanted a stealthy design to riff off, there’s only one (F-35) currently in production.

Noteworthy the author of this blog, and another photographer photographed 3 aircraft looking remarkably like the NGAD concept flying south of Amarillo, Texas LINK in 2014.  A Kansas photographer also photographed a single jet in February of 2014. LINK

When asked the USAF said no B-2s were flying on the dates in question either from their home base at Whiteman AFB or at Edwards in California. 

After Aviation Week and Space Technology ran the photos and story on the unidentified aircraft, the USAF responded with a very expensive and open display on April9, of 2014 B-2s flying several B-2 sorties over Kansas and Texas,  LINK  and then later stating the mystery aircraft were B-2s - in an attempt to discredit the sightings and photographs. 

The most interesting thing the  Air Force has claimed that it had built and flown the NGAD prototype in just one year. The world hasn’t seen such a short development time since World War II. In fact, the trend has been for fighters to require longer, more expensive development times as technology becomes more complex—particularly with the adoption of stealth.

China’s Chengdu J-20 fighter, for example, broke cover in 2011 after at least 10 years of development time, while Russia's Sukhoi Su-57 “Felon” fighter still hasn't entered production, despite the fact that we first saw it in 2010.

The possibility that a 10-year development cycle has been shortened to just one year seems highly unlikely unless the NGAD  design is based on other unacknowledged secret aircraft that may have been the trio sighted in 2014. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Novichock nerve agent used as an assassination weapon

By Richard Pérez-Peña
Sept. 2, 2020Updated 3:36 p.m. ET

Few people had heard of the nerve agent Novichok until 2018, when Western officials accused Russia of having used it in the attempted assassination of a former spy in Britain. It returned abruptly to the headlines on Wednesday, when Germany said the poison had sickened the Russian dissident Alexei A. Navalny.
But for decades, scientists, spies and chemical weapons specialists have known about and feared Novichok. It is a potent neurotoxin, developed in the Soviet Union and Russia in the 1980s and 90s, that can be delivered as a liquid, powder or aerosol, and is said to be more lethal than nerve agents that are better known in the West, like VX and sarin.

The poison causes muscle spasms that can stop the heart, fluid buildup in the lungs that can also be deadly, and damage to other organs and nerve cells. Russia has produced several versions of Novichok, and it is anyone’s guess how often they have actually been used, experts say, because the resulting deaths can easily escape scrutiny, appearing like nothing more sinister than a fatal heart attack.

That may have been the plan in the case of Sergei V. Skripal, a former Russian spy living in Salisbury, England. When Mr. Skripal was found barely conscious in a park on March 4, 2018, there was no obvious reason to suspect poisoning — except that his daughter, who was visiting, was with him, suffering the same symptoms.

British intelligence agencies identified the toxin as Novichok and accused Russia. The attack became a major international scandal, further chilling relations between Moscow and the West. The British identified Russian agents who they said had flown into Britain, applied the toxin to the front door handle of Mr. Skripal’s house and left the country, leaving a trail of video and chemical evidence.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s government has consistently denied any involvement in the incident, spinning a series of alternative theories, and just months before the Salisbury attack, Mr. Putin declared that Russia had destroyed all of its chemical weapons.


Monday, June 15, 2020

F-15C crashes off UK - pilot confirmed dead.

The pilot of an F-15C Eagle fighter jet that crashed into the sea east of the United Kingdom Monday morning has been found dead.

The F-15, from the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, crashed into the North Sea at about 9:40 a.m. local time Monday, the Air Force said. The wing said the aircraft was on a routine training mission with one pilot on board, but that the cause of the crash remained unknown.

Master Sgt. Matthew Plew, a spokesman for the 48th, said U.K. Search and Rescue had been called in to support the rescue effort.

But later on Monday, wing commander Col. Will Marshall said in a video posted online that the pilot had died. Marshall said the pilot’s name would not be released until after the next of kin had been notified.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I confirm the pilot of the downed F-15C Eagle has been located, and confirmed deceased," Marshall said. “This is a tragic loss for the 48th Fighter Wing community, and our deepest condolences go out to the pilot’s family and the 493rd Fighter Squadron.”

The pilot of the downed F-15C Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing has been located, and confirmed deceased.

This is a tragic loss for the 48th Fighter Wing community, and our deepest condolences go out to the pilot's family and the 493rd Fighter Squadron.

The 48th said in a previous tweet that a search effort by Her Majesty’s Coastguard had found the wreckage of the plane, and recovery efforts were under way.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Interceptors Reunion 2020

Thanks to  everyone who attended the mini Interceptors reunion that took place on Saturday at my place in sunny Amarillo.  Once I saw the faces and heard the voices of my old and dear friends,
Jim Goodall and Stuart Brown I was instantly younger again and taken back to a time when skulking around a secret test base was not only relatively safe (if you knew the rules of engagement) but considered a patriotic duty.  To quote Stuart F Brown

-"We obviously paid for the stuff and we we;re gonna look for it."

Attending Saturday was military historian and author Jim "The Great One" Goodall and former Popular Science and Fortune writer Stuart F Brown
Stuart was one of the first to report nationally on black projects and of course Jim Goodall was one of the first to go out and look for them.
Sorely missed were the Interceptors that had left this world, AVWK writer Michael Dornhiem, writer
Phil Patton, Testors model maker John Andrews and many others.

We lifted our glass to them. In attendance were some of the local Interceptors, frantic Frank Murphy, and my family 

After introductions and a tour of my monitoring post (including fielding technical questions about what everything did, how it all worked and an obtuse explanation on how to pull right-handed circular polarized UHF SATCOM signals out of space, a quick tour of the antenna farm (and after introductions) Jim gave me an advanced look at his book on the 75th Anniversary of the Skunk Works which is due out early next year. There's some fascinating stuff in that book, much of it never before seen by public eyes.

We then retired to the backyard since it was such a wonderful spring day and ate grilled burgers, had a few and the conversation flowed about old times chasing aircraft that officially didn't exist (at the time) such as the F-117 and our still un-captured unicorn the mini-B-2 looking aircraft dubbed the TR-3A Black Manta.

We also talked about a future safari to a crash site of something black that we have been planning for several years. I won't go into any more details about that until after it happens.

We also talked about Interceptor lore, John Andrews and Testors, the F-19 model, the taking of the first photos of the F-117 near Tonopah, a hilarious story by Jim Goodall of an incident that happened near TTR when they were confronted by rent-a-cops tasked with keeping prying eyes away from the fence line, the truths about the (now almost mythic) stories of John Lear and Bob Lazar at Area 51, our gathering at Roving Sands (video below) silent black helicopters and the possible whereabouts of the three triangular shaped aircraft Dean Musket and I photographed six years ago.

We now have a pretty good handle on the program, who flies the birds and who owns them. More on that later.

Jim got into a riveting discussion on the recent reports of the navy videos of UFOs and in the UFO phenomenon (in general) and how it applies to what's going on at Area 51.

After lunch Jim had to jet in his Corvette/SR-71 to Kansas but before that he took my grand daughter on a ride that folded her face back. She had a great time and related an hilarious story that took place at the gas station that I won't relate here but it was funny.

Jim said his goodbyes after the group photo but not before signing my copy of his B-2 book and a rare poster I had been keeping for a long time - an artists rendering of the F-19 Stealth Fighter - a mythical creation by Testors - an exercise in (before the F-117 was acknowledged) of what a stealth fighter might look like.
Although many of the guesses were correct (small swept-back planform, conformal inlets, ducted-exhaust, canted tails the experts hired by Testors had overestimated the state-of-the-art of computers to calculate how to round off flat panels to reflect away in different directions hostile probing radar beams) so the real first stealth fighter looked rather boxy compared to the F-19 rendering which would not only become a collectors item, best selling models but would have members inside Congress asking why their secret stealth fighter was being sold in toy stores! I hear the Air Force built an up-scaled version F-19 that Testor had created and it was bombarded with radar waves at RAMS/RATSCAT facility in New Mexico and that it had a remarkably low radar cross section!

Fortunately the Interceptor reunion was not over for Stuart Brown was able to spend the night. We talked until almost 3:00 AM about all things black project related, how it sucks getting old but also how we had hope for this new generation of up and coming Interceptor who we hope will remain curious, understand it's their right to be curious and carry on the legacy of our fascination with all things that fly.

A special thanks to all of you.

Now a blast from the past:

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sneak Peek: Author Jim Goodall's pictorial book on 75th Anniversary of Lockheed's Skunkworks slated for 2021 release:

Dear friends,

Author and fellow interceptor Jim Goodall (AKA The Great One) has kindly granted DeepBlackHorizon a sneak peak at some of the proofs from his forthcoming book 75 Years of the Lockheed Skunkworks.  

Jim was given unprescedented access to Lockheed files for a look deep inside the black history of one of the most secretive military aviation contractors in the world.  Due out in 2021 (delayed a tad by the COVID 19 outbreak) this much anticipated book promises never before seen photos, history and technical details coming from the geniuses that brought us the U-2, SR-71 Blackbird, F-117 Stealth fighter, not to mention the F-22 and F-35.  

But that's not all. 

Jim writes: "Here are a handful of pages without any text for my up coming “Pictorial History of the First 75 Years of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works” due out in 1Q21. It has over 300 photographs from the Lockheed files, many that have never been published before and  also after waiting over two years, my second volume of my three part series on the US Navy’s fleet of submarines arrived today for my publisher. 

The pictorial covers two classes of SSNs, the Seawolf and the Virginia class SSNs. The book is in full color, 176 pages, landscape format and hardbound. In addition to the Seawolf and Virginia class SSNs, I cover the NR-1 and the Tenders. 

I’ve been told that it will be about six to eight weeks before copies arrive at Amazon and your local books stores."

Thanks Jim! 

click to enlarge all images (C) Jim Goodall 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Aerojet Rocketdyne awarded Glide Breaker hypersonic defense interceptor project.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Feb. 10, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Aerojet Rocketdyne has been awarded a contract worth up to $19.6 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop enabling technologies for an advanced hypersonic defense interceptor known as Glide Breaker.

Advancing hypersonic technology is a national security imperative,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. “Our team is proud to apply our decades of experience developing hypersonic and missile propulsion technologies to the Glide Breaker program.”

According to DARPA, the Glide Breaker program intends to advance the United States’ means to counter hypersonic vehicles. The effort aims to develop and demonstrate a technology that is critical for enabling an advanced interceptor capable of engaging maneuvering hypersonic threats in the upper atmosphere.

Aerojet Rocketdyne supplies both solid-fueled and air-breathing propulsion systems for hypersonic flight. The company provided both types of systems for the joint Air Force-DARPA-NASA X-51A WaveRider, which completed the first practical hypersonic flight of a hydrocarbon-fueled and -cooled scramjet-powered vehicle. More recently, the company successfully completed a series of subscale propulsion-system test firings as part of DARPA’s Operational Fires (OpFires) program, which is an effort to develop a ground-launched hypersonic missile for tactical use.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Air Force releases new B-21 rendering ..

click to enlarge


New photorealistic renderings of the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber have officially landed.

The Air Force together with the bomber's manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, published three new concepts of the next-generation bomber, showing the stealth aircraft in various hangars at bomber bases across the U.S.

One shows a concept of the B-21 tucked away in a hangar at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, currently a B-1B Lancer base; a second shows the aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, which currently houses the B-2 Spirit; and a final photo presenting the B-21 at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, also a B-1 base.

Last year, the service announced the B-21's first operational base would be at Ellsworth and would also host the bomber's first formal training unit. Whiteman and Dyess are expected to receive B-21 Raiders "as they become available," the service said at the time.

Related: With B-1 Aging and B-21 Still Years Out, Air Force May Soon Have No Go-To Bomber

The B-21 is still years away. Officials have said first deliveries should begin in the mid-2020s, but have been careful not to broadcast too many other details in order to protect details about the B-21's technology.
This is an artist rendering of a B-21 Raider concept in a hangar at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. Ellsworth AFB is one of the bases expected to host the new airframe. (Courtesy graphic by Northrop Grumman)

While enthusiasts have compared the squat, sleek profile of the B-21 to the B-2 stealth bomber -- also developed by Northrop -- a specialist for military aviation at the Congressional Research Service was quick to point out one potential difference.

Altering the photo's contrast, "it becomes evident that what looks like the 'beak' is the port leading edge. The nose (as depicted) is not as sharp as B-2," Jeremiah "JJ" Gertler tweeted Friday.

The Air Force plans to buy roughly 100 bombers, but could end up purchasing more depending on the service's needs.

Officials are conveying the program's planned milestones and schedule of events to lawmakers on congressional defense committees, as well as top brass at the Pentagon. In August, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen "Seve" Wilson said he's counting the days until the bomber's first flight in December 2021.

In 2016, the Air Force announced it would name its next-generation LRS-B the Raider after the service's legendary Doolittle Raiders. The late World War II veteran Richard E. Cole, the last surviving Doolittle Raider, made the announcement that year.

The Air Force awarded Northrop the contract, initially worth $21.4 billion, in 2015. Total costs are expected to exceed $55 billion over the life of the program.

Monday, January 27, 2020

E-11A surveillance aircraft crashes in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An American military aircraft crashed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, the U.S. military said, adding that there were no indications so far it’d been brought down by enemy fire.

The spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Col. Sonny Leggett, said that the military plane, a Bombardier E-11A, crashed in the Ghazni province and an investigation of its causes was ongoing.

Monday’s plane crash is not expected to derail U.S.-Taliban peace talks if it turns out to have been an accident.

The Bombardier E-11A is a U.S. Air Force electronic surveillance plane. Video from the crash site circulating on social media appeared to show its charred ruins.

A Taliban spokesman and Afghan journalist affiliated with the militant group had earlier said the mystery crash was a U.S. military plane.

Tariq Ghazniwal, a journalist in the area, said that he saw the burning aircraft. In an exchange on Twitter, he told The Associated Press that he saw two bodies and the front of the aircraft was badly burned. He added that the aircraft’s body and tail were hardly damaged. His information could not be independently verified.

Ghazniwal said the crash site was about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from a U.S. military base. Local Taliban have been deployed to protect the crash site, he said, and several other militants were combing the nearby village for two people they suspect may have survived the crash.

The Taliban hold much of Ghazni province and have total control over the local area of the crash.

Ghazniwal said the site was near a village called Sado Khelo, in the Deh Yak district. He also said the crash occurred soon after 1 p.m. local time, but residents in the area did not report a loud crashing noise. He couldn’t say whether the aircraft had been shot down but “the crash was not loud.”

Images on social media purportedly of the crashed plane showed an aircraft bearing U.S. Air Force markings similar to other E-11A surveillance aircraft photographed by aviation enthusiasts. Visible registration numbers on the plane also appeared to match those aircraft.

The so-called Battlefield Airborne Communications Node can be carried on unmanned or crewed aircraft like the E-11A. It is used by the military to extend the range of radio signals and can be used to convert the output of one device to another, such as connecting a radio to a telephone.

Colloquially referred to by the U.S. military as “Wi-Fi in the sky,” the BACN system is used in areas where communications are otherwise difficult, elevating signals above obstacles like mountains. The system is in regular use in Afghanistan.

The U.S. and Taliban are negotiating a reduction in hostilities or a cease-fire to allow a peace agreement to be signed that could bring home an estimated 13,000 American troops and open the way to a broader post-war deal for Afghans. The Taliban currently control or hold sway over around half the country.

Local Afghan officials had said earlier on Monday that a passenger plane from Afghanistan’s Ariana Airlines had crashed in the Taliban-held area of the eastern Ghazni province. However, Ariana Airlines told The Associated Press that none of its planes had crashed in Afghanistan.

The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled.

Arif Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the plane went down around 1:10 p.m. local time (8:40 a.m. GMT) in Deh Yak district, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the capital Kabul. He said the crash site is in territory controlled by the Taliban. Two provincial council members also confirmed the crash.

But the acting director for Ariana Airlines, Mirwais Mirzakwal, dismissed reports that one the company’s aircraft had crashed. The state-owned airline also released a statement on its website saying all its aircraft were operational and safe.

The mountainous Ghazni province sits in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains and is bitterly cold in winter.

Gannon reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell, Aya Batrawy and David Rising contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Tameem Akhgar from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Robert Burns from Washington.

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Tune into TASK FORCE GRIFFIN at the link. Program starts at 6:00 PM CDT.


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

" Tic Tac" UFO files could cause "grave damage" to U.S. national security if released, Navy says

CBS NEWS :In November 2004, several U.S. Navy pilots stationed aboard the USS Nimitz encountered a Tic-Tac-shaped UFO darting and dashing over the Pacific Ocean in apparent defiance of the laws of physics. Navy officials dubbed the strange craft an "unidentified aerial phenomenon," but they have remained mum on what, exactly, that phenomenon could've been. Now, unsurprisingly to anyone who's ever considered making a hat out of tinfoil, the military has confirmed they know more than they're letting on.

In response to a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, a spokesperson from the Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) confirmed that the agency possesses several top-secret documents and at least one classified video pertaining to the 2004 UFO encounter, Vice reported.

According to the ONI spokesperson, these documents were either labeled "SECRET" or "TOP SECRET" by the agencies that provided them, and that sharing the information with the public "would cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security of the United States."

These top-secret files included several "briefing slides" about the incident, provided to the ONI by an unnamed agency. (Because ONI officials did not classify the slides personally, they are unable to declassify them, the spokesperson added).

The ONI also admitted to possessing at least one video of unknown length, classified as "secret" by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). ONI didn't reveal whether this footage is the same 1-minute video that was leaked online in 2007 and widely released by The New York Times in 2017. However, in November 2019, several naval officers who witnessed the incident aboard the Nimitz told Popular Mechanics that they had seen a much longer video of the encounter that was between 8 and 10 minutes long. These original recordings were promptly collected and erased by "unknown individuals" who arrived on the ship by helicopter shortly after the incident, one officer said.

Luis Elizondo, a former Pentagon staffer who helped make the Navy video public, told Vice that "people should not be surprised by the revelation that other videos exist and at greater length."

The FOIA request, submitted in October 2019 by an independent researcher, asked for access to any nonclassified records or portions of records regarding the 2004 UFO encounter. No additional documents were mentioned in the ONI's response besides the classified briefing and video.

Originally published on Live Science.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Inside the plot by Iran’s Soleimani to attack U.S. forces in Iraq


(Reuters) - In mid-October, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani met with his Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River, looking across at the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad.

The Revolutionary Guards commander instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran, two militia commanders and two security sources briefed on the gathering told Reuters.

The strategy session, which has not been previously reported, came as mass protests against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq were gaining momentum, putting the Islamic Republic in an unwelcome spotlight. Soleimani’s plans to attack U.S. forces aimed to provoke a military response that would redirect that rising anger toward the United States, according to the sources briefed on the gathering, Iraqi Shi’ite politicians and government officials close to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Soleimani’s efforts ended up provoking the U.S. attack on Friday that killed him and Muhandis, marking a major escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. The two men died in air strikes on their convoy at a Baghdad airport as they headed to the capital, dealing a major blow to the Islamic Republic and the Iraqi paramilitary groups it supports.

Interviews with the Iraqi security sources and Shi’ite militia commanders offer a rare glimpse of how Soleimani operated in Iraq, which he once told a Reuters reporter he knew like the back of his hand.

Two weeks before the October meeting, Soleimani ordered Iranian Revolutionary Guards to move more sophisticated weapons - such as Katyusha rockets and shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down helicopters - to Iraq through two border crossings, the militia commanders and Iraqi security sources told Reuters.

At the Baghdad villa, Soleimani told the assembled commanders to form a new militia group of low-profile paramilitaries - unknown to the United States - who could carry out rocket attacks on Americans housed at Iraqi military bases. He ordered Kataib Hezbollah - a force founded by Muhandis and trained in Iran - to direct the new plan, said the militia sources briefed on the meetings.

Soleimani told them such a group “would be difficult to detect by the Americans,” one of the militia sources told Reuters.

Before the attacks, the U.S. intelligence community had reason to believe that Soleimani was involved in “late stage” planning to strike Americans in multiple countries, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, U.S. officials told Reuters Friday on condition of anonymity. One senior U.S. official said Soleimani had supplied advanced weaponry to Kataib Hezbollah.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters on Friday that Soleimani had just come from Damascus, “where he was planning attacks on American soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors and against our diplomats.”

An official at the headquarters of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry was not available for comment.

The United States has grown increasingly concerned about Iran’s influence over the ruling elite in Iraq, which has been beset for months by protesters who accuse the government of enriching itself and serving the interests of foreign powers, especially Iran, as Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs or basic services.

Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was instrumental in expanding Iran’s military influence in the Middle East as the operative who handles clandestine operations outside Iran. The 62-year-old general was regarded as the second-most powerful figure in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Muhandis, a former Iraqi lawmaker, oversaw Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of paramilitary forces mostly consisting of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias that was formally integrated into Iraq’s armed forces.

Muhandis, like Soleimani, had long been on the radar of the United States, which had declared Muhandis a terrorist. In 2007, a Kuwaiti court sentenced him to death in absentia for his involvement in the 1983 U.S. and French embassy bombings in Kuwait.

Soleimani picked Kataib Hezbollah to lead the attacks on U.S. forces in the region because it had the capability to use drones to scout targets for Katyusha rocket attacks, one of the militia commanders told Reuters. Among the weapons that Soleimani’s forces supplied to its Iraqi militia allies last fall was a drone Iran had developed that could elude radar systems, the militia commanders said.

Kataib Hezbollah used the drones to gather aerial footage of locations where U.S. troops were deployed, according to two Iraqi security officials who monitor the movements of militias.

On December 11, a senior U.S. military official said attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were increasing and becoming more sophisticated, pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation.

His warning came two days after four Katyusha rockets struck a base near Baghdad international airport, wounding five members of Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service. No group claimed responsibility for the attack but a U.S. military official said intelligence and forensic analyses of the rockets and launchers pointed to Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia groups, notably Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

On Dec. 27 more than 30 rockets were fired at an Iraqi military base near the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk. The attack killed a U.S. civilian contractor and wounded four American and two Iraq servicemen.

Washington accused Kataib Hezbollah of carrying out the attack, an allegation it denied. The United States then launched air strikes two days later against the militia, killing at least 25 militia fighters and wounding 55.

The attacks sparked two days of violent protests by supporters of Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups who stormed the U.S. Embassy’s perimeter and hurled rocks, prompting Washington to dispatch extra troops to the region and threaten reprisals against Tehran.

On Thursday – the day before the attack that killed Soleimani - U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned that the United States might have to take preemptive action to protect American lives from expected attacks by Iran-backed militias.

“The game has changed,” he said.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

General Qasem Soleimani killed by US forces in Iraq.

General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force, has been killed by US forces in Iraq.
The Pentagon confirmed he was killed "at the direction of the president".
It comes after reports of a strike at Baghdad's international airport, which is said to have killed a number of people.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards also confirmed Gen Soleimani was dead, blaming an attack by US helicopters.
They also said Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis had been killed.
"At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani," a Pentagon statement said.
"This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world."
Reports also suggest that a number of Iraq militia heads have been detained by US forces in Baghdad, although this is unconfirmed.
The strike comes days after protesters surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad, clashing with US forces at the scene.
US defence secretary Mark Esper said late on Thursday that the US would not accept attacks against its personnel in the region, blaming Iran for the violence at the embassy.
"Attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing," a statement read. "We urge the Iranian regime to end their malign activities." 

Who was Qasem Soleimani?

Since 1998, Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani has led Iran's Quds Force - an elite unit in Iran's Revolutionary Guards which handles clandestine operations abroad.
In that position Gen Soleimani played a key role bolstering Bashar al-Assad's Iranian-supported government in the Syrian Civil War, and in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq.
Gen Soleimani was a hugely significant figure in the Iranian regime. His Quds Force reported directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He first came to prominence in his country serving in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.

Breaking: Explosions near Baghdad airport may be US Drone Strike.


Attack on US Embassy exposes widening US-Iraq divide on Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — The New Year’s Eve attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad has exposed a deepening divide between the United States and Iraq over Iran’s role there, even as the Pentagon embarks on a more aggressive mission to counter Iranian influence across the Mideast.
“The game has changed,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday, telling reporters that violent acts by Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq — including a rocket attack on Dec. 27 that killed one American — will be met with U.S. military force. The U.S. had retaliated by launching air strikes that killed 25 fighters of an Iran-back militia.
In a reflection of that tougher stance, upwards of 700 U.S. Army paratroopers arrived in Kuwait on Wednesday from their base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Esper said they are “defensive support” that can be used if there is more trouble in Baghdad or elsewhere in the region. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said additional forces are on alert to deploy, although he said no decision has been made yet to augment the battalion of paratroopers.
Milley, who has combat experience in Iraq, said Iraqi security forces are capable of preventing Iran-backed groups from threatening U.S. interests in Iraq.
“It’s a question of political will,” he said, alluding to the central issue of whether Iraq will choose to sustain its U.S. partnership, which many Iraqis see as an infringement on their sovereignty.
Parts of Iraqi society, on the other hand, detest Iran’s influence, including the role of Iran-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are an auxiliary of the Iraqi security forces and nominally under Iraqi government control. The political influence of the Popular Mobilization Forces has risen in recent years, and their allies dominate the parliament and government. That has made them the target of anti-government protesters, who have attacked Iranian diplomatic missions and the local headquarters of parties affiliated with the militias across southern Iraq.
The U.S.-Iraq relationship, shaped in large part by the 2003 U.S. invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein, has been shaky for years. The invasion unleashed Sunni insurgent violence that had abated by 2011 but was followed in 2014 by the rise of the Islamic State extremist group, which swept across the Syrian border to capture wide swaths of Iraqi territory. U.S. forces returned to help Iraq regain control, but Iranian influence since has grown more overt.
The tensions in Iraq are amplified by the Trump administration’s campaign to squeeze Iran. In 2018 it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and imposed economic sanctions, hoping to compel Tehran to negotiate a new and broader nuclear agreement. Iran in response has targeted military, diplomatic and economic interests of the United States and its Gulf allies through proxy forces like the group that attacked the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.
The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq, mainly to train and advise Iraqi security forces fighting Islamic State remnants. Esper said the Pentagon has been studying a possible scaling down of that force, but he stressed that this is distinct from determining the type and number of combat forces that are needed to deal with Iran-related attacks like Tuesday’s. The U.S. has thousands of forces elsewhere in the Gulf, including in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
In his remarks at the Pentagon, Esper said the Iraqi government has fallen short of its obligation to defend its American partner. While saying the government’s effort has “greatly improved” since Tuesday’s storming of the U.S. Embassy compound by members of Kataeb Hezbollah, or KH, an Iran-supported militia proxy, Esper made clear his disappointment.


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