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U.S. expands secret intelligence operations in Africa

June 14, 2012 

In an eye-opening expose of the secret military base/operations network in Africa, the Washington Post reported “U.S. expands secret intelligence operations in Africa” (June 13, 2012):

The U.S. military is expanding its secret intelligence operations across Africa, establishing a network of small air bases to spy on terrorist hideouts from the fringes of the Sahara to jungle terrain along the equator, according to documents and people involved in the project.

At the heart of the surveillance operations are small, unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes. Equipped with hidden sensors that can record full-motion video, track infrared heat patterns, and vacuum up radio and cellphone signals, the planes refuel on isolated airstrips favored by African bush pilots, extending their effective flight range by thousands of miles.

About a dozen air bases have been established in Africa since 2007, according to a former senior U.S. commander involved in setting up the network. Most are small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports.

The nature and extent of the missions, as well as many of the bases being used, have not been previously reported but are partially documented in public Defense Department contracts.

The African network

[. . .]

The establishment of the Africa missions also highlights the ways in which Special Operations forces are blurring the lines that govern the secret world of intelligence, moving aggressively into spheres once reserved for the CIA. The CIA has expanded its counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering operations in Africa, but its manpower and resources pale in comparison with those of the military.

[. . .]

A hub for secret network

A key hub of the U.S. spying network can be found in Ouagadougou (WAH-gah-DOO-goo), the flat, sunbaked capital of Burkina Faso, one of the most impoverished countries in Africa.

Under a classified surveillance program code-named Creek Sand, dozens of U.S. personnel and contractors have come to Ouagadougou in recent years to establish a small air base on the military side of the international airport.

Read the full article; it’s shocking to consider the extent of the secret wars being waged and military bases being built or “borrowed” by the U.S. around the world.   Thanks to Wikileaks for releasing the information in diplomatic cables.

 

The Secret Life (and death) of Drones

December 20, 2011 

The Washington Post published an interesting article on the intense secrecy surrounding the U.S. drone wars around the world:

Since September, at least 60 people have died in 14 reported CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions. The Obama administration has named only one of the dead, hailing the elimination of Janbaz Zadran, a top official in the Haqqani insurgent network, as a counterterrorism victory.

The identities of the rest remain classified, as does the existence of the drone program itself. Because the names of the dead and the threat they were believed to pose are secret, it is impossible for anyone without access to U.S. intelligence to assess whether the deaths were justified.

The administration has said that its covert, targeted killings with remote-controlled aircraft in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and potentially beyond are proper under both domestic and international law. It has said that the targets are chosen under strict criteria, with rigorous internal oversight.

It has parried reports of collateral damage and the alleged killing of innocents by saying that drones, with their surveillance capabilities and precision missiles, result in far fewer mistakes than less sophisticated weapons.

Yet in carrying out hundreds of strikes over three years — resulting in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths in Pakistan — it has provided virtually no details to support those assertions.

Citing broad powers and secrecy, the U.S. government has basically adopted a ‘trust me’ concept based on the President’s personal legitimacy:

The drone program is actually three separate initiatives that operate under a complicated web of overlapping legal authorities and approval mechanisms.

The least controversial is the military’s relatively public use of armed drones in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently in Libya. The other two programs — the CIA’s use of drones in Pakistan, and counterterrorism operations by the CIA and the military in Yemen, Somalia and conceivably beyond — are the secret parts.

Under domestic law, the administration considers all three to be covered by the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress passed days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In two key sentences that have no expiration date, the AUMF gives the president sole power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against nations, groups or persons who committed or aided the attacks, and to prevent future attacks.

The U.S. government has fought the release of information sought by human rights and civil liberties groups and does not even acknowledge the existence of its targeted assassination programs:

Some critics of the use of drones are discomfited by the relatively risk-free, long-distance killing via video screen and joystick. But the question of whether such killings are legal “has little to do with the choice of the weapon,” Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said this year in one of several think tank conferences where the subject was debated. “The question is about who can be killed, whether using this weapon or any other.” In a letter to Obama Monday, Human Rights Watch called the administration’s claims of compliance with international law “unsupported” and “wholly inadequate.”

Civil and human rights groups have been unsuccessful in persuading U.S. courts to force the administration to reveal details of the program. In September, a federal judge found for the CIA in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit alleging that the agency’s refusal to release information about drone killings was illegal.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU asked for documents related to “the legal basis in domestic, foreign, and international law for the use of drones to conduct targeted killings,” as well as information about target selection, the number of people killed, civilian casualties, and “geographic or territorial limits” to the program.

When the CIA replied that even the “fact of the existence or nonexistence” of such a program was classified, the ACLU sued, saying that then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta had made the classification argument moot with repeated public comments about the killings to the media and Congress.

Another aspect of the drone wars that has been kept hidden is its history of defects, malfunctions and accidents.   The apparent capture of a secret U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone by Iran has shined a spotlight on the technological weaknesses of even this most secret and technologically advanced weapon system.  In “The Drone That Fell From the Sky,” Nick Turse writing in Tom Dispatch exposed the flaws and dangers of the U.S. reliance of these new weapons:

A document detailing a U.S. Air Force investigation of that Predator crash, examined by TomDispatch, sheds light on the lifecycle and flaws of drones — just what can go wrong in unmanned air operations — as well as the shadowy system of bases and units scattered across the globe that keep those drones constantly in the skies as the U.S. becomes ever more reliant on remote-controlled warfare.

That report and striking new statistics obtained from the military offer insights into underexamined flaws in drone technology.  They are also a reminder of the failure of journalists to move beyond awe when it comes to high-tech warfare and America’s latest wonder weapons — their curious inability to examine the stark limitations of man and machine that can send even the most advanced military technology hurtling to Earth.

Turse also explains how the technological weaknesses, human errors and accelerated tempo of this seemingly low risk form of warfare are having profound negative impacts on U.S. interests, another case of tactical superiority and success resulting in strategic failure:

Remotely piloted aircraft have regularly been touted, in the press and the military, as wonder weapons, the way, not so long ago, counterinsurgency tactics were being promoted as an elixir for military failure.  Like the airplane, the tank, and nuclear weapons before it, the drone has been touted as a game-changer, destined to alter the very essence of warfare.

Instead, like the others, it has increasingly proven to be a non-game-changer of a weapon with ordinary vulnerabilities.  Its technology is fallible and its efforts have often been counterproductive in these last years.  For example, the inability of pilots watching computer monitors on the other side of the planet to discriminate between armed combatants and innocent civilians has proven a continuing problem for the military’s drone operations, while the CIA’s judge-jury-executioner assassination program is widely considered to have run afoul of international law — and, in the case of Pakistan, to be alienating an entire population.  The drone increasingly looks less like a winning weapon than a machine for generating opposition and enemies.

[...]

The recent losses of the Pentagon’s robot Sentinel in Iran, the Reaper in the Seychelles, and the Predator in Kandahar, however, offer a window into a future in which the global skies will be filled with drones that may prove far less wondrous than Americans have been led to believe.  The United States could turn out to be relying on a fleet of robots with wings of clay.

 

U.S. stealth drone downed in Iran – what was its mission?

December 5, 2011 

The Washington Post reports that a stealth RQ-170 drone was downed in Iran.  Iran claims that it shot down the aircraft, but the U.S. denies that the drone was brought down by hostile fire:

A secret U.S. surveillance drone that went missing last week in western Afghanistan appears to have crashed in Iran, in what may be the first case of such an aircraft ending up in the hands of an adversary.

Iran’s news agencies asserted that the nation’s defense forces brought down the drone, which the Iranian reports said was an RQ-170 stealth aircraft. It is designed to penetrate enemy air defenses that could see and possibly shoot down less sophisticated Predator and Reaper drones.

A stealthy RQ-170 drone played a critical role in providing surveillance of the compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was hiding in the months before the raid in which he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in May.

[...]

If an RQ-170 drone crashed in Iran, it would mark a significant setback for the U.S. military. The U.S. has lost less-sophisticated unmanned aircraft in recent years over Iran, but a nearly intact RQ-170 could offer a potential windfall of useful intelligence for the Iranians and their allies.

The aircraft has special coatings and a batwing-like shape that is designed to evade detection by enemy radar. The aircraft could help the Iranians better understand the vulnerabilities of U.S. stealth technology and provide them with clues on how to spot other aircraft, U.S. officials said.

Similar stealth technology is used in U.S. B-2 bombers and is a major feature of the military’s F-35 fighter jet, which is one of the largest and most expensive weapons programs in Pentagon history.

The Washington Post reports that “U.S. officials declined to comment on what the drone’s mission had been before it crashed.”

However, Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space shared the following analysis of the downed stealth drone in his Organizing Notes blog:

The Post tried to make it sound like the drone just veered off course while on a mission in Afghanistan. I seriously doubt it. We’ve known for several years, thanks to journalist Seymour Hersh, that the U.S. has been sending special operations troops inside Iran on destabilizing missions along with Iranian terrorist organizations. They’ve been blowing up targets and killing people. These drone missions are likely connectioned to those operations.

Routine ISR can be done with existing sophisticated U.S. military satellites orbiting the Earth. As was shown by their use in the U.S. Navy Seals raid on Abbottabad in Pakistan, the U.S. uses these drones when they are doing operational planning. To me that means these stealth drones are supporting existing special ops activities already inside Iran and/or they are doing ISR for future strike missions.

Either way it is abundantly evident that Obama is poking a stick into a hornet nest. Sooner or later he is going to get a reaction and that is when holy hell could break loose.

For those who still believe in Mr. Obama this is just one more bit of information in the avalanche of facts that indicates the “president” is indeed an agent of the CIA and the military industrial complex.

If this event had happened during the reign of George W. Bush the liberals would be screaming bloody murder – as they well should – but we’ll now find them largely silent on this sad turn of events.

Once again Obama proves his worth to the corporate oligarchy. He gives them all they want and at the same time keeps a lid on the left-wing of his party. It’s no wonder that the Republicans have such a sad lot running for president. The oligarchy knows it has a good thing going with Obama and they don’t want to put it in any danger.