Report: More Drone Strike Deaths Since Obama Announced New “Constraint”

Each drone strike now kills more people on average in Yemen, Pakistan
Nov 26, 2013

A new report from a leading watchdog on drone missile use concludes that there have been more deaths from strikes in the six months AFTER president Obama announced a new “constraint” on use of the technology than there were in the six months before.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London says that their new analysis calls into question the promise by Obama to limit the use of drones in targeted killings of suspected terrorists overseas.

Obama made the remarks in an address at the National Defense University back in May, stating that “The same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power – or risk abusing it.”

The president even called into question the morality of drone missile use, and briefed the media on a potential overhaul of targeted killing policy and so called ‘signature strikes’.

The headlines that followed suggested that there was to be “important shifts in the policy of using unmanned drones to kill citizens of other countries.” The Mainstream media reported that the US military would be exclusively handed responsibility for all drone strikes outside of Afghanistan, and that deaths from the attacks would likely be significantly reduced.

None of that has happened.

Indeed, as the Bureau reports, While the number of covert strikes fell in Yemen and Pakistan in the six months after the speech, “the overall death toll has increased.”

“In Yemen, civilians have reportedly been killed in drone strikes after the speech.” the report notes. “Between six and seven civilians were reported killed, two of whom were said to be children.”

“It also emerged this month that the US knew it had killed civilians in strikes after the speech.” the report continues.

The LA Times reported that the CIA briefed Congress about civilian casualties, including a child aged 6-13 who had been riding in a car with his older brother, an alleged militant, when the drones attacked. The CIA reportedly did not know he was in the car at the time.”

The Bureau notes that every single drone strike in Yemen in the six months since Obama’s speech came during one intense two week period in late July and August. Eight strikes were carried out in response, we were told, to intelligence that a Yemeni terrorist plot was about to go live.

In the same period, the US temporarily closed over 20 embassies and consulates in Africa and the Middle East, fearing a repeat of the Benghazi attack of 2012.

It is thought that at least 29 people were killed by the drone strikes, “but only three of them were described in reports as significant leaders in the group.” the Bureau notes.

In Pakistan, the prevailing trend of fewer deaths from drone strikes since 2009 has been reversed since Obama promised more restraint. “In the six months before the speech, an average of 3.5 people were killed in each strike. Since the speech this has risen to almost five.” the report notes.

Many of the strikes in Pakistan were thought to have targeted Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban, who is now reported to have been killed three times already.

Amnesty International has declared that the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen are responsible for unlawful killings, some of which could amount to war crimes.

In October, a 97-page report by Human Rights Watch came to the conclusion that drone strikes against suspected members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen are killing more civilians than suspected terrorists. The report noted that out of 82 people killed in 6 HRW case study attacks, 57 were civilians.



A Russian GPS Using U.S. Soil Stirs Spy Fears

WASHINGTON — In the view of America’s spy services, the next potential threat from Russia may not come from a nefarious cyberweapon or secrets gleaned from the files of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor now in Moscow.

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An engineer with a space navigation satellite for Glonass, Russia’s global positioning network, in Zheleznogorsk in 2011.

Instead, this menace may come in the form of a seemingly innocuous dome-topped antenna perched atop an electronics-packed building surrounded by a security fence somewhere in the United States.

In recent months, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have been quietly waging a campaign to stop the State Department from allowing Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to build about half a dozen of these structures, known as monitor stations, on United States soil, several American officials said.

They fear that these structures could help Russia spy on the United States and improve the precision of Russian weaponry, the officials said. These monitor stations, the Russians contend, would significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of Moscow’s version of the Global Positioning System, the American satellite network that steers guided missiles to their targets and thirsty smartphone users to the nearest Starbucks.

“They don’t want to be reliant on the American system and believe that their systems, like GPS, will spawn other industries and applications,” said a former senior official in the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology. “They feel as though they are losing a technological edge to us in an important market. Look at everything GPS has done on things like your phone and the movement of planes and ships.”

The Russian effort is part of a larger global race by several countries — including China and European Union nations — to perfect their own global positioning systems and challenge the dominance of the American GPS.

For the State Department, permitting Russia to build the stations would help mend the Obama administration’s relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir because of Moscow’s granting asylum to Mr. Snowden and its backing of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

But the C.I.A. and other American spy agencies, as well as the Pentagon, suspect that the monitor stations would give the Russians a foothold on American territory that would sharpen the accuracy of Moscow’s satellite-steered weapons. The stations, they believe, could also give the Russians an opening to snoop on the United States within its borders.

The squabble is serious enough that administration officials have delayed a final decision until the Russians provide more information and until the American agencies sort out their differences, State Department and White House officials said.

Russia’s efforts have also stirred concerns on Capitol Hill, where members of the intelligence and armed services committees view Moscow’s global positioning network — known as Glonass, for Global Navigation Satellite System — with deep suspicion and are demanding answers from the administration.

“I would like to understand why the United States would be interested in enabling a GPS competitor, like Russian Glonass, when the world’s reliance on GPS is a clear advantage to the United States on multiple levels,” said Representative Mike D. Rogers, Republican of Alabama, the chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Mr. Rogers last week asked the Pentagon to provide an assessment of the proposal’s impact on national security. The request was made in a letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr.

The monitor stations have been a high priority of Mr. Putin for several years as a means to improve Glonass not only to benefit the Russian military and civilian sectors but also to compete globally with GPS.

Earlier this year, Russia positioned a station in Brazil, and agreements with Spain, Indonesia and Australia are expected soon, according to Russian news reports. The United States has stations around the world, but none in Russia.

Russian and American negotiators last met on April 25 to weigh “general requirements for possible Glonass monitoring stations in U.S. territory and the scope of planned future discussions,” said a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, who said no final decision had been made.

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The Brazilian monitor station for Glonass, Russia’s global positioning network, which is operated by its space agency.

Ms. Harf and other administration officials declined to provide additional information. The C.I.A. declined to comment.

The Russian government offered few details about the program. In a statement, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, Yevgeniy Khorishko, said that the stations were deployed “only to ensure calibration and precision of signals for the Glonass system.” Mr. Khorishko referred all questions to Roscosmos, which did not respond to a request for comment last week.

Although the Cold War is long over, the Russians do not want to rely on the American GPS infrastructure because they remain suspicious of the United States’ military capabilities, security analysts say. That is why they have insisted on pressing ahead with their own system despite the high costs.

Accepting the dominance of GPS, Russians fear, would give the United States some serious strategic advantages militarily. In Russians’ worst fears, analysts said, Americans could potentially manipulate signals and send erroneous information to Russian armed forces.

Monitor stations are essential to maintaining the accuracy of a global positioning system, according to Bradford W. Parkinson, a professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, who was the original chief architect of GPS. As a satellite’s orbit slowly diverges from its earlier prediction, these small deviations are measured by the reference stations on the ground and sent to a central control station for updating, he said. That prediction is sent to the satellite every 12 hours for subsequent broadcast to users. Having monitor stations all around the earth yields improved accuracy over having them only in one hemisphere.

Washington and Moscow have been discussing for nearly a decade how and when to cooperate on civilian satellite-based navigation signals, particularly to ensure that the systems do not interfere with each other. Indeed, many smartphones and other consumer navigation systems sold in the United States today use data from both countries’ satellites.

In May 2012, Moscow requested that the United States allow the ground-monitoring stations on American soil. American technical and diplomatic officials have met several times to discuss the issue and have asked Russian officials for more information, said Ms. Harf, the State Department spokeswoman.

In the meantime, C.I.A. analysts reviewed the proposal and concluded in a classified report this fall that allowing the Russian monitor stations here would raise counterintelligence and other security issues.

The State Department does not think that is a strong argument, said an administration official. “It doesn’t see them as a threat.”

David M. Herszenhorn and Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow. Kitty Bennett contributed research.


Watergate Reporter: “Secret” Government Under Obama Administration Needs To Be Reviewed

BOB SCHIEFFER: What is so interesting, Bob Woodward, and you know, you and I have seen a lot of these things.


SCHIEFFER: The first thing that agencies tend to do is try to make sure they can’t be blamed for something. And, clearly, that is why the FBI and the CIA did not come clean with the Warren commission, and why maybe they didn’t even tell the agents in Dallas what was going on.

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US fears back-door routes into the net because it’s building them too

London Guardian
October 13, 2013

Michael Hayden

Michael Hayden, centre, during his time as CIA director. Now popular with hackers, Hayden seems to have been economical with the truth about US activities. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

At a remarkable conference held at the Aspen Institute in 2011, General Michael Hayden, a former head of both the NSA and the CIA, said something very interesting. In a discussion of how to secure the “critical infrastructure” of the United States he described the phenomenon of compromised computer hardware – namely, chips that have hidden “back doors” inserted into them at the design or manufacturing stage – as “the problem from hell”. And, he went on, “frankly, it’s not a problem that can be solved”.

Now General Hayden is an engaging, voluble, likable fellow. He’s popular with the hacking crowd because he doesn’t talk like a government suit. But sometimes one wonders if his agreeable persona is actually a front for something a bit more disingenuous. Earlier in the Aspen discussion, for example, he talked about the Stuxnet worm – which was used to destroy centrifuges in the Iranian nuclear programme – as something that was obviously created by a nation-state, but affected not to know that the US was one of the nation-states involved.

Given Hayden’s background and level of security clearance, it seems inconceivable that he didn’t know who built Stuxnet. So already one had begun to take his contributions with a modicum of salt. Nevertheless, his observation about the intractability of the problem of compromised hardware seemed incontrovertible. This is because covertly modified hardware is hard to detect – much more so than dodgy software. The hardware in a computer can do things like access data in ways that are completely invisible even to the machine’s security software. At the Black Hat security conference in August last year, for example, a researcher named Jonathan Brossard demonstrated software that can be burned into the hardware of a PC, creating a back door that would allow secret remote access over the internet. And – here’s the really scary bit – the secret entrance couldn’t even be closed by switching off the computer’s hard disk or reinstalling its operating system.

The reason this is so scary is because virtually every bit of kit that runs the internet – the machine on which you compose your emails, the tablet or smartphone with which you browse the net, the routers that pass on the data packets that comprise your email or your web search, everything – is a computer. So the thought that all this stuff might covertly be compromised in ways that are impossible to detect is terrifying. It’s this fear that underpins American (and British) reservationsabout network products made by the Chinese company Huawei – the suspicions (vehemently denied by Huawei, of course) that the kit has secret back doors installed in it to facilitate the Chinese’s cyber-army’s penetration of western networks.

So Hayden was right: it is a problem from hell. If the hardware that runs the internet has been polluted or infiltrated then we’re all screwed, because there’s no bit of cyberspace you can trust. And I know, I know: it sounds like paranoia – until you discover that Darpa, the research arm of the US department of defence (DoD), has launched a massive research project into compromised hardware.

The department’s growing dependence on the global supply chain, it says, “makes device, software and firmware security an imperative. Back doors, malicious software and other vulnerabilities unknown to the user could enable an adversary to use a device to accomplish a variety of harmful objectives, including the exfiltration [extraction] of sensitive data and the sabotage of critical operations. Determining the security of every device DoD uses in a timely fashion is beyond current capabilities.”

At this point we enter a Kafkaesque world of smoke and mirrors. Because one of the most obvious inferences from the Snowden revelations published by the GuardianNew York Times and ProPublica recently is that the NSA has indeed been up to the business of inserting covert back doors in networking and other computing kit.

The reports say that, in addition to undermining all of the mainstream cryptographic software used to protect online commerce, the NSA has been “collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products”.

These reports have, needless to say, been strenuously denied by the companies, such as Cisco, that make this networking kit. Perhaps the NSA omitted to tell Darpa what it was up to? In the meantime, I hear that some governments have decided that their embassies should no longer use electronic communications at all, and are returning to employing couriers who travel the world handcuffed to locked dispatch cases. We’re back to the future, again.