Analysis: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unmanned Drone?

Predator droneBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As United States President Barack Obama prepares to enter his fifth year in office, one may be excused for thinking that his administration’s response to insurgency warfare essentially boils down to one thing: the joystick. This is the means by which Washington’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fleet is remotely guided, usually from the safety of ground control stations located thousands of miles away from selected targets. Even prior to last November’s Presidential election, Obama administration officials declared in every possible way that the drone campaign would remain a permanent feature of the White House’s counterinsurgency campaign. Not only that, but it seems increasingly apparent that when, on November 19, 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that America’s UAV fleet would expand, he meant it both in terms of raw numbers and geographical reach. Africa appears now to be high on the list of UAV targets. The US is currently busy establishing a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations throughout the continent, in what US observers have termed a “massive expansion” of US covert operations in Africa. Read more of this post

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News you may have missed #805 (analysis edition)

US consulate in Benghazi, LibyaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Should the US be wary of Huawei? Regular readers of intelNews know that this blog has been covering the subject of Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei for several years now. During the past few weeks, the United States Congress has flagged the company as being too closely associated with the Chinese intelligence establishment. Other countries have done so as well. But not everyone agrees. New York-based newspaper The Wall Street Journal said recently that “bashing Chinese companies on national security grounds seems like a risk-free strategy” for US politicians and added that, unlike Congress, American governors and mayors are eager to promote investment by Chinese companies. Moreover, Wired‘s Marcus Wohlsenemail suggests that, spies or no spies, US telecommunications companies should fear Huwaei, which is here to stay.
►►Should CIA share some of the blame for Benghazi? For the last month, the US media and Congress have been grilling the State Department for the security failures during the deadly assault on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya. But what if the State Department is the wrong target of scrutiny? According to a counter-theory advanced recently by The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank, the CIA, not the State Department, bears some responsibility for the security lapse that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, but is flying under the radar due to the classified nature of its activities in Libya.
►►Could unmanned drones go rogue? Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, have been in the news a lot lately: the US Congress has given the green light for their use by state and local law enforcement, academic researchers, and the private sector. UAVs are rapidly becoming a new tool in patrolling US borders and in NATO military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But non-state actors, including organized criminal gangs and drug cartels, may also be seeing the benefits of UAVs before too long. Read an interesting analysis piece that includes comments by intelNews‘ own Joseph Fitsanakis.

News you may have missed #799

Russell TiceBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Is NSA using UK spy base to guide predator drones? Surrounded by farmland and sheep, hundreds of National Security Agency staff go to work every day at RAF Menwith Hill, where they eavesdrop on communications intercepted by satellite dishes contained in about 30 huge golf ball-like domes. Menwith Hill has been used by the NSA since the 1960s; but lately there is growing disquiet in Britain over whether intelligence gathered at the base is being used to help with the CIA’s controversial clandestine drone strikes. And the British government is keeping mum.
►►Aussie envoy seduced by spy feared her phone was bugged. Former senior Austrade commissioner to Hanoi Elizabeth Masamune, who recently admitted before an Australian court that she had sexual relations with a Vietnamese intelligence officer, told police she feared her Hanoi offices were bugged. In her statement during the trial of eight former Reserve Bank company executives on bribery charges, she said that after receiving a call from a journalist she recalled “being concerned of the level of information which she had. I was also more concerned about whether my phone was being monitored”, she said.
►►NSA whistleblower describes beating polygraph test. Russell Tice, the National Security Agency whistleblower who helped blow the lid open on warrantless wiretapping conducted by the federal government on US citizens post-9/11, says that he took between 12 and 15 polygraph tests during his nearly 20-year-long government career. The tests mellowed over time, Tice says, and they may have also gotten easier to beat. Tice, who is no longer at the NSA, says he, along with those still in contact with at the agency, marvel at how easy it is to beat the lie detector.

News you may have missed #796

Richard FaddenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Iranian spy scandal sparks outrage in Turkey. After a nearly yearlong investigation into an alleged Iranian spy ring in Turkey, seven people were charged in early September with “providing information related to state security and establishing an [illegal] organization”. The charges against five Turkish citizens and two Iranian nationals followed a raid on the suspects’ residences and workplaces on August 29, in which videos and pictures of border security, documents, correspondence with Iranian intelligence and weapons were found, according to the investigation materials. Tehran denied any connections to those arrested, while officials in Ankara revealed more alleged evidence showing that Iran is providing support to the PKK.
►►British SIGINT agency ‘helps US drone attacks’. Britain’s former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, has said there is “pretty compelling” evidence that the British government’s signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, is passing information to the United States to help it locate targets for controversial drone attacks in Pakistan. Earlier this year David Anderson, the British state’s independent reviewer of terrorism-related legislation, warned that the British government faced “a raft of civil cases” over possible complicity in the CIA drone attacks.
►►Canada’s top spy dismisses call for human rights scrutiny. In a newly declassified memo, CSIS director Richard Fadden appears to dismiss the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s recommendation that national security agencies do more to ensure they are not taking part in racial profiling or other objectionable practices. “I am confident in the service’s existing human rights policies and procedures, as well as our accountability and review structures”, Fadden says in the January 2012 memo, which is addressed to Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The memo —initially classified secret— was discovered by Mike Larsen, a criminology instructor in British Columbia, who obtained it under the Access to Information Act.

News you may have missed #752

Charles SchumerBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US companies ‘use military-style planes’ to make maps. Companies such as Apple and Google could push the limits of citizens’ privacy thanks to the use of “military-grade spy planes” when creating their next-generation mapping technologies, according to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer expressed his concerns in a letter to the two companies, arguing that hyper-detailed images of people’s backyards and other objects could pose a threat to both privacy and national security. The Senator also pointed out the potential for criminals and, yes, even terrorists to view detailed maps of “sensitive utilities”.
►►CIA wanted ‘torture cage’ for secret prison. Polish Senator Jozef Pinior claims prosecutors in Krakow have a document that shows a local contractor was asked to build a cage at Stare Kiekuty, a Polish army base used as a CIA prison for al-Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003. “In a state with rights”, Pinior told the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, “people in prison are not kept in cages”. He said a cage was “non-standard equipment” for a prison, but standard “if torture was used there”. After Poland launched its official investigation of the Stare Kiekuty site, President Bronislaw Komorowski said the probe was needed because “the reputation of Poland is at stake”.
►►US Air Force spy planes facing postwar cut. The US Air Force plans to cut back on the number of Hawker Beechcraft’s MC-12 spy planes it wants to operate after the draw-down from Afghanistan and Iraq, official data indicates. With declining operations, the aircraft began to lose its priority role and recent comments indicated at least some of the aircraft would either be grounded or given to the National Guard or other services. Since the MC-12 was first deployed in Iraq, U. forces have acquired access to more sophisticated surveillance aircraft as well as drones that can perform roles previously assigned to manned aircraft.

News you may have missed #749

Mohammed DahabiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Why did CIA Director secretly visit Czech Republic? The CIA Director, David Petraeus, is known to make frequent secret trips to places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq. But why was his recent trip to the Czech Republic kept secret? Photographs published in a Czech daily paper showed the CIA director and his team boarding a military plane at Prague’s Ruzyne Airport, headed for their next destination, Sofia, Bulgaria. But neither the US Embassy in Prague, nor the CIA will respond to questions by Czech media about Petraeus’ secretive visit to the former Soviet Bloc nation.
►►Jordan’s ex-spy chief on trial for corruption. Jordan’s former spy chief, General , who headed the General Intelligence Department (GID) from 2005 to 2009, has gone on trial in Amman on charges of corruption, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. In a case highlighting corruption in the country’s vaunted intelligence community, the prosecutor said Dahabi’s wealth had quadrupled during his years in office, reaching almost $40 million by the end of 2011. The money, he said, was held in several foreign currency accounts in a leading domestic bank.
►►CIA still refuses to comment on Predator drone attacks. The Central Intelligence Agency continues to refuse to confirm or deny the covert military use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas. This is despite numerous public comments on the CIA’s drone attacks in far-flung locales such as Yemen from various government officials, including former CIA Director Leon Panetta and US President Barack Obama. The development comes as 26 members of Congress asked Obama, in a letter, to consider the consequences of drone killing and to explain the necessity of the program.

News you may have missed #744

Navi PillayBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Source says Mikhailov ‘will not be exchanged’ with US. There are rumors going around that the US might consider exchanging Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a New York prison, for one or more CIA spies currently being held in Russian prisons. Russian news agency RIA Novosti has cited a “high ranking official in the Russian security services”, who suggests that Bout “might be exchanged”, but not with Valery Mikhailov, a Russian former counterintelligence officer, who was sentenced this week to 18 years in prison for allegedly spying for the CIA.
►►CIA preparing to pull back from Iraq. The US Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to cut its presence in Iraq to less than half of wartime levels, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “US officials familiar with the planning”. Under the plans being considered, says the paper, the CIA’s presence in Iraq would be reduced to 40% of wartime levels, when Baghdad was the largest CIA station in the world with more than 700 agency personnel. Interestingly, the plan would also reduce the US intelligence presence in the region as neighboring Syria appears to be verging on civil war.
►►Senior UN official blasts US drone strikes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said US drone attacks in Pakistan “raise serious questions about compliance with international law, in particular the principle of distinction and proportionality”. She also voiced concerns that the strikes were being conducted “beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control”. IntelNews provided this opinion on the matter, in 2009.