Monday, November 30, 2009

More F-35s to Test?

More F-35s to Test?: "We could learn as early as this week what the Pentagon plans to do in a bid to prevent the F-35 development program going massively over budget and schedule. Acquisition chief Ashton Carter met with program officials over the weekend and the prevailing rumor going in was that the Pentagon would add money and aircraft in Fiscal 2011 to accelerate flight testing and get the program back on track to complete development in 2013.

Remember that two aircraft were removed from the flight-test program two years ago as part of a 'mid-course review' that increased reliance on integration labs and flying testbeds. The mission-system test aircraft were cut to replenish the management reserve within the program budget, which had been eroded by the SWAT redesign, assembly delays and other issues.

Even if the Pentagon adds money and aircraft to the test program, dont expect any sudden acceleration. Lockheed Martin still has to get all the test aircraft flying - and keep them flying, which has so far not proved that easy. No sooner had the first F-35B arrived at Pax River on Nov. 15 to begin STOVL flight testing when the aircraft went down for 10-12 days maintenance to remove and replace the time-expired transparency-removal detonation chord bonded to the canopy. The down time was anticipated, and the work planned for Pax, says Lockheed.

blog post photo
Canopy chord keeps BF-1 grounded. (Photo: JPO)

Diverting early production aircraft to the test program would seem likely to impact the build-up of the training unit at Elgin, which is scheduled to receive its first CTOL F-35As in July 2010. But one report suggests the additional test aircraft would be Navy carrier-capable F-35Cs, the final version to fly and last to enter service. That would add mission-system test aircraft only towards the end of the development program, but would avoid impacting training, which has to start in 2010 to meet the Marine Corps 2012 initial operational capability deadline.

(Via Ares.)

Return to sender: Russian General Refuses to Accept Russian UAVs

Russian General Refuses to Accept Russian UAVs: "Russia's air force is refusing to buy domestically-manufactured unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) because they do not meet performance specifications, General Alexander Zelin, commander in chief of the air force said on Thursday.

‘Unfortunately, we havent managed to make UAVs that meet the technical and tactical specifications that we need,’ he said.

The general added that the Russian-made UAVs were unsatisfactory both because of their speed and flight altitude, but also because of the quality of the observation equipment aboard.

‘To put such drones into service is simply a crime,’ he said. ‘I am, therefore, refusing to sign any acceptance papers.’

The Russian army currently has first generation UAVs which can fulfill reconnaissance missions.

Russia recently bought 12 UAVs from Israel in a deal worth $53 million. Zelin said the Israeli UAVs were better quality and performed better than the Russian-made ones but said he doubted Tel-Aviv would be willing to transfer its know-how in this field to Moscow to enable Russian manufacturers to build better UAVs themselves.

(Via Ares.)

New Airbus glitch causes concern

(CNN) -- An Airbus airplane was forced to turn back to New York 90 minutes into a flight to Paris, Air France said Monday.

The Air France A380 turned back due to a "minor incident," the airline said, refusing to say what the technical hitch was.

Airbus also declined to specify what caused the plane to turn back, saying the incident was an issue for the Air France maintenance team not the aircraft's manufacturer.

The pilots made the decision to turn back "in strict accordance with procedures and as a precautionary measure... following a minor technical problem in order to carry out ground checks," Air France said.

The plane landed at New York's John F. Kennedy International airport "without incident" at 10:17 p.m. ET on Friday, November 27, Air France said. The plane was serviced and later completed its transatlantic journey, the airline said.
Air France had begun flying the brand-new A380 across the Atlantic only days before, Airbus said.

Its inaugural commercial flight from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport to JFK was on November 21.

Air France became the fourth airline to operate the superjumbo when it received its first A380 at the end of last month.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dems: Bush botched hunt for UBL

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama got some political cover Sunday for his upcoming announcement on sending more troops to Afghanistan.

A report released by the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blamed the Bush administration for failing to capture or kill Osama bin Laden when the al Qaeda leader was cornered in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountain region in December 2001. The report, released Sunday, said the situation in Afghanistan presented greater problems today because of the failure to nab bin Laden eight years ago.

Bin Laden had written his will, apparently sensing he was trapped, but the lack of sufficient forces to close in for the kill allowed him to escape to tribal areas in Pakistan, according to the report.

It said former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and top U.S. commander Gen. Tommy Franks held back the necessary forces for a "classic sweep-and-block maneuver" that could have prevented bin Laden's escape.

"It would have been a dangerous fight across treacherous terrain, and the injection of more U.S. troops and the resulting casualties would have contradicted the risk-averse, 'light footprint' model formulated by Rumsfeld and Franks," the report said.
When criticized later for not zeroing in on bin Laden, administration officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, responded that the al Qaeda leader's location was uncertain.

"But the review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants underlying this report removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora," the report said.

Removing the al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat.

On Tuesday, Obama will travel to West Point, New York, to announce his decision on a request by his commanding general in Afghanistan for up to 40,000 additional troops.

Obama is expected to send more than 30,000 U.S. troops and seek further troop commitments from NATO allies as part of a counterinsurgency strategy to wipe out al Qaeda elements and stabilize the country while training Afghan forces.

By releasing the report Sunday, Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, focused attention on the past failure of the Bush administration to take out bin Laden, saying that had created a greater problem today.

"Our inability to finish the job in late 2001 has contributed to a conflict today that endangers not just our troops and those of our allies, but the stability of a volatile and vital region," Kerry, D-Massachusetts, wrote in a letter of transmittal for the report.

When Kerry was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, he argued that the Bush administration botched the pursuit of bin Laden and that then-President George W. Bush "took his eye off the ball" in Afghanistan to invade Iraq.

The accusations were hotly disputed by Bush supporters and Franks. However, Gary Berntsen, the CIA operative who led the pursuit of bin Laden at Tora Bora, said in 2005 that his request for up to 800 U.S. troops to cut off the al Qaeda leader's escape route was denied.

Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations committee, told CNN's "State of the Union" that the new report "does serve as a convenient way for, perhaps, Democrats to say once again, there's another failing of the past administration" and that "all the problems have accumulated."

"I think we have to accept that there were many failings," said Lugar, of Indiana. "But the problem right now is, what do we do presently? What will the president's plan be? How much confidence do we have in this president and this plan?"
Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, responding to Lugar's comment, told CNN that Obama faced "the culmination of decisions that were made eight years" earlier, which he said "made the situation much more difficult" today.

According to the report, "removing the al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat."
"But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide," it said.

The report called bin Laden's escape "a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today's protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan."

The report also highlighted bin Laden's will, dated December 14, 2001, as an indication of the dire situation he faced.
"Bin Laden expected to die," it said, noting that a copy of the will that surfaced later is regarded as authentic.

"Allah commended to us that when death approaches any of us that we make a bequest to parents and next of kin and to Muslims as a whole," the report quoted bin Laden's will as saying, adding that he "instructed his wives not to remarry and apologized to his children for devoting himself to" holy war.

However, the report said, "fewer than 100 American commandos were on the scene with their Afghan allies and calls for reinforcements to launch an assault were rejected."
"Requests were also turned down for U.S. troops to block the mountain paths leading to sanctuary a few miles away in Pakistan," it continued. "The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines. Instead, the U.S. command chose to rely on airstrikes and untrained Afghan militias to attack bin Laden and on Pakistan's loosely organized Frontier Corps to seal his escape routes.

"On or around December 16, two days after writing his will, bin Laden and an entourage of bodyguards walked unmolested out of Tora Bora and disappeared into Pakistan's unregulated tribal area. Most analysts say he is still there today."

Editors note: It is interesting that the Dems' report didn't mention former President Clinton's failure to kill UBL as cited in the 9-11 Commission Report. Killing UBL then would most assuredly prevented the 9-11 attacks.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Party Crashers Met Obama

Washington (CNN) -- A couple who allegedly crashed this week's state dinner at the White House met President Obama in a reception line at the event, a White House official told CNN on Friday.

A White House photograph taken Tuesday evening shows Michaele Salahi, wearing a gold-accented red sari, clasping her hands around Obama's right hand as her smiling husband, Tareq, looks on. The dinner was held for visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is smiling next to the president in the photo.
An investigation into Tareq and Michaele Salahi has found that Secret Service agents did not follow protocol at a security checkpoint, the Secret Service said.

"The Secret Service is deeply concerned and embarrassed by the circumstances surrounding the State Dinner on Tuesday," the agency said in a statement Friday. "The preliminary findings of our internal investigation have determined established protocols were not followed at an initial checkpoint, verifying that two individuals were on the guest list."

The Salahis, who are aspiring reality TV stars, made news when they showed up at Tuesday's state dinner.

The White House says the Salahis were not invited, but their lawyer, Paul W. Garner, "states emphatically that the Salahis did not 'crash' this event," according to a statement from the couple's publicist, Mahogany Jones.

The Secret Service's statement says that although the Salahis went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, "they should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely."

"That failing is ours," the statement said.
The investigation continues and "appropriate measures have been taken to ensure this is not repeated," the agency said.

Also Friday, two Secret Service agents visited a Virginia winery to say they wanted to question the couple, according to the winery's manager.

Diane Weiss, manager at the Oasis Winery in Hume, Virginia, said the agents wanted to speak with the Salahis. Weiss said she didn't know their whereabouts.

The Warren County Report, a local newspaper, quoted Weiss as saying the agents said they wanted to speak with the couple and not arrest them. It also quoted her as saying that the Salahis live in Linden, Virginia, but receive mail at the winery.
And the agents said it was "imperative" that investigators speak with the couple and that they would "take whatever action" is necessary if they did not, the paper quoted Weiss as saying.

Weiss told CNN that the newspaper quoted her accurately, but she declined to elaborate.

Meanwhile, court records have revealed a more complete picture of the Salahis, who have left an extensive paper trail in federal bankruptcy and state court filings.
They are named in at least 16 different civil suits in Fauquier County, Virginia, near Washington, sometimes as plaintiffs, sometimes as defendants. Family members have sued the county and each other. The family winery, Oasis Winery, has sued Michaele Salahi.

They did not respond to CNN requests for comment Thursday about their legal history or the White House dinner.
"At this time the Salahis will not make any formal comments regarding the rumors and media speculation surrounding the White House State Dinner," Jones, their publicist, said in a statement.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi were engaged in a long court battle with his parents over the winery. Tareq Salahi sued his mother, Corinne, court records show, and the suit was dismissed.

The mother sued Tareq Salahi and the case went to trial. The outcome is not clear
from a Virginia courts Web site. Tareq and Michaele Salahi won control of the winery in 2007, but it has run into debt since then.

Oasis Winery filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February of this year, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records in the Eastern District of Virginia. Tareq Salahi is listed as company president in the filing. Listed creditors include the IRS, Fauquier County, the state of Virginia, several banks and American Express Corp., among others. The company claims about $335,000 in assets and $965,000 in liabilities.

Russian Train Derailment Terrorism?

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Investigators probing the derailment of an express train in Russia say they have found "elements of an explosive device" at the site.
The derailment killed at least 26 people and injured about 100, but there was no immediate word on who or what group might have been behind the action.

The investigative committee of the Russian prosecutor's office said Saturday police found "a crater with a depth of about 1.5 meters on the railroad bed" and traces of a bomb.
"Criminology experts have come to a preliminary conclusion that there was an explosion of an improvised explosive device equivalent to seven kilos of TNT," Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov said. He was quoted by Interfax, the Russian news agency.

Several leads are being pursued now. A criminal case has been opened under Article 205 ("terrorism") and Article 22 ("illegal possession or storage of weapons or explosives") of the Russian Criminal Code."
A total of 681 people -- 20 of them employees -- were on the Nevsky Express as it traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg on Friday night. The Nevsky Express is Russia's fastest train, equivalent to a bullet train.
The crash happened at 9:25 p.m. (1825 GMT) when the train was 280 kilometers (174 miles) from St. Petersburg, Russian state radio said.

At least three carriages carrying more than 130 people derailed and turned on their sides, and emergency workers were working to free anyone who may still be trapped inside.
The crash happened 44 minutes after another high-speed train, the Sapsan, had successfully traveled from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the same rails, a representative of the Russian Transport Police said during a video conference call Saturday.
In August 2007, an explosion on the tracks derailed the Nevsky Express, injuring 60 people in what authorities called a terrorist act. Some 27,000 passengers on 60 trains were facing delays Saturday as a result of the accident, Russian State TV reported.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Northwest Transcripts Released by FAA

(CNN) -- One of the two Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot the Minneapolis, Minnesota, airport last month told air traffic control that they had dropped from radio contact because of "cockpit distraction."
According to recordings released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration, air traffic controllers finally established contact with the pilots of Northwest Flight 188 over Eau Claire, Wisconsin, after the pilots had been out of radio contact for more than an hour.

"Ah, roger, we got distracted and we've flown over, ah, Minneapolis, we are overhead Eau Claire and would like to do a 180 and do arrival from Eau Claire," the cockpit said.

Later, air traffic controllers from Minneapolis asked, "Do you have time to give a brief explanation on what happened?"
"[Ah we're just dealing with some company issues] and that's all I can tell you right now at this time," the cockpit responded.

The FAA says that the brackets note where the recording is not entirely clear and that the words inside them represent "the best interpretation" under the circumstances.

Read transcripts of how air traffic controllers tried to reach the pilots (PDF)
Later, the air traffic controllers asked if the pilots, Northwest Captain Timothy B. Cheney and First Officer Richard I. Cole, could "elaborate on the distraction."
"Ah [just] cockpit distraction, that's all I can say," is the response.

The flight -- carrying 144 passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants -- eventually landed safely at Minneapolis. The FAA has revoked the licenses of both pilots, who have appealed the decision.
An air traffic controller told the pilots, "I just have to verify that the cockpit is secure."

The cockpit responded, "It is secure, we got distracted," according to the recording.
Air traffic control then apparently led the flight through maneuvers. Authorities said earlier that the maneuvers were to ensure that the pilots were in control of the plane.

In its letter to Cheney and Cole revoking their licenses, the FAA said the pilots were "extremely reckless" and endangered the public by flying an hour and half without contacting controllers.
The pilots have told federal investigators that they "lost track of time" while working on personal laptop computers, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

They became aware of their plane's position only after a flight attendant asked about the landing time, according to the NTSB.

Cheney and Cole were piloting Flight 188 from San Diego, California, to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport October 21 when air traffic controllers lost radio contact with their Airbus A320 over the Denver, Colorado, area, the FAA said.

Instead of beginning to descend as planned about 22 minutes before its scheduled arrival, the plane continued flying at its cruise altitude of 35,000 feet and passed over the Minnesota airport.

Air traffic controllers re-established radio contact after the plane had flown about 150 miles past its destination.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Where was the Secret Service? Couple crashes state dinner.

A couple of aspiring reality-TV stars from Northern Virginia appear to have crashed the White House’s state dinner Tuesday night, penetrating layers of security with no invitation to mingle with the likes of Vice President Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi — polo-playing socialites known for a bitter family feud over a Fauquier County winery and their possible roles in the forthcoming “The Real Housewives of Washington” — were seen arriving at the White House and later posted on Facebook photos of themselves with VIPs at the elite gathering.

“Honored to be at the White House for the state dinner in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady!” one of them wrote on their joint Facebook page at 9:08 p.m.

But a White House official said the couple were not invited to the dinner, not included on the official guest list and never seated at a table in the South Lawn tent.

A woman describing herself as a publicist for the Salahis denied that they were interlopers. Pressed for details, Mahogany Jones sent a statement saying simply: “The Salahis were honored to be a part of such a prestigious event.... They both had a wonderful time.”

In same room with world leaders
While the White House offered no official explanation, it appears to be the first time in modern history that anyone has crashed a White House state dinner. The uninvited guests were in the same room as President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, although it is unknown whether they met the Obamas and the guest of honor.

“Everyone who enters the White House grounds goes through magnetometers and several other levels of screenings,” said Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service. “That was the case with the state dinner last night. No one was under any risk or threat.”

Vice President Joe Biden is seen with Michaele Salahi in a photo posted on a Facebook page after the White House dinner Tuesday night.

Donovan said a preliminary internal investigation Wednesday identified “a Secret Service checkpoint which did not follow proper procedure to ensure these two individuals were on the invited guest list.” He declined to give further details. An administration official said the White House will conduct its own review.

The Salahis, both in their 40s, showed up about halfway through the guest arrivals. A Marine announced their names, and the couple — he in a tux, she in a striking red and gold lehenga (traditional Indian formalwear) — swept pass reporters and photographers, stopping several times to pose for pictures. They then walked into the White House lower hallway, where they mingled with guests on the red carpet before heading up to the cocktail reception in the East Room.

Later, they posted pictures that seem to chart their course through the night: Michaele posing with Marines outside near the White House doors, and with Katie Couric and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) inside the mansion. In the East Room, the Salahis both cozied up to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and his wife, Michelle.

But the best was yet to come: Once inside the dinner tent, they got pictures that appeared to show them with ABC’s Robin Roberts, Bollywood composer AR Rahman, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Obama Chief of Staff Emanuel (identified as “Ron” in the couple’s Facebook photo caption) and two with a grinning vice president. The photos end there — no shots of the Salahis sitting at a table, their seatmates or the post-dinner entertainment.

How could it happen? A former White House senior staffer — who more than a decade ago encountered a crasher at one of the executive mansion’s less-fancy parties — offered this theory:

A savvy pair of crashers, dressed to the nines, might arrive on foot at the visitors’ entrance, announce their names — then express shock and concern when the security detail at the gate failed to find them on the guest list. On a rainy night like Tuesday, with a crowd of 300-plus arriving, security might have lost track of or granted a modicum of sympathy to a pair who certainly looked as though they belonged there. If their IDs didn’t send up any red flags in the screening process, they would be sent through the magnetometers and into the White House.

And yet, the former staffer noted: Someone from the White House social office should have been posted at the guest entrance with the guards.

Once visitors were in, no one necessarily would ask them for further identification. They could check their coats, give their names to the Marine on duty, walk past reporters and into the lower hallway where guests picked up their table assignments. They would pass the junior staffers handing out seating cards and walk on up the stairs for cocktails in the East Room.

Later, all guests were directed to head for the dinner tent on the South Lawn. Facebook photos suggest that the Salahis walked into the tent; it’s unclear when they left. Reporters were cleared from the entryway by the time dinner seating got under way. There is no security checkpoint to leave the grounds.

The Salahis, longtime fixtures in local horse-country society, have recently seemed destined for national fame via reality TV. Michaele, a striking model-thin blonde who used to be a Redskins cheerleader, has been widely reported to be in contention as one of the “Real Housewives” in the forthcoming D.C. edition of the hit Bravo cable series. Although Bravo has not officially finalized its cast, its cameras have followed the couple at numerous parties — including the “America’s Polo Cup” held on the Mall in September, part of a series of tournaments the Salahis founded a few years ago.

Abby Greensfelder, head of the local production team Half Yard Productions, referred questions about the Salahis to Bravo. A Bravo representative declined to comment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Text Messages Reveal 9-11 Horror

(CNN) -- Newly released text messages reportedly from the morning of September 11, 2001, show panicked family members trying to contact loved ones and officials frantically trying to grasp what was happening.

More than half a million messages, released by whistleblower site Wikileaks, reveal the panic, horror and pain of what happened that morning in the words of those who experienced it.

On September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers commandeered four commercial jetliners, loaded with fuel for cross-country flights. Two were flown into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York, one crashed into the Pentagon, and another, headed for an unknown location, crashed in Pennsylvania when it was disrupted by passengers.

A total of 2,976 people -- not including the hijackers -- were killed in the attacks.
Some people witnessing the attacks reached out to loved ones out of fear there might have been more attacks coming and they might die.

"The only thoughts I have are of Nicholas, Ian and you," read one text message. "I am terrified. I needed to tell you that I truly love you. always, diane."
"I want to hold you now," one text message a minute later reads.
"I know you have a new relationship and do not care about me. But just in case anything happens know I love you hon. Missed Ya good bye."

The first indication of a problem comes at 8:50 a.m., five minutes the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
"An aloha call is starting. This is for a fire at 2wt ..."
Video: 9/11 text messages

Another text message references "a bomb detonation" in the World Trade Center and asks recipients of the message to report back assessments of their areas.
A minute later, firsthand reports started flooding in.

"The world trade center has just blow up, we seen the explosion outside our windows. Teresa ..."
At 8:53 a.m. a message from the New York Police Department's operations division mobilizes officers toward the World Trade Center, telling them to meet at Church and Vessey streets.
At 9:03 a.m. the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
"It's a deliberate attack ... a second plane just few into the second tower," a message said 52 seconds later.

By 9:25 a.m. the personal messages have grown more frequent and more frantic.
Companies begin sending out messages asking for head counts on all employees.
People begin sharing reports of what they are seeing and hearing on TV, including early reports of people jumping from the World Trade Center.

Family members panicked, struggling to get through jammed phone lines to find out if their loved ones were OK.
9:25:40 a.m.

"Please call my work as soon as you get in the office. Need to know you're safe."
9:29:38 a.m.
"Wondering where you are. Are you okay. Give me a call back asap. I just need to know these things. Even if it's collect. Call me. Darryl"
11:32:56 a.m.
"if i do not hear from you by high noon, i am going to pick laura up at school and tell her her father is dead."
"goodbye my going to miss yo," another said.
"Honey wanted to tell you how much i love you," one sender wrote. "I was a little worried. I Don't want to lose you now that I got you back. You mean everything to me. You have my whole heart and life. I love you so much."

Some texts brought relief.

"My dad survived! I got a call from stepmom's coworker saying my dad is alive, although that is all the info I have. I do not know if he is injured or unscathed."
"Abroer's father is alive," one text proclaims. "survived WTC collapse. I am trying to contact family members to find out more."
"urgent. It's tim. I'm okay. Call me at home...i was outside the building when it exploded, but i'm fine."
Others have to wait and worry. Numerous messages simply read: "Are you okay?" "Where are you?" or "CALL ME NOW!"
"pete is ok. He can't find his brother who works in the world financial center next to the trade center....." one message read.

The messages also give insight to the federal government's scramble to evacuate buildings, bases and high-level officials.
"Jim: DEPLOY TO MT. WEATHER NOW! Tom" reads one message, referring to Mount Weather, the underground bunker where high-level officials are taken in a national emergency and a command facility for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


SEALs accused of assaulting alleged terrorist

SEALs accused of assaulting alleged terrorist: "Three Navy SEALs are facing court-martial in connection with the alleged assault and mishandling of a detainee they captured in Iraq in early September, military officials said.The military provided few details of the circumstances, but a source with knowledge of the investigation confirmed for Navy Times that the detainee was Ahmed Hashim Abed, the alleged planner of the March 2004 ambush, killing and mutilation of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah.‘That’s why [the SEALs] went after him,’ the source said, who asked not to be named. He noted that the takedown was ‘kinetic’ but there was no gunfire. ‘[Abed] had a gun. The intel was perfect. No shots were fired.’The three SEALs — Special Warfare Operators 2nd Class Matthew McCabe and Jonathan Keefe, and SO1 Julio Huertas — will be arraigned Dec. 7 in a military court in Norfolk, Va., said Army Lt. Col. Holly Silkman, a spokeswoman with U.S. Special Operations Command Central.

All are assigned to SEAL Team 10, based in Little Creek, Va., Navy records show.McCabe is charged with one count each of assault of the detainee, dereliction of duty and making a false official statement, Silkman said.Keefe is charged with one count each of dereliction of duty and false official statement; Huertas is accused of dereliction of duty, making a false official statement and impeding an investigation, she said.Army Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, SOCCent commander, preferred the charges against the SEALs and will serve as the convening authority as the cases proceed to court-martial, tentatively scheduled for mid-January, Silkman said.The alleged incident happened in Iraq on or about Sept. 1, Silkman said.

None of the SEALs is confined, she added.The source said the charges stem not from the capture itself — which have a high potential for violence — but from later on, when Abed was under detention.‘If they really wanted to [beat] him that was the time do it,’ during the capture, the source said. ‘That’s why this is so ridiculous.’The charges were first reported by Fox News, which posted a story on its Web site Tuesday. The source confirmed that Abed was known by the military code ‘Objective Amber,’ but could not say if the capture went down in the city of Fallujah or in the outlying area.The source said the allegations began when a master-at-arms sailor assigned to guard Abed told a SEAL platoon commander that one of the operators had punched Abed in the stomach.‘This was reported by the SEAL platoon commander to the chain of command,’ he said.The SEALs have been assigned military attorneys to defend them in the cases, which will be tried separately as special courts-martial.One defense attorney said the SEALs refused to accept nonjudicial punishment, which are administrative actions that some in the military may consider as an admission of guilt.Neal Puckett, a defense attorney who is representing McCabe, said the SEALs are being essentially charged for allegedly giving the detainee ‘a punch in the gut.’They are expected to plead not guilty when they appear at their December arraignment, he said.

‘They are all together, and they all maintain that they are innocent of these charges,’ said Puckett, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and judge advocate.The SEALs were on the tail-end of their deployment to Iraq when the alleged incident happened, he said.McCabe’s special court-martial is slated to begin Jan. 19, he said.Huertas, 28, is from Blue Island, Ill., and enlisted in 1999. He has served in special warfare units since 2002. He has an Iraq Campaign Medal and was advanced to E-6 in June 2006, Navy records show.Keefe, 25, is from Yorktown, Va., and enlisted in 2006. He began SEAL training the same year, Navy records show. He was last advanced in June 2008.McCabe, 24 is originally from Perrysburg, Ohio, and enlisted in 2003. He served on the Amphibious Assault Ship Belleau Wood before training in special warfare. He was advanced in September 2007, Navy records show."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

Predator crashes over Afghanistan

Predator crashes over Afghanistan: "An MQ-1 Predator was lost over Afghanistan on Nov. 21, the Air Force announced four days after the accident.

The Predator crashed after operators lost contact with the plane over southern Afghanistan. Investigators are looking into why the radio link was lost and at other factors involved.There is no indication that enemy fire brought the plane down, a statement said.The Air Force lost 18 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles in fiscal 2009. The Nov. 21 crash was the first reported since fiscal 2010 began Oct. 1."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Laser downed 5 UAVs in May

Laser downed 5 UAVs in May: "A laser system built for the Air Force shot down five unmanned aircraft during a test in May at the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, Calif.The Mobile Active Targeting Resource for Integrated eXperiments — or MATRIX — fired a 2½ kilowatt-class high energy laser that knocked down the aircraft, according to an Air Force Research Laboratory statement.MATRIX ‘acquired, tracked’ and destroyed the targets at ‘significant ranges,’ the statement said. Scientists and engineers will design the laser system to protect the U.S. from enemy unmanned aircraft.It was unclear how the laser brought down the aircraft or how big they were.Boeing Directed Energy Systems built the MATRIX.

The defense contractor has also developed the Airborne Laser — a Boeing 747 with a laser mounted on the nose designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.Boeing also tested its Laser Avenger system at China Lake. The Humvee-mounted directed energy air defense system shot down another unmanned aircraft.The Air Force Research Lab sponsored the test, which also was attended by Army and Navy officials.‘These tests validate the use of directed energy to negate potential hostile threats against the homeland,’ Bill Baker, chief scientist of the Lab’s Directed Energy Directorate, said in a statement."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

Two wings get F on nuclear inspection

Two wings get F on nuclear inspection: "Two Air Force wings failed nuclear inspections in November, showing that the service’s nuclear mission still isn’t back on track.The 377th Air Base Wing and 498th Nuclear Systems Wing, both at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., received grades of unsatisfactory from Air Force Material Command and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency [DTRA] for problems in personnel reliability, maintenance operations and nuclear weapons security.

The 498th maintains nuclear warheads and cruise missiles while the 377th oversees training and installation security for the DTRA, the Air Force Inspection Agency and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, all based at Kirtland. The Nuclear Weapons Center maintains the service’s nuclear stockpile inside the U.S. The U.S. stockpile in Europe is overseen by U.S. Air Forces in Europe.‘Unsatisfactory inspection results should not be interpreted as suggesting that the ultimate security, safety or health of the American people has been put at risk,’ AFMC commander Gen.

Don Hoffman said in a statement. ‘However, we must meet the highest standards of safety, security and reliability in maintaining the nuclear force. Anything less than full compliance is not acceptable.’The wings are already working to correct the problems, according to the statement. Hoffman did not take away the wings’ certification to handle nuclear weapons.‘The mission of the inspected units continues while they work to refine their capabilities, processes and procedures,’ the statement read.Inspectors will return to both wings by late February.Hoffman did not say if the wings’ commanders, Col. Michael Duvall of the 377th and Col. Richard Stuckey of the 498th, will keep their jobs.

The Air Force sacked Col. Joel Westa and Col. Christopher Ayers in September after their nuclear wings at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., failed nuclear surety inspections.Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has instructed his numbered Air Force and major command leaders to hold wing commanders accountable.‘We owe it to our airmen and to the American public to ensure we have the right people for the times in these key positions, and this is what our numbered Air Force and major command commanders have done,’ Schwartz told Air Force Times in a telephone interview Oct. 30, the same afternoon Westa was fired."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

Pentagon Wants Troop Surge in Afghanistan

Washington (CNN) -- The Pentagon is making detailed plans to send about 34,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in anticipation of President Obama's decision on the future of the 8-year-old war, a defense official said Tuesday.
Obama held a lengthy meeting with top advisers Monday night and said Tuesday that he would announce plans for Afghanistan after the Thanksgiving holiday.

A Defense Department official with direct knowledge of the process said there has been no final word on the president's decision. But planners have been tasked with preparing to send 34,000 additional American troops into battle with the expectation that is the number Obama is leaning toward approving, the official said.
Obama ordered more than 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in March. Gen.
Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, reportedly has called for up to 40,000 more to wage a counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban, the Islamic militia originally ousted by the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The president has weighed several options for bolstering the American contingent, ranging from sending a few thousand troops to sending the 40,000 McChrystal requested.

McChrystal was among those who took part in Monday's conference with Obama and other top advisers, which broke up at 10 p.m.

Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, were among the other senior officials in the meeting.
Obama said Tuesday that the deliberations have been "comprehensive and extremely useful."

"It's going to be important to recognize that in order for us to succeed there, you've got to have a comprehensive strategy that includes civilian and diplomatic efforts," he said at a news conference Tuesday with visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The military has planning under way to send these units: three U.S. Army brigades, totaling about 15,000 troops; a Marine brigade with about 8,000 troops; a headquarters element of about 7,000; and between 4,000 and 5,000 support troops -- a total of approximately 34,000 troops, according to a defense official with direct knowledge of Pentagon operations.

CNN reported last month that this was the preferred option within the Pentagon.
The troops would be dispatched throughout Afghanistan but would be focused mainly on the southern and southeastern provinces, where much of the recent fighting has taken place.

Currently, brigades from Fort Drum in upstate New York and Fort Campbell in Kentucky are among those that are next in line to deploy.
About 68,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, along with about 45,000 from the NATO alliance.

Two U.S. military officials said NATO countries would be asked to contribute more troops to fill the gap between the 34,000 the Pentagon expects Obama to send and the 40,000 McChrystal wanted. The request is expected to come during a December 7 meeting at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell would not discuss specific numbers, but he said NATO would be asked for additional help.
"Clearly, if the president decides to commit additional forces to Afghanistan, there would be an expectation that our allies would also commit additional forces," Morrell said.

U.S.-led troops invaded Afghanistan in response to the al Qaeda terrorist network's September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The invasion overthrew the Taliban, which had allowed al Qaeda to operate from its territory, but most of the top al Qaeda and Taliban leadership escaped the onslaught.

Taliban fighters have since regrouped in the mountainous region along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, battling U.S. and Afghan government forces on one side and Pakistani troops on the other.

Al Qaeda's top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, remain at large and are suspected to be hiding in the same region.
The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 900 Americans and nearly 600 allied troops.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Tuesday suggests that the U.S public is split over whether more troops should be sent to Afghanistan. Fifty percent of those polled said they would support such a decision, with 49 percent opposed.
The poll found that 66 percent of Americans believe the war is going badly, up 11 percentage points from a similar survey in March. Overall support for the war has fallen to 45 percent, with 52 percent opposed.

Afghanistan was among the topics Obama and Singh discussed in their meetings Tuesday. Singh said the international community needs "to sustain its engagement in Afghanistan, to help it emerge as a modern state."
"The forces of terrorism in our region pose a grave threat to the entire civilized world and have to be defeated," he said. "President Obama and I have decided to strengthen our cooperation in the area of counterterrorism."

India is one Afghanistan's biggest international donors, contributing $1.2 billion in aid. That involvement has been met with suspicion in Pakistan, India's nuclear rival in South Asia. But it has helped the United States by sharing some of the burden of stabilizing the country and providing civilian support.
In addition, several leading analysts have argued that settling the decades-old tensions between India and Pakistan would allow both sides to pull troops off their borders, giving Pakistan more resources to battle the Taliban along its northwest frontier.

"I think that will certainly be at the center of the agenda this week," Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official, said on CNN's "American Morning." U.S. prospects in Afghanistan depend partly "on convincing Pakistan to be more cooperative in the fight against those terrorist groups."

"The United States is not going to be an outright mediator between Pakistan and India, but we can quietly, behind the scenes, push them to reduce their problems," Burns said.

Out Of Calling Area: New Techniques For Calling E.T.

Alien-seeking researchers have designed a new, simple code for sending messages into space. To a reasonably clever alien with math skills and a bit of astronomical training, the messages should be easy to decipher.

As of now, Earthlings spend much more time searching for alien radio messages than broadcasting news of ourselves. We know how to do it, but relatively little attention has been paid to “ensuring that a transmitted message will be understandable to an alien listener,” wrote California Institute of Technology geoscientist Michael Busch and Rachel Reddick, a Stanford University physicist, in a study filed online Friday on arXiv.

According to Busch and Reddick, neither the Arecibo message, beamed at star cluster M13 in 1974, nor the Cosmic Calls sent in 1999 and 2003 were tested for decipherability. So the pair devised their own alien-friendly messaging system: Busch invented the code, and Reddick role-played the part of an alien trying to decode it.

Like the earlier codes, Busch’s used radio to send a string of ones and zeroes. But whereas those messages were meant to be translated into pictures, Busch’s code is supposed to be turned into mathematical equations.

Reddick received the code, minus a chunk at its beginning and fragments throughout its body, as if she’d tuned in late to a signal slightly distorted by its passage through space. Knowing nothing about the code, and using nothing but a pencil, paper and a computer’s search-and-replace function, she decoded its start: descriptions of gravity and atomic mass ratios, which are “dimensionless numbers that should be universally recognized.” Once Reddick worked those out, the rest of the message — descriptions of atoms, chemical formulas for the elements required for life on Earth, and details of our solar system — came quickly.

The code does presume that alien listeners have “at least an equivalent knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, and physics,” wrote Busch and Reddick. But even five undergraduate students needed only an hour to figure out a few of Busch’s mathematical and grammatical basics, so it can’t be that hard.

For now, it seems unlikely that the code will actually be sent into space. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence runs on a shoestring budget, and doesn’t directly receive national funding. But if it’s this cheap and easy to talk to aliens, perhaps humanity should try more often.


Chinese Blogger Jailed

Beijing, China (CNN) -- A Chinese blogger who helped victims of a devastating earthquake has been sentenced to three years in prison, his attorney said Monday.

Huang Qi received the maximum sentence for "illegally holding secret state documents," according to his lawyer, Mo Shaoping.

The U.S. State Department had protested the blogger's jailing, saying his activities support China's efforts to institute the rule of law.

Huang was detained in June 2008 after working to help families of children killed in the May 12, 2008, Sichuan earthquake because of the collapse of poorly constructed school buildings, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid has said.
Huang, founder of the human rights Web site 64Tianwang, had been posting articles on the site criticizing the way the earthquake relief was being organized, according to the organization Reporters Without Borders.
"The reports we are seeing are biased," he wrote on May 20, 2008, according to the group.

"In reality, it is very difficult for NGOs to deliver food aid. They are obliged to go through government channels. The government is using its propaganda to portray itself as a savior to little avail. Few citizens trust the government because of the corruptions scandals that already occurred during similar disasters in the past."
Huang was charged with illegal possession of state secrets after posting the appeals and complaints of the families. Officials said they found two municipal documents in his house.

The Chinese government is penalizing someone who is trying to help the victims of the Sichuan earthquake

--Amnesty International
He was tried secretly in August, Amnesty International said.
The human rights organization protested the sentencing, saying Huang should not have been arrested and should be released immediately.

"The Chinese government is penalizing someone who is trying to help the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. Huang Qi should be treated as a model citizen, committed to the rule of law, but instead he has fallen victim to China's vague state secrets legislation," said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International's Asia Pacific program.

"We urge the judges to display humanity by freeing a seriously ill man who has already spent more than six and a half years of his life in prison," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement following Huang's sentencing last week.
"We also hope that the court will remember that all this courageous human rights activist did was provide information about the Sichuan earthquake victims, which cannot be considered a crime. If Huang were given another long prison sentence, we fear it could be fatal."

Huang previously spent five years in prison following a June 2000 arrest on the eve of the 11th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on demonstrators in Tinananmen Square, according to Reporters Without Borders.
He was charged with subversion for posting articles about the incident by exiled dissidents on his Web site.
Reporters Without Borders in 2004 awarded him its Cyber-Freedom Prize "for his online defense of free expression and human rights," the group said.

The organization said last week Huang had been held in "very harsh conditions since his arrest, although he has been suffering from very bad headaches."
The State Department raised concerns about Huang's arrest before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited China in February.

Huang plans to appeal the sentencing by the Chengdu Wuhou District Court, Mo said. If unsuccessful, he is scheduled to be released in June 2011, three years after authorities arrested him.
CNN's Wen-Chun Fan in Beijing, China contributed to this report.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Get ready for the dog & pony show: 9-11 terrorists to plead not guilty.

The attorney for at least one of the 9/11 attack planners announced that Ali Abdal al-Aziz Ali would plea not guilty in a New York court room. However, the alleged terrorist will not deny his role in the planning of a terrorist attack that rocked New York City and ultimately killed more than 3,000 people.

Attorney Scott Fenstermaker said his client will use the New York federal court trial as a platform to express his political view and explain why he attacked the country. According to the attorney representing al-Aziz Ali, the five 9/11 terrorists have been discussing the trial among themselves at their current residence in Guantanamo Bay.

Fenstermaker claims the defendants will explain “their assessment of American foreign policy in the courtroom.”

The trial is expected to get under way sometime next year in New York and the security price tag has soared past the $75 million mark, something that has sparked opposition debate as to the soundness of trying war criminals in open federal court.

In an interview with Fox News, the father of Todd Breamer, who uttered the now famous words “let’s roll” aboard flight 93, explained his profound objection to the terrorist ability to use U.S. courtrooms as a platform to expose radical views and insult the victim’s families all over again.

David Breamer was able to attend the Senate Judiciary hearing last week where Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General pointed out that the suspected terrorists would receive a fair trial. President Obama also weighed in on this issue and stated he was confident the terrorists would receive a guilty verdict and pay the ultimate price – death.

Breamer wrote an Op-Ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal in which he referred to the New York City trial as September 11th the sequel.

With his eyes and ears open to the legal process Beamer said, “This showed a political system that we have a ruling party. The decision to try the terrorists in open court is a violation of the oath he (Holder) took, I believe, that he is duty bound to protect our country and uphold the Constitution.”

The trial comes with unnecessary risks and forces New Yorkers to face ramped up security during the trial, according to Breamer. “These evil people have confessed their guilt already and have asked to be executed. We should quickly grant their wish.”

The "left-minded decision" of allowing these terrorists a platform will only cause insecurities among the 9/11 survivors and leave taxpayers with another unnecessary tax burden, he finished.

JSTARS Now Tracking Taliban in Afghan Mountains

New Mission, New Techniques


Airplanes that were designed in the 1980s to spot Soviet tanks rumbling through central Germany, and used in Iraq to track forces moving under the cover of a sandstorm, now are being used in Afghanistan to spot Taliban fighters trudging on foot at night along rough mountain trails.

The planes are E-8C JSTARS - Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.

"We're looking at some new applications for the radar," confirmed Col. William Welsh, operations group commander at the 116th Air Control Wing, which operates the U.S. Air Force's 17 JSTARS planes and is based at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. "We're trying to determine exactly what its capabilities are."

In Iraq, and especially in Afghanistan, the planes have proven useful in spotting and tracking "dismounted forces" - groups of Taliban and other fighters moving on foot.

The Air Force declines to say just how sensitive JSTARS radar is or whether it operates at its customary 35,000 feet. But Welsh put it this way: "It does not necessarily have to be a large group."

According to information published by the Air Force, JSTARS crews flying over Afghanistan "are often looking for a single ground mover in an area of interest."

The planes are equipped with giant Doppler radars, which detect motion by aiming a radar signal to the ground and analyzing changes in the frequency of the signal that bounces back.

"Everything in motion creates a Doppler shift, and the radar is set to detect it," Welsh said.

In the past, JSTARS radars have been set to detect large, relatively fast-moving objects, such as tanks and armored vehicles. They also had limited ability to detect helicopters and slow, low-flying aircraft.

"The big change, the new application, is looking at potentially smaller and slower targets," Welsh said. Of particular interest: Taliban fighters. "We're still going through the learning process and developing tactics, techniques and procedures," he said.

The Air Force is adjusting JSTARS operating methods to match reality on the ground in Afghanistan, said Michael Isherwood, a senior analyst for Northrop Grumman and a former Air Force fighter pilot.

"There is a real lack of infrastructure," he said. "There are no railroads, no interstate [highways]. There is a culture of moving from place to place on foot, on horse, over trails, literally climbing up a mountain and down the other side. That's how they get around."

And that's what JSTARS now must be able to detect.

The plane itself is big - a 153-foot-long modified Boeing 707 airliner. It has a 24-foot-long radar antenna that is housed in a 27-foot-long canoe-shaped radome attached to its belly.

Inside, JSTARS is packed with computers that analyze radar signals and with communications gear. It has 18 work stations that are typically manned by a mix of Air Force and Army radar and communications specialists.

The way it is traditionally used, the JSTARS radar can look down over 19,305 square miles and detect moving targets as far away as 155 miles.

But in Afghanistan, instead of maintaining that sweeping view, the radar is being focused on up to 14 separate target areas that are each 10 kilometers square.

In this configuration, a JSTARS plane can simultaneously watch the area around several U.S. outposts to warn of approaching enemies, monitor convoys, support combat operations and conduct surveillance along key roads and borders, according to Northrop Grumman, which installed and maintains the equipment that turns a 707 into a JSTARS.

To make the JSTARS radar spot fighters on foot rather than tanks on the move, "you adjust the parameters," Isherwood said, "adjust the sensitivity."

Welsh makes it sound not quite so simple. "The bottom line for us is that we're still evaluating what our capabilities are when we start looking at low radar cross-section targets," he said.

How small can it be and how slow can it go? The Air Force doesn't yet know, he said. And "it will be classified when we do."

With its radars, JSTARS can see through clouds, smoke and dust, and it is effective during the day, at night and in foul weather, Northrop said.

Welsh won't say when it is being flown in Afghanistan. "Our flying schedule is classified," he said. But reports from Afghanistan suggest that much of the JSTARS work there is done at night.


Italy arrests four men accused of funding Mumbai terror attacks

Milan, Italy - Brescia is a quiet town east of Milan and few would think of it as a hot spot for international terrorism. Yet Italian authorities believe that last year's terror attack in Mumbai (Bombay), where 173 people lost their lives, was partially planned from there.

On Saturday night, Italian police arrested two Pakistani nationals, Mohammad Yaqub Janjua and his son Aamar, on charges they helped pay for the attack. The two own "Madina Trading," a money transfer agency, which made it easy for them to send large amounts of currency abroad without attracting attention. Authorities became suspicious when they learned that 400,000 euros ($599,000) were transferred to a false name.

"This operation confirms that terrorism is a global threat," said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. "Yet it also demonstrates our police forces are able to face it."

The police announced they arrested other two Pakistani men in Brescia. The pair are accused of breaking immigration laws, but police suspect that they, too, supported the Mumbai attacks. A fifth man is currently on the run.

Local authorities say these arrests are part of the growing body of evidence that northern Italy has become a fund-raising spot for international terrorist organizations.

Earlier this month, a judge in Milan issued 17 arrest warrants for people accused of raising 1 million euros ($1.49 million) to fund terrorist activities in Algeria. Six of them were arrested in Italy, the others were detained as part of a Pan-European operation.

In recent years, a number of North African immigrants in the Milan area have been arrested on suspicion of raising funds for Al Qaeda. A few of these cases have developed into international disputes.

Tunisian-born Riadh Nasri and Moez Fezzani, who where held for years by the US in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are accused of having raised funds for Al Qaeda from 1997 to 2001 in Milan. The Obama administration recently transferred both to Italy, where they are expected to be tried.

"We are not talking about terrorist cells building bombs or directly planning attacks, but rather of people involved in money laundering and document counterfeiting," says Andrea Margelletti, head of the Center for International Studies in Rome.

"Those activities need to take place where money is abundant and where there is a large immigrant community," he says. "That's what makes Lombardy [the wealthy region where Brescia and Milan are] a good spot. But other wealthy areas in Germany or France face the same problem as well."

Yet others says there's something more specific that makes Italy a good fundraising spot for terrorists.

"Overall, Italian authorities tend to be more lenient on international terrorism when compared to other European countries," says Giampiero Giacomello, who teaches strategic studies at the University of Bologna.

When it comes to terrorism, argues Mr. Giacomello, Italian authorities tend to be less proactive than their British, Spanish, or French counterparts: "After all, we didn't suffer the attacks they did, so the public doesn't care all that much"

On the other hand, the Italian police have other priorities: "We are the only Western European democracy still facing huge problems with organized crimes and domestic terrorism," says Giacomello. "First comes the war on the Mafia, then the Red Brigades [a local Marxist terror group], and international terrorism comes only third."

Before 9/11 "there was a tradition of closing an eye," says Giacomello. Now authorities are not very proactive, but respond quickly when asked by allies. "I wouldn't be surprised if the input for this weekend's arrests came directly from New Delhi."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Do you want to play a game - Iran?

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran plans to launch a large aerial military exercise Sunday to prepare for any possible attack, state media said.
The five-day exercise was to cover a vast area in the country's northwest, west, south and southwest, Press TV said, citing Brig. Gen. Ahmad Miqani.
Iran's regular military and its elite Revolutionary Guards were to participate in the exercise against aerial attacks, especially against Iran's nuclear plants, according to Press TV.

The report did not offer further details about the scope of the exercise, but came as world powers have been strategizing about how to deal with Iran's apparent rejection of a key part of a nuclear deal.

The United States, Russia, China, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, along with the European Union, are trying to map a way forward on Tehran's controversial nuclear program. They seek to reduce international fears that Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country refused a request to send its partly enriched uranium abroad to be turned into material for medical research.

However, he said, Tehran might allow the nuclear material to be reprocessed inside Iran, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.
The nuclear deal, hammered out in October with the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is aimed to reduce the amount of raw material Iran has to build a nuclear bomb.

President Obama has warned of "consequences" if Iran does not accept the plan.
Iran says it intends to produce nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes, including civilian electricity and medical research.
Iranian media reported on Saturday that, according to a senior Iranian lawmaker, the country is capable of producing partly enriched uranium up to 20 percent, but had requested to buy the fuel from other countries instead. The move was described as a sign of good will.

"Given that Iran is capable of enriching uranium to a level more than 5 percent inside the country, it could well take a step to produce the fuel for its Tehran (research) reactor," said Kazem Jalali, of the parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, according to Press TV.
However, Iran sees buying the fuel as a better option, he said.

Editors note: The exercise will undoubtedly be monitored closely by the U.S. intelligence community hoping it will reveal military capabilities, reaction times, etc. Thanks Iran!

To kill the snake - you cut off the head.

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Security forces in Afghanistan have killed or captured more than 30 high-level militants, including many accused of participating in roadside bomb attacks, military officials said.

Twenty-six militants have been captured, and eight have been killed, with most of them senior leaders in the Taliban and the Haqqani network, according to a news release issued by NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

The militants -- "known for leading the planning and undertaking of deadly attacks" against civilians, government officials and soldiers -- were captured or killed between August 20 and October 17, the force reported. The insurgents also facilitated the "trafficking of fighters, weapons, explosives and money to support their terrorist activities," the force said.

The force did not explain under what circumstances the militants were killed or detained.

Among the dead are Mullah Farid Fazil Lang, who is accused of planning and participating in attacks against Afghan and ISAF soldiers, the force said.
Lang, who commanded a cell in charge of preparing roadside bombs, was involved in the kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde in November 2008, the force said.

Rohde was snatched outside Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, but was later held in Pakistan. He escaped in June after seven months in Taliban captivity.
Among the detained were Karim Shakan and Matiullah, the force said.
Shakan, a Taliban commander, assisted in the "movement and use of IEDs," or improvised explosive devices. He recruited local Afghans for the insurgency and preached anti-government messages," according to the force.
Matiullah served as an Afghan national police officer in Parwan province, just north of Kabul, when he was linked to insurgents, the force said. He was accused of passing on information to the insurgency.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spies like them ...

Washington (CNN) -- A former State Department employee and his wife, accused of illegally aiding the government of Cuba for nearly 30 years, pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges.

Walter Kendall Myers, 72, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud. He agreed to forfeit $1.7 million related to the two counts of wire fraud and to serve a life prison sentence.

His wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to gather and transmit national defense information. She agreed to serve a sentence of between 6 and 7½ years in prison.
The couple, who appeared in U.S. District Court on Friday, were captured June 4 after an FBI agent posing as a Cuban intelligence officer managed to coax them into offering information on U.S. government personnel, authorities said.

In a diary quoted in the federal affidavit released in June, Myers expressed his opinions on the flaws of the United States and the appeal of Cuba. "The abuses of our system, the lack of decent medical system, the oil companies and their undisguised indifference to public needs, the complacency about the poor, the utter inability of those who are oppressed to recognize their own condition ...," he wrote of the United States.

"Have the Cubans given up their personal freedom to get material security? Nothing I have seen yet suggests that," he wrote. "I can see nothing of value that has been lost by the revolution. The revolution has released enormous potential and liberated the Cuban spirit."

The indictment said Kendall Myers, known to Cuban intelligence as Agent 202, and Gwendolyn Myers, known as Agent 123 and Agent E-634, engaged in activities "which spanned nearly three decades."
Conviction on the wire fraud charge would carry a sentence of up to 20 years, illegally acting as an agent of a foreign government would carry a sentence of up to 10 years, and the conspiracy charge would carry a sentence of up to five years.


Houston - we don't have a problem - so why is that alarm sounding?

(CNN) -- Astronauts aboard the international space station and space shuttle Atlantis woke up to a worrying sound -- alarms indicating a fire and dangerous loss of pressure, NASA said Friday.

However, a check revealed no serious trouble.

Depressurization-caution alarms sounded just after 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday, waking the shuttle and station crew, NASA said. The flight control teams on the ground determined there was no depressurization and shut off ventilation fans.

The crew was never in any danger, NASA said, and teams on the ground are looking into the cause of the false alarm.
Flight control teams at Mission Control in Houston, Texas, were bringing the station back to normal soon after the alarms, but it was 10:15 p.m. by the time the crew was able to go back to sleep because they had to wait for the station's ventilation system to be reactivated, NASA said.

Crew members go back to work Friday when they'll be focusing on preparations for Saturday's spacewalk, NASA said. They'll have to recharge batteries, switch out spacesuits and review procedures.
They also will use the shuttle's robotic arm to grab a second cargo pallet of spare equipment Atlantis brought up in advance of its transfer to the space station Saturday, NASA said.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

FAA Glitch Impacts Military Air Defense?


Since 9/11, the military's air defense network over the U.S. has had the ability to monitor commercial airline traffic via Federal Aviation Administration radars. So today's F.A.A. computer glitch that caused widespread flight delays across the country, also affected the military's ability to see some of the information from the F.A.A.

But, but military officials tell ABC News, the interruption did not affect its ability to take emergency action, like scrambling fighter jets to intercept aircraft acting in a suspicious manner, what the military calls "tracks of interest."

"At no given time was our ability to execute our air sovereignty mission affected nor our ability to respond to a track of interest within the United States," says Lt. Col. Susan Romano, a spokesperson for CONR. the Continental U.S. division of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Romano says that within seconds of the glitch, the F.A.A. notified military authorities that there was an interruption in the military's ability to see some of the flight information on radars.

This is the same 24 hour conference call-like network involved in the incident where the NorthWest passenger jet overshot its intended destination of Minneapolis last month. In that instance, the F.A.A. was criticized for not getting the informing the military in a timely fashion that a plane had overshot its destination.

Within minutes of today's notification Romano says, the CONR operations center and the two air defense sectors that have watch over the entire U. S. had worked out solutions for the four hours that the system was out.

The Eastern Air Defense Sector, based in Rome, N.Y., and the Western Air Defense Sector, based at McChord AFB, in Washington state monitor air traffic for CONR. If they detect tracks of interest their information is used to scramble fighter jets.

Utah meteor caught on security cam.

NBC -- A stunning sight lit up the sky over Utah and several western states Wednesday.

The Willard Eccles Observatory in Utah shot video of a meteor early Wednesday morning, just after midnight.

Witnesses say it was very bright and lit up the sky for eight to ten seconds.

People reported seeing it in Utah, Idaho, Nevada and California

CIA Secret 'Torture' Prison Found at Fancy Horseback Riding Academy


The CIA built one of its secret European prisons inside an exclusive riding academy outside Vilnius, Lithuania, a current Lithuanian government official and a former U.S. intelligence official told ABC News this week.

Outside Lithuania the CIA used a former barn to interrogate al Qaeda members.
Where affluent Lithuanians once rode show horses and sipped coffee at a café, the CIA installed a concrete structure where it could use harsh tactics to interrogate up to eight suspected al-Qaeda terrorists at a time.

"The activities in that prison were illegal," said human rights researcher John Sifton. "They included various forms of torture, including sleep deprivation, forced standing, painful stress positions."

Lithuanian officials provided ABC News with the documents of what they called a CIA front company, Elite, LLC, which purchased the property and built the "black site" in 2004.

ithuania agreed to allow the CIA prison after President George W. Bush visited the country in 2002 and pledged support for Lithuania's efforts to join NATO.

"The new members of NATO were so grateful for the U.S. role in getting them into that organization that they would do anything the U.S. asked for during that period," said former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, now an ABC News consultant. "They were eager to please and eager to be cooperative on security and on intelligence matters."

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite declined ABC's request for an interview.

ABC News first reported that Lithuania was one of three eastern European countries, along with Poland and Romania, where the CIA secretly interrogated suspected high-value al-Qaeda terrorists, but until now the precise site had not been confirmed. Read that report here.

Until March 2004, the site was a riding academy and café owned by a local family. The facility is in the town of Antaviliai, in the forest 20 kilometers northeast of the city center of Vilnius, near an exclusive suburb where many government officials live.

Congress opens investigation into Fort Hood shootings

Congress opens investigation into Fort Hood shootings: "A key congressional committee on Thursday opened its investigation into the November 5 Fort Hood shootings with a pledge to find out whether authorities failed to 'connect the dots' and could have prevented the attack.


(Via - U.S..)

Cyberwar - Not a game.

CNET) -- Major countries and nation-states are engaged in a "Cyber Cold War," amassing cyberweapons, conducting espionage, and testing networks in preparation for using the Internet to conduct war, according to a new report to be released on Tuesday by McAfee.

In particular, countries gearing up for cyberoffensives are the U.S., Israel, Russia, China, and France, the says the report, compiled by former White House Homeland Security adviser Paul Kurtz and based on interviews with more than 20 experts in international relations, national security and Internet security.
"We don't believe we've seen cases of cyberwarfare," said Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at McAfee. "Nations have been reluctant to use those capabilities because of the likelihood that [a big cyberattack] could do harm to their own country. The world is so interconnected these days."
Threats of cyberwarfare have been hyped for decades. There have been unauthorized penetrations into government systems since the early ARPANET days and it has long been known that the U.S. critical infrastructure is vulnerable.

However, experts are putting dots together and seeing patterns that indicate that there is increasing intelligence gathering and building of sophisticated cyberattack capabilities, according to the report titled "Virtually Here: The Age of Cyber Warfare."
"While we have not yet seen a 'hot' cyberwar between major powers, the efforts of nation-states to build increasingly sophisticated cyberattack capabilities, and in some cases demonstrate a willingness to use them, suggest that a 'Cyber Cold War' may have already begun," the report says.

Because pinpointing the source of cyberattacks is usually difficult if not impossible, the motivations can only be speculated upon, making the whole cyberwar debate an intellectual exercise at this point. But the report offers some theories.


Computer Glitch Causes Flight Delays

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- A computer system in Atlanta, Georgia, that pilots use to file flight plans was not working properly Thursday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said there are problems processing flight plans and that air traffic controllers are having to enter the plans manually. That means there are going to be "some delays" until the issue is resolved, she said.
The extent of the problem was not immediately clear. The information in the network is required to launch planes expeditiously.

Airplane safety is not affected, the FAA said. Planes in the air have radar coverage and communication, according to the FAA.
The system -- the National Airspace Data Interchange Network, or NADIN -- appears to be the same one that failed in August 2008. The FAA said flight plans are being processed through the network's Salt Lake City, Utah office.
Brown also said there are weather delays in the Northeast.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nuclear Agency Warns of More Iranian Plants


WASHINGTON -- The United Nations atomic watchdog said Iran could be constructing a number of covert nuclear installations in addition to a secret uranium-enrichment facility the Obama administration disclosed in late September.

The International Atomic Energy Agency also said in a quarterly report released Monday that Iranian officials have told the U.N. that Tehran plans to begin operating the previously unknown nuclear-fuel facility outside the holy city of Qom by 2011.

The IAEA report is the last to be released under departing Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. U.S. officials have long criticized the Egyptian for deflecting Washington's criticism of Iran in official reports. Diplomats said Monday that the latest report was notable for its sharp tone.

U.S. and European officials believe the Qom site is designed to process Iran's low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade material. The IAEA said in its new report that Tehran has produced 1.76 tons of low-enriched uranium, enough to produce one or two atomic devices if enriched further.

In the report, the IAEA urged Iran to provide more information on the Qom plant, as well as greater access to Iranian scientists and documents. Without that access, the agency added, the international community can't be certain Tehran isn't developing a much larger clandestine nuclear infrastructure for military applications.

"The agency has indicated [to Iran] that its declaration of the new facility reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other facilities," the IAEA report said. "[It] gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities not declared."

Iran told U.N. investigators who visited the Qom facility last month that it began construction in 2007. But the IAEA said in its report that technical analysis and satellite imagery suggested Tehran actually started working on the plant in 2002.

The IAEA's disclosure Monday places added pressure on the Obama administration's efforts to use diplomacy to constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions. President Barack Obama has given Iran until year-end to show a commitment to negotiations or face expansive new economic sanctions.

Last month, the U.S. and other global powers presented Iran an offer to better manage Tehran's stockpile of nuclear fuel. The deal calls for Iran to ship roughly 70% of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for reprocessing into fuel rods for Tehran's medical-research reactor. The White House believes the transfer of the nuclear fuel to international custody would prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons in the near term, while buying time for diplomacy.

In recent weeks, however, Iran has started to step back from its initial commitment to the nuclear-fuel deal. Tehran has said it won't agree to shipping out its low-enriched uranium in one batch. U.S. officials said that without a single-batch transfer of Iran's fuel, the deal loses its merits, and they stressed that Washington won't renegotiate its offer.

Open Questions

The IAEA says Iran's responses to key questions reduce confidence in its declarations.

Does Iran have undeclared nuclear sites?
Iran says it will announce new sites at least six months before operations begin.
When did Iran begin building an enrichment plant in Qom?
In 2007, Iran says, because of 'threats of military attack.'
"Now is the time for Iran to signal that it wants to be a responsible member of the international community," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday. "We will continue to press meet its international nuclear obligations."

Iran has said its nuclear program is focused wholly on peaceful ends. On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Western pressure only makes Iran more determined to advance its nuclear capabilities.

"Cooperation with Iran in the nuclear field is in the interests of Westerners. Their opposition will make Iran more powerful and advanced," he said in a statement posted late Sunday on the presidential Web site.

Mr. Obama is using his first trip to Asia as president to try to gain Russian and Chinese support for new financial sanctions against Iran in case diplomacy fails. Both Moscow and Beijing have voiced reluctance to back new coercive measures against Tehran. Both nations have deep energy and security ties to Iran.

On Monday, however, Moscow suggested that it might be more supportive of U.S. policy.

Russia's energy minister told state media that a Russian-designed nuclear reactor being constructed in Iran wouldn't be operational this year. Russian officials cited technical issues, but U.S. officials say they believe the announcement may be an effort to pressure Iran because Russia built the reactor and has committed to supply fuel.

The IAEA's Mr. ElBaradei leaves his post at the end of the month and will be succeeded by Japan's Yukiya Amano, who has suggested he will play a less political role than his predecessor and focus more on technical aspects of preventing nuclear proliferation. Some U.S. officials say the IAEA could take a harder line on Iran and Syria in coming years under Mr. Amano's stewardship.

The IAEA on Monday also said Syria continues to defy U.N. requests for greater cooperation into a probe of Damascus's alleged nuclear activities. The U.S. charges Syria with secretly building a nuclear reactor with the support of North Korea. The Israeli air force destroyed the site in late 2007.

The IAEA has specifically been seeking President Bashar Assad's help in tracing uranium particles that U.N. investigators found last year at the bombed site. Syria denies it was secretly building the reactor. But IAEA officials said the uranium isn't from Syria's declared stock, nor is it likely to have come from Israeli munitions, as Damascus claims.

The IAEA also is seeking clarity from Syria on traces of fissile material that agency investigators found during an inspection of Damascus's research reactor. "Essentially, no progress has been made since the last report to clarify any of the outstanding issues," said the IAEA's report.

The U.S. and some Western governments have discussed in recent months the merits of pushing the IAEA to conduct a "special inspection" of Damascus's alleged nuclear infrastructure. If such an inspection was approved by the IAEA's board, Syria would either have to comply or potentially face U.N. sanctions.

Syria is Iran's closest strategic ally and the two nations cooperate closely in arming and funding militant groups fighting Israel, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Some Western diplomats said there have been concerns that Tehran was aiding Damascus's nuclear pursuits, though the IAEA hasn't disclosed any evidence of this.


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