Wednesday, August 25, 2010
WASHINGTON - The most serious cyber attack on the U.S. military's networks came from a tainted flash drive in 2008, forcing the Pentagon to review its digital security, a top US defense official said Aug. 25.
The thumb drive, which was inserted in a military laptop in the Mideast, contained malicious code that "spread undetected on both classified and unclassified systems, establishing what amounted to a digital beachhead, from which data could be transferred to servers under foreign control,"
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs.
The code was placed on the drive by "a foreign intelligence agency," Lynn wrote.
"It was a network administrator's worst fear: a rogue program operating silently, poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of an unknown adversary."
Previous media reports speculated that the attack may have originated from Russia.
The Pentagon had never openly discussed the incident, but Lynn chose to reveal the details of the attack as officials try to raise public awareness of the growing threat posed to government computer networks.
The incident served as a wake-up for the Pentagon and prompted major changes in how the department handled digital threats, including the formation of a new cyber military command, Lynn said.
After the 2008 assault, the Pentagon banned its work force from using flash drives, but recently eased the prohibition.
Since the attack, the military has developed methods to uncover intruders inside its network, or so-called "active defense systems," according to Lynn.
But he added that drafting rules of engagement for defending against cyber attack was "not easy," as the laws of war were written before the advent of a digital battlefield.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:41 PM
Thousands have fled their homes in southern coastal areas in Pakistan
The Pakistani Taliban are planning to attack foreigners helping with flood relief efforts in the country, a senior US official has warned.
The Taliban plan "to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan", the official told the BBC.
The official also said "provincial ministers in Islamabad" may be at risk.
The warning comes as thousands flee their homes in southern coastal areas as floods sweep down from the north.
The UN says more than 17 million people have been affected by the monsoon floods, and about 1.2 million homes have been destroyed.
Some five million Pakistanis have no shelter, and urgently need tents or plastic sheeting to protect them from the sun.
According to information available to the US government, Tehrik-e Taliban plans to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan," the official told the BBC on condition of anonymity.
"Tehrik-e Taliban also may be making plans to attack federal and provincial ministers in Islamabad."
The BBC's James Reynolds, in Washington, says this marks the first time that the US has specifically warned about attacks in connection to the floods in Pakistan.
It is not yet clear what effect this warning will have on US involvement in relief efforts in Pakistan, our correspondent adds.
The US is one of a number of countries to have sent aid and assistance to Pakistan. The US Agency for International Development says that it has so far provided around $150m in support to victims of the flood.
The warning came hours after a top US general involved in the military relief effort said his men had not encountered any security problems in flying aid to Pakistan.
"We have seen no security threat whatsoever in the three weeks we have been operating here," Brigadier General Michael Nagata was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.
He added that the Pakistani military had done a "highly effective job in providing our force protection and security".
Nations, including the US, have pledged more than $700m (£552m) for relief efforts in Pakistan.
Workers have begun clearing up as the floods recede in the north and the UN has appealed for more helicopters to reach 800,000 people who are cut off.
But some 200,000 people have been evacuated in the Thatta area of the southern province of Sindh, where dozens of villages are submerged.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:29 PM
CNN) -- The whistle-blower website WikiLeaks on Wednesday posted what it said was an internal CIA report into the perception that the United States exports terrorism, but one U.S. official said it does not divulge spectacular developments.
The three-page document, dated February 2, 2010, asks, "What If Foreigners See the United States as an 'Exporter of Terrorism?' "
"These sorts of analytic products -- clearly identified as coming from the agency's 'Red Cell' -- are designed to simply provoke thought and present different points of view," said CIA spokesman George Little.
A U.S. intelligence official said, "it's always disturbing when classified information is inappropriately disclosed." However the official added, "this is not a blockbuster paper."
The document, promised by the group in a Twitter message on Tuesday, is labeled "secret," the lowest level of classification.
The website set off a firestorm recently when it posted some 76,000 U.S. documents related to the war in Afghanistan. The group has said it has another 15,000 documents, which it plans to release soon.
The U.S. Defense Department has demanded WikiLeaks return all documents belonging to the Pentagon and delete any records of them. Officials in Afghanistan have also criticized the leak.
The founder and editor of the website, Julian Assange, was arrested in absentia last week in Sweden on charges of rape, but the warrant was revoked less than a day later by Chief Prosecutor Eva Finne.
Assange told the Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera on Sunday the accusations are "clearly a smear campaign."
"The only question is, who was involved?" he asked, declining to say who he thinks is behind the effort.
Separately on Tuesday, the attorney for the alleged victims told CNN rumors that the Pentagon or CIA was somehow involved in the sex crime accusations against Assange are "complete nonsense."
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also has criticized the organization's last leak of documents saying it would have a significant negative impact on troops and allies, revealing techniques and procedures.
Assange has defended the leak by saying it can help shape the public's understanding of the war. He said the material was of no operational significance and that WikiLeaks tried to ensure the material did not put innocent people at risk.
Assange reportedly has spent his life developing the tech skills needed to set up WikiLeaks. When he was a teenager in Melbourne, Australia, he belonged to a hacker collective called the International Subversives, according to the magazine Mother Jones.
He eventually pleaded guilty to multiple counts of breaking into Australian government and commercial websites to test their security gaps, but was released on bond for "good behavior," the magazine said.
As WikiLeaks has grown and published increasingly high-profile items, Assange has found himself the target of what he says are many legal attacks.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:26 PM
AUVSI: Skunk Works lifts curtain on new UAV programs
By Stephen Trimble
Lockheed Martin's advanced development programs division - also known as Skunk Works - has chosen the AUVSI show to lift the curtain on two previously internal concepts for new unmanned air vehicles (UAVs).
The new disclosures reveal how far Lockheed has pushed internally during the last decade on sophisticated unmanned technology, even as rival manufacturers Boeing and Northrop Grumman worked on the high-profile, ill-fated, joint unmanned combat air systems (J-UCAS) program.
A concept image showing the multipurpose long-endurance (MPLE - pronounced "maple") reveals a twin-boomed UAV with a high-aspect ratio wing set against a desert backdrop at a medium altitude elevation.
Lockheed confirms MPLE will challenge the Aurora Flight Sciences' Orion vehicle for a new Air Force Research Laboratory contract to demonstrate a medium-altitude surveillance aircraft that can remain airborne for five days, says Bob Ruszkowski, a Skunk Works systems engineer.
Ruszkowski declined to divulge MPLE's propulsion system, although he ruled out hydrogen. Asked if the aircraft is battery- or gas-powered, Ruszkowski says only that the aircraft will employ a highly efficient propulsion system.
MPLE is actually a scaled-down version of a much larger concept design developed by Skunk Works, he adds.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:21 PM
AMATEUR astronomers are enjoying a cat-and-mouse game with the US military in keeping track of its secret space plane, the X-37B.
The X-37B was launched in April amid much publicity, but scant detail about its true use.
Built by Boeing's Phantom Works division, the X-37B program was originally headed by NASA.
It was later turned over to the Pentagon's research and development arm and then to a secretive Air Force unit.
Only a very select few in the US military know what it's for, but observers on Earth believe they're putting together the puzzle piece by piece. Several sources claim quote arms control advocates who say it's clearly the beginning of the "weaponisation of space".
In May, avid skywatcher Ted Molczan studied the X-37B's orbit from his home in Toronto and said its behaviour suggested it was testing sensors for a range of new spy satellites.
Since then, the X-37B been arguably the least-secret secret project on the planet, as fellow backyard astronomers joined in the scrutiny, aided by how-to video guides and apps such as the Simple Satellite Tracker.
That is, they did until July 29, when the shuttle disappeared, causing all kinds of consternation and conspiracy theories about its fate.
It took amateur skywatcher Greg Roberts of Cape Town, South Africa, who noticed that it failed to appear as scheduled above his base on August 14, another five days to find it.
When he did, he noticed it was some 30km higher and on a different trajectory, according to calculations from other colleagues in Rome and Oklahoma.
The X-37B's new track takes it on a six-day orbit of the Earth, as opposed to its original four-day orbit.
Mr Molczan believes this may be another small piece to the puzzle about what role the shuttle may play in US military operations.
"This small change of orbit may have been a test of OTV-1's manoeuvring system, or a requirement of whatever payload may be aboard, or both," he said in a release paper about Roberts' X-37B find.
The shuttle has been in orbit now for 124 days. It uses a solar array once in space for power, which theoretically will allow it to stay airborne for up to 270 days.
But the additional presence of large fuel tanks and a rocket motor allows it to change orbit, as evidenced by the latest sudden change of course.
According to the The Register, this is a key component of its surveillance-related capabilities, along with the fact it can land in a much more versatile fashion than other shuttles.
Using its "cross-range" wings, it can duck off elsewhere once its entered the Earth's atmosphere rather than follow its oribital track to a pre-specified landing pad.
This means the X-37B can get up and down from space in one orbit, as its wings allow it to compensate for the slight turn in the Earth and bend it back to its original launch pad.
The Register says that capability would make it difficult to track, as it would only pass over a region once.
Theoretically, it could drop a spy satellite on one run, then pick it up on the next without the satellite having ever been detected.
Observers claim the X-37B can carry a payload roughly the size of a medium-sized truck bed, or enough to hold a spy satellite.
According to the Pentagon, a second X-37B is under construction, so expect the guessing game to continue for some time about what the US military is really up to in space.
Until now, all that remains known about the X-37B is that is it has at least one trick - the ability to hide from skywatchers for two weeks.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 2:18 PM
NORAD is downplaying an incident on Tuesday that saw two CF-18s shadow a pair of Russian military aircraft as they flew within 56 kilometres of Canadian soil.
Two CF-18s, shadowed a pair of Russian military aircraft Tuesday north of Inuvik, N.W.T. The encounter came a day before parliamentarians were to discuss the government's purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, slated to replace Canada's CF-18s. (Louis Nastro/Canadian Press)
In a statement Wednesday, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, said the CF-18s "intercepted and visually identified" two TU-95 Bear bombers that entered the Canadian Air Defence Identification Zone.
"At no time did the Russian military aircraft enter Canadian or United States sovereign airspace," said NORAD spokesman Lt. Desmond James, a Canadian naval officer.
"Both Russia and NORAD routinely exercise their capability to operate in the North. These exercises are important to both NORAD and Russia and are not cause for alarm."
In a "readout" email to media early Wednesday, PMO communications director Dimitri Soudas said the aircraft were spotted approximately 220 kilometres north of Inuvik, N.W.T.
The CF-18 jets from 4 Wing Cold Lake in Alberta shadowed the Russians until both aircraft turned around, Soudas said.
"Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces, at no time did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign Canadian airspace," he said.
The Canadian aircraft returned to base without incident.
NORAD said its aircraft have intercepted four Russian bombers so far this year and 16 times in 2009.
James said NORAD recognizes that all countries have the right to operate in international airspace, but may conduct identification missions should aircraft approach the North American Air Defence Identification Zone.
Soudas said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is in the Canadian North for his annual Arctic tour, was briefed during and at the end of the mission.
Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/08/25/cf-18s-russians-airspace.html?ref=rss#ixzz0xeUvVZey
Posted by Steve Douglass at 1:38 PM
At least 50 people have been killed in a series of apparently co-ordinated bomb attacks across Iraq.
The deadliest killed 19 people in the southern city of Kut. Several blasts hit Baghdad, including a suicide bombing in which 15 died.
There were also attacks in other major cities. Officials blame al-Qaeda.
Correspondents say the violence highlights fears about the stability of Iraq ahead of the formal end of US combat operations next week.
These attacks may be a response by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq (a branch of al-Qaeda) to the Americans sending all their combat troops home.
The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that the remaining US forces were down to below 50,000. Under the State of Forces Agreement, signed by the US and Iraqi governments, all US troops are due to leave by the end of next year.
Or the attacks could be a response to a claim by the ministry of the interior that it had broken up an al-Qaeda cell in Baghdad.
Almost all of Wednesday's attacks targeted security forces.
In Baghdad, the suicide car bomb hit a police station in the Qahira district in the north-east of the city killing 15 people, most of them police.
Police and hospital officials said 58 people were wounded in the explosion, which left a crater 3m (10ft) wide and caused houses to collapse, trapping people inside.
"We woke up to the sound of this powerful explosion that shook the area," resident Abu Ahmed, 35, told the Associated Press news agency.
"I searched for victims in the destroyed houses, and evacuated seven dead children and some women."
Elsewhere in the capital, smaller explosions killed at least four people and injured many others.
In Kut, 160km (100 miles) south-east of Baghdad, a suicide bomber blew up a car outside a police station and the provincial government's headquarters.
At least 19 people were killed and 90 wounded.
In other incidents:
in Kirkuk, a car bomb killed one person and injured eight
in Falluja, a soldier was killed and 10 people injured when a suicide bomber drove into an Iraqi army convoy
in Tikrit, a roadside bomb killed a policeman and wounded another
in Mosul, a gunman killed one soldier and a car bomb killed four civilians
in Basra, a car exploded as police towed it from a parking lot, killing one person and injuring eight
in Ramadi, a car exploded as two alleged bombers were working on it, while a second car exploded about 1km away, killing at least two
in Karbala, a suicide car bomb exploded at police checkpoint at the entrance to police station, injuring 30 people
The Reuters news agency reported other explosions in Dujail, Balad Ruz and Samarra, but these could not be confirmed.
No group has said it carried out the attacks, but the BBC's Hugh Sykes in Baghdad says the Islamic State of Iraq, a branch of al-Qaeda, may be behind some of them.
US military spokesman Maj Gen Stephen Lanza called the attacks "desperate attempts" by al-Qaeda to undermine faith in the Iraqi security forces.
Iraqi security spokesman Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi also blamed al-Qaeda, and warned of more attacks as US troops end combat operations on 31 August.
"By mobilising all its capabilities, the enemy is trying to escalate the terrorist attacks during this coming period," he said. "We have plans to face those terrorist attacks."
Violence in Iraq is down from the peak seen during the sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, although the number of civilian deaths rose sharply in July.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 11:13 AM
The Truth is Out There
A veteran reporter describes his search for the aircraft of Area 51.
By William B. Scott
Air & Space Magazine, September 01, 2010
In 1992, a series of intercepted radio transmissions presented an entirely new possibility for the mystery airplane. Around 6 a.m. Pacific time on April 5 and 22, Steve Douglass, an investigative journalist who monitors military aircraft radio chatter and maintains a black-projects blog (www.DeepBlueHorizon.blogspot.com), picked up transmissions between Edwards’ radar control facility and a high-altitude aircraft that was using the call sign “Gaspipe.”
Controllers were directing the aircraft to a landing, using advisories that would be familiar to space shuttle astronauts returning from orbit. Edwards told Gaspipe: “You’re at sixty-seven thousand [feet], eighty-one miles out.”
Moments later, Edwards radioed, “Seventy miles out, thirty-six thousand. Above glide slope.” During years of flight testing in the Edwards area, I had heard controllers issuing similar clipped directives. The cadence and tone of the one talking to Gaspipe were the same. I concluded that Douglass’ recording was authentic. The mystery aircraft was descending rapidly, dropping from an altitude of more than 12 miles to almost seven in a few seconds, and evidently it lined up to land. Where, we didn’t know. Maybe Groom Lake.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 10:10 AM
Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran has successfully test-fired a new version of its Fateh missile, which has a longer range than previous models, Iranian news agencies reported Wednesday.
The Fateh-110 was designed by Iranian scientists and is also more accurate than older versions, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's defense minister, told state-run Press TV and the semi-official Fars news agency.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the Fateh-110 is a short- or medium-range missile. Press TV reported it is 9 meters (29.5 feet) long and weighs 3,500 kilograms (7,716 pounds).
Vahidi claimed that the production of the missile was "another victory in the field of defense and technology, and was another example of busting the sanctions and getting rid of them," Fars quoted him as saying.
He also denied that Iran's implementation of the Fateh missile was linked to the recent purchase of U.S.-made Patriot missiles by Kuwait, according to Fars.
"Kuwait is not a threat to us because we have friendly relations with Kuwait ... however, there was no need to have that system (Patriot) in Kuwait," the minister said.
The test-firing of the missile came days after Iran unveiled the first long-range military drone manufactured in the country, state media reported.
On Saturday Iran also began fueling its first nuclear energy plant in the southern city of Bushehr, according to the nation's state media.
Press TV said the effort would help the country create nuclear-generated electricity.
But some Western nations have questioned whether the nuclear fuel will be used solely for electricity, suggesting that Iran would eventually try to enrich uranium on its own, providing material for nuclear weapons.
The United States has questioned Iran's motives in continuing to enrich uranium within its borders.
The five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany offered Iran a deal last October: send the low-level uranium out of the country to be enriched elsewhere in exchange for fuel for its reactor.
Tehran did not accept and instead made a counteroffer: make the swap a simultaneous one and carry it out on Iranian soil.
The U.S. State Department called the Iranian proposal a stalling tactic and said world powers would not "front" the fuel to Iran. A stalemate ensued.
The United States is now seeking support for expanded sanctions, saying Iran is unlikely to negotiate unless sanctions are in place.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 7:35 AM
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Dozens of schoolgirls and teachers were sickened Wednesday by poison gas in Afghanistan, medical and government officials said.
The latest incident, this one at a high school, is the ninth such case involving the poisoning of schoolgirls, said Asif Nang, spokesman for the nation's education ministry.
Dr. Kabir Amiri said 59 students and 14 teachers were brought to the hospital, and were faring better.
"We don't have good equipment to verify the kind of gas that they were poisoned with, but we have taken their blood tests to send to Turkmenistan for verifying the type of gas" that was used, Amiri said.
Many Afghan girls were not allowed to attend school during the Taliban's rule from 1996 to 2001. Girls' schools began reopening after the Islamist regime was toppled. The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, estimates that 2 million Afghan girls attend school these days.
But female educational facilities, students and teachers have come under vicious attack as the insurgency has strengthened and spread from Taliban strongholds in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
A report compiled last year by the humanitarian agency CARE documented 670 education-related attacks in 2008, including murder and arson. Much of the violence in what CARE called an "alarming trend" occurred at girls' schools.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 7:31 AM