Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Chinese “string of pearls” policy

The Chinese “string of pearls” policy

In 2009, after having done prolonged anti-piracy deployments in the Gulf of Aden for a year, a retired Chinese Admiral publicly propounded the need for the Chinese Navy to acquire a base near this strategic region so as to overcome numerous logistics-cum-maintenance problems and also allow some rest to its sailors. At present Chinese warships operating over 4,500 nautical miles (nm) from their home bases are deployed for four to six months in the Gulf of Aden, without access to ports. Given the international concern about China seeking bases in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Chinese government distanced itself from the retired admiral’s proposal. However, the fact is that the farsighted Chinese already have a suitable base available (Gwadar port they built in Pakistan), and will soon have another one in Sri Lanka (Hambantota port, which they are building), even as media reports hint at another Chinese-built port that is to come up in Burma.

The Chinese, as part of their “string of pearls” policy of having suitable bases in the IOR, not only helped Pakistan to build the Gwadar port, but practically provided all the funding. This strategically-located port on the Balochistan coast, near the Iranian border, some 180 nm from the exit of the strategic Straits of Hormuz, will enable Chinese oil tanker ships to offload crude oil from West Asia at this port. From Gwadar, a proposed rail, road and pipeline will transport oil and other goods to China, thus avoiding the Malacca and Singapore straits which can be closed during wartime or are vulnerable to piracy. This port also provides another option to Pakistan for ensuring oil imports, should Karachi get blocked during wartime.

Work on Phase 1 of Gwadar port commenced in March 2002 and was formally completed in March 2005, though ships had started using it by 2003. The total project cost of this phase was $248 million (of which the Chinese contributed $198 million). The Gwadar port has a 4.5 km approach channel of 11.5m depth, and three multipurpose berths. Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf is reported to have stated that “in the event of war with India, Pakistan will not hesitate to invite the Chinese Navy to Gwadar”.

Phase 2 (adjacent to Phase 1), was completed in January 2006, with nine additional berths and the approach channel was deepened to 14.5 m, thus permitting larger ships of about 50,000 DWT (deadweight tonnes) to enter and leave the port. The port was formally inaugurated in March 2007, and Pakistan Navy was reported to have set up a base at the port. It may be noted that all oil tankers from the Gulf bound for India’s Vadinar Oil Terminal in the Gulf of Kutch generally pass about 40 nm south of Gwadar Port and would be vulnerable to interdiction by Pakistani or Chinese units based in Gwadar. Some unconfirmed media reports indicate the possible presence of a Chinese electronic “listening post” at Gwadar.

To fully understand the serious strategic implications for India, we need to note that 70 per cent of India’s oil imports come by sea, from the Gulf (with tankers exiting through the Strait of Hormuz). Seventy per cent of our imported oil arrives at ports in the Gulf of Kutch, the Gulf of Cambay and the Mumbai port. Indeed, in 2007, the Gulf of Kutch received 1,100 oil tankers (passing some 40 nm from Gwadar), and this number will grow to 2,100 by 2012 and over 4,000 tanker ships by 2025, when India’s oil imports would have quadrupled to 320 million tonnes (China’s imports would also rise to over 600 million tonnes and hence the possibility of conflict of interests between these two largest consumers of oil). Similarly, the ships carrying imported oil from the Gulf to Mumbai Port and ports in the Gulf of Cambay, would increase manifold, with some shipping being diverted to other Indian ports.

The global strategic implications are also serious since the Gulf region has 75 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 50 per cent of the world’s proven gas reserves. About 16 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz daily on tanker ships (worth over $200 billion annually). This amounts to over 90 per cent of the oil exported by the Gulf region and over 40 per cent of the entire world’s oil trade. All this oil passes in vicinity of Gwadar port whose facilities can be assumed to be made available to the Chinese Navy in an emergent situation. Notwithstanding the facts, to allay fears of neighbouring countries regarding Chinese intentions in the region, the Pakistani government signed an agreement with Singapore’s PSA Corporation in March 2007 to operate Gwadar port under a 40-year agreement. PSA’s concession holding company (CHC), a subsidiary that operates 22 ports in 11 countries, will invest $550 million in the next five years in the port.
While India’s security and intelligence agencies deserve a pat on the back for ensuring that 2009 and Republic Day 2010 were largely terror free, we cannot be complacent.

The present peace may be the proverbial lull before the storm, given the fact that Pakistan is continuously receiving arms from the Chinese at “friendship prices” and from the Americans as “gifts”, with the recent gift of F-16 (Block 52) fighter jets and a dozen UAVs. The Chinese Navy’s activities in the IOR need to be monitored as closely as we monitor Pakistani-based terrorist moves. China now imports more oil from West Africa (Nigeria and Angola) than it does from West Asia, and this oil will still need to move by sea through the Malacca and other straits in Southeast Asia (Sunda and Lombok). However, in a crisis situation, China does have the option to move this West African oil to Gwadar port and then pump it to China via the proposed land oil pipeline. So the Indian Navy needs 200 ships and 500 aircraft to deal with all our security problems in the IOR. And since naval power takes a long time to build or import, we need to immediately overcome critical shortages in our inventory, specially the well-publicised case of our dwindling submarine force.

Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam

Friday, January 29, 2010

Obama's Fake of the Union Address

Obama's Fake of the Union Address

Few doubt that Barack Obama is a masterful speaker. But too often his speaking ability is considered a national asset, especially as it is supposed to inspire the American public, persuade his political opponents, and favorably represent the national interests to the world. Yet Obama's rhetorical mastery is the most dangerous weapon that his financial masters have used against the majority of late. Rather than persuading Congress or the American public to support policies and politics that benefit the majority, Obama has used his oratorical gifts to delude the people, representing his allegiance to the corporate oligarchy as a boon to the American public.

The State of the Union Address was an occasion for Obama to reboot his presidency by reinstalling and rerunning his campaign rhetoric. At the same time, he would have to reconcile the same with a yearlong record of betrayals. Thus, his support and enactment of massive corporate bailouts, his health care cuts crafted behind closed doors and presented as "reform," his extension of imperialist wars, his proposed cuts in social spending, his proposed deepened tax cuts and incentives for business (as opposed to direct spending on millions losing their homes and jobs)-were all presented as a gift to a singular "American people."

Despite a Democratic majority in both houses and a presidency with a massive mandate for "change," the abject failures of his first year were blamed on his political "opponents." Obama blamed the Republicans for the failure to enact health care reform. The proffered bill promises to penalize workers by taxing "Cadillac" plans and levying fines or imprisonment on those who fail to buy "coverage" from corporate insurers. Thanks to their defeat of the Democrat in the special senatorial election in Massachusetts, the Republicans are now expected to filibuster the unpopular health care bill. The choice of a Republican over Obama's proxy in an overwhelmingly Democratic state indicates the extent to which Obama's policies are generally opposed. Yet the Republicans were the whipping boys of the night. If the Republicans didn't exist, one isn't far off in saying, the Democrats would be sure to invent them. So great is the Democrats' need for an alibi.

One of Obama's most remarkable talents is his ability to feign righteous indignation. The grimaces of Supreme Court members tongue-lashed by the candidate of record Wall Street bundled funding were discomfiting to all but the most hypocritical Democratic sympathizers. Meanwhile, the ruling gives the green light to Obama's paymasters to reward his party for its faithful service.

While acknowledging an election won on the basis of antiwar sentiment, the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan barely merited mention. Obama promised the removal of troops from Iraq, but said nothing about the fact that the time-table was set during his predecessor's tenure, or that his military and intelligence policies mirror his predecessor's to the letter. These policies include the Patriot Act, the secret renditions, the funding of renegade mercenaries, the killing and maiming of innocent civilians. He said nothing of the record number of troops killed in Afghanistan in 2009. And of course no mention was made of unmanned drones that repeatedly bomb and kill civilians in Pakistan. And Obama slid seamlessly over the fact that the gargantuan military budget will grow unchecked.

These facts do not accord well with the rhetoric of "change you can believe in." Rather, given the Obama effect of silencing the so-called antiwar "left," they speak volumes about the Democratic antiwar belief you can change.

Watching the speech and its reportage from the “left-right” angles of the U.S. corporate media, one might be led to believe that the divisions between the rival parties are real and deep. The grudge-match is treated like an epic battle between bitter enemies. Coverage, replete with pre- and postgame analysis, closely resembles that of a sporting event. Each party has its own network of fan-reporters. These function to obscure the fact that the real opponents are not even on the field of play.

The real battle is fought off-screen. The opponents are the corporate oligarchy and their political managers in Washington, lined up against a public faced with job losses, housing foreclosures, runaway debt, and extortion. Obama, the front man, was commissioned precisely because his allegiance to the corporate oligarchy seemed unlikely. He posed as a plausible candidate of change because his identity and oratorical style fit the bill for many. But after only a year, the majority has been disabused of this fiction. Most see him for the fraud that he is. His most valuable asset is fast becoming recognized as the face of deceit.

Michael D. Rectenwald, Ph.D.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

NSA outsourcing signals intelligence and surveillance jobs

NSA outsourcing signals intelligence and surveillance jobs

At a news conference yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, author James Bamford, who has written a number of books on the National Security Agency (NSA), said the NSA was continuing to outsource eavesdropping and other electronic surveillance tasks to companies like Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Boeing, and L-3. Bamford spoke at a press conference sponsored by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on the privacy dangers posed by airport body scanners....

On June 1, 2005, WMR reported on the NSA outsourcing:

"On August 1, 2001, just five and a half weeks before the 911 attacks, NSA awarded Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) a more than $2 billion, ten-year contract known as GROUNDBREAKER. The contract was never popular with NSA's career professionals. Although GROUNDBREAKER was limited to outsourcing NSA's administrative support functions such as telephones, data networks, distributed computing, and enterprise architecture design, the contract soon expanded into the operational areas -- a sphere that had always been carefully restricted to contractors. NSA was once worried about buying commercial-off-the-shelf computer components such as semiconductors because they might contain foreign bugs. NSA manufactured its own computer chips at its own semiconductor factory at Fort Meade. Currently, NSA personnel are concerned that outsourcing mania at Fort Meade will soon involve foreign help desk technical maintenance provided from off-shore locations like India.

CSC had originally gained access to NSA through a 'buy in' project called BREAKTHROUGH, a mere $20 million contract awarded in 1998 that permitted CSC to operate and maintain NSA computer systems. When General Michael V. Hayden took over as NSA Director in 1999, the floodgates for outside contractors were opened and a resulting deluge saw most of NSA's support personnel being converted to contractors working for GROUNDBREAKER's Eagle Alliance (nicknamed the 'Evil Alliance' by NSA government personnel), a consortium led by CSC. NSA personnel rosters of support personnel, considered protected information, were turned over to Eagle, which then made offers of employment to the affected NSA workers. The Eagle Alliance consists of CSC, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, CACI, Omen, Inc., Keane Federal Systems, ACS Defense, BTG, Compaq, Fiber Plus, Superior Communications, TRW (Raytheon), Verizon, and Windemere."

In WMR's report, it was stated that among the most sensitive NSA systems that were being eyeballed by contractors for outsourcing were: INTELINK, Common Remoted Systems, National SIGINT Requirements Process, Overhead Tasking Distribution, RSOC (Regional SIGINT Operations Center) Monitoring Tool, RSOC Modeling Tool, Speech Activity Detection, Network Analysis Tools, Network Reconstruction Tools, Advanced Speech Processing Services, Automatic Message Handling System, CRITIC Alert, Cross Agency Multimedia Database Querying, Message Format Converter, Central Strategic Processing and Reporting, Collection Knowledge Base, Language Knowledge Base and Capabilities, K2000 Advanced ELINT Signals, Speech Content Services, Speech Information Extraction, Dominant Facsimile Processing System and DEFSMAC Support, Data Delivery (TINMAN), High Frequency Direction Finding (HFDF) Database, Satellite database, Protocol Analysis Terminal, Global Numbering Database, Intercept Tasking Databases, DEFSMAC Space Systems Utilities, Message Server, Extended Tether Program, Language Knowledge Services, Trend Analysis in Data Streams, Signal Related Database, SANDKEY Support (SIGINT Analysis and Reporting), and the SIGINT interception database ANCHORY and the ELINT database WRANGLER.




The new audio tape from “Osama bin Laden” taking responsibility for the idiotic and childish incident in Detroit where moronic Nigerian armed with a useless “bomb” is simply too much. Now using audio tapes because, supposedly, nobody in Al Qaeda got a flash drive video recorder for Christmas is even more of a joke. Please, with the hundreds of millions our Saudi allies have given to terrorists, a video camera the size of an Ipod might have been a nice touch. Even funnier was releasing the audio, using algorithm software probably illegally downloaded off the internet, and giving it to Al Jazeera.

Pundit Debbie Schussell, former Mark Siljander (VT staff writer) staffer, has bitterly complained about the strong ties between Fox News and Al Jazeera. Fox owner, Rupert Murdoch, is the most powerful “influencer” of the ultra-rightists in Israel. Attempts by the press to present Al Jazeera of today as the “pro-terrorist” media it seemed like many years ago is an epic misrepresentation.

A further abuse, of course, is not only that we are no longer seeing the easily debunked bin Laden doubles whose video tapes were “mysteriously” released by SITE Intelligence, the Rita Katz/Israeli group that seems to find them in trash bins behind delicatessens. The “new” audio tape itself contains statements claiming credit for 9/11 in direct contradiction to the real bin Laden videos, the only ones authenticated. If you wondered why the FBI doesn’t list Osama bin Laden as a suspect in 9/11, I think you have your answer. If they think the bin Laden “admissions” aren’t credibile, I wonder who the FBI is investigating or if they have simply been told to mind their own business.

The terrorist incident itself is the last thing Al Qaeda would ever take responsibilty for despite the claims by SITE Intelligence that they found an unnamed and unverified internet site that confirmed this. Who in the name of all that is holy would want to take responsibility for an idiot who was led onto an American bound plane by passing around searches, customs and passport control in an airport run by an Israeli security company but who carried a “bomb” designed by a three year old.

Who would be so stupid as to try to pass off this childish tape when reliable witnesses saw the terrorist being led onto the plane in Amsterdam in a manner that required full cooperation from security personnel, passport control and the airline itself. We don’t even have to go into the fact that the “terrorists” in Yemen that supposedly claimed responsibilty were released from Guantanamo under the personal signature of Vice President Cheney in 2007 or that before the incident, the government of Yemen tied these individuals to Israeli controllers thru captured computers.

I am only thankful that the duped terrorist, or as Lee Oswald had said, “patsy”, was the moronic son of a long time Mossad business associate in Nigeria. Mr. Mutallab, banker, but mostly head of Nigeria’s defense industry, DICON, managed almost entirely by Israelis, may have much more story to tell other than the one he told CIA Chief of Station on November 19, 2009. Do we want to follow former Homeland Security director Chertoff, not only a Jewish activist but currently representing companies selling body scanners to airports and the mysterious ability for someone on worldwide terrorist watch lists to be escorted onto a US bound airliner without passport or search?

Billions in profits were realized almost instantly after this incident. Companies tied to Chertoff, Israel and India were on the receiving end.

The only reliable information the world has on Osama bin Laden is that he was killed by American troops on December 13, 2001 and buried outside Tora Bora by his following, 30 Mujahideen. At least 6 of these witnesses were alive at last check. Since his death, every “leaked” video or statement has been timed for convenient electoral “terrorist” scares, been childishly unprofessional and has only worked to discredit Islam.

Every effort has been made by the MSM/corporate press to cover the facts behind the Christmas “bombing” and push the blame on everyone but the obvious culprits. That effort was deemed so successful that now a brazen attempt to resurrect long dead Osama bin Laden to take responsibilty for trying to set off a bomb with a flame igniter that could only be exploded using a blasting cap, is being made.

Is this an attempt to make Al Qaeda look stupid?

“My name is Osama bin Laden. I had a moron carry a defective bomb onto a plane full of Islamic families returning to Detroit, the most Muslim city in the west, as part of a terror campaign. I chose a flight that connected from the Middle East so I could kill as many of the innocent faithful as possible. Please excuse this and the dozen or other mistakes made but being dead has left me less sharp than I once was. No, I do not work for the Mossad, they simply tape and distribute my interviews. This is part of an agreement with my talent agent who is Jewish. All talent agents are Jewish, ask anyone in Hollywood. What do you expect, miracles? 10% of nothing is nothing.

For my faithful followers, I expect to be a regular on Californication next season on Showtime. I’ll be the guy with the beard who seems dead.”

The second possibility, one designed for the “spiritual” crowd is this:

I am Osama, the ghost of Tora Bora. Please give more money to Israel, vote to extend the Patriot Act and buy new airport scanners from the companies listed on my weekly newsletter distributed by SITE Intelligence. Watch for more insane threats coming in the future and have a nice weekend. Remember to stop eating pork.”

Any group that could make 5 airliners outwit NORAD, the most advanced air defense system in the world, any group that could train terrorist pilots inside the United States itself with nobody catching on, and it gets worse. Sources tell us that FBI Special Agent Stephen Butler may have “accidentally” been cashing checks for and paying rent for two of the 9/11 hijackers. Can people who can get this kind of thing done put a moron on an aircraft at an airport secured by an Israeli company, “extremely closely” related to the same company that managed security at all of the airports used on 9/11?

When Michigan attorney Kurt Haskell and his wife witnessed the famous, “he has no passport, he is a Sudanese refugee, we do this all the time”, incident in Amsterdam, only a phony bin Laden tape could make America forget, or so “they” hope. Imagine our terrorist being taken to meet the security head for the “airline” with his “Indian looking” handler, bomb strapped to his underwear. Think of this exploding moron and his handler and who they would have had to know to get past, not only airline security and the Israeli company guarding the airport but Dutch passport control as well.

Anyone with the power to load the “crotch bomber” on a plane with no passport could have put a nuclear weapon in luggage easier. Nukes are seldom on watch lists or have parents running to the CIA reporting them as “terrorists.” Next time we are being lied to, please, have more respect. Not everyone is a dumb as a Fox News, CNN, the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

It is one thing claiming that poor, long dead Osama bin Laden runs terrorists in Yemen. It is quite something else proving that he manages an airport in Europe or runs the Dutch government. When US Senators can’t get thru airport security without being detained, bin Laden’s ability to get diplomatic VIP treatment for known terrorists makes him more than a threat, it makes him a magician.

We are thankful that nobody was seriously injured and that we can all laugh about this, maybe not all of us. The people of Nigeria don’t think it is funny. Millions of Muslims aren’t seeing the joke either. Air travelers are having their bad moments also. Some, however, have benefitted in a major way, politically, financially and militarily. None of those people, however, are ever openly accused of terrorism....

9/11 an inside job wall to wall.....


A wide appreciation of the implications of "Conspiracy Theories" by Harvard law professors Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule ( has been slow in coming. What makes the article and the views expressed therein all the more significant is that author Sunstein in 2009 was made Administrator of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget by President Obama (click here).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The United States as an Aerospace Nation: Challenges and Opportunities

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz

Remarks to the Air, Space, and Cyberspace Power in the 21st Century Conference at the 38th Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis-Fletcher Conference on National Security Strategy and Policy, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2010

Read the text.

As I have previously argued, the US government might start additional wars to distract people from the economy. See this and this.

Since then, the U.S. has started a war in Pakistan and one in Yemen (Yemen has some oil; Haiti allegedly has oil also, and some argue that explains the military nature of America's response).

Now, Congressman Ron Paul is saying that the "CIA is looking for more wars".

That's just terrific ....

Monday, January 25, 2010

Drone surge: Today, tomorrow and 2047

Drone surge: Today, tomorrow and 2047

One moment there was the hum of a motor in the sky above. The next, on a recent morning in Afghanistan's Helmand province, a missile blasted a home, killing 13 people. Days later, the same increasingly familiar mechanical whine preceded a two-missile salvo that slammed into a compound in Degan village in the North Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan, killing three.

What were once unacknowledged, relatively infrequent targeted killings of suspected militants or terrorists in the George W Bush years have become commonplace under the Barack Obama administration. And since a devastating December 30 suicide attack by a Jordanian double agent on a Central Intelligence Agency forward operating base in Afghanistan, unmanned aerial
drones have been hunting humans in the AfPak war zone at a record pace.

In Pakistan, an "unprecedented number" of strikes - which have killed armed guerrillas and civilians alike - have led to more fear, anger and outrage in the tribal areas, as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with help from the United States Air Force, wages the most public "secret" war of modern times.

In neighboring Afghanistan, unmanned aircraft, for years in short supply and tasked primarily with surveillance missions, have increasingly been used to assassinate suspected militants as part of an aerial surge that has significantly outpaced the highly publicized "surge" of ground forces now underway. And yet, unprecedented as it may be in size and scope, the present ramping up of the drone war is only the opening salvo in a planned 40-year Pentagon surge to create fleets of ultra-advanced, heavily-armed, increasingly autonomous, all-seeing, hypersonic unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Today's surge
Drones are the hot weapons of the moment and the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review - a soon-to-be-released four-year outline of Department of Defense strategies, capabilities and priorities to fight current wars and counter future threats - is already known to reflect this focus. As the Washington Post recently reported, "The pilotless drones used for surveillance and attack missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan are a priority, with the goals of speeding up the purchase of new Reaper drones and expanding Predator and Reaper drone flights through 2013."

The MQ-1 Predator - first used in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s - and its newer, larger and more deadly cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper, are now firing missiles and dropping bombs at an unprecedented pace. In 2008, there were reportedly between 27 and 36 US drone attacks as part of the CIA's covert war in Pakistan. In 2009, there were 45 to 53 such strikes. In the first 18 days of January 2010, there had already been 11 of them.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the US Air Force has instituted a much-publicized decrease in piloted air strikes to cut down on civilian casualties as part of Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy. At the same time, however, air UAS attacks have increased to record levels.

The air force has created an interconnected global command-and-control system to carry out its robot war in Afghanistan (and as Noah Shachtman of Wired's Danger Room blog has reported, to assist the CIA in its drone strikes in Pakistan as well). Evidence of this can be found at high-tech US bases around the world where drone pilots and other personnel control the planes themselves and the data streaming back from them.

These sites include a converted medical warehouse at al-Udeid Air Base, a billion-dollar facility in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar where the air force secretly oversees its ongoing drone wars; Kandahar and Jalalabad air fields in Afghanistan, where the drones are physically based; the global operations center at Nevada's Creech air base, where the air force's "pilots" fly drones by remote control from thousands of kilometers away; and - perhaps most importantly - at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a 12-square-mile (32 square kilometers) facility in Dayton, Ohio, named after the two local brothers who invented powered flight in 1903. This is where the bills for the current drone surge - as well as limited numbers of strikes in Yemen and Somalia - come due and are, quite literally, paid.

In the waning days of December 2009, in fact, the Pentagon cut two sizeable checks to ensure that unmanned operations involving the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper would continue full speed ahead in 2010. The 703rd Aeronautical Systems Squadron based at Wright-Patterson signed a $38 million contract with defense giant Raytheon for logistics support for the targeting systems of both drones. At the same time, the squadron inked a deal worth $266 million with mega-defense contractor General Atomics, which makes the Predator and Reaper drones, to provide management services, logistics support, repairs, software maintenance and other functions for both drone programs. Both deals essentially ensure that, in the years ahead, the stunning increase in drone operations will continue.

These contracts, however, are only initial down payments on an enduring drone surge designed to carry US unmanned aerial operations forward, ultimately for decades.

Drone surge: The longer view
In 2004, the air force could put a total of only five drone combat air patrols (CAPs) - each consisting of four air vehicles - in the skies over American war zones at any one time. By 2009, that number was 38, a 660% increase according to the air force. Similarly, between 2001 and 2008, hours of surveillance coverage for US Central Command, encompassing both the Iraqi and Afghan war zones, as well as Pakistan and Yemen, showed a massive spike of 1,431%.

In the meantime, flight hours have gone through the roof. In 2004, for example, Reapers, just beginning to soar, flew 71 hours in total, according to air force documents. In 2006, that number had risen to 3,123 hours; and last year, 25,391 hours. This year, the air force projects that the combined flight hours of all its drones - Predators, Reapers and unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawks - will exceed 250,000 hours, about the total number of hours flown by all air force drones from 1995-2007. In 2011, the 300,000 hour-a-year barrier is expected to be crossed for the first time, and after that the sky's the limit.

More flight time will, undoubtedly, mean more killing. According to Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the Washington-based think-tank the New America Foundation, in the George W Bush years, from 2006 into 2009, there were 41 drone strikes in Pakistan which killed 454 militants and civilians. Last year, under the Barack Obama administration, there were 42 strikes that left 453 people dead. A recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based independent research organization that tracks security issues, claimed an even larger number, 667 people - most of them civilians - were killed by US drone strikes last year.

While assisting the CIA's drone operations in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, the air force has been increasing its own unmanned aerial hunter-killer missions. In 2007 and 2008, for example, air force Predators and Reapers fired missiles during 244 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, while all the US armed services have pursued unmanned aerial warfare, the air force has outpaced each of them.

From 2001, when armed drone operations began, until the spring of 2009, the air force had fired 703 Hellfire missiles and dropped 132 GBU-12s (250-kilogram laser-guided bombs) in combat operations. The army, by comparison, launched just two Hellfire missiles and two smaller GBU-44 Viper Strike munitions in the same time period. The disparity should only grow, since the army's drones remain predominantly small surveillance aircraft, while in 2009 the air force shifted all outstanding orders for the medium-sized Predator to the even more formidable Reaper, which is not only twice as fast but has 600% more payload capacity, meaning more space for bombs and missiles.

In addition, the more heavily-armed Reapers, which can now loiter over an area for 10 to 14 hours without refueling, will be able to spot and track ever more targets via an increasingly sophisticated video monitoring system. According to air force Lieutenant General David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, the first three "Gorgon Stare pods" - new wide-area sensors that provide surveillance capabilities over large swathes of territory - will be installed on Reapers operating in Afghanistan this spring.

A technology not available for the older Predator, Gorgon Stare will allow 10 operators to view 10 video feeds from a single drone at the same time. Back at a distant base, a "pilot" will stare at a tiled screen with a composite picture of the streaming battlefield video, even as field commanders analyze a portion of the digital picture, panning, zooming and tilting the image to meet their needs.

A more advanced set of "pods", scheduled to be deployed for the first time this autumn, will allow 30 operators to view 30 video images simultaneously. In other words, via video feeds from a single Reaper drone, operators could theoretically track 30 different people heading in 30 directions from a single Afghan compound. The generation of sensors expected to come online in late 2011 promises 65 such feeds, according to air force documents, a more than 6,000% increase in effectiveness over the Predator's video system. The air force is, however, already overwhelmed just by drone video currently being sent back from the war zones and, in the years ahead, risks "drowning in data", according to Deptula.

The 40-year plan
When it comes to the drone surge, the years 2011-2013 are just the near horizon. While, like the army, the navy is working on its own future drone warfare capacity - in the air as well as on and even under the water - the air force is involved in striking levels of futuristic planning for robotic war. It envisions a future previously imagined only in science-fiction movies like the Terminator series.
As a start, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA, the Pentagon's blue skies research outfit, is already looking into radically improving on Gorgon Stare with an "Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Infrared (ARGUS-IR) System". In the obtuse language of military research and development, it will, according to DARPA, provide a "real-time, high-resolution, wide-area video persistent surveillance capability that allows joint forces to keep critical areas of interest under constant surveillance with a high degree of target location accuracy" via as many as 130 'Predator-like' steerable video streams to enable real-time tracking and monitoring and enhanced situational awareness during evening hours".

In translation, that means the air force will quite literally be flooded with video information from future battlefields; and every "advance" of this sort means bulking up the global network of facilities, systems and personnel capable of receiving, monitoring and interpreting the data streaming in from distant digital eyes. All of it is specifically geared toward "target location", that is, pin-pointing people on one side of the world so that Americans on the other side can watch, track and, in many cases, kill them.

In addition to enhanced sensors and systems like ARGUS-IR, the air force has a long-term vision for drone warfare that is barely beginning to be realized. Predators and Reapers have already been joined in Afghanistan by a newer, formerly secret drone, a "low observable unmanned aircraft system" first spotted in 2007 and dubbed the "Beast of Kandahar" before observers were sure what it actually was. It is now known to be a Lockheed Martin-manufactured unmanned aerial vehicle, the RQ-170 - a drone which the air force blandly notes was designed to "directly support combatant commander needs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to locate targets". According to military sources, the sleek, stealthy surveillance craft has been designated to replace the antique Lockheed U-2 spy plane, which has been in use since the 1950s.

In the coming years, the RQ-170 is slated to be joined in the skies of America's "next wars" by a fleet of drones with ever newer, more sophisticated capabilities and destructive powers. Looking into the post-2011 future, Deptula sees the most essential need, according to an Aviation Week report, as "long-range [reconnaissance and] precision strike" - that is, more eyes in far off skies and more lethality. He added, "We cannot move into a future without a platform that allows [us] to project power long distances and to meet advanced threats in a fashion that gives us an advantage that no other nation has."

This means bigger, badder, faster drones - armed to the teeth - with sensor systems to monitor wide swathes of territory and the ability to loiter overhead for days on end waiting for human targets to appear and, in due course, be vaporized by high-powered munitions. It's a future built on advanced technologies designed to make targeted killings - remote-controlled assassinations - ever more effortless.

Over the horizon and deep into what was, until recently, only a silver-screen fantasy, the air force envisions a wide array of unmanned aircraft, from tiny insect-like robots to enormous "tanker size" pilotless planes. Each will be slated to take over specific war-making functions (or so air force dreamers imagine). Those nano-sized drones, for instance, are set to specialize in indoor reconnaissance - they're small enough to fly through windows or down ventilation shafts - and carry out lethal attacks, undertake computer-disabling cyber-attacks, and swarm, as would a group of angry bees, of their own volition. Slightly larger micro-sized Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (STUAS) are supposed to act as "transformers" - altering their form to allow for flying, crawling and non-visual sensing capabilities. They might fill sentry, counter-drone, surveillance and lethal attack roles.

Additionally, the air force envisions small and medium "fighter-sized" drones with lethal combat capabilities that would put the current UAS air fleet to shame. Today's medium-sized Reapers are set to be replaced by next generation MQ-Ma drones that will be "networked, capable of partial autonomy, all-weather and modular with capabilities supporting electronic warfare [EW], CAS [close air support], strike and multi-INT [multiple intelligence] ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] missions' platforms".

The language may not be elegant, much less comprehensible, but if these future fighter aircraft actually come online they will not only send today's remaining Top Gun pilots to the showers, but may even sideline tomorrow's drone human operators, who, if all goes as planned, will have ever fewer duties. Unlike today's drones, which must take off and land with human guidance, the MQ-Mas will be automated and drone operators will simply be there to monitor the aircraft.

Next up will be the MQ-Mb, theoretically capable of taking over even more roles once assigned to traditional fighter-bombers and spy planes, including the suppression of enemy air defenses, bombing and strafing of ground targets and surveillance missions. These will also be designed to fly more autonomously and be better linked in to other drone "platforms" for cooperative missions involving many aircraft under the command of a single "pilot". Imagine, for instance, one operator overseeing a single command drone that holds sway over a small squadron of autonomous drones carrying out a coordinated air attack on clusters of people in some far off land, incinerating them in small groups across a village, town or city.

Finally, perhaps 30 to 40 years from now, the MQ-Mc drone would incorporate all of the advances of the MQ-M line, while being capable of everything from dog-fighting to missile defense. With such new technology will come new policies and new doctrines. In the years ahead, the air force intends to make drone-related policy decisions on everything from treaty obligations to automatic target engagement - robotic killing without a human in the loop. The latter extremely controversial development is already envisioned as a possible post-2025 reality.

2047: What's old is new again
The year 2047 is the target date for the air force's Holy Grail, the capstone for its long-term plan to turn the skies over to war-fighting drones. In 2047, the air force intends to rule the skies with MQ-Mc drones and "special" super-fast, hypersonic drones for which neither viable technology nor any enemies with any comparable programs or capabilities yet exist. Despite this, the air force is intent on making these super-fast hunter-killer systems a reality by 2047. "Propulsion technology and materials that can withstand the extreme heat will likely take 20 years to develop. This technology will be the next generation air game-changer. Therefore the prioritization of the funding for the specific technology development should not wait until the emergence of a critical COCOM [combatant command] need," says the air force's 2009-2047 UAS "Flight Plan".

If anything close to the air force's dreams comes to fruition, the "game" will indeed be radically changed. By 2047, there's no telling how many drones will be circling over how many heads in how many places across the planet. There's no telling how many millions or billions of flight hours will have been flown, or how many people, in how many countries, will have been killed by remote-controlled, bomb-dropping, missile-firing, judge-jury-and-executioner drone systems.

There's only one given. If the US still exists in its present form, is still solvent and still has a functioning Pentagon of the present sort, a new plan will already be well underway to create the war-making technologies of 2087. By then, in ever more places, people will be living with the sort of drone war that now worries only those in places like Degan village. Ever more people will know that unmanned aerial systems packed with missiles and bombs are loitering in their skies. By then, there undoubtedly won't even be that lawnmower-engine sound indicating that a missile may soon plow into your neighbor's home.

For the air force, such a prospect is the stuff of dreams, a bright future for unmanned, hypersonic lethality; for the rest of the planet, it's a potential nightmare from which there may be no waking.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tracking "Turkmenbashi's" billions -- the trail leads to the usual suspects in Israel

Tracking "Turkmenbashi's" billions -- the trail leads to the usual suspects in Israel

When Turkmenistan's all-powerful and nepotistic leader Turkmenbashi (Father of all Turkmen) Saparmurat Niyazov died suddenly on December 21, 2006, there was a great deal of speculation that outside forces may have been involved in the death of a strongman who sat on one-fifth of the world's known reserves of natural gas.

On December 23, 2006, WMR reported: "The Turkmen opposition, their neo-con supporters, and international bankers like [George] Soros will surely be interested in Niyazov's multi-billion dollar secret bank accounts. It is estimated that Deutsche Bank, alone, holds $3 billion of Niyazov's secret foreign accounts."

WMR has now learned from sources with high-level contacts with the governments of Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan that Niyazov was assassinated, probably through the use of poison, by elements linked to the Israelis. On July 10, 2009, WMR reported that Niyazov was likely done in by a Department of Defense Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) working closely with the Israeli Mossad: "The poison team may have also been behind the sudden death on December 21, 2006 of Turkmenistan's dictator Saparmurat Niyazov or "Turkmenbashi." Niyazov maintained a position of strict neutrality and forbid the U.S. from using Turkmenistan territory for military operations in Afghanistan or the use of Turkmen airspace in operations against Iran." Niyazov's official autopsy stated that the president died from "acute cardiac insufficiency."

Niyazov narrowly escaped assassination on November 26, 2002, after his motorcade in Ashgabat came under gun fire from several buildings and other vehicles. A visiting American from Newton, Massachusetts, Leonid Komarovsky, described as a businessman, journalist, and Czech beer importer, was arrested by Turkmen security for involvement in the plot. On April 24, 2003, Komarovsky was turned over to the U.S. embassy in Ashgabat.

WMR's sources also report that Niyazov's accumulated fortune, estimated at between $3.4 and $3.7 billion was siphoned away from Niyazov's secret bank account shortly after his death.

After five months in office, Niyazov's successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, fired the head of the National Security Service (NSS), Lieutenant General Akmurad Rejepov, Niyazov's personal security adviser. Rejepov and his son, an ex-NSS officer, were jailed for 20 and 13 years, respectively. It is certain that unfavorable information on Rejepov and his son was passed to Berdymukhammedov the day before their arrest by visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev who met the Turkmen president in the city of Turkmenbashi (the former Krasnovodsk).

Shortly before Niyazov's death, Alexander Zhadan, the chief of Niyazov's "property management department," a bureaucratic name for Niyazov's personal financial adviser and aide-de-camp, disappeared from Ashgabat with some important documents.

Shortly after Niyazov's funeral on December 24, 2006, Zhadan, according to our sources, secretly met with the reclusive Mrs. Niyazov and her son. The widow and son had flown to Ashgabat from abroad to attend Niyazov's funeral. WMR has learned that Zhadan, who is Jewish, fled from Turkmenistan to Israel with upward of $3.7 billion in Niyazov's personal wealth. The current Turkmen government is attempting to track down and seize the stolen money.

Israel's high-stakes involvement in receiving and laundering Niyazov's stolen loot from Turkmenistan likely played a significant role in the naming by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, himself no stranger to fraudulent financial deals, of former Mossad agent Reuven Dinai, as Israel's first ambassador to Turkmenistan. Dinai is close to ex-Mossad officer Yosef Maiman, the head of the Israeli company Merhav Group that has a significant stake in the energy sector in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. The news that Zhadan absconded with Niyazov's billions to Israel could jeopardize Merhav's attempt to exploit Turkmenistan's large Serdar natural gas field, along with the Israeli firm's newly-found Caspian region energy partner, PetroSaudi, which is owned by Saudi King Abdullah's son.