Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama's High-Tech Warfare in Pakistan

Nine people are reported killed in the first CIA predator attack in North Waziristan since President Obama took office on Tuesday. There was another strike in South Waziristan but there have been no reports of casualties yet.

These strikes came shortly after Obama met his advisers, including General David Patraeus right after the general's return from a visit to Pakistan. It's the clearest indication yet that Obama will continue the Bush policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan at least in the immediate future. It also indicates that Pakistani leadership is willing to tolerate these attacks, in spite of strong Pakistani public opinion against it.

There were thirty reported US drone attacks in Pakistan in 2008. Given the inauspicious start of the Obama presidency with two strikes in two days, it is likely that the number of attacks will continue to grow and severely test the patience of Pakistani leadership and its people.

The ferocity of the Taliban fighters has already stretched the Afghan war into its eighth year, making it the second longest war in the American history. With the US decision to send another 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, it seems more and more likely that the Obama presidency will be defined by the Afghan war in the same way that the LBJ presidency was defined by America's deepening involvement in the Vietnam war engulfing the entire Indochina region. In some ways, the Obama challenge is much more difficult because of the dire economic situation that America is facing today. Naturally, there is focus on a more cost-effective approach with fewer American casualties in the US military to fight and win the Afghan war.

Obama's interest in high technology extends beyond his Blackberry and his use of online social networking. In addition to more US and NATO troops, Obama likes the fact that the US has reportedly built as many as 5000 predator drones and other robots that can be increasingly used in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. The US Army is also actively recruiting more video-game-savvy drone pilots and robot operators, some of them in their late teens and early twenties for this high-tech warfare. The recently opened Army Experience Center in Philadelphia is a fitting counterpart to the retail experience: 14,500 square feet of mostly shoot-’em-up video games and three full-scale simulators, including an AH-64 Apache Longbow helicopter, an armed Humvee and a Black Hawk copter with M4 carbine assault rifles. For those who want to take the experience deeper, the center has 22 recruiters, according to a report in the New York Times.

In his latest book titled "Wired for War", author P.W. Singer talks about a 19-year-old high-school dropout who is considered one of the best predator pilots in the US Army. This pilot was reportedly a champion video-gamer before being recruited. It is amazing that this young man is considered better as a drone pilot than the much better educated and battle-hardened US Air Force pilots. He has now been elevated to an instructor.

Here's what P.W. Singer says about the US armed drones:

Each Predator costs just under $4.5 million, which sounds like a lot until you compare it to the costs of other military aircraft. Indeed, for the price of one new F-35, the Pentagon’s ­next-­generation manned fighter jet (which hasn’t even taken flight yet), you can buy 30 Predators. More important, the low price and lack of a human pilot mean that the Predator can be used for missions in which there is a high risk of being shot down, such as traveling low and slow over enemy territory. Predators originally were designed for reconnaissance and surveillance, but now some are armed with ­laser-­guided Hellfire missiles. In addition to its deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Predator, along with its larger, more heavily ­armed sibling, the Reaper, has been used with increasing frequency to attack suspected terrorists in Pakistan. According to news media reports, the drones are carrying out ­cross-­border strikes at the rate of one every other day, operations that the Pakistani prime minister describes as the biggest point of contention between his country and the United ­States.

High-tech or low-tech, all indications are that the US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will escalate and intensify into a regional war under President Obama. I hear the echoes of Indo-China in the words and actions of Obama in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Here's a video clip of Obama selling the Afghan War to the Europeans:

Related Links:

Can Obama Win the Afghan War?

21st Century High-Tech Warfare

Obama's Kashmir Focus


Anonymous said...

Pakistan needs to answer one question: Does it have any authority over ares in its borders?

If yes, then take out Talibans.

If no, then stay back/aside and let others take care of Talibans.

There is no 3rd way, no matter how much u like the drone strikes or Talibans.

Riaz Haq said...

Taliban are a grassroots movement with popular support on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. Their popularity has only grown as a result of US and Pakistani actions, and the total incompetence and well-publicized corruption of the Karzai government. There is now consensus developing in the US, Europe and Pakistan that they can not be militarily defeated. The predator strikes and more ground troops are not likely to have the desired results. On the contrary, these actions further inflame the situation for both Americans and Pakistanis. The real solution to Afghanistan has to be political, not military.

Anonymous said...

Well well well...I was listening to NPR/KQED on my way to work on 1/22. Michel Crozney's program was on and he had Khalid (The author of Kite runner), Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, and a KQED correspondent dialed in from Afghanistan. It was perhaps one of the most honest conversation about the real issues that I have ever heard in any US media. A caller raised the question as criteria for success and also mentioned that unless we finish all the Talibans, we should not get out of Afghanistan. The ambassador said that Afghanistan is similar to a place where we enter saying that there were men on the hills firing at us and twenty years later we leave the place saying the same thing that there were men firing at us from the hill. So, you cannot eliminate or finish or change Taliban. You have to understand and negotiate with them with dignity. Michael Crozney raised a great point saying that we went to Afghanistan 8 years ago saying there are only a few thousand of them there and we keep hearing everyday that we killed so many of them. He then asked the KQED correspondent about the number of Talibans in Afghanistan to which an astonishing reply came from the KQED correspondent. She said that someday I would also like to sit down with at least US armed forces and do the maths. Because if I start counting how many were there and how many we have killed, the numbers would be in negative

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a New York Times report on predator drones:

An explosion in demand for the drones is contributing to new thinking inside the Pentagon about how to develop and deploy new weapons systems.

Air Force officials acknowledge that more than a third of their unmanned Predator spy planes — which are 27 feet long, powered by a high-performance snowmobile engine, and cost $4.5 million apiece — have crashed, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pilots, who fly them from trailers halfway around the world using joysticks and computer screens, say some of the controls are clunky. For example, the missile-firing button sits dangerously close to the switch that shuts off the plane’s engines. Pilots are also in such short supply that the service recently put out a call for retirees to help.

Riaz Haq said...

Excerpts from Australian analyst Brian Cloughly's piece posted by Prof Juan Cole on his blog Informed Comment:

In Pakistan most of the killing of civilians by US drone-fired missiles goes unrecorded. There is no doubt many of the 100 drone strikes this year have killed some very nasty people, but it would be ridiculous to claim there have been no civilian casualties. The attacks take place in remote areas of the country, and the dead are rarely seen by independent witnesses. But the slaughter of his fellow citizens by US missiles is not a cause for concern to Pakistan’s President Zardari who is reported in Bob Woodward’s ‘Obama’s Wars’ as telling the Director of the CIA in 2008 that “Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”
But there is not only butchery in the drone campaign ; there is colossal damage being done to Pakistan, with massive propaganda advantage to insurrectionists, extremists, thugs and anarchists of all descriptions. The country is in ferment and on the edge of social disaster. There could hardly be a worse time for the US, in concert with an unpopular, corruption-struck and feeble government, to carry on blitzing.

The US has achieved control and lost credibility. But the government of Pakistan has lost both. That’s collateral damage, too.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Reuters' story on OECD raising alarm about cyber attacks:

Attacks on computer systems now have the potential to cause global catastrophe, but only in combination with another disaster, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a report on Monday.

The study, part of a wider OECD project examining possible "Future Global Shocks" such as a failure of the world's financial system or a large-scale pandemic, said there were very few single "cyber events" that could cause a global shock.

Examples were a successful attack on one of the technical protocols on which the Internet depends, or a large solar flare that wiped out key communications components such as satellites.

But it said a combination of events such as coordinated cyber attacks, or a cyber incident occurring during another form of disaster, should be a serious concern for policy makers.

"In that eventuality, 'perfect storm' conditions could exist," said the report, written by Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics and Dr Ian Brown of Britain's Oxford University.

Governments are increasingly emphasising the importance of cyber security.

The United States is preparing for cyber conflict and has launched its own military cyber command. Britain last October rated cyber attacks as one of the top external threats, promising to spend an extra 650 million pounds ($1 billion) on the issue.

Meanwhile, emerging nations such as China and Russia are believed to see it as an arena in which they can challenge the United States' conventional military dominance.

The Stuxnet computer worm -- which targets industrial systems and was widely believed to be a state attack on Iran's nuclear programme -- is seen as a sign of the increasing militarisation of cyberspace.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the worm was a joint U.S.-Israeli effort and had been tested at Israel's Dimona nuclear plant.

The OECD study concluded that cyber attacks would be ubiquitous in future wars, and that cyber weaponry would be "increasingly deployed and with increasing effect by ideological activists of all persuasions and interests".

"There are significant and growing risks of localised misery and loss as a result of compromise of computer and telecommunications services," the report said.

But it concluded that a true "cyberwar", fought almost entirely through computer systems, was unlikely as many critical systems were well protected and the effects of attacks were difficult to predict, and so could backfire on the assailants.

Brown said adopting a largely military approach to cyber security was a mistake, as most targets in the critical national infrastructure, such as communications, energy, finance and transport, were in the private sector.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a Washington Post report on the futility of killing al Qaeda foot soldiers by drone attacks:

CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed at least 581 militants last year, according to independent estimates. The number of those militants noteworthy enough to appear on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists: two.

Despite a major escalation in the number of unmanned Predator strikes being carried out under the Obama administration, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased.

Even more generous counts - which indicate that the CIA killed as many as 13 "high-value targets" - suggest that the drone program is hitting senior operatives only a fraction of the time.

Senior Pakistani officials recently asked the Obama administration to put new restraints on a targeted-killing program that the government in Islamabad has secretly authorized for years.

The CIA is increasingly killing "mere foot soldiers," a senior Pakistani official said, adding that the issue has come up in discussions in Washington involving President Asif Ali Zardari. The official said Pakistan has pressed the Americans "to find better targets, do it more sparingly and be a little less gung-ho."
The intensity of the strikes has caused an increase in the number of fatalities. The New America Foundation estimates that at least 607 people were killed in 2010, which would mean that a single year has accounted for nearly half of the number of deaths since 2004, when the program began.
Overall, the foundation estimates that 32 of those killed could be considered "militant leaders" of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or about 2 percent.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report on Afghan anger against US and NATO for children's deaths in air strikes:

President Hamid Karzai has told the US commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan that his apology for the deaths of nine children in an air strike is "not enough".

"On behalf of the people of Afghanistan I want you to stop the killings of civilians," Mr Karzai said at a cabinet meeting attended by Gen David Petraeus.

The children were killed in a Nato strike on Tuesday.

Hundreds of people rallied on Sunday to denounce the killing of civilians.

The issue of civilian casualties is a source of widespread public anger and of tension between the Afghan government and the US, the BBC's Jill McGivering reports.

Washington is well aware of the strength of feeling and has worked hard to reduce casualties, she adds, though Nato says most civilian casualties last year were caused by Taliban insurgents, not the security forces.

On Sunday, at least 12 civilians, including five children, were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan.
'Stop the killings'

"President Karzai said that David Petraeus's apology is not enough," a statement from the Afghan presidency said.

"The civilian casualties are a main cause of worsening the relationships between Afghanistan and the US," President Karzai was quoted as saying.

"The people are tired of these things and apologies and condemnations are not healing any pain."

On Wednesday, Gen David Petraeus said he was "deeply sorry" for the air strike in which the boys, aged 12 and under, were mistaken for insurgents by Nato helicopters as they gathered firewood.

Sunday's rally in Kabul condemned both Nato and the Taliban for killing civilians.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a CNN report on the closure of Shamsi airfield in Pakistan used by the CIA to launch drone strikes in FATA region:

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- A senior Pakistani intelligence official told CNN Friday that U.S. military personnel have left a southern base said to be a key hub for American drone operations in the country's northwestern tribal areas.

It is the Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan's Balochistan Province, from which drones are said to take off and where they are refueled for operations against Islamic militants.

The development comes amid a public furor over American drone attacks, which have killed civilians.

A suspected U.S. drone strike Friday in the Pakistani tribal region killed 25 people, including eight civilians and 17 militants, a Pakistani intelligence source said. This came after another strike on March 17 killed 44 people, most of them civilians.
The departure of American personnel -- if confirmed -- would be significant because of increasing strain between Islamabad and Washington sparked by the continuing drone attacks and by the Raymond Davis affair, in which a CIA contractor fatally shot two Pakistani men in a Lahore neighborhood.

It has always been unclear how many drone bases the United States operates in or near Pakistan. But the Friday attack in North Waziristan that killed 25 people would indicate the United States maintains the capability to strike tribal areas with drones.

Carl Forsberg, research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War think tank, said he doesn't think the alleged move will affect the effort using drones to target the Haqqani Network and other militant groups holed up in the tribal region.

That's because many strikes have been conducted from closer bases, such as those across the Pakistani border in eastern Afghan provinces. He said the Pakistanis could be making the alleged move to appease a populace angry at the United States.

The southern air base, he said, doesn't appear to be integral to the tribal area fight and is probably a supporting base.

"It's not like the Pakistanis shut down the program," he said. "It's possible they want to do this as a means of pre-empting drone strikes in Balochistan," where there is a Taliban presence.

"The United States has an interest in going after the Taliban in Balochistan" he said, and in an ideal world the United States would like to target Taliban sanctuaries in that region with drones.

Also, he said, it's possible the Pakistanis are using pressure on the United States to offset any U.S. pressure on them.

He said it's no coincidence that the development emerged after Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Islamabad.

In an interview that aired Wednesday on Pakistan's Geo TV, Mullen spoke forcefully about the Haqqani Network, which he said "very specifically facilitates and supports the Taliban who move in Afghanistan, and they're killing Americans."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Guardian Op Ed by Geoff Simons, author of Drone Diplomacy, on expanding use of drones for target killings from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Libya:

President Obama's authorisation of the use of missile-armed drones is a further escalation of the Libya conflict that is sure to result in yet more civilian casualties (Obama sends in Predator drones to help Misrata, 22 April). The evidence is overwhelming that drone usage in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere massively increases "collateral damage". On 6 May 2002 a drone killed 10 Afghan civilians in a car convoy. On 5 January 2006 a drone targeting al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri blew up a house in Pakistan. He wasn't there and eight civilians were killed. A week later a Predator ordered into action from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, destroyed three houses in Demadola, Pakistan, killing 22 civilians, including five women and five children.

On 19 May 2009 a drone attacked homes of villagers in North Waziristan thought to be aiding insurgents, killing 14 women and children. On 2 December 2010, Conflict Monitoring Centre in Islamabad issued a report charging that the US was deliberately ignoring Pakistani civilian deaths (2,043 over five years) caused by drones. On 23 January 2011, after 13 more civilians were killed, 2,000 tribesmen in North Waziristan held a protest against drone missile strikes.

In May 2010 Philip Alston, UN special representative on extrajudicial executions, highlighted the prevalence of a "PlayStation" mentality among drone operators in the US, in effect playing video games with distant and depersonalised targets. Alston, a professor of law at New York University, said: "I'm particularly concerned that the US asserts an ever-expanding entitlement to target individuals across the globe ... an ill-defined licence to kill without accountability."

Riaz Haq said...

There is a split in the Obama admin on CIA's drone attack campaign in Pakistan, according to the Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—Fissures have opened within the Obama administration over the drone program targeting militants in Pakistan, with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and some top military leaders pushing to rein in the Central Intelligence Agency's aggressive pace of strikes.

Such a move would roll back, at least temporarily, a program that President Barack Obama dramatically expanded soon after taking office, making it one of the U.S.'s main weapons against the Pakistan-based militants fighting coalition troops in Afghanistan.

The program has angered Pakistan, a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants. The debate over drones comes as the two sides try to repair relations badly frayed by the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis by CIA contractor Raymond Davis in January, a wave of particularly lethal drone strikes following Mr. Davis's release from Pakistani custody in March, and the clandestine U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2.

The White House National Security Council debated a slowdown in drone strikes in a meeting on Thursday, a U.S. official said. At the meeting, CIA Director Leon Panetta made the case for maintaining the current program, the official said, arguing that it remains the U.S.'s best weapon against al Qaeda and its allies.

The result of the meeting—the first high-level debate within the Obama administration over how aggressively to pursue the CIA's targeted-killing program—was a decision to continue the program as is for now, the U.S. official said.

Another official, who supports a slowdown, said the discussions about revamping the program would continue, alongside talks with Pakistan, which is lobbying to rein in the drone strikes.

Most U.S. officials, including those urging a slowdown, agree the CIA strikes using the pilotless aircraft have been one of Washington's most effective tools in the fight against militants hiding out in Pakistan. The weapons have killed some top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and left militants off balance in a swath of mountainous territory along the Afghan border with Pakistan where they once operated with near impunity. No one in the administration is advocating an outright halt to the program.
The pushback by some U.S. officials against the drone program comes as U.S. diplomats and officials serving in Pakistan express dissatisfaction with what they see as the generally hostile tenor of the U.S.'s policy toward Pakistan.

These diplomats and officials say the deep vein of anti-Americanism that runs through Pakistani society forces its elected and military leaders, including army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to distance themselves from Washington to avoid a popular backlash.

"What's worrying a lot of us is whether we're turning people who should be our natural allies into our adversaries," said a U.S. diplomat in Pakistan.

A senior U.S. official said the key is figuring out what level of drone strikes can satisfy U.S. security needs and at the same be tolerated by the Pakistanis. "I think we underestimate the importance of public opinion in Pakistan to our detriment," the official said. The Pakistanis have "a legitimate concern."

Islamabad has proposed narrowing the scope of the CIA program to target militants that have been agreed to by both sides, a Pakistani official said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting excerpt of Peter Singer's Brookings' article on war fighting robots:

One US Air Force general has predicted that conflicts in the near future will involve “tens of thousands” of robots – and not the robots of today. The current Packbots and Predators are just the first generation of battlefield robots; they are like the Model T Ford or the Wright brothers’ Flyer when compared to the prototypes already under development. Much as the earliest designs for the automobile and the aeroplane spread rapidly around the globe, so too is the revolution in military robotics. 44 countries are building robot systems today, including the UK, France, Russia, China, Israel, Iran and the UAE
The reason is that while we most often focus on the narrative of collateral damage in discussions of these drone strikes, our interpretations are not only shaped by whether civilians get in the way or not. There is something more at work. The meaning of these strikes – and the battle to define their morality and efficacy – cuts to the heart of the narratives by which each side in the “war on terror” defines itself.

The most basic rationale for the use of unmanned systems is to reduce the user’s risk of casualties: American commanders I have interviewed reflexively cite this as the most important benefit of the new technology. As one soldier put it: “When a robot dies, you don’t have to write a letter to its mother.”

But as Peter Feaver, a Duke University professor turned Bush Administration National Security Council adviser, asks: “What is Osama bin Laden’s fundamental premise if not the belief that killing some Americans will drive our country to its knees?”

The conflicts now raging in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are being fought by combatants with vastly different understandings of war, the role of the warrior and the meaning of sacrifice. ....
It is for this reason that completely different interpretations are made of the same act. To some, a person who blows themselves up along with a hotel full of civilians is a shaheed carrying out a noble act of jihad. To others, that same person is a fanatical murderer committing an ignoble act of barbarity. Similarly, a pilot who uses a drone to strike with precision from thousands of miles away may see himself as a warrior fighting in full respect of the international laws of war. But 7,000 miles away that very same pilot is described by others as a coward engaging in an act of “heartless terrorism”, as the lyrics of a Pakistani pop song put it.

The use of unmanned systems may therefore provide the most graphic illustration of the “war of ideas” that underpins much of the conflict currently underway. The very value of robots in war is their ability to diminish human loss for the side using them: they are the ultimate means of avoiding sacrifice. But the side that turns to robots is fighting against those who see death as something to be celebrated, and not merely for themselves, but also for those around them. The loss of civilians to a member of al Qa’eda is not something to be lamented or apologised for, but viewed as a victory. So, with the growing use of remote technologies and terrorism, the warriors of the two sides meet less and less in battle – whether actual combat or the battle of ideologies. Each side has its own worldview, but it is one that the other side views as not only irrational, but also contemptible.

Thus, when we bring together those who fight with robotics and those who see themselves as martyrs targeted by them, a powerful irony is revealed. For all our growing use of machines in war, our humanity remains at the centre of it. The dilemmas of modern warfare may seem to be driven by technological advances, but they are rooted in our all too human politics and psychology. If we want to understand the impact of using robots to wage war, we should really look within ourselves.

Riaz Haq said...

A computer virus has infected the cockpits of America’s Predator and Reaper drones, logging pilots’ every keystroke as they remotely fly missions over Afghanistan and other warzones, according to Wired magazine:

The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system.

“We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”

Military network security specialists aren’t sure whether the virus and its so-called “keylogger” payload were introduced intentionally or by accident; it may be a common piece of malware that just happened to make its way into these sensitive networks. The specialists don’t know exactly how far the virus has spread. But they’re sure that the infection has hit both classified and unclassified machines at Creech. That raises the possibility, at least, that secret data may have been captured by the keylogger, and then transmitted over the public internet to someone outside the military chain of command.

Drones have become America’s tool of choice in both its conventional and shadow wars, allowing U.S. forces to attack targets and spy on its foes without risking American lives. Since President Obama assumed office, a fleet of approximately 30 CIA-directed drones have hit targets in Pakistan more than 230 times; all told, these drones have killed more than 2,000 suspected militants and civilians, according to the Washington Post. More than 150 additional Predator and Reaper drones, under U.S. Air Force control, watch over the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. American military drones struck 92 times in Libya between mid-April and late August. And late last month, an American drone killed top terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki — part of an escalating unmanned air assault in the Horn of Africa and southern Arabian peninsula.

But despite their widespread use, the drone systems are known to have security flaws. Many Reapers and Predators don’t encrypt the video they transmit to American troops on the ground. In the summer of 2009, U.S. forces discovered “days and days and hours and hours” of the drone footage on the laptops of Iraqi insurgents. A $26 piece of software allowed the militants to capture the video.

The lion’s share of U.S. drone missions are flown by Air Force pilots stationed at Creech, a tiny outpost in the barren Nevada desert, 20 miles north of a state prison and adjacent to a one-story casino. In a nondescript building, down a largely unmarked hallway, is a series of rooms, each with a rack of servers and a “ground control station,” or GCS. There, a drone pilot and a sensor operator sit in their flight suits in front of a series of screens. In the pilot’s hand is the joystick, guiding the drone as it soars above Afghanistan, Iraq, or some other battlefield.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Tech Lahore blogger analysis of what Iran can learn from the US RQ-170 it has captured:

1. Airframe and low-observable design: While this is by no means the most important piece of information that can be gleaned from this drone, being in possession of a confirmed LO platform does allow someone to analyze it completely and replicate it. As far as the physical elements of design which contribute to stealth go, Iran should be able to get 100% of that information simply by observing, measuring and modeling this aircraft.

2. Materials: Reverse engineering many materials is entirely possible by studying their chemical composition. For example, RAM coatings....

3. Propulsion: There are two elements here; first, the engine itself, and second the techniques used to reduce the engine’s heat/sound signature. Let me tackle the first one here. I don’t know how advanced the power plant in the RQ-170 is, but reverse engineering a complex jet engine may not be possible in a short timeframe....

4. Techniques used for signature reduction: The RQ-170 design will likely employ numerous techniques to reduce the heat (IR) signature emanating from the engine or other active sources in the aircraft. It would also likely use techniques to reduce audio signature. Iran can definitely get a lot of value by studying the design, materials used and techniques employed to achieve this signature reduction. The Iranians have their own stealth project, the “Sofre Mahi”. This analysis could help them advance that stealth fighter development effort.

5. The actual audio signature of the RQ-170: This speaks more to detecting the presence of aircraft like the RQ-170 in future. For example, does the engine of the ’170 give off a particular “whine”, i.e. does it have a distinct audio signature? Depending on whether this is a high frequency, it could be possible to deploy audio sensors particularly tuned to listen for this pitch as a means for detection.

6. The all-aspect radar signature of the RQ-170: No design is perfect. There may be certain aspects which produce a higher signature than others. Now that Iran can study the full response profile of an RQ-170, it may learn more about how to detect these aircraft in future using radar configurations.

7. The cameras: This would be a huge asset for the Iranians in two ways. First, they will now know the exact capabilities of this surveillance platform in terms of resolution, light spectrum performance and numerous other aspects. This means they could plan on how to evade such surveillance. ....

8. The transceivers: There will be numerous transceivers on board and each of these will give the Iranians lots of information that can be used to develop cyber warfare capabilities to neutralize US drones, and also the means to eavesdrop on US communications. For example, the satellite transponder will tell the Iranians exactly which frequencies are used by US drones for sat link-up. Could the Iranians deploy balloon-based transmitters that “jam” or “spoof” these frequencies and deploy these over their own country, thus making it difficult for these drones to have a clean sat linkup? ...

9. The algorithms: This is a tough one. One line of thought says that it would be impossible to extract any “code” from this platform. Perhaps. But another line of thinking says that the processors and controllers employed in military projects are not much different to those available commercially. Yes, they have much higher tolerances and quality standards, but a lot of the basic technology is the same. ...

10. Encryption: This would apply both to the radio/satellite transceiver links as well as to any data or code stored on the RQ-170s own systems. ......

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an LA Times piece on "who reviews the kill list" for US drone strikes:

When it comes to national security, Michael V. Haydenis no shrinking violet. As CIA director, he ran the Bush administration's program of warrantless wiretaps against suspected terrorists.

But the retired air force general admits to being a little squeamish about the Obama administration's expanding use of pilotless drones to kill suspected terrorists around the world — including, occasionally, U.S. citizens.

"Right now, there isn't a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel," Hayden told me recently.

As an example of the problem, he cites the example of Anwar Awlaki, the New Mexico-born member of Al Qaeda who was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen last September. "We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him," Hayden notes, "but we didn't need a court order to kill him. Isn't that something?"

Hayden isn't the only one who has qualms about the "targeted killing" program. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has been pressing the administration to explain its rules for months.

In a written statement, Feinstein said she thinks Awlaki was "a lawful target" but added that she still thinks the administration should explain its reasoning more openly "to maintain public support of secret operations."

As Hayden puts it: "This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that's dangerous."

There has been remarkably little public debate about the drone strikes, which have killed at least 1,300 people in Pakistan alone since President Obama came to office. Little debate inside the United States, that is. But overseas, the operations have prompted increasing opposition and could turn into a foreign policy headache.

It's odd that the Obama administration, which came into office promising to be more open and more attentive to civil liberties than the previous one, has been so reluctant to explain its policies in this area. Obama and his aides have refused to answer questions about drone strikes because they are part of a covert program, yet they have repeatedly taken credit for their victories in public. After months of negotiations, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. won approval from the White House to spell out some of the administration's legal thinking in the Awlaki case. But his statement, originally promised for last month, has been delayed by continued internal wrangling.

When it is issued, officials said, the statement is likely to add a few details to the bare-bones rationale the administration has offered in a handful of public statements and court proceedings. The administration has said that strikes against suspected terrorists are justified for two reasons: First, that Al Qaeda is at war with the United States, which makes any participant in Al Qaeda operations an enemy combatant; and second, that anyone directly involved in terrorist plots against Americans poses an "imminent danger" to U.S. security....,0,876903.column

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece from WSW on Jimmy Carter's NY Times Op Ed:

Ex-US president indicts Obama as assassin
27 June 2012

A column published Monday in the New York Times by Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, constitutes an extraordinary indictment of the Obama administration for engaging in assassinations and other criminal violations of international law and the US Constitution.

Titling his column “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” Carter writes: “Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended.”

Referring to the infamous provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law by Obama on December 31 of last year, Carter writes: “Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or ‘associated forces,’ a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress.” He goes on to refer to “unprecedented violations of our rights” through warrantless wiretapping and electronic data mining.

Elaborating on the US drone strikes, the former president adds, “Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable… We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.”

Carter’s column appeared on the same day that Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations testified before the UN Human Rights Commission, denouncing US drone attacks on his country in which “thousands of innocent people, including women and children, have been murdered.” He said that in 2010 alone, 957 Pakistanis were killed.

Carter goes on to indict the administration for the continued operation of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where, he notes, out of 169 prisoners “half have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom,” and others “have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.”

In the few cases where prisoners have been brought before military tribunals, he notes, the defendants “have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers.” He continues: “Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of ‘national security.’”
Twelve years after the stolen presidential election of 2000, the central lesson of that crucial episode in American political life has been driven home ever more forcefully: there exists within the US corporate and political establishment no significant constituency for the defense of democratic rights and constitutional methods.

The unprecedented gulf between a ruling financial oligarchy and the masses of working people—which has grown uninterruptedly throughout this period—is wholly incompatible with such rights and such methods.

Carter’s words are a warning. The threat of an American police state and the use of the murderous methods employed by US imperialism abroad against the working class at home is real and growing. The working class must prepare accordingly, mobilizing its independent political power against the capitalist profit system from which these threats arise.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's NY Times on Pak civilian victims of US drone strikes:

A new report on targeted killing by C.I.A. drones in Pakistan’s tribal area concludes that the strikes have killed more civilians than American officials have acknowledged, alienated Pakistani public opinion and set a dangerous precedent under international law.

The report, by human rights researchers at the Stanford and New York University law schools, urges the United States to “conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices” including “short- and long-term costs and benefits.” It also calls on the administration to make public still-secret legal opinions justifying the strikes.

Human rights groups have previously reached similar conclusions, and the report draws heavily on previous reporting, notably by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism in London. But the study is among the most thorough on the subject to date and is based on interviews with people injured by drone-fired missiles, their family members, Pakistani officials, lawyers and journalists.

Research is difficult on the ground in Pakistan’s dangerous tribal regions, where militant groups are situated and most drone strikes occur, and the law school teams did not visit them. They did, however, meet in Pakistani cities with 69 people who had been injured in strikes, witnessed strikes or surveillance drones, or had relatives who were witnesses. The report includes excerpts from interviews with a dozen witnesses.

Sarah Knuckey, a veteran human rights investigator who led the N.Y.U. team, said she was particularly struck by the pervasive anxiety that residents of the tribal area described as a result of hearing drones buzzing overhead and knowing that a strike could come at any time. She said Pakistani journalists and humanitarian workers who work in the area described the same fear.

She also noted the pattern of second drone strikes after initial strikes, evidently targeting rescuers and relatives responding to a site. One humanitarian organization, which she said the authors agreed not to name for security reasons, told them its policy is to wait at least six hours after a drone strike before visiting the site.

American officials, including President Obama, have strongly defended the drone strikes, arguing that the remotely piloted aircraft are by far the most precise weapon for eliminating terrorists. They have said that both militants and Pakistani officials have exaggerated the number of civilian deaths.

Many experts on Al Qaeda believe that the strikes have hugely weakened the core Qaeda organization in Pakistan, though some believe that the backlash against the strikes has probably drawn some new recruits to the terrorist network. Many military experts support the government’s claim that using conventional airstrikes or troops on the ground to attack terrorist compounds would be likely to kill far more civilians than the drones have.

The full report, “Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan,” whose main authors are Ms. Knuckey, from N.Y.U., and James Cavallaro and Stephan Sonnenberg, of Stanford, and an accompanying video by the filmmaker Robert Greenwald, can be found here:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Globe and Mail story on support for drone attacks in Pakistan: they make Pakistan safer?

The markets of Lahore were thronged with people in the days before Eid al-Adha last month, with families buying clothes for the children and knickknacks for their homes. In Islamabad, there are new caf├ęs and boutiques in every neighbourhood; red-velvet cupcakes are trendy.

Two years ago, when the Taliban were sending suicide bombers into crowded public places in these cities every week or two, the markets and the coffee shops were deserted and people were afraid even to go to mosques.

That terror campaign has been checked – either because the Taliban have changed tactics or, as many analysts here suggest, because the intensified drone campaign has weakened them.


Lieutenant-General Talat Masood, who is retired from a top position in the army, has a kinder interpretation. In an interview in his cozy Islamabad living room, he says it is simply unrealistic to think that the Pakistani military, equipped as it is, can fight a fleet-footed insurgency in some of the world’s harshest terrain.
Given that, the drones do not look so bad: That is the politically incorrect sentiment one hears in private conversations across the political and socio-economic spectrum, in marked contrast to the anti-drone arguments that fill the editorial pages.

Drones are also, some argue, preferable to having the United States deploy soldiers in Pakistan – which the U.S. government would be unlikely to do in any case.

Drones are also better than risking the lives of even more Pakistani soldiers to the near-constant Taliban attacks in the tribal areas, this argument runs.

“A lot of high-profile targets are eliminated, and who would do this job if Americans boots are not on the ground and the Pakistan army won’t?” says Arif Nizami, editor-in-chief of the daily Pakistan Today.


“Drones are a very hard choice for a pacifist to make,” says Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear scientist turned peace activist who is the best-known advocate for non-violence in Pakistan.

Is it better to kill Islamists than to have them killing people? That’s the debate, he says, burying his face in his hands at the thought of the moral quandary his country faces.

Many Pakistanis believe the military actively feeds the drone program intelligence about insurgent activity even today, because it, too, perceives the campaign as more effective than other options, Mr. Nizami says.

The army spokesman’s office declined repeated requests for an interview.

The last person who would ever give up the fight against drones is an erudite lawyer named Shahzad Akbar, who runs an organization called the Foundation for Fundamental Rights in a leafy neighbourhood in the capital, where he works to make heard the voices of victims from the tribal areas.

While he understands that the killings may make someone sitting in Islamabad feel safer, he says, he finds it ethically abhorrent to conclude that drones are a boon to the country.

“The whole burden of proof has been reversed by the U.S. in the public narrative: You are killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan, so you are a militant until you come out of your coffin and say otherwise,” Mr. Akbar says. “We have to have rule of law to have a civilized society. We have to agree that illegal killing is illegal killing – whether the Taliban or the Pakistan army or the U.S. army is doing it.”

He also noted that the drone campaign has been under way since 2004, with no overall decline in attacks.
Yet Mr. Nizami says he believes that there is considerable support for the drones in many parts of the Taliban-plagued northern region of Khyber Pakthunkwha.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a Daily Beast piece on former US Ambassador Munter:

....What Munter did want, however, was a more selective use of drones, coupled with more outreach to the Pakistani government—in short, a bigger emphasis on diplomacy and less reliance on force. “What they’re trying to portray is I’m shocked and horrified, and that’s not my perspective,” he said, referring to The New York Times article. “The use of drones is a good way to fight the war. But you’re going to kill drones if you’re not using them judiciously.” Munter thought the strikes should be carried out in a measured way. “The problem is the political fallout,” he says. “Do you want to win a few battles and lose the war?”

“What is the definition of someone who can be targeted?” I asked. “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40,” Munter replied. “My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s—well, a chump who went to a meeting.”

Munter wanted the ability to sign off on drone strikes—and, when necessary, block them. Then-CIA director Leon Panetta saw things differently. Munter remembers one particular meeting where they clashed. “He said, ‘I don’t work for you,’ and I said, ‘I don’t work for you,’” the former ambassador recalls. (George Little, a former CIA spokesman who is now at the Pentagon—where Panetta is currently serving as Defense secretary—disputed this account. “I’ve heard these rumors before,” he said. “That’s exactly what this is: rumor. [Panetta] has had productive relationships with Ambassador Munter and other ambassadors with whom he has worked.”)
That made what happened in March 2011 all the more extraordinary. That month, the CIA ordered a drone strike against militants in North Waziristan. Munter tried to stop the strike before it happened, but, according to the Associated Press, Panetta “dismissed” Munter’s request.

The timing of the strike was noteworthy: it was the day after CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who had shot two Pakistani men, was released from a Lahore jail. The fact that Davis had been detained for weeks reportedly angered the CIA. “It was in retaliation for Davis,” a former aide to Munter told the Associated Press, referring to the strike. (The CIA did not respond to my request for comment.) In the end, the strike killed at least 10 militants, and reportedly 19 or more civilians. And Munter wasn’t the only one who was upset. So were the Pakistanis: Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Army chief, said the men had been “callously targeted.” Rumors circulated that some of them were spies for the military, risking their lives to help fight the Taliban.

Following the strike, President Obama set up a more formal process by which diplomats could have input into these strikes. “I have a yellow card,” Munter recalled, describing the new policy. “I can say ‘no.’ That ‘no’ goes back to the CIA director. Then he has to go to Hillary. If Hillary says ‘no,’ he can still do it, but he has to explain the next day in writing why.”
...Vali Nasr, who served as a senior adviser to Holbrooke and is now at Johns Hopkins University. “The real issue was that he was not on the same page as Washington.”

During our interview, Munter criticized the way White House officials approached Pakistan. “They say, ‘Why don’t we kick their ass?’ Do we want to get mad at them? Take their car keys away? Or look at the larger picture?” He leaned back in his chair and recalled his last National Security Council meeting: “The president says, ‘It’s an hour meeting, and we’re going to talk about Afghanistan for 30 minutes and then Pakistan for 30 minutes.’ Seventy-five minutes later, we still haven’t talked about Pakistan. Why? Because Pakistan is too fucking hard.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on Munter talking about US-Pak ties:

WASHINGTON: Former US ambassador to Islamabad Cameron Munter on Wednesday criticised Washington’s “callousness” over the killing of Pakistani troops as he called for both nations to rethink how they see each other.

Munter served as ambassador during some of the most difficult times of the turbulent US-Pakistan relationship including the slaying of Osama bin Laden and a US border raid that killed 24 Pakistani troops in November 2011.

Cameron Munter, who resigned last year, said that the United States had shown a lack of generosity over the deaths of the 24 troops. Pakistan shut down Nato supply routes into Afghanistan until the United States apologized seven months later.

“The fact that we were unable to say that we were sorry until July cost our country literally billions of dollars,” Munter said, pointing to the costly shift to sending supplies for the Afghan war via Central Asia.

“But worse than that, it showed a kind of callousness that makes it so difficult simply to begin to talk about those things, that I’ve always tried to stress, that we have in common,” he said at the Atlantic Council, a think tank.

Munter steadfastly denied conspiracy theories and said the deaths near the Afghan border were a case of mistaken identity. Munter said that US-led forces “obliterated” the soldiers by firing from an AC-130, a powerful gunship.

“If you don’t have that in common — that you’re sorry when there is nothing left of the bodies of 24 of your boys — then it’s very hard for many people, especially those who want a relationship with us… to defend us to their peers,” Munter said.

The border attack took place as Mitt Romney and other Republicans seeking the White House were attacking President Barack Obama for allegedly being too apologetic about the United States.

Munter pointed to comments by then candidate Newt Gingrich. In 2011, the former House speaker berated Pakistan over the presence of bin Laden despite the billions of dollars in US aid to Islamabad, saying: “How stupid do you think we are?”

“If we have that kind of dismissive attitude — that we can give people money and they’re going to love us… and somehow that means they’re going to think the way we think — that’s equally stupid,” Munter said.

He called for the United States to change its way of thinking but was also critical of Pakistan.

Munter said that Pakistanis, who in opinion polls voice widespread dislike for the United States, were wrong to take for granted that Washington simply wanted to use the country for its own interests and then discard it.

“It’s a bigotry, it’s a lazy way of thinking, and as long as Pakistanis do it, they’re going to cripple the relationship,” he said.

Munter also called for a reconsideration of “very ambitious” US aid projects, saying that such largesse was ineffective and may even be counterproductive unless Pakistan reforms its feudal-based economy.

The nation’s elites “need to stop blaming America for its perceived failure to fix Pakistan,” he said.

In a 2009 law spearheaded by now Secretary of State John Kerry, Congress authorized $7.5 billion over five years in aid to Pakistan for education, infrastructure and other projects in hopes of boosting civilian rule.