Category Archives: Advanced Weaponry

Border Patrol Set to Weaponize Drones

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allgov.com |  Jul 7, 2013

When Customs and Border Protection (CPB) first got its drones, the rationale for the acquisition was that the unmanned aircraft would help improve monitoring and surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But now, CPB may be thinking about arming its Predator drones with “non-lethal weapons.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) obtained a report produced by CPB in 2010 that shows the agency has considered equipping its Predators with “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets of interest. Given the date of the report, it is possible that the weaponization has already taken place.

Drones threaten motorists in Argentina

Predators were first developed for the U.S. military in the 1990s, and are designed to fire missiles, such as the Hellfire. It is unclear at this time what kind of weaponization CPB has in mind for the drones.

Whatever their plans are, “CBP needs to assure the public that it will not equip its Predators with any weapons—lethal or otherwise,” wrote EFF’s Jennifer Lynch. If it doesn’t, Congress should halt the expansion of CBP’s Predator drone program, EFF argues.

MIT and Wilson Center receive NSF grant to develop “synthetic biology” agenda

phys.org | Jun 10, 2013

The MIT Center for International Studies and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars are collaborating on a $233,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help realize potential benefits and to address potential ecological effects of synthetic biology.

The grant is supported jointly by three units within NSF, the Division of Cellular and Molecular Biology, the Division of Environmental Biology, and the Engineering Directorate. The grant will fund development of an interdisciplinary research agenda to improve understanding of potential ecological effects of commercial uses of synthetic biology.

Worse Than GMO?: Urgent Action Needed!

The “New Bioeconomy”: Synthetic Biology’s Implications for the Environment, Health and Justice

The research agenda will be developed through consultations among synthetic biologists, evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and environmental scientists. It will be based on workshops that focus on near- and medium-term applications of synthetic biology, with scenarios based on the intentional and unintentional release of engineered organisms.

This project will be conducted jointly by the Program on Emerging Technologies of the MIT Center for International Studies and the Synthetic Biology Project at the Wilson Center. It will build on four previous workshops that brought together a wide range of scientists, regulators, NGOs, companies, and other stakeholders to discuss possible ecological risks associated with synthetic biology products and to identify sources of uncertainty over risks. These workshops were funded jointly by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the NSF Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. The project is expected to be completed in one year. A small board of advisors has been created to guide the design and execution of the workshops.

Provided by Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars/Science and Technology Innovation Program

India developing robotic soldiers

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samaylive.com | Jun 9, 2013

With futuristic warfare in mind, India is working to develop robotic soldiers as part of efforts to boost unmanned fighting capabilities, joining a select group of countries in this endeavour.

Under the project being undertaken by DRDO, robots would be developed with very high level of intelligence to enable them to differentiate between a threat and a friend.

These can then be deployed in difficult warfare zones, like the Line of Control (LoC), a step that would help avert the loss of human lives.

“We are going to work for robotic soldiers. We are going to look for very high level of intelligence in it than what we are talking today… It is a new programme and a number of labs are already working in a big way on robotics,” DRDO chief Avinash Chander told news agency in an interview.

The newly-appointed DRDO chief listed the project for development of robotic soldiers as one of his “priority thrust areas” saying that “unmanned warfare in land and air is the future of warfare. Initially the robotic soldier may be assisting the man.”

He said in the initial phase of the project, the robotic soldier would be required to be told by the human soldier to identify an enemy or a combatant but “slowly in due course of time, the robotic soldier would be at the front end and the human soldier would be assisting him.”

India developing robotic soldiers to replace humans in warfare:

Chander said the need for a robotic soldier is felt to save precious human lives and already robots are used in areas where humans do no want to venture such as defusing bombs or getting inside a high-radiation territory.

“Robotic soldier is one step further. It will have multiple technologies in terms of communication with team members, ability to recognise an enemy,” Chander said.

“Today, you have neural networks, whenever the soldier tells him (robotic soldier) that this is a human solider, he will derive his own logic as to what is the difference between him and others (civilians). That learning process will keep building up,” he said.

Asked if it would be capable of being deployed in areas such as the Line of Control, Chander said, “In due course of time but not before a decade in any way.”

He said many new technologies have to be developed such as “miniature communication, materials, cognitive technologies, self-learning processes and interaction with human.”

Chander said “already five to six countries are actively working. They have not yet developed it fully but they are in fairly advanced stages. This is one of my priority areas.”

DARPA developing electro-optics to detect and track human targets with 3-D imaging

MIST-IR 10 March 2013

DARPA pushes ahead with 3-D electro-optical sensors for target identification and tracking

militaryaerospace.com | Mar 10, 2013

by John Keller

ARLINGTON, Va., 10 March 2013. Government electro-optical sensor researchers will brief industry this week on an advanced initiative to develop fundamentally new avionics and vetronics 3-D electro-optical sensors for target identification and tracking.

Scientists at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., will host a technical overview and proposer’s day conference from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Friday, 15 March 2013, on the second phase of the Military Imaging and Surveillance Technology-Long Range (MIST-LR) program.

The MIST-IR program seeks to develop new kinds of electro-optic sensing for aircraft and ground vehicles to detect and track people and other targets. The program focus is on long-range geometric and 3-D imaging to characterize targets beyond the physical-aperture diffraction-limit of the receiver system.

Industry briefings will be at the DARPA Conference Center, 675 North Randolph St., in Arlington, Va., to provide information on the status and capabilities developed under the MIST program and promote additional discussion.

Those attending will receive details from the first phase of the MIST-LR program and related efforts; hear questions and answers from potential MIST-LR proposers; and have an opportunity to discuss their capabilities and teaming opportunities.

DARPA conducted an industry briefing and released a formal solicitation for the first phase of the MIST-IR program in February 2012. The agency has not publicized any contract awards that may have been made.

The MIST-IR program’s second phase will concentrate on new sensing methods and techniques based on computational imaging, synthetic-aperture imaging, digital holography, and multi-static laser radar (ladar).

Optical sensors available today can help identify targets, but their sizes and operational ranges can be limiting, DARPA officials say. The MIST-LR program seeks to develop new sensing methods that address physical aperture of the imaging receiver, the effects of atmospheric turbulence, performance of the receiver array, the power of the illumination source, and the image formation algorithms are the primary defining characteristics of active imaging systems.

The first phase of the MIST-IR program involved a formal preliminary design, at the system and subsystem level to establish the basis for a detailed design; experimental and simulation data validating the concept, approach, and link budget; demonstration of critical hardware and software subsystems; phenomenology measurements; evidence that the proposed designs can be manufactured affordably; and written descriptions of the architecture, design, and subsystems.

Phase 2, meanwhile, will complete the system and subsystems design, and integrate components into one laboratory system to emulate a small-scale imaging capability, as well as demonstrate processing and control software for final system designs. A future third phase will develop and demonstrate a prototype package on an aircraft or ground test range.

Those interested in attending the MIST-IR phase-two briefings should register no later than this Wednesday, 12 March 2013, by email to BAA-13-27@darpa.mil. Put MIST Conference Registration in the subject line. A SECRET security clearance is required to attend.

22 tips for dodging drones

 US/ME/215717
Telegraph | Feb 21, 2013

Al-Qaeda’s list of 22 tips for dodging drone attacks – including at least one believed to originate with Osama bin Laden – has been found hidden inside a manila envelope in a building abandoned by Islamists in Mali.

The document includes advice such as “hide under thick trees” (believed to be bin Laden’s contribution), and instructions for setting up a “fake gathering” using dolls to “mislead the enemy”.

Found by the Associated Press in a building in Timbuktu, the ancient city occupied by Islamists last year, the document is believed to have been abandoned as extremists fled a French military intervention last month. It is a Xeroxed copy of a tipsheet authored by a Yemeni extremist that has been published on some jihadi forums, but that has made little appearance in English.

The list reflects how al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghbreb anticipated a military intervention that would make use of drones, as the war on terror shifts from the ground to the air.

The document also shows the coordination between al-Qaeda chapters, which security experts have called a source of increasing concern.

Drone-dodging tips: the list in full

“This new document… shows we are no longer dealing with an isolated local problem, but with an enemy which is reaching across continents to share advice,” said Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA, now the director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institute.

While some of the tips are outdated or far-fetched, taken together, they suggest the Islamists in Mali are responding to the threat of drones with sound, common-sense advice that may help them to melt into the desert in between attacks, leaving barely a trace.

“These are not dumb techniques. It shows that they are acting pretty astutely,” said Col Cedric Leighton, a 26-year-veteran of the United States Air Force, who helped set up the Predator drone program, which later tracked Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

“What it does is, it buys them a little bit more time – and in this conflict, time is key. And they will use it to move away from an area, from a bombing raid, and do it very quickly,” he said.

The success of some of the tips will depend on the circumstances and the model of drones used, Col Leighton said. For example, from the air, where perceptions of depth become obfuscated, an imagery sensor would interpret a mat stretched over the top of a car as one lying on the ground, concealing the vehicle.

New models of drones, such as the Harfung used by the French or the MQ-9 “Reaper,” sometimes have infrared sensors that can pick up the heat signature of a car whose engine has just been shut off. However, even an infrared sensor would have trouble detecting a car left under a mat tent overnight, so that its temperature is the same as on the surrounding ground, Col Leighton said.

Unarmed drones are already being used by the French in Mali to collect intelligence on al-Qaeda groups, and US officials have said plans are underway to establish a new drone base in northwestern Africa.

The US recently signed a “status of forces agreement” with Niger, one of the nations bordering Mali, suggesting the drone base may be situated there and would be primarily used to gather intelligence to help the French.

The author of the tipsheet found in Timbuktu is Abdallah bin Muhammad, the nom de guerre for a senior commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based branch of the terror network.

The document was first published in Arabic on an extremist website on June 2, 2011, a month after bin Laden’s death, according to Mathieu Guidere, a professor at the University of Toulouse.

Prof Guidere runs a database of statements by extremist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and he reviewed and authenticated the document found by the AP.

The tipsheet is still little known, if at all, in English, though it has been republished at least three times in Arabic on other jihadist forums after drone strikes took out US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September 2011 and al-Qaeda second-in-command Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan in June 2012.

It was most recently issued two weeks ago on another extremist website after plans for the possible US drone base in Niger began surfacing, Prof Guidere said.

“This document supports the fact that they knew there are secret US bases for drones, and were preparing themselves,” he said. “They were thinking about this issue for a long time.”

The idea of hiding under trees to avoid drones, which is tip No 10, appears to be coming from the highest levels of the terror network. In a letter written by bin Laden and first published by the US Center for Combating Terrorism, the terror mastermind instructs his followers to deliver a message to Abdelmalek Droukdel, the head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, whose fighters have been active in Mali for at least a decade.

“I want the brothers in the Islamic Maghreb to know that planting trees helps the mujahedeen and gives them cover,” bin Laden writes in the missive. “Trees will give the mujahedeen the freedom to move around especially if the enemy sends spying aircrafts to the area.”

Hiding under trees is exactly what the al-Qaeda fighters did in Mali, according to residents in Diabaly, the last town they took before the French stemmed their advance last month. Just after French warplanes incinerated rebel cars that had been left outside, the fighters began to commandeer houses with large mango trees and park their four-by-fours in the shade of their rubbery leaves.

Hamidou Sissouma, a schoolteacher, said the Islamists chose his house because of its generous trees, and rammed their trucks through his earthen wall to drive right into his courtyard. Another resident showed the gash the occupiers had made in his mango tree by parking their pickup too close to the trunk.

In Timbuktu also, fighters hid their cars under trees, and disembarked from them in a hurry when they were being chased, in accordance with tip No 13.

Moustapha al-Housseini, an appliance repairman, was outside his shop fixing a client’s broken radio on the day the aerial bombardments began. He said he heard the sound of the planes and saw the Islamists at almost the same moment. Abou Zeid, the senior al-Qaeda emir in the region, rushed to jam his car under a pair of tamarind trees outside the store.

“He and his men got out of the car and dove under the awning,” said Mr al-Housseini. “As for what I did? Me and my employees? We also ran. As fast as we could.”

Along with the grass mats, the al-Qaeda men in Mali made creative use of another natural resource to hide their cars: Mud.

Asse Ag Imahalit, a gardener at a building in Timbuktu, said he was at first puzzled to see that the fighters sleeping inside the compound sent for large bags of sugar every day. Then, he said, he observed them mixing the sugar with dirt, adding water and using the sticky mixture to “paint” their cars. Residents said the cars of the al-Qaeda fighters are permanently covered in mud.

The drone tipsheet, discovered in the regional tax department occupied by Abou Zeid, shows how familiar al-Qaeda has become with drone attacks, which have allowed the US to take out senior leaders in the terrorist group without a messy ground battle. The preface and epilogue of the tipsheet make it clear that al-Qaeda well realizes the advantages of drones: They are relatively cheap in terms of money and lives, alleviating “the pressure of American public opinion.”

Ironically, the first drone attack on an al-Qaeda figure in 2002 took out the head of the branch in Yemen – the same branch that authoured the document found in Mali, according to Riedel. Drones began to be used in Iraq in 2006 and in Pakistan in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they became a hallmark of the war on terror, he said.

“Since we do not want to put boots on the ground in places like Mali, they are certain to be the way of the future,” he said. “They are already the future.”

Source: AP

Cyber, drone operators now eligible for ‘Distinguished Warfare’ medal

global hawk drone
The Global Hawk, built by Northrop Grumman, features a bulging forehead. What you can’t see is all the high-tech gear it’s packing.
(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

The Pentagon is expected to announce today the creation of a medal that can be awarded to drone operators as well as to individuals fighting in the cyberwar trenches.

The first new medal out of the Defense Department since the 1944 creation of the Bronze Star recognizes the growing importance of cyberwarfare and drone strikes.

cnet.com | Feb 13, 2013

by Charles Cooper

Distinguished_Warfare_Medal_120x243This would be a first. The Distinguished Warfare Medal, a nearly two-inch-tall brass pendant below a ribbon with blue, red and white stripes, will be handed out to people judged to have racked up “extraordinary achievement” directly tied to a combat operation but at a far remove from the actual battlefield, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the news. This is said to be the first new combat-related award since the 1944 creation of the Bronze Star.

In taking this step, the Pentagon is explicitly recognizing the increasing importance of cyberwar and drone activities to the nation’s defense complex. Indeed, the U.S. Air Force is on record predicting that by 2023 one-third of its attack and fighter planes will be drones.

Update 1:36 p.m. PT: The Defense Department has just announced the Distinguished Warfare Medal. In a statement, it gave two examples of the kinds of exceptional achievements that might merit the new medal:

“The most immediate example is the work of an unmanned aerial vehicle operator who could be operating a system over Afghanistan while based at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The unmanned aerial vehicle would directly affect operations on the ground. Another example is that of a soldier at Fort Meade, Md., who detects and thwarts a cyberattack on a DOD computer system.”

US media yet again conceals newsworthy government secrets

The Washington Post
The Washington Post this week admitted it was part of an “informal arrangement” to conceal from its readers a US drone base in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Alamy

The collective self-censorship over a US drone base in Saudi Arabia is but the latest act of government-subservient ‘journalism’

The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant.

guardian.co.uk | Feb 7, 2013

by Glenn Greenwald

The US media, over the last decade (at least), has repeatedly acted to conceal newsworthy information it obtains about the actions of the US government. In each instance, the self-proclaimed adversarial press corps conceals these facts at the behest of the US government, based on patently absurd claims that reporting them will harm US national security. In each instance, what this media concealment actually accomplishes is enabling the dissemination of significant government falsehoods without challenge, and permitting the continuation of government deceit and even illegality.

One of the most notorious examples was in mid-2004 when the New York Times discovered – thanks to a courageous DOJ whistleblower – that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on the electronic communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law. But after George Bush summoned to the Oval Office the paper’s publisher (Arthur Sulzberger) and executive editor (Bill Keller) and directed them to conceal what they had learned, the NYT complied by sitting on the story for a-year-and-a-half: until late December, 2005, long after Bush had been safely re-elected. The “national security” excuse for this concealment was patently ludicrous from the start: everyone knew the US government was trying to eavesdrop on al-Qaida communications and this story merely revealed that they were doing so illegally (without warrants) rather than legally (with warrants). By concealing the story for so long, the New York Times helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans.

The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, in a superb act of journalism, reported in 2005 that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret “black sites” where detainees were interrogated and abused beyond the monitoring scrutiny of human rights groups and even Congress. But the Post purposely concealed the identity of the countries serving as the locale of those secret prisons in order to enable the plainly illegal program to continue without bothersome disruptions: “the Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials.”

In 2011, the New York Times along with numerous other US media outlets learned that the American arrested in Pakistan for having shot and killed two Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, was not – as President Obama falsely claimed – “our diplomat”, but was a CIA agent and former Blackwater contractor. Not only did the NYT conceal this fact, but it repeatedly and uncritically printed claims from Obama and other officials about Davis’ status which it knew to be false. It was only once the Guardian published the facts about Davis – that he was a CIA agent – did the Times tell the truth to its readers, admitting that the disclosure “pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the CIA“.

The NYT, as usual, justified its concealment of this obviously newsworthy information as coming “at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk”. But as the Guardian’s Deputy Editor Ian Katz noted, “Davis [was] already widely assumed in Pakistan to have links to US intelligence” and “disclosing his CIA role would [therefore not] expose him to increased risk”.

predator_drone

And now, yet again, the US media has been caught working together to conceal obviously newsworthy government secrets. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that two years ago, the Obama administration established a base in Saudi Arabia from which it deploys drones to kill numerous people in Yemen. including US citizen Anwar Awlaki and, two weeks, later his 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman. The US base was built after the US launched a December, 2009 cruise missile/cluster-bomb attack that slaughtered dozens of Yemeni women and children.

But the Post admitted that it – along with multiple other US media outlets – had long known about the Saudi Arabia drone base but had acted in unison to conceal it from the US public:

“The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.

“The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

The “other news organization” which the Post references is the New York Times. The NYT – in a very good article yesterday on the role played by CIA nominee John Brennan in US drones strikes in Yemen – reported that Brennan “work[ed] closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret CIA drone base there that is used for American strikes”. As the paper’s Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, explained, the NYT was one of the papers which “had withheld the location of that base at the request of the CIA”, but had decided now to report it. That was why the Post did so.

The existence of this drone base in Saudi Arabia is significantly newsworthy in multiple ways. The US drone program is drenched with extreme secrecy. The assassination of Awlaki is one of the most radical acts the US government has undertaken in the last decade at least. The intense cooperation between the US and the incomparably despotic Saudi regime is of vital significance. As Sullivan, the NYT’s Public Editor, put it in defending the NYT’s disclosure (and implicitly questioning the prior media conspiracy of silence):

“Given the government’s undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program’s great significance to America’s foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it.”

As usual, the excuses for concealing this information are frivolous. Indeed, as the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade noted, “the location of several drone bases was published as long ago as September last year on at least one news website, as this item on the North America Inter Press Service illustrates.” Gawker’s Adrian Chen documents numerous other instances where the base had been publicly disclosed and writes:

“In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren’t protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story. . . . The fact that the drone base was already reported renders the rationale behind the months-long blackout a farce.”

In an article on the controversy over this self-censorship, the Guardian this morning quotes Dr Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University:

“The decision not to publish is a shameful one. The national security standard has to be very high, perhaps imminent danger. The fact that we are even having a conversation about whether it was a national security issue should have sent alarm bells off to the editors. I think the real reason was that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis – and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven.”

The same dynamic drives most of these acts of US media self-censorship. It has nothing to do with legitimate claims of national security. Indeed, none of these facts – once they were finally reported – ultimately resulted in any harm. Instead, it has everything to do with obeying government dictates; shielding high-level government officials from embarrassing revelations; protecting even the most extreme government deceit and illegality; and keeping the domestic population of the US (their readers) ignorant of the vital acts in which their own government is engaged.

There are, of course, instances where newspapers can validly opt to conceal facts that they learn. That’s when the harm that comes from disclosure plainly outweighs the public interest in learning of them (the classic case is when, in a war, a newspaper learns of imminent troop movements: there is no value in reporting that but ample harm from doing so). But none of these instances comes close to meeting that test. Instead, media outlets overwhelmingly abide by government dictates as to what they should conceal. As Greensdale wrote: “most often, they oblige governments by acceding to requests not to publish sensitive information that might jeopardise operations.”

As all of these examples demonstrate, extreme levels of subservience to US government authority is embedded in the ethos of the establishment American media. They see themselves not as watchdogs over the state but as loyal agents of it.

Recall the extraordinary 2009 BBC debate over WikiLeaks in which former NYT executive editor Bill Keller proudly praised himself for concealing information the Obama administration told him to conceal, prompting this incredulous reply from the BBC host: “Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the government in advance and say: ‘What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,’ and you get clearance, then?” Keller’s admission also prompted this response from former British diplomat Carne Ross, who was also on the program: “It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the US Government.”

After the Guardian published the truth about Raymond Davis, former Bush DOJ laywer Jack Goldsmith, in 2011, defended the New York Times’ concealment of it by hailing what he called “the patriotism of the American press“. He quoted former Bush CIA and NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden as saying that “American journalists display ‘a willingness to work with us’ . . . but with the foreign press ‘it’s very, very difficult'”. Goldsmith said that while foreign media outlets will more readily report on secret US government acts (he named The Guardian, Al Jazeera and WikiLeaks), US national security journalists with whom he spoke justified their eagerness to cooperate with the US government by “expressly ascrib[ing] this attitude to ‘patriotism’ or ‘jingoism’ or to being American citizens or working for American publications.”

That is the key truth. The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant. There are significant exceptions: Dana Priest did disclose the CIA black sites network over the agency’s vehement objections, while the NYT is now suing the government to compel the release of classified documents relating to Obama’s assassination program. But time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them. Its collaborative “informal” agreement to hide the US drone base in Saudi Arabia is just the latest in a long line of such behavior.