Daily Archives: June 18, 2009

Inside the Military’s Secret Terror-Tagging Tech

radar_tag

Wired | Jun 3, 2009

 By David Hambling

The story that the CIA uses tiny homing beacons to guide their drone strikes in Pakistan may sound like an urban myth. But this sort of technology does exist, and might well be used for exactly this purpose. It might even have been the “secret weapon” that Bob Woodward said helped the American military pacify Iraq.

The military has spent hundreds of millions of dollars researching, developing, and purchasing a slew of “Tagging tracking and locating” (TTL) gear — gizmos designed to keep covertly tabs from far away. Most of these technologies are highly classified. But there’s enough information in the open literature to get a sense of what the government is pursuing: laser-based reflectors, super-strength RFID tags, and homing beacons so tiny, they can be woven into fabric or into paper.

Some of the gadgets are already commercially available; if you’re carrying around a phone or some other mobile gadget, you can be tracked – either through the GPS chip embedded in the gizmo, or by triangulating the cell signal. Defense contractor EWA Government Systems, Inc. makes a radio frequency-based “Bigfoot Remote Tagging System” that’s the size of a couple of AA batteries. But the government has been working to make these terrorist tracking tags even smaller.

Sandia National Laboratories have carried out development on “Radar Responsive” tags, which are like a long-range version of the ubiquitous stick-on RFID tags used to mark items in shops. The Radar Responsive tag stays asleep until it is woken up by a radar pulse. The tags in Wal-mart have a range of a couple of meters, Sandia’s tags can light up and locate themselves from twelve miles away.

This document from 2004 describes the tags as being credit-card sized and with a “geolocation accuracy” of three feet. The radio waves penetrate buildings. Suggested application include “search and rescue, precision targeting, special operations.” The selection of aircraft used to illustrate the system includes a Predator drone.

The reports from Pakistan suggest that the CIA knew which village to strike, they just needed to locate the exact building (descriptions like “third house on the left” can be dangerously ambiguous, especially when viewing from the air). A Radar Responsive tag would be very handy for guiding a strike from a drone a few miles away.

Nor is this the only technology out there. A 2002 Defense Science Board report on counter-terrorism mentioned, among other things, the possibility of using invisible chemical dye to mark terrorists, so they could be spotted using a suitable viewer.

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review — the Pentagon’s once-every-four-years grand strategy document — included a section on defeating terrorist networks, which mentioned the importance of tagging and tracking both terrorists and their gear. Two methods suggested are tinier-than-tiny radar tags, and dynamic optical tags. Darpa, the Pentagon’s way-out research arm, spent years developing these “small, environmentally robust, retro reflector-based tags that can be read by both handheld and airborne sensors at significant ranges.” They rely on small silicon reflectors which return a laser signal — as long as that signal can be seen from the air. “Each Dynamic Optical Tag or DOT is an inch across and based on a ‘quantum well modulator,’” the agency explains. “They are read using a laser interrogator, which can be mounted on an aircraft; the laser ‘wakes up’ the tag, which sends a return signal at over 100 kbps. This can be simply the ID of the tag, or it can be data that it has recorded – for example, details of where it has traveled since last interrogated, or recorded video or audio.”

Covert radar tags were descried in a 2004 report by the National materials Advisory Board. Inkode, a company that also provides cheap RFID tags for supermarkets, has developed a means of embedding aluminum fibers in paper and other materials. The fibers are described as 6.5 millimeters long and 1.5 micrometers in diameter.

When illuminated with radar, the backscattered fields interact to create a unique interference pattern that enables one tagged object to be identified and differentiated from other tagged objects,” the company says. “For nonmilitary applications, the reader is less than 1 meter from the tag. For military applications, the reader and tag could theoretically be separated by a kilometer or more.”

The fibers can be embedded in “paper, airline baggage tags, book bindings, clothing and other fabrics, and plastic sheet.” Eight thousand fibres can be embedded in a typical 8½ by 11 inch piece of paper, which could be seen by radar at a similar distance to a meter-square target. So even something as small as a cigarette paper could be detected through walls, uniquely identified and precisely located from a tactically-useful distance in order to direct a missile strike.

This 2007 briefing from U.S. Special Operations Command hints at research into even more exotic ways to keep tabs on a target. Technology goals include spotting a “human thermal fingerprint at long distance,” “augmentation of natural signatures: e.g. ‘perfumes’ and ’stains.’” The presentation also mentions a “bioreactive taggant” that is a “current capability.” Next to the words in a picture of a bruised arm.

We do not know if any or all of these technologies are actually in use. After all, mobile phones are also a good way of locating an individual from long range, and there are numerous other sensors that can be used to direct a strike. But technologically speaking, the miniature homing beacon calling in CIA drone strikes is not just another urban myth.

Tony Blair knew of secret policy on terror interrogations

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Letter reveals former PM was aware of guidance to UK agents

Guardian | Jun 18, 2009

Tony Blair was aware of the existence of a secret interrogation policy which effectively led to British citizens, and others, being tortured during counter-terrorism investigations, the Guardian can reveal.

The policy, devised in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, offered guidance to MI5 and MI6 officers questioning detainees in Afghanistan whom they knew were being mistreated by the US military.

British intelligence officers were given written instructions that they could not “be seen to condone” torture and that they must not “engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners”.

But they were also told they were not under any obligation to intervene to prevent detainees from being mistreated.

“Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this,” the policy said.

The policy almost certainly breaches international human rights law, according to Philippe Sands QC, one of the world’s leading experts in the field, because it takes no account of Britain’s obligations to avoid complicity in torture under the UN convention against torture. Despite this, the secret policy went on to underpin British intelligence’s relationships with a number of foreign intelligence agencies which had become the UK’s allies in the “war against terror”.

The policy was set out in written instructions sent to MI5 and MI6 officers in January 2002, which told them they might consider complaining to US officials about the mistreatment of detainees “if circumstances allow”.

Blair indicated his awareness of the existence of the policy in the middle of 2004, a few weeks after publication of photographs depicting the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

It was around this time, David Miliband, the foreign secretary, told MPs on Tuesday, that the policy was changed, becoming more “comprehensive and formal”.

In a letter to the intelligence and security committee (ISC), the group of MPs and peers that provides political oversight of the UK’s security and intelligence services, on May 24 2004, Blair said that rather than considering making a complaint, “UK intelligence personnel interviewing or witnessing the interviews of detainees are instructed to report if they believe detainees are being treated in an inhumane or degrading way”.

The Guardian has learned from a reliable source that MI5 officers are now instructed that if a detainee tells them that he or she is being tortured they should never return to question that person.

It remains unclear what Blair knew of the policy’s consequences. The Guardian has repeatedly asked him what role he played in approving the policy, whether he was aware that it had led to people being tortured, and whether he made any attempt to change it.

His spokesman said: “It is completely untrue that Mr Blair has ever authorised the use of torture. He is opposed to it in all circumstances. Neither has he ever been complicit in the use of torture.

“For the record, also, Mr Blair believes that our security services do a superb job of protecting our country in difficult circumstances and that it is not surprising following the attacks of September 11 2001 that there was a heightened sense of the dangers the country faced from terrorism. None of this amounts to condoning the use of torture.”

When the Guardian pointed out to Blair that it had not suggested he had authorised the use of torture, but had asked whether he had played any role in the approval of a policy that led to people being tortured, his spokesman replied: “Tony Blair does not condone torture, has never authorised it nor colluded in it at any time.” But there is growing evidence of MI5’s collusion in the torture of British terrorism suspects in Pakistan, where officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), an agency whose routine use of torture has been widely documented, were asked by MI5 to detain British citizens and put questions to them prior to an interrogation by MI5 officers.

Two high court judges say they have seen “powerful evidence” of the torture of Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who returned from Guantánamo Bay in February, before he was questioned by an MI5 officer in May 2002.

In a separate case, a court has heard that MI5 and Greater Manchester police drew up a list of questions to be put to another man, Rangzieb Ahmed, who was detained by the ISI in August 2006, despite having reason to believe that he was in danger of being tortured.

By the time Ahmed was deported to the UK after a lengthy period of unlawful detention three of his fingernails were missing.

Several other men have come forward to say they were questioned by British intelligence officers after suffering brutal torture at the hands of Pakistani agents, and there have been similar allegations of British collusion in the torture of British citizens in Egypt, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates.

While a small number of the victims were subsequently tried and convicted in the UK, most were released without charge.

International concern about Britain’s involvement in torture has been mounting for some time. In February Martin Scheinin, a UN special rapporteur on human rights, reported that British intelligence personnel had “interviewed detainees who were held incommunicado by the Pakistani ISI in so-called safe houses, where they were being tortured”.

Scheinin added that this “can be reasonably understood as implicitly condoning torture.”

In March, after the Guardian disclosed the existence of the interrogation policy, and reported on the growing number of allegations of British collusion in torture, Gordon Brown announced that the policy was to be rewritten by the ISC.

In what was seen at Westminster as an acknowledgement that the secret policy had been open to abuse, Brown also pledged that the rewritten policy would be made public and that a former appeal court judge would monitor the intelligence agencies’ compliance with it, and report to the prime minister each year.

On Tuesday Miliband said the existing policy, as amended in 2004, would not be published.

But the discovery that Blair was aware of the secret interrogation policy appears certain to fuel the growing demand for an independent inquiry into aspects of the UK’s role in torture and rendition.

So far, those who have called for such an inquiry include the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg; Ken Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions; Lord Carlile of Berriew, the government’s independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation; Lord Howe, who was foreign secretary between 1983 and 1989 in the Thatcher government; and Lord Guthrie, a former chief of defence staff.

CIA and Pentagon Deploy RFID “Death Chips.” Coming Soon to a Product Near You!

RFIDfinger400

First it was cattle. Then it was pets. Then Mexicans. Now the tribal areas of Pakistan where the CIA is equipping Pakistani tribesmen with secret transmitters to call in airstrikes targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants. A drone, guided by the signal from the chip, destroys the building with a salvo of missiles scattering body parts everywhere. Will Americans and the rest of the “free world” be next? Long perceived as a crazy conspiracy theory, radio-frequency identification chips (RFID) have surreptitiously penetrated every aspect of society and may soon literally get under our skin for ubiquitous surveillance. Back to Orwell … “The future is now” as Burghardt admonishes!

VoltaireNet | Jun 16, 2006

by Tom Burghardt

What Pentagon theorists describe as a “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) leverages information technology to facilitate (so they allege) command decision-making processes and mission effectiveness, i.e. the waging of aggressive wars of conquest.

It is assumed that U.S. technological preeminence, referred to euphemistically by Airforce Magazine as “compressing the kill chain,” will assure American military hegemony well into the 21st century. Indeed a 2001 study, [1], brought together analysts from a host of Pentagon agencies as well as defense contractors Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton and the MITRE Corporation and consultants from ThoughtLink, Toffler Associates and the RAND Corporation who proposed to do just.

As a result of this and other Pentagon-sponsored research, military operations from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond aim for “defined effects” through “kinetic” and “non-kinetic” means: leadership decapitation through preemptive strikes combined with psychological operations designed to pacify (terrorize) insurgent populations. This deadly combination of high- and low tech tactics is the dark heart of the Pentagon’s Unconventional Warfare doctrine.

In this respect, “network-centric warfare” advocates believe U.S. forces can now dominate entire societies through ubiquitous surveillance, an always-on “situational awareness” maintained by cutting edge sensor arrays as well as by devastating aerial attacks by armed drones, warplanes and Special Forces robosoldiers.

Meanwhile on the home front, urbanized RMA in the form of ubiquitous CCTV systems deployed on city streets, driftnet electronic surveillance of private communications and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in commodities are all aspects of a control system within securitized societies such as ours.

As Antifascist Calling has written on more than one occasion, contemporary U.S. military operations are conceived as a branch of capitalist management theory, one that shares more than a passing resemblance to the organization of corporate entities such as Wal-Mart.

Similar to RMA, commodity flows are mediated by an ubiquitous surveillance of products–and consumers–electronically. Indeed, Pentagon theorists conceive of “postmodern” warfare as just another manageable network enterprise.

The RFID (Counter) Revolution

Radio-frequency identification tags are small computer chips connected to miniature antennae that can be fixed to or implanted within physical objects, including human beings. The chip itself contains an Electronic Product Code that can be read each time a reader emits a radio signal.

The chips are subdivided into two distinct categories, passive or active. A passive tag doesn’t contain a battery and its read range is variable, from less than an inch to twenty or thirty feet. An active tag on the other hand, is self-powered and has a much longer range. The data from an active tag can be sent directly to a computer system involved in inventory control–or weapons targeting.

It is hardly surprising then, that the Pentagon and the CIA have spent “hundreds of millions of dollars researching, developing, and purchasing a slew of ‘Tagging tracking and locating’ (TTL) gear,” Wired reports.

Long regarded as an urban myth, the military’s deployment of juiced-up RFID technology along the AfPak border in the form of “tiny homing beacons to guide their drone strikes in Pakistan,” has apparently moved out of the laboratory. “Most of these technologies are highly classified” Wired reveals,

“But there’s enough information in the open literature to get a sense of what the government is pursuing: laser-based reflectors, super-strength RFID tags, and homing beacons so tiny, they can be woven into fabric or into paper.

Some of the gadgets are already commercially available; if you’re carrying around a phone or some other mobile gadget, you can be tracked–either through the GPS chip embedded in the gizmo, or by triangulating the cell signal. Defense contractor EWA Government Systems, Inc. makes a radio frequency-based “Bigfoot Remote Tagging System” that’s the size of a couple of AA batteries. But the government has been working to make these terrorist tracking tags even smaller. (David Hambling and Noah Shachtman, “Inside the Military’s Secret Terror-Tagging Tech,” Wired, June 3, 2009)

Electronic Warfare Associates, Inc. (EWA) is a little-known Herndon, Virginia-based niche company comprised of nine separate operating entities “each with varying areas of expertise,” according to the firm’s website. Small by industry standards, EWA has annual revenue of some $20 million, Business First reports. According to Washington Technology, the firm provides “information technology, threat analysis, and test and evaluation applications” for the Department of Defense.

The majority of the company’s products are designed for signals intelligence and surveillance operations, including the interception of wireless communications. According to EWA, its Bigfoot Remote Tagging System is “ideal” for “high-value target” missions and intelligence operations.

EWA however, isn’t the only player in this deadly game. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s geek-squad, has been developing “small, environmentally robust, retro reflector-based tags that can be read by both handheld and airborne sensors at significant ranges,” according to a presentation produced by the agency’s Strategic Technology Office (STO).

Known as “DOTS,” Dynamic Optical Tags, DARPA claims that the system is comprised of a series of “small active retroreflecting optical tags for 2-way data exchange.” The tags are small, 25×25×25 mm with a range of some 10 km and a two month shelf-life; far greater than even the most sophisticated RFID tags commercially available today. Sold as a system possessing a “low probability of detection,” the devices can be covertly planted around alleged terrorist safehouses–or the home of a political rival or innocent citizen–which can then be targeted at will by Predator or Reaper drones.

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