Category Archives: National Security

Hunger strike at Guantanamo

 

From NPR: Medics Arrive At Guantanamo As Hunger Strikers Increase

About 40 medical personnel have arrived at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay amid an increase in the number of hunger strikers at the facility.

Since last Saturday, 100 of the 166 prisoners at the camp have been refusing to eat; 21 of them are being fed through nasal tubes.

As the strike gains international media attention, President Barack Obama is reportedly renewing the efforts of his failed 2009 executive order (PDF) to have the prison camp closed by early 2010.

From the New York Times: Amid Hunger Strike, Obama Renews Push to Close Cuba Prison

“It’s not sustainable,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference. “The notion that we’re going to keep 100 individuals in no man’s land in perpetuity,” he added, makes no sense. “All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?”

 

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Some of the best Boston Marathon and Watertown Manhunt coverage

While the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the week of confusion that followed spawned some of the worst journalism in recent memory, it also gave some very talented journalists and writers an opportunity to shine.

Here is a roundup of some of the best stories, chosen by readers and myself, about the week’s events:

In an instant, a perfect day had morphed into something viscerally evil.

The location and timing of the bombs was sinister beyond belief, done purposely to maximize death and destruction. Among those who watched in horror as a fireball belched out across the sidewalk on Boylston were the parents of the schoolkids murdered in Newtown, Conn. The ­Atlantic reported they were sitting in a VIP section at the finish line, across the street from the explosion.

One nurse told me she remembered EMTs running out to the site of the explosion the moment the bombs burst. “They were off before I could blink,” she said. Many physicians followed. “After I saw a guy in a wheelchair coming into the tent with a head wound,” Rouzier said, “I decided to go to the scene.” He texted his wife what might be a good-bye message: There’s a bomb at the finish line and we have to help. “I didn’t want to die,” he said, “but there were people out there.”

Talking to people about that day, I was struck by how ready and almost rehearsed they were for this event. A decade earlier, nothing approaching their level of collaboration and efficiency would have occurred. We have, as one colleague put it to me, replaced our pre-9/11 naïveté with post-9/11 sobriety. Where before we’d have been struck dumb with shock about such events, now we are almost calculating about them. When ball bearings and nails were found in the wounds of the victims, everyone understood the bombs had been packed with them as projectiles. At every hospital, clinicians considered the possibility of chemical or radiation contamination, a second wave of attacks, or a direct attack on a hospital. Even nonmedical friends e-mailed and texted me to warn people about secondary and tertiary explosive devices aimed at responders. Everyone’s imaginations have come to encompass these once unimaginable events.

  •  4:09:43, Interactive Graphic, The New York Times

One week ago — at approximately 2:50 p.m. on Monday, just over four hours into the race — the first of two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. This image, taken from the NBC broadcast of the race, shows the flash of the explosion and the final split-second of normalcy before the area turned into what witnesses described as a war zone. Here are the stories of the runners and spectators seen in this image.

The story of how Boston resident Carlos Arredondo helped save the life of a man severely wounded in the Marathon bombings began nearly nine years ago.

Arredondo, now known worldwide as the man in a cowboy hat photographed wheeling an injured bombing victim on April 15, saw his life change dramatically — on his 44th birthday, Aug. 25, 2004. On that day, Marine officers in a government van arrived at the driveway of his home in Florida.

“He woke up under so much drugs, asked for a paper and pen and wrote, ‘bag, saw the guy, looked right at me,’” Chris Bauman said yesterday in an interview.

The work was painstaking and mind-numbing: One agent watched the same segment of video 400 times. The goal was to construct a timeline of images, following possible suspects as they moved along the sidewalks, building a narrative out of a random jumble of pictures from thousands of different phones and cameras.

“We were off scene and at the hospital in three minutes,” he said. “Overall we might have got the call, picked up Donohue and arrived at the hospital in eight minutes. I didn’t find out my brother was the one driving until we got to the hospital.”

It was over. The jubilation began to spread. A slow procession of emergency vehicles made their way through a gauntlet formed by the growing crowd. The ambulances, the cop cars, even the Watertown utility truck whose giant flood lights had illuminated Tsarnaev’s final hiding place were ushered through with grateful cheers. “You can set us back, but you can’t knock us down!” screamed the man in the sleeveless T-shirt.

Disclosure: Jeff Howe, who wrote “Captured in Watertown,” is a professor at Northeastern University who I work with on some stories. I didn’t participate in any aspect of the reporting, writing or editing of “Captured in Watertown.”

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Legal files vanishing, more delayed justice in Guantanamo

A soldier in a guard tower at Guantanamo. (JTF Guantanamo photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)

A soldier in a guard tower at Guantanamo. (JTF Guantanamo photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth)

Guantanamo has been struck by another controversy this week after files belonging to defense attorneys for two high-profile terror suspects began to disappear from their computers.

Last month, it came out that smoke detectors installed in some of the rooms where suspects met with their attorneys were detecting more than smoke. Now, according to a Reuters report, it seems someone has been snooping around the defense’s computers.

Navy Commander Walter Ruiz, who represents 9/11 defendant Mustafa al Hawsawi, said “three to four weeks’ worth of work is gone, vanished.”

But some new files of suspicious origin also mysteriously appeared.

He said what appeared to be a computer folder of prosecution files had turned up on the defense lawyers’ system, though none of them had opened the files.

The odd computer behavior led a judge to push week-long terror hearings scheduled this month back into June. The judge also ordered attorneys on both sides to stop using their government-issued computers.

It wasn’t clear based on the Reuters report if there is an investigation into the matter. The string of suspicious-at-best developments in Guantanamo trials is unsettling, to say the least. It seems odd that someone – presumably within the U.S. government and with access to the facilities – would be jeopardizing the integrity of such a vital trial.

If the defendants are in fact guilty of the crimes they’re accused of, those meddling with the process in their cases are only serving to damage the integrity of any outcome. If anything, all of the controversies around the case are only increasing the chances a guilty man walks free, not to mention turning public opinion against the trials.

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Loss of drone program a momentum shift for the CIA

The Daily Beast reports that the CIA’s drone operations are being shifted to military control. That doesn’t so much mean the CIA is losing the ability to launch strikes with the remotely piloted aircraft, but that they will have to liase with the Pentagon to do so.

The move is reportedly part of a larger shift in the administration to reign in and centralize the nation’s ability to launch targeted strikes across the globe.

The policy shift is part of a larger White House initiative known internally as “institutionalization,” an effort to set clear standards and procedures for lethal operations. More than a year in the works, the interagency process has been driven and led by John Brennan, who until he became CIA director earlier this month was Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser. Brennan, who has presided over the administration’s drone program from almost day one of Obama’s presidency, has grown uncomfortable with the ad hoc and sometimes shifting rules that have governed it.

 Cutting back on the CIA’s lethal operations is a shift in an agency culture that has, in the years since 9/11, seemed to be increasingly paramilitary in nature. Ironically, the newly-appointed director of the CIA, John Brennan, was historically the mastermind of the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policy – a policy that relied heavily on drones.

After the approval process for Brennan’s job as CIA director was rife with Congressional complaints about the lacking transparency of the administration’s use of drones, the executive branch seems to have received the message. With all American drone use coming out of the Pentagon, which falls under military and international law, the process for each strike will be uniform, if not more transparent.

The CIA, for its part, seems to be headed back into the shadows, serving as more of an ear and less of a fist for the American national security apparatus.

Moreover, Brennan has publicly stated that he would like to see the CIA move away from the kinds of paramilitary operations it began after the September 11 attacks, and return to its more traditional role of gathering and analyzing intelligence.

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U.S. Army researching hacker drones

The U.S. Army is soliciting input from the private sector for a new class of attack drone – one that does its damage with an antennae instead of Hellfire missiles.

The Army’s Request for Information, posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, says they’re hoping to learn “what systems, capabilities and techniques currently exist, or could be modified, to provide UAS-based EW capabilities to include potential surgical/targeted EW techniques (with emphasis on successful completion of an Airborne Electronic Attack mission).”

It’s unclear from the RFI what types of targets such an aircraft would be used against, but here are two likely guesses.

First, as Iran rolls out its own, domestically-operated version of the internet, outsiders will likely find it more and more difficult to penetrate that country’s networks. After Stuxnet made Iran aware of their vulnerability to more standard forms of electronic attack (i.e. USB thumb drives), the U.S. may be working on a more creative method of hacking their networks. Such an attack would, no doubt, be chock-full of irony, as Iran has previously claimed they were able to bring down an American Sentinel drone by taking over its controls.

The more recent headlines about electronic warfare have had nothing to do with Iran, though. After the New York Times exposed a widespread hacking campaign based in China which included major network infiltrations within both American media and infrastructure-related companies, the U.S. might be beefing up its electronic warfare suite for a showdown with the Chinese.

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Feds investigating UAV incident over New York

A Boeing 777-200, the same model of plane involved in the incident over New York.

A Boeing 777-200, the same model of plane involved in the incident over New York.

Federal authorities are investigating what could have been one of the first midair collisions between a manned aircraft and an unmanned “drone” over American soil. At around 1:15 p.m. today, the pilot of Alitalia flight 608 from Rome, Italy to John F. Kennedy airport in New York reported seeing a black, unmanned quadrocopter at an altitude of about 1,750 feet, according to the FBI, which is seeking public help to locate the vehicle’s operator.

The FBI report says the vehicle was about three miles from JFK’s runway, which puts it about a mile north of the western tip of Long Beach Island.

“The unnamed aircraft was described as black in color and no more than three feet wide with four propellers,” the FBI said in a release about the incident. Such quadrocopters are popular among hobbyists for their stability and maneuverability, but according to a Reuters report (which described the incident as taking place at a slightly lower altitude farther from the airport),

Under FAA safe operating rules, model aircraft should be flown no higher than 400 feet above ground and no closer to an airport than 3 miles, unless airport authorities have been notified.

The Reuters report quoted FAA spokesman Jim Peters as saying the pilot was able to land the Boeing safely without having to take evasive action.

Drone use over the U.S. has been a contentious issue of late – lawmakers have mandated a makeover in FAA regulations for the aircraft, but FAA brass and some state and local officials have privacy concerns about such use. The FAA is behind schedule on their mandated timeline for drone integration, which would install a regulatory structure around the use of unmanned aircraft over 400 feet and for commercial purposes.

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NatSec News of the Week: Friday, Jan. 4, 2013

I didn’t get a chance to write any longer posts this week, but there were a few interesting stories from the past couple of weeks. Worth reading:

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Less cloak, more dagger for the CIA

The seal on the floor of CIA headquarters. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The seal on the floor of CIA headquarters. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The average CIA case officer at the height of the Cold War traveled alone, opting for inconspicuous movement around their area of operations over the ability to engage in combat. But now, as many CIA operations take place in combat zones – or at least areas where it isn’t a red flag to see a man with an assault rifle on a street corner – case officers are constantly surrounded by an “envelope” of security, provided by a small community of former U.S. Special Operations personell, according to a story in The Washington Post.

The CIA’s Global Response Staff (GRS), the force officially charged with CIA security around the globe, is made up of 250 or more former U.S. Navy SEALs, Delta operators and even former SWAT team members from U.S. police departments. It’s made up of a mix of contractors and CIA staff.

At least half are contractors, who often earn $140,000 or more a year and typically serve 90- or 120-day assignments abroad. Full-time GRS staff officers — those who are permanent CIA employees — earn slightly less but collect benefits and are typically put in supervisory roles.

The high pay of a contractor is countered by the minimal benefits. One GRS contractor, Glen Doherty, was killed in the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks and received no benefits because he hadn’t set up a life insurance policy and didn’t have CIA benefits.

When Doherty died, he left debts that included loans on two houses in California, [his sister Kathleen] Quigley said. He had no life insurance. CIA officials told Doherty’s family that they had recommended companies willing to underwrite such policies, but that agency coverage was not available for contractors.

Quigley did not criticize the agency, but added: “It’s so sad for a guy like that to go out and have nothing to show for it, except, frankly, a lot of debt.”

The Post report comes amid growing concerns about the CIA’s drone program and the intelligence agency’s increasing role as a paramilitary force. The drone program, made up of between 30 and 35 armed drones, may expand by as many as 10 drones if the Obama administration approves an October request by then-CIA Director David Petraeus.

The cost of devoting increasing amounts of the CIA’s finite resources to lethality – a GRS contractor might make about $140,000 a year, which puts the total cost of the force into the tens of millions, and the drone program likely costs much more – is that those funds cannot be used for the CIA’s stated purpose: intelligence gathering.

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Washington Post: U.S. Special Forces setting up for the long haul, in D.C. and abroad

A three-part series in the Washington Post this week shed light on the U.S. counterterrorism apparatus as it is more than a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration and Congress took a number of actions to counter the forces that came to bear that day.

With the two resulting ground wars are drawing to a close – U.S. troops have been out of Iraq for 10 months and are slowly leaving Afghanistan – the government is establishing a counterterrorism system for the next decade.

With public opinion tilted against these more traditional wars and the limited efficacy of traditional forces against an enemy whose ideals can’t be drawn onto a map, a precision approach makes a lot of sense for the U.S. Covert operations by definition don’t make headlines as much as thousands of soldiers marching on a capital city, and drone strikes are both low-risk and deniable.

So American national security considerations are woven neatly into a “disposition matrix,” which lists every individual on an American kill list and magically generating every conceivable kill scenario for the individual, based on current intelligence and troop locations.

The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.

Currently, the kingpin of American counterterrorism is an unelected official appointed without congressional confirmation: John O. Brennan.

What was once a disparate collection of tactics — drone strikes by the CIA and the military, overhead surveillance, deployment of small Special Forces ground units at far-flung bases, and distribution of military and economic aid to threatened governments — has become a White House-centered strategy with Brennan at its core.

The Post story details Brennan’s loosely defined job description and his close relationship to President Barack Obama. But despite the synergy within the current administration, officials are in the process of setting up a procedural framework that will outlast them using tools like the disposition matrix and consistent procedures.

“This needs to be sustainable,” one senior administration official said, “and we need to think of it in ways that contemplate other people sitting in all the chairs around the table.”
One part of the new set up is establishing a foothold in areas where al-Qaeda operates. With troops leaving Afghanistan and a very limited presence in Iraq, the U.S. turned to the tiny nation of Djibouti as a center of operations for its new breed of warfare.
At camp Lemonnier on the outskirts of Djibouti City, the capital city of the small, costal North African nation that borders Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the buzz of a Predator drone is a familiar sound. As part of an expansion of its duties, the base received eight of the drones in 2011. It has since become a launch point for drone activity over Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

The number of takeoffs and landings each month has more than doubled, reaching a peak of 1,666 in July compared with a monthly average of 768 two years ago, according to air-traffic statistics disclosed in Defense Department contracting documents.

 The human counterpart to the drone mission in Djibouti is the roughly 300 special operators who occupy the base alongside regular troops.

About 300 Special Operations personnel plan raids and coordinate drone flights from inside a high-security compound at Lemonnier that is dotted with satellite dishes and ringed by concertina wire. Most of the commandos work incognito, concealing their names even from conventional troops on the base.
According to the Post, there are plans to expand the special operations presence at the base to upwards of 1,000 in the future, evidence of the shift in philosophy from overt “nation building” missions overseas to black ops smash-and-grabs reminiscent of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Questions remain about this new, more covert approach to national security. While the implications of long-term occupation are well-kn0wn both for native populations and the occupying force, the lack of clarity and constant fear that comes with living within a few hundred miles of a drone base could prove destructive to U.S. interests abroad. A recent report – Living Under Drones – by teams at New York University and Stanford outlined the implications of the drone war on native populations.
In The Post:

Side effects are more difficult to measure — including the extent to which strikes breed more enemies of the United States — but could be more consequential if the campaign continues for 10 more years.

“We are looking at something that is potentially indefinite,” Pillar said. “We have to pay particular attention, maybe more than we collectively have so far, to the longer-term pros and cons to the methods we use.”

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Three questions a sensible opponent would raise about Obama’s foreign policy

As President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are getting ready to debate on foreign policy. I suspect far too much time will be spent on both sides bickering over whether or not Obama’s policy was too wussy in Libya and whether the White House was trying to pull the wool over America’s eyes about intelligence suggesting the consulate attacks were caused by an organized effort or a spontaneous mob.

However, a sensible opponent to Obama and his policies abroad might touch on another, broader, set of issues. To name a few…

Among progressives and civil-liberties voters, Obama’s initial decision to shelve the Guantanamo issue represented a betrayal of the highest order. Dreaming publicly now about closing Gitmo after he didn’t take the opportunity to do so in the first two years of his term — when Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress — rips open an old wound that only depresses base enthusiasm rather than energize it.

Neither is it clear that the proposal will get much traction in the broader electorate. Americans supportkeeping the prison open for business at a rate of 70 percent.

What other foreign policy issues would you like to see Obama give answers on? Let us know in the comments.

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