Tag Archives: Iran

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.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Foreign policy debate: Candidates line up on big policy points

While it was full of zingers from both sides, the Oct. 22 presidential debate on foreign policy did a good job of clarifying some of the candidates’ positions on foreign policy issues. Here’s the rundown (all debate quotes come from The New York Times’ full transcript of the debate):

  • Candidates perfectly aligned on drone use

Moderator Bob Scheiffer threw in the obligatory question about drone use – it seemed as though he had forgotten to write one and then saw one of the thousands of tweets coming in demanding one after the debate hit the one hour mark, so came up with something off the cuff. Here is the full exchange on drones:

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you, Governor, because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones?

MR. ROMNEY: Well, I believe that we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology and believe that we should continue to use it to continue to go after the people who represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

Let me also note that, as I said earlier, we’re going to have to do more than just going after leaders and — and killing bad guys, important as that is. We’re also going to have to have a far more effective and comprehensive strategy to help move the world away from terror and Islamic extremism.

We haven’t done that yet. We talk a lot about these things, but you look at the — the record. You look at the record of the last four years and say, is Iran closer to a bomb? Yes. Is the Middle East in tumult? Yes. Is — is al-Qaida on the run, on its heels? No. Is — are Israel and the Palestinians closer to — to reaching a peace agreement? No, they haven’t had talks in two years. We have not seen the progress we need to have, and I’m convinced that with strong leadership and an effort to build a strategy based upon helping these nations reject extremism, we can see the kind of peace and prosperity the world demands.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind our strategy wasn’t just going after bin Laden. We’ve created partnerships throughout the region to deal with extremism — in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. And what we’ve also done is engage these governments in the kind of reforms that are actually going to make a difference in people’s lives day to day, to make sure that their government aren’t corrupt, to make sure that they are treating women with the kind of respect and dignity that every nation that succeeds has shown, and to make sure that they’ve got a free market system that works.

So across the board, we are engaging them in building capacity in these countries and we have stood on the side of democracy. One thing I think Americans should be proud of — when Tunisians began to protest, this nation, me, my administration stood with them earlier than just about any other country. In Egypt we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya we stood on the side of the people. And as a consequence there is no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed.

But there are always going to be elements in these countries that potentially threaten the United States.

And we want to shrink those groups and those networks, and we can do that, but we’re always also going to have to maintain vigilance when it comes to terrorist activities. The truth, though, is that al-Qaida is much weaker than it was when I came into office, and they don’t have the same capacities to attack the U.S. homeland and our allies as they did four years ago.

While neither candidate seems to note the irony of seeking to reduce Islamic extremism while simultaneously establishing a canopy of lethal robots over a good chunk of the Middle East, that seems to be the policy America will pursue for the next four years, regardless of the outcome of the next election.

  • Iran’s a threat. We should negotiate.

On Iran, Obama went first. After saying that he would support Israel if they were attacked by Iran, he articulated his administration’s approach:

But to the issue of Iran, as long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.

I’ve made that clear when I came into office. We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest level since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.

And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security and it’s threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world. Iran’s a state sponsor of terrorism, and for them to be able to provide nuclear technology to nonstate actors — that’s unacceptable. And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.

So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.

Nothing off the table means the possibility of a military solution to the Iranian problem.

Now Romney:

Well, first of all, I — I want to underscore the — the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And — and if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily. That’s number one.

Number two, with regards to — to Iran and the threat of Iran, there’s no question but that a nuclear Iran, a nuclear-capable Iran, is unacceptable to America.

It presents a threat not only to our friends, but ultimately a threat to us to have Iran have nuclear material, nuclear weapons that could be used against us or used to be threatening to us.

It’s also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means. And crippling sanctions are something I’d called for five years ago when I was in Israel speaking at the Herzliya Conference. I laid out seven steps.

Crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to have crippling sanctions. I’d have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.

Number two, something I would add today is I would tighten those sanctions. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil can’t come into our ports. I imagine the EU would agree with us as well. Not only ships couldn’t, I’d say companies that are moving their oil can’t, people who are trading in their oil can’t. I would tighten those sanctions further.

Secondly, I’d take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world, the same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.

We need to increase pressure time and time again on Iran because anything other than a — a — a solution to this which says — which stops this nuclear folly of theirs is unacceptable to America. And of course, a military action is the last resort. It is something one would only, only consider if all of the other avenues had been — had been tried to their full extent.

Both candidates want to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons through peaceful means, but both are willing to follow their diplomacy with military force if necessary.

Can a U.S. President indict a foreign leader under the Genocide Convention, as Romney said, for what might be considered – in the U.S. – free speech? Politico’s Byron Tau looked into it.

In essence, Ahmadinejad’s comments would likely be protected by the first amendment if prosecuted in the U.S. Romney, however, said that he would have the Iranian leader indicted under an international, United Nations convention. That being the case, such a trial would likely occur in international courts which are generally less protective of free speech.

“That said, some of the calls for genocide of the Jewish people, and wiping Israel off the map may be actionable, as true threats.  It is doubtful that this would be prosecuted in the U.S., but international courts may view the rhetoric differently,” he [First Amendment attorney Lawrence Walters] said.

If the candidates have a difference on Iran, it is that Romney’s approach to diplomacy is slightly more hard-nosed. Both candidates have pledged military action, if necessary, to prevent Iran from building a nuclear arsenal.

  • Syria solution: Hold a meeting

Both candidates have strongly condemned the violence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, but neither is willing to devote military troops to removing the dictator from power.

Here’s Obama:

What we’ve done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go. We’ve mobilized sanctions against that government. We have made sure that they are isolated. We have provided humanitarian assistance, and we are helping the opposition organize, and we’re particularly interested in making sure that we’re mobilizing the moderate forces inside of Syria. But ultimately, Syrians are going to have to determine their own future.

Romney goes out of his way with his answer to talk about the tragic results of the Syrian conflict so far and then mention the strategic importance, especially relating to Iran, of Syria in the overall picture of the Middle East. Then he agrees with Obama: No military action.

Well, let’s step back and talk about what’s happening in Syria and how important it is. First of all, 30,000 people being killed by their government is a humanitarian disaster.

Secondly, Syria’s an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a — a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us. And finally, we don’t want to have military involvement there. We don’t want to get drawn into a military conflict.

And so the right course for us is working through our partners and with our own resources to identify responsible parties within Syria, organize them, bring them together in a — in a form of — of — if not government, a form of — of council that can take the lead in Syria, and then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves.

Romney’s premise that Syria is Iran’s only route to the sea was a bit troubling, given a quick look at a map shows that Iran has coastline on two seas, and does not border Syria.

  • Romney likes democracy, just not the leaders it brings

Romney had a strong opening, summarizing what he likes in the Middle East and highlighting Iran as his big talking point for the evening. He also took a swipe at Mohamed Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

With the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women and — and public life and in economic life in the Middle East. But instead we’ve seen in nation after nation a number of disturbing events. Of course, we see in Syria 30,000 civilians having been killed by the military there. We see in — in — in Libya an attack apparently by — well, I think we know now by terrorists of some kind against — against our people there, four people dead. Our hearts and minds go to them. Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali, by al-Qaida-type individuals. We have in — in Egypt a Muslim Brotherhood president.

Later, Romney:

So across the board, we are engaging them in building capacity in these countries and we have stood on the side of democracy. One thing I think Americans should be proud of — when Tunisians began to protest, this nation, me, my administration stood with them earlier than just about any other country. In Egypt we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya we stood on the side of the people. And as a consequence there is no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed.

So Romney has, in less than an hour, listed the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership in Egypt as a “disturbing event,” despite the fact that Morsy was democratically elected, which Romney thinks “Americans should be proud of.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Iran building its own, isolated Internet

Iran is in the process of creating its own version of the Internet, the latest in a string of moves that have rubbed the leaders of the free world the wrong way.

The state-sponsored intranet already has multiple government and academic-based websites as well as email service, The Washington Post reports.

The nation of 74.8 million made a big splash online in the summer of 2009 when outraged citizens took to twitter to organize protests against what was widely thought to be a rigged election. The movement was something of a prelude to the Arab Spring in 2011, when protestors across the Middle East used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Skype and other social media to organize.

The message was clear: The internet is bad for oppressive regimes. Iran’s measures up to now – blocking select sites that might give citizens revolutionary ideas and throttling the net to the point where much of the modern web is useless – became useless in 2009 when Iranians nearly toppled the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 140 characters at a time.

Instead of trying to keep tabs on and properly control the real internet, Iran seems to have decided to build their own. They control it, and no pesky free-speech organizations will be invited. Naturally, the Obama administration is up in arms about the country’s new project (but hey – at least it’s not nuclear powered).

“We have concerns from not only a human rights perspective, but about the integrity of the Internet,” David Baer, deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said in an interview. “When countries section off parts of the Web, not only do their citizens suffer, everyone does.”

The other problem is that Iranians will no longer be noobs. As they develop and implement an entire net – presumably home to millions of devices – they’ll gain vital knowledge of how networks work, which they can later weaponize.

By “laying down the fiber” and connecting thousands of servers inside Iran, the government would “build on their knowledge of networks and how they operate,” [former NSA Deputy Director Cedric Leighton] said, increasing their capabilities to both launch and repel cyberattacks.

“But no matter what you do, there will always be vulnerabilities in a network,” Leighton said.

The network, as of now, only has about 10,000 devices online according to the Washington Post. Will it be less secure than existing networks, making it a goldmine for the folks at the NSA? Will it work? Time will tell – Iranian officials say some key governmental and military functions will be shifted to the network by the end of the month.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Iran says it hacked, brought down a U.S. drone, provides no evidence

UPDATE (12/8/2011): Iran has released video footage of Iranian officials inspecting what appears to be the downed drone.

Iran’s media outlets claim the nation’s military took control of a U.S. spy drone and brought it down within Iran. They’re attributing the grab to an electronic warfare unit that hacked the drone’s remote operating controls and brought it down softly so that the high-tech spy plane was mostly intact when the Iranian military got their hands on it.

Despite these claims, there are plenty of reasons to doubt that Iran actually took over one of the U.S. military’s most advanced drones (the one they claim to have is an RQ-170 — a rare drone made by Lockheed Martin that is more advanced than its more widely-seen counterparts) and brought it into a controlled crash within their own borders. David Axe explains:

Iran frequently announces it has shot down U.S. surveillance drones, but has not, to our knowledge, produced any evidence of the kills. Even if Tehran did bag itself an American war ‘bot, it might not be an RQ-170. The editors at Press TV undermined their credibility by running  the story with a photo of an entirely different drone than the Beast of Kandahar.

Equally dubious is Iran’s insistence that the RQ-170, if that’s what it is, was forced down largely intact by an Iranian army “electronic-warfare unit.” The implication is that the Iranians somehow jammed the command signal beamed to the drone by remote operators.

That’s a pretty big deal, if true. The Predator and Reaper, America’s most numerous attack and surveillance drones, are remotely-controlled via radio link by a pilot on the ground. If the link is broken, they’re designed to enter a holding pattern or even return home. But these failsafes aren’t perfect, as the Air Force discovered in 2009 when a Reaper drone went haywire and had to be shot down by an F-15. The Air Force and Navy have admitted that the control link represents a critical weakness and have worked hard to make drones more autonomous.

It’s not hard to be skeptical of a nation making claims that they’ve achieved something that the public isn’t even sure is technically possible, especially when said nation’s reputation for telling the truth is as tarnished (to put it kindly) as Iran’s. As tensions between the U.K. and Iran boiled over last week and the west is increasingly concerned about the country’s nuclear program, Iran’s claim to have shot down the drone could be an attempt to paint themselves as victims of western oppression — “We just want to have a clean, secure energy future and these allied nations to the west are coming down so hard on us it’s impossible.”

There hasn’t been any retaliatory action so far, but an Iranian official is quoted in The Washington Post as hinting at offensive action in retaliation to the discovery of the spy drone.

Hours after the incident, Iranian state TV news was showing only stock pictures of RQ-170 stealth drones, not images from the crash. An unnamed military official told the Fars News Agency that Iran’s response “will not be limited to the country’s borders.”

As Axe says above, those weren’t even the right drone photos.

If, however, Iran’s story is true, the loss of this intact technology could seriously limit the effectiveness of the RQ-170 in Iran and elsewhere, should the country’s military go public with specifications.

U.S. officials have given only vague information about the drone, its mission, or its status:

The U.S. military released a short statement later Sunday on the missing drone. “The [unmanned aerial vehicle] to which the Iranians are referring may be a U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week,” it said. “The operators of the UAV lost control of the aircraft and had been working to determine its status.”

With a no photos, doubt that what Iran claims is even possible, and U.S. officials giving only vague information about what happened, the validity of Iran’s claims cannot be confirmed by anyone but Iran itself.

As we say here on the world wide web: Pics or it didn’t happen.

Tagged ,

CIA spies caught in Lebanon, Iran, feared dead

ABC News reports the CIA has lost assets — likely their entire network — in Lebanon, where they were gathering intelligence about Hezbollah actions against Israel. In Iran, similar but unrelated events led to the Iranian government’s discovery of spies there.

Robert Baer, famous in the intelligence community as the first CIA operative to successfully infiltrate Hezbollah, said that if the reports are true, those spies were likely killed.

Robert Baer, a former senior CIA officer who worked against Hezbollah while stationed in Beirut in the 1980’s, said Hezbollah typically executes individuals suspected of or caught spying.

“If they were genuine spies, spying against Hezbollah, I don’t think we’ll ever see them again,” he said. “These guys are very, very vicious and unforgiving.”

Baer and other critics said these losses were the result of bad intelligence practices. Some said operatives were meeting with multiple sources in the same location and using overly simplistic code words.

“If you lose an asset, one source, that’s normally a setback in espionage,” said Robert Baer, who was considered an expert on Hezbollah.

“But when you lose your entire station, either in Tehran or Beirut, that’s a catastrophe, that just shouldn’t be. And the only way that ever happens is when you’re mishandling sources.”

Others said risks of such losses were inherent in intelligence gathering.

“Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk,” said the U.S. official briefed on the spy ring bust.

Update: The Washington Post has a great article on the exposure as well.

Tagged , , ,