"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

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Peeling The Onion: Almost Everyone Involved In Developing Tor Was (Or Is) Funded By The US Government

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm

tor-privacy-roger-dingledine-nsa-pentagon

Oldspeak: “None are more hopelessly than those who falsely believe they are free-Goethe.

YEEEESH…  i can’t say i’m surprised.  i’m more gullible than i thought.  Turns out TOR was/is a great way for governments to identify and track people who value their anonymity .  And was developed originally for spooks. Needless to say, don’t use Tor if you want to communicate and browse the internet securely. Or maybe this story is bullshit too, who the shit knows at this point. Le Sigh… ” -OSJ

By Yasha Levine @ Pando:

“The United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only. Because then every time a connection came from it people would say, “Oh, it’s another CIA agent.” If those are the only people using the network.”

—Roger Dingledine, co-founder of the Tor Network, 2004

***

In early July, hacker Jacob Appelbaum and two other security experts published a blockbuster story in conjunction with the German press. They had obtained leaked top secret NSA documents and source code showing that the surveillance agency had targeted and potentially penetrated the Tor Network, a widely used privacy tool considered to be the holy grail of online anonymity.

Internet privacy activists and organizations reacted to the news with shock. For the past decade, they had been promoting Tor as a scrappy but extremely effective grassroots technology that can protect journalists, dissidents and whistleblowers from powerful government forces that want to track their every move online. It was supposed to be the best tool out there. Tor’s been an integral part of EFF’s “Surveillance Self-Defense” privacy toolkit. Edward Snowden is apparently a big fan, and so is Glenn Greenwald, who says it “allows people to surf without governments or secret services being able to monitor them.”

But the German exposé  showed Tor providing the opposite of anonymity: it singled out users for total NSA surveillance, potentially sucking up and recording everything they did online.

To many in the privacy community, the NSA’s attack on Tor was tantamount to high treason: a fascist violation of a fundamental and sacred human right to privacy and free speech.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation believes Tor to be “essential to freedom of expression.” Appelbaum — a Wikileaks volunteer and Tor developer — considers volunteering for Tor to be a valiant act on par with Hemingway or Orwell “going to Spain to fight the Franco fascists” on the side of anarchist revolutionaries.

It’s a nice story, pitting scrappy techno-anarchists against the all-powerful US Imperial machine. But the facts about Tor are not as clear cut or simple as these folks make them out to be…

Let’s start with the basics: Tor was developed, built and financed by the US military-surveillance complex. Tor’s original — and current — purpose is to cloak the online identity of government agents and informants while they are in the field: gathering intelligence, setting up sting operations, giving human intelligence assets a way to report back to their handlers — that kind of thing. This information is out there, but it’s not very well known, and it’s certainly not emphasized by those who promote it.

Peek under Tor’s hood, and you quickly realize that just everybody involved in developing Tor technology has been and/or still is funded by the Pentagon or related arm of the US empire. That includes Roger Dingledine, who brought the technology to life under a series of military and federal government contracts. Dingledine even spent a summer working at the NSA.

If you read the fine print on Tor’s website, you’ll see that Tor is still very much in active use by the US government:

“A branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor for open source intelligence gathering, and one of its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle East recently. Law enforcement uses Tor for visiting or surveilling web sites without leaving government IP addresses in their web logs, and for security during sting operations.”

NSA? DoD? U.S. Navy? Police surveillance? What the hell is going on? How is it possible that a privacy tool was created by the same military and intelligence agencies that it’s supposed to guard us against? Is it a ruse? A sham? A honeytrap? Maybe I’m just being too paranoid…

Unfortunately, this is not a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory. It is cold hard fact.

Brief history of Tor

The origins of Tor go back to 1995, when military scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory began developing cloaking technology that would prevent someone’s activity on the Internet from being traced back to them. They called it “onion routing” — a method redirecting traffic into a parallel peer-to-peer network and bouncing it around randomly before sending it off to its final destination. The idea was to move it around so as to confuse and disconnect its origin and destination, and make it impossible for someone to observe who you are or where you’re going on the Internet.

Onion routing was like a hustler playing the three-card monte with your traffic: the guy trying to spy on you could watch it going under one card, but he never knew where it would come out.

The technology was funded by the Office of Naval Research and DARPA. Early development was spearheaded by Paul Syverson, Michael Reed and David Goldschlag — all military mathematicians and computer systems researchers working for the Naval Research Laboratory, sitting inside the massive Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling military base in Southeast Washington, D.C.

The original goal of onion routing wasn’t to protect privacy — or at least not in the way most people think of “privacy.” The goal was to allow intelligence and military personnel to work online undercover without fear of being unmasked by someone monitoring their Internet activity.

“As military grade communication devices increasingly depend on the public communications infrastructure, it is important to use that infrastructure in ways that are resistant to traffic analysis. It may also be useful to communicate anonymously, for example when gathering intelligence from public databases,” explained a 1997 paper outlining an early version of onion routing that was published in the Naval Research Labs Review.

In the 90s, as public Internet use and infrastructure grew and multiplied, spooks needed to figure out a way to hide their identity in plain sight online. An undercover spook sitting in a hotel room in a hostile country somewhere couldn’t simply dial up CIA.gov on his browser and log in — anyone sniffing his connection would know who he was. Nor could a military intel agent infiltrate a potential terrorist group masquerading as an online animal rights forum if he had to create an account and log in from an army base IP address.

That’s where onion routing came in. As Michael Reed, one of the inventors of onion routing, explained: providing cover for military and intelligence operations online was their primary objective; everything else was secondary:

The original *QUESTION* posed that led to the invention of Onion Routing was, “Can we build a system that allows for bi-directional communications over the Internet where the source and destination cannot be determined by a mid-point?” The *PURPOSE* was for DoD / Intelligence usage (open source intelligence gathering, covering of forward deployed assets, whatever). Not helping dissidents in repressive countries. Not assisting criminals in covering their electronic tracks. Not helping bit-torrent users avoid MPAA/RIAA prosecution. Not giving a 10 year old a way to bypass an anti-porn filter. Of course, we knew those would be other unavoidable uses for the technology, but that was immaterial to the problem at hand we were trying to solve (and if those uses were going to give us more cover traffic to better hide what we wanted to use the network for, all the better…I once told a flag officer that much to his chagrin).

Apparently solving this problem wasn’t very easy. Onion router research progressed slowly, with several versions developed and discarded. But in 2002, seven years after it began, the project moved into a different and more active phase. Paul Syverson from the Naval Research Laboratory stayed on the project, but two new guys fresh outta MIT grad school came on board: Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson. They were not formally employed by Naval Labs, but were on contract from DARPA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Center for High Assurance Computer Systems. For the next several years, the three of them worked on a newer version of onion routing that would later become known as Tor.

Very early on, researchers understood that just designing a system that only technically anonymizes traffic is not enough — not if the system is used exclusively by military and intelligence. In order to cloak spooks better, Tor needed to be used by a diverse group of people: Activists, students, corporate researchers, soccer moms, journalists, drug dealers, hackers, child pornographers, foreign agents, terrorists — the more diverse the group that spooks could hide in the crowd in plain sight.

Tor also needed to be moved off site and disassociated from Naval research. As Syverson told Bloomberg in January 2014: “If you have a system that’s only a Navy system, anything popping out of it is obviously from the Navy. You need to have a network that carries traffic for other people as well.”

Dingledine said the same thing a decade earlier at the 2004 Wizards of OS conference in Germany:

“The United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only. Because then every time a connection came from it people would say, ‘Oh, it’s another CIA agent.’ If those are the only people using the network.”

The consumer version of Tor would be marketed to everyone and — equally important — would eventually allow anyone to run a Tor node/relay, even from their desktop computer. The idea was to create a massive crowdsourced torrent-style network made up from thousands of volunteers all across the world.

At the very end of 2004, with Tor technology finally ready for deployment, the US Navy cut most of its Tor funding, released it under an open source license and, oddly, the project was handed over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“We funded Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson to work on Tor for a single year from November 2004 through October 2005 for $180,000. We then served as a fiscal sponsor for the project until they got their 501(c)(3) status over the next year or two.  During that time, we took in less than $50,000 for the project,” EFF’s Dave Maass told me by email.

In a December 2004 press release announcing its support for Tor, EFF curiously failed to mention that this anonymity tool was developed primarily for military and intelligence use. Instead, it focused purely on Tor’s ability to protect free speech from oppressive regimes in the Internet age.

“The Tor project is a perfect fit for EFF, because one of our primary goals is to protect the privacy and anonymity of Internet users. Tor can help people exercise their First Amendment right to free, anonymous speech online,” said EFF’s Technology Manager Chris Palmer.

Later on, EFF’s online materials began mentioning that Tor had been developed by the Naval Research Lab, but played down the connection, explaining that it was “in the past.” Meanwhile the organization kept boosting and promoting Tor as a powerful privacy tool:

“Your traffic is safer when you use Tor.”

Playing down Tor’s ties to the military…

The people at EFF weren’t the only ones minimizing Tor’s ties to the military.

In 2005, Wired published what might have been the first major profile of Tor technology. The article was written by Kim Zetter, and headlined: “Tor Torches Online Tracking.” Although Zetter was a bit critical of Tor, she made it seem like the anonymity technology had been handed over by the military with no strings attached to “two Boston-based programmers” — Dingledine and Nick Mathewson, who had completely rebuilt the product and ran it independently.

Dingledine and Mathewson might have been based in Boston, but they — and Tor — were hardly independent.

At the time that the Wired article went to press in 2005, both had been on the Pentagon payroll for at least three years. And they would continue to be on the federal government’s payroll for at least another seven years.

In fact, in 2004, at the Wizards of OS conference in Germany, Dingledine proudly announced that he was building spy craft tech on the government payroll:

“I forgot to mention earlier something that will make you look at me in a new light. I contract for the United States Government to built anonymity technology for them and deploy it. They don’t think of it as anonymity technology, although we use that term. They think of it as security technology. They need these technologies so they can research people they are interested in, so they can have anonymous tip lines, so that they can buy things from people without other countries knowing what they are buying, how much they are buying and where it is going, that sort of thing.”

Government support kept rolling in well after that.

In 2006, Tor research was funded was through a no-bid federal contract awarded to Dingledine’s consulting company, Moria Labs. And starting in 2007, the Pentagon cash came directly through the Tor Project itself — thanks to the fact that Team Tor finally left EFF and registered its own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit.

How dependent was — and is — Tor on support from federal government agencies like the Pentagon?

In 2007, it appears that all of Tor’s funding came from the federal government via two grants. A quarter million came from the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), a CIA spinoff that now operates under the Broadcasting Board of Governors. IBB runs Voice of America and Radio Marti, a propaganda outfit aimed at subverting Cuba’s communist regime. The CIA supposedly cut IBB financing in the 1970s after its ties to Cold War propaganda arms like Radio Free Europe were exposed.

The second chunk of cash — just under $100,000 — came from Internews, an NGO aimed at funding and training dissident and activists abroad. Tor’s subsequent tax filings show that grants from Internews were in fact conduits for “pass through” grants from the US State Department.

In 2008, Tor got $527,000 again from IBB and Internews, which meant that 90% of its funding came U.S. government sources that year.

In 2009, the federal government provided just over $900,000, or about 90% of the funding. Part of that cash came through a $632,189 federal grant from the State Department, described in tax filings as a “Pass-Through from Internews Network International.” Another $270,000 came via the CIA-spinoff IBB. The Swedish government gave $38,000, while Google gave a minuscule $29,000.

Most of that government cash went out in the form of salaries to Tor administrators and developers. Tor co-founders Dingledine and Mathewson made $120,000. Jacob Appelbaum, the rock star hacker, Wikileaks volunteer and Tor developer, made $96,000.

In 2010, the State Department upped its grant to $913,000 and IBB gave $180,000 — which added up to nearly $1 million out of a total of $1.3 million total funds listed on tax filings that year. Again, a good chunk of that went out as salaries to Tor developers and managers.

In 2011, IBB gave $150,00, while another $730,000 came via Pentagon and State Department grants, which represented more than 70% of the grants that year. (Although based on tax filings, government contracts added up to nearly 100% of Tor’s funding.)

The DoD grant was passed through the Stanford Research Institute, a cutting edge Cold War military-intel outfit. The Pentagon-SRI grant to Tor was given this description: “Basic and Applied Research and Development in Areas Relating to the Navy Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.”

That year, a new government funder came the scene: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Sweden’s version of USAID, gave Tor $279,000.

In 2012, Tor nearly doubled its budget, taking in $2.2 million from Pentagon and intel-connected grants: $876,099 came from the DoD, $353,000 from the State Department, $387,800 from IBB.

That same year, Tor lined up an unknown amount funding from the Broadcasting Board of Governors to finance fast exit nodes.

Tor at the NSA?

In 2013, the Washington Post revealed that the NSA had figured out various ways of unmasking and penetrating the anonymity of the Tor Network.

Since 2006, according to a 49-page research paper titled simply “Tor,” the agency has worked on several methods that, if successful, would allow the NSA to uncloak anonymous traffic on a “wide scale” — effectively by watching communications as they enter and exit the Tor system, rather than trying to follow them inside. One type of attack, for example, would identify users by minute differences in the clock times on their computers.

The evidence came out of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. It appeared that the surveillance agency had developed several techniques to get at Tor. One of the documents explained that the NSA “pretty much guaranteed to succeed.”

Snowden’s leaks revealed another interesting detail: In 2007, Dingledine gave at a talk at the NSA’s HQ explaining Tor, and how it worked.

The Washington Post published the NSA’s notes from their meeting with Dingledine. They showed that Dingledine and the NSA mostly talked about the technical details of Tor — how the network works and some of its security/usability tradeoffs. The NSA was curious about “Tor’s customers,” and Dingledine ran down some of the types of people who could benefit from Tor: Blogger Alice, 8 yr. old Alice, Sick Alice, Consumer Alice, Oppressed Alice, Business Alice, Law Enforcement Alice…

Interestingly, Dingledine told the NSA that “the way TOR is spun is dependent on who the ‘spinee’ is” — meaning that he markets Tor technology in different ways to different people?

Interestingly, the Washington Post article described Dingledine’s trip to the NSA as “a wary encounter, akin to mutual intelligence gathering, between a spy agency and a man who built tools to ward off electronic surveillance.” Dingledine told the paper that he came away from that meeting with the feeling that the NSA was trying to hack the Tor network:

“As he spoke to the NSA, Dingledine said in an interview Friday, he suspected the agency was attempting to break into Tor, which is used by millions of people around the world to shield their identities.”

Dingledine may very well have been antagonistic during his meeting with the NSA. Perhaps he was protective over his Tor baby, and didn’t want its original inventors and sponsors in the US government taking it back. But whatever the reason, the antagonism was not likely borne out of some sort of innate ideological hostility towards the US national security state.

Aside from being on the DoD payroll, Dingledine has spends a considerable amount of his time meeting and consulting with military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to explain why Tor’s so great, and instructing them on how to use it. What kind of agencies does he meet with? The FBI, CIA and DOJ are just a few… And if you listen to Dingledine explain these encounters in some of his public appearances, one does not detect so much as a whiff of antagonism towards intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

In 2013, during a talk at UC San Diego, Dingledine cheerfully recalled how an exuberant FBI agent rushed up to thank him during his recent trip to the FBI:

“So I’ve been doing a lot of talks lately for law enforcement. And pretty much every talk I do these days, sone FBI person comes up to me afterwards and says, ‘I use Tor everyday for my job. Thank you.’ Another example is anonymous tips — I was talking to the folks who run the CIA anonymous tip line. It’s called the Iraqi Rewards Program…”

Dingledine’s close collaboration with law enforcement aside, there’s the strangely glib manner in which he dismissed news about the NSA hacking into Tor. He seemed totally unconcerned by the evidence revealed by Snowden’s leaks, and played down the NSA’s capabilities in his comments to the Washington Post:

“If those documents actually represent what they can do, they are not as big an adversary as I thought.”

I reached out to Dingledine to ask him about his trip to the NSA and whether he warned the Tor community back in 2007 that he suspected the NSA was targeting Tor users. He didn’t respond.

How safe is Tor, really?

If Dingledine didn’t appear to be fazed by evidence of the NSA’s attack on Tor anonymity, it’s strange considering that an attack by a powerful government entity has been known to be one Tor’s principle weaknesses for quite some time.

In a 2011 discussion on Tor’s official listserv, Tor developer Mike Perry admitted that Tor might not be very effective against powerful, organized “adversaries” (aka governments) that are capable monitoring huge swaths of the Internet.

“Extremely well funded adversaries that are able to observe large portions of the Internet can probably break aspects of Tor and may be able to deanonymize users. This is why the core tor program currently has a version number of 0.2.x and comes with a warning that it is not to be used for “strong anonymity”. (Though I personally don’t believe any adversary can reliably deanonymize *all* tor users . . . but attacks on anonymity are subtle and cumulative in nature).

Indeed, just last year, Syverson was part of a research team that pretty much proved that Tor can no longer be expected to protect users over the long term.

“Tor is known to be insecure against an adversary that can observe a user’s traffic entering and exiting the anonymity network. Quite simple and efficient techniques can correlate traffic at these separate locations by taking advantage of identifying traffic patterns. As a result, the user and his destination may be identified, completely subverting the protocol’s security goals.”

The researchers concluded: “These results are somewhat gloomy for the current security of the Tor network.”

While Syverson indicated that some of the security issues identified by this research have been addressed in recent Tor versions, the findings only added to a growing list of other research and anecdotal evidence showing Tor’s not as safe as its boosters want you to think — especially when pitted against determined intelligence agencies.

Case-in-point: In December 2013, a 20-year-old Harvard panicked overachiever named Edlo Kim learned just how little protection Tor offered for would be terrorists.

To avoid taking a final exam he wasn’t prepared for, Kim hit up on the idea of sending in a fake bomb threat. То cover his tracks, he used Tor, supposedly the best anonymity service the web had to offer. But it did little mask his identity from a determined Uncle Sam. A joint investigation, which involved the FBI, the Secret Service and local police, was able to track the fake bomb threat right back to Kim — in less than 24 hours.

As the FBI complaint explained, “Harvard University was able to determine that, in the several hours leading up to the receipt of the e-mail messages described above, ELDO KIM accessed TOR using Harvard’s wireless network.” All that Tor did was make the cops jump a few extra steps. But it wasn’t hard, nothing that a bit of manpower with full legal authority to access network records couldn’t solve. It helped that Harvard’s network logging all metadata access on the network — sorta like the NSA.

Over the past few years, U.S. law enforcement has taken control and shutdown a series of illegal child porn and drug marketplaces operating on what should have been untraceable, hyper-anonymous servers running in the Tor cloud.

In 2013, they took down Freedom Hosting, which was accused of being a massive child porn hosting operation — but not before taking control of its servers and intercepting all of its communication with customers. The FBI did the same thing that same year with the online drug superstore Silkroad, which also ran its services in the Tor cloud. Although, rookie mistakes helped FBI unmask the identity of Dred Pirate Roberts, it is still a mystery how they were able to totally take over and control, and even copy, a server run in the Tor cloud — something that is supposed to be impossible.

Back in 2007, a Swedish hacker/researcher named Dan Egerstad showed that just by running a Tor node, he could siphon and read all the unencrypted traffic that went through his chunk of the Tor network. He was able to access logins and passwords to accounts of NGOs, companies, and the embassies of India and Iran. Egerstad thought at first that embassy staff were just being careless with their info, but quickly realized that he had actually stumbled on a hack/surveillance operation in which Tor was being used to covertly access these accounts.

Although Egerstad was a big fan of Tor and still believes that Tor can provide anonymity if used correctly, the experience made him highly suspicious.

He told Sydney Morning Herald that he thinks many of the major Tor nodes are being run by intelligence agencies or other parties interested in listening in on Tor communication.

“I don’t like speculating about it, but I’m telling people that it is possible. And if you actually look in to where these Tor nodes are hosted and how big they are, some of these nodes cost thousands of dollars each month just to host because they’re using lots of bandwidth, they’re heavy-duty servers and so on. Who would pay for this and be anonymous? For example, five of six of them are in Washington D.C.…”

Tor stinks?

Tor supporters point to a cache of NSA documents leaked by Snowden to prove that the agency fears and hates Tor. A 2013 Guardian story based on these docs — written by James Ball, Bruce Schneier and Glenn Greenwald — argues that agency is all but powerless against the anonymity tool.

…the documents suggest that the fundamental security of the Torservice remains intact. One top-secret presentation, titled ‘Tor Stinks’, states: “We will never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users all the time.” It continues: “With manual analysis we can de-anonymize a very small fraction of Tor users,” and says the agency has had “no success de-anonymizing a user in response” to a specific request.

Another top-secret presentation calls Tor “the king of high-secure, low-latency internet anonymity”.

But the NSA docs are far from conclusive and offer conflicting bits of evidence, allowing for multiple interpretations. But the fact is that the NSA and GCHQ clearly have the capability to compromise Tor, but it might take a bit of targeted effort.

One thing is clear: the NSA most certainly does not hate or fear Tor. And some aspects about Tor are definitely welcomed by the NSA, in part because it helps concentrate potential “targets” in one convenient location.

Tor Stinks… But it Could be Worse

• Critical mass of targets use Tor. Scaring them away might be counterproductive.

• We can increase our success rate and provide more client IPs for individual Tor users.

• We will never get 100% but we don’t need to provide true IPs for every target every time they use Tor.

Tor network is not as difficult to capture as it may seem…

In 2012, Tor co-founder Roger Dingledine revealed that the Tor Network is configured to prioritize speed and route traffic through through the fastest servers/nodes available. As a result, the vast bulk of Tor traffic runs through several dozen of the fastest and most dependable servers: “on today’s network, clients choose one of the fastest 5 exit relays around 25-30% of the time, and 80% of their choices come from a pool of 40-50 relays.”

Dingledine was criticized by Tor community for the obvious reason that funneling traffic through a handful of fast nodes made surveilling and subverting Tor much easier. Anyone can run a Tor node — a research student in Germany, a guy with FIOS connection in Victorville (which is what I did for a few months), an NSA front out of Hawaii or a guy working for China’s Internet Police.

There’s no way of knowing if the people running the fastest most stable nodes are doing it out of goodwill or because it’s the best way to listen in and subvert the Tor network. Particularly troubling was that Snowden’s leaks clearly showed the NSA and GCHQ run Tor nodes, and are interested in running more.

And running 50 Tor nodes doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult for any of the world’s intelligence agencies — whether American, German, British, Russian, Chinese or Iranian. Hell, if you’re an intelligence agency, there’s no reason not to run a Tor node.

Back in 2005, Dingledine admitted to Wired that this was a “tricky design question” but couldn’t provide a good answer to how they’d handle it. In 2012, he dismissed his critics altogether, explaining that he was perfectly willing to sacrifice security for speed — whatever it took to take get more people to use Tor:

This choice goes back to the original discussion that Mike Perry and I were wrestling with a few years ago… if we want to end up with a fast safe network, do we get there by having a slow safe network and hoping it’ll get faster, or by having a fast less-safe network and hoping it’ll get safer? We opted for the “if we don’t stay relevant to the world, Tor will never grow enough” route.

Speaking of spooks running Tor nodes…

If you thought the Tor story couldn’t get any weirder, it can and does. Probably the strangest part of this whole saga is the fact that Edward Snowden ran multiple high-bandwidth Tor nodes while working as an NSA contractor in Hawaii.

This only became publicly known last May, when Tor developer Runa Sandvik (who also drew her salary from Pentagon/State Department sources at Tor) told Wired’s Kevin Poulsen that just two weeks before he would try to get in touch with Glenn Greenwald, Snowden emailed her, explaining that he ran a major Tor node and wanted to get some Tor stickers.

Stickers? Yes, stickers.

Here’s Wired:

In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

Snowden’s request for Tor stickers turned into something a bit more intimate. Turned out that Sandvik was already planning to go to Hawaii for vacation, so she suggested they meet up to talk about communication security and encryption.

She wrote Snowden back and offered to give a presentation about Tor to a local audience. Snowden was enthusiastic and offered to set up a crypto party for the occasion.

So the two of them threw a “crypto party” at a local coffee shop in Honolulu, teaching twenty or so locals how to use Tor and encrypt their hard drives. “He introduced himself as Ed. We talked for a bit before everything started. And I remember asking where he worked or what he did, and he didn’t really want to tell,” Sandvik told Wired.

But she did learn that Snowden was running more than one Tor exit node, and that he was trying to get some of his buddies at “work”to set up additional Tor nodes…

H’mmm….So Snowden running powerful Tor nodes and trying to get his NSA colleagues to run them, too?

I reached out to Sandvik for comment. She didn’t reply. But Wired’s Poulsen suggested that running Tor nodes and throwing a crypto party was a pet privacy project for Snowden. “Even as he was thinking globally, he was acting locally.”

But it’s hard to imagine a guy with top secret security clearance in the midst of planning to steal a huge cache of secrets would risk running a Tor node to help out the privacy cause. But then, who hell knows what any of this means.

I guess it’s fitting that Tor’s logo is an onion — because the more layers you peel and the deeper you get, the less things make sense and the more you realize that there is no end or bottom to it. It’s hard to get any straight answers — or even know what questions you should be asking.

In that way, the Tor Project more resembles a spook project than a tool designed by a culture that values accountability or transparency.

U.S. “Signature Strikes” Ramdomly Kill Thousands Of Unidentified “Suspicious” Muslims: The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Oldspeak: “My Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world. -President Barack Obama, Feburary, 2013. “While four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes. Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered. The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.” -Cora Currier and Justin Elliott. One of these things is not like the other.

Related Stories:

Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes

How Does the U.S. Mark Unidentified Men in Pakistan and Yemen as Drone Targets?

By Cora Currier and Justin Elliott @ Pro Publica:

The nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director has prompted intense debate on Capitol Hill and in the media about U.S. drone killings abroad. But the focus has been on the targeting of American citizens – a narrow issue that accounts for a miniscule proportion of the hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen in recent years.

Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period.

The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual.

In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.” According to anonymously sourced media reports, such attacks on unidentified targets account for many, or even most, drone strikes.

Despite that, the administration has never publicly spoken about signature strikes. Basic questions remain unanswered.

What is the legal justification for signature strikes? What qualifies as a “signature” that would prompt a deadly strike? Do those being targeted have to pose a threat to the United States? And how many civilians have been killed in such strikes?

The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.

“How, for example, does the Administration ensure that the targets are legitimate terrorist targets and not insurgents who have no dispute with the United States?” asked three senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in a letter to Attorney General Holder last May.

The legislators sent a second letter in December. Republicans on the committee joined in sending another letter this month. All have gone unanswered, according to committee staff.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently sent his own letter to Brennan asking several pointed questions on signature strikes.

“How do ‘signature strikes’ square with your statement that targeted killing operations are only approved when a targeted individual poses a ‘significant threat to U.S. interests?’” McCain asked, quoting a speech Brennan gave on drone strikes last April.

“How can the Administration be certain it is not killing civilians in areas, like many parts of Yemen and Pakistan, where virtually all men, including civilians, carry weapons?” the letter continued.

A McCain spokesman said the senator had not received a response. The White House declined to comment for this story.

When Obama administration officials publicly address drone strikes, they focus on thwarting imminent threats and targeting Al Qaeda leaders, including U.S. citizens.

Brennan, for example, said at his confirmation hearing that a lethal strike only occurs when “the intelligence base is so strong and the nature of the threat is so grave and serious, as well as imminent, that we have no recourse.” He was talking only about strikes targeting U.S. citizens, not signature strikes.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is now threatening to filibuster Brennan’s nomination until he answers questions on the U.S. citizen issue. And the Justice Department “white paper” leaked to NBC this month outlines the legal rationale for drone strikes, but only in cases when they target U.S. citizens who are also Al Qaeda leaders.

“What about the people who aren’t U.S. citizens and who aren’t on a list?” asks Naureen Shah, a human rights and counterterrorism expert at Columbia Law School. Of the few thousand people killed, Shah notes, “it’s hard to believe all of these people are senior operational leaders of Al Qaeda.”

The hazy history of ‘signature strikes’

The first public reference to a signature strike appears to have been in February 2008, when the New York Times reported a change in drone strike policy, negotiated between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low,” the Times reported.

Over the next few years, they became the majority of strikes conducted in Pakistan, according to media reports citing unnamed officials.

The new policy contributed to an increase in strikes in Pakistan – up to a high of about 120 in 2010 – and also to an increase in the number of low-level militants or foot soldiers killed, according to a New America Foundation analysis.

It’s not clear how much evidence is needed to justify a strike. In media reports, U.S. officials have offered scenarios of signature strikes hitting training camps or fighters who might cross the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan. The CIA reportedly uses drone surveillance and other intelligence to try to ensure those targeted are in fact militants.

Other officials, however, have described the policy more loosely – one calling it a “‘reasonable man’ standard.”

Asked what the standard is for who could be hit, former Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter recently told an interviewer: “The definition is a male between the ages of 20 and 40. My feeling is one man’s combatant is another man’s – well, a chump who went to a meeting.”

It is also next to impossible to say which attacks are signature strikes.

The names of militant leaders killed in strikes are often confirmed by officials in news reports. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. knew who was there ahead of the strike. One unnamed former military official claimed last year that the CIA “killed most of their ‘list people’ when they didn’t know they were there.”

Conversely, strikes in which little information emerges on who was killed could be failed attempts to hit specific individuals. (According to the New Yorker, it took as many as 16 strikes to kill Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in 2009.)

The outcomes of strikes are often disputed. In one apparent signature strike two years ago, unnamed U.S. officials told the Associated Press that they had targeted a group that “was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to Al Qaeda, and all ‘acted in a manner consistent with AQ (Al Qaeda)-linked militants.’” The U.S. said about 20 militants were killed. But Pakistani officials said it had been a meeting of tribesmen and villagers provided evidence to the AP that 38 civilians were killed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the attack prompted a debate in the White House about whether signature strikes and strikes on low-level fighters were worth the diplomatic risks.

The pace of strikes in Pakistan has tapered off since 2010, in large part because of deteriorating diplomatic relations with Pakistan, according to Bill Roggio, who tracks strikes for the Long War Journal.

Last spring the U.S. reportedly expanded signature strikes to Yemen, though administration officials said there were stricter standards than in Pakistan and evidence of a threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests was required. Officials referred to the attacks with a new phrase, “Terror Attack Disruption Strikes.”

That tighter standard is reportedly also part of the Obama administration’s new guidelines for the targeted killing program. (The CIA’s strikes in Pakistan will be exempt from any new rules for at least another year, according to the Washington Post.)

The legal debate

Brennan was asked about signature strikes last April but sidestepped the question. He replied: “You make reference to signature strikes that are frequently reported in the press. I was speaking here specifically about targeted strikes against individuals who are involved.”

He continued that “everything we do, though, that is carried out against Al Qaeda is carried out consistent with the rule of law, the authorization on the use of military force, and domestic law… that’s the whole purpose of whatever action we use, the tool we use, it’s to prevent attack [sic] and to save lives.”

The idea of killing members of an enemy force without knowing their identities isn’t itself controversial.

“In a traditional conflict, there is no requirement that you know every single person’s identity before you strike, so long as there are reasonable grounds for determining that the target is part of the enemy force,” said Jennifer Daskal, a professor at Georgetown Law School and a former attorney in the Justice Department during the first Obama administration.

But legal observers hotly debate the bounds of the drone war, and who qualifies as a member of the enemy force. “In the conflict with a clandestine enemy like Al Qaeda, that determination is much harder,” said Daskal.

While President Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to be more transparent about drone policy, the administration appears to maneuvering to avoid sharing additional information with Congress.

According to the New York Times, the administration may opt to share information on last year’s Benghazi attack with Republican senators to avoid revealing any more legal memos on the drone war to Democratic senators.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., has said that her committee reviews videos of strikes.But she also recently said that the committee has long sought all of the legal opinions on drone strikes – and that the administration has withheld most of the opinions.

America’s Secret Empire Of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed For The First Time

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Oldspeak:“Behold! The future of war in America! Remote-controlled, automated, outsourced and cheaply produced for your viewing pleasure! Hey! The Libyan intervention/regime change only cost 2 Billion Dollars! Sooo much cheaper than the Iraq War! Drones are awesome, they’re cheaper and save American lives! It’s come to this. Cheering the fact that Humanity is slowly and surely being phased out of the war making business. A terribly slippery slope to tread. When wars begin to be defined in terms of dollars and cents instead of the untold millions of lives negatively affected and outright lost because of them; it becomes crystal clear what war is all about. Money. Arms Sales. Business. Repeat Business. Industry. Cost-Effectiveness. The Bottom Line. “The U.S. Government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world todayDr Martin Luther King. Business is BOOMING. Soon robots will fight our wars for us.  When humans are phased out of war-making, the costs of war seem smaller, even if in reality they’re growing larger with each remote-controlled vehicle and robot built, each unnamed woman or child or bride or husband killed  largely out of public view. Perpetual War becomes routine. War becomes entertainment. War Is glamorized. War is commercialized. Was is a drug. “Even if the Pentagon budget were to begin to shrink in the coming years, expansion of America’s empire of drone bases is a sure thing in the years to come.  Drones are now the bedrock of Washington’s future military planning and — with counterinsurgency out of favor — the preferred way of carrying out wars abroad.” -Nick Turse. No significant discussion of  the conditions created to facilitate waging war, or policies which could be employed to minimize the outbreak and sustenance of war. “War Is Peace”.

By Nick Turse @ Alter Net:

 

They increasingly dot the planet.  There’s a facility outside Las Vegas where “pilots” work in climate-controlled trailers, another at a dusty camp in Africa formerly used by the French Foreign Legion, a third at a big air base in Afghanistan where Air Force personnel sit in front of multiple computer screens, and a fourth that almost no one talks about at an air base in the United Arab Emirates.

And that leaves at least 56 more such facilities to mention in an expanding American empire of unmanned drone bases being set up worldwide.  Despite frequent news reports on the drone assassination campaign launched in support of America’s ever-widening undeclared wars and a spate of stories on drone bases in Africa and the Middle East, most of these facilities have remained unnoted, uncounted, and remarkably anonymous — until now.

Run by the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and their proxies, these bases — some little more than desolate airstrips, others sophisticated command and control centers filled with computer screens and high-tech electronic equipment — are the backbone of a new American robotic way of war.  They are also the latest development in a long-evolving saga of American power projection abroad — in this case, remote-controlled strikes anywhere on the planet with a minimal foreign “footprint” and little accountability.

Using military documents, press accounts and other open source information, an in-depth analysis by AlterNet has identified at least 60 bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations.  There may, however, be more, since a cloak of secrecy about drone warfare leaves the full size and scope of these bases distinctly in the shadows.

A Galaxy of Bases

Over the last decade, the American use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has expanded exponentially as has media coverage of their use.  On September 21st, the Wall Street Journal reported that the military has deployed missile-armed MQ-9 Reaper drones on the “island nation of Seychelles to intensify attacks on al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in Somalia.” A day earlier, a Washington Post piece also mentioned the same base on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago, as well as one in the African nation of Djibouti, another under construction in Ethiopia, and a secret CIA airstrip being built for drones in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (suspected of being Saudi Arabia).

Post journalists Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock reported that the “Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.”  Within days, the Post also reported that a drone from the new CIA base in that unidentified Middle Eastern country had carried out the assassination of radical al-Qaeda preacher and American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen.

With the killing of al-Aulaqi, the Obama Administration has expanded its armed drone campaign to no fewer than six countries, though the CIA, which killed al-Aulaqi, refuses to officially acknowledge its drone assassination program.  The Air Force is less coy about its drone operations, yet there are many aspects of those, too, that remain in the shadows.  Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes recently told AlterNet that, “for operational security reasons, we do not discuss worldwide operating locations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, to include numbers of locations around the world.”

Still, those 60 military and CIA bases around the world, directly connected to the drone program, tell us a lot about America’s war-making future.  From command and control and piloting to maintenance and arming, these facilities perform key functions that allow drone campaigns to continued expanding as they have for more than a decade.  Other bases are already under construction or in the planning stages.  When presented with our list of Air Force sites within America’s galaxy of drone bases, Lieutenant Colonel Haynes responded, “I have nothing further to add to what I’ve already said.”

Even in the face of government secrecy, however, much can be discovered .  Here, then, for the record is a AlterNet accounting of America’s drone bases in the United States and around the world.

The Near Abroad

News reports have frequently focused on Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas as ground zero in America’s military drone campaign. Sitting in darkened, air conditioned rooms, 7,500 miles from Afghanistan, drone pilots dressed in flight suits remotely control MQ-9 Reapers and their progenitors, the less heavily-armed MQ-1 Predators. Beside them, sensor operators manipulate the TV camera, infrared camera, and other high-tech sensors on board.  Their faces lit up by digital displays showing video feeds from the battle zone, by squeezing a trigger on a joystick one of these Air Force “pilots” can loose a Hellfire missile on a person half a world away.

While Creech gets the lion’s share of attention — it even has its own drones on site — numerous other bases on U.S. soil have played critical roles in America’s drone wars.  The same video-game-style warfare is carried out by U.S and British pilots not far away at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the Air Force’s 2nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS).  According to a factsheet provided to AlterNet by the Air Force, the 2nd SOS and its drone operators are scheduled to be relocated to the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Florida in the coming months.

Reapers or Predators are also being flown from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March Air Reserve Base in California, Springfield Air National Guard Base in Ohio, Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas, the Air National Guard base in Fargo, North Dakota, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York.  Recently, it was announced that Reapers, flown by Hancock’s pilots, would begin taking off on training missions from the Army’s Fort Drum, also in New York State.  While at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, according to a report by the New York Times earlier this year, teams of camouflage-clad Air Force analysts sit in a secret intelligence and surveillance installation monitoring cell phone intercepts, high altitude photographs, and most notably, multiple screens of streaming live video from drones in Afghanistan — what they call “Death TV” — while instant-messaging and talking to commanders on the ground in order to supply them with real-time intelligence on enemy troop movements.

CIA drone operators also reportedly pilot their aircraft from the Agency’s nearby Langley, Virginia headquarters.  It was from here that analysts apparently watched footage of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, for example, thanks to video sent back by the RQ-170 Sentinel, an advanced drone nicknamed the “Beast of Kandahar.”  According to Air Force documents, the Sentinel is flown from both Creech Air Force Base and Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

Predators, Reapers, and Sentinels are just part of the story.  At Beale Air Force Base in California, Air Force personnel pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned drone used for long-range, high-altitude surveillance missions, some of them originating from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam (a staging ground for drone flights over Asia).  Other Global Hawks are stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, while the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio manages the Global Hawk as well as the Predator and Reaper programs for the Air Force.

Other bases have been intimately involved in training drone operators, including Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base, as is the Army’s Fort Huachuca in Arizona which is home to, according to a report by National Defense magazine, “the world’s largest UAV training center.”  There, hundreds of employees of defense giant General Dynamics train military personnel to fly smaller tactical drones like the Hunter and Shadow.  The physical testing of drones goes on at adjoining Libby Army Airfield and “two UAV runways located approximately four miles west of Libby,” according to Global Security, an on-line clearinghouse for military information.

Additionally, small drone training for the Army is carried out at Fort Benning in Georgia while at Fort Rucker, Alabama — “the home of Army aviation” — the Unmanned Aircraft Systems program coordinates doctrine, strategy, and concepts pertaining to UAVs.  Recently, Fort Benning also saw the early testing of true robotic drones – which fly without human guidance or a hand on any joystick.  This is considered, wrote the Washington Post, the next step toward a future in which drones will “hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans.”

The Army has also carried out UAV training exercises at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and, earlier this year, the Navy launched its X-47B, a next-generation semi-autonomous stealth drone, on its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  That flying robot — designed to operate from the decks of aircraft carriers — has since been sent on to Maryland’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River for further testing.  At nearby Webster Field, the Navy worked out kinks in its Fire Scout pilotless helicopter, which has also been tested at Fort Rucker, Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, and Florida’s Mayport Naval Station and Jacksonville Naval Air Station.  The latter base was also where the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aerial system was developed and is now, along with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State, based.

Foreign Jewels in the Crown

The Navy is actively looking for a suitable site in the Western Pacific for a BAMS base, and is currently in talks with several Persian Gulf states for one in that region, as well.  It already has Global Hawks perched at its base in Sigonella, Italy.

The Air Force is now negotiating with Turkey to relocate some of the Predator drones still operating in Iraq to the giant air base at Incirlik next year.  Many different UAVs have been based in Iraq since the American invasion of that country, including small tactical models likeRaven-B’s  that troops launched by hand from Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Shadow UAVs that flew from Forward Operating Base Normandy in Baqubah Province, Predators operating out of Balad Airbase, miniature Desert Hawk drones launched from Tallil Air Base, and Scan Eagles based at Al Asad Air Base.

Elsewhere in the Greater Middle East, according to Aviation Week, the military is launching Global Hawks from Al Dhafra Air Base in theUnited Arab Emirates, piloted by personnel stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, to track “shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Arabian Sea.”  There are unconfirmed reports that the CIA may be operating drones from that country as well.  In the past, at least, other UAVs have apparently been flown from Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Air Base and Al Jaber Air Base, as well as Seeb Air Base in Oman.

At Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the Air Force runs an air operations command and control facility, critical to the drone wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The new secret CIA base on the Arabian peninsula, used to assassinate Anwar al-Aulaqi, may or may not be an airstrip inSaudi Arabia whose existence a senior U.S. military official recently confirmed to FOX News.  In the past, the CIA has also operated UAVs out of Tuzel, Uzbekistan.

In neighboring Afghanistan, drones fly from many bases including Jalalabad Air Base, Kandahar Air Field, the air base at Bagram, Camp Leatherneck, Camp Dwyer, Combat Outpost Payne, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Edinburgh and FOB Delaram II, to name a few. Afghan bases are, however, more than just locations where drones take off and land.

It is a common misperception that U.S.-based operators are the only ones who “fly” America’s armed drones.  In fact, in and around America’s war zones, UAVs begin and end their flights under the control of local “pilots.”  Take Afghanistan’s massive Bagram Air Base. After performing preflight checks alongside a technician who focuses on the drone’s sensors, a local airman sits in front of a Dell computer tower and multiple monitors, two keyboards, a joystick, a throttle, a rollerball, a mouse, and various switches and oversees the plane’s takeoff before handing it over to a stateside counterpart with a similar electronics set-up.  After the mission is complete, the controls are transferred back to the local operators for the landing.  Additionally, crews in Afghanistan perform general maintenance and repairs on the drones.

In the wake of a devastating suicide attack by an al-Qaeda double agent that killed CIA officers and contractors at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost in 2009, it came to light that the facility was heavily involved in target selection for drone strikes across the border in Pakistan.  The drones themselves, as the Washington Post noted at the time, were “flown from separate bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Both the Air Force and CIA have conducted operations in Pakistani air space, with some missions originating in Afghanistan and others from inside Pakistan.  In 2006, images of what appear to be Predator drones stationed at Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan’s Balochistan province were found on Google Earth and later published.  In 2009, the New York Times reported that operatives from Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater, had taken over the task of arming Predator drones at the CIA’s “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Following the May Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, that country’s leaders reportedly ordered the United States to leave Shamsi.  The Obama administration evidently refused and word leaked out, according to the Washington Post, that the base was actually owned and sublet to the U.S. by the United Arab Emirates, which had built the airfield “as an arrival point for falconry and other hunting expeditions in Pakistan.”

The U.S. and Pakistani governments have since claimed that Shamsi is no longer being used for drone strikes.  True or not, the U.S. evidently also uses other drone bases in Pakistan, including possibly PAF Base Shahbaz, located near the city of Jacocobad, and another base located near Ghazi.

The New Scramble for Africa

Recently, the headline story, when it comes to the expansion of the empire of drone bases, has been Africa.  For the last decade, the U.S. military has been operating out of Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti.  Not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it became a base for Predator drones and has since been used to conduct missions over neighboring Somalia.

For some time, rumors have also been circulating about a secret American base in Ethiopia.  Recently, a U.S. official revealed to theWashington Post that discussions about a drone base there had been underway for up to four years, “but that plan was delayed because ‘the Ethiopians were not all that jazzed.’” Now construction is evidently underway, if not complete.

Then, of course, there is that drone base on the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  A small fleet of Navy and Air Force drones began operating openly there in 2009 to track pirates in the region’s waters.  Classified diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks, however, reveal that those drones have also secretly been used to carry out missions in Somalia.  “Based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport,” the Post reports, the base consists of three or four “Reapers and about 100 U.S. military personnel and contractors, according to the cables.”

The U.S. has also recently sent four smaller tactical drones to the African nations of Uganda and Burundi for use by those countries’ own militaries.

New and Old Empires

Even if the Pentagon budget were to begin to shrink in the coming years, expansion of America’s empire of drone bases is a sure thing in the years to come.  Drones are now the bedrock of Washington’s future military planning and — with counterinsurgency out of favor — the preferred way of carrying out wars abroad.

During the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, as the U.S. was building up its drone fleets, the country launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in YemenPakistan, and Somalia, using drones in at least four of those countries.  In less than three years under President Obama, the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  It maintains that it has carte blanche to kill suspected enemies in any nation (or at least any nation in the global south).

According to a report by the Congressional Budget office published earlier this year, “the Department of Defense (DoD) plans to purchase about 730 new medium-sized and large unmanned aircraft systems” over the next decade.  In practical terms, this means more drones like the Reaper.

Military officials told the Wall Street Journal that the Reaper “can fly 1,150 miles from base, conduct missions and return home… the time a drone can stay aloft depends on how heavily armed it is.”  According to a drone operator training document obtained by AlterNet, at maximum payload, meaning with 3,750 pounds worth of Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 or GBU-30 bombs on board, the Reaper can remain aloft for 16 to 20 hours.  Even a glance at a world map tells you that, if the U.S. is to carry out ever more drone strikes across the developing world, it will need more bases for its future UAVs.  As an unnamed senior military official pointed out to a Washington Postreporter, speaking of all those new drone bases clustered around the Somali and Yemeni war zones, “If you look at it geographically, it makes sense — you get out a ruler and draw the distances [drones] can fly and where they take off from.”

Earlier this year, an analysis by TomDispatch.com determined that there are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases scattered across the globe — a shadowy base-world that provides plenty of existing sites that can, and no doubt will, host drones.  But facilities selected for a pre-drone world may not always prove optimal locations for America’s current and future undeclared wars and assassination campaigns. So further expansion in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia is likely.

What are the Air Force’s plans in this regard?  Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes was typically circumspect.  “We are constantly evaluating potential operating locations based on evolving mission needs,” he said.  If the last decade is any indication, those “needs” will only continue to grow.

 

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and a senior editor at AlterNet. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso). You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook

This article marks another of Turse’s joint Alternet/TomDispatch investigative reports on U.S. national security policy and American empire.

 

© 2011 AlterNet and TomDispatch All rights reserved.

Occupy Wall Street “Counterinsurgency” Has Infiltrated Protests; Seeks To Diffuse Message

In Uncategorized on October 1, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Oldspeak:” If a movement pretends to have no leaders, then it is the corporate media, themselves controlled by Wall Street, who will choose the leaders. A few days ago, a Wall Street protester named Kelly Heresy was anointed as principal honcho by Keith Olbermann, who used to work for the hedge fund called General Electric, and who now works for Al Gore. This is no way to select leaders. The organizers of the Wall Street action say they want to imitate recent protests in other countries. Their favorite is the Tahrir Square agitation in Egypt in February. But if you go to Cairo today, veterans of those demonstrations will tell you that these efforts accomplished relatively little, and mainly had the effect of ousting an oppressive civilian government in favor of an even more oppressive military government of weak CIA puppets which is still operating under martial law, even as benighted religious fanatics gather strength. In a severe world economic depression of the kind we have today, mere protest is not enough. Desperate populations are looking for political leadership with solutions capable of solving the life or death issues facing nations today. A movement which is incapable of specifying what it intends to fight for is an immature movement which no intelligent person will take seriously. The secret of a mass strike upsurge is that crisis conditions will propel many apolitical people into activism. This makes them vulnerable to manipulation by demagogues, including those of the extreme right. The mass strike upsurge by itself solves nothing. The question is whether any coherent group of people can intervene into the mass upsurge and push aside bankrupt and failed leaders with the kind of radical reform program that can actually get the society out of the crisis. The masses cannot discover this program on their own – they are too busy with the struggle for daily existence. College students therefore have a special responsibility to provide ideas for the benefit of the entire society. If an adequate program becomes dominant, the nation can survive. Otherwise, nothing guarantees that civilization itself will not collapse – look at the Tea Party if you don’t believe this. Soros, Koch, and the other finance capitalists have a good working understanding of how these things work, which is why they are sending in their operatives to make sure that this movement will have only the vaguest demands, or no demands at all, to fight for. Let that happen, and Wall Street will rule the day once again. Despite what Michael Moore may think, the political power of Wall Street is considerable, and an effective attack on the bankers will demand the unified efforts of key sectors of the population. This unity must be expressed in the program itself. Students must broaden the sociological scope of the movement to include all walks of life.”-Webster G. Tarpley Something to keep in mind in the nascent stages of this anti-corporate action. The gatekeepers of the status quo are always at work, sabotaging, flummoxing, co-opting, radical movements for change which pose a credible threat to continued operation of the Great Happiness Machine that is Casino Capitalism. Relentlessly grinding up individuality, critical thoughts, hopes and dreams amid gauzy and sensuous clouds of greed, consumption, self-absorption, hedonism, un-reality based entertainment, faux patriotism, faux populism, and infinite variations of pro-corporate education and propaganda.” “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Webster G. Tarpley @ Tarpley.net:

An Emergency Program for Anti-Wall Street Protestors: Don’t Let Soros Hijack the Movement

Political mass strike dynamics have been at work in the United States since the Wisconsin and Ohio mobilizations of February and March. Now, there are demonstrations in lower Manhattan and Boston specifically directed against the Wall Street banks. Another protest demonstration is scheduled for Washington, DC, starting on October 6. Good: a political challenge to Wall Street is indeed long overdue.

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are skeptical in regard to Obama. There is no sizable constituency for Ron Paul, and the crackpot Austrian school of economics is hardly represented. Above all, there is a desire to break the power of Wall Street. This much is promising, but still not enough to win.

The demonstrations appear initially as leaderless groups, engaged in an organic process of discussion from which specific demands are supposed to emerge. But so far, these demonstrations have put forth no specific demands, reforms, or concrete measures whatsoever to fight Wall Street. This is a fatal political weakness. A movement that attempts to go forward with vague slogans like “Freedom” or “Abolish capitalism” is likely to become easy prey for foundation-funded operatives on the left wing of the Democratic Party.

If a movement pretends to have no leaders, then it is the corporate media, themselves controlled by Wall Street, who will choose the leaders. A few days ago, a Wall Street protester named Kelly Heresy was anointed as principal honcho by Keith Olbermann, who used to work for the hedge fund called General Electric, and who now works for Al Gore. This is no way to select leaders.

The demonstrations may appear spontaneous, but it is easy to see gatekeepers and countergangs operating in their midst, often with a frank counterinsurgency agenda. Occupy Wall Street in particular shows the heavy influence of union bureaucrats from the Service Employees International Union, as well as Acorn – both parts of the Obama machine. The goal of these operatives is to keep the focus of the protests vague and diffuse, so that no demands emerge that might be embarrassing to the Wall Street puppet Obama and his reelection campaign. Their ultimate goal is to absorb the protests as the left wing of the Obama 2012 effort. That means supporting an administration which not only refuses to fight Wall Street, but which is packed with Wall Street executives in its highest positions.

Dubious Hollywood figures like Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore are attempting to gain publicity for themselves by showing up at the demonstrations. Michael Moore, who is not very popular with the demonstrators, was instrumental in leading the antiwar and impeachment movements of the past decade back into the Democratic Party to support Obama. Journalist Matt Taibbi, another newly minted expert on the movement, is remembered for his hatchet jobs in favor of the Bush administration theory of terrorism.

The organizers of the Wall Street action say they want to imitate recent protests in other countries. Their favorite is the Tahrir Square agitation in Egypt in February. But if you go to Cairo today, veterans of those demonstrations will tell you that these efforts accomplished relatively little, and mainly had the effect of ousting an oppressive civilian government in favor of an even more oppressive military government of weak CIA puppets which is still operating under martial law, even as benighted religious fanatics gather strength. In Greece, it is true that the trade unions have mounted a dozen general strikes, but all of these have failed to oust Prime Minister Papandreou, the main enforcer of austerity cuts demanded by the International Monetary Fund, and so the brutal austerity continues. The same thing applies to Spain, where the indignados became so self-absorbed in their discussion and consensus process that they never put forward a program to save Spanish society from the bankers. In Iceland too, the anti-bank movement was never able to go beyond mere protest to advance a series of concrete measures that would allow them to contend for power, take power, and hold onto it for the public good.

The lesson of all of these situations is that, in a severe world economic depression of the kind we have today, mere protest is not enough. Desperate populations are looking for political leadership with solutions capable of solving the life or death issues facing nations today. A movement which is incapable of specifying what it intends to fight for is an immature movement which no intelligent person will take seriously.

The secret of a mass strike upsurge is that crisis conditions will propel many apolitical people into activism. This makes them vulnerable to manipulation by demagogues, including those of the extreme right. The mass strike upsurge by itself solves nothing. The question is whether any coherent group of people can intervene into the mass upsurge and push aside bankrupt and failed leaders with the kind of radical reform program that can actually get the society out of the crisis. The masses cannot discover this program on their own – they are too busy with the struggle for daily existence. College students therefore have a special responsibility to provide ideas for the benefit of the entire society. If an adequate program becomes dominant, the nation can survive. Otherwise, nothing guarantees that civilization itself will not collapse – look at the Tea Party if you don’t believe this. Soros, Koch, and the other finance capitalists have a good working understanding of how these things work, which is why they are sending in their operatives to make sure that this movement will have only the vaguest demands, or no demands at all, to fight for. Let that happen, and Wall Street will rule the day once again.

Despite what Michael Moore may think, the political power of Wall Street is considerable, and an effective attack on the bankers will demand the unified efforts of key sectors of the population. This unity must be expressed in the program itself. Students must broaden the sociological scope of the movement to include all walks of life.

In order to fight Wall Street, it is necessary for the American people to understand the basic idea of shifting the cost of the world economic depression off of the backs of working people and the poor where it is now, and onto Wall Street banks and super-rich speculators. Depressions are very expensive. Who should pay for the current depression? The bankers demand that the American people must pay. We want the bankers to pay, and we must specify how. A movement that wants to defend working people against the class warfare of the bankers has the responsibility of putting forward a program to defend middle-class and other working people. In order to win, the anti-Wall Street protests must agitate for a series of demands including the following:

1. Student Loan Amnesty. The common experience of many of the protesters is that of being crushed by an outrageous burden of high interest student loans. Today it is common for graduating seniors to carry $50,000, $75,000, or even $100,000 of debt. Add the costs of an advanced degree in teaching, law, or medicine, and the debt burden becomes astronomical. The exorbitant cost of a college education reflects the increasing immiseration of the United States over the past 40 years, as the overall standard of living has declined by two thirds or more in terms of real wages and other considerations. These debts are owed to the same zombie bankers who cashed in on the Bush bailout of 2008, and the even larger loans issued by Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve over recent years. This is a system of brutal primitive accumulation against the life chances everyone who knows that they need a college degree to be employable in the 21st century. Total students loan indebtedness is now approaching $1 trillion. This grinding debt is destroying the futures, the lives, and the hopes of college students and recent graduates.
When a debtor country like Greece is unable to pay its debts, it is normal to hear talk of a haircut for the bondholders and bankers. It is time for the Wall Street zombie banks to take a haircut on student loan debt. Most of this debt cannot be paid off, but an entire generation can be ruined by a futile attempt to pay it back.

A leading demand must therefore be a total cancellation of all outstanding student loan debt, meaning a total and immediate forgiveness of all payments of principal and interest coming from this category of borrowing. Carter granted Vietnam draft resisters an amnesty. If Obama wants to keep his job, he must deliver a student loan amnesty to save not just a single generation, but the entire future of the United States and beyond. Otherwise, dump Obama in 2012! The zombie bankers have been pampered enough. It is time for them to take a bath, so that a generation might live. This is also the best stimulus program possible.

2. Stop Foreclosures. Since students alone will never be enough to make a revolution, it is necessary to put forward additional measures to defend other parts of the population from the depredations of Wall Street. In the area of home foreclosures, the bankers have trampled on the law to seize millions of homes, some of which never had a mortgage, and many of which were current in their payments. The banks have used corrupt robo-signers, robo-cops, and robo-judges to carry out these fraudclosure thefts. The answer is to make foreclosure a federal crime, so that anyone who throws an American family out on the street will end up in Leavenworth. Again, the zombie bankers can eat the losses, which are unavoidable in any case. This is not an impossible demand: under the New Deal, the Frazier-Lemke Act stopped all foreclosures on homes, provided only that the owners could get a minimal payment plan approved by any judge in any court. With the help of popular pressure and public opinion, foreclosures virtually came to a halt. This is what we need to be demanding today.

3. Defend and fully fund the social safety net. Wall Street and Washington elites agree that the American people ought to be subjected to genocidal austerity – cuts so draconian that they will kill people. The goal is obviously to fund bigger and better bailouts of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase when they go bankrupt the next time around. Real unemployment in the United States is now about 25%, meaning that 30 million people cannot find work, and many have been looking for years. Therefore, we need to extend jobless benefits to all unemployed, including those who have been out of a job for 99 weeks and more. 46 million Americans are now surviving thanks to Food Stamps, but the reactionary Republicans are demanding savage cuts, and Obama is more than likely to cave. We also need to defend programs that specifically help children and young. These include S-CHIP, which gives health care to poor children; Head Start, which provides breakfast and preschool for poor kids; and WIC, which provides high-protein meals for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants. Older people have special problems, including that Wall Street speculators have destroyed the value of their 401(k) and IRA retirement plans. This means that Social Security pensions should be increased, and not cut, as the Republicans and Obama both want. Obama has already cut $500 billion out of Medicare, but he wants to cut it even more, and the Tea Party is eager to help him. The best healthcare would be to open Medicare to all Americans, while making the investments needed to maintain quality. Medicaid gives healthcare to poor people of any age, and these payments must be maintained.

4. Pay for healthcare and social services with a 1% Wall Street Sales Tax. When they hear demands like these, Fox news commentators will demand to know how these programs can be paid for. The answer is simple: the Tobin tax or Wall Street sales tax. Today the total financial turnover of the banksters in terms of buying, selling, and other trading comes to well over three quadrillion dollars yearly – that’s more than 3,000 trillion dollars. The rest of us pay sales tax on most purchases, often including the groceries, but Wall Street zombie bankers and hedge fund hyenas pay absolutely zero on that colossal sum. The most unfair aspect of the entire US tax system is that Wall Street pays virtually no taxes. It is time for the bankers to cough up 1% of every stock, bond, and derivatives transaction, be it program trading, high frequency trading, or computerized flash trading at the rate of one million transactions per second. The total revenue could be split between the federal government and the states, and would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps even trillions – depending on how determined the speculators are to keep up their dirty deals. There is nothing impossible about this demand: the federal government had a financial transaction tax from the time of World War I in 1967. And even today, the largely right wing governments of the European Union are about to enact their own Tobin tax. Why can’t it be done here as well?

These are immediate agitational demands that can be readily understood by any person. They can form the leading edge of a struggle to break the political power of Wall Street. In addition, a full recovery from depression and the attainment of full employment for the first time since 1945 will require the nationalization of the Federal Reserve, and the issuing of successive tranches of $1 trillion of 0%, very long-term Federal credit for the building of infrastructure, with a goal of creating 30 million new productive jobs with adequate capital investment per job.

Another essential point is that Wall Street is the biggest nest of warmongers anywhere in the world. Anyone seeking to gain influence over the anti-Wall Street movement should be willing to condemn and denounce Obama’s wanton aggression against Libya, as well as to call for an immediate pullout of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Anyone who refuses to do this should be regarded with grave suspicion.

The alternative to such concrete demands is, whether we like it or not, to remain in the orbit of Obama’s Democratic Party. Earlier this year, students, workers, and others occupied the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin in response to attacks on working people coming from the fascist governor, Walker. The resistance against Walker was betrayed first of all by the Democratic Party, which announced that it would not fight for wages and benefits, but only for trade union rights in the abstract. That is a good program for trade union bureaucrats, but not so good for working people, who bore the brunt of Walker’s austerity. A president who was on the side of the people would have gone immediately to Madison, Wisconsin to hold a town hall on the occupied grounds of the state capitol, an event that would have looked much different than the canned, pre-screened teleprompter town halls Obama likes to address. A real president would have taken Attorney General Holder and Labor Secretary Solis along to investigate the denial of civil rights and labor violations by Walker. Obama did none of these things. Rather, he damned the movement with a few words of faint praise, and cut it loose. The lesson is that the Democratic Party is more than willing to sell out mass struggles anytime it can. And it is only by having your own program of anti-Wall Street demands that you can become independent of the rotten two-party system.

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