...Homeland Security's specifications for its drones, built by San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, say they "shall be capable of identifying a standing human being at night as likely armed or not," meaning carrying a shotgun or rifle. They also specify "signals interception" technology that can capture communications in the frequency ranges used by mobile phones, and "direction finding" technology that can identify the locations of mobile devices or two-way radios.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained a partially redacted copy of Homeland Security's requirements for its drone fleet through the Freedom of Information Act and published it this week. CNET unearthed an unredacted copy of the requirements that provides additional information about the aircraft's surveillance capabilities....
-bth: second and fourth amendments be damned I guess.
Saturday, March 02, 2013
AFP - A top Chinese banker said Beijing is "fully prepared" for a currency war as he urged the world to abide by a consensus reached by the G20 to avert confrontation, state media reported on Saturday.
Yi Gang, deputy governor of China's central bank, issued the call after G20 finance ministers last month moved to calm fears of a looming war on the currency markets at a meeting in Moscow.
Those fears have largely been fuelled by the recent steep decline in the Japanese yen, which critics have accused Tokyo of manipulating to give its manufacturers a competitive edge in key export markets over Asian rivals.
Yi said a currency war could be avoided if major countries observed the G20 consensus that monetary policy should primarily serve as a tool for domestic economy, the Xinhua report said.
But China "is fully prepared", he added.
"In terms of both monetary policies and other mechanism arrangement, China will take into full account the quantitative easing policies implemented by central banks of foreign countries."...
-bth: China failed to let its currency float up so the devaluation of other currencies it hordes is the natural response.
... The vessel tied off on a pier in the harbor on Lesser Tunb Island, a tiny spit of land just west of the Strait of Hormuz that is claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates, officials familiar with its voyage said. The island is occupied by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
After passing eastward through the strait and heading south along the Arabian Peninsula, the dhow was stopped on Jan. 23 by the American destroyer Farragut and a Yemeni boarding team off the coast of Al Ghaydah.
The dhow’s Iranian crew initially insisted the vessel was Panamanian-flagged and carried only fuel, an American official said. The military cargo, which included many ammunition crates that had been painted over with white or black paint, was found in hidden compartments, American officials said.
That cargo also included 316,000 cartridges for Kalashnikov rifles, nearly 63,000 cartridges for PK machine guns or the Dragunov series of sniper rifles, more than 12,000 cartridges for 12.7-millimeter DShK machine guns and 95 RPG-7 launchers.
The rifle cartridges were packaged in crates strongly resembling packaging used by Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, another firm under American sanction, according to James Bevan, director of Conflict Armament Research, a private arms-tracking firm that has documented the spread of Iranian ammunition in East and West Africa.
The vessel also carried 10 SA-7 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles with two gripstocks for firing them, nearly 17,000 blocks of Iranian-made C-4 plastic explosives, 48 Russian PN-14K night vision goggles, and 10 LH80A laser range finders made, according to their placards, by the state-run Iran Electronics Industries, also under American sanction.
The original provenance of the SA-7s was not clear, though the crates they were in had stenciling in Bulgarian.
The captain and crew of the Jeehan 1 remain in Yemeni detention, and the dhow has been impounded under Yemeni custody, a Yememi official said.
An American official called the shipment “deeply disturbing” and said it “clearly appeared to violate” Security Council resolutions prohibiting Iran from exporting arms.
Two independent arms-trafficking researchers who have reviewed photographs and written a summary of the markings on the missiles and crates said the weapons appeared to be of Chinese origin.
Matthew Schroeder, an analyst for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington and the Small Arms Survey in Geneva, said that this was the first time to his knowledge that the QW-1M had left state control.
“If so, and these missiles were indeed bound for insurgents, this shipment is extremely worrisome, both from a regional security and a global counterterrorism perspective,” he said.
Unlike many older shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles seen in insurgent hands around the world, the QW-1M is believed by analysts to have a seeker head more resistant to countermeasures intended to deceive it.
ORT MEADE, Md. — Military prosecutors announced on Friday that they had decided to try Pfc. Bradley Manning on the most serious charges they have brought against him and seek a sentence that could be life without parole, despite his voluntary guilty plea to 10 lesser charges that carry a maximum total sentence of 20 years...
-bth: to seek life in prison for Manning at this point is just ridiculous.
Friday, March 01, 2013
UNITED NATIONS- Commodities giant Glencore supplied thousands of tons of alumina to an Iranian firm that has provided aluminum to Iran's nuclear program, intelligence and diplomatic sources told Reuters.
The previously undisclosed barter arrangement between Glencore, the world's biggest commodities trader, and the Iranian Aluminum Company (Iralco) illustrates how difficult it is for Western powers to curb Iran's ability to trade with the rest of the world. Even as the West imposes stringent restrictions on banks that do business with Iran, United Nations diplomats say that Tehran keeps finding new ways to do business with willing partners.
Reuters first learned about Glencore's barter deal with Iralco, and an aluminum supply contract that Iralco had with Iran Centrifuge Technology Co (TESA), from a Western diplomatic source in early November. That was about six weeks before the European Union's December 2012 decision to levy sanctions on Iralco for supplying aluminum metal to TESA, which is a subsidiary of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).
The source showed Reuters a Western intelligence report concerning Glencore's arrangement with Iralco. It described how Baar, Switzerland-based Glencore provided Iralco with thousands of tons of alumina last year in exchange for a lesser amount of aluminum metal....
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Security forces have confiscated explosives along with a series of building plans of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, a synagogue and a church, in a recent operation against al-Qaeda in several cities, Doğan news agency reported today.
Police departments of the Western province of Tekirdağ and Istanbul cooperated in an operation that detained 11 people and seized 25 kilograms of A-4 type plastic explosives, five rifles, five guns, several USB flash disks, CDS and remote-controlled explosive mechanisms.
Police sources confirmed that 11 suspects were captured and their questioning continues at the Tekirdağ police department. Seven people were taken into custody in the Çorlu district of Tekirdağ and four people in the Büyükçekmece district of Istanbul in simultaneous raids. The police seized building plans of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul as well as plans and pictures of a synagogue in Istanbul’s Balat neighborhood and a church in Istanbul, in the raided houses. The suspects received the explosives ten days ago and were planning an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, Doğan news agency reported. On Feb. 1, a suicide attacker representing the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) targeted the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, killing one person and wounding a journalist.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior military budget officer said on Wednesday that converging financial pressures could leave the U.S. Army with just $2 billion to spend on operations, maintenance and training this year after it has funded the war in Afghanistan and other security needs.
That is a fraction of what the Army usually spends to train soldiers, maintain bases, refurbish equipment and carry out overseas operations during a seven-month period and has created a "dire" and "unprecedented" outlook, said Major General Karen Dyson, director of the Army Budget Office.
Pentagon officials have warned for months that a $46 billion across-the-board cut in defense spending - now due to go into effect on Friday - would be "devastating" to the military.
Some analysts say the Pentagon is exaggerating the impact in an effort to convince Congress to stop the spending reductions.
Officials have said the Army would be hardest hit by the spending cuts and other converging financial issues.
Dyson told reporters the "fiscal crisis" facing the Army was the result of higher-than-expected Afghanistan war costs, the looming reduction in overall defense spending and a congressional decision that extended Pentagon funding based on 2012 levels and priorities.
Costs of the Afghanistan war were projected 18 months ago, but are running higher than expected. That is in part because military supply lines running through Pakistan have not been fully restored after a shutdown last year and the expense of using alternative routes is higher.
As a result of that and other war costs, Army spending on Afghanistan is running about $6 billion higher than anticipated this year, Dyson said.
The Army also is being squeezed by Congress' decision to fund the Pentagon through March 27 with a resolution that based spending on 2012 levels and priorities, she said. As a result, much of the money allocated to the Army is in the wrong accounts and cannot be easily transferred....
That has left the Army with another shortfall that could hit $6 billion if Congress decides to extend its decision through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Iraq: Prime Minister al Maliki cautioned that a victory for rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian government will spark a sectarian war in Iraq and in Lebanon that would create a new haven for al-Qaida that would destabilize the whole Middle East.
Comment: The warning from Prime Minister al-Maliki was made during an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. It was his strongest statement yet about the ripple effects of instability that could follow the overthrow of the Syrian government. It also makes clear once again that the Iraqi government is no supporter of the Syrian rebels.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Satellite imagery shows that three surface-to-air missile sites and at least 50 batteries of anti-aircraft guns protect this research reactor and heavy water production plant. Only one missile battery guards the uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, by contrast.
Arak’s defences are carefully arrayed on the high ground surrounding the facility, with an outer ring of anti-aircraft guns deployed along possible attack routes and an inner circle placed around the installation’s perimeter.
The missile batteries are found on three sides of Arak, with one crowning the highest mountain above the facility.
Arak’s defences have to be strong because this plant is the most vulnerable of Iran’s sensitive nuclear sites. Unlike Fordow, which is buried inside a mountain, and Natanz, the other uranium enrichment plant which is largely underground, the entire complex at Arak appears to be above the surface.
Whether these defences would trouble the air forces of Iran’s most likely adversaries, Israel and the US, is another matter. the anti-aircraft missiles at Arak are obsolete models known as the Shahin.
CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian security official says authorities have confiscated two pick-up trucks carrying 60 anti-tank missiles smuggled across the border from Libya.
The official says two truck drivers were arrested and the weapons seized just south of Cairo on Wednesday morning.
The two were heading from Marsa Matrouh, 430 kilometers (270 miles) northwest of the capital on the Mediterranean Coast, to the largely lawless Sinai Peninsula where weapons are regularly smuggled to Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels....
BEIJING (AP) — Beijing hotly denies accusations of official involvement in massive cyberattacks against foreign targets, insinuating such activity is the work of rogues. But at least one element cited by Internet experts points to professional cyberspies: China's hackers take the weekend off.
Accusations of state-sanctioned hacking took center stage this past week following a detailed report by a U.S.-based Internet security firm Mandiant. It added to growing suspicions that the Chinese military is not only stealing national defense secrets and harassing dissidents but also pilfering information from foreign companies that could be worth millions or even billions of dollars.
Experts say Chinese hacking attacks are characterized not only by their brazenness, but by their persistence.
"China conducts at least an order of magnitude more than the next country," said Martin Libicki, a specialist on cyber warfare at the Rand Corporation, based in Santa Monica, California. The fact that hackers take weekends off suggests they are paid, and that would belie "the notion that the hackers are private," he said....
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
... By December, as refugees were streaming over Syria’s borders into Turkey and Jordan amid mounting signs of a wintertime humanitarian crisis, the Croatian-held weapons were back in play, an official familiar with the transfers said.
One Western official familiar with the transfers said that participants are hesitant to discuss the transfers because Saudi Arabia, which the official said has financed the purchases, has insisted on secrecy.
Jutarnji list, a Croatian daily newspaper, reported Saturday that in recent months there had been an unusually high number of sightings of Jordanian cargo planes at Pleso Airport in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital.
The newspaper said the United States, Croatia’s main political and military ally, was possibly the intermediary, and mentioned four sightings at Pleso Airport of Ilyushin 76 aircraft owned by Jordan International Air Cargo. It said such aircraft had been seen on Dec. 14 and 23, Jan. 6 and Feb. 18. Ivica Nekic, director of the agency in charge of arms exports in Croatia, dismissed the Croatian report as speculation.
Monday, February 25, 2013
UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan told thousands of followers Sunday he was planning to reach out to gang leaders to help "protect" the Nation of Islam.
That came at the Nation of Islam's annual Saviours' Day convention. Farrakhan, 79, renewed the call for blacks to pool money and buy as much land as possible, in order to "control means of production" and produce food and other goods, such as clothing.
Farrakhan said collectively owning land is a way for black people in America to prosper economically. The calls were part of a speech that lasted more than three hours and touched on topics including Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, U.S. Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel and a national push for gun control....
-bth: anyone that was on the payroll of Gadhafi as Farrakhan was is to be viewed with great suspicion in my mind. It is hard for me to tell if Farrakhan's comments are taken out of context which might be the case but in general he struck me as a racist and religiously intolerant person.
Pentagon comptroller Robert F. Hale is overseeing the Defense Department’s plans to furlough most of its 800,000 civilian workers, but he insists that he still meets with friendly faces as he strides down the building’s corridors.
“I teasingly say, ‘When I walk down the hall, people still wave, but with fewer fingers,’ ” said Hale, who is balancing the tension and frustration of the times with a bit of wit.
As the Defense Department’s chief financial officer and principal adviser on all fiscal matters, including the Pentagon’s annual budget of more than $600 billion, the 66-year-old Hale and his office are at the focal point of a crisis.
“I think all of us realized a couple of months ago we were heading for the perfect storm, and we’re in the middle of it at the moment,” he said during an interview Wednesday, a particularly tumultuous day.
“This is furlough day,” Hale noted.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was giving Congress a formal 45-day notice required by law, as well as sending a message to the Defense Department workforce worldwide: In the event of sequestration, the Pentagon will move forward with furloughs....
-bth: it is important to look at the calendar. 45 Days from now will be just before April 15 tax deadline. I believe the President and the Congress have already choreographed this timeline. I believe we will see some resolution just before tax time.
Finmeccanica, the Italian conglomerate, allegedly pushed through corrupt defence deals not merely in India. Its sooty footprints cover Panama,Brazil and perhaps also Indonesia. The Panamanian contract involved a sale of six helicopters for the Navy, radars for coastal surveillance and digital mapping system. The aggregate worth of the purchase deal was pegged at $253 million. The then Italian Prime Minister flew down to Panama City to ink the deal with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on June 30, 2010. The suppliers were AgustaWestland, Selex Sistemi and Telespazio — all subsidiaries of Finmeccanica. Panama was happy to receive six maritime patrol boats as freebies from Italy.
But soon a controversy erupted as it became widely known that the three companies were actually part of the same conglomerate. The purchase orders, placed directly without mandatory tendering, were processed through a single agent Valtar Lavitola. Valtar Lavitola, the face of Finmeccanica in Panama, was a close confidante of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Later on it was discovered that Lavitola actually had plans to blackmail Berlusconi for €5 million in the ‘Tarantini sex scandal’. Arrested in April 2012, Lavitola is now facing charges of bribery and money laundering.
Panama was outraged when it was found that the coastal surveillance radars were grossly overpriced. The Latin American nation got 5o radars for $125 million. It was obscenely high when compared with Turkey’s. Turkey had recently procured the same gadget in same quantity from the same company for a mere $33 million.
This artificial over-invoicing is suspected to be a ploy to generate slush funds for political purpose. The then Selex Sistemi Chief Marina Grossi is now facing charges of false invoicing and embezzlement. Her husband Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, Chairman of Finmeccanica for nine years, felt compelled to step down in December 2011. He was replaced by Giuseppe Orsi. Paolo Pozzesere, the then Commercial Director of Finmeccanica was also arrested from Naples in October 2012 to stand trial....
WASHINGTON: As the government hurtles towards the latest fiscal cliff, March 1st, the Marine Corps' deputy commandant for resources outlined a host of painful potential consequences, from reduced rifle training to cancelled deployments to grounded fighter squadrons. Lt. Gen. John Wissler appealed to Congress for so-called reprogramming authority that would at least let the Marines move around the money they do have to mitigate the worst effects.
Wissler told reporters after his speech this morning to the Navy League. But they can't move it without explicit permission from Congress, he explained: "What we would need is to move things between appropriations, and they would need to help us there."
The legal wrinkle is that because Congress failed to enact a proper appropriations bill setting federal spending, it instead passed a Continuing Resolution that orders all agencies to keep spending exactly what they did last year on exactly the same things. The law leaves very little room to adjust for any changes in actual needs. So, even before you take into account the impending cuts from sequestration, the Marines are not only short of the total amount of operations and maintenance (O&M) money they need: They also aren't allowed reshuffle the money they do have from overfunded or low-priority accounts to meet their most urgent needs -- unless they get explicit permission from Capitol Hill.
"If you asked me to go up there tomorrow, I could probably give 'em a 95 percent solution," Wissler told reporters. "We know where we would move the money from, we know where the money is, we know where the money isn't, we know what we need."...
...It's all about the money – or the lack thereof. "We reduced the cost of this event by over 95 percent from previous years," said Gen. Robert Cone, chief of the powerful Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and the conference's principal Army backer. A source familiar with the event's logistics confirmed that the Army reduced its participation from about $3 million and 500 attendees last year to about $150,000 and 57 this year. The Secretary of the Army officially endorsed attendance only weeks ago and authorized 76 attendees, but apparently the service didn't use all its slots. Many speakers and panelists will participate by video teleconference to save travel costs....
... "Now on top of that with sequestration, we'll take additional $500 billion worth of cuts in the Department of Defense, so we're now up to $1.2 trillion," Odierno continued. Add in another $100 billion that DoD needs to find in its base budget to preserve programs, like technology to defeat roadside bombs, which were paid for out of wartime supplemental funds that are going away (formally called "overseas contingency operations" funding, or OCO), the general said, "we're now up to $1.3 trillion dollars worth of cuts."
For the Army in particular, compared to spending levels in 2008, "if we implement the 2014 budget without sequestration, it'll be a 45 percent reduction in the Army budget," said Odierno. "If we implement sequestration, it'll be over 50 percent."
So the Army's most senior officer now sees gridlock at home, not enemies abroad, as the greatest danger to the nation. "The Army has been in a state of continuous war for nearly 12 years, the longest in our nation's history," Odierno said, "but today, in my opinion, the greatest threat to our national security is the fiscal uncertainty resulting from the lack of predictability in the budget cycle."
It's not just the increasingly high probability of sequestration, he said, but the Continuing Resolution funding the government in the absence of the regular appropriations bills, which set spending at 2012 levels with little room to reflect new needs in 2013. The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are all already starting to cut back on spending everywhere they can.
Assuming Congress and the White House fail to fix any of the fiscal problems, Odierno said, "in fiscal year 13, the combination of a continuing resolution, a shortfall in overseas contingency operations funds for Afghanistan, and the sequester has resulted in a $17 to 18 billion shortfall to the Army's operations and maintenance accounts as well as an additional $6 billion cut to all other programs -- and all these cuts will have to be taken over the last seven months of this year."
That means no maintenance at Army bases, said Odierno: "We're going to be able to pay for water, heat, and that's about it." Congress will presumably restore the funds eventually, whenever it gets the current fiscal crisis sorted out, but as any homeowner knows, deferred maintenance is a great way to create costly problems down the road.
More troubling are the reductions in repairs of combat equipment and training of combat units. "We will always ensure our soldiers in Afghanistan or next to deploy, and our forces in Korea, are properly equipped and trained," Odierno said. "Then we'll see if we can continue to ensure the readiness of the Global Response Force at Fort Bragg," where the 82nd Airborne Division traditionally keeps one parachute brigade always ready to deploy on short notice.
"The rest of the forces that are now back in the United States will not be able to train [adequately]," Odierno said. "They'll be able to very small level, squad level training. They will not be able to do platoon level, company level, battalion level training."
"We're funding the force that's in Afghanistan [currently] and the next one to go in, and they all go in this summer, fall. What my concern is, is the ones that come after them," he said. "When '14 starts... I either have to send in forces that aren't ready or I have to extend those that are already there.
FORT LAUDERDALE: As automatic cuts to the 2013 budget look increasingly unavoidable, with the deadline for a Congressional deal only a week away, Army leaders are preparing fallback positions to defend the service from a full decade of sequester cuts. That includes new guidance on cutting modernization and planning for potential cuts to personnel and combat brigades.
"Sequestration is not just FY '13," said Lt. Gen. James Barclay, the deputy chief of staff for resources (G-8) on the Army staff, in remarks to the Association of the US Army's winter conference. "We have nine more years of sequestration facing us unless the act is changed."
The Balanced Budget Act of 2011 called for a trillion in federal spending cuts -- half from defense, half from discretionary non-defense programs, and effectively zero from entitlements -- over a decade. The first year's cuts would apply automatically and in equal proportions, 8.8 percent, to every Pentagon account except military payroll, which is exempt. For 2014 through 2022, however, Congress and the Administration can allocate the cuts however they want.
Until this year, the Administration resolutely refused to plan for how to implement even the 2013 impacts. President Barack Obama declared during the campaign that sequestration "will not happen." Now, however, the gridlock looks so intractable and the prospects so bleak that the Army, at least, is preparing to pick and choose which of its babies it has to kill over the next yen years.
"2013 sequestration is across the board, salami-slice, nine percent, [so] we have no flexibility this year," said Barclay. "'14 and beyond... the Army can then decide where to put those cuts."...
AFA Winter, Orlando: Imagine if someone told you 70 percent of all American combat aircraft would not be ready to fly in time of war by July. That's just what Air Force Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told some 600 people attending the Air Force Associations's annual winter conference this morning will happen should the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration occur.
This means 70 percent of all fighters (and MAYBE Remotely Piloted Aircraft and bombers -- except those for nuclear missions and aircraft in ongoing operations --we're checking) will be unready to go to war.
Welsh was careful to note that the service would protect all "named operations," so this doesn't appear to mean that troops in Afghanistan will go without air cover, but it should send a very clear message to those in Congress who continue to cling to entrenched positions that they risk gutting the combat capability of the military we spend so much to build and maintain.
The degradation will begin May 1, when flying hours will begin to get chopped, Welsh said.
But a congressional aide noted that the Air Force has been on a downward readiness slide for years, taking money from operations and maintenance to pay for new weapons such as the F-35.
"I think if you ask the AF today, if normal funding were to be assumed through July, about 40-50% of American combat aircraft would only be capable of meeting wartime requirements. So no, it's not surprising that only 30% would be available in July with restricted funding," the aide said in an email. "Over the past 10 years, the AF has taken risk in its O&M accounts (flying hour program and depot maintenance activities) in order to pay for modernization (mainly F-35 which has been sapping their funding), and those incurred risks that Gen Welsh's predecessors thought were worth taking have now become issues current AF leadership has to address and fund now."
The Continuing Resolution -- a stopgap spending bill -- currently in force will mean the Air Force ends up short $12.4 billion in fiscal 2013 for the base budget, and $1.8 billion in the war operations budget, known as Overseas Contingency Operations, the Air Force chief said.
Welsh didn't stop there. He said the CR would mean that the Air Force would have to shell out an additional $1 billion to buy a second Space-based Infrared System satellite. Why? Satellites are much cheaper to buy in groups because of the cost of buying components in advance and because of the high cost of the very skilled labor. If Congress does not pass a defense appropriations bill for 2013 the service will have to delay the planned purchase of the second satellite and that will drive up the cost.
He noted the Air Force will also have to buy three fewer F-35s in fiscal 2013. And the CR and sequestration will also mean delays to the highly complex software that is key to the plane's combat capabilities. Those delays will put at risk the date for Initial Operating Capability, a politically sensitive milestone, Welsh said
ran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has successfully taken control of the mock enemy's reconnaissance drone on the first day of the Payambar-e Azam 8 (The Great Prophet 8) military drills, which are being held in the southeastern province of Kerman.
The spokesman of the war games, Brigadier General Hamid Sarkheili, told reporters late on Saturday that the IRGC forces took control of the drone’s guidance system and managed to bring it down.
The IRGC Ground Force started the Payambar-e Azam 8 exercise, which includes practice maneuvers of various defense tactics, in southeastern Iran on Saturday.
Special modern warfare units conducted drills, asymmetric warfare tactics were practiced, and various types of unmanned aerial vehicles were tested on the first day of the war games....