Canker in the ‘Predator Pie’

October 8, 2011

“It’s getting a lot of attention,” the source says.
“But no one’s panicking.

(Illustration found here).

The quote above comes from a Danger Room blog post on a computer virus that’s infested the US unmanned drone program, and although reportedly the canker hasn’t bothered flight operations at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the problem is no one knows for sure the source.

And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the U.S. military’s most important weapons system.
“We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus.
“We think it’s benign.
“But we just don’t know.”
Military network security specialists aren’t sure whether the virus and its so-called “keylogger” payload were introduced intentionally or by accident; it may be a common piece of malware that just happened to make its way into these sensitive networks.
The specialists don’t know exactly how far the virus has spread.
But they’re sure that the infection has hit both classified and unclassified machines at Creech.
That raises the possibility, at least, that secret data may have been captured by the keylogger, and then transmitted over the public internet to someone outside the military chain of command.

This throws a stick in the flywheel — drones are the future of US military adventures.
Even though officially the program doesn’t exist — wink, wink, nudge, nudge — it might be the single worst kept secret in the U.S. government.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the former CIA director, may as well have confirmed what most of the world already knows when he made two light-hearted references to the secret CIA drone program during a trip to Italy.
When the subject of Predator drones came up Friday during an appearance here at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily, Mr. Panetta said that in his old job, he had become “very familiar” with Predators.
Earlier in the day, speaking to Navy sailors in Naples, he made another crack about the effectiveness of Predators.
“Having moved from the CIA to the Pentagon, obviously I have a hell of a lot more weapons available to me in this job than I had in the CIA, although the Predators weren’t bad,” Mr. Panetta said.

Leon is just one big belly laugh, huh?

The evolution of UAVs — Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — is not all that hilarious, however, and has more than just a whiff of souless terminator about its infrastructure.
In February 2001, the machines unknowingly became self aware with the successful launch off itself of Hellfire missiles, thus, helping it evolve from a non-lethal, reconnaissance asset to an armed, highly accurate tank killer.
Or whoever.

The cowboy in George Jr. smoothed the transition — the first reported UAV-assassination use was in November 2002 with the blasting away of a SUV in the deserts of Yemen.
The SUV supposedly contained Al Qaeda leader Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi and some other guys — all were killed.
This, however, near the bottom of the USATODAY article reporting the incident (the link above): A Predator targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar at the start of the war on Afghanistan, but military lawyers could not decide whether he could be struck, officials have said. Its missiles were ultimately fired near him, but not to kill him.
Odd that, considering most-recent history.

The U.S. made nine drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and 2007, 33 in 2008, 53 in 2009 — Obama’s first year in office — and 118 in 2010.
Through Oct. 2, 2011, a recorded 60 strikes.
Under George Jr., a drone strike every 40 days, and with Obama, way-up to one every four days.
All this bad shit by two drone operations — one through the US military, the other via the CIA.
The latter, according to a detailed New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer, is the boner:

The military’s version, which is publicly acknowledged, operates in the recognized war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and targets enemies of U.S. troops stationed there.
As such, it is an extension of conventional warfare.
The C.I.A.’s program is aimed at terror suspects around the world, including in countries where U.S. troops are not based.
It was initiated by the Bush Administration and, according to Juan Zarate, a counterterrorism adviser in the Bush White House, Obama has left in place virtually all the key personnel.
The program is classified as covert, and the intelligence agency declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge, or how many people have been killed.

And this bit is from nearly two years ago.

So now the killing via drone in late September of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki has revealed more publicly the darkness behind UAVs.
The al-Awlaki incident has opened a legal can of worms, raised all kinds of moral and ethical questions, but the concern is too late.
From Reuters:

American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.
There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, several current and former officials said.
Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

Glenn Greenwald has a most-interesting post on the subject here, and this note: Even for those deeply cynical about American political culture: wouldn’t you have thought a few years ago that having the President create a White House panel to place Americans on a CIA hit list — in secret, without a shred of due process — would be a bridge too far?
And the other side of the bridge?

Unimaginable security opportunities.
Technology eventually shrinks both costs and ease of use — metro drones could eliminate the need for a lot of actual police officers, and with some modification, ID the shit out of just about anything:

A miniature airborne drone has helped archaeologists capture images for creating a 3-D model of an ancient burial mound in Russia, scientists say.
Archaeological sites are often in remote and rugged areas.
As such, it can be hard to reach and map them with the limited budgets archaeologists typically have.
Scientists are now using drones to extend their view into these hard-to-reach spots.
“There are a lot possibilities with this method,” said researcher Marijn Hendrickx, a geographer at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Ah, the possibilities…

Info/intell off a little battery-powered four-propeller “quadrocopter” could just as easily be sent to the Creech Air Force Base control room or the local FBI/Pentagon/CIA shop, which could trigger the appearance of the quad’s bigger, and much-more-violent cousins, instead of some archaeologists mapping ancient tombs.
One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see the possibilities.

And these machines are already flying over the US — working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, fire fighting in Arizona and Texas, inspecting flood damage along the Mississippi River, and so forth.
Reaper drones are in training in northern New York state: Army officials say the pilots will randomly pick out targets such as buildings and vehicles to observe during the training flights.

Which brings up this from the LA Times last month: Jay Stanley, a senior analyst on privacy and technology at the American Civil Liberties Union, says the unregulated use of drone aircraft “leaves the gates wide open for a dramatic increase in surveillance of American life.”
However, these machines are becoming more and more domesticated, as one guy says in the above story: “People are constantly coming up and wanting a piece of that Predator pie.”

Of course, the very name, Predator, means there’s nasty-pointed thorns in that pie.
The actual indiscriminate horror on the ground in the near-vicinity of these UAV attacks is not so sweet for any bystanders, men, women, or children.
Just this morning, Press TV reported 16 civilians were killed and 50 others injured in a drone strike in southern Somalia near the border with Kenya — US operates drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.
And whole killing operation is bullshit, especially from within the US government.

The CIA claims no civilians have been killed in drone strikes for over a year — the New York Times last August begged to differ: In a UAV strike in May which bagged a bunch of insurgents, the CIA claimed no innocents died, but a report compiled by British and Pakistani journalists reveals the strike hit a religious school, an adjoining restaurant and a house, and although the militants died, so did six civilians.
Says the Times: Accounts of strike after strike from official and unofficial sources are so at odds that they often seem to describe different events.

Hard to fathom Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, huh?

Obama’s antics since in office apparently prompted this commentary from Pakistan’s The Nation:

Obama is, in short, the Rambo of drone warfare and so it is not fair to accuse him of being soft on terrorists.
This is a heavily caveated assessment, for one of the differences between Obama and Bush is that Bush developed a more coherent and systematic strategy and embedded the kinetic dimension within that larger strategy (reasonable people can debate how effective the Bush administration was in implementing that strategy).
Obama’s overall strategy is not as coherent and systematic (cf. Iraq policy, artificial and arbitrary timelines, inattention to mobilising support, etc.).
And on some of his terror policies, the incoherence does seem tied in part to what critics could consider “softness.”
But there is no doubt that Obama, as he promised during the 2008 campaign, has shown a vigour in deploying one important weapon in his arsenal: drone strikes.

Obama and change, but ‘Rambo?’

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