Sunday, July 26, 2009

Biowarfare Research: Lifting the Lid on America's "28 Days Later"

The dystopian British sci-fi film 28 Days Later opens with animal rights activists breaking into the Cambridge Primate Research facility to free chimpanzees used in a secret weapons program.

Terrified by the intrusion, a scientist warns the raiders that the chimps are infected with a genetically-modified pathogen. Ignoring his admonition, the chimps are let loose from their cages and immediately attack everyone in sight, unleashing a plague of unimaginable proportions.

Despite the film's fanciful scenario (with animal rights' campaigners clearly focused in the cross-hairs) this grim, cautionary tale does contain a kernel of truth. While marauding gangs of flesh-eating zombies haven't invaded our cities, a subtler threat looms on the horizon.

The sixth anniversary of the murder of British bioweapons expert Dr. David Kelly on July 17, 2003, lifted the lid on more than government lies that smoothed the way for the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq; it exposed the shadowy world of germ warfare research in Britain and the United States.

Along with the 2001 anthrax attacks in America that murdered five people and exposed some 10,000 others to a weaponized form of the bacteria, Kelly's death under highly questionable circumstances focused attention on the West's bioweapons establishment. For a fleeting instant, all eyes were trained on an international network of medical researchers, corporate grifters and Pentagon weaponeers busy as proverbial bees experimenting with deadly microorganisms.

And then as they say, things went dark; as more bodies piled up, cases were "closed" and the money kept on flowing...

An Expansive Bioweapons-Industrial Complex

The production of biological weapons were ostensibly banned when the United States signed the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1975. However, the absence of any formal verification regime limited, some would argue purposely so, the effectiveness of the treaty from the get-go.

Indeed, a giant loop hole in the BWC allows for the production of "small quantities" of pestilential agents "for medical and defensive purposes." Note however, it is is not the production of said agents that are prohibited as such but rather, their transformation into "weapons, equipment or means of delivery ... for hostile purposes or in armed conflict."

And with the September 11 and anthrax attacks as a pretext, the United States embarked on a systematic and reckless program to expand research into the creation of prohibited weapons systems. Along with renewed interest in these dodgy projects, now euphemistically dubbed "biodefense" to avoid breaching the BWC, came a huge increase in funding as new facilities are built and older ones "upgraded." A May 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that overall government spending has "increased from $690 million in FY2001 to $5.4 billion in FY2008."

According to the Washington D.C.-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation since the 2001 terrorist attacks "the U.S. government has spent or allocated nearly $50 billion among 11 federal departments and agencies to address the threat of biological weapons. For Fiscal Year 2009 (FY2009), the Bush Administration proposes an additional $8.97 billion in bioweapons-related spending, approximately $2.5 billion (39%) more than the amount that Congress appropriated for FY2008."

The bulk of these funds according to the Center have gone to the Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA ($31.5 billion), the Defense Department ($11.8 billion), Department of Homeland Security ($3.3 billion) and Project BioShield ($5.5 billion).

Yet according to numerous studies, deadly pathogens are far more likely to spread like wildfire as the result of a laboratory accident than an attack by germ-wielding terrorists. As I write, labs with Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) and Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) facilities are sprouting up like poisonous mushrooms across the United States.

A BSL-3 lab designation means that a facility is equipped to handle indigenous or exotic agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal disease after inhalation. Examples of substances handled by a BSL-3 lab include tuberculosis, anthrax, West Nile virus, SARS, salmonella, and yellow fever.

On the other hand, a BSL-4 lab handles the most deadly pathogens known to humankind; in other words, aerosol-transmitted infectious agents that cause fatal diseases for which no known treatments are available. Examples of substances handled by a BSL-4 lab include: Marburg virus, Ebola virus, Lassa fever and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.

CRS researchers reported that "Non-federal entities have also expanded or constructed additional high-containment laboratories. In addition to the threat of bioterrorism, an increasing awareness of the threat posed by emerging and re-emerging diseases has led to the proliferation of high-containment laboratories internationally, as the technologies used are widely available."

Shockingly, CRS was unable to determine the exact number of BSL-3 laboratories currently operating in America. However Congress' research arm said that "the total amount of planned or existent BSL-4 space in the United States has increased by an estimated twelve-fold since 2004."

Much of this work, conveniently, is being contracted out to private corporations with little or no effective oversight. Among the more prominent firms to have received the federal government's largesse for BSL-3 and BSL-4 work according to CRS, one finds the "Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, Battelle Memorial Institute, Southern Research Institute, and others." Indeed, much can be hidden here, including outsourced secret weapons research, under the rubric of "proprietary information" and "intellectual property" of course!

During 2007 hearings before Congress' Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, committee Chairman Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) said:

These BSL–3 and 4 labs are the facilities where research is conducted on highly infectious viruses and bacteria that can cause injury or death. Some of the world's most exotic and most dangerous diseases are handled at BSL–3 and 4 labs, including anthrax, foot-and-mouth disease and Ebola fever. The accidental or deliberate release of some of the biological agents handled at these labs could have catastrophic consequences. Yet, as we will hear from the Government Accountability Office, GAO, no single Government agency has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the safety and securing of these high-containment labs. However, GAO states there is a major expansion of the number of BSL laboratories is occurring both in United States and abroad but the full extent of that expansion is unknown. ("Germs, Viruses and Secrets: The Silent Proliferation of Bio-Laboratories in the United States," Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives, October 4, 2007, Serial No. 110-70, pp. 1-2)

The hearings revealed that no one "in the Federal Government even knows for sure how many of these labs there are in the United States, much less what research they are doing or whether they are safe and secure." Neither "safe" nor "secure" such facilities however, are highly profitable.

During 2007 alone, some 100 "incidents" were reported; however, "there are indications that the actual number of incidents may be much higher," according to Rep. Stupak. Reporting guidelines are so lax that dangerous pathogens such as hantavirus, SARS and dengue fever "are not on the select agent list" nor are there requirements "that the theft, loss or release of these agents ... be reported to Federal officials."

According to Edward Hammond, director of the now-defunct Sunshine Project, some 20,000 people working at more than 400 sites in the U.S. conduct research on organisms that can be used as bioweapons. This represents a tenfold increase in employment at such facilities since the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Using the Freedom of Information Act to pry data from the federal government, Hammond obtained records from a score of university biosafety committees. What he discovered was disturbing to say the least. Plague, anthrax, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, brucellosis and Q fever; these are some of the deadly pathogens that escaped containment through poor safety practices and resulted in the inadvertent sickening of lab workers.

Scientists have warned for years that the more people who handle these toxic substances, the higher the probability that mishaps will occur. Among the more well-publicized incidents, Hammond reported the following:

* Texas A&M University: workers were exposed to Q fever when it escaped containment;
* University of New Mexico: one worker was jabbed with an anthrax-laden needle while another was stuck with a syringe filled with an undisclosed, genetically altered microbe;
* University of Ohio Medical Center: workers are exposed to and infected with Valley Fever;
* University of Chicago: a syringe puncture of a lab worker with an undisclosed substance that required heavy containment, most likely anthrax or plague;
* University of California at Berkeley: workers handled the air-borne toxin Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever without containment. It had been mislabeled as "harmless".

More recently, Global Security Newswire reported in June that an inventory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md., "found nearly 10,000 more vials of potentially lethal pathogens than were known to be stored at the site."

Claiming that there are "multiple layers of security," Ft. Detrick's deputy commander Col. Mark Kortepeter said it was "extremely unlikely" that any of the center's samples had been smuggled out. "Unlikely," but not impossible.

Amongst the 9,200 extra samples uncovered during the inventory were "bacterial agents that cause plague, anthrax and tularemia; Venezuelan, Eastern and Western equine encephalitis viruses; Rift valley fever virus; Junin virus; Ebola virus; and botulinum neurotoxins." So much for a "culture of safety"!

Any one of these pathogens should they escape or made to "disappear," could be transformed into a doomsday weapon.

Designer Genes, Designer Weapons

In Emerging Technologies: Genetic Engineering and Biological Weapons, researcher Edward Hammond described how "Genetic engineering can contribute to offensive BW programs in a variety of ways. With genetic manipulation, classical biowarfare agents such as anthrax or plague may be made more efficient weapons. Barriers to access to agents such as smallpox, Ebola or the Spanish flu are being lowered by genetic and genomic techniques."

No longer the province of science fiction, recombinant DNA research is being exploited by enterprising corporate grifters for decidedly sinister purposes. Hammond writes that while "access to highly virulent agents and strains is increasingly regulated and restricted," with lethal toxins such as the smallpox virus "eradicated outside the laboratory more than 20 years ago ... it is only a question of time before the artificial synthesis of agents or agent combinations becomes possible."

The available evidence suggests such work, alarmingly, is advancing at a rapid rate.

In 2002, poliovirus was synthesized by a research team at the University of New York in Stony Brook. Hammond writes that "researchers built poliovirus 'from scratch' through chemical synthesis. Starting with the gene sequence of the agent, which is available online, the researchers synthesized virus sequences in the lab and ordered other tailor-made DNA sequences from a commercial source. They then combined them to form the full polio genome. In a last step, the DNA-sequence was brought to life by adding a chemical cocktail that initiated the production of a living, pathogenic virus. The experiment was funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)."

While poliovirus is not "well suited" as a bioweapon, "the experiment exemplifies possibilities that generate real problems if similar techniques become applicable to agents such as smallpox." Hammond averred that in 2002 "such a technique was demonstrated." Indeed, "the full sequences of at least two different smallpox strains are available in the internet, and most recently a new internet site dedicated to poxvirus genomic sequences has been launched."

As frightening as the potential for genetically engineering smallpox as a bioweapon, U.S. researchers, led by a Pentagon pathologist "recently began to genetically reconstruct" the dangerous influenza strain responsible for the 1918-1919 pandemic. "In one experiment" Hammond informs us, "a partially reconstructed 1918 virus killed mice, while virus constructs with genes from a contemporary flu virus had hardly any effect." During the 1918-1919 outbreak some 40 million people died in the global pandemic.

Hammond reports that a sample of lung tissue from a 21-year-old soldier who died in 1918 at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina "yielded what the Army researchers were looking for: intact pieces of viral RNA that could be analysed and sequenced. In a first publication in 1997, nine short fragments of Spanish flu viral RNA were revealed. Due to the rough tissue preparation procedure in 1918, no living virus or complete viral RNA sequences were recovered."

But far from inhibiting Pentagon researchers, biowarfare proponents were jumping for joy when Army scientists recovered intact pieces of viral RNA that were then subsequently pulled apart and analyzed. By 2002 according to Hammond, "four of the eight viral RNA segments had been completely sequenced, including the two segments that are considered to be of greatest importance for the virulence of the virus."

Which leads to a queasy sense that perhaps the current outbreak of the H1N1 strain of swine flu may be the result of some mad experiment gone awry. Adrian Gibbs, a prominent Australian scientist who collaborated on research that led to the development of the Tamiflu drug, told Bloomberg News "the new strain may have accidentally evolved in eggs scientists use to grow viruses and drugmakers use to make vaccines. Gibbs said he came to his conclusion as part of an effort to trace the virus's origins by analyzing its genetic blueprint."

"The sooner we get to grips with where it's come from, the safer things might become," Gibbs told Bloomberg. "'It could be a mistake' that occurred at a vaccine production facility or the virus could have jumped from a pig to another mammal or a bird before reaching humans, he said."

Gibbs is no crank and his claims, at least initially, were taken seriously by the World Health Organization (WHO). Kenji Fukada, WHO's assistant director-general of health security and environment said the agency is reviewing Gibbs' report. On the other hand, the American Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta dismissed the findings, deciding there is "no evidence" to support the scientist's conclusions.

His research is considered credible and the scientist said his analysis is supported by other researchers, including Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis who found "the new strain is the product of two distinct lineages of influenza that have circulated among swine in North America and Europe for more than a decade."

Gibbs told the financial publication he saw no evidence that "the swine-derived virus was a deliberate, man-made product." The researcher said, "I don't think it could be a malignant thing. It's much more likely that some random thing has put these two viruses together."

Fukada later said that Gibbs' proposition "didn't fit the evidence." The WHO official added that the organization will need to review Gibbs' research article when it is published, but he indicated that "it is unlikely to change the experts' conclusions."

Perhaps Gibbs is wrong and his findings will be relegated to the sidelines. Having said that however, the danger that H1N1 or some derivative might be weaponized cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Indeed, the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine was so-alarmed by the prospect that in 2003 they commented, "the possibility for genetic engineering and aerosol transmission [of influenza] suggests an enormous potential for bioterrorism." Unsaid, of course, was the gravest threat posed by such dark research may be state terrorism, more specifically, American state terrorism.

Plum Island

If past is prologue, it might be an instructive exercise to take a short detour down memory lane.

One spooky facility that played a key role in America's Cold War bioweapons programs is the 840-acre Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC). Under the nominal control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Plum Island shared close ties with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md.

According to a series of striking reports by researcher Mark Sanborne, Plum Island's "spiritual godfather" was none other than one Dr. Erich Traub, "a Nazi scientist with a fascinating history." Traub spent the pre-war years as a scientific fellow at the Rockefeller Institute in Princeton, N.J., "studying bacteriology and virology, while still finding time to hang out at Camp Sigfried, headquarters of the American Nazi movement in Yaphank, Long Island, 30 miles west of Plum Island."

Citing evidence uncovered by researcher by Michael Christopher Carroll in his exposé Lab 257, when war broke out, Traub returned to Germany and became the head of Insel Riems, the Nazi state's secret biological warfare research facility located on an island in the Baltic Sea. A fanatical Nazi, Traub tested germ and viral sprays over the occupied Soviet Union "while reporting directly to Heinrich Himmler."

With a CV such as this one would have expected Traub to have landed in prison or at the end of a rope. Think again!

After the war Traub worked briefly for the Soviets before escaping into the embrace of Operation Paperclip, Washington's covert employment program for useful Nazi scientists. As Werner von Braun was to rockets, Traub was to germs: He promptly went to work for the Naval Medical Research Institute and gave operational advice to the CIA and the biowarriors at Fort Detrick. Indeed, his detailed description of his work at Insel Riems probably helped inspire the selection of Plum Island by the Army: both the German and U.S. facilities were situated on islands where the prevailing winds blew (mostly) out to sea. (Mark Sanborne, "'Bionoia' Part 3: The Mystery of Plum Island: Nazis, Ticks and Weapons of Mass Infection," World War 4 Report, No. 121, May 1, 2006)

But that's all in the past, right? Well, not entirely...

Carroll builds a compelling case that the 1975 outbreak and subsequent pandemic spread of Lyme Disease, a tick-borne pathogen first identified in Old Lyme, Connecticut "just 10 miles across Long Island Sound from Plum Island," may have originated when a secret bioweapons experiment went awry.

Since its 1975 appearance nearly 300,000 cases have been reported in 49 states, although given its mimetic abilities and confusing, multi-symptom manifestations, the CDC estimates that only one in 10 cases are recognized as such, which means potentially some three million Americans may have been infected by the pathogen.

Indeed, what makes Lyme the perfect cover as a bioweapon is its capacity as "a devious, multi-systemic, inflammatory syndrome that mimics other illnesses by encompassing a range of afflictions, including chronic and crippling pain and fatigue that untreated can spread to organs and the central nervous system, causing depression, palsy, memory loss, psychosis, and even encephalitis and death," Sanborne grimly informs us.

Why then, would America's biowarriors concern themselves with a disease that "incapacitates but rarely kills" its victims? According to Sanborne, "the logic is brutally simple." Drawing an analogy between how a wounded soldier puts greater stress on an army than a dead one, "gradually sickening a population places greater economic and social stress on a society than simply killing a limited number of people with a more direct and virulent attack."

And if such a disease can be transmitted via a natural vector like ticks or mosquitoes that already possess built-in plausible deniability so to speak "and can confuse medical authorities by presenting a broad array of symptoms that mimic other conditions (Bb, like its more famous relative syphilis, has been called the 'Great Imitator'), then so much the better," Sanborne wrote.

Carroll discovered during his research that entomologist Dr. Richard Endris and African swine fever team leader Dr. William Hess, traveled to Cameroon and other parts of Africa on "tick-hunting safaris." By the time the pair had finished their collection, they had reared "over 200,000 hard and soft ticks of multiple species."

Lab containment practices were cited as "unsafe" by outside consultants who "strongly recommended" the construction of a "modern, approved insectory be undertaken for future research." (emphasis in original) The pair were fired in 1988 and the tick colony destroyed, but the question remains: were the ticks already out of the bag?

There is also evidence that Plum Island researchers experimented with more than ticks. Carroll averred,

Dr. Endris also conducted experiments with sand flies on Plum Island in 1987 to test transmission of leishmaniasis, a bacterial ailment that if left untreated, has a human mortality rate of almost 100 percent. It is characterized by irregular bouts of fever, substantial weight loss, and swelling of the spleen and liver. The work was performed under contract for Fort Detrick, and serves as another example of a deadly germ warfare agent worked on at Plum Island for the Army, with no public knowledge or public safety precautions taken. (Michael Christopher Carroll, Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government's Secret Germ Laboratory, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005, p. 24)

Like other parts of America's bioweapons-industrial complex, disease outbreaks and subsequent cover-ups go hand in hand. The New York Times reported in 2004 that "the highly contagious foot and mouth virus had briefly spread within the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in two previously undisclosed incidents earlier this summer."

Fear not, lab spokesperson Donald W. Tighe told the paper "the virus had remained within the laboratory's sealed biocontainment area. He said there had been no risk to humans or animals inside or outside the laboratory." An investigation "is continuing." Alarmingly, in 1991, Hurricane Bob knocked out power on the island for several hours and disabled the air pressure systems that contained the viruses. At the time, lab spokespersons assured the public "they were safe."

Plans are afoot to close the facility. Global Security Newswire reported in February that the Department of Homeland Security is planning a new, $450 million facility to be built on the Kansas State University campus.

However, The New York Times revealed that "additional costs" would bring the total to about $630 million." The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBADF) would have "safety built into every square inch," DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano assured critics.

Coming to a City Near You!

Despite lax oversight and a veritable $50 billion ocean of cash washing over universities, corporations and the military, since 2002 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has spent billions on the construction of new BSL-3 and BSL-4 facilities. More are planned, including those already under construction in major U.S. cities.

One Boston resident, alarmed by the prospect that Boston University Medical Center officials were building "a biological defense laboratory in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods" told the Los Angeles Times, "We heard anthrax and Roxbury-South End," she recalled. "Then we heard Ebola. The last thing we heard was bubonic plague. We looked at each other and said, 'No way are they bringing that ... into our community.'"

Seven years later, the $198-million lab complex stands completed between an apartment building and a flower market. But state and federal lawsuits by anxious residents, backed by skeptical scientists, have blocked the opening until late next year at the earliest.

The battle marks the first major setback in the vast growth since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks of labs authorized to research the world's most dangerous diseases. It also underscores a growing debate over the safety and security of such labs--and whether so many are needed. (Bob Drogin, "Biodefense Labs Make Bad Neighbors, Residents Say," Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2009)

Working class Boston residents aren't the only people alarmed by the explosive growth of such facilities.

According to a 2008 University of California budget document the Board of Regents recommended the allocation of $3,998,000 for a project to renovate and "upgrade" the existing laboratory facility "for programs that require Bio-safety Level 3 (BSL3) containment" on the U.C. Davis campus.

With students and workers reeling under draconian state budget cuts, out-of-control fee hikes and mass layoffs, why would the State of California waste nearly $4 million for such a facility? "The BSL3 space is needed" we are informed, "for research programs utilizing infectious and pathogenic organisms." Indeed, "the facility would be designed to accommodate research studies involving in-vitro experimentation utilizing infected avian, murine, arthropod hosts, and the development of genetic markers for a wide range of disease agents that require BSL3 containment."

But as with most of America's bioweapons-industrial complex, illicit and illegal research is carried out with little or no oversight.

The antinuclear Bay Area watchdog group Tri-Valley CAREs (TVC), has been monitoring and protesting the expansion of America's nuclear weapons complex for decades, with a particular focus on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

An ubiquitous "public-private partner" of the U.S. national security state, LLNL is a "limited liability corporation" comprised of five partners: the University of California, Bechtel, BWX Technologies, Washington Group International and Battelle--all heavy-hitters in the biotech, construction, defense, energy, nuclear and security worlds.

According to TVC, the group obtained government documents as a result of Freedom of Information Act litigation demonstrating that LLNL had violated federal regulations and had carried out "restricted experiments" that were discovered by the Centers of Disease Control inspection in August 2005. CDC, the Department of Energy and LLNL covered up the inspector's report.

Restricted experiments are experiments utilizing recombinant DNA that involve the deliberate transfer of a drug resistance trait to select agents that are not known to acquire the trait naturally. Select agents, which include anthrax and plague, are biological agents and toxins having the potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety.

Because of the dangers involved in transferring drug resistance to select agents, restricted experiments require approval from the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Livermore Lab did not have that approval, but ran the experiments anyway. ("Livermore Lab Caught Conducting Illegal Restricted Bio-Experiments," Tri-Valley CAREs, Press Release, May 26, 2009)

According to the watchdog group, the experiments were carried out by the lab at the same time of the accidental release of anthrax in August-September 2005. Five individuals were exposed to the deadly pathogen and a $450,000 fine was levied against the facility. TVC noted that "the relevant details of the 2005 anthrax accident were kept from the public at the time, just as happened with the illegal experiments that are coming to light today."

LLNL has opened a BSL-3 facility and is planning to experiment with pathogens that can be used as offensive weapons. Activities contemplated include, "aerosolizing (spraying) pathogens such as plague, tularemia and Q fever, in addition to anthrax. Moreover, government documents disclose that planned experiments in the BSL-3 include genetic modification and potentially novel manipulation of viruses, prions and other agents."

What of LLNL's close partner, Battelle Memorial? According to a blurb on their web site, the firm's national security brief includes what they euphemistically call "vaccine and therapeutic product development." Battelle "specialists" at their Aberdeen, Maryland research facility (adjacent to USAMRIID's Ft. Detrick bioweapons complex) "study aerosolized microorganisms that may be possibly used in terrorist attacks."

Indeed, Ft, Detrick is currently undergoing the largest expansion in its history. Investigative journalists Bob Coen and Eric Nadler revealed in Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail that the recently-opened "National Biodefense Analysis Countermeasures Center ... contains heavily guarded and hermetically sealed chambers in which scientists will simulate terrorist attacks and use lethal germs and toxins."

Coen and Nadler aver, "this, remember, is the facility that officialdom claims was the source of the only significant germ war attack on US soil." Conveniently enough, "Battelle has the $250 million contract to manage the operation."

But the journalists uncovered more, much more than insipid government pronouncements on "biodefense." During a interview with constitutional law scholar Francis Boyle, a University of Illinois professor and acknowledged expert on the Biological Weapons Convention, Boyle told the investigative sleuths that the "Pentagon is ready to wage anthrax war."

"Look at the Department of Defense's Chemical and Biological Defense Program Report to Congress, April 2007, page 22, Table 2-5. Information Systems Modernization Strategy, Mid FY09-13," Boyle told Coen and Nadler.

"Here you find a study" Boyle asserted, that estimates the "human effects from a 5,000 weapon worldwide strike; to predict fatalities and incapacitation, both initial and delayed and to accommodate population moves including area evacuations or sheltering in place. Now how does that strike you?"

Sounds like business as usual!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Was Dr. David Kelly a Target of Dick Cheney's "Executive Assassination Ring"?

Revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency launched a world-wide assassination program, and then concealed its existence from the U.S. Congress and the American people for eight years, carries an implication that death squads may have been employed against political opponents.

The Wall Street Journal reported July 13 that "A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter."

Investigative journalist Siobhan Gorman writes, "The precise nature of the highly classified effort isn't clear, and the CIA won't comment on its substance."

The Washington Post however, revealed July 16 that the assassination plan was sanctioned by President Bush. Unnamed "intelligence officials" told the newspaper that "a secret document known as a 'presidential finding' was signed by President George W. Bush that same month, granting the agency broad authority to use deadly force against bin Laden as well as other senior members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups."

According to Post reporter Joby Warrick, Bush's finding "imposed no geographical limitations on the agency's actions" and that the CIA was "not obliged to notify Congress of each operation envisaged under the directive." This implies that targets could be hit anywhere, including on the soil of a NATO ally or inside the United States itself.

According to the Los Angeles Times the program "was kept secret from lawmakers for nearly eight years at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney."

Despite these reports and hand-wringing amongst congressional Democrats, there's something fishy here. After all, isn't the whole point of America's "global war on terror" to "capture or kill" al-Qaeda suspects? What's so secretive or controversial about that?

The descriptions of the operation that have so far emerged however, bear a striking resemblance to charges laid earlier this year when investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that the Bush administration stood-up an "executive assassination ring."

During a "Great Conversations" event at the University of Minnesota in March the veteran journalist told the audience: "After 9/11, I haven't written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven't been called on it yet. That does happen."

The program was allegedly shut down by Panetta on June 23, a day after leaning of the agency's clandestine initiative. What make these revelations all the more significant is that the CIA Director only learned of the program fully four months after assuming office.

"The implications," socialist analyst Bill Van Auken writes, "are clear. The CIA maintained the secrecy ordered by Cheney even after the latter had left office, and continued to conceal the existence and nature of the covert operation not only from Congress, but from the Obama administration itself."

But was the program shut down? The Washington Post further revealed that the plan, allegedly "on the agency's back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a 'somewhat more operational phase'."

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a former top aide to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell hints that the program was in a "somewhat more operational phase" years earlier, despite repeated denials by CIA officials and congressional staffers.

Wilkerson told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show July 14, "What I suspect has happened is what began to happen while I was still in the government, and that was we're killing the wrong people. And we're killing the wrong people in the wrong countries. And the countries are finding out about it, or at least there was a suspicion that the countries might find out about it, and so it was shut down. That's my strong suspicion."

According to Wilkerson, the teams may have been dispatched under deep cover, using Joint Special Operations Command as a cut-out, a confirmation of charges made by Seymour Hersh in March. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was queried by the State Department, "after some hemming and hawing, which was Rumsfeld's forte, he finally admitted that he had dispatched some of these teams," Wilkerson explained.

Powell's former aide told Maddow, "It's laughable that the CIA has never lied to Congress. "They lie to Congress on a routine basis." Much the same can be said of General Powell who lied to the entire world "on a routine basis" during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

It must also be said there is precedence for the CIA's alleged death squad activities during the Bush era. In Vietnam for example, the CIA and U.S. Special Forces jointly ran a secret assassination program that targeted Vietnamese dissidents. As author Douglas Valentine revealed in his definitive study, The Phoenix Program, Operation Phoenix "was a computer-driven program aimed at 'neutralizing', through assassination, kidnapping, and systematic torture, the civilian infrastructure that supported the insurgency in South Vietnam."

Those programs never died and have since morphed into above top secret "Special Access Programs" used with deadly effect in Central- and South America during the 1980s and across the Middle East today.

One Scandal Leads to Another

The latest scandal comes on the heels of revelations that the Bush administration's massive secret surveillance programs targeting the American people went far beyond well-publicized warrantless wiretapping.

A new 38-page declassified report issued July 10 by inspectors general of the CIA, National Security Agency, Department of Justice, Department of Defense and the Office of National Intelligence, collectively called the acknowledged "Terrorist Surveillance Program" and cross-agency top secret "Other Intelligence Activities" the "President's Surveillance Program."

The IG's report failed to disclose what these programs actually did, and probably still do today under the Obama administration. Shrouded beneath impenetrable layers of secrecy and deceit, these undisclosed programs lie at the dark heart of the state's war against the American people and perhaps, other regime opponents.

The CIA's Office of Inspector General said that "the program was an additional resource to enhance the CIA's understanding of terrorist networks and to help identify potential threats to the U.S. homeland," and that the "PSP was one of many tools available to them, and that the tools were often used in combination." However, "some officers told the CIA OIG that there was insufficient legal guidance on the use of PSP-derived information." (pp. 33-34)

But with a thin reed provided by President Bush's executive orders, presidential findings and 2001 congressional authorization for war against al-Qaeda, why would there be "insufficient legal guidance"? If "PSP-derived information" was used to target alleged al-Qaeda operatives there wouldn't be need for additional legal guidance. If however, the CIA "was very deeply involved in domestic activities" as Seymour Hersh averred, and used NSA information for political dirty tricks it would be a violation of the CIA's charter, one that comes with serious consequences including jail time.

Investigative journalists James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, who broke the NSA spy story in The New York Times in 2005, reported July 11 that intelligence officials "'had difficulty citing specific instances' when the National Security Agency's wiretapping program contributed to successes against terrorists."

True enough as far as it goes, but perhaps these programs were highly efficacious in silencing those who were deemed politically suspect, even within the defense and security apparatus itself.

While major media in the United States insist that the Agency's assassination program was meant to target al-Qaeda assets, one question inevitably raises its head: did the CIA and allied intelligence services murder political opponents? Were covert actions carried out by the CIA--at home or on the soil of America's allies--"against people they thought to be enemies of the state," as Hersh revealed?

More pointedly, was the British bioweapons expert Dr. David Kelly, who leaked information to the press that the British and American governments had falsified the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, murdered for exposing the fraudulent evidence for war or worse, planning an exposé on the West's continued development of offensive biological weapons?

The Kelly File

Dr. David Kelly was an unlikely dissident. In fact Kelly wasn't a dissident at all, but a prominent figure in Britain's bioweapons defense establishment.

The former head of the microbiology department at Porton Down, the UK's secret biological and chemical warfare research facility, at the time of his 2003 death Kelly was a consummate insider, a trusted keeper of state secrets; dangerous and deadly secrets that could topple governments.

A civilian employee of Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD), Dr. Kelly was a biological weapons expert and former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. His off-the-record conversations with journalist Andrew Gilligan about the British government's fraudulent claim that Iraq possessed "weapons of mass destruction" set off a firestorm that continues to smolder.

While David Kelly wasn't a spy, he did enjoy unprecedented access to the world of secret intelligence. Indeed, according to author Gordon Thomas Kelly had helped orchestrate the defection of a top Russian microbiologist Vladimir Pasechnik (who turned up dead in 2001, allegedly from a stroke) and played a part in the FBI's investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States by trying to identify the origin of the Ames strain used in the fatal mailings.

In 2008, the multiyear, multimillion dollar "Amerithrax" investigation was closed when the Bureau claimed that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the killer. Ivins, a top anthrax expert at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Ft. Detrick in Maryland committed suicide. According to the FBI version, the scientist killed himself just as the Bureau was about to arrest him for the crime.

Many were unconvinced that Ivins was the anthrax "lone gunman." Indeed, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a target of the 2001 attacks, charged FBI Director Robert Mueller with staging a cover-up.

During 2008 hearings, Leahy angrily chided Mueller: "If he is the one who sent the letter, I do not believe in any way, shape or manner that [Ivins] is the only person involved in this attack on Congress and the American people. I do not believe that at all. I believe there are others involved, either as accessories before or after the fact, I believe there are others who can be charged with murder."

Richard Spertzel, Ivins' former boss at Ft. Detrick told investigative journalists Bob Coen and Eric Nadler, "He's dead and they can close the case and he can't defend himself. Nice and convenient isn't it?"

Thomas claims that Kelly had worked with two American scientists, Benito Que and Don Wiley, who also turned up dead under highly suspicious circumstances.

It was originally claimed by authorities that Que was bludgeoned to death during an attempted carjacking in Miami. "Strangely enough," The Toronto Globe & Mail reported in 2002, "his body showed no signs of a beating. Doctors then began to suspect a stroke."

Wiley, according to the Canadian newspaper "was an expert on how the immune system responds to viral attacks such as the classic doomsday plagues of HIV, ebola and influenza." After planning a trip to Graceland with his son police "found his rental car on a bridge outside Memphis, Tenn. His body was later found in the Mississippi River. Forensic experts said he may have had a dizzy spell and have fallen off the bridge."

As it turned out, the pair were "engaged in DNA sequencing that could provide 'a genetic marker based on genetic profiling'." Thomas writes: "The research could play an important role in developing weaponized pathogens to hit selected groups of humans--identifying them by race. Two years ago, both men were found dead, in circumstances never fully explained."

Coincidence, or something more sinister?

By summer 2003, it was obvious that Saddam Hussein's regime did not possess WMDs and that the entire pretext for invading Iraq was based on a lie, concocted by the American regime, and in particular by Vice President Richard Cheney and the neoconservative mafia in control of America's defense and security apparatus.

Tasked to the Defence Intelligence Staff, Kelly read a draft of the Joint Intelligence Committee's (JIC) dossier on Iraq's reputed WMDs. He was unhappy with many of the report's conclusions, according to multiple press reports. He disputed the infamous claim that the Iraqi Army was capable of launching battlefield biological and chemical weapons within "45 minutes" of an order from Saddam. This dubious claim, one of many, was inserted into the report at the insistence of MI6 political masters acting through the JIC.

During a trip to Iraq in June 2003, Kelly inspected what were alleged by the Bush administration to be "mobile weapons laboratories," a claim infamously made by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations in February 2003. The Observer reported that a British scientist, who turned out to be David Kelly, told the newspaper: "They are not mobile germ warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons. They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they were--facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons."

One of the key pieces of evidence to emerge was the JIC's, and Kelly's, involvement with Operation Rockingham, a secret program for weapons inspections in Iraq.

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter told the Sunday Herald that Operation Rockingham was a "dirty tricks" unit "designed specifically to produce misleading intelligence that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction to give the UK a justifiable excuse to wage war on Iraq."

Describing the unit as "dangerous," Ritter told investigative journalist Neil Mackay, "Rockingham was spinning reports and emphasizing reports that showed non-compliance (by Iraq with UN inspections) and quashing those which showed compliance. It was cherry-picking intelligence."

A political firestorm ensued, which threatened the viability of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government. Heads would have to roll; one of those heads as it turned out, would be David Kelly's.

After an appearance before Parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee on July 15, 2003, Kelly was visibly upset by his shoddy treatment by MPs. In an email to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a serial-fabricator who had stitched-up evidence that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, Kelly said there "were many dark actors playing games."

During the whitewash known as The Hutton Inquiry, a British ambassador David Broucher reported a conversation he had with Kelly in Geneva. The ambassador asked Kelly what would happen if Iraq were invaded? The bioweapons expert replied, "I will probably be found dead in the woods."

Two days after giving testimony before Parliament he was.

"A Wet Operation, a Wet Disposal"

In The Strange Death of David Kelly, Liberal-Democratic MP Norman Baker builds a strong case that the scientist was murdered. Despite Lord Hutton's dubious findings that Kelly killed himself, several troubling facts intruded to upend the British government's apple cart. To summarize:

The lack of fingerprints found on the knife allegedly used by the scientist to slit his wrists; the lack of blood found at the scene, despite a verdict that he had sliced open an artery; unexplained contusions on Kelly's scalp; the position of the body discovered by searchers differed markedly from that alleged by detectives; bottled water, knife and wristwatch said to be found by detectives were not observed by the searchers who actually discovered the body; eight computers removed from Kelly's home and office by MI6 agents; missing dental records; the level of painkillers found in Kelly's stomach was "less than a third" of what is considered a fatal overdose by medical experts. On and on it goes...

One source told Baker that Dr. Kelly's death was "a wet operation, a wet disposal," a term used in intelligence circles to denote an assassination.

Six years after Kelly's murder, a group of British doctors have announced that "they were mounting a legal challenge to overturn the finding of suicide," The Mail on Sunday reports.

A 12-page opinion concludes: "The bleeding from Dr Kelly's ulnar artery is highly unlikely to have been so voluminous and rapid that it was the cause of death. We advise the instructing solicitors to obtain the autopsy reports so that the concerns of a group of properly interested medical specialists can be answered."

One motive which may have led to Kelly's murder was that the scientist was writing a book "exposing highly damaging government secrets before his mysterious death," The Sunday Express reported July 5.

According to published reports, Kelly intended to reveal that he had warned Prime Minister Tony Blair "there were no weapons of mass destruction anywhere in Iraq weeks before the British and American invasion." Despite warnings that the book would breach Britain's draconian Officials Secrets Act, Kelly sought advice on how he might bring his findings into a publishable form.

These reports also suggest that Kelly threatened to "lift the lid" on a larger scandal, "his own secret dealings in germ warfare with the apartheid regime in South Africa."

Investigative journalists Bob Coen and Eric Nadler in their book Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail and a companion 90-minute documentary, Anthrax War, provide startling evidence that Kelly's death is linked to a secret world of germ warfare research.

Indeed, according to Coen and Nadler, David Kelly's secret dealings included a connection with Dr. Wouter Basson, the cardiologist who was the former head of the South African apartheid regime's clandestine biological and chemical warfare program, Project Coast.

During Basson's 1999 trial and subsequent acquittal, evidence presented by some 150 witnesses, including operatives linked to South African snatch-and-kill squads, tied Basson to chemical and biological research used in extrajudicial executions by the apartheid regime. It was further alleged that Project Coast had conducted active research into the fabrication of "ethnic weapons" that would specifically target South Africa's black population.

In Anthrax War, Basson states that his findings were shared with foreign scientists, including those affiliated with weapons research in Britain and the United States. According to a 2001 piece in The New Yorker,

Basson had already put the fear into American intelligence during his T.R.C. [Truth and Reconciliation Committee] appearance, where he handed over fourteen pages of notes from a visit to the United States in 1981. American Air Force officers had been eager to develop joint "medical projects" with South Africa, he wrote. ... Basson says that in 1995 his life was threatened on the street by a C.I.A. agent. The American Embassy in Pretoria admits privately that the United States government is "terribly concerned" that Basson may start talking about his sources of information and technology. The Embassy hopes that an impression of "unwitting coöperation" is all that emerges in the way of an American connection. (William Finnegan, "The Poison Keeper," The New Yorker, January 15, 2001)

Coen and Nadler uncovered evidence that Kelly had discovered a "Porton Down-South Africa connection" linked to a global bioweapons black market. The investigative journalists told the Express, "We have proved there is a black ­market in anthrax. David Kelly was of particular interest to us because he was a world expert on anthrax and he was involved in some degree with assisting the secret germ warfare programme in apartheid South Africa."

Andrew Mackinlay, a British MP blamed for humiliating Kelly "to the point of suicide" started "asking questions in the House of Lords" after the scientist's death "about Kelly's relationship with these bad actors in Pretoria, even making inquiries about South African links to Pasechnik's Regma firm."

Founded in 2000 by the deceased scientist, Regma Bio Technologies was headquartered on the Porton Down campus and had signed a contract with the U.S. Navy for anti-anthrax research.

What Mackinlay discovered about the entire operation was highly disturbing to say the least. His inquiry sparked "the convening of an extraordinary 'handling strategy meeting' involving thirteen officials from different government agencies. But any and all information about UK-South African germ work was withheld from the MP."

Mackinlay told Coen and Nadler, "This is one of the most closely guarded secrets of the British government."

The question is, did David Kelly threaten to reveal these "closely guarded secrets" in the book he was preparing, and was this a motive for certain "dark actors" to eliminate a person now considered "an enemy of the state"?

These programs are not Cold War relics. Biological weapons research continues today and remain one of America's most deadly secrets. As the 2001 anthrax attacks which employed a weaponized version of the bacteria to sow terror, and subsequent FBI cover-up illustrate, such programs remain fully operational.

The evidence suggests that Dr. David Kelly, as Norman Baker avers "may have signed his own death warrant" by threatening to reveal this secret underworld menacing all humanity with unimaginable horrors.

That an out-of-control agency like the CIA has the means, motives and opportunity to silence critics and that "no geographical limitations" were placed "on the agency's actions," should give pause to a society that considers itself a democracy.

Media revelations so far have suggested that the CIA and Special Operations Forces were assembling teams to "put bullets in [the al Qaeda leaders'] heads" as The Wall Street Journal reported.

But perhaps the Obama administration's trepidation in exploring this and other Bush-era programs through congressional hearings or the mechanism of a special prosecutor has much to do with fear of opening a proverbial can of worms.

One never knows where such an investigation might lead.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Behind the Cyberattacks on America and South Korea. "Rogue" Hacker, Black Op or Both?

The iconic American investigative journalist I.F. Stone once said, "All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed." Stone's credo is all the more relevant today when it comes to the pronouncements of intelligence agencies and their corporate masters, particularly where official enemies are concerned.

A widespread computer attack that began July 4 took down several U.S. Government, South Korean and financial web sites, the Associated Press reported.

Multiple media reports claim that the Treasury Department, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Transportation web sites were struck by a distributed denial of service (DDOS) assault that began last Saturday.

According to Computerworld, "a botnet comprised of about 50,000 infected computers has been waging a war against U.S. government Web sites and causing headaches for businesses in the U.S. and South Korea." The magazine reported July 7, "on Saturday and Sunday the attack was consuming 20 to 40 gigabytes of bandwidth per second, about 10 times the rate of a typical DDoS attack, one security expert said after being briefed by the US-CERT on Tuesday. 'It's the biggest I've seen'."

This is particularly embarrassing to DHS since the agency's U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (U.S.-CERT) is responsible for preventing illegal hacking forays on government networks.

Attacks were also reported on the White House, the Department of Defense, the State Department, The Washington Post, U.S. Bancorp, the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. Affected sites in South Korea included those of the presidential Blue House, the Ministry of Defense, the National Assembly, Shinhan Bank, the newspaper Chosun Ilbo. South Korea's top Internet Service Provider, crashed on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Despite the unsophisticated nature of the cyber incursion that employed a variant of the MyDoom virus, unnamed "senior U.S. officials" told The Wall Street Journal that American and South Korean officials are "probing North Korea's possible role." The same anonymous sources said that the botnet attack "coincided with North Korea's latest missile launches and followed a United Nations decision to impose new sanctions."

That the cyber assault also "coincided" with a holiday fireworks accident that killed 5 workers in North Carolina, multiple deaths due to drunk driving on U.S. highways or an Italian railway disaster that claimed 21 lives, is hardly "evidence" of Pyongyang's shadowy hand.

Nevertheless, South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), the successor organization to the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), was quick to blame the troglodytic Stalinist regime for the blitz. However, the opposition Democratic Party "accused the spy agency of spreading unsubstantiated rumors to whip up support for a new anti-terrorism bill that would give it more power."

In a media statement NIS said: "This is not a simple attack by an individual hacker, but appears to be thoroughly planned and executed by a specific organization or on a state level."

But given the nature of the event, not all cybersecurity specialists are convinced of a North Korean provenance. Amit Yoran, the former director of DHS' National Cybersecurity Division told Federal Computer Week: "I think at this point it is highly unlikely, highly improbable that any reliable attack-attribution data is available. It's a very intense process and it could take weeks. ... The analysis here--both technical and nontechnical--is not trivial and takes time."

In other words, NIS pronouncements should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. After all, this is an agency with a repressive pedigree and its own dodgy agenda. "Trained-up fierce" by the CIA and the Pentagon, the South Korean intelligence service has been involved in some of the worst human rights abuses in East Asia.

According to a series of reports by investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the agency was involved in the mass murder of their own citizens. In 1980, the Army's feared "Black Beret" Special Forces and the KCIA were given a "green light" by Washington to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the southern city of Kwangju in which some 2,000 students and workers were massacred; hundreds more were "disappeared," tortured and imprisoned.

And with hostilities between Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang steadily on the rise, one cannot rule out the possibility that the cyberattacks are an exploitable entré by enterprising security agencies for further escalating the current crisis. Recent U.S. history is replete with examples of "intelligence and facts ... being fixed around the policy."

Fitting North Korea into the Frame

While the cyberassault "seemed to have come from South Korea," The Wall Street Journal reports that American and South Korean officials are "trying to assess whether this is some random attack or the North Koreans might be working through a proxy, said the official."

Just as likely however, someone or some entity may be trying to fit the repressive Stalinist regime into the frame.

Maneuvering to transform the thin gruel of fact into a meatier stew, Rodger Baker, the director of East Asian analysis at Stratfor, a private think-tank that describes itself as "the world leader in global intelligence" told Reuters the "timing of the cyber attacks raised suspicions about North Korea because it was around the U.S. Independence Day holiday and Pyongyang conducting missile tests."

Another "expert," Nicholas Eberstadt, a senior researcher at the rightist American Enterprise Institute (AEI), linked the cyber blitz to a recent flurry of missile tests as well as to North Korea's recent test of a nuclear device. He told Asia Times: "The general purpose was clear. When one looks at the nuclear chessboard, their security is integrally tied to cyber-warfare. ... This strategy fits in integrally with tests of atomic devices."

Eberstadt's proof? He has none, but handily furnishes us with a speculative worst-case scenario that has the North launching a massive artillery and missile attack on major U.S. bases "in tandem with a full-scale cyber-offensive." In other words, Eberstadt has conjured up a digital bogeyman to scare the kiddies.

Such pronouncements are all the more remarkable given the decrepit state of the North's technological infrastructure. Computerworld reported July 10, there "are just over a million telephone lines installed in the country of 26 million people, home PCs are rare and Internet access is heavily restricted."

While the country has made IT expertise a priority, the publication averred that "North Korea's sophistication in hacking makes it less likely to be behind the attacks."

Despite something as trivial as evidence, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, urged President Obama to launch a cyber attack against North Korea.

Hoekstra told the right-wing America's Morning News radio show on Friday, "some of the best people in America" had been investigating the attacks and have concluded that "all the fingers" point to North Korea as the culprit.

That Hoekstra's comments were showcased by the radio mouthpiece of The Washington Times, speak volumes to the agenda being pushed here.

The far-right news outlet is a wholly-owned subsidiary of clerical-fascist, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church empire. With long-standing ties to Japanese and Korean fascists and war criminals, including reputed yakuza capo tutti capos Ryoichi Sasakawa and Yoshio Kodama, "Moon's Korea-based church got its first boost as an international organization when Kim Jong-Pil, the founder of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, brokered a relationship between Moon and ... Japan's leading rightist financiers," according to a definitive series of reports by investigative journalist Robert Parry.

Added Hoekstra, North Korea should be "sent a strong message."

"Whether it is a counterattack on cyber, whether it is, you know, more international sanctions ... but it is time for America and South Korea, Japan and others to stand up to North Korea or the next time ... they will go in and shut down a banking system or they will manipulate financial data or they will manipulate the electrical grid, either here or in South Korea," Hoekstra said. "Or they will try to, and they may miscalculate, and people could be killed."

Hoekstra's provocative statements echo remarks offered up by STRATCOM commander General Kevin Chilton. In May, Chilton suggested that "the White House retains the option to respond with physical force--potentially even using nuclear weapons--if a foreign entity conducts a disabling cyber attack against U.S. computer networks," according to a disturbing report published by Global Security Newswire.

And with a vested interest in blaming their historic enemy for the cyberstrike, enterprising defense and security grifters on the southern side of the 38th parallel--and in Washington--have been hyping reports that the Stalinist regime is building a "cyber division" within the North Korean army.

Indeed, Bloomberg News reported that "South Korea's Defense Ministry plans to spend 489 billion won ($382 million) next year to beef up its defense against cyber warfare, the ministry said in a budget report today."

Who might benefit from such a large expenditure of public funds? Why private U.S. defense and security corporations of course!

Amongst the largest U.S. firms doing business with the South Korean Ministry of Defense, one finds the usual suspects. These include Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, L3 Communications and Booz Allen Hamilton to name but a few of the dozens of corporations with a stake in the South Korean military bazaar. That all of the above-named entities are heavily-leveraged in the emerging cybersecurity market is hardly a coincidence.

The Korean Herald reported in its July 10 edition that "some experts here [are] now fingering hackers in the United States" as the culprits. Hong Min-pyo, the CEO of the security software firm Shiftworks who forensically examined the virus, "raised the possibility of the distributed denial of service attacks originating from a locale in the United States, which also was hit by the attacks."

Unlike corporate media here in the heimat, the Herald referenced critics who warned "against politicizing the latest cyber infections," including opposition Democratic Party lawmakers who "protested the passing of the anti-cyber terrorism bill citing invasion of privacy and internet censorship." The opposition demanded the government "offer concrete evidence to prove that North Korea was involved in the latest attacks."

But given the right-wing political offense currently underway in Seoul and Washington, opposition lawmakers may have a very long wait.

A Sociopath with a Keyboard and a Grudge ... or Something More Sinister?

The unsophisticated nature of the attack should have alerted the media that any number of bad actors, particularly cybercriminals who specialize in transforming computers into zombie machines, or botnets, for their own nefarious purposes were prime suspects.

Computerworld reported July 8, that "an updated version of the MyDoom virus is responsible for a large DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack that took down major U.S. Web sites over the weekend and South Korean Web sites on Wednesday, according to Korean computer security company AhnLab."

Since its 2004 appearance, MyDoom has become "the fasted-spreading e-mail worm in Internet history." When a PC is infected with MyDoom, malicious code enables the program to harvest email addresses and mail itself out endlessly, the publication reports. According to AhnLab, the latest version contains an additional file with a list of web sites to be attacked.

Computerworld reported July 9, that infected systems also contain a destructive Trojan "programmed to encrypt user data or reformat the hard drive of a PC," thus erasing the evidence.

Joe Stewart, a researcher with SecureWorks who examined the code, told Computerworld that the botnet "does not use typical antivirus evasion techniques and does not appear to have been written by a professional malware writer."

Stewart told the publication that it is unusual to see low-profile state web sites being hit. "Who goes around targeting a site like the FAA or the U.S. Treasury? It's not something that most people would think to attack."

When contacted Friday for an update, Stewart told Computerworld there is "still zero evidence of North Korean involvement." Though relatively lengthy in duration, Stewart believes the attack could have been launched by a single person.

Who then might attack "low-profile web sites" such as the Federal Trade Commission for example?

According to Wired, the FTC shut down an Internet Service Provider for its illegal and highly-lucrative hosting practices.

Identified as a "Black Hat" firm variously known as "Pricewert," "" and "APS Telecom" the company was accused by the FTC June 3 of "actively recruiting" to its hosting service "thousands of 'rogue' web sites distributing 'illegal, malicious, and harmful electronic content including child pornography, spyware, viruses, trojan horses, phishing, botnet command and control servers, and pornography featuring violence, bestiality, and incest'."

Wired reported that the company "had thousands of servers" in the San Jose, Calif. area and the firm "actively shields its criminal clientele by either ignoring take-down requests issued by the online security community or shifting its criminal clients to other internet protocol addresses controlled by Pricewert so that they may evade detection."

The Washington Post reported June 3, that "Botnet experts ... have found that 3FN housed many of the command and control networks for 'Cutwail,' one of the world's largest spam botnets. As late as mid-April, Joe Stewart, a botnet expert and director of malware research at SecureWorks, tracked nearly a dozen Cutwail control networks hosted at 3FN."

Which raises an uncomfortable question for security "experts" hyping North Korea's alleged "cybersecurity threat:" were the past week's attacks the work of a sociopath with a keyboard and a grudge, particularly if one of his/her botnets lost the critical command and control hubs that make spam, an illicit drugs market and Internet porn profitably sizzle?

While we may never know who actually launched the incursions, we just might have a slight inkling of who'll benefit. As Antifascist Calling reported July 6, plans are already afoot to roll-out Einstein 3, a Bush-era surveillance program to screen state computer traffic on private-sector networks.

In partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, communications, defense and security firms such as AT&T, General Dynamics, L3 Communications, MCI, Qwest, Sprint and Verizon stand to make billions from contracts under the government's Managed Trusted Internet Protocol Services (MTIPS) program with its built-in "Einstein domain."

How's that for timing!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pervasive Surveillance Continuing Under Obama. New DHS-NSA-AT&T "Cybersecurity" Partnership

Under the rubric of cybersecurity, the Obama administration is moving forward with a Bush regime program to screen state computer traffic on private-sector networks, including those connecting people to the Internet, The Washington Post revealed July 3.

That project, code-named "Einstein," may very well be related to the much-larger, ongoing and highly illegal National Security Agency (NSA) communications intercept program known as "Stellar Wind," disclosed in 2005 by The New York Times.

There are several components to Stellar Wind, one of which is a massive data-mining project run by the agency. As USA Today revealed in 2006, the "National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth."

Under the current program, Einstein will be tied directly into giant NSA data bases that contain the trace signatures left behind by cyberattacks; these immense electronic warehouses will be be fed by information streamed to the agency by the nation's telecommunications providers.

AT&T, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the NSA will spearhead the aggressive new initiative to detect malicious attacks launched against government web sites--by continuing to monitor the electronic communications of Americans.

This contradicts President Obama's pledge announcing his administration's cybersecurity program on May 29. During White House remarks Obama said that the government will not continue Bush-era surveillance practices or include "monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic."

Called the "flagship system" in the national security state's cyber defense arsenal, The Wall Street Journal reports that Einstein is "designed to protect the U.S. government's computer networks from cyberspies." In addition to cost overruns and mismanagement by outsourced contractors, the system "is being stymied by technical limitations and privacy concerns." According to the Journal, Einstein is being developed in three stages:

Einstein 1: Monitors Internet traffic flowing in and out of federal civilian networks. Detects abnormalities that might be cyber attacks. Is unable to block attacks.

Einstein 2: In addition to looking for abnormalities, detects viruses and other indicators of attacks based on signatures of known incidents, and alerts analysts immediately. Also can't block attacks.

Einstein 3: Under development. Based on technology developed for a National Security Agency program called Tutelage, it detects and deflects security breaches. Its filtering technology can read the content of email and other communications. (Siobhan Gorman, "Troubles Plague Cyberspy Defense," The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2009)

As readers of Antifascist Calling are well aware, like other telecom grifters, AT&T is a private-sector partner of NSA and continues to be a key player in the agency's driftnet spying on Americans' electronic communications. In 2006, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein revealed in a sworn affidavit, that the firm's Internet traffic that runs through fiber-optic cables at the company's Folsom Street facility in San Francisco was routinely provided to the National Security Agency.

Using a device known as a splitter, a complete copy of Internet traffic that AT&T receives--email, web browsing requests and other electronic communications sent by AT&T customers, was diverted onto a separate fiber-optic cable connected to the company's SG-3 room, controlled by the agency. Only personnel with NSA clearances--either working for, or on behalf of the agency--have access to this room.

Klein and other critics of the program, including investigative journalist James Bamford who reported in his book, The Shadow Factory, believe that some 15-30 identical NSA-controlled rooms exist at AT&T facilities scattered across the country.

Einstein: You Don't Have to Be a Genius to Know They're Lying

But what happens next, after the data is processed and catalogued by the agency is little understood. Programs such as Einstein will provide NSA with the ability to read and decipher the content of email messages, any and all messages in real-time.

While DHS claims that "the new program will scrutinize only data going to or from government systems," the Post reports that a debate has been sparked within the agency over "uncertainty about whether private data can be shielded from unauthorized scrutiny, how much of a role NSA should play and whether the agency's involvement in warrantless wiretapping during George W. Bush's presidency would draw controversy."

A "Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) for EINSTEIN 2" issued by DHS in May 2008, claims the system is interested in "malicious activity" and not personally identifiable information flowing into federal networks.

While DHS claims that "the risk associated with the use of this computer network security intrusion detection system is actually lower than the risk generated by using a commercially available intrusion detection system," this assertion is undercut when the agency states, "Internet users have no expectation of privacy in the to/from address of their messages or the IP addresses of the sites they visit."

When Einstein 3 is eventually rolled-out, Internet users similarly will "have no expectation of privacy" when it comes to the content of their communications.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters, "we absolutely intend to use the technical resources, the substantial ones, that NSA has." Seeking to deflect criticism from civil libertarians, Napolitano claims "they will be guided, led and in a sense directed by the people we have at the Department of Homeland Security."

Despite protests to the contrary by securocrats, like other Bush and Obama "cybersecurity" initiatives the Einstein program is a backdoor for pervasive state surveillance. Government Computer News reported in December 2008 that Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said that "the misuse or exposure of sensitive data from such a program [Einstein] could undermine the security arguments for surveillance."

And with Internet Service Providers routinely deploying deep packet inspection tools to "siphon off requested traffic for law enforcement," tools with the ability to "inspect and shape every single packet--in real time--for nearly a million simultaneous connections" as Ars Technica reported, to assume that ISPs will protect Americans' privacy rights from out-of-control state agencies is a foolhardy supposition at best.

The latest version of the system will not be rolled-out for at least 18 months. But like the Stellar Wind driftnet surveillance program, communications intercepted by Einstein 3 will be routed through a "monitoring box" controlled by NSA and their civilian contractors.

Under a classified pilot program approved during the Bush administration, NSA data and hardware would be used to protect the networks of some civilian government agencies. Part of an initiative known as Einstein 3, the plan called for telecommunications companies to route the Internet traffic of civilian agencies through a monitoring box that would search for and block computer codes designed to penetrate or otherwise compromise networks. (Ellen Nakashima, "Cybersecurity Plan to Involve NSA, Telecoms," The Washington Post, July 3, 2009)

However, investigative journalist Wayne Madsen reported last September "that the Bush administration has authorized massive surveillance of the Internet using as cover a cyber-security multi-billion dollar project called the 'Einstein' program."

While some researchers (including this one) question Madsen's overreliance on anonymous sources and undisclosed documents, in fairness it should be pointed out that nine months before The New York Times described the NSA's secret e-mail collection database known as Pinwale, Madsen had already identified and broken the story. According to Madsen,

The classified technology being used for Einstein was developed for the NSA in conducting signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations on email networks in Russia. Code-named PINWHEEL, the NSA email surveillance system targets Russian government, military, diplomatic, and commercial email traffic and burrows into the text portions of the email to search for particular words and phrases of interest to NSA eavesdroppers. According to NSA documents obtained by WMR, there is an NSA system code-named "PINWALE."

The DNI and NSA also plan to move Einstein into the private sector by claiming the nation's critical infrastructure, by nature, overlaps into the commercial sector. There are classified plans, already budgeted in so-called "black" projects, to extend Einstein surveillance into the dot (.) com, dot (.) edu, dot (.) int, and dot (.) org, as well as other Internet domains. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has budgeted $5.4 billion for Einstein in his department's FY2009 information technology budget. However, this amount does not take into account the "black" budgets for Einstein proliferation throughout the U.S. telecommunications network contained in the budgets for NSA and DNI. (Wayne Madsen, "'Einstein' replaces 'Big Brother' in Internet Surveillance," Online Journal, September 19, 2008)

A follow-up article published in February, identified the ultra-spooky Booz Allen Hamilton firm as the developer of Pinwale, an illegal program for the interception of text communications. According to Madsen, "the system is linked to a number of meta-databases that contain e-mail, faxes, and text messages of hundreds of millions of people around the world and in the United States."

In other words both classified programs, Pinwale and Einstein, are sophisticated electronic communications surveillance projects that most certainly will train the agency's formidable intelligence assets on the American people "using as cover a cyber-security multi-billion dollar project called the 'Einstein' program," as Madsen reported.

AT&T: "No Comment"

An AT&T spokesman refused to comment on the proposals and is seeking legal protection from the state that it will not be sued for privacy breaches as a result of its participation in the new program. "Legal certification" the Post reports, "has been held up for several months as DHS prepares a contract."

NSA's involvement is critical proponents claim, because the agency has a readily-accessible database of computer codes, or signatures "that have been linked to cyberattacks or known adversaries. The NSA has compiled the cache by, for example, electronically observing hackers trying to gain access to U.S. military systems," the Post averred.

Calling NSA's cache "the secret's the stuff they have that the private sector doesn't," is what raises alarms for privacy and civil liberties' advocates. Known as Tutelage, NSA's classified program can detect and automatically decide how to deal with malicious intrusions, "to block them or watch them closely to better assess the threat," according to the Post. "The database for the program would also contain feeds from commercial firms and DHS's U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, administration officials said."

Jeff Mohan, AT&T's executive director for Einstein, was more forthcoming earlier this year. He told Federal News Radio: "With these services, we will provide a secure portal from the agency's infrastructure, or Intranet to the public internet. There is a technical aspect, which is routers, firewalls and that sort of thing that applies these security capabilities across that portal and looks a Internet traffic that comes from public Internet to Intranet and vice versa."

The "technical aspect" will also provide federal agencies the ability to capture, sort, read and then store Americans' private communications in huge data bases run by NSA.

Mohan said that AT&T will provide the state with "optional services such as scanning e-mail and placing filters on agency networks to keep malicious e-mail off the network as well as forensic and storage capabilities also are available through MTIPS [Managed Trusted Internet Protocol Services]."

In addition to AT&T, other private partners awarded contracts under the General Services Administration's MTIPS which has a built-in "Einstein enclave" include: Sprint, L3 Communications, Qwest, MCI, General Dynamics and Verizon, according to multiple reports published by Federal Computer Week.

Claiming that the state is "looking for malicious content, not a love note to someone with a dot-gov e-mail address," a former unnamed "senior Bush administration official" told the Post "what we're interested in is finding the code, the thing that will do the network harm, not reading the e-mail itself."

Try selling that to the tens of millions of Americans whose private communications have been illegally spied upon by the Bush and Obama administrations or leftist dissidents singled-out for "special handling" by the national security state's public-private surveillance partnership!

An Electronic Spider's Web

As the "global war on terror" morphs into an endless war on our democratic rights, the NSA is expanding domestic operations by "decentralizing its massive computer hubs," The Salt Lake Tribune revealed.

The agency "will build a 1-million-square-foot data center at Utah's Camp Williams," the newspaper disclosed July 1. The new facility would be NSA's third major data center. In 2007, the agency announced plans to build a second data center in San Antonio, Texas after the Baltimore Sun reported that NSA had "maxed out" the electric capacity of the Baltimore area's power grid.

The San Antonio Current reported in December, that the NSA's Texas Cryptology Center will cost "upwards of $130 million." The 470,000 square-foot-facility is adjacent to a similar center constructed by software giant Microsoft. Investigative journalist James Bamford told the Current that under current law "NSA could gain access to Microsoft's stored data without even a warrant, but merely a fiber-optic cable."

A follow-up article by The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the facility will cost upwards of $2 billion dollars and that funds have already been appropriated by the Obama administration for NSA's new data center and listening post.

The secretive agency released a statement Thursday acknowledging the selection of Camp Williams as a site for the new center and describing it as "a specialized facility that houses computer systems and supporting equipment."

Budget documents provide a more detailed picture of the facility and its mission. The supercomputers in the center will be part of the NSA's signal intelligence program, which seeks to "gain a decisive information advantage for the nation and our allies under all circumstances" according to the documents. (Matthew D. LaPlante, "New NSA Center Unveiled in Budget Documents," The Salt Lake Tribune, July 2, 2009)

Not everyone is pleased with the announcement. Steve Erickson, the director of the antiwar Citizens Education Project told the Tribune, "Finally, the Patriot Act has a home."

While the total cost of rolling-out the Einstein 3 system is classified, The Wall Street Journal reports that "the price tag was expected to exceed $2 billion." And as with other national security state initiatives, it is the American people who are footing the bill for the destruction of our democratic rights.