Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hackable Drones, Crumbling Empire

On the eve of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, historian Chalmers Johnson observed in The Sorrows of Empire: "At this late date ... it is difficult to imagine how Congress, much like the Roman senate in the last days of the republic, could be brought back to life and cleansed of its endemic corruption."

Drawing striking analogies between the fall of the Roman republic and America's decline as a global capitalist power, Johnson wrote: "Failing such a reform, Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the punisher of pride and hubris, waits impatiently for her meeting with us."

Judging by the fragile state of American sociopolitical life, that meeting may not be as far off as most of us think.

America's Hackable Drones

In this light, it was hardly surprising to read in The Wall Street Journal last week that "Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations."

The Journal revealed that the Pentagon's "potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink between the unmanned craft and ground control." Investigative journalists Siobhan Gorman, Yochi Dreazen and August Cole disclosed that the "U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s."

But since feeding the corporatist beast, in this case General Atomics Inc., is priority number one for grifters in Congress, the problem was allowed to fester until the boil finally popped.

Considering that the Obama administration "has come to rely heavily on the unmanned drones" for imperial machinations across the entire Eurasian "Arc of Crisis" or any number of other "theaters" where the U.S. military and the corporate masters they serve, steal other people's resources (known as "Keeping America Safe" in our debased political lexicon), this news will probably come as quite a shock.

After all, we've been to led to believe that the heimat's occupying armies, like ancient Roman legionnaires, are "invincible."

But as the Journal reported "the stolen video feeds also indicate that U.S. adversaries continue to find simple ways of counteracting sophisticated American military technologies." (emphasis added)

Contemplate and savor that phrase, dear readers. While wags in the Pentagon Borg hive may believe "resistance is futile," insurgent hackers using off-the-shelf software and cheap, easy to rig antennas were able to determine, in real-time no less, tactical information transmitted to U.S. troops on the ground. As the Journal noted, unencrypted video feeds from drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan also "appear to have been compromised."

Another surveillance drone deployed both in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ScanEagle manufactured by Boeing subsidiary Insitu, is plagued by similar problems.

In a follow-up piece, the Journal reported that the ScanEagle "can stay aloft for 24 hours and carries electro-optical and infrared cameras up to an altitude of 16,000 feet."

But as with the Predator and Reaper attack drones, the ScanEagle's "video feed hasn't been encrypted," primarily "because military officials have long assumed no one would make the effort to try to intercept it."

An Insitu spokesperson told the Journal that the firm was in the "advanced stages of development of a technical solution for video data encryption for ScanEagle."

Writing in Wired For War, analyst P.W. Singer describes the "next generation of the Predator," the MQ-9 Reaper as "four times bigger and nine times more powerful" than its predecessor. Claiming that the attack drone comes "close to flying itself," Singer touts the ability of the aircraft to "recognize and categorize human and human-made objects. It can even make sense of the changes in the target it is watching, such as being able to interpret and retrace footprints or even lawn mover tracks."

"As of 2008," Singer informs us, "two Reaper prototypes were already deployed to Afghanistan" and we can presume Pakistan as well. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill revealed last month in The Nation that the mercenary firm Blackwater is working on the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command's "drone bombing program in Pakistan."

According to Scahill's military intelligence source, while CIA operations are subject to congressional oversight, "parallel JSOC bombing are not." The source told Scahill, "Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don't care. If there's one person they're going after and there's thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That's the mentality."

What other "mentality" is operative here, particularly amongst journalists wowed by the technology but indifferent to the death and destruction they inflict on defenseless civilians? Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman told Singer when queried about Reaper deployments in the "Afpak" theater: "It may not be unreasonable to assume they are standing alert somewhere in case a certain high-priority target pops his head out of his cave."

Leaving aside Sweetman's dubious stab at humor, in light of last week's revelations one must ask, why bother to pop your head out of a cave, when a small, commercially-available satellite dish and a cheap laptop will do the trick? But what make these reports so telling is that "the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn't know how to exploit it." Where have we heard that before? Dien Bien Phu? The Bay of Pigs? The "cakewalk" In Iraq, perhaps?

While history doesn't repeat, although tragedies and farces abound, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the giant defense firms who line their pockets upon retirement, as USA Today revealed last month, mix their whiskeys with net-centric kool-aid, and have staked their careers (and the lives of their economic conscripts and the victims of these indiscriminate drone attacks) on quixotic, dubious theories of robowar.

But with a U.S. Defense Department budget that tops $685 billion for fiscal year 2010, and considering that drones will account for a whopping 36% of the Air Force's acquisition budget, why would Pentagon policy planners assume otherwise? After all, how could a motley crew of shepherds, day laborers and "Saddam dead-enders" outfox America's mighty imperial army? How, indeed!

According to Air Force Times, although the Pentagon knew that UAV feeds were being hacked since 2008 and probably earlier, top Air Force generals, acceding to the wishes of their political masters in the Defense Department, notably former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his coterie of neocon yes-men, did nothing to upset the high-tech apple cart and sought instead to hit the corporate "sweet spot."

Former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne was fired in 2008 when it was revealed that a B-52 Stratofortress bomber flew some 1,500 miles from Minot Air Force base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles fixed to its wings. Compounding the scandal, for nearly six hours the Air Force was unable to account for the weapons. Commenting on the hacked UAV drone feeds, Air Force Times disclosed:

Wynne took part in meetings with the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2004 and 2005 about concerns with the links, but the consensus from the meetings was to field the UAVs as quickly as possible.

"I would say people were aware of it [the vulnerability], but it wasn't disturbing," Wynne said. "It wasn't yet dangerous; it certainly didn't disrupt an operation, so why make a huge deal of it?" (Michael Hoffman, John Reed and Joe Gould, "Fixes on the Way for Nonsecure UAV Links," Air Force Times, December 20, 2009)

Meanwhile, former Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley, fired along with Wynne over the loose nuke incident, attended the same DoD conclave with his boss and capo tutti capo Rumsfeld. Moseley told the publication "his worry" was "about the security of the aircraft's datalinks."

"My question from the beginning was ... 'What is our confidence level that links are secure?' Not just the imaging that comes off, but also the command and flying links. The answer was 'We're working that' from the General Atomics folks," Moseley said.

San Diego-based General Atomics Inc., No. 36 on Washington Technology's "2009 Top 100 List of Prime Federal Contractors" is plush with revenue totaling $593,742,395. Major customers include the Navy, Air Force, Army, the Department of Homeland Security and NASA, and the bulk of their business these days comes from manufacturing the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones.

When queried by Journal reporters about the UAV's vulnerabilities, a company spokeswoman told the journalists that for "security reasons," the firm couldn't comment on "specific data link capabilities and limitations."

Could their lack of transparency have something to do perhaps with the fact that the Air Force plans to buy some 375 Reaper drones at a cost of some $10-12 million each? I guess they're "working that" too!

Other Systems Vulnerable

But the problem is worse, far worse than the Pentagon has acknowledged. Wired reported that "tapping into drones' video feeds was just the start."

Investigative journalists Noah Shachtman and Nathan Hodge disclosed that the "U.S. military's primary system for bringing overhead surveillance down to soldiers and Marines on the ground is also vulnerable to electronic interception, multiple military sources tell Danger Room." According to Wired, this means "militants have the ability to see through the eyes of all kinds of combat aircraft--from traditional fighters and bombers to unmanned spy planes."

The military initially developed the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver, or ROVER, in 2002. The idea was let troops on the ground download footage from Predator drones and AC-130 gunships as it was being taken. Since then, nearly every airplane in the American fleet--from F-16 and F/A-18 fighters to A-10 attack planes to Harrier jump jets to B-1B bombers has been outfitted with equipment that lets them transmit to ROVERs. Thousands of ROVER terminals have been distributed to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But those early units were "fielded so fast that it was done with an unencrypted signal. It could be both intercepted (e.g. hacked into) and jammed," e-mails an Air Force officer with knowledge of the program. In a presentation last month before a conference of the Army Aviation Association of America, a military official noted that the current ROVER terminal "receives only unencrypted L, C, S, Ku [satellite] bands." (Noah Shachtman and Nathan Hodge, "Not Just Drones: Militants Can Snoop on Most U.S. Warplanes," Wired, December 17, 2009)

The Pentagon discovered this "problem" late last year when a Shiite militant's laptop "contained files of intercepted drone video feeds."

And last summer, unnamed "senior officials" told the Journal that the military found "days and days and hours and hours of proof" that video feeds from Predator drones, but also from other U.S. systems, including attack aircraft, were vulnerable to interception.

In a follow-up piece December 21, Shachtman reported that Air Force officers initially claimed the video intercepts "were no big deal." Why? Because "without the metadata to go along with, the footage was extremely hard to interpret."

"Well," Shachtman writes, "now it turns out that intercepting the metadata isn't much harder than tapping the video itself. Because 'there is also mission control data carried inside the satellite signal to the ground control stations,' according to an analysis carried by Wikileaks."

The Wikileaks document avers: "It is theoretically possible to read off this mission control data both in the intercepted video feed and saved video data on harddisks." This means that the "control and command link to communicate from a control station to the drone" and the "data link that sends mission control data and video feeds back to the ground control station," for both "line-of-sight communication paths and beyond line-of- sight communication paths" are hackable by whomever might be listening.

Indeed, "line-of-sight links are critical for takeoffs and landings of the drone. These links utilize a C-Band communication path." We are told that "beyond line-of-sight communication links operate in the Ku-Band satellite frequency. This allows the UAV to cover approx. 1500 miles of communication capability."

"So this explains somewhat" the analyst continues, "why the insurgents were able to intercept the Predator video feeds when they were sent unencrypted to the ground station." Therefore, "the only thing needed" by a savvy technoguerrilla "is a C-Band or Ku-Band antenna which can read traffic. Sending traffic to a satellite for example is not needed in this case."

"An important note," and what make Pentagon planners' assumptions about their adversaries all the more ludicrous "is that our research shows that most if not all metadata inside the MPEG Stream is for its own not encrypted if the MPEG Stream itself is not encrypted."

In other words Wired concludes, "everything, from target locations to drone headings to sensor angles can be pulled off of the satellite transmission, too." Shachtman writes, "the more this security breach is examined, the bigger it becomes."

And considering that an "unnamed senior official" told Journal reporters that the simple software package is "part of their kit now," is it only a matter of time before militant groups figure out how to hijack a drone and crash it, or even launch a Hellfire missile or two at a U.S. ground station?

We are told by military experts this is not possible; however, who would have thought that the Achilles heel of Pentagon robo warriors, blinded by their own arrogance and racist presumptions about the "Arab Mind" was something as simple as their own hubris.

The neocon Middle East Quarterly assures us that "Arab resentment of the West ... particularly in terms of the technology invasion" is "at every level," according to the absurdist meme of Raphael Patai, author of The Arab Mind, "a daily reminder of the inability of the Middle East to compete."

Claiming that the "Arab view of technology" reflects an inherent "cultural weakness" that "has been amply supported over the last decades," we are told that "Arabs" while "clearly enthusiastic users of technology, particularly in war weaponry ... nevertheless remain a lagging producer of technology."

Indeed, Patai's book is assigned reading at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School. Col. Norvell B. De Atkine, an instructor in Middle East studies, informs us that in order "to begin a process of understanding the seemingly irrational hatred that motivated the World Trade Center attackers, one must understand the social and cultural environment in which they lived and the modal personality traits that make them susceptible to engaging in terrorist actions."

Col. De Atkine avers "at the institution where I teach military officers, The Arab Mind forms the basis of my cultural instruction."

Judging by the coverage in corporate media, endlessly repeating similar imperial tropes, this hilarious security breach, one I might add of the Pentagon's own creation, has come as quite a shock. It shouldn't have. After all, the same "hajis" who were able to grind the American military machine to a halt by their imaginative use of decades' old ordnance, garage door openers (!) and cell phones fabricated into IEDs have created a "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) of their own.

Talk about unintended consequences!

Net-Centric Warfare, Meet the Countermeasures!

Dr. Andrew Marshall, the Director of the Defense Department's Office of Net Assessment, defines RMA as "a major change in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of new technologies which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine and operational and organizational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of military operations."

But as Durham University professor of geography Stephen Graham points out, in light of the Iraq debacle, RMA theorists sought to get a handle on complex urban geographies to attain what they believed would be "Persistent Area Dominance" through the use of satellites, drones and an array of sensors "networked" onto the battlefield. Graham writes:

The first involves programmes designed to saturate such cities with myriads of networked surveillance systems. ...

This leads neatly to the second main area of defence research and development to help assert the dominance of US forces over global south cities: a shift towards robotic air and ground weapons. When linked to the persistent surveillance and target identification systems ... these weapons will be deployed to continually and automatically destroy purported targets in potentially endless streams of state killing. Here, crucially, fantasies of military omniscience and omnipotence, which blur seamlessly into wider sci-fi and cyberpunk imaginations of future military technoscience, become indistinguishable from major US military research and development programmes. The fantasies of linking sentient, automated and omnipotent surveillance--which bring God-like levels of 'situational awareness' to US forces attempting to control intrinsically devious global south megacities--to automated machines of killing, pervades the discourses of the urban turn in the RMA. (Stephen Graham, "Surveillance, urbanization, and the 'Revolution in Military Affairs'," in David Lyon (ed) Theorizing Surveillance: The Panopticon and Beyond, London: Willan, 2006, pp. 251, 254-255)

But what happens when global resistance forces get a handle on the game America and their allies are playing and begin leveraging the weaknesses of such systems, not of least of which are the ideological blind spots plaguing their developers, into a wholly subversive high-tech détournement in a bid to level the playing field?

This is no idle speculation, but rather a possible glimpse into the future of what has been called by military theorists "asymmetric warfare." The classic examples of this type of uneven combat between states and insurgent forces are the various communist guerrilla armies that toppled colonial or neocolonial governments backed by the United States, e.g. China, Vietnam, Cuba, Angola, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua.

Today however, the same "persistent surveillance and target identification systems" that have seemingly given the U.S. military an edge over their adversaries, e.g. the development of robotic killing machines capable of "compressing the kill chain" as Airforce Magazine describes the process in near pornographic terms fail to mention that "in Iraq," as Stephen Graham reminds us, "even rudimentary high-tech devices have routinely failed due to technical malfunctions or extreme operating conditions."

As a result of Pentagon-sponsored research, contemporary military operations aim for "defined effects" through "kinetic" and "non-kinetic" means: leadership decapitation through preemptive strikes combined with psychological operations designed to pacify (terrorize) insurgent populations. This deadly combination of high- and low tech tactics is the dark heart of the Pentagon's Unconventional Warfare doctrine.

But as Graham points out, the "often wild and fantastical discourses" of high-tech military theorists have run into a brick, not a silicon, wall: the will to resist. Graham writes: "The relatively high casualty rates of US forces--forced to come down from 40,000 ft, or withdraw from ceramic armour, to attempt to control and 'pacify' violent insurgencies within sprawling Iraqi cities--are a testament to the dangerous wishful thinking that pervades all military fantasies of 'clean', 'automated' or 'cyborganized' urban 'battlespace'."

Nevertheless, such fantasies persist and will continue to drive military spending and American strategies of conquest even as imperialism's political project goes to ground.

And so we return to Chalmers Johnson's warning. "We are on the cusp of losing our democracy" Johnson laments, "for the sake of keeping our empire."

"Once a nation is started down that path" the historian cautions, "the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play--isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy.

Barring a dramatic transformation of American economic, political and social relations, not the ersatz "change" promised by the current regime, a rank mendacity that amounts to little more than a band-aid over gangrene, "Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Letting the Beast Out of the (Corporatist) Bottle: Obama Channels Bush on Bioweapons

The Obama administration's recent declaration on bioweapons would simply be another run-of-the-mill example of our "change" president's duplicity were it not such an unmitigated disaster.

Recapitulating sinister Cold War practices that informed American ruling class consensus when it came to secretly toying with nature's most deadly pathogens, (a) because they could, (b) because it was, and is, highly profitable and (c) because they got away with it, the profound failure by the administration to rein-in out-of-control corporate grifters, militarists and scientists thirsting after an endless flow of taxpayer dollars, have put us all on a potential glide path towards the abyss.

Since the roll-out of the Obama product-line January 21, on issues ranging from war and peace to economic justice and from civil liberties to healthcare, the "change" team exhibit the same callous disregard for disarmament proposals that characterized their Bushist predecessors in the Oval Office.

Nowhere is this reality so transparently delineated than by the administration's continuing efforts to derail plans to revitalize the moribund Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), rejecting binding verification protocols that would finally give the 1972 treaty teeth.

"Strengthening" the BWC: Killing it with Kindness

From her perch as U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Ellen Tauscher, a former Democratic congresswoman from the San Francisco Bay Area (in other words, a feckless "liberal" who spent her career paying lip-service to the antiwar sentiments of her constituents--and then voting in favor of every blood-soaked imperialist adventure undertaken by the Bush regime) rejected international monitoring of military and pharmaceutical sites that might employ research for illicit purposes, e.g., the fabrication of banned biological weapons.

"The Obama administration will not seek to revive negotiations on a verification protocol to the convention," Tauscher told delegates December 9 at the annual meeting of the States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva.

The position outlined last week by the administration eerily follows in the footsteps of the previous government. In 2001, there was broad support internationally for revitalizing the BWC draft Protocol; a long, circuitous process undertaken back in 1991.

But during these earlier negotiations, the U.S. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) released a position paper opposing the routine inspection of laboratories and other research facilities on the grounds of safeguarding "confidential business information," a position they have reiterated today.

This, along with U.S. Defense Department opposition killed the deal after the American delegation, under instructions from arch neocon John Bolton who then held Tauscher's brief, argued that an international inspections regime would put U.S. "national security" at "risk" by allowing spot checks of suspected U.S. weapons sites.

Revealing a warmer and fuzzier, though no less obstructionist side than blustery Bolton, the Undersecretary mounted a charm offensive in Geneva, touting the National Security Council's (NSC) "National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats" as a major transformation of the U.S. position. It wasn't. Tauscher told delegates: "The United States intends to implement this [NSC] strategy through renewed cooperation and more thorough consultations with our international counterparts in order to prevent the misuse and abuse of science while working together to strengthen health security around the world."

However, not a single word in the 23-page NSC document addresses the vital issue of verification. Indeed, while no-holds-barred inspections of nuclear weapons' facilities undergird international treaties governing the destruction of warheads and missiles, thus ensuring compliance with treaty obligations by states, when it comes to biological weapons the "National Strategy" skirts the question entirely. Why?

While the United States claims that it will "advance policies and practices that establish and reinforce norms against the misuse of the knowledge and capabilities that arise from the life sciences while encouraging their free and open availability for peaceful and beneficial use," a call to "develop and employ complementary and multi-layered systems for influencing, identifying, inhibiting, and interdicting biological threats" does nothing to constrain state or corporate actors from exploiting the life sciences for nefarious ends, to wit, work with dual use select agents that can be diverted into surreptitious weapons' programs.

This is crucial. While the document asserts that America's "relationships with the United Nations, international organizations, foreign governments, and the private sector are critical to the success of our efforts" the fact is, the "private sector" and the secret state's own Defense Department are dead-set against any initiative that give international arms' control monitors access to their facilities.

Claiming that the United States "has carefully reviewed previous efforts to develop a verification protocol," the administration has "determined that a legally binding protocol would not achieve meaningful verification or greater security."

Echoing Tauscher and the NSC's lame reasoning, Barry Kellman, president of the International Security and Biopolicy Institute told The Hill he "agreed," and told the publication "that given the rapid evolution of the biological market, technologies that once could only be made in a laboratory can now be made anywhere, so it would be impossible to verify that a country is holding true to the convention protocols."

Really? Perhaps then, Mr. Kellman would care to enlighten us as to which select agent was used in the first and to date, only, bioterrorist attack of the 21st century, and where pray tell it might have come from.

Editing Out the Secret State: The 2001 Anthrax Attacks

As has generally been accepted by scientific experts and as The Baltimore Sun revealed back in 2001, "for nearly a decade, U.S. Army scientists at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah have made small quantities of weapons-grade anthrax that is virtually identical to the powdery spores used in the [October 2001] mail attacks."

Investigative journalist Scott Shane disclosed that Dugway's Life Sciences Division "made hundreds of kilograms of anthrax for bombs designed to kill enemy troops over hundreds of square miles" during the Cold War.

Indeed, the "extraordinary concentration" of the finely-milled powdered anthrax mailed to the media and members of Congress was "in the range of 1 trillion spores per gram" which "meant that the letter could have contained 200 million times the average dose necessary to kill a person."

Researchers at Northern Arizona University determined that "the genetic fingerprint of the mailed anthrax is indistinguishable from that of the Ames 'reference strain,' which is the strain used most often at Fort Detrick and Dugway, according to a scientist familiar with the genetic work," the Sun reported.

Years later, former Ft. Detrick deputy commander Richard Spertzel told investigative journalists Bob Coen and Eric Nadler that "the material that was in the Daschle/Leahy letter was "1.5 to 3 microns in particle size" and characterized the refinement "as super sophisticated ... phenomenal." When investigators attempted to examine samples under a microscope, "it readily floated off the slides."

In other words, the "genetic fingerprint" and "extraordinary concentration" of the weaponized anthrax used in the attack would require a team of individuals, and not a proverbial "lone nut" to produce a biotoxin possessing such exquisitely lethal characteristics. The inescapable conclusion is that the anthrax used to murder five people, sicken dozens of others and terrorize the rest of us, could only have come from a state program or one operating under contract to a government agency.

Could the deadly biotoxin have been diverted from a U.S. defense facility or corporate lab by a group of "black box" scientists operating under the radar for their own nefarious ends, i.e. strengthening the state's repressive hand within the social-political context of the 9/11 attacks? It is certainly possible and cannot be ruled out.

As I previously reported, Global Security Newswire (GSN) disclosed in June that "a recently completed inventory at a major U.S. Army biodefense facility found nearly 10,000 more vials of potentially lethal pathogens than were known to be stored at the [Ft. Detrick] site."

According to reporter Martin Matishak, the 9,220 samples discovered "included the 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."

While Ft. Detrick's deputy commander Col. Mark Kortepeter claimed there are "multiple layers of security" and that "a lot of buffers [would] prevent anyone who shouldn't be in the laboratory from getting in in the first place and then preventing them taking something out with them," this dodges the question of whether someone who was authorized to be inside Ft. Detrick or any of the other 400 U.S. facilities that have Biosafety Level-3 or Biosafety Level-4 laboratories, could smuggle out deadly toxic substances.

The New York Times reported December 9, that Tauscher rejects a strict regulatory regimen that would monitor state bioweapons research and development because of the "regulatory burdens that verification would place on the American pharmaceutical industry and on the military's bio-defense research activities."

Given the available facts surrounding the 2001 anthrax terrorist incident and the FBI's subsequent cover-up, Tauscher's fear of "regulatory burdens" on the "pharmaceutical industry" and the state's own "bio-defense research activities" are certainly misplaced and should be viewed with suspicion.

Big Pharma and Congress: Best Friends Forever!

While journalists and researchers have explored ethically-challenged relationships amongst former Defense Department officials and the weapons' industry, most recently by USA Today, and have described the oft-cited revolving door as entrée to an exclusive and highly lucrative good 'ol boys club; call it a Beltway version of a retirement village for Pentagon clock-punchers.

Inquiring minds can't help but wonder: does the same clubby atmosphere pervade, and inform, the policy decisions made by denizens of the Bioweapons-Industrial-Complex? Let's take a look!

Take the Alliance for Biosecurity, a Big Pharma lobby shop aligned with the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), as a starting point. Self-described as "a collaboration among the Center for Biosecurity and 13 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies," one "whose mission is to work in the public interest to improve prevention and treatment of severe infectious diseases--particularly those diseases that present global security challenges," one discovers that similar relationships between academia, industry and government abound.

Since Antifascist Calling first reported on Alliance efforts to increase state funding of biotechnology and "biodefense" research in August, all references to the Alliance for Biosecurity have been scrubbed from UPMC's web site. Indeed, all traces of the lobby shop's activities, including group policy statements and testimony before relevant congressional committees have simply vanished.

But why, pray tell, would they take evasive action in the first place? And more importantly, what do they have to hide? As it turns out, quite a lot.

According to The Washington Times, when the Center for Biosecurity's director, Dr. Tara O'Toole, was nominated for her current post as Undersecretary of Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security, she had "served as a key adviser for a lobbying group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that has asked the government to spend more money for anthrax vaccines and biodefense research."

Reporter Tim McElhatton disclosed that O'Toole "never reported her involvement with the lobbying group called the Alliance for Biosecurity in a recent government ethics filing." The Washington Times further reported that the Alliance "has spent more than $500,000 lobbying Congress and federal agencies--including Homeland Security--since 2005, congressional records show."

"In written testimony to Congress" according to McElhatton, "Dr. O'Toole said the alliance was 'created to protect the Center for Biosecurity's status as an honest broker between the biopharma companies and the U.S. government'." As is well known, $500,000 buys much in the way of "honesty" in the halls of Congress!

In an October 31 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) "signed by Dr. O'Toole and two other alliance officials, the group called on Congress to include more than $900 million for the 'advanced development of medical countermeasures' to be administered by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority."

The Washington Times revealed that the letter was also "signed by the chief executive officer of member company PharmAthene, David Wright, who was one of the two first co-chairmen for the alliance after its creation in 2005."

McElhatton reported that according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing "Mr. Wright's company has a big financial interest in securing work from the authority," and that "PharmAthene has been trying to win a contract administered by the authority to supply 25 million doses of an anthrax vaccine to the national stockpile."

According to a press release, the firm announced that PharmAthene "will participate in and present data at the HHS Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE) workshop and BARDA Industry Day taking place in Washington, DC Dec. 2-4, 2009."

Indeed, the PHEMCE work shop "will bring together public and private sector stakeholders for a dynamic dialogue on the current state of medical countermeasure preparedness, PHEMCE initiatives in the past year, and plans for moving forward to enhance national capabilities to respond to a public health emergency."

When "moving forward" entails the expenditure of nearly one billion dollars for "countermeasure preparedness," one can be sure that companies on the make will be all ears!

Former Bushist Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, averred that the PHEMCE workshop "is very timely given the WMD Commission's conclusion that terrorists are much more likely to attack America with a biological weapon than a nuclear weapon."

Despite the fact that weapons' experts have not reached a consensus on the Commission's alarmist report, given the extreme difficulty faced by "terrorists" to fabricate biotoxins into an effective weapon, Thompson claims, "now that our national experts have made this warning clear, we need to take the immediate steps necessary to protect against potential biological attacks against the U.S. homeland. In particular, we need to move forward efforts to build and stockpile appropriate biological countermeasures, such as next-generation anthrax vaccines, recombinant influenza vaccines, and novel antivirals."

Among the "experts" consulted by the WMD Commission were none other than Dr. O'Toole's Center for Biosecurity who have called for the expenditure of some $3.4 billion annually on "countermeasure development to reach 90 percent chance of success defending the country against bioterrorism threats."

Nowhere however, in the PharmAthene press release is it disclosed that the former HHS Secretary has a proprietary interest in securing federal dollars allegedly to "enhance national capabilities" to better respond "to a public health emergency." Currently, Thompson is the President of Logistics Health, Inc., a firm that does extensive business with the U.S. Department of Defense for what it euphemistically calls "military readiness."

Craig Holman, the legislative director of the watchdog group Public Citizen, said that O'Toole's lack of transparency "definitely and clearly runs counter to the intent of the law."

What was the response by Senate Democrats, quick to denounce the "culture of corruption" of their coconspirators across the aisle? According to The New York Times, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "slammed Republicans for slowing down, and in some cases, blocking the confirmation of nominees for various posts in the Obama administration."

Neither Reid, nor for that matter the Times, breathed a word about O'Toole's obvious conflict of interest and cosy relationships with biodefense firms she would presumably oversee from her perch at DHS.

Instead, we are lavished with empty rhetoric from Reid who told the Times: "'For that position, [DHS Undersecretary] President Obama nominated an expert in combating both pandemics and bioterror attacks,' Mr. Reid said, adding: 'Imagine that: Americans are bracing against a flu epidemic here at home and threats of terrorism from abroad, the President nominated someone highly experienced in both of those areas, and Republicans are saying no'."

Despite revelations of serious ethical breaches, O'Toole was confirmed by the Senate November 4.

The Ties that Bind (And Pay Handsomely!)

The close proximity of O'Toole, the Center for Biosecurity and now, the Department of Homeland Security to Alliance members such as Bavarian Nordic; Cangene Corporation; DOR BioPharma, Inc.; DynPort Vaccine Company LLC; Elusys Therapeutics, Inc.; Emergent BioSolutions; Hematech, Inc.; Human Genome Sciences, Inc.; NanoViricides, Inc.; Pfizer Inc.; PharmAthene; Siga Technologies, Inc.; Unither Virology LLC, , as well as associate Alliance member, the spooky, CIA-connected Battelle Memorial Institute, might just help explain the Obama administration's opposition to strengthening the BWC.

According to the Center for Responsive Politic's database, the Alliance for Biosecurity have contributed some $600,000 to congressional grifters since 2005 through the Philadelphia law firm Drinker, Biddle & Reath.

While chump change when it comes to assuring that the best congresspeople money can buy stay "on-message," OpenSecrets reports that since 1990, Big Pharma and their allies in the health products industry have spent a whopping $177,030,005 on "influence and lobbying." Breaking down the numbers, the watchdog group avers that the bulk of contributions have benefited Republicans ($111,405,078 or 63%) vs. Democrats ($65,056,643 or 37%).

In The Washington Times piece cited above, ethics groups have said that the Alliance's set-up "is an example of what critics call "stealth lobbying," in which like-minded companies form a loosely knit compact and spend lots of money lobbying the government. The arrangement is legal, but it exposes loopholes that prevent the public from finding out how much money each company pays and whether one business exerts more control over the others."

Alliance legal counsel Anita Cicero told the paper, "the group is complying with all applicable federal laws" and that the group "does not generate income, does not have a bank account and does not owe taxes." She told the paper the organization "was formed so companies, academic institutions and the government" could work together to "accelerate the development of therapeutic and vaccine countermeasures."

"Countermeasures" that markedly add to the corporatist bottom line.

As Antifascist Calling previously reported, the National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB), chock-a-block with industry insiders and academic shills, posted an August 11 notice buried in the Federal Register.

Rescued from oblivion by the whistleblowing intelligence and security web site Cryptome, we were informed that NBSB's "Market & Sustainability Work Group" seek to hand over even more cash to industry partners.

Seeking public comment on the group's working document, "Inventory of Issues Constraining or Enabling Industry Involvement in Medical Countermeasure Efforts," NBSB is seeking to further "streamline" the Food and Drug Administration's already lax review process in a move meant to further "incentivize" industry by "increased federal funding for advanced development, in the form of cost-reimbursement contracts and rewarding private-capital investments with milestone payments at procurement."

Under NBSB's proposal, the drug industry stands to grab "reimbursement of development costs + 15%, with return-on-working-capital at 22%, and cost-of-money-for-capital at 15%."

If said corporate patriots swing into action during a national emergency, then "compensation if commercial product(s) during emergencies (e.g., lost sales, market share, delayed licensing" are fully paid by the federal government. Talk about a robust "public-private partnership" in action!

But wait, there's more!

GSN reported in October that Alliance member Human Genome Sciences Inc. had earned $160 million from the federal government for sales of its ABthrax vaccine, despite a Food and Drug Administration report that stated although the product performed better than a placebo (!) "it is still unknown how well these models and results predict efficacy in humans." Despite these equivocal findings, "Washington has placed an order for 65,000 doses of ABthrax for the country's emergency medicines reserve."

Now that's what I call a streamlined review process!

Earlier in October, GSN disclosed that Alliance member Emergent BioSolutions won $4.9 million in funding from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, "for the development of a new anthrax vaccine that could require only two doses to provide protection."

As investigative journalists and filmmakers Bob Coen and Eric Nadler revealed in Anthrax War and a companion book, Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail, Emergent BioSolutions has a very interesting pedigree indeed.

When the State of Michigan auctioned off the Michigan Biological Products Institute (MBPI) in 1998, standing in the wings with a check for $24 million were Lebanese financiers Ibrahim El-Hibri and son Fuad, "an international telecom magnate" according to Coen and Nadler. During this period, the firm the El-Hibri's had founded after scooping-up MBPI for a song, BioPort, "held the exclusive contract to provide the U.S. government with the anthrax vaccine, and that in addition to the physical plant, the Michigan sale included $130 million in contracts with the Department of Defense."

During their investigation, Coen and Nadler learned "that the El-Hibris had participated in the privatization of portions of the United Kingdom's leading biodefense facility, Porton Down, a decade earlier" and that "with the acquisition of the Michigan plant, the family had planted stakes in the only two leading anthrax vaccine producers in the West." What makes this particularly troubling according to Coen and Nadler, is the fact that the "El-Hibri's did not have science backgrounds or biotech business experience before the Porton takeover--but were clearly canny investors."

Alarmingly, "the troubling fact [was] that the sale of MBPI to BioPort had transferred control of a sensitive government program to a network of companies, one of which was headquartered in the Dutch Caribbean."

Indeed, "Fuad El-Hibri himself informed Congress in 1999 that the controlling shareholder in BioPort--Intervac LLC--was partly owned by I and F Holdings NV, a Netherlands Antilles investment company owned by his father."

None of this troubled Congress in the least since, as Coen and Nadler relate "no one on the House Committee on Government Reform asked him if El-Hibri senior had any partners in I and F Holdings." These disturbing facts led the investigative journalists to wonder: "Who actually owned the largest anthrax vaccine manufacturing plant in the West, if not the world? Who really knew."

Fast forward a decade and according to GSN BioPort, now Emergent BioSolutions, "is the producer of BioThrax, the only vaccine licensed by the Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of anthrax disease. The company is also developing other anthrax treatments and countermeasures against diseases such as botulism and hepatitis B." Funds for developing the vaccine were provided "through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009."

Last month, GSN revealed that Alliance member, Danish firm Bavarian Nordic will receive some $40 million for a freeze-dried version of the firm's Imvamune vaccine for smallpox. GSN reported that "Bavarian Nordic has received $680 million in contracts for Imvamune from the U.S. government. Washington has ordered 20 million doses of the vaccine in its liquid-frozen form and has the option of buying another 60 million," according to a company press release.

This, despite the fact that smallpox has disappeared as an international public health threat. However as the Sunshine Project's Edward Hammond revealed in Emerging Technologies: Genetic Engineering and Biological Weapons, when a U.S. research team at the State University of New York in Stony Brook synthesized poliovirus "from scratch," the responsible bioresearch community were alarmed.

Hammond commented that "the experiment exemplifies possibilities that generate real problems if similar techniques become applicable to agents such as smallpox. Today it is unlikely (though not completely impossible) that countries apart from Russia and the USA have access to smallpox virus. This is the basis of the current threat assessments with regard to smallpox, which rate the likelihood of a smallpox attack very low. Should it become possible in a few years to build smallpox virus in the laboratory, the situation would be turned upside down. The relative security that can be assumed today (at least for most countries in the world) will evaporate."

Since Hammond's piece first appeared in 2003, is it plausible that synthetic smallpox could have been ginned-up in a top secret U.S. research facility, hence contingency planning by secret state officials to have a freeze-dried, hence longer-lived vaccine on hand? We don't know.

Examining only the three above-named firms, OpenSecrets reports that since 2000, Human Genome Sciences has expended some $24 million since 2002 for lobbying; Emergent BioSolutions has spent some $10.9 on lobbying efforts since 2003, and Bavarian Nordic has spent some $21.7 lobbying Congress since 2002.

Given the enormous outlay of taxpayer largesse to firms that have profited handily under the Project BioShield Act of 2004, a grotesque piece of Bushist legislative flotsam, and the nearly $60 billion dollars reported by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation spent on so-called biodefense by the federal government, one can only conclude that lobbying activities by Big Pharma is an investment well-spent!

Keep in mind too, that the expenditure of federal dollars for Project BioShield and related programs do not include black budget allocations concealed by the CIA and Pentagon under a welter of above top secret Special Access Programs, a subject that Antifascist Calling will explore in future reports.


As the Sunshine Project's Edward Hammond has warned: "Rapid developments in biotechnology, genetics and genomics pose a variety of environmental, ethical, political, and social questions. And because they open up tremendous new possibilities for biological warfare, these technological developments have grave implications for peace and security."

We must view the Obama administration's cynical opposition to strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention because of the "regulatory burdens that verification would place on the American pharmaceutical industry and on the military's bio-defense research activities" as a dire international public health emergency, one which University of Illinois constitutional law professor Francis Boyle, the author of the 1989 Bioweapons Anti-Terrorism Act, has called "a catastrophe waiting to happen."

We proceed blindly along this path at our own peril.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Following the Money Trail: Telecoms and ISPs Feed the Secret State's Surveillance Machine

"Follow the money."

And why not. As the interface between state and private criminality, following the money trail is oxygen and combustible fuel for rooting out corruption in high places: indelible signs left behind like toxic tracks by our sociopathic masters.

After all, there's nothing quite like exposing an exchange of cold, hard cash from one greedy fist to another to focus one's attention on the business at hand.

And when that dirty business is the subversion of the American people's right to privacy, there's also nothing quite like economic self-interest for ensuring that a cone of silence descends over matters best left to the experts; a veritable army of specialists squeezing singular advantage out of any circumstance, regardless of how dire the implications for our democracy.

In light of this recommendation researcher Christopher Soghoian, deploying the tools of statistical analysis and a keen sense of outrage, reaffirmed that "Internet service providers and telecommunications companies play a significant, yet little known role in law enforcement and intelligence gathering."

That the American people have been kept in the dark when it comes to this and other affairs of state, remain among the most closely-guarded open secrets of what has euphemistically been called the "NSA spying scandal."

And when the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) posted thousands of pages of documents "detailing behind-the-scenes negotiations between government agencies and Congress about providing immunity for telecoms involved in illegal government surveillance" last month, they lifted the lid on what should be a major scandal, not that corporate media paid the least attention.

A lid that Obama's "change" regime hopes to slam back down as expeditiously as possible.

Hoping to forestall public suspicions of how things actually work in Washington, the administration has declared that "it will continue to block the release of additional documents, including communications within the Executive Branch and records reflecting the identities of telecoms involved in lobbying for immunity," according to EFF's Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.

No small matter, considering that should a court ever find avaricious telecoms and ISPs liable for violating the rights of their customers, fines could mount into the billions. Even in today's climate of corporate bailouts and "too big to fail" cash gifts to executive suite fraudsters, damages, both in monetary terms and adverse publicity, would hardly be chump change.

Hence, last year's mad scramble for the retroactive immunity avidly sought by these grifters and granted by congressional con men on both sides of the aisle when they passed the despicable FISA Amendments Act, hastily signed into law by our former "war president."

Without belaboring the point that corporate media largely failed to expose the extent of the dirty deals struck amongst these scofflaws, Soghoian, a graduate student no less, stepped into the breech and filled some necessary gaps in the surveillance story.

Believing, naïvely perhaps, that numbers don't lie and that laying out the facts might just wake us from our deadly slumber, Soghoian writes: "If you were to believe the public surveillance statistics, you might come away with the idea that government surveillance is exceedingly rare in the United States."

Indeed, "the vast majority of ... [court] intercept orders are for phone wiretaps. Thus, for example, of the 1891 intercept orders granted in 2008, all but 134 of them were issued for phone taps."

Which begs the question: "How often are Internet communications being monitored, and what kind of orders are required in order to do so."

Unsurprisingly, the threshold for obtaining personal records is exceedingly low and "very few of these methods require an intercept order."

All the government need do to obtain a pen register or trap and trace order, which examine to/from/subject lines of email messages, URLs of viewed web pages, search terms, telephone numbers dialed and the like, is to unilaterally declare that information obtained via this backdoor route is "relevant" to an ongoing criminal or counterterrorist investigation.

In other words, give us everything we want and move along!

The nation's telecoms and ISPs have been very accommodating in this regard. And, as with other recent historical examples that come to mind such as the rush by U.S. firms to "rebuild" Iraq, Afghanistan and other benighted nations "liberated" by that "shining city upon a hill" that bombs, maims and generally does what it pleases because it can, servicing the secret state's limitless appetite for "actionable intelligence" has proven to be a very lucrative cash cow indeed.

Open a Can of Worms and Blood-Sucking Night Crawlers Slither Out

Deciding to "follow the money," Soghoian hoped "to determine how often Internet firms were disclosing their customers' private information to the government." As often as possible as it turns out. Describing the nexus between Sprint Nextel and the secret state, Soghoian discloses:

Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers' (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers.

The evidence documenting this surveillance program comes in the form of an audio recording of Sprint's Manager of Electronic Surveillance, who described it during a panel discussion at a wiretapping and interception industry conference, held in Washington DC in October of 2009.

It is unclear if Federal law enforcement agencies' extensive collection of geolocation data should have been disclosed to Congress pursuant to a 1999 law that requires the publication of certain surveillance statistics--since the Department of Justice simply ignores the law, and has not provided the legally mandated reports to Congress since 2004. (Christopher Soghoian, "8 Million Reasons for Real Surveillance Oversight," Slight Paranoia, December 1, 2009)

A web portal I might add, equipped with a built-in price list ready-made for charging securocrats who spy on our blog posts, emails, web searches, mobile phone pings; indeed, any data the government might deem worthy of an "investigation." Call it a PayPal for spooks; now how's that for convenience!

How did Soghoian dig up the facts on the firm's lucrative arrangement with the government? In October, he attended the ISS World 2009 conference, Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception, Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Gathering (ISS), described by Wired as "a surveillance industry gathering for law enforcement and intelligence agencies and the companies that provide them with the technologies and capabilities to conduct surveillance."

Closed to the media and the public, the enterprising researcher obtained entry as a graduate student and recorded several sessions, since taken down at the insistence of ISS's corporate master TeleStrategies, who hosted the conference.

Describing itself as "the leading producer of telecommunications conference events in the United States," the firm claimed that Soghoian's recordings "violated copyright law." But not having deep pockets to weather a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown fight, he removed the files from his blog.

Inquiring minds can't help but wonder what was so threatening to the corporatist apple cart that they threatened to bring their thumb down, on a student no less? Let's take a look!

Among the sponsors of this year's ISS confab, one finds the usual low-key suspects manning the exhibits, hawking their wares and delivering learned presentations to their "partners" in the intelligence and security "community."

Leading the pack is ETI Group, self-described as "a leading management consulting firm specializing in Process Management and Improvement." As a "leading provider" of so-called "lawful interception solutions" for security agencies, telecoms and ISPs, ETI Group provide "future proof and scalable platforms" for the acquisition of information from "multiple sources."

NICE Systems, another "leading provider" of what it calls "Insight from Interactions solutions" derived from the "the convergence of advanced analytics of unstructured multimedia content and transactional data--from telephony, web, email, radio, video and other data sources." Partners in the "Security Sector" include, among others, Raytheon, Honeywell, Siemens, Lockheed Martin, HP, Tyco and Motorola, all of whom are heavy-hitters in the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex and niche players in the burgeoning electronic surveillance industry in their own right.

Next up is SAP, a firm whose Government Support & Services division provide "a comprehensive range" of "enterprise software applications" to "help the analysts of the Intelligence Community" obtain "timely, accurate, objective and relevant intelligence." One can only wonder whether Doug Feith's shop over at the Pentagon deployed SAP "solutions" to find Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" during the run-up to the Iraq invasion!

Taking their turn on the dais is Spectronic Systems, a Danish firm that is "100% privately owned." Little however, could be gleaned from a perusal of their web site since the company kindly informs us that it "is strictly for the benefit of Government Agencies, Law Enforcement Agencies, Intelligence Agencies and Government Approved companies." However, ISS World was good enough to disclose that Spectronic activities include "the development and manufacturing of monitoring systems and monitoring centres" for telephone, internet, fax and modem traffic. Their systems are designed to "handle--i.e. retrieve, collect, decode, store and present--bulk data," that can double as "data retention systems" for "bulk monitoring of SMS, MMS, e-mails or other means of data communication." But how beneficial is it to the bottom line? Alas, a diligent search of the business press by this writer hit a veritable blank wall.

SS8 on the other hand is more forthcoming, claiming that their "products" allow intelligence agencies to "visualize and analyze a target's internet session" and to "recognize, monitor, investigate and prevent criminal activity." Proud that they have a "global reach," SS8 broadcasts that their "electronic surveillance solutions" are "deployed in over 25 countries" and that their data installations "can intercept more than 100 million subscribers." The firm's platform for internet, WiFi, broadband and satellite interception claims to be capable of ferreting out "hidden relationships" while identifying "trends" (code for data mining and social network analysis) that "meet the functional needs" of the secret state.

Telesoft Technologies, produce "monitoring probes" that "allow data extraction" from "cellular and fixed networks." This can be done for "fixed, 2/3G mobile and packet networks." According to the firm, their "universal passive probes extract call content, signalling [sic] and location information for use by monitoring applications," ensuring a seamless connection" of applications to "real world systems."

True Position; this firm's national security brief involves the identification and tracking of any mobile device in "real time" and offer "insightful intelligence" while "delivering powerful solutions" that "enable private enterprises and government agencies" the capability "to protect people, combat crime, and save lives like never before." According to the company's web site, the firm deploys data mining technologies that "monitor activity and behavior over time in order to build detailed profiles and identify others that they associate with."

Last, but certainly not least, is the ultra-spooky Israeli firm, Verint (formerly Comverse Infosys). Billing itself as the world leader in "actionable intelligence," readers are well-advised to peruse the documents on Verint products such as Reliant and Star Gate generously posted by our good friends over at the whistleblowing web site Quintessenz. And while your at it, why not check out AFC's piece, "Thick as Thieves: The Private (and very profitable) World of Corporate Spying," where information on the shady activities of the firm's founder, Kobi Alexander, can be found. Currently holed-up in Windhoek, Namibia after becoming the recipient of a 2006 thirty-two count indictment by the Justice Department that charged the ex-Israeli intelligence officer and entrepreneur with backdating millions of stock options worth $138 million, Alexander is a sterling representative of an industry dedicated to "lawful interception" of our electronic communications to "prevent criminal activity."

Amongst the exhibitors at ISS World, one finds (yet another) spooky Israeli firm Narus, whose hardware was a permanent "guest" in ATT/NSA "secret rooms" scattered around the country for surveillance of the entire Internet. First disclosed by ATT whistleblower Mark Klein in his sworn affidavit on behalf of EFF's lawsuit, Hepting v. ATT, the firm's STA 6400 traffic analyzer can monitor traffic equal to 39,000 DSL lines at 10 Gbit/s, or in practical terms, a single Narus machine can surveil several million broadband users at any given time. In 2004, the former Deputy Director of NSA, William Crowell joined the firm's board of directors. As a result of FAA's retroactive immunity provision, Hepting v. ATT was dismissed in 2009.

Which brings us full-circle to Sprint Nextel's spiffy new web portal that enables the secret state to "ping" their customers' GPS locations eight million times in the space of a year.

Tip of the Proverbial Iceberg

Hoping to learn more, Soghoian filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of Justice, seeking relevant details on just how much these corporate grifters charge our silent guardians for their electronic spying.

It was at that point that Soghoian ran into a brick wall. When he uncovered evidence that the illicit surveillance compact amongst federal security agencies, telecoms and ISPs was a limitless gold mine enriching shareholders at the expense of our constitutional rights, the firms struck back.

"Verizon and Yahoo intervened and filed an objection on grounds that, among other things, they would be ridiculed and publicly shamed were their surveillance price sheets made public," Wired reported December 1.

What do these firms have to hide? Apparently, quite a lot.

Yahoo and Verizon weren't about to release the data and filed a 12-page objection letter with the Justice Department, claiming that if their pricing information were disclosed to Soghoian he would use it for nefarious ends "to 'shame' Yahoo and other companies--and to 'shock' their customers."

Cryptome Delivers the Goods, Again

Despite their whining, the indefatigable John Young, webmaster of the intelligence and security whistleblowing web site Cryptome, has published the Yahoo! Compliance Guide for Law Enforcement.

The 17-page handy guide for spooks and cops provides information on what the firm can and will provide the secret state (everything) and what it will cost.

Cryptome, never a site to run from a fight, has also posted the compliance guides of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Voicestream, Cox, Cingular, SBC, and Pacific Telesis.

As Antifascist Calling has averred many times, since the business of America's security is, after all, business, let's just say the "service" Yahoo provides our nation's spooks doesn't come cheap.

For his sterling efforts to inform the public, Young has been threatened by Yahoo attorneys with the tony Washington law firm Steptoe & Johnson.

In a series of communications with Young, Yahoo's lawyers are threatening legal action in the form of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice, claiming that "the unauthorized use and distribution of this document ... infringes Yahoo's intellectual property rights and constitutes a violation of U.S. copyright law."

Attorney Michael T. Gershberg's tersely worded missive, alleges that the posted spy guide "also infringes Yahoo's trade secrets and constitutes business interference."

Young fired back December 2: "The Yahoo document hosted on Cryptome was found on the Internet at a publicly accessible site.

"There is no copyright notice on the document. Would you please provide substantiation that the document is copyrighted or otherwise protected by DMCA? Your letter does not provide more than assertion without evidence."

Gershberg countered: "On behalf of our client, Yahoo! Inc., attached please find a notice of copyright infringement pursuant to Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter."

Undeterred, Young shot back: "I cannot find at the Copyright Office a grant of copyright for the Yahoo spying document hosted on Cryptome. To assure readers Yahoo's copyright claim is valid and not another hoary bluff without substantiation so common under DMCA bombast please send a copy of the copyright grant for publication on Cryptome."

Continuing, Young wrote: "Until Yahoo provides proof of copyright, the document will remain available to the public for it provides information that is in the public interest about Yahoo's contradictory privacy policy and should remain a topic of public debate on ISP unacknowledged spying complicity with officials for lucrative fees."

According to Cryptome, "The information in the document which counters Yahoo's customer privacy policy suggests a clearing of the air is in order to assure customer reliance on Yahoo's published promises of trust. A rewrite of Yahoo's spying guide to replace the villainous one would be a positive step, advice of an unpaid, non-lawyerly independent panel could be sought to avoid the stigma associated with DMCA coercion.

"Note: Yahoo's exclamation point is surely trademarked so omitted here."

Commenting on the spy guide, Wired reported,

The Compliance Guide reveals, for example, that Yahoo does not retain a copy of e-mails that an account holder sends unless that customer sets up the account to store those e-mails. Yahoo also cannot search for or produce deleted e-mails once they've been removed from a user's trash file.

The guide also reveals that the company retains the IP addresses from which a user logs in for just one year. But the company's logs of IP addresses used to register new accounts for the first time go back to 1999. The contents of accounts on Flickr, which Yahoo also owns, are purged as soon as a user deactivates the account.

Chats conducted through the company's Web Messenger service may be saved on Yahoo's server if one of the parties in the correspondence set up their account to archive chats. This pertains to the web-based version of the chat service, however. Yahoo does not have the content of chats for consumers who use the downloadable Web Messenger client on their computer.

Instant message logs are retained 45 to 60 days and includes an account holder's friends list, and the date and times the user communicated with them. (Kim Zetter, "Yahoo Issues Takedown Notice for Spying Price List," Wired, December 4, 2009)

Well, just how much does Yahoo charge for their dubious shenanigans with the secret state? Wired reports: "According to this list, Yahoo charges the government about $30 to $40 for the contents, including e-mail, of a subscriber's account. It charges $40 to $80 for the contents of a Yahoo group."

Do the math for millions of customers whose rights have been abused and violated and pretty soon we're talking serious money!

Is this what Yahoo and Verizon mean when they claim that should their surveillance price lists be publicly disclosed to they would be used "to 'shame' Yahoo! and other companies--and to 'shock' their customers."

"Therefore," the company avers, "release of Yahoo's information is reasonably likely to lead to impairment of its reputation for protection of user privacy and security, which is a competitive disadvantage for technology companies."

Well guess what, guilty as charged! Now that the information has been widely posted and mirrored by the global whistleblowers Wikileaks and countless other web sites, we should consider the alarming implications of Christopher Soghoian's essential research to our privacy and democratic rights and act accordingly.

Barring a mechanism that guarantees public accountability from the secret state and their grifting corporate partners, we are left with no alternative but to name and shame. After all, democracy is not a spectator sport!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Public Menace-Private Profit: America's Biowarfare Alliance

In September, The New York Times reported that a University of Chicago researcher, Malcolm Casadaban, died after exposure to "a weakened and ordinarily harmless strain of the bacteria that cause plague."

According to the Times, "Dr. Casadaban, an associate professor at the university, was studying the bacteria to create a better vaccine for plague ... in part because of concerns about its possible use in bioterrorism." The Times averred that "infectious disease experts said researchers rarely die from being infected with an ordinarily harmless strain of the bacteria or viruses they are studying."

Which of course, raise inevitable and troubling questions: just how "safe" was the strain of plague studied by Casadaban, and was this research part of a new round of illicit, highly compartmented experiments meant to bulk-up America's first-strike arsenals?

While there is no evidence that Casadaban ever worked on banned weapons, indeed the molecular geneticist was a leading expert into the origins of bubonic plague, the casual agent responsible for the Black Death, and an opponent of biological warfare, what of his colleagues?

One expert, Dr. Kenneth Alexander, told the Times "there might have been something unusual about the bacteria that caused it to be dangerous, a mutation, for example." Alexander hastened to add that "it was more likely" that the researcher had a "pre-existing condition," one that "made him more susceptible to infection."

Perhaps. But according to Edmond Hammond, director of the now-defunct Sunshine Project, records pried from the federal government through the Freedom of Information Act uncovered a disturbing pattern of criminal neglect amongst university and corporate officials.

Hammond discovered, and shared with Congress back in 2007, information that should have blown the lid off of one of America's dirtiest--and deadliest--little secrets. In excruciating detail, citing case after case, Hammond told congressional investigators that amongst the deadly pathogens that escaped containment in a series of underreported accidents were the following substances: Plague, anthrax, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, brucellosis and Q fever.

Lab workers became sick, communities were threatened and yet, illicit work with these dangerous germs continue; just another day at the office for militarists, corporate grifters and their academic accomplices.

While Dr. Casadaban's death is a tragedy for family and friends, was a "pre-existing condition" responsible for the scientist's demise or was something more sinister taking place behind closed doors without his knowledge?

In the former Soviet Union, the Sunshine Project revealed that scientists involved in illegal offensive biowarfare research developed "plague bacteria (Yersinia pestis) ... that were resistant to 16 different antibiotics. Today, the genetic introduction of antibiotic resistance into bacterial pathogens is routine work in almost any microbiology laboratory."

While it is quite possible that Casadaban's death was a freak accident, nothing however can, or should, be ruled out.

Fanciful speculation? Better think again!

In June, Global Security Newswire reported that during a routine inventory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md., safety officers "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." In other words substances which can, and probably have, been weaponized by the Pentagon.

As Antifascist Calling previously reported, with "biodefense" as a cover, the U.S. National Security State has spent tens of billions of dollars ($56.9 billion since 2001, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation) on secretive programs investigating the deadliest pathogens known to nature, or ginning up new chimeric monsters in any number of privately-run labs.

The antinuclear watchdog group Tri-Valley CAREs (TVC) obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act that revealed how Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a "limited liability corporation" overseen by the University of California, Bechtel, BWX Technologies, Washington Group International and Battelle, routinely violated federal regulations and had carried out "restricted experiments" that resulted in the inadvertent release of anthrax in 2005.

Noting 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," TVC learned that this work is expanding, with little in the way of effective oversight by Congress or indeed, by any regulatory agency.

LLNL has now opened a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facility and is planning to experiment with pathogens exquisitely suited for use 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."

In October, TVC filed a motion for summary judgement in Federal Court in the Northern District of California "aiming to stop the operation of a bio-warfare agent research facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) main site in Livermore, California."

According to TVC, "the large inventory of multiple bio-weapon agents, the presence of genetically modified variants, and the fact that some of the pathogens have been put into just the right form to be effectively spread via an airborne release, all serve to make the Livermore BSL-3 a potential magnet for terrorism from either an internal or external source."

Currently, some 400 research facilities and more than 15,000 individuals are cleared "to have access to select agents, which include anthrax, smallpox and the Ebola virus," according to a September report by the National Research Council.

The NRC averred that lax security at laboratories that work with select agents "pose a severe risk to human or animal health," risks that "have grown as the amount of research has increased in recent years."

And if one or more of these researchers should "go rogue," for money or as a plausibly deniable component of a Pentagon or CIA operation, doesn't the public have the right to expect the civilian side of government would weed out such miscreants from work with these deadly toxins?

A History of Illicit Research

The close proximity of U.S. biological warfare programs and the pharmaceutical industry is hardly an historical accident. From its inception, American research drew from a rich pool of biomedical researchers backed by the formidable technological resources of Big Pharma.

As Leonard Cole revealed in his 1988 exposé, Clouds of Secrecy: The Army's Germ Warfare Tests over Populated Areas, biowarfare research during World War II and the Cold War period was a public/private affair in which the government provided funds to state agencies and private corporations alike in the hope that such solicitous relationships would lead to breakthroughs in the area of offensive weapons or what is now euphemistically called "biodefense."

Indeed, none other than George W. Merck, the president of the Merck Pharmaceutical Company, was a top-flight consultant to the Secretary of War. In that capacity, Merck and his company provided expertise and technological know-how for work on America's nascent biowar programs. In a 1946 report to the Secretary of War penned by Merck, Cole revealed that the program "included research, testing, development, and production of biological agents," all carried out as Merck wrote, in the "strictest secrecy."

While wartime fears of biological attacks by the Axis powers represented a clear and present danger to the United States and their allies as revelations of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan's active programs attest, this information was scrupulously covered-up and suppressed for decades. Indeed after the war, the United States actively recruited these sociopaths into their biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

As is now known, America's military establishment struck a devil's bargain with the same war criminals who, in the name of science, visited death upon millions. While the doctors and biologists who filled the ranks of Japan's Unit 731 hadn't achieved a "breakthrough" in terms of delivery systems' development, as researcher Sheldon H. Harris revealed in Factories of Death, they possessed an invaluable resource sought by U.S. bioweaponeers: detailed records of the Japanese Army's obscene human experiments.

After the war with a new official enemy looming on the horizon--the Soviet Union--Merck admonished the state to maintain a strong biological warfare program, writing: "Work in this field, born of the necessity of war, cannot be ignored in time of peace; it must be continued on a sufficient scale to provide an adequate defense."

By 1948, the newly-emerging national security state stood-up a Committee on Biological Warfare within the Department of Defense to do just that. Shortly thereafter, the Central Intelligence Agency, particularly the Company's Technical Services Division (TSD), so-called "wizards of Langley," ran a series of illicit programs that sought to "secure the realm" through the application of the latest advances in the biological and psychological sciences.

Over decades, projects such as Bluebird, Artichoke, MKDELTA, MKNAOMI and MKULTRA, variously identified by researchers as "mind control" projects--which they were--garnered outrage when it was revealed during the 1970s that the Agency conspired with leading psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, biologists and academic institutions in funding obscene human experiments employing psychoactive drugs such as LSD, mescaline and BZ on unwitting test subjects.

As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities, popularly known as the Church Committee, revealed during hearings to examine the Watergate scandals of the 1970s, the Pentagon's own programs ran simultaneously with those of the CIA. The Committee discovered:

In many respects, the Army's testing programs duplicated research which had already been conducted by the CIA. They certainly involved the risks inherent in the early phases of drug testing. In the Army's tests, as with those of the CIA, individual rights were also subordinated to national security considerations; informed consent and followup examinations of subjects were neglected in efforts to maintain the secrecy of the tests. Finally, the command and control problems which were apparent in the CIA's programs are paralleled by a lack of clear authorization and supervision in the Army's programs. (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities, Project MKULTRA, The CIA's Program of Research in Behavioral Modification, United States Senate, August 3, 1977, Appendix A, p. 92)

While these projects may only have achieved modest success in standing up programmable assassins, as evidence on Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan may suggest, MKULTRA and its spin-offs were primarily behavioral modification programs subsequently useful for what are now euphemistically termed "enhanced interrogation techniques," e.g., torture and as a formidable bioweapons project.

Indeed, Ft. Detrick's Special Operations Division (SOD), chock-a-block with CIA officers and assets, was, by the early 1950s experimenting with, and assembling biologically-based assassination weapons that were easily concealed and could be deployed by "wet work" specialists to murder foreign leaders such as the multiple failed plots against Fidel Castro, or Patrice Lumumba attest. As researcher Ed Regis documented, Congolese Prime Minister Lumumba was a thorn in the secret state's side.

Refusing to play ball with Washington so as to facilitate the extraction of that nation's vast mineral wealth by American multinational corporations, Lumumba sealed his fate when he sought military assistance from the Soviet Union. At that point, the national liberation leader became an object for Agency "executive action."

It was around this time that the CIA's Deputy Director for Plans, Richard Bissell, had a couple of informal talks with his scientific adviser, Sid Gottlieb, concerning the subject of the covert assassination of foreign leaders. Gottlieb suggested that biological agents were perfect for the task: they were invisible, untraceable, and, if intelligently selected and delivered, not even liable to create a suspicion of foul play. The target would get sick and die exactly as if he'd been attacked by a natural outbreak of an endemic disease. Plenty of lethal or incapacitating germs were out there and available, Gottlieb told Bissell, and they were easily accessible to the CIA. (Ed Regis, The Biology of Doom, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999, pp. 182-183)

While proponents of continued research with nature's deadliest pathogens argue that the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) allows for purely "defensive" work to protect the public against potential bioattacks, this mendacious logic studiously avoids the issue of the dual-use nature of this work.

Cole unearthed documents, including a 1968 official history of Ft. Detrick penned by a Pentagon bioweaponeer who asserted forthrightly that "research and development in the offensive aspects of BW proceeded hand in hand with defensive developments for, in truth, the two are almost inseparable."

But MKULTRA and its grisly spin-offs are a thing of the past, right? Not by a long shot!

Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist and critic of the torture-enabling American Psychological Association (APA), revealed November 23, that the group had organized a workshop in 2007 at the Arlington, Virginia headquarters of the dodgy RAND Corporation.

That conference, entitled "Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory," discussed new and novel ways "to utilize drugs and sensory bombardment techniques to break down interrogatees. Those are signal techniques of psychological torture long utilized by the CIA and other intelligence agencies and military around the world."

Citing APA documents, Kaye discovered that APA and their friends at CIA were actively looking for "pharmacological agents ... known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior." Kaye learned that amongst the probative questions driving the spooks and contractors was this revealing sentence: "What are sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors? How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?"

According to numerous researchers, the CIA, and the psychologists and psychiatrists they contracted to work with them, including many of the top behavioral scientists of their day, experimented with many drugs in their quest to find a “truth” drug that would open up the recalcitrant and expose the liar and the dissembler. The CIA has declassified a paper from its in-house intelligence journal from the early 1960s, "'Truth' Drugs in Interrogation," where they discuss research on drugs for interrogation ranging from scopolamine, amphetamines, and barbiturates to cannabis, LSD, and mescaline. The CIA authors discuss the limitations of using drugs, based on research, and conclude that a special use for drugs may be found in detection of deception. (Jeffrey Kaye, "Who Will Investigate CIA/RAND/APA Torture 'Workshop'?," The Public Record, November 21, 2009)

What was true throughout the Cold War period is just as true today and remains a pressing public health issue. As Global Security Newswire reported in August, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) began construction on a new facility at Ft. Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. The brief report states that "new site will allow for more study of lethal diseases and should have space for 952 staffers, compared to the 800 now using facilities that date back four to five decades."

While the National Academy of Sciences "plans to assess health and safety issues raised by observers who believe there has been insufficient consideration regarding the potential release of an infectious agent from the facility," the same can also be said for the BSL-3 and BSL-4 facilities in private hands, under contract to the U.S. government.

As I reported in "Bringing the (Bio) War Home," the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists revealed that "massive U.S. biodefense spending and a buildup of high-containment laboratories throughout the country might have created an internal security risk that no outside terrorist group could ever duplicate. Nearly two dozen new federal and many more new private biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories have been built in recent years, meaning a large cadre of scientists has access to extraordinarily lethal material."

And if today's bioweaponeers have their way, such risks will increase exponentially with untold consequences for us all.

Building Banned Weapons

Leading experts, as I reported in August, have derided the possibility that terrorist groups have the know-how to fabricate smallpox or other pathogens into biological weapons as a massive "fraud ... and a substantial one" perpetrated on the American people.

Hysterical claims by securocrats that "bioterrorism is one of the most pressing problems we have on the planet today," an assertion made by Dr. Tara O'Toole, the Undersecretary of Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security, is not borne out by the facts.

Indeed, such claims not only distort available evidence that terrorist groups have such capabilities but conceal the more salient fact that Pentagon weaponeers continue to build banned weapons.

According to Jeanne Guillemin, author of Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism, the Pentagon and CIA made and tested a model of a Soviet anthrax bomb and created an antibiotic-resistant strain of anthrax.

After consulting with scientists who strongly suggested that the CIA anthrax bomb project would violate the BWC, "CIA lawyers decided the project was within the allowed realm of defensive research," Guillemin revealed.

Project Clear Vision, a joint investigation by the CIA and the Battelle Memorial Institute, under contract to the Agency, reconstructed and tested a Soviet-era anthrax bomblet in order to test its dissemination characteristics. The Agency "decided the same" for the small, fully functional bioweapons facility built under the rubric of Project Bacchus.

The third initiative, Project Jefferson, led to the development of an antibiotic-resistant strain of anthrax based on a Soviet model. After the outgoing Clinton administration hesitated to give the CIA the go-ahead for the project, the Bush regime's National Security Council gave the Pentagon permission. "They believed" Guillemin wrote, "the Pentagon had the right to investigate genetically altered pathogens in the name of biodefense, 'to save American lives'."

Shortly thereafter, the Pentagon authorized the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), one of the most secretive and heavily-outsourced Defense Department branches, to re-create the deadly anthrax strain.

Commenting on the close proximity of the 2001 anthrax provocation and the rush towards the invasion and occupation of Iraq, constitutional law expert Glenn Greenwald writes that the anthrax attack "played at least as large of a role as the 9/11 attack itself, if not larger, in creating the general climate of fear that prevailed for years in the U.S. and specifically how the anthrax episode was exploited by leading media and political figures to gin up intense hostility towards Iraq."

Which is why, according to Greenwald, "it's so striking how we've collectively flushed this terrorist attack down the memory hole as though it doesn't exist." Indeed, "what makes this particularly significant is that the anthrax attack is unresolved and uninvestigated."

Here we have one of the most consequential political events of the last decade at least--a lethal biological terrorist attack aimed at key U.S. Senators and media figures, which even the FBI claims originated from a U.S. military lab. The then-British Ambassador to the U.S. is now testifying what has long been clear: that this episode played a huge role in enabling the attack on Iraq. Even our leading mainstream, establishment-serving media outlets--and countless bio-weapons experts--believe that we do not have real answers about who perpetrated this attack and how. And there is little apparent interest in investigating in order to find out. Evidently, this is just another one of those things that we'll relegate to "the irrelevant past," and therefore deem it unworthy of attention from our future-gazing, always-distracted minds. (Glenn Greenwald, "A key British official reminds us of the forgotten anthrax attack," Salon, November 27, 2009)

On and on it goes, America's headlong rush into the abyss.

While the American people believed the election of Barack Obama signaled a change in direction from decades' long policies that have brought the planet to the brink of disaster, those hopes are little more than cynical illusions manufactured by media specialists and spin-doctors, the ubiquitous army of "message force multipliers" who do the bidding of their corporatist masters.

After all, $57 billion buys much in the way of silence.