Monday, May 31, 2010

As U.S. Steps-Up Drone Attacks, the Pentagon Goes on a Shopping Spree

As legendary investigative journalist I. F. Stone reminded readers throughout his career: "All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed."

With Stone's prescriptive warning in mind, the CIA, allegedly in retaliation for the failed May 1 Times Square bomb attempt, fired 18 missiles targeting militants in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area May 11, "killing at least 14 fighters and wounding 4," according to an unnamed "security official" cited by The New York Times.

In the area however, American claims are hotly disputed. Lahore's English-language daily The News reported that since January 1, the CIA has mounted "33 drone attacks in only four months of the current year compared to 47 reported in entire 2009."

Reporting on the ground, Javid Aziz Khan disclosed that while "some top militants were killed in the attacks," the overwhelming number of victims "remained innocent civilians." A sad and sorry tale unknown to most Americans, caught up in the riveting drama between "mean girl" Jill and "snarky" Bethenny on Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York City!

Despite cozy, some might say corrupt, relations between his administration and the oil industry responsible for the petroleum-fueled apocalypse in the Gulf of Mexico, one campaign promise that "change" president Obama has kept is his expansion of U.S.-led regional wars, bringing death, destruction and chaos to Pakistan, a nation that America famously claims as a close "friend and ally."

So warm and fuzzy are relations between the two nuclear-armed states that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently warned that Pakistan will face "severe consequences" should a successful attack on the U.S. mainland be linked to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or other militants allied with the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets known as al-Qaeda.

Since Clinton's belligerent threats earlier this month, The Washington Post reported May 29 that "the U.S. military is reviewing options for a unilateral strike in Pakistan in the event that a successful attack on American soil is traced to the country's tribal areas, according to senior military officials."

Anonymous officials "stressed that a U.S. reprisal would be contemplated only under extreme circumstances," according to a sanctioned leak to the Post, "such as a catastrophic attack that leaves President Obama convinced that the ongoing campaign of CIA drone strikes is insufficient."

However, Pakistan Body Count, a web site administered by computer scientist Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, a fierce critic of CIA-Pentagon drone strikes and terrorist attacks launched by fascistic jihadi thugs, draws a direct correlation between America's robo-war and murderous strikes on civilians by crazed suicide fanbois.

"Whether it is a suicide bombing or an attack by a flying drone, for me it's the same, a Pakistani got killed," the web site declares right up front. And the grim evidence seems to bolster Usmani's analysis. In an e-mail to Wired, the computer specialist told journalist Noah Shachtman: "I highly doubt that U.S. drones are doing anything to stop suicide bombing, as it is evident from the data, the number of suicide bombing is almost directly proportional to the drones attacks. More drones, and we have more SB [suicide bomb] attack[s] in our country."

According to the web site, since 1995 suicide bombings by rightist miscreants, many of whom were "trained up fierce" by the CIA or by Pakistan's shadowy Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) during America's anti-Soviet jihad, accounted for 3,676 dead and some 9,289 injured civilians. Since 2004 when the tactic was first implemented, U.S. drone strikes have claimed 1,332 lives and injured 453 others.

Usmani's grim statistics reveal that only 2.5% of drone strikes have taken out al-Qaeda targets, but they have fueled sectarian killings and sown chaos across the region, an intended effect fully consonant with America's long range goal to secure access and control over the mineral and petrochemical wealth of the Eurasian heartland.

Next-Gen Killer Robots

Meanwhile back in the heimat, the CIA and Pentagon are planning a major expansion of the drone fleet. And with newer, faster and stealthier high-tech death machines ready to roll off the assembly lines of several giant defense corps, the prospect of fattening the bottom-line of well-heeled aerospace grifters and fighting and winning America's endless "War On Terror" must have Washington pols jumping for joy.

As Antifascist Calling reported earlier this month, General Atomics rolled-out their next generation killer robot, the Avenger, a jet powered drone the firm hopes will be in the running for a lucrative Air Force/CIA contract to build what the secret state has dubbed the MQ-X.

And with the Defense Department "reassessing its view of unmanned aerial vehicles," Defense Systems reported that the Pentagon is "deciding what the military needs from UAVs beyond their traditional use as a platform to gather intelligence and fire weapons."

Reporter Amber Corrin averred that next-gen SkyNet death bots "will need to take on additional duties including cargo transport, refueling and possible medical applications, and they will need to be interoperable with different platforms, users and military services."

Accordingly, "the military should concentrate on developing modular, plug-and-play aircraft built on standardized interfaces--one aircraft for multiple missions, similar frames for one platform," Col. Dale Fridley, director of the Air Force Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force told the publication. The MQ-X, the follow-on to existing MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reaper drones was hailed by Fridley as the "embodiment of the flight plan."

But during a period of profound economic crisis, the Defense Department is also exploring ways to arm smaller, and cheaper, drones for service in America's resource-grabbing wars and occupations.

Defense Industry Daily reported in April that while the U.S. Army's "RQ-7 Shadow battalion-level UAVs have seen their flight hours increase to up 8,000 per month in Iraq," the differences between the Army's workhorse drone and their larger cousins "is that the Shadow has been too small and light to be armed." Clearly a boo-hoo for battlespace commanders.

But "with ultra-small missiles still in development, and missions in Afghanistan occurring beyond artillery support range," the eyes-on-the-prize publication tells us that "arming the Army's Shadow UAVs has become an even more important objective."

Considering that the RQ-7 Shadow's average cost per unit is $500,000 and the price for one MQ-1 Predator is in the $5 million range, while the larger and bloodthirstier MQ-9 Reaper costs anywhere between $10-12 million depending on the estimate, the attraction for arming the little beast can't be lost on cost-conscious Pentagon accountants!

This would certainly be good news to beltway bandit AAI Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of defense powerhouse Textron Systems Corporation, that builds the RQ-7. So serious has the Army become, envious perhaps of the sexy publicity generated by their CIA and Air Force rivals in the "compressing the kill chain" department, that the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command issued an April solicitation "on weapons systems ready for production and suitable for integration on the RQ-7B with POP 300D laser designator payload Shadow Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs)."

The RFI specifies that a "potential weapons systems must be ready to field within 12 months from the date of a potential contract award. The primary interest is in weapon systems approximately 25 lbs or less total system weight (to include munition, launcher, wiring, fire control interface, etc). The weapons system should be able to engage stationary and moving targets such as light vehicles and dismounted combatants in day and night conditions with low collateral damage when launched from a Shadow UAS flying at speeds of 60-70 knots and between 5,000 and 12,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL)."

Judging by the reaction to the solicitation, firms such as Kollmorgen Corporation, Arete Associates, Aerovironment, Inc., General Dynamics, BEI Systems & Sensors Company and GE Aviation Systems LLC are falling over themselves as they lust after a piece of the Pentagon's lucrative Shadow weaponization contract.

But wait, there's more!

The nose-tweaking, British high-tech zine, The Register, reported May 11 that the Boeing Corporation, the CIA's torture-flight booking agents, "held a public unveiling of its 'Phantom Ray' jet-fighter sized robot stealth plane."

A product of the giant defense firm's "Phantom Works" advanced products division, a rival of Lockheed Martin's much-storied "Skunk Works, the Phantom Ray is heavily-based on a decades' worth of research by the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on the X-45C, a project "which envisaged the aircraft penetrating hostile airspace and preying on surface-to-air missile batteries," according to

A Boeing press release states that after "only two years of development" (not counting of course, DARPA's taxpayer-supplied boodle) the Phantom Ray "combines survivability with a powerful arsenal of new capabilities."

Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, told the assembled throngs in St. Louis who witnessed the unveiling, "Phantom Ray offers a host of options for our customers as a test bed for advanced technologies, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack and autonomous aerial refueling--the possibilities are nearly endless."

The Register's Lewis Page however was less than enthused by the flackery. Indeed, the former Royal Naval officer isn't one to mince words, writing "the US and its Western allies already have far more sophisticated air power than they actually need, and that in fact a long break before the next generation of aerial killware might be in order."

But hey, with billions in potential dollars fluttering around Boeing like moths to a flame, never mind that "the machine will not, in fact, provide any actual national security benefit" Page opines, "but rather the pale ghost of such: specifically a 'specter of security'."

Not to be outdone however, Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer of the cost-overrun plagued RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone, recently rolled-out a fighter-sized UAV, the X-47B.

A carrier-based behemoth with a 62-foot wingspan that weighs 45,000 pounds at takeoff, the firm is producing the platform for the U.S. Navy. Popular Mechanics reported in 2009 that the X-47B "would be a technological step forward--besides carrying stealth features, it is supposed to have the ability to execute some maneuvers, such as refueling in midflight, autonomously."

Needless to say, Navy "dominance" doesn't come cheap. Northrop Grumman informs us that the "six-year $635.8 million contract calls for the development of two X-47B fighter-sized, long-range, high endurance aircraft designated the X-47B. Test activities are in progress that will lead to completion of the Navy's carrier launch and recovery objectives by 2013. Successful at-sea trials will set the stage for potential follow-on acquisition programs."

Northrop's offering in the hot robot kill-machine market was spawned by DARPA's Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program which was terminated in 2006. The program, as with other spooky DARPA offerings, was "transitioned" to the Joint Program Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the home of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

As a side note, the AFRL successfully launched Boeing Corp's X-51 Waverider on May 26, a hypersonic ramjet-powered vehicle that was accelerated to Mach 5 or 3585 MPH over the Pacific. Hypersonic craft and conventionally-armed ballistic missiles are intended as key components of the Pentagon's mad "Prompt Global Strike" program to "put steel on target" in under an hour. The new weapons systems are touted as a means for our "change" president to "greatly diminish America's reliance on its nuclear arsenal," The New York Times duly reported, faithfully regurgitating White House talking points.

According to a blurb on Northrop Grumman's web site, the X-47B "will be a transformational, carrier-capable, multi-mission, unmanned combat air vehicle. Strike fighter-sized, it is a survivable, long range, high endurance and persistent platform capable of a variety of missions including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and Time Sensitive Targeting/Strike."

As currently envisaged by the Navy, should tests pan out, the vehicle would potentially be another "first" for a forward looking Empire such as ours: a fully autonomous killer robot capable of conducting its "mission" deploying live weapons and foregoing the need to communicate with either drone pilots or supervisors. Carrier trials are slated to begin in 2011. A corporate Data Sheet informs us that the X-47B will fly at 40,000 feet, with a range of 2,100 nautical miles, have an air speed described as "high subsonic" with weapons bays loaded with 4,500 pounds of ordnance.

As the bodies continue piling up, and more and more "hajis" learn to "hate us for our freedom," rest assured, corporate America is doing everything in their power to keep us safe!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What Will They Think of Next? DARPA's "Malintent" Machines

As America's War On Terror morphs into an endless assault on civil and human rights, the technophilic fantasies of our masters, and the corporations whom they lovingly serve, even amidst the doom and gloom of capitalism's global economic collapse, have taken extraordinary steps to ensure that the "state of exception" spawned by the 9/11 provocation remains a permanent feature of daily life here in the heimat.

And with moves by Barack Obama's "change" regime to strip Americans of their Miranda rights, "delay" their appearance before a lawful court should they be accused of a national security crime, or even assassinate them if an arm of the secret state fingers them as terrorists (evidence optional), it's a sure bet that as "ideas about security infect virtually all aspects of public policy," as Stephen Graham avers in Cities Under Siege, new silver bullets will be needed to "keep us safe."

Deep Learning: A Nerdy Way to Kill People

Long-time readers of Antifascist Calling are well-aware of the host of bizarre projects hatched in darkness by the Pentagon's geek squad, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Working on things like Biologically Inspired Platforms and Systems that investigate the natural world, the better to create "significant new defense capabilities," the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) is focused "on understanding, and then emulating, the unique locomotion and chemical, visual, and aural sensing capabilities of animals," in order to hand warfighters neat, new tools to kill people.

Think robo-insects that crawl up walls and fire a bullet into the head of an unsuspecting "terrorist"--or more likely these days, some dissident, journalist or whistleblower--peacefully tucked in for the night.

But biologists and neuroscientists aren't the only ones in on the fun: computer specialists and systems' designers, you too can fight the War On Terror!

One new project, Deep Learning, on tap from the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), proposes to "build a universal machine learning engine that uses a single set of methods in multiple layers (at least three internally) to generate progressively more sophisticated representations of patterns, invariants, and correlations from data inputs."

DARPA avers that "a rapidly increasing volume of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) information is available to the Department of Defense (DOD) as a result of the increasing numbers, sophistication, and resolution of ISR resources and capabilities. The amount of video data produced annually by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) alone is in the petabyte range, and growing rapidly."

Therefore, "The goal of the envisioned Deep Learning program is to discover and instantiate in a learning machine (Deep Learning System) a single set of methods that, when applied repeatedly across multiple layers of the machine, yield more useful representations of audio/visual, sensor, and language information, using less labeled data more efficiently than any existing technologies."

Though top-heavy with nerd factor, Katie Drummond at Wired reports that IPTO is hungering after a system that "can spot activities, like running, jumping or getting out of a car." Ultimately, the "final version will operate unsupervised, by being programmed to hold itself accountable for errors--and then auto-correct them at each algorithmic layer."

DARPA's solicitation envisages Deep Learning as an exemplary means for America's robo-warfighters to autonomously sort out those petabytes of data and then provide CIA and Pentagon drone "pilots" or JSOC kill squads, a more efficient way to snuff out shadowy practitioners of "asymmetric warfare," women, children, the elderly, journalists, etc., you know, the usual suspects.

I can't help but wonder whether its "auto-correcting" algorithms and capacity for holding itself "accountable for errors" means it will deliver itself--or its human masters--to The Hague for the commission of war crimes. A syrupy sweet synth-voice purring "sorry" to splattered human remains of a Hellfire missile strike gone awry just won't cut it in the liability department.

SMITEing America's Enemies

But before one can "kill 'em all, and let God sort them out," bulletproof target sets require corroboration. What better way to name that enemy then by ginning-up yet another sophisticated computer algorithm to delivers the goods!

The indefatigable Lewis Page of Britain's gadfly tech-zine, The Register, reported May 19 that "Pentagon boffins want nothing less than some kind of automated witch-finder technology able to finger 'increasingly sophisticated malicious insider behavior' in the USA."

And why not? After all, the U.S. National Counterintelligence Strategy (NCIS) has proclaimed that "Trusted insiders ... are targeting the U.S. information infrastructure for exploitation, disruption, and potential destruction." Or leaking documents that might prove embarrassing to the secret state such as the Collateral Murder video posted in April by Wikileaks.

Accordingly, DARPA is hatching a project, the sinisterly titled Suspected Malicious Insider Threat Elimination, or SMITE, to detect those who might not want us kept safe. DARPAcrats "define [an] insider threat as malevolent (or possibly inadvertent) actions by an already trusted person with access to sensitive information and information systems and sources."

The RFI posted online declares that "Information systems security personnel are drowning in ever expanding oceans of observational data from heterogeneous sources and sensors from which they must extract indicators of increasingly sophisticated malicious insider behavior."

Heavens! With a new panic on the horizon, call it a much-dreaded ISR and "malicious insider behavior analysis gap," the IPTO gang must surely be working overtime!

Since the "fundamental challenge" (aside from discovering new ways to line the pockets of America's security grifters) "is one of finding a poorly understood, subtle, or hidden signal (indicators of malicious behavior) buried in enormous amounts of noise (observational data of no immediate relevance) under the constraint that the measures of significance are themselves moving targets (based on dynamic context) that must be continually monitored and updated."

Doubtless, there's always a danger some pissed-off contractor at any of the 16 alphabet soup agencies that comprise the U.S. "Intelligence Community," forced to cancel a night on the town with that hot babe over in data mining, just might "go rogue" and become a "malign insider." Fear not, if DARPA has its way (and enough cash can be discretely passed in plain brown envelopes to trusted insiders!) "the challenge" of "detecting deceptive behavior" can be mastered.

Since "deceptive behavior is characteristic of malicious intent which leads to the problem of assigning intent to observed behaviors," better observe and analyze everything!

What better means then, to separate the "insider threat" wheat from the chaff then to "(a) derive information about the relationship between deductions, the likely intent of inferred actions, and suggestions about what evidence might mean and (b) dynamically forecast context-dependent behaviors--both malicious and non-malicious."

Or, as Donald Rumsfeld blithely put it on that halcyon day when the Twin Towers fell: "Need to move swiftly - Near term target needs - go massive - sweep it all up. Things related and not."

And who would blame DARPA for lusting after "on-line and off-line algorithms for feature extraction and detection in enormous graphs (as in billions of nodes) as well as hybrid engines where deduction and feature detection mutually inform one another"?

After all, what with "missed signals" and various failures to "connect the dots" before 9/11 or intelligence "gaps" that drove the Bush administration kicking and screaming into an invasion and occupation of Iraq it didn't want, "security is often difficult because the defenses must be perfect, while the attacker needs to find only one flaw."

Therefore, IPTO's enterprising specialists will place a premium on "forensics" that "could reverse the burden by requiring the attacker and his tools to be perfect, while the defender needs only a few clues to recognize an intrusion is underway."

With such tools in hand perhaps the secret state, laboring like proverbial bees in the geopolitical gardens of the Middle East to efface the looming Iran "threat," will have the means to sequester some potential whistleblower before they'd even think about leaking compromising documents that might throw a spanner in the works.

"It will no doubt be a comfort for anyone in a position of trust within the U.S. information infrastructure," Page points out, "to know that mighty military algorithms and hybrid engines will soon sniff your every move so as to forecast any context-dependent malice on your part--and then in some unspecified way (remember what the E in SMITE stands for) eliminate you as a threat."

And should DARPA's info-warriors fail, there's always a black hood, a silent room and a waterboard to do the trick!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Obama's Slippery Slope. Ginning-Up the "Terror" Threat, Shredding the Constitution

When Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen and 30-year-old son of a retired senior Pakistani Air Force officer was arrested in the failed plot to detonate a car-bomb in Times Square May 1, U.S. counterterrorism officials and their stenographers in the corporate media proclaimed a "connection" between Shahzad and the far-right jihadi outfit, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Never mind that such "evidence" relies on the thinnest of reeds: that Shahzad had recently traveled to Pakistan, was allegedly in "contact" with the TTP and had even received "training" from a sectarian, clan- and tribal-based organization wary of outsiders who nevertheless, allegedly "approved" of an ill-conceived plan to kill hundreds of New Yorkers.

Last week on NBC's "Meet the Press," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed, "We know that they [TTP] helped facilitate it. We know that they helped direct it. And I suspect that we are going to come up with evidence which shows that they helped to finance it. They were intimately involved in this plot."

Holder's "evidence"? Why statements by former CIA torture-enabler and current Obama counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, "confirming" the administration's threadbare assertions.

The New York Times reported that Brennan "appeared to say even more definitively than Mr. Holder did that the Taliban in Pakistan had provided money as well as training and direction."

"He was trained by them," the former CEO of The Analysis Corporation (TAC) and Chairman of the security industry lobby shop, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) said. "He received funding from them. He was basically directed here to the United States to carry out this attack."

According to media reports however, Shahzad's motivation for attempting to murder citizens of his adopted country was the cold-blooded killing of his former countrymen by the United States--specifically, the CIA's escalating drone war that has killed nearly a thousand Pakistanis since 2006.

The New York Times reported May 16, that one relative told reporters that "he was always very upset about the fabrication of the W.M.D. stunt to attack Iraq and killing noncombatants such as the sons and grandson of Saddam Hussein." The torture of Guantánamo Bay and other prisoners by the former and current administration was also a source of anger; a message on a Google Groups e-mail list bearing the photos of handcuffed and crouching detainees bore the words, "Shame on you, Bush. Shame on You."

In other words, the catalyst for the aborted attack was not our "freedom" but American policies, specifically the invasion and occupation of Central Asian and Middle Eastern states to secure strategic resources that inconveniently belong to other people.

Despite a new round of drone attacks in Waziristan May 11, that killed 14 alleged militants in a barrage of 18 missiles fired by CIA Predator and Reaper drones, the third since the attempted bombing, Pakistani officials dismissed the notion that the TTP were capable of reaching the "next level."

McClatchy Washington Bureau investigative journalist Saeed Shah reported May 11, the same day of the drone barrage, that "the inept construction of the failed bomb also raised doubts over whether the Pakistani Taliban could have trained Shahzad. They have expertise in explosives and were connected to the devastating strike on a CIA base in Afghanistan at the end of last year."

In an earlier report, McClatchy disclosed that "six U.S. officials had said there was no credible evidence that Shahzad received serious terrorist training from the Pakistani Taliban or another radical Islamic group."

In all likelihood, the insular TTP would not have viewed Shahzad as a potential recruit but rather as an American or Pakistani spy and he probably would have shared the fate of former ISI officer and Taliban supporter, Khalid Khawaja, who was gunned down in May by a militant faction despite close ties to Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

Even within the murky world of America's public-private secret state, not everyone is buying the administration's "TTP trained Shahzad" tale.

McClatchy reported that the private intelligence outfit, Stratfor, said that "the lack of tradecraft in Shahzad's device is compelling evidence that whatever 'contacts' or 'training' he might have received in northern Pakistan was largely confined to physical training and weapons handling, not the far more sophisticated skill set of fashioning improvised explosive devices."

But with Obama's "AfPak" adventure going off the rails, perhaps the most compelling question not being asked by the media is this: was the failed May 1 attack, like the Christmas Day plot to blow up Flight 253 over Detroit, a "product" to be exploited by the administration and their allies in Congress for wholly domestic purposes, one having very little to do with the specter of international terrorism?

Bring in the Clowns

Even before the smoke cleared in Times Square, congressional Democrats and Republicans were calling for a new round of repressive measures to "keep us safe."

Senators Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) and former nude pin-up boy, Scott Brown (R-MA), introduced the Terrorist Expatriation Act that would allow the State Department to revoke the citizenship of people suspected of providing support to terrorist groups.

Lieberman told a May 6 press conference, "If the president can authorize the killing of a United State's citizens because he is fighting for a foreign terrorist organization, in this case Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, that is involved in attacking America and killing Americans, we can also have a law that allows the U.S. government to revoke a locked-in citizenship."

The grammar-challenged senator from Massachusetts told the press, "This isn't a knee-jerk reaction. It reflects the changing nature of war in recent events. War has moved into a new dimension. Individuals who pick up arms, this is what I believe, have effectively denounced their citizenship. This legislation simply memorializes that effort."

In keeping with the repressive tenor of the times, House Speaker Nancy "impeachment is off the table" Pelosi (D-CA), said she supported the "spirit" of the bill.

But while we may dismiss the political theatrics of these clowns, more attacks on our rights and liberties are on the way.

During last week's appearance on "Meet the Press," Holder claimed that Justice Department interrogators "needed greater flexibility" to question terrorism suspects and that the administration now seeks to "carve out a broad new exemption to the Miranda rights established in a landmark 1966 Supreme Court ruling."

According to that precedent, prosecutors are barred from using statements made by suspects before they have been warned that they have a right to remain silent and to consult with an attorney.

That ruling was based on decades of evidence that police, including federal gumshoes, had coerced false confessions from suspects and then used their tainted statements in order to secure convictions and prison sentences--whether or not the individual was actually guilty of a crime.

Investigative journalist Charlie Savage reported May 10 in The New York Times that the "change" regime, providing a new, Orwellian twist to the meaning of the word, will ask Congress to loosen Miranda requirements against a "backdrop of criticism by Republicans who have argued that terrorism suspects--including United States citizens like Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the Times Square case--should be imprisoned and interrogated as military detainees, rather than handled as ordinary criminal defendants."

In other words, far from being a proposal that will "keep us safe," the administration's tinkering with constitutional protections is a cynical political calculation by spineless Democrats, caricatured by their Republican colleagues as "soft on terrorism," to deflect criticism in an election year.

While the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) questioned Holder's move saying that "gradually dismantling the Constitution will make us less free, but it will not make us more safe," Salon columnist and constitutional law scholar Glenn Greenwald, was far less circumspect in his criticism of the administration. Greenwald wrote May 13:

What's most amazing about all of this is that even 9 years after the 9/11 attacks and even after the radical reduction of basic rights during the Bush/Cheney years, the reaction is still exactly the same to every Terrorist attack, whether a success or failure, large- or small-scale. Apparently, 8 years of the Bush assault on basic liberties was insufficient; there are still many remaining rights in need of severe abridgment. Even now, every new attempted attack causes the Government to devise a new proposal for increasing its own powers still further and reducing rights even more, while the media cheer it on. It never goes in the other direction. Apparently, as "extremist" as the Bush administration was, there are still new rights to erode each time the word Terrorism is uttered. Each new incident, no matter how minor, prompts new, exotic proposals which the "Constitution-shredding" Bush/Cheney team neglected to pursue: an assassination program aimed at U.S. citizens, formal codification of Miranda dilutions, citizenship-stripping laws, a statute to deny all legal rights to Americans arrested on U.S. soil. ...

It really is the case that every new Terrorist incident reflexively produces a single-minded focus on one question: which rights should we take away now/which new powers should we give the Government? (Glenn Greenwald, "New targets of rights erosions: U.S. citizens," Salon, May 13, 2010)

As if this weren't bad enough, the administration will soon propose new legislation to Congress "to allow the government to detain terrorism suspects longer after their arrests before presenting them to a judge for an initial hearing," The New York Times reported May 15.

"If approved," the Times disclosed, "the idea to delay hearings would be attached to broader legislation to allow interrogators to withhold Miranda warnings from terrorism suspects for lengthy periods, as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. proposed last week."

It was unclear how long a "delay" the regime is seeking but in order to circumvent Supreme Court rulings barring the indefinite detention of suspects, "several legal specialists" according to the Times said that the "court might be more willing to approve modifications if lawmakers and the executive branch agreed that the changes were necessary in the fight against terrorism."

One such "specialist," Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution said that while the Miranda proposals were generating publicity, a "presentment" hearing "is even more likely to disrupt an interrogation because it involves transporting a suspect to a courtroom for a formal proceeding."

In a May 14 Washington Post op-ed, Wittes argued that "the presidency badly needs more political and legal latitude when authorities capture a suspect in an ongoing plot." All the more relevant when that "plot" is one hatched in the shadows to destroy the constitutional rights of the American people.

As a "safeguard" Wittes told the Times, "Congress could require a high-level Justice Department official to certify that delaying the suspect's initial appearance in court was necessary for national-security reasons."

But as with administration assertions of the "state secrets privilege" to derail lawsuits challenging the government's imperial right to illegally spy on their citizens, such Justice Department avowals wouldn't be worth the paper their written on.

In testimony Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, Holder claimed that administration proposals would effect only a minute number of "terrorism" cases.

Holder told the Committee: "We now find ourselves in 2010 dealing with very complicated terrorism matters. Those are certainly the things that have occupied much of my time. And we think that with regard to that small sliver--only terrorism-related matters, not in any other way, just terrorism cases--that modernizing, clarifying, making more flexible the use of the public safety exception would be something beneficial."


Would the "public safety exception" only apply to "terrorism" cases that involved the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets known as al-Qaeda?

Or, as is likely, would a more expansive reading of the statute be viewed as a splendid means by this, or future administrations, to subject domestic dissidents, rebranded as "terrorists," to citizenship-stripping administrative detention, which after all is just another day at the office for that "beacon of democracy," America's stationary aircraft carrier in the Middle East, Israel?

What with preemptive policing that already targets antiwar, antiglobalization and environmental activists for "special handling" by federal, state and local "counterterrorism" agencies, fusion centers and various Pentagon spy shops, it's a sure bet that "what happens in Vegas" won't stay there.

As Patrick Martin pointed out May 10 on the World Socialist Web Site, "In practical terms, the Obama administration no longer distinguishes between citizens and non-citizens in its counterterrorism policies. Both alike can be targeted for surveillance, arrest, indefinite detention, even assassination."

Martin writes that the introduction of an expanded "public safety exemption" when coupled with the administration's indefinite detention proposal "would go far beyond the Bush administration, translating what were measures to be taken on executive authority, supposedly in emergency conditions, into the standard operating procedures of the US government and police agencies at every level."

What was it again the terrorists hated us for?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

'Black World' Space Shuttle: Air Force Raises the Stakes for a New Arms Race

It's not as if things aren't bad enough right here on planet earth.

What with multiple wars and occupations, an accelerating economic meltdown, corporate malfeasance and environmental catastrophes such as the petroleum-fueled apocalypse in the Gulf of Mexico, I'd say we have a full plate already.

Now the Defense Department wants to up the stakes with new, destabilizing weapons systems that will transform low- and high-earth orbit into another "battlespace," pouring billions into programs to achieve what Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) has long dreamed of: "space dominance."

Indeed, Pentagon space warriors fully intend to field a robust anti-satellite (ASAT) capability that can disable, damage or destroy the satellites of other nations, all for "defensive" purposes, mind you.

Back in 2005, The New York Times reported that General Lance W. Lord, then commander of AFSPC, told an Air Force conference that "space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny. ... Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future."

Five years on, that "mission" is still a top priority for the Obama administration. While some might call it "net-centric warfare" on steroids, I'd choose another word: madness.

Air Force X-37B

On April 22, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) successfully launched its robot space shuttle, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Sitting atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket, the unmanned, reusable space plane roared into orbit after more than ten years of development by Boeing Corporation's "Phantom Works" black projects shop.

The successful orbital insertion of the X-37B was the culmination of a decades' long dream by the Department of Defense: to field a reusable spacecraft that combines an airplane's agility with the means to travel at 5 miles per second in orbit.

From the Pentagon's point of view, a craft such as the X-37B may be the harbinger of things to come: a johnny-on-the-spot weapons platform to take out the satellite assets of an enemy de jour, or as a launch vehicle that can deliver bombs, missiles or kinetic weapons anywhere on earth in less than two hours; what Air Force wags refer to as "operationally responsive space."

Prior to launch, Air Force Deputy Undersecretary of Space Programs, Gary Payton, ridiculed speculation that the X-37B is the prototype for a new space-based weapons system. Payton told reporters, "I don't know how this could be called a weaponization of space. Fundamentally, it's just an updated version of the space shuttle kinds of activities in space."

Needless to say, such denials should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

The highly-classified program has a checkered history. According to, the project is envisaged as a "reusable space architecture" that would provide "aircraft-like operability, flexibility, and responsiveness, supporting AF Space Command mission areas."

While early examples such as the Dyna-Soar/X-20 program of the 1950s-1960s never panned out due to technological constraints, the Air Force never stopped trying. Programs such as the X-40 Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) and the X-41 Common Air Vehicle (CAV), a hypersonic craft intended to serve as a key component in developing the off-again, on-again "Prompt Global Strike" project, demonstrate continuing Air Force interest in "high frontier" weapons programs.

The X-40 project eventually merged with the Air Force's X-37B program and the X-41 CAV program has been absorbed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV-2).

Last month, the first test of the Falcon (apparently) ended in failure when DARPA researchers claimed they had lost contact with the craft moments after take-off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Falcon was supposed to demonstrate the feasibility of launching a vehicle to the edge of space and then have it come "screaming back into the atmosphere, maneuvering at twenty times the speed of sound before landing north of the Kwajalein Atoll, 30 minutes later and 4100 nautical miles away," according to Wired.

Did the HTV-2 mission fail? Since misdirection and disinformation have long been staples of Pentagon black world projects, most likely we'll never know one way or the other.

Inevitably, even if these projects amount to no more than monumental failures, their intended target audience, China, Russia or any other nation viewed as a "rogue state" by the imperialist hyperpower, in all likelihood would be drawn in to an expensive, and deadly, contest to devise countermeasures.

In this light, reporter Jeremy Hsu wrote May 5, that ambiguities in devising militarized space technology "can make it tricky for nations to gauge the purpose or intentions behind new prototypes." And such uncertainties are precisely the fodder that fuel an arms race.

According to's John Pike, the U.S. military "could even be using the cloak of mystery to deliberately bamboozle and confuse rival militaries." Pike told that "the X-37B and HTV-2 projects could represent the tip of a space weapons program hidden within the Pentagon's secret 'black budget,' or they might be nothing more than smoke and mirrors."

Pike said that current work "leaves plenty of room for misinterpretation or even outright deception, which could be a ploy to distract other nations with military space projects."

"'One of them could be a deception program and the other could be the spitting image of the real thing,' Pike noted. He said that such misdirection could force other nations' militaries to waste money chasing down dead ends."

While Pike's assertions sound plausible, given the Pentagon's track record and an annual $50 billion black budget directed towards research on new weapons and surveillance systems, the X-37B, the Falcon HTV-2 or other systems on the drawing board would certainly be useful assets if the military chose to deploy them as offensive weapons.

A Space Bomber?

Less ambitious perhaps, but potentially more destabilizing than unproven hypersonic technology, the X-37B was originally designed by Boeing for NASA in 1999 as an emergency escape vehicle for the International Space Station.

The civilian agency once viewed the craft as a potential lifeboat that could rescue stranded astronauts from the ISS. However, with Russia's Soyuz space capsule doing yeoman's work for just such a contingency, NASA no longer saw the need for an expensive winged re-entry vehicle and dropped the program.

But, as with all things having to do with the Military-Industrial Complex's insatiable appetite for new weapons, DARPA, the Pentagon's "blue sky" geek shop, picked up the slack in 2004 when NASA headed towards the exit.

After further testing and design enhancements by DARPA, the project was handed off to the Air Force in 2006. The program is now run by the USAF's secretive Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and spokespeople there have been tight lipped, refusing to say how much the vehicle costs; a sure sign that funds for the robot shuttle come from the black side of the budget where new weapons systems spawn and metastasize.

A tip-off to the covert nature--and militaristic intentions--of the program, comes from the office running the show. According to an Air Force Fact Sheet, the RCO "responds to Combat Air Force and combatant command requirements" and "expedites development and fielding of select Department of Defense combat support and weapon systems by leveraging defense-wide technology development efforts and existing operational capabilities."

According to investigative journalist Sharon Weinberger, the author of Imaginary Weapons and A Nuclear Family Vacation, her recent piece in Popular Mechanics, revealed that prior to the Pentagon assuming ownership of the X-37 project, "the spacecraft was regarded as just another experimental prototype." Today however, Weinberger wrote, "Air Force officials are skittish to mention even the smallest details."

When Air Force chief scientist Werner J.A. Dahm was asked by Weinberger "what he could say about the X-37B," he replied, "'Nothing very useful,' before quickly changing the subject."

In a 2006 piece in Air Force Print News (AFPN) however, we were informed that the X-37B will "will serve as a test platform for satellites and other space technologies. The vehicle allows satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology to be transported into the environment where they will be used--space."

With information scarce on what the OTV's current mission is, the Air Force has said that after the first few flights (a second test in slated for 2011), "you get into the realm of using it as a reusable space test platform--putting space components into its experimental bay and taking them to space for testing," RCO's X-37B program manager Lt. Col. Kevin Walker told AFPN.

While the Air Force has denied that the X-37B is the vanguard for a space-based system to be deployed for spying or as an orbital weapons' delivery platform, and while this may be technically accurate in so far as the mini-shuttle is a prototype, the vagaries of the project raise intriguing questions.

This is borne out by an April 22 announcement by the 45th Space Wing Public Affairs office at Patrick Air Force base. Deputy Undersecretary Payton said "if these technologies on the vehicle prove to be as good as we estimate, it will make our access to space more responsive, perhaps cheaper, and push us in the vector toward being able to react to warfighter needs more quickly."

This was seconded by Col. André Lovett, 45th Space Wing vice commander: "This launch helps ensure that our warfighters will be provided the capabilities they need in the future."

Nothing ambiguous in these statements as to how the USAF views the future role for the system, nor do they bear a relationship to Payton's earlier claim to reporters that the X-37B is "just an updated version of the space shuttle kinds of activities in space."

Weinberger notes that "the most daring job of a space plane, and the one least discussed, is the role of a bomber." According to Weinberger, the X-37B "could fly over targets within an hour of launch to release cone-shaped re-entry vehicles that would both protect and guide weapons through the atmosphere." Equally destabilizing, a craft such as the X-37B "could carry 1000- or 2000-pound re-entry vehicles armed with precision munitions like bunker-busting penetrators or small-diameter bombs, or simply use the explosive impact of kinetic rods cratering at hypersonic speeds to destroy targets."

Joan Johnson-Freese, a Professor of National Security Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, told journalist Leonard David last month that "other countries" will likely view the X-37B "as another capability intended to assure the United States will be able to dominate access to and the use of space."

William Scott, coauthor of the militaristic novel Counterspace: The Next Hours of World War III, told David that a reusable space plane "could deliver small satellites having specific, limited roles to bridge critical capabilities gaps."

The former bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology told David that amongst the most vital characteristics for fielding a weapons' platform such as the X-37B is surprise: "On the first orbit, a space plane could capture data, before the 'target' knew it was coming." Since a space plane could be "launched into any orbit, at any inclination, providing prompt 'eyes-on' of virtually any area of the world," unlike a satellite with known, predictable trajectories, it could also be used as a surveillance platform or even as a means to surreptitiously "kidnap" or disable an adversary's satellite.

Seconding Weinberger's assessment, Scott told that "ultimately, weapons could be delivered from a space plane in low Earth orbit." As noted above, these could come in the form of "precision" munitions or insane hypervelocity rod bundles, so called "Rods from God," tungsten projectiles lobbed from space at 36,000 feet per second that can "hit a cross-haired target on the ground."

"I did a story about the rods concept in 1994 or 1995, based on concepts being discussed in the U.S. Air Force at the time," Scott said. "Fifteen years later, maybe they're ready for testing."

This view is shared by Everett Dolman, a professor of Comparative Military Studies at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at the Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

"Regardless of its original intent, Dolman told, "the most obvious and formidable is in service as a space fighter--a remotely piloted craft capable of disabling multiple satellites in orbit on a single mission and staying on orbit for months to engage newly orbited platforms." A project such as the X-37B, more advanced systems still on the drawing-board or in development in any number of Air Force black sites such as Groom Lake (Area 51) "would be a tremendous tactical advantage," Dolman said.

Even were the system not to be transformed into a space bomber, Dolman theorized that the X-37B could be maneuvered close to an adversary's satellite and capture details in the form of signals intelligence. "With the anticipated increase in networked-microsatellites in the next few years, such a platform might be the best--and only--means of collecting technical intelligence in space."

While the system may evolve into a destabilizing new weapon, Dolman said that "all of the information leaked about the X-37B suggests its primary function will be as a test platform, but a test platform for what?"

Regardless of how the X-37B prototype pans out, we can be certain that as the U.S. imperialist empire continues its long trek on the road towards failed statehood, the Pentagon, always eager to expend the blood and treasure of the American people on endless wars of conquest, will continue to build new and ever-more destabilizing weapons.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

High-Tech Death from Above: U.S. Drone Wars Fuel War Crimes

As America continues its uncontrolled flight towards disaster, Israeli-style "targeted killings" (assassinations) of alleged militants and unarmed civilians in the "Afpak theatre" are on the rise.

With indiscriminate attacks by armed drones soaring since President Obama was sworn into office, the Pentagon's mad dash to achieve what it describes as "full-spectrum dominance" in this regional "battlespace," has sought to leverage its dominant position as the world leader in robotized forms of state killing and obtain a decisive technological edge over their adversaries.

Judging by proverbial "facts on the ground," they'll need it. The World Socialist Web Site disclosed May 1, that a "semi-annual report released by the Pentagon on the Afghanistan war recorded a sharp increase in attacks on occupation troops and scarce support for the corrupt US-backed puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai."

Despite Obama's dispatch of 35,000 troops since his inauguration as imperial Consul, socialist critic Bill Van Auken writes that the congressionally-mandated progress report "presented a grim picture of the state of the nearly nine-year-old, US-led war," and that "the country's so-called insurgents considered 2009 their 'most successful year'."

That the drone wars will escalate is underscored by a piece in Air Force Times. Writing May 1, an anonymous correspondent reports that Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Glenn Walters, the deputy director for resources and acquisition for the Pentagon's Joint Staff, said "the U.S. military has sent so many of its 6,500 UAVs to the Middle East that other operating theaters are going without."

Speaking April 28 at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) conference in northern Virginia, Walters said that Obama's Afghanistan "surge" has stripped other Pentagon commands of drones and that it "will likely be a year before U.S. planners have a better handle on how many UAVs will be needed there and how many can be spared for use outside of the Middle East."

"By 2012," Walters told the killer robot conclave, "we'll have 8,000 UAVs that will have to fit into" the Defense Department's global maintenance and basing structure.

All the more reason then, in keeping with the Pentagon's twisted logic, to escalate attacks on Pakistan, raining high-tech death from above!

Remote-Controlled War Crimes

Since its inception under the criminal Bush regime, the administration's robot assassination policy has been called into question by legal scholars and civil liberties' advocates who charge that CIA, but also military pilots, waging America's undeclared drone war on Pakistan may be liable for war crimes.

During hearings last week before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's National Security and Foreign Affairs panel, Mary Ellen O'Connell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, told the committee that "Combat drones are battlefield weapons. They fire missiles or drop bombs capable of inflicting very serious damage. Drones are not lawful for use outside combat zones. Outside such zones, police are the proper law enforcement agents, and police are generally required to warn before using lethal force."

The one caveat I would add to the professor's statement are that "police" would be "proper law enforcement agents" outside combat zones were America a "normal" country that abides by the rule of law, including laws governing armed conflict. Clearly, a nation that squanders nearly $800B of it's treasure in a single year on death and destruction is anything but normal.

O'Connell went on to say that "restricting drones to the battlefield is the most important single rule governing their use. Yet, the United States is failing to follow it more often than not." The Notre Dame law prof continued: "At the very time we are trying to win hearts and minds to respect the rule of law, we are ourselves failing to respect a very basic rule: remote weapons systems belong on the battlefield."

In a sharply worded letter to President Obama, submitted as a statement for the record to the House panel, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero wrote, "I am writing to express our profound concern about recent reports indicating that you have authorized a program that contemplates the killing of suspected terrorists--including U.S. citizens--located far away from zones of actual armed conflict. If accurately described, this program violates international law and, at least insofar as it affects U.S. citizens, it is also unconstitutional."

Romero stated that the "U.S. is engaged in non-international armed conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and the lawfulness of its actions must be judged in that context. ... The entire world is not a war zone, and wartime tactics that may be permitted on the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be deployed anywhere in the world where a terrorism suspect happens to be located."

But as the imperial project goes to ground, we can expect that the administration's policy of targeting its enemies for liquidation on the streets of Sana'a, Mogadishu or perhaps, even New York or Washington, will continue along on its merry way.

Last October, investigative journalist Jane Mayer reported in The New Yorker that the Air Force UAV fleet "has grown from some fifty drones in 2001 to nearly two hundred; the C.I.A. will not divulge how many drones it operates. The government plans to commission hundreds more, including new generations of tiny 'nano' drones, which can fly after their prey like a killer bee through an open window."

And given the classified rules governing the CIA's "geographically unbounded use of state-sanctioned lethal force," the highly-compartmented program affords the President another plausibly deniable weapon in the Executive Branch arsenal. Because of this, Mayer writes, "there is no visible system of accountability in place, despite the fact that the agency has killed many civilians inside a politically fragile, nuclear-armed country with which the U.S. is not at war."

"Should something go wrong in the C.I.A.'s program," Mayer reports, "it's unclear what the consequences would be."

Judging however, by the response of our "forward looking" President and his "liberal" acolytes in Congress, academia and the media to widespread constitutional abuses (warrantless wiretapping), the waging of preemptive, aggressive wars (Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan), and illegal detention and torture by the previous, and current, U.S. regimes, it's pretty obvious what those "consequences" will be.

"The Predators in the C.I.A. program," Mayer observes, "are 'flown' by civilians, both intelligence officers and private contractors." Described as "seasoned professionals" by Mayer's counterterrorism source, the CIA has outsourced "a significant portion of its work." And "from their suburban redoubt," we're informed, "they can turn the plane, zoom in on the landscape below, and decide whether to lock onto a target."

But therein lies the rub for the CIA.

During last week's congressional hearings, Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, told the House panel that the CIA's crew of killer drone pilots could, in theory at least, be prosecuted because they aren't combatants in a legal sense.

"It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant's privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws," Glazier said.

"Under this view" Glazier continued, "CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause." Here's where things get interesting. "But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes." (emphasis added)

There it is, plug-and-play state killing; but fear not.

As a top Bush administration aide told investigative journalist Ron Suskind in 2004: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

While the swagger and imperial hubris of the Bush regime may have been swapped for the vastly superior Obama (PR) product, the results are inevitably the same: death and destruction on a planetary scale and to hell with the law and human rights.

Drone Wars Escalate

As The Long War Journal noted in January, the American drone campaign "in Pakistan's tribal areas remains the cornerstone of the effort to root out and decapitate the senior leadership of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other allied terror groups, and to disrupt both al Qaeda's global and local operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

CNN reported that CIA Director, Leon Panetta, told the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles last May that the American drone war is "the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt" the leadership of the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets known as al-Qaeda.

But with civilian deaths spiking, the robot reign of terror has sparked widespread opposition across all political sectors in Pakistan, from far-right Islamist factions to the socialist left. While Pentagon and CIA officials claim that civilian deaths are "regrettable," an unintended consequence of America's global imperial project, facts on the ground tell a different tale.

Last year, investigative journalist Amir Mir reported in Lahore's English-language newspaper, The News, that of 60 "cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent."

According to Mir, the "drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children." The Pentagon and CIA dispute these figures.

In February however, Mir disclosed that Afghanistan-based Predator drones "carried out a record number of 12 deadly missile strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan in January 2010, of which 10 went wrong and failed to hit their targets, killing 123 innocent Pakistanis. The remaining two successful drone strikes killed three al-Qaeda leaders, wanted by the Americans."

According to the journalist, the spike in drone assaults indicated that "revenge is the major motive for these attacks," and can be "attributed to December 30, 2009 suicide bombing in the Khost area of Afghanistan bordering North Waziristan, which killed seven CIA agents. US officials later identified the bomber as Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian national linked to both al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)."

In other words, the slaughter of 123 civilians was viewed by the CIA and Pentagon as a splendid means "to avenge the loss of the seven CIA agents and to raise morale of its forces in Afghanistan."

Sensitive as always to the suffering of others, The Washington Post reported April 26, that "CIA is using new, smaller missiles and advanced surveillance techniques to minimize civilian casualties in its targeted killings of suspected insurgents in Pakistan's tribal areas, according to current and former officials in the United States and Pakistan."

According to the Post, "technological improvements" in recent months "have resulted in more accurate operations that have provoked relatively little public outrage," the unnamed officials said.

Stung by the growing furor over civilian deaths, the Agency defensively claims their assassination program delivers "precision unsurpassed in the history of warfare."

Chief among the "improvements" cited by the Post, CIA Predators are now fielding a Lockheed Martin-designed "Small Smart Weapon" called the Scorpion. Clocking-in at 21 inches, weighing 35 pounds and having the diameter of a "small coffee cup," the Post reports that it causes far less damage than a Hellfire "and it can be fitted with four different guidance systems that allow it to home in on targets as small as a single person, in complete darkness."

According to Lockheed Martin, the Scorpion "provides the warfighter with low cost lethality against a broad target set" and "ensures accuracy to less than one meter and dramatically reduces the possibility of collateral damage."

I'm sure this comes as a comforting reassurance of America's pure intentions, especially for "Afpak" women and children who've been turned into smoldering body parts scattered across the landscape of our latest "good war."

An Evolving Marketplace...for High-Tech Death

As the United States continues its drive to dominate resource-rich, but politically unstable regions of the world, the Pentagon, in a throw-back to the "Camelot" era of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' have embraced the counterinsurgency doctrine of fighting multiple "brushfire" wars in inhospitable global hot-spots.

Increasingly, as the "battlespace" morphs from fighting in jungles, deserts or that former Cold War set-piece, the European plain, directly into large urban areas, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) takes center stage. While "situational awareness" of the hot zone has always been a preoccupation of Pentagon planners, the nature of urban combat places a premium on complex technological systems that gather intelligence--from low earth orbit to right outside your door.

Such preoccupations have been a boon for America's defense and security grifters.

During 2010's first quarter, Washington Technology reported, that "contracts announced during January, February and March had values that ranged from $266 million to $2.8 billion."

According to reporter Nick Wakeman, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., "secured" a $266 million contract from the Air Force for "program and technical support for the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial systems."

Work will include "program and configuration management, logistics, technical services, flight and operations, software maintenance and data collection."

As investigative journalist Nick Turse reported for TomDispatch in January, the Pentagon "cut two sizeable checks to ensure that unmanned operations involving the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper will continue full-speed ahead in 2010." In addition to the General Atomics deal, Turse reported that the Air Force inked a "$38 million contract with defense giant Raytheon for logistics support for the targeting systems of both drones."

As combat operations across the "Afpak theatre" escalate, the use of drones by both the CIA and Air Force have sharply increased; indeed, the Pentagon is on a veritable shopping spree.

This is borne-out by the flight hours logged by unmanned systems. "In 2004" Turse writes, "Reapers, just beginning to soar, flew 71 hours in total, according to Air Force documents; in 2006, that number had risen to 3,123 hours; and last year, 25,391 hours."

According to Air Force estimates Turse avers, "the combined flight hours of all its drones--Predators, Reapers, and unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawks--will exceed 250,000 hours, about the total number of hours flown by all Air Force drones from 1995-2007. In 2011, the 300,000 hour-a-year barrier is expected to be crossed for the first time, and after that the sky's the limit."

Such estimates can only be music to the ears of General Atomics' shareholders.

While these systems are powerful reminders that being an Empire means never having to say you're sorry to the victims, it seems they're not quite good enough.

Air Force Times reported last May that the Air Force "is already looking at a third generation of armed remote-control planes even as it continues to build up its fleet of MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers."

Although General Atomics has the lock on providing the CIA and Pentagon with MQ-1 and MQ-9s, the "service has started an analysis" for a next gen killer drone, the MQ-X, "with the goal of choosing a plane in 2012, Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford told reporters."

According to Air Force Times, "General Atomics has already unveiled a jet-powered UAV called the Avenger, able to fly at 460 mph--about twice as fast as the Reaper--and carry 3,000 pounds of weapons and sensors."

Last week, Defense Systems reported that the Defense Department "is reassessing its view of unmanned aerial vehicles--a key component of modern combat operations--and deciding what the military needs from UAVs beyond their traditional use as a platform to gather intelligence and fire weapons."

Defense Systems' reporter Amber Corrin wrote that "next-generation UAVs will need to take on additional duties including cargo transport, refueling and possible medical applications, and they will need to be interoperable with different platforms, users and military services."

One wag, Col. Dale Fridley, the Director of the Air Force Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force, said that the Air Force is looking for a "plug-and-play" approach and that "interoperable command and control, multi-access controls and enhanced human-system interfaces are among the most important short-term enablers in developing next-generation UAVs."

Fridley described the proposed MQ-X as the "embodiment of the flight plan."

According to General Atomics, the firm's next-gen, jet-powered Predator C drone, the Avenger, can attain air speeds far greater than the lumbering systems currently operating. With a 41-foot long fuselage and 66-foot wingspan, the system can "can carry the same mix of weapons as Predator B," the MQ-9 Reaper. The company envisages the manufacture of both armed and unarmed reconnaissance models for the Defense Department and other willing customers.

And with Predators clocking more than 30,000 hours of flight time per month, and with more than 40 UAVs aloft "every second of every day," as GA boosters put it, and with the Air Force and the CIA seeking the capability to fly anywhere from 50-75 daily "missions" above Afghanistan, Pakistan and who knows where else, the always-open wallet's of the American people will continue feeding, and accelerating, the imperialist "kill chain."