Drones, computers new weapons of US waging shadow wars!


AP FILE – This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, burn a representation of a US flag during a rally condemning US drone strikes in tribal areas and the reopening of the NATO supply line to neighboring Afghanistan, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Friday, June 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Pervez Masih) — AP

FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)FILE – In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, speaks in Washington. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) — AP

WASHINGTON — After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile.FILE - This Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. After a decade of costly conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American way of war is evolving toward less brawn, more guile. Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm’s way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint.

Chart shows the number of air attacks in Pakistan — AP

It’s war in the shadows, with the U.S. public largely in the dark.

In Pakistan, armed drones, not U.S. ground troops or B-52 bombers, are hunting down al-Qaida terrorists, and a CIA-run raid of Osama bin Laden‘s hide-out was executed by a stealthy team of Navy SEALs.

In Yemen, drones and several dozen U.S. military advisers are trying to help the government tip the balance against an al-Qaida offshoot that harbors hopes of one day attacking the U.S. homeland.

In Somalia, the Horn of Africa country that has not had a fully functioning government since 1991, President Barack Obama secretly has authorized two drone strikes and two commando raids against terrorists.

In Iran, surveillance drones have kept an eye on nuclear activities while a computer attack reportedly has infected its nuclear enrichment facilities with a virus, possibly delaying the day when the U.S. or Israel might feel compelled to drop real bombs on Iran and risk a wider war in the Middle East.

The high-tech warfare allows Obama to target what the administration sees as the greatest threats to U.S. security, without the cost and liabilities of sending a swarm of ground troops to capture territory; some of them almost certainly would come home maimed or dead.

But it also raises questions about accountability and the implications for international norms regarding the use of force outside of traditional armed conflict. The White House took an incremental step Friday toward greater openness about the basic dimensions of its shadowy wars by telling Congress for the first time that the U.S. military has been launching lethal attacks on terrorist targets in Somalia and Yemen. It did not mention drones, and its admission did not apply to CIA operations.

“Congressional oversight of these operations appears to be cursory and insufficient,” said Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy issues for the Federation of American Scientists, a private group.

“It is Congress’ responsibility to declare war under the Constitution, but instead it appears to have adopted a largely passive role while the executive takes the initiative in war fighting,” Aftergood said in an interview.

That’s partly because lawmakers relinquished their authority by passing a law just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that essentially granted the White House open-ended authority for armed action against al-Qaida.

Secret wars are not new.

For decades, the CIA has carried out covert operations abroad at the president’s direction and with congressional notice. It armed the mujahedeen in Afghanistan who fought Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, for example. In recent years the U.S. military’s secretive commando units have operated more widely, even in countries where the U.S. is not at war, and that’s blurred the lines between the intelligence and military spheres.

In this shroud of secrecy, leaks to the news media of classified details about certain covert operations have led to charges that the White House orchestrated the revelations to bolster Obama’s national security credentials and thereby improve his re-election chances. The White House has denied the accusations.

The leaks exposed details of U.S. computer virus attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, the foiling of an al-Qaida bomb plot targeting U.S. aircraft, and other secret operations.

Two U.S. attorneys are heading separate FBI investigations into leaks of national security information, and Congress is conducting its own probe.

It’s not just the news media that has pressed the administration for information about its shadowy wars.

Some in Congress, particularly those lawmakers most skeptical of the need for U.S. foreign interventions, are objecting to the administration’s drone wars. They are demanding a fuller explanation of how, for example, drone strikes are authorized and executed in cases in which the identity of the targeted terrorist is not confirmed.

“Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and 25 other mostly anti-war members of Congress wrote Obama on Tuesday.

A few dozen lawmakers are briefed on the CIA’s covert action and clandestine military activity, and some may ask to review drone strike video and be granted access to after-action reports on strikes and other clandestine actions. But until two months ago, the administration had not formally confirmed in public its use of armed drones.

In an April speech in Washington, Obama’s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, acknowledged that despite presidential assurances of a judicious use of force against terrorists, some still question the legality of drone strikes.

“So let me say it as simply as I can: Yes, in full accordance with the law – and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives – the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” he said.

President George W. Bush authorized drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere, but Obama has vastly increased the numbers. According to Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal, an online publication that tracks U.S. counterterrorism operations, the U.S. under Obama has carried out an estimated 254 drone strikes in Pakistan alone. That compares with 47 strikes during the Bush administration.

In at least one case the target was an American. Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in September.

According to a White House list released late last year, U.S. counterterrorism operations have removed more than 30 terrorist leaders around the globe. They include al-Qaida in East Africa “planner” Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was killed in a helicopter strike in Somalia.

The drone campaign is highly unpopular overseas.

A Pew Research Center survey on the U.S. image abroad found that in 17 of 21 countries surveyed, more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders in such places as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In the U.S., 62 percent approved of the drone campaign, making American public opinion the clear exception.

The U.S. use of cyberweapons, like viruses that sabotage computer networks or other high-tech tools that can invade computers and steal data, is even more closely shielded by official secrecy and, arguably, less well understood.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been a leading critic of the administration’s handling of information about using computers as a tool of war.

“I think that cyberattacks are one of the greatest threats that we face,” McCain said in a recent interview, “and we have a very divided and not very well-informed Congress addressing it.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and national security officials often talk publicly about improving U.S. defenses against cyberattack, not only on U.S. government computer systems but also against defense contractors and other private networks linked, for example, to the U.S. financial system or electrical grid. Left largely unexplained is the U.S. capacity to use computer viruses and other cyberweapons against foreign targets.

In the view of some, the White House has cut Congress out of the loop, even in the realm of overt warfare.

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., who saw combat in Vietnam as a Marine, introduced legislation last month that would require that the president seek congressional approval before committing U.S. forces in civil conflicts, such as last year’s armed intervention in Libya, in which there is no imminent security threat to the U.S.

“Year by year, skirmish by skirmish, the role of the Congress in determining where the U.S. military would operate, and when the awesome power of our weapon systems would be unleashed has diminished,” Webb said.

By ROBERT BURNS, LOLITA C. BALDOR and KIMBERLY DOZIER, Associated Press

Online: Pew Research Center: www.pewresearch.org  The Associated Press

Al-Qaeda makes US Debt Downgrade?


What al-Qaeda Has to Do With Debt Downgrade

By Gary Weiss

BOSTON  — With every day of market decline and economic pain, we need to face a terribly unpalatable question, and it’s not whether Standard & Poor’s is credible or if the downgrades will send the economy into a tailspin (or, perhaps, if we are already in a tailspin).

Sure, the downgrade of U.S. long-term debt by Standard & Poor’s appears to be a cynical ploy by this tarnished credit-rating agency, perhaps trying to burnish its reputation at a time when parent McGraw-Hill is in play. But there’s no question that the content of its downgrade report is correct, even if its initial arithmetic was off. The fact is that our political processes are a mess. We don’t deserve a top credit rating.

But there is, I think, a deeper reason for the misery we’re experiencing. I’ll put it in the form of a question: Is al-Qaeda winning the economic struggle?

US propaganda leaflet used in Afghanistan.

I know, bin Laden’s dead, al-Qaeda is on the run, etc. etc. And I don’t mean that al-Qaeda has won militarily, though even that is debatable — can anyone say with confidence what will happen to Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq after a U.S. withdrawal? But I think that a strong case can be made that al-Qaeda has gone a long way toward achieving one of its primary war aims, which was to sabotage the U.S. economy. Bin Laden may be fish food, but his strategy seems to have worked. We are being bled white, thanks in large part by the war that he forced us to fight — and we have our representatives in Washington, and their ideologically driven refusal to increase taxes, to blame for this mess.

First, let’s go back to the bin Laden “we’ll bleed you” tape. This is not an urban legend, but was widely publicized at the time. In October 2004, al-Qaeda distributed a bin Laden video that contained a departure from his usual invective. Instead of inveighing against U.S. Imperialists, Jews and so on, he spent nearly 20 minutes talking not like a terrorist chieftain in a cave but the former corporate executive that he used to be, analyzing with satisfaction an objective that al-Qaeda was clearly achieving.

For every dollar al-Qaeda spent, he said, the U.S. was coughing up $1 million in war spending and economic misery. “As for the size of the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbers” — over $1 trillion, bin Laden said. Actually bin Laden’s math was off — the deficit in 2004 was just over $400 billion, but his general point was correct. The deficit had reached astronomical numbers, and much of that was because of the war that he started and Congress’ stubborn refusal to pay for it by asking for sacrifice from the nation’s fat cats.

We had to fight the war in Afghanistan, but we didn’t have to mismanage the way it was financed.

Since October 2001, the war in Afghanistan has cost more than $443 billion. This year, taxpayers will pour another $118 billion into that quagmire, which is continuing to sap far too many U.S. lives, and with far too little assistance from our NATO allies. Factoring in the cost of the unnecessary war in Iraq, and the price tag of these two wars, paid for by the federal equivalent of a line of credit, has exceeded $1 trillion since 2001.

It was easy for bin Laden to ruin our economy. All he had to do was to exploit the natural tendency of the Bush administration to be incompetent. His primary Fifth Columnists are red-state congressional representatives, rock-ribbed Republicans who believe that you can fight two wars without paying for them.

Rather than raise taxes on the rich and cut loopholes to finance the war, the Bush administration let its 2001 tax cuts remain unchanged. The total cost of the tax cuts roughly approximates the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and by some estimates is even higher — as much as $1.3 trillion.

If that estimate is correct, then simply repealing those tax cuts would have paid for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and we might even have had a few billion left over.

The war to destroy the economy has continued, with impressive results. Now there’s talk of cutting long-established social programs, the so-called “entitlements,” because President Obama acquiesced to a deficit-reduction program without revenue increases — and because he refused to invoke the 14th Amendment, which holds that the national debt is not to be questioned.

The result was a deal to cut spending in the middle of a looming recession and two wars. It’s nothing short of crazy. Nobody could have done a better job of mismanaging the economy — not even bin Laden himself if he had been the leader of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, holding America hostage on behalf of an extremist ideology. Sen. John Kerry has correctly described the S&P downgrade as a product of the Tea Party movement and its allies in Congress. Do you really think that S&P would have piled on with its downgrade if Washington hadn’t gone haywire? I have a lot of respect for S&P’s integrity — I worked for another McGraw Hill subsidiary for 18 years — but I doubt it very much.

One can question the appropriateness of a credit-rating agency — any credit-rating agency — having the gall to take an action so disruptive to the markets, when one considers their squalid role in the subprime scandals. But there is no question that the U.S. government deserved the downgrade. Our legislative branch just isn’t working, that affects the creditworthiness of the nation, much as private companies run with weak corporate governance would be hard-pressed to win an AAA rating.

The events of the past few weeks have demonstrated what we’ve known for decades: that you don’t negotiate with terrorists, whether they are al-Qaeda thugs or extremist Congressmen who utilized the phony, artificial, unconstitutional “debt limit” to force their ideological agenda on an unwilling American people.

It’s sad, but true: The terrorists are winning.

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