Controlling the News
Washington, D.C. August 31, 2013: “When the polymorph and perverse George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, his puppet master, concocted various lies to convince Congress and our allies that Iraq was planning to use atomic weapons on various precious people, the public more or less bought the bs and off we went.
Bush got to be a wartime president, land on aircraft carrier decks and strut his stuff like a Washington black man with a new brass watch. Cheney, with many Halliburton stock options, got very rich off blatant thievery during the following useless and very costly war.
Now, the monkey house on the Potomac is up to the same game again. Since they feel the stupid public bought the story about how our brave and clever SEALS killed bin Laden (when he had actually died, years before, in a Pakistani military hospital of renal failure) the creepos then decided to assist their Israeli friends and attack Iran.
This died a natural death when the military indicated it would not take part in yet another oil war but the chimpanzee brigade then decided to go after Putin and Syria, his client state, because Vladimir had the nerve to reject Obama’s shrill demands for their extradition of Snowden.
Firstly, Snowden had exposed Obama’s spy program and then, secondly, he could not be seized, tormented like Bradley Manning, and put in prison for life.
When a small-minded man is challenged, he seeks revenge.
Now, more “positive proof” of Syrian chemical warfare has been declared (although the public will never see any of it nor will they ever see pictures of the assassinated bin Laden for the obvious reason that neither of them exist.) and more billions are spent on murdering yet more civilians.
Obama ought to realize that Franklin Roosevelt was planning to use mustard gas on the German forces in Italy and only the Luftwaffe’s attack on Bari and the subsequent destruction of the cargo ship carrying the gas prevented this country from launching what Kerry now bleats is “unacceptable and terrible” actions.
And there is more than enough proof that subsequent American admiistrations intended to lanuch bubonic plague against the Russians and hired a Japanese and a German general who specialized in such things to start the ball rolling.
They their “unacceptable and terrible” plottings bore no fruit was not for want of trying.”
Will Boehner Stop Our Rogue President?
August 30, 2013
by Patrick J. Buchanan,
The next 72 hours will be decisive in the career of the speaker of the House. The alternatives he faces are these:
John Boehner can, after “consultation,” give his blessing to Barack Obama’s decision to launch a war on Syria, a nation that has neither attacked nor threatened us.
Or Boehner can instruct Obama that, under our Constitution, in the absence of an attack on the United States, Congress alone has the authority to decide whether the United States goes to war.
As speaker, he can call the House back on Monday to debate, and decide, whether to authorize the war Obama is about to start. In the absence of a Congressional vote for war, Boehner should remind the president that U.S. cruise missile strikes on Syria, killing soldiers and civilians alike, would be the unconstitutional and impeachable acts of a rogue president.
Moreover, an attack on Syria would be an act of stupidity.
Why this rush to war? Why the hysteria? Why the panic?
Syria and Assad will still be there two weeks from now or a month from now, and we will know far more then about what happened last week.
Understandably, Obama wants to get the egg off his face from having foolishly drawn his “red line” against chemical weapons, and then watching Syria, allegedly, defy His Majesty. But saving Obama’s face does not justify plunging his country into another Mideast war.
Does Obama realize what a fool history will make of him if he is stampeded into a new war by propaganda that turns out to be yet another stew of ideological zealotry and mendacity?
As of today, we do not know exactly what gas was used around Damascus, how it was delivered, who authorized it and whether President Bashar Assad ever issued such an order.
Yet, one Wall Street Journal columnist is already calling on Obama to assassinate Assad along with his family.
Do we really want back into that game? When John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy explored the assassination option with Fidel Castro, blowback came awfully swift in Dallas.
Again, what is the urgency of war now if we are certain we are right? What do we lose by waiting for more solid evidence, and then presenting our case to the Security Council?
Kennedy did that in the Cuban missile crisis. U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson made the case. And the world saw we were right.
If, in the face of incontrovertible proof, Russia and China veto sanctions, the world will see that. Then let John Kerry make his case to Congress and convince that body to authorize war, if he can.
But if Obama cannot convince Congress, we cannot – and ought not – go to war. The last thing America needs is an unnecessary, unconstitutional war in that God-forsaken region that both Congress and the country oppose.
Indeed, the reports about this gas attack on Syrian civilians have already begun to give off the distinct aroma of a false-flag operation.
Assad has offered U.N. inspectors secure access to where gas was allegedly used. It is the rebels who seem not to want too deep or long an investigation.
Our leaders should ask themselves. If we are stampeded into this war, whose interests are served? For it is certainly not Assad’s and certainly not America’s.
We are told Obama intends to hit Syria with cruise missiles for just a few days to punish Assad and deter any future use of gas, not to topple his regime. After a few hundred missiles and a thousand dead Syrians, presumably, we call it off.
Excuse me, but as Casey Stengel said, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
Nations that start wars and attack countries, as Gen. Tojo and Adm. Yamamoto can testify, do not get to decide how wide the war gets, how long it goes on or how it ends.
If the United States attacks Damascus and Syria’s command and control, under the rules of war Syria would be within its rights to strike Washington, the Pentagon and U.S. bases all across the Middle East.
Does Obama really want to start a war, the extent and end of which he cannot see, that is likely to escalate, as its promoters intend and have long plotted, into a U.S. war on Iran? Has the election in Iran of a new president anxious to do a deal with America on Iran’s nuclear program caused this panic in the War Party?
If we think the markets reacted badly to a potential U.S. strike on Syria, just wait for that big one to start. Iran has a population the size of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq combined, and sits astride the Straits of Hormuz through which the free world’s oil flows.
And who will be our foremost fighting ally in Syria should we attack Assad’s army? The Al-Nusra Front, an arm of al-Qaida and likely successor to power, should Assad fall.
Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
U.S. military officers have deep doubts about impact, wisdom of a U.S. strike on Syria
August 29, 2013
by Ernesto Londoño
The Obama administration’s plan to launch a military strike against Syria is being received with serious reservations by many in the U.S. military, which is coping with the scars of two lengthy wars and a rapidly contracting budget, according to current and former officers.
Having assumed for months that the United States was unlikely to intervene militarily in Syria, the Defense Department has been thrust onto a war footing that has made many in the armed services uneasy, according to interviews with more than a dozen military officers ranging from captains to a four-star general.
Former and current officers, many with the painful lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan on their minds, said the main reservations concern the potential unintended consequences of launching cruise missiles against Syria.
Some questioned the use of military force as a punitive measure and suggested that the White House lacks a coherent strategy. If the administration is ambivalent about the wisdom of defeating or crippling the Syrian leader, possibly setting the stage for Damascus to fall to fundamentalist rebels, they said, the military objective of strikes on Assad’s military targets is at best ambiguous.
“There’s a broad naivete in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve,” said retired Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the run-up to the Iraq war, noting that many of his contemporaries are alarmed by the plan.
New cycle of attacks?
Marine Lt. Col. Gordon Miller, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, warned this week of “potentially devastating consequences, including a fresh round of chemical weapons attacks and a military response by Israel.”
“If President Asadwere to absorb the strikes and use chemical weapons again, this would be a significant blow to the United States’ credibility and it would be compelled to escalate the assault on Syria to achieve the original objectives,” Miller wrote in a commentary for the think tank.
A National Security Council spokeswoman said Thursday she would not discuss “internal deliberations.” White House officials reiterated Thursday that the administration is not contemplating a protracted military engagement.
Still, many in the military are skeptical. Getting drawn into the Syrian war, they fear, could distract the Pentagon in the midst of a vexing mission: its exit from Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are still being killed regularly. A young Army officer who is wrapping up a year-long tour there said soldiers were surprised to learn about the looming strike, calling the prospect “very dangerous.”
“I can’t believe the president is even considering it,” said the officer, who like most officers interviewed for this story agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because military personnel are reluctant to criticize policymakers while military campaigns are being planned. “We have been fighting the last 10 years a counterinsurgency war. Syria has modern weaponry. We would have to retrain for a conventional war.”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned in great detail about the risks and pitfalls of U.S. military intervention in Syria.
“As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that use of force will move us toward the intended outcome,” Dempsey wrote last month in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”
Dempsey has not spoken publicly about the administration’s planned strike on Syria, and it is unclear to what extent his position shifted after last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack. Dempsey said this month in an interview with ABC News that the lessons of Iraq weigh heavily on his calculations regarding Syria.
“It has branded in me the idea that the use of military power must be part of an overall strategic solution that includes international partners and a whole of government,” he said in the Aug. 4 interview. “The application of force rarely produces and, in fact, maybe never produces the outcome we seek.”
The recently retired head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, said last month at a security conference that the United States has “no moral obligation to do the impossible” in Syria. “If Americans take ownership of this, this is going to be a full-throated, very, very serious war,” said Mattis, who as Centcom chief oversaw planning for a range of U.S. military responses in Syria.
The potential consequences of a U.S. strike include a retaliatory attack by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah — which supports Assad — on Israel, as well as cyberattacks on U.S. targets and infrastructure, U.S. military officials said.
“What is the political end state we’re trying to achieve?” said a retired senior officer involved in Middle East operational planning who said his concerns are widely shared by active-duty military leaders. “I don’t know what it is. We say it’s not regime change. If it’s punishment, there are other ways to punish.” The former senior officer said that those who are expressing alarm at the risks inherent in the plan “are not being heard other than in a pro-forma manner.”
President Obama said in a PBS interview on Wednesday that he is not contemplating a lengthy engagement, but instead “limited, tailored approaches.”
A retired Central Command officer said the administration’s plan would “gravely disappoint our allies and accomplish little other than to be seen as doing something.”
“It will be seen as a half measure by our allies in the Middle East,” the officer said. “Iran and Syria will portray it as proof that the U.S. is unwilling to defend its interests in the region.”
Still, some within the military, while apprehensive, support striking Syria. W. Andrew Terrill, a Middle East expert at the U.S. Army War College, said the limited history of the use of chemical weapons in the region suggests that a muted response from the West can be dangerous.
“There is a feeling as you look back that if you don’t stand up to chemical weapons, they’re going to take it as a green light and use them on a recurring basis,” he said.
An Army lieutenant colonel said the White House has only bad options but should resist the urge to abort the plan now.
“When a president draws a red line, for better or worse, it’s policy,” he said, referring to Obama’s declaration last year about Syria’s potential use of chemical weapons. “It cannot appear to be scared or tepid. Remember, with respect to policy choices concerning Syria, we are discussing degrees of bad and worse.”
Experts: Don’t bomb chemical weapon sites in Syria
August 30 2013
by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) You simply can’t safely bomb a chemical weapon storehouse into oblivion, experts say. That’s why they say the United States is probably targeting something other than Syria’s nerve agents.
But now there is concern that bombing other sites could accidentally release dangerous chemical weapons that the U.S. military didn’t know were there because they’ve lost track of some of the suspected nerve agents.
Bombing stockpiles of chemical weapons â” purposely or accidentally â” would likely kill nearby civilians in an accidental nerve agent release, create a long-lasting environmental catastrophe or both, five experts told The Associated Press. That’s because under ideal conditions, and conditions wouldn’t be ideal in Syria, explosives would leave at least 20 to 30 percent of the poison in lethal form.
“If you drop a conventional munition on a storage facility containing unknown chemical agents, and we don’t know exactly what is where in the Syrian arsenal, some of those agents will be neutralized and some will be spread,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonprofit that focuses on all types of weaponry. “You are not going to destroy all of them.”
“It’s a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease,” Kimball said. He said some of the suspected storage sites are in or near major Syrian cities like Damascus, Homs and Hama. Those cities have a combined population of well over 2 million people.
When asked if there is any way to ensure complete destruction of the nerve agents without going in with soldiers, seizing the chemicals and burning them in a special processing plant, Ralf Trapp, a French chemical weapons consultant and longtime expert in the field, said simply: “Not really.”
Trapp said to incinerate the chemicals properly, temperatures have to get as hot as 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Experts also say weather factors, especially wind and heat, even time of day, what chemicals are stored, how much of it is around and how strong the building is all are factors in what kind of inadvertent damage could come from a bombing.
There is one precedent for bombing a chemical weapons storehouse. In 1991, during the first Persian Gulf War, the U.S. bombed Bunker 13 in Al Muthanna, Iraq. Officials figured it contained 2,500 artillery rockets filled with sarin, the same nerve gas suspected in Syria. More than two decades later the site is so contaminated no one goes near it even now.
That bunker is a special problem for inspectors because “an entry into the bunker would expose personnel to explosive, chemical and physical hazards,” says a 2012 report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which implements the international chemical weapons convention.
Pentagon planners are also worried about accidentally triggering a nerve agent attack by hitting weapons stores that have been moved by the government to new locations.
Over the past six months, with shifting front lines and sketchy satellite and human intelligence coming out of Syria, the U.S. intelligence community has lost track of who controls some of the government’s chemical weapons supplies, according to one senior U.S. intelligence official and three other U.S. officials briefed on the information presented by the White House as reason to strike Syria’s military complex. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the briefings publicly.
That’s a very real risk, said Susannah Sirkin, international policy director for the Physicians for Human Rights, which has been monitoring weapons of mass destruction for more than two decades.
“You would risk dispersing agents into the environment,” she said. “Given that sarin is not seen or smelled, that’s terror.”
Another issue is that by bombing storage sites that are near contested areas in the civil war, the chemical weapons can fall into others’ hands, including extremist rebels or pro-Assad militia, Kimball said.
“What we’re looking at in Syria is an unprecedented situation,” Kimball said.
AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.
Experts Fear U.S. Plan to Strike Syria Overlooks Risks
By ANNE BARNARD and ALISSA J. RUBIN
Published: August 30, 2013
New York Times
BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Obama says he is considering a “limited, narrow” military strike against Syria — an aim that many Middle East experts fear overlooks the potential to worsen the violence in Syria and intensify a fight for regional influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Supporters of the president’s proposal contend that a limited punitive strike can be carried out without inflaming an already volatile situation. But a number of diplomats and other experts say it fails to adequately plan for a range of unintended consequences, from a surge in anti-Americanism that could bolster Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to a wider regional conflict that could drag in other countries, including Israel and Turkey.
“Our biggest problem is ignorance; we’re pretty ignorant about Syria,” said Ryan C. Crocker, a former ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University.
The American strike could hit President Assad’s military without fundamentally changing the dynamic in a stalemated civil war that has already left more than 100,000 people dead. At the same time, few expect that a barrage of cruise missiles would prompt either side to work in earnest for a political settlement. Given that, the skeptics say it may not be worth the risks.
“I don’t see any advantage,” said a Western official who closely observes Syria.
In outlining its tentative plans, the Obama administration has left many questions unanswered. Diplomats familiar with Mr. Assad say there is no way to know how he would respond, and they question what the United States would do if he chose to order a chemical strike or other major retaliation against civilians.
That would leave the United States to choose between a loss of credibility and a more expansive — and unpopular — conflict, they said. “So he continues on in defiance — maybe he even launches another chemical attack to put a stick in our eye — and then what?” Mr. Crocker said. “Because once you start down this road, it’s pretty hard to get off it and maintain political credibility.”
For the United States, the challenge is to deliver the intended message to Mr. Assad without opening the door to a takeover by rebels linked to Al Qaeda, the collapse of state institutions, or a major escalation by Syria’s allies. Skeptics doubt that the United States — or anyone else — has the information to calibrate the attack that precisely.
That is partly because the United States is preparing to inject itself into a conflict that is no longer just about Syria, but has become a volatile regional morass that pits Iran and Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon, against Qaeda affiliates backed by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf benefactors.
Iran’s and Syria’s defense ministers threatened on Friday to unleash attacks on Israel if Mr. Assad was in danger. While Hezbollah has said it would wait to see the scale and nature of the attacks before responding, in practice, analysts close to the organization said, it is probably prepared for any contingency.
There is also concern that Shiite-led Iraq could send thousands more militants to help Mr. Assad if it believed he was truly threatened, and that such a step would in turn further rally and embolden Sunni jihadists on both sides of its border with Syria.
Many diplomats and analysts consider retaliation unlikely, but the consequences could be grim. Israel has vowed that if Hezbollah attacks it again, it will respond forcefully, drawing Lebanon into war. And if Syria lobbed missiles into Israel and it responded with airstrikes through Lebanese airspace that threatened Mr. Assad further, Hezbollah would consider that further justification to attack Israel.
Even without such a direct entanglement, Lebanon could be very vulnerable. It has recently suffered its worst sectarian violence in years: a car bomb in Shiite Hezbollah territory in the Beirut suburbs, and two at Sunni mosques in the northern city of Tripoli. Lebanese authorities accused Syria on Friday of involvement in the Tripoli attacks, and intelligence officials fear such bombings could increase.
Within Syria, there is also the prospect of civilian casualties, either from errant American missiles or among people near the target sites. The Syrian government has put some military bases in populated areas, and thousands of political and other prisoners are held in security buildings. Although the strikes are said to be aimed at elite units involved in chemical weapons use, Reuters reported Friday that many Sunni conscripts have been effectively imprisoned on bases because they are not trusted, leaving them vulnerable, too.
Significant casualties among the very people American officials say they are protecting could be exploited by the government. “That will completely empty any justification for this” in the eyes of many, the Western official said.
Some likely targets are in areas that up to now have remained relatively secure, including the corridor from western suburbs of Damascus to the Lebanese border. And in Damascus itself, a bubble of relative security, residents have expressed fear that in the aftermath, clashes could erupt. That could create a new humanitarian crisis and new refugee flows to Syria’s already burdened neighbors. American officials say they do not expect a refugee crisis because of the strikes’ limited nature, but Human Rights Watch has called on them to plan for the unexpected.
“We haven’t received any indication that plans for beefed-up humanitarian response are under way,” said Lama Fakih, the group’s deputy director in Beirut.
Anger over American involvement could also undo one of the major benefits to American interests from the Arab uprisings by restoring the alliance against Israel that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah had with the Sunni Palestinian group Hamas. The conflict in Syria has sorely tested that alliance, with Hamas supporting the Sunni-led Syrian rebellion.
Verifying information in Syria is extraordinarily hard, and another risk, however remote it may seem to American officials, is that it turns out that the Assad government was not responsible for the chemical attack. In any case, in a region where many have their doubts after the faulty intelligence that led to war in Iraq, wide sectors of the public may remain convinced. That would allow Mr. Assad to paint himself as the victim of an unjust American intervention and draw more supporters back to his fold.
All that said, no one is suggesting that the United States or other countries should turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons or the suffering of civilians. The problem, Mr. Crocker said, is to figure out a response that leaves the Syrians, the region and the United States in a better position rather than entangled in another messy conflict with an uncertain outcome.
Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, and Alissa J. Rubin from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Moscow ‘Working Hard’ to Prevent Use of Force Against Syria – Kremlin
August 30, 2013
MOSCOW,– Moscow is focused on preventing any use of force against Syria, a Kremlin aide affirmed Friday.
“So far Russia is working hard to avoid any scenario involving the use of force with regard to Syria,” presidential aide Yury Ushakov said in reply to a question about what Moscow could do if force is used against the Assad regime.
He also said the United States has not handed Russia any “surveillance data” suggesting that Damascus has used chemical weapons, adding that Moscow does not believe claims that is had done so.
“They [Americans] are citing the secrecy of some information,” Ushakov said.
“We don’t have that evidence, and we don’t believe it,” he said.
The Syria issue is not on the agenda of the G20 summit due to take place on September 5-6 in St. Petersburg but it is bound to be discussed on the sidelines, Ushakov said.
“Syria should be discussed, and there is no doubt that it will be,” he said.
Obama strike would not weaken Assad’s military strength, experts warn
White House says any strike would be ‘discreet and limited’ in statement intended to reflect reluctance to draw US into conflict
by Spencer Ackerman and Paul Lewis in Washington
The Obama administration’s preferred option for a potential strike on Syria is likely to leave Bashar al-Assad’s government with significant chemical weapons and military infrastructure, according to military analysts.
Although vice-president Joe Biden said on Thursday that President Obama had yet to take a final decision on attacking the Syrian regime for allegedly gassing civilians on 21 August, administration statements ruled out several military options more severe than aerial bombing or sea-based missile strikes.
In the first confirmation of the scope of any attack, White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday that Obama was contemplating “something that is discreet and limited.”
But “boots on the ground” or “any military options aimed at regime change” were not up for discussion, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday. Similarly, “we’re not talking about a Libya-style, open-ended no-fly operation,” she said.
The statements reflect the administration’s reluctance to draw the United States into Syria’s two-and-a-half-year civil war as a combatant. Administration officials have argued that the August 21 chemical attack, which they contend is Assad’s responsibility, compels an as-yet-unspecified response owing to the longstanding international norm renouncing chemical weapons use.
For over two years, neither Assad nor the rebel coalition fighting for his removal have been able to capture and sustain a decisive military advantage. Several US military analysts, while reluctant to commit the US to a fourth overt war in a Muslim country since 9/11, cautioned that Assad’s military capabilities, including his chemical weapons capabilities, might not be significantly weakened after a cruise missile strike or bombing campaign.
Assad’s post-strike resilience may create pressure for Obama to intervene further, they said – an outcome the administration seeks to avoid.
Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the anti-proliferation Arms Control Association, warned of the environmental risks of striking Syrian chemical silos or stockpiles and releasing toxic chemicals. He considered such strikes unlikely.
“The strikes that the US and UK are contemplating, if they decide on them, will be directed against political and military leadership targets, as well as the means by which Assad’s forces can deliver chemical weapons again,” Kimball said, including rocket sites and air bases for Russian-supplied helicopters and jets that serve as delivery systems for chemical weapons.
“That could degrade the ability of Assad to deliver chemical weapons, but it won’t eliminate it, and it won’t eliminate the actual stockpiles, which can only be eliminated when this terrible civil war is over,” Kimball said.
Barry Pavel, a former staff member on the national security council under the Bush and Obama administrations, said officials would be frequently revising a list of potential targets, seeking to avoid chemical weapons sites, which, if struck, could leak chemical agents into civilian areas.
“It looks likely we’ll go after air defence radars, air force bases and aircraft, ground force units,” he said. “And there would be some targets I imagine that include military command and control facilities.”
The US is also likely to strike Syrian air defenses and airfields that Russia and Iran use to resupply Assad – something that Chris Dougherty, an analyst with the influential Center on Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said would create “a wider range of options for the president” should Obama order additional military strikes.
“After an initial cruise-missile strike, the Assad regime would likely retain much of its WMD facilities and individual warheads, but would likely have a significantly degraded ability to actually employ those weapons,” Dougherty said.
“Going after hardened or buried facilities would require a more substantial air campaign, while going after initial warheads, caches and depots would require exquisite ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tools] and possibly special operations forces.”
The top Republican on the Senate armed services committee, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, came out in opposition to an attack on Syria Thursday in advance of an unclassified conference call scheduled for the late afternoon to discuss the intelligence tying Assad to the August 21 attack.
“Today I told the administration that I cannot support military action in Syria unless the president presents to Congress his broader strategy in the region that addresses our national security interests and the budget to support it,” Inhofe said in a statement.
“Our troops are stretched thin, the defense budget has been slashed to historic levels and we are facing an unprecedented time of unrest across the Middle East amid growing concerns about Iran’s influence on the region and its nuclear ambitions. No red line should have been drawn without the strategy and funding to support it.”
Christopher Harmer, a former US navy officer in the Middle East, said the US would “have to get involved deeper” if it wanted to avoid Assad’s chemical stocks falling into the hands of either Hezbollah or al-Qaida’s allies in Syria, including providing “follow-on support to secular rebels”.
“A limited strike is worst than nothing at this point,” said Harmer, now an analyst with the hawkish Institute for the Study of War.
“Syria is devolving – it’s going toward a failed state. If we’re not willing to consequentially intervene to stop it, we need to consequentially intervene to stop the dispersal [of chemical weapons] before they get into the hands of non-state actors.”
Faysal Itani, a visiting fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said strikes would “shake up” Assad’s regime but not lead to any strategic rethinking or alter the balance of power on the ground. “That means the war will continue on its current trajectory,” he said.
“The greatest spillover effect would be in Lebanon, which is Syria’s weakest neighbor – that would take the form of refugees, which now constitute about a quarter of Lebanon’s population.”
Tom Donnelly, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said: “What’s on offer appears to be the worst of both worlds” – with the US drawn into the bloody Syria conflict but not sufficiently drawn in to affect its outcome.
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Lapdog media learns nothing, beats war drums again
Have we forgotten Judith Miller already? Or Colin Powell at the U.N.? Before attacking Syria, let’s know the truth
August 29, 2013
by Patrick L. Smith
As of this writing, early Thursday morning, some Syrians are scheduled to pay with their lives for America’s “credibility.” The bombarding of an already war-ravaged country is acknowledged as “symbolic,” intended simply to “send a message.” This is an obscenity as great as the one Washington purports to answer. Another Middle Eastern society will come further unstitched, and those doing the unstitching will have nothing on offer to replace it.
The U.S. long ago squandered what credibility it may once have enjoyed or desired in the Mideast. If credibility were the cause, Washington need do no more than start dismantling the Potemkin village it has made of the principles it tediously mouths.But this thought goes nowhere these days.
And so the U.S. stalks into another war in the Middle East. Unlike the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—American works of art, both—the conflict in Syria is somebody else’s canvas. But apart from this, the similarities among these three instances of Washington’s wanton hostility toward uncompliant regimes are astonishingly similar.
Make that tragically similar. History proceeds, we Americans insist on the virtue of ignorance, on learning nothing and knowing nothing. And what we are about to get is what we get, predictably and always. We are a singular people, no question. Maybe even exceptional.
As of these hours, the Obama administration is on the record as rejecting any deliberations the U.N. may judge just. On Wednesday evening, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave in to Labour Party objections to his support for Washington’s invasion plans. Britain now wants to see a U.N. report on the alleged chemical attacks from weapons instructors, and to give the Security Council process more time.
But listen closely to President Obama speaking Wednesday on PBS’ “Newshour” and it is clear the U.S. could go it alone against the Syrian regime if need be. “We’re prepared to work with anybody – the Russians and others – to try to bring the parties together to resolve the conflict,” Obama said. “But we want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people … you’re also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected, and that needs to stop.”
So not even the fig leaves of international assent matter now.
Events since the apparent attacks with chemical substances in four residential districts of Damascus last week bear all the marks of a disgraceful bum’s rush. Given that the cruise missiles the Obama administration is about to send into Syria will bear the chalk signatures of every American, like a World War II bomb, we are the chumps of the piece (once again, that is). This is a shared responsibility. It makes us complicit.
The fabrications and duplicity put before us as Washington prepares to “respond” to the latest savagery in Syria are so strangely formed that it is hard to follow the bouncing ball. The Obama people have changed their story diametrically before our eyes, casting aside all consistency, self-evidently making it up as they go along. And it is the same story recited countless times before. Maybe it is the only story Americans can articulate or grasp—a disturbing thought, but one begging consideration at this point.
Stories require media, of course, and there they are, on the case in the Syrian crisis and delivering the goods with irresponsible single-source stories dressed up as responsible multiple-source stories. When was it that journalists began thinking of themselves as national security operatives? It is getting unbearable, this errand-boy act in the face of power. If journalists did their jobs properly we would get into fewer messes such as Syria and would be more nationally secure. As it is now, the press is a defective piece in the democratic mechanism.
Instantly after news of chemical weapons and fatalities arrived last week, Washington and its allies began clamoring for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to allow a team of U.N. inspectors to examine the sites in question. It absolutely had to be. Nothing else would do. We read this.
Within 48 hours, the Obama people asserted that any such scrutiny was beside the point. When Assad gave assent to the U.N. team’s visit, which was not much delayed given the shelled zone is a battlefield, he was “too late to be credible.” All the evidence would have “degraded,” as we also read.
Too late? Degraded? The U.N. team is one of experts. They are in Syria to examine sites where chemicals were allegedly used months ago and would not be there if the question of degradation were authentic. This we did not read, with one exception. On Wednesday the New York Times’ science correspondent, William Broad, had the integrity and sense to cite non-government sources—Yikes!—to point out that chemical agents used in weaponry do not dissipate for a woefully long time. Skeptics can ask the Vietnamese.
The Broad piece got the bottom of page eight. As I.F. Stone once said of the Washington Post, the paper is always a kick because you never know where you will find a front-page story.
By early this week, if you can take this in, U.S. officials were privately urging the U.N. to abort the mission in Syria. Washington had plainly decided by this time that evidence was not quite the thing. We did not read this, either—not in an American publication.
We come to the Mack truck Obama’s people want to park unnoticed in the driveway. “Evidence” of chemical weapons use, even as Obama’s people dodged from any, quickly became “undeniable” (Secretary of State Kerry), a matter of “no doubt” (Vice President Biden), and many other forcefully stated things. This language we read in abundance—and with no decent, professional scrutiny on the part of those conveying it.
And did you notice? Evidence of use became evidence of the Assad regime’s use. This is the trump suit in the game. No mention by any U.S. official that responsibility may lie with the awful-as-Assad insurgents. And of course one could not read of this prospect in U.S. newspapers or hear it from U.S. broadcasters. An indefensible lapse in logic also goes unnoted. I honestly cannot figure how dumb we are supposed to be.
We are promised incontrovertible evidence of Assad’s guilt in the course of Thursday. Needless to anticipate. In wars of imagery and spectacle, variants of the above-described routine are frequently rehearsed. Think yellowcake, or Colin Powell at the United Nations, or Judith Miller’s “metal tubes” or “mobile weapons labs” in Iraq so eagerly reported by the New York Times.
I aired my suspicions that the insurgents might well be the culprits in this space last week. I stand by these thoughts times two.
Assad’s opponents do not possess supplies of sarin gas or other chemical agents, it is suggested.
Rubbish. Not so by a long way. And they have behaved as savagely as anyone in Assad’s army.
The rebels could not be capable of mounting an attack of the scale apparent in Damascus last week, we are also advised.
The defensible position is that of the Russians and responsible elements within Britain: They want a proper investigation and propose we all abide by it.
Carla del Ponte, the noted investigator of war crimes and a member of the U.N. inquiry on Syria, asserted in May that there was sound reason to examine whether the insurgents were responsible for an obscenity in Syria at that time involving sarin gas. The U.N. human rights investigator said that, “According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas,” adding that her commission’s best understanding of the facts was that “sarin gas has been used … by opponents, by rebels, not by government authorities.”
She was tarred and feathered, as our media are versed at doing in the best American tradition.
But Obama appears determined to circumvent the U.N. regardless of what its investigators suggest. On Wednesday Britain advanced a resolution in the Security Council calling for intervention, but this was pro forma. The Security Council is composed as it is so that alternative worldviews are properly represented. Obama honors alternative worldviews as much as George W. Bush treasured them. So no U.N., not with a veto in the offing from Russia, a Security Council member. Better to go lawless again, and that is the word to bear in mind as the fireworks display unfolds in the coming days.
In the run-up, there is some piling on. We have once again the crummy “coalition of the willing” junk, familiar from the Iraq war: There are the batboy British, the flimsy resistance of Labourites notwithstanding, and the uncertain France of François Hollande, and Angela Merkel’s Germany (complicated motives there), and of course Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, which is (on the record) eager to regionalize the Syria question so that Iran can be bombed. I have previously identified Bibi as the most dangerous man in the Middle East, and he earns the title once again.
The Arab League says no. The European Union says no. Even NATO equivocates as of this hour. Take it apart. Most of humanity is not on board for this adventure in theater.
I conclude with what I consider the caker, the preposterous-news- of-the-week prize, even if we cannot read about it in our country but online.
“The bulk of evidence proving the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons—which would provide legal grounds essential to justify any western military action—has been provided by Israeli military intelligence.” That would be the reliable folk at Mossad. The quotation comes from the Guardian, which simply reported on a report in a German magazine called Focus.
My goodness. Send in the clowns. They’re already here.
Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications.
162 Representatives, Including 64 Democrats, Call for Debate & Vote Before War With Syria
August 30, 2013
by Robert Naiman
By my count, at least 162 Members of the House of Representatives, including 64 Democrats, have done at least one of the following things in the last few days: 1) signed a letter initiated by California Democrat Barbara Lee saying that there must be Congressional debate and vote before war with Syria; 2) signed a letter initiated by Virginia Republican Scott Rigell saying that there must be Congressional debate and vote before war with Syria 3) issued a statement calling for a Congressional debate and vote before war with Syria. I don’t claim that this count is exhaustive. If you know of other examples, please share them in the comments.
By my count, at least 64 Democrats in the House have done at least one of these three things. Add this to the 98 Republicans who signed the Rigell letter and you get 162.
These are the 54 Democratic signers of the Lee letter, according to Lee’s office:
Barbara Lee, Mike Honda, Lois Capps, Zoe Lofgren, John Lewis, Jackie Speier, Raúl Grijalva, Robin Kelly, Beto O’Rourke, Michael H. Michaud, Mark Pocan, Peter A. DeFazio, Peter Welch, Chellie Pingree, Nydia M. Velázquez, Sam Farr, Stephen F. Lynch, Lloyd Doggett, Janice Hahn, Jared Huffman, Tulsi Gabbard, Emanuel Cleaver, Rush Holt, Jim McDermott, Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Suzanne Bonamici, José E. Serrano, George Miller, Donna F. Edwards, Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Steve Cohen, Marcy Kaptur, Danny K. Davis, Alcee L. Hastings, James P. McGovern, Judy Chu, Marcia L. Fudge, Alan S. Lowenthal, Charles B. Rangel, Bobby L. Rush, Carolyn B. Maloney, Janice Schakowsky, Donna M. Christensen, David Loebsack, Richard M. Nolan, Henry A. Waxman, Diana DeGette, Yvette D. Clarke, Keith Ellison, Niki Tsongas, Eleanor Holmes Norton, John A. Yarmuth, Julia Brownley.
These are the 18 Democratic signers among the 116 signers of the Rigell letter, as noted by The Hill:
Zoe Lofgren, Rush Holt, Beto O’Rourke, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader, William Enyart, Tim Walz, Sam Farr, Bruce Braley, Jim McDermott, Michael Capuano, Anna Eshoo, Earl Blumenauer, Peter Welch, Rick Nolan, David Loebsack, Jim Matheson, Collin Peterson.
Sixty-three Democrats signed at least one of the two letters.
In addition, New York Democrat Jerry Nadler put out a statement saying that there must be a debate and vote.
Why does this matter? It matters because if President Obama were to strike Syria without Congressional authorization, he would violate the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution.
But it also matters because debate surfaces key information.
Earlier this week, press was reporting that the U.S. bombing of Syria could start as early as Thursday.
By Thursday, here had been no bombing.
Instead, on Thursday, AP reported that “the intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed at least 100 people is no ‘slam dunk,’” and that this “uncertainty calls into question the statements by Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden”:
So while Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that links between the attack and the Assad government are “undeniable,” U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad’s orders, or even completely sure it was carried out by government forces, the officials said.
Ideally, the White House seeks intelligence that links the attack directly to Assad or someone in his inner circle to rule out the possibility that a rogue element of the military decided to use chemical weapons without Assad’s authorization. Another possibility that officials would hope to rule out: that stocks had fallen out of the government’s control and were deployed by rebels in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war.
Kerry had said: “We know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons.”
By Thursday, we knew that what Kerry said on Monday was not true. He said “we know.” But, according the U.S. intelligence officials cited by AP, we don’t know.
If the bombing had happened on Thursday, then the bombing would have happened before AP reported that what Kerry said on Monday was not true.
Can people still say with a straight face that Congress shouldn’t debate and vote before the President attacks Syria, or that it doesn’t matter if they do?
Syria crisis: Where key countries stand
August 30, 2013
Following a cautious reaction to the initial reports of a chemical weapons attack, American rhetoric has hardened. Secretary of State John Kerry said the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was “undeniable” and a “moral obscenity”.
Washington has recently bolstered its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, prompting speculation that preparation for an attack is under way. Analysts believe the most likely US action would be sea-launched cruise missiles targeting Syrian military installations.
A government motion in support of military action in Syria has been rejected by MPs in Parliament, forcing the UK to rule itself out of any joint intervention.
This was seen as a blow for the government of Prime Minister David Cameron. Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was clear “we can’t allow the idea in the 21st Century that chemical weapons can be used with impunity”.
French President Francois Hollande has said France is prepared to go ahead with military intervention, even though the UK will play no part in any action.
“France wants firm and proportionate action against the Damascus regime,” he told a French newspaper, and indicated it could come within the week.
France has been amongst the most hawkish Western countries with regard to Syria, being the first Western power to recognise the main opposition coalition as the Syrian people’s legitimate representative. In May, France, along with the UK, successfully lobbied for the EU’s arms embargo to be lifted so as to allow further supplies to the rebels.
Russia is one of Mr Assad’s most important international backers and has stressed the need for a political solution to the crisis.
It has sharply criticised any possibility of Western strikes on Syria, saying action taken outside the UN Security Council threatened “catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and Northern Africa”.
China has joined Russia in blocking resolutions critical of Syria at the UN Security Council. It has also criticised the prospect of strikes against Syria.
The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, said Western powers were rushing to conclusions about who might have used chemical weapons in Syria before UN inspectors had completed their investigation.
Berlin has ruled itself out of participation in any military action. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told a German newspaper that “such participation has not been sought nor is it being considered by us”.
Germany has said in the past that proof of the use of chemical weapons by the government of Bashar al-Assad would demand “consequences” but has not set out what those consequences should be.
The Turkish government has been one of the most vocal critics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since early on in the uprising. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper that the country was ready to join an international coalition for action against Syria even in the absence of agreement at the UN Security Council.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf
The monarchies of the Gulf are said to have been key in funding and supplying the rebel forces. Saudi Arabia has been a rival of the Syrian government for years and has been particularly active in pushing for action against Mr Assad, with former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan reportedly trying in recent weeks to garner international support for further support for the rebels.
Despite initially avoiding becoming involved in the conflict, Israel has carried out three strikes on targets in Syria this year, reportedly to prevent weapons shipments reaching the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, which has a close alliance with the Syrian government. Shelling and gunfire from Syria has also hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, drawing return Israeli fire.
More recently, Israeli officials have condemned the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces and hinted at support for military action. “Our finger must always be on the pulse. Ours is a responsible finger and if necessary, it will also be on the trigger,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
However, Israeli officials will be aware that any Western action against Syria risks a repeat of events in the first Gulf War in 1991, when Iraq attacked Tel Aviv with Scud missiles in an attempt to draw Israel into the conflict and prompt the withdrawal of Arab countries from the war. Reports say demand for gas masks in Israel has increased in response to speculation over military action.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told Lebanese radio that he did not support the idea of strikes on Syria, saying: “I don’t think this action would serve peace, stability and security in the region.”
Two bomb attacks which killed almost 60 people in Lebanon in August were linked to tensions over the Syrian conflict. The Lebanese Shia militant movement Hezbollah has openly taken part in combat in Syria on the side of the government, and there have been reports of some in the Sunni community fighting on the side of the rebels. In addition, the country is already playing host to the largest number of Syrian refugees of any country.
Information Minister Mohammad Momani told the AFP news agency that Jordan would not be used as “a launch pad” for any military action against Syria.
“Jordan renews its calls for a political solution in Syria and urges the international community to intensify efforts to reach such a solution,” he said. “Jordan’s armed forces are capable of defending the country.”
Senior military officials from Western and Middle Eastern countries have met in Jordan to discuss possible military intervention scenarios. Jordan is currently home to half a million Syrian refugees.
Iran has been Syria’s main backer in the region since well before the current conflict and has been highly critical of any prospect of intervention.
It has warned a top UN official visiting Tehran of “serious consequences” of any military action.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi also repeated claims that it was in fact rebels who used chemical weapons, AFP reports.
Iraq has not been as critical of Syria as some other Arab countries and will also be concerned at the effect that any escalation in Syria could have on increasing sectarian violence.
“We have been against any military action, and we are hoping for a peaceful political solution to the crisis,” said Ali al-Musawi, media adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
In June Egypt’s then President Mohammed Morsi cut off relations with Syria and called for a no-fly zone.
However, after Mr Morsi was removed from office by the army, the new authorities have taken a more cautious stance. Egypt’s interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy has said that “there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis, and the solution must be a political solution”.
U.S. spy agencies mounted 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, documents show
August 30, 2013
by Barton Gellman and Ellen Nakashima
U.S. intelligence services carried out 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, the leading edge of a clandestine campaign that embraces the Internet as a theater of spying, sabotage and war, according to top-secret documents obtained by The Washington Post.
That disclosure, in a classified intelligence budget provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, provides new evidence that the Obama administration’s growing ranks of cyberwarriors infiltrate and disrupt foreign computer networks.
Additionally, under an extensive effort code-named GENIE, U.S. computer specialists break into foreign networks so that they can be put under surreptitious U.S. control. Budget documents say the $652 million project has placed “covert implants,” sophisticated malware transmitted from far away, in computers, routers and firewalls on tens of thousands of machines every year, with plans to expand those numbers into the millions.
The documents provided by Snowden and interviews with former U.S. officials describe a campaign of computer intrusions that is far broader and more aggressive than previously understood. The Obama administration treats all such cyber-operations as clandestine and declines to acknowledge them.
The scope and scale of offensive operations represent an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers.
“The policy debate has moved so that offensive options are more prominent now,” said former deputy defense secretary William J. Lynn III, who has not seen the budget document and was speaking generally. “I think there’s more of a case made now that offensive cyberoptions can be an important element in deterring certain adversaries.”
Of the 231 offensive operations conducted in 2011, the budget said, nearly three-quarters were against top-priority targets, which former officials say includes adversaries such as Iran, Russia, China and North Korea and activities such as nuclear proliferation. The document provided few other details about the operations.
Stuxnet, a computer worm reportedly developed by the United States and Israel that destroyed Iranian nuclear centrifuges in attacks in 2009 and 2010, is often cited as the most dramatic use of a cyberweapon. Experts said no other known cyberattacks carried out by the United States match the physical damage inflicted in that case.
U.S. agencies define offensive cyber-operations as activities intended “to manipulate, disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy information resident in computers or computer networks, or the computers and networks themselves,” according to a presidential directive issued in October 2012.
Most offensive operations have immediate effects only on data or the proper functioning of an adversary’s machine: slowing its network connection, filling its screen with static or scrambling the results of basic calculations. Any of those could have powerful effects if they caused an adversary to botch the timing of an attack, lose control of a computer or miscalculate locations.
U.S. intelligence services are making routine use around the world of government-built malware that differs little in function from the “advanced persistent threats” that U.S. officials attribute to China. The principal difference, U.S. officials told The Post, is that China steals U.S. corporate secrets for financial gain.
“The Department of Defense does engage” in computer network exploitation, according to an e-mailed statement from an NSA spokesman, whose agency is part of the Defense Department. “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”
‘Millions of implants’
The administration’s cyber-operations sometimes involve what one budget document calls “field operations” abroad, commonly with the help of CIA operatives or clandestine military forces, “to physically place hardware implants or software modifications.”
Much more often, an implant is coded entirely in software by an NSA group called Tailored Access Operations (TAO). As its name suggests, TAO builds attack tools that are custom-fitted to their targets.
The NSA unit’s software engineers would rather tap into networks than individual computers because there are usually many devices on each network. Tailored Access Operations has software templates to break into common brands and models of “routers, switches and firewalls from multiple product vendor lines,” according to one document describing its work.
The implants that TAO creates are intended to persist through software and equipment upgrades, to copy stored data, “harvest” communications and tunnel into other connected networks. This year TAO is working on implants that “can identify select voice conversations of interest within a target network and exfiltrate select cuts,” or excerpts, according to one budget document. In some cases, a single compromised device opens the door to hundreds or thousands of others.
Sometimes an implant’s purpose is to create a back door for future access. “You pry open the window somewhere and leave it so when you come back the owner doesn’t know it’s unlocked, but you can get back in when you want to,” said one intelligence official, who was speaking generally about the topic and was not privy to the budget. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.
Under U.S. cyberdoctrine, these operations are known as “exploitation,” not “attack,” but they are essential precursors both to attack and defense.
By the end of this year, GENIE is projected to control at least 85,000 implants in strategically chosen machines around the world. That is quadruple the number — 21,252 — available in 2008, according to the U.S. intelligence budget.
The NSA appears to be planning a rapid expansion of those numbers, which were limited until recently by the need for human operators to take remote control of compromised machines. Even with a staff of 1,870 people, GENIE made full use of only 8,448 of the 68,975 machines with active implants in 2011.
For GENIE’s next phase, according to an authoritative reference document, the NSA has brought online an automated system, code-named TURBINE, that is capable of managing “potentially millions of implants” for intelligence gathering “and active attack.”
When it comes time to fight the cyberwar against the best of the NSA’s global competitors, the TAO calls in its elite operators, who work at the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters and in regional operations centers in Georgia, Texas, Colorado and Hawaii. The NSA’s organizational chart has the main office as S321. Nearly everyone calls it “the ROC,” pronounced “rock”: the Remote Operations Center.
“To the NSA as a whole, the ROC is where the hackers live,” said a former operator from another section who has worked closely with the exploitation teams. “It’s basically the one-stop shop for any kind of active operation that’s not defensive.”
Once the hackers find a hole in an adversary’s defense, “[t]argeted systems are compromised electronically, typically providing access to system functions as well as data. System logs and processes are modified to cloak the intrusion, facilitate future access, and accomplish other operational goals,” according to a 570-page budget blueprint for what the government calls its Consolidated Cryptologic Program, which includes the NSA.
Teams from the FBI, the CIA and U.S. Cyber Command work alongside the ROC, with overlapping missions and legal authorities. So do the operators from the NSA’s National Threat Operations Center, whose mission is focused primarily on cyberdefense. That was Snowden’s job as a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, and it required him to learn the NSA’s best hacking techniques.
According to one key document, the ROC teams give Cyber Command “specific target related technical and operational material (identification/recognition), tools and techniques that allow the employment of U.S. national and tactical specific computer network attack mechanisms.”
The intelligence community’s cybermissions include defense of military and other classified computer networks against foreign attack, a task that absorbs roughly one-third of a total cyber operations budget of $1.02 billion in fiscal 2013, according to the Cryptologic Program budget. The ROC’s breaking-and-entering mission, supported by the GENIE infrastructure, spends nearly twice as much: $651.7 million.
Most GENIE operations aim for “exploitation” of foreign systems, a term defined in the intelligence budget summary as “surreptitious virtual or physical access to create and sustain a presence inside targeted systems or facilities.” The document adds: “System logs and processes are modified to cloak the intrusion, facilitate future access, and accomplish other operational goals.”
The NSA designs most of its own implants, but it devoted $25.1 million this year to “additional covert purchases of software vulnerabilities” from private malware vendors, a growing gray-market industry based largely in Europe.
‘Most challenging targets’
The budget documents cast U.S. attacks as integral to cyberdefense — describing them in some cases as “active defense.”
“If you’re neutralizing someone’s nuclear command and control, that’s a huge attack,” said one former defense official. The greater the physical effect, officials said, the less likely it is that an intrusion can remain hidden.
“The United States is moving toward the use of tools short of traditional weapons that are unattributable — that cannot be easily tied to the attacker — to convince an adversary to change their behavior at a strategic level,” said another former senior U.S. official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.
China and Russia are regarded as the most formidable cyberthreats, and it is not always easy to tell who works for whom. China’s offensive operations are centered in the Technical Reconnaissance Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army, but U.S. intelligence has come to believe that those state-employed hackers by day return to work at night for personal profit, stealing valuable U.S. defense industry secrets and selling them.
Iran is a distant third in capability but is thought to be more strongly motivated to retaliate for Stuxnet with an operation that would not only steal information but erase it and attempt to damage U.S. hardware.
The “most challenging targets” to penetrate are the same in cyber-operations as for all other forms of data collection described in the intelligence budget: Iran, North Korea, China and Russia. GENIE and ROC operators place special focus on locating suspected terrorists “in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, and other extremist safe havens,” according to one list of priorities.
The growth of Tailored Access Operations at the NSA has been accompanied by a major expansion of the CIA’s Information Operations Center, or IOC.
The CIA unit employs hundreds of people at facilities in Northern Virginia and has become one of the CIA’s largest divisions. Its primary focus has shifted in recent years from counterterrorism to cybersecurity, according to the budget document.
The military’s cyber-operations, including U.S. Cyber Command, have drawn much of the public’s attention, but the IOC undertakes some of the most notable offensive operations, including the recruitment of several new intelligence sources, the document said.
Military cyber-operations personnel grouse that the actions they can take are constrained by the legal authorities that govern them. The presidential policy directive on cyber-operations issued in October made clear that military cyber-operations that result in the disruption or destruction or even manipulation of computers must be approved by the president. But the directive, the existence of which was first reported last fall by The Post and leaked in June by Snowden, largely does not apply to the intelligence community.
Given the “vast volumes of data” pulled in by the NSA, storage has become a pressing question. The NSA is nearing completion of a massive new data center in Utah. A second one will be built at Fort Meade “to keep pace with cyber processing demands,” the budget document said.
According to the document, a high-performance computing center in Utah will manage “storage, analysis, and intelligence production.” This will allow intelligence agencies “to evaluate similarities among intrusions that could indicate the presence of a coordinated cyber attack, whether from an organized criminal enterprise or a nation-state.”