Malfunction Likely Put U.S. Drone in Iranian Hands

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrea Shalal-Esa and David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The unmanned U.S. drone Iran said on Sunday it had captured was programmed to automatically return to base even if its data link was lost, one key reason that U.S. officials say the drone likely malfunctioned and was not downed by Iranian electronic warfare.

U.S. officials have been tight-lipped about Iranian claims that its military downed an RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, a radar-evading, wedge-shaped aircraft dubbed “the Beast of Kandahar” after its initial sighting in southern Afghanistan.

The U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan said the Iranians might be referring to an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that disappeared on a flight in western Afghanistan late last week. But they declined to say what type of drone was involved.

A U.S. government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plane was on a CIA mission. The CIA and Pentagon both declined to comment on the issue.

The incident came at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. The United States and other Western nations tightened sanctions on Iran last week and Britain withdrew its diplomatic staff from Tehran after hard-line youths stormed two diplomatic compounds.

The United States has not ruled out military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over the program, which Washington believes is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

The RQ-170 Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin, was first acknowledged by the U.S. Air Force in December 2009. It has a full-motion video sensor that was used this year by U.S. intelligence to monitor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan ahead of the raid that killed him.

Former and current military officials familiar with the Sentinel said they were skeptical about Iranian media reports that Iran’s military brought down one of the drones in eastern Iran, especially since Tehran has not released any pictures of the plane.

POSSIBLE ‘CATASTROPHIC’ MALFUNCTION

The aircraft is flown remotely by pilots based in the United States, but is also programmed to autonomously fly back to the base it departed from if its data link with U.S.-based pilots is lost, according to defense analyst Loren Thompson, who is a consultant for Lockheed and other companies.

Other unmanned aircraft have a similar capability, including General Atomics’ Predator drone, industry sources said.

The fact that the plane did not return to its base suggests a “catastrophic” technical malfunction, agreed one industry executive familiar with the operation and programming of unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. officials say they always worry about the possibility of sensitive military technologies falling into the hands of other countries or terrorist groups, one reason U.S. planes quickly destroyed a stealthy helicopter that was damaged during the bin Laden raid in Pakistan.

Many classified weapons systems have self-destruction capabilities that can be activated if they fall into enemy hands but it was not immediately clear if that was the case this time.

In this case, the design of the plane and the fact that it had special coatings that made it nearly invisible to radar were already well documented. If it survived a crash, all on-board computer equipment was heavily encrypted.

Lockheed confirmed that it makes the RQ-170 drone, which came out of its secretive Skunk Works facility in southern California, but referred all questions about the current incident to the Air Force.
Thompson and several current and former defense officials said they doubted Iranian claims to have shot the aircraft down because of its stealthy features and ability to operate at relatively high altitudes.

Iran was also unlikely to have jammed its flight controls because that system is highly encrypted and uses a direct uplink to a U.S. satellite, they said.

“The U.S. Air Force has experienced declining attrition rates with most of its unmanned aircraft. However this is a relatively new aircraft and there aren’t many in the fleet, which means that malfunctions and mistakes are more likely to occur,” Thompson said.

One former defense official familiar with the RQ-170 and other unmanned aircraft said he “absolutely” agreed that the aircraft was not lost due to any action by Iran.

Exact details about the drone remain classified but industry insiders say the plane flies at around 50,000 feet and may have a wing span of up to 90 feet. Its shape harkens back to the batwing design of the radar-evading B-2 bomber.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)

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Imran Khan: Unplugged

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Love him or hate him, you can no longer ignore him. Following the Lahore rally, Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf have emerged as a force on the field of Pakistani politics.
But to many he is still a mystery: is he a superstar, a philanthropist, a politician, or all three? Who is he really, and what does he stand for?

Imran Khan

Q: Some call you Taliban Khan, and some call you Inqilab Khan. So the first question I want to ask is: will the real Imran Khan please stand up?
Imran Khan (IK): (laughs) … You missed out one thing… I’m also part of the Jewish lobby.

Q: And of course you’re a slave of the US and Europe, according to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

IK: And according to PML-N, there is also a Jewish conspiracy going on.

Q: So we need the real Imran to tell us who he is. First, let’s talk about Shah Mahmood Qureshi. After his resignation, he can either go for the Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) or the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), and now you’re going to tell us which one it is.

IK: I’m hoping he joins PTI because he fits the profile of what I expect a PTI office bearer to be. He’s honest, a clean politician who is educated and is a bit of an anomaly in this system. He has a vote bank and has a lot of political experience which our party lacks because we’ve got new people. Here is someone who started from the union council level and has been contesting elections for years and so he brings in a lot of experience.

Q: On the point of new people joining the party, one of the statements you made recently is that PTI will not award tickets to corrupt people and opportunists…but can those corrupt people and opportunists still join your party?

IK: If someone is a known crook then they can’t join the party, but there are a lot of shades of grey. This is a society where it is difficult to be honest, and even if you try to be honest, society forces you to be dishonest. For example, I was trying to transfer land from my ex-wife’s name to mine and it took me one year just to have a simple transfer done. I kept asking my lawyer why it’s taking so long and, without telling me, he eventually bribed the patwari because otherwise it would have gone on forever! So to say that we will find angels here is not possible. But we will try and sift through relatively better politicians. For instance, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Mian Azhar are clear-cut choices.

Q: Why is Mian Azhar a clear-cut option? A lot of people are criticising that decision because Mian Azhar was the head of the PML-Q under Pervez Musharraf and he lost the elections in 2002 so why him?

IK: Because he is honest and nobody has accused him of corruption. If we exclude everyone who has changed parties or is of a slightly different ideology then it will be impossible to get anyone. So we have decided that it is financial corruption we’ll concentrate on, which is the biggest reason why we are in the state we are today. If we can fight corruption in Pakistan then the country becomes viable.

Q: But don’t you see a contradiction there when you have somebody like Mian Azhar who represents the old status quo politics and you say you are representing ‘new’ politics?

IK: It’s not a contradiction and I’ll tell you why. It’s because revolutions are not brought about by political workers. It’s the leadership that comes up with a certain ideology. I remember Fidel Castro saying that he started the Cuban Revolution with 16 people who formed his ideological core. The most invaluable part of the PTI are the core workers and office bearers who have survived 15 years in the wilderness. I mean, we have passed through the most difficult test where everyone wrote us off. So those people who stuck it out were the ideological workers and office bearers. Everyone can join and there are a lot of people joining but the ideology of PTI will be protected by this old guard.

Q: Is the real Imran Khan a risk taker?

IK: Imran Khan was always a risk taker. Everyone said “Minar-e-Pakistan! Oh you’re doomed now” and of course Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif had their own rally in quite a small venue, despite full administrative support, so everyone said you’re taking a huge risk with Minar-e-Pakistan. But anyone who has achieved anything in life has always been a risk taker.

Q: So what happened that day on October 30th when you arrived at the venue and saw all those people? What was your instant reaction?

IK: You know I had four interviews before the 30th and in each interview I said that there will be over a hundred thousand people at the rally. When I said that we will sweep the elections, people laughed! And I actually made a bet with Talat Hussain on Kashif Abbasi’s programme saying that we will sweep the elections. He was very cynical about it and then on another programme I gave him in writing that the PTI will sweep the elections. The reason was…and I’ve never said this before…the reason was in the past year I’ve seen the people change. That’s because I’m probably the only politician who was going around holding public rallies because others were too scared. I could see that the youth had suddenly woken up and decided that there was only one party that stood for the change they wanted. So each rally was larger than the last. So when it came to the Lahore rally, I felt it would be a big success and I was very relaxed. My party workers were worried but I was relaxed about it.

Q: When I first interviewed you in Lahore in 1997, the PTI was quite new. It was your first time in politics and I remember quite clearly at that time you had said corruption is the most serious problem affecting this country and that all corrupt people should be hanged. There was a certain naivety that you had at that time. The Imran Khan sitting in front of me here today…how has he changed?

IK: This is a country where thousands of children die from waterborne diseases, where over 1,600 people have committed suicide because they can’t feed their families and here are these criminals siphoning off billions of dollars. My instinct is against capital punishment, but these people are taking lives and I do believe that to stop the plunder of this country, for a while there should be capital punishment above a certain level of corruption. I was in China recently and they had a huge problem with corruption but then 150 state ministers were imprisoned and some were even executed and the problem has been largely controlled.

As for the other question, yes I was completely naive! I’d approach politicians with all sincerity and say ‘you should join me because we want to change this country’ and now when I look back I realise they must have thought what an idiot I was! Because I was being sincere and thought they’d all join me just because of that. But now of course, they’re all joining but they don’t join simply because you are sincere.

Q: Then why do they join?

IK: They join because they have invested a lot in their constituencies. Some of them will join because they are total opportunists and think you are going to win. Others (I think) want to join you but feel you’re not viable. They feel they’ve done a lot of work and built a vote bank and don’t want to join someone who is sincere but unviable.

Q: You say corruption causes billions of dollars in losses and that you want to bring back the money and assets that are in the Swiss banks. How are you going to do this? What is your game plan?

IK: Firstly it is important to know that only a government that is clean can bring that money back. I don’t know if you saw Rehman Malik’s comment after Shahbaz Sharif’s rally on the 28th where Shahbaz said “We’ll bring back the Swiss money,” so Rehman Malik the next day said, “the Sharifs better be careful because we know where all their foreign assets are and we know all the corruption cases against them so they better not cross this line.” In other words they are saying, “let’s keep sparring but let’s not cross a certain point” because they know that once an accountability process starts, both of them will be affected. So you need a clean government to do this. Secondly, the world has changed. Once you start corruption proceedings against anyone with foreign assets, as with (former Tunisian president) Zine Abedin Ben Ali, (former Egyptian president) Hosni Mubarak and Qaddafi, all their foreign assets are immediately frozen. We are no longer in the old days where you could hide your money in Swiss banks. Now there is a money trail, so if a government has the will and there are people who cannot explain their assets, it can get this done. That’s why our main campaign is to have politicians declare their assets.

Q: But all these politicians declare their assets before the Election Commission. You don’t consider that viable?

IK: It is so obvious that they have concealed their real assets. That is why someone as rich as Nawaz Sharif will only pay Rs5,000 in tax. Then there’s me, a politician who was a professional cricketer for 18 years and I earned most of my money abroad. And all my money is in Pakistan and declared in my name. So how is it that these people, who only earned or plundered money from Pakistan, have assets abroad? They even sent the money abroad through hawala and other channels and laundered it. That’s why we insist that politicians must declare their assets.

Q: Do you seriously think they will?

IK: We have now set up a cell to bring out the real assets. So we will see what they have concealed even if they want to hide it.

Q: Leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N says if you have proof you should go to the courts.

IK: We might do that, but the problem is that it is the duty of the state to stop corrupt people. Instead here is a state which protects criminals. Here the judgments of the Supreme Court are ignored by all. When the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was annulled, why did the PML-N not do anything in the assemblies? Why did they sit around? If they are a genuine opposition, they should have stood up. But the problem is that the PML-N leadership has a number of corruption cases against it so it’s a “you scratch my back I scratch yours” situation. It became the friendliest opposition which is why now you’re seeing them panicking and going for a “Go Zardari Go” campaign because they have suddenly realised that the PTI has now taken over as the main opposition and they are trying to reoccupy that space which they have lost.

Q: Why is the PTI opening up multiple fronts simultaneously? With the PML-N, the PPP and the MQM. The only people you haven’t attacked yet are the ANP and I suspect that is not too far in the list at this point.

IK: We are not attacking parties, but the status quo as represented by the PML-N and the PPP. In sports we learn that you have to know your enemy and then go for them. Who is destroying this country? It’s the two main parties and their interests are the same. They have been in this coalition for almost all the time since 2008 and now they are trying to pretend they are actually in opposition with each other because they are threatened by us. Threatened by the tsunami that is coming. When they attack each other, it’s like watching a fixed match!

Q: You have always strongly opposed drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. You have declared the war on terror an American war and vowed to hang all those responsible for the deaths of the over 35,000 people killed in terror attacks as well as drone strikes. This will probably confuse a lot of people. Who exactly do you hold responsible?

IK: First, let me make it clear that I never used the word hang. I said we would bring them to justice. The reason is this country has had 35,000 to 40,000 people dead and more are dying every day. Zardari says the country has lost $70 billion, which means the people have lost this money. The government has got $20 billion, but we don’t know where it went because the people are getting poorer and there are three and a half million people who have been displaced and the entire tribal belt has been devastated. People have been devastated; you cannot imagine the way they are living because no one is allowed to go in there and see. Life is hell for them. So, why did we get into this? We were not involved in 9/11, no Pakistani was involved. Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan, there were no militant Taliban in Pakistan and in any case the Taliban were not terrorists, but fundamentalists. We went in for dollars. Our ruling elite have always sold us for dollars. Some 20 years ago we were in this for dollars again, acting as a frontline state. We were creating jihadis for dollars then and now we are taking dollars to kill the same people. After 9/11 we should have helped the US, just as we should help any country suffering from terrorism, but not like this. We have created terrorists at home.

Q: What kind of help would you have offered?

IK: If there was any information about the plot, about the plotters, then we should have provided it to them.  But help doesn’t mean that we should have handed over our civilians for bounty and have them end up in Guantanamo. We did a U-turn, we turned people who were our allies into our enemies. The Afghan Taliban government, as far as I am concerned, was a pro-Pakistan government.

Q: The Taliban government in Afghanistan was a pro-Pakistan government?

IK: They were not giving us any problems and Pakistan had recognised them. Now if the US had an issue with them, we should have stayed neutral. Why did we have to get into this mess? The reason we are in these top ten failed states lists is because the ruling elite has sold us for dollars.

Q: Let’s get specific. You say that there are one million armed people in the tribal areas who, if the drone attacks stopped, would happily remove terrorists living in their areas. Isn’t that a little unrealistic? We know that these people have been taking money [from militants], we know that they have been supporting militancy in many ways. The general perception is that withdrawing the Pakistani army from the tribal areas would allow militants to regroup.

IK: The general perception is there because of total ignorance, people have absolutely no idea about the tribal areas. The politicians don’t know about it, and no one knows the history of the tribal areas. When the great Quaid-e-Azam withdrew the Pakistani army from the tribal areas in 1948, the politicians said, “Don’t withdraw the Pakistani army, we will have problems.” What happened? We never had one problem in the tribal areas ever since we withdrew the army although we deprived [the tribals], we never helped them, never spent any money on them. We kept them backwards but still there was never any problem for Pakistan. If anything, they helped us and were always ready to help Pakistan. The number one question is: why was the whole tribal belt not on fire before? Do you know that we started military operations in early 2004 and it took three years of collateral damage to produce what are called the Pakistan Taliban. This was a reaction to the military operations.

Q: So what is your counter-narrative?

IK:  There is only one way to understand, we have to get people on board who know the area. There are generals and diplomats, like Rustam Shah Mohmand, people who know the tribal area. Ask them what the answer is. The politicians have completely sublet the whole war to the army, and which civilian government allows the army to run a war? If I was prime minister, would I allow the army to make all the decisions? No. I am a politician and politicians look for political solutions, not military solutions. Especially if those solutions have failed for seven years. What have we achieved in seven years? What has the US achieved in 10 years in Afghanistan? Nothing. If anything, radicalisation in Pakistan has grown. So we have actually made the situation much worse. So if you speak to anyone who has any understanding of the tribal areas, there is only one solution: win the people of the tribal areas to your side, start truth and reconciliation, say that we are no longer a part of this American war on terror. They consider the Pakistan army to be fighting on behalf of the Americans as a mercenary army.

Q: I want to throw one word into the equation: Swat.

IK: Please understand that Swat has nothing to do with the tribal areas. Swat was a mess we created and it could have been solved in a month. Swat is a totally different thing and unfortunately people did not understand the difference between Swat and the tribal areas and they confused the solutions of the two. The solution to the tribal areas is to get out of the US war, pull out the Pakistani army and tell the people of the tribal area, after truth and reconciliation, that it is your job to finish terrorism.

Q: Let me present an argument here.

IK: Let me give the solution here. If you empower the people of the tribal areas, get the Pakistan army out and no longer be considered a hired gun of the US, I promise you we will win this war. Otherwise, this is a never-ending war. For eighty years, the British never had peace in the tribal areas. They were a superpower. We are a country which is bankrupt. For 62 years, the Mughal Empire, which was a global superpower, fought against the tribals and eventually there was a political settlement. There is only a political settlement, and the PPP, the most incompetent and corrupt government in our history, is not going to be able to do anything. We are committing suicide. In the All Party Conference on Sept 29th, there were 50 parties and they all finally came down to what our stance has consistently been, that there is no military solution. All of them accepted that there was only one solution and that was to give peace a chance.

Q: What would you say to American policymakers who are convinced that the Haqqani network operates out of safe havens in the tribal areas? In the regional endgame when it comes to Afghanistan, what is your solution?

IK: I would tell the American policymakers: for God’s sake don’t listen to your generals. You need a political settlement, you don’t need more troops, you don’t need a surge. The surge has failed in Afghanistan. And I would ask the American politicians , is it plausible that five or six thousand Haqqani men, these fighters, these Rambos, are the reason one hundred and forty thousand soldiers of the greatest military machine in history are facing defeat? The Americans are fighting an entire population and they’ll never win the war because they don’t understand Afghan history. Read the Russian accounts; they killed a million Afghans out of a population of 60 million. They said that eventually they were fighting women, and children. The whole population was fighting.

Q: So here we come back to the same question, is Imran Khan a conservative, a fundamentalist or a liberal?

IK: You know, people pigeonhole people a lot. The only reason I wrote my book was because I was sick of the question: Are you a liberal? A fundamentalist? A radical?  What are you? I wrote this book for the young people of Pakistan because there is so much confusion here. What is Islam? What is religion? What is secularism? So to try and answer all these questions, I thought I better put all of this down in a book and try to make people understand what religion is and what spirituality is. In fact, my conclusion is that the threat to the world is not from religion because all the great religions of the world talk about humanity, justice, and the noble values of human beings. It is naked materialism we should be scared of because it’s going to destroy the globe. It’s this lust for more and more and this unfettered greed. It is this extreme form of capitalism that’s the danger.

Q: But the underpinning of modern civilisation is capitalism.

IK: But if we keep consuming at the rate we are, we are doomed. Imagine if China starts consuming, per capita, at the same rate as the US. It’ll all be over! The real issue is consumption and greed — attacking countries because you want to capture their resources, as has been done throughout history, that’s the real issue. Religion is not the issue. A true religion should make us all humane.

Q: Among many circles, the biggest fear is that Imran Khan will come to power and his coalition partner is going to be the Jamaat-e-Islami.

IK: I don’t know about the Jamaat-e-Islami, you should ask them about their agenda. But my agenda is clear, it is the agenda of Jinnah, and that of my ideological role model Iqbal. As for religion, it is a way of life, a way of being. It is religion which brings out the best in a human being. The only reason I am a politician is because my religion tells me that I have a responsibility to my society. Otherwise, I have everything I want in my life.  I don’t need anything. But it’s religion which tells you that the more God gives you, the more responsibility you have towards less privileged human beings.  And this is really why it is important to promote religious values and spiritual values as opposed to the materialistic culture which is unfortunately imbibed by our upper classes. This culture of “me” and “I” can only be countered by spirituality.

Q: One of the statements you recently made was that the ISI should be under civilian control. Are you advocating that the country’s military intelligence agencies should be brought under a civilian ministry?

IK: What I am saying is that the military should stay within its constitutional role. In a democratic government, it’s the civilian government that takes responsibility and has authority. No management structure can work if you divide it up so that someone else has the authority and someone else the responsibility. It doesn’t work. In the case of Prime Minister Gilani, he has the responsibility but President Zardari has the authority. It doesn’t work.

Q: Now another crucial question. In your rally you said you want to eradicate thana culture, the police structure in this country, and the patwaris. But here is the critical point: politics in Pakistan is very strongly based on biradaris and dharras, clans and community structures that are centuries old. How can you be okay with biradaris and say that that is part of the political process and at the same time be uprooting institutions that are also a part of the same structure?

IK: Well. First of all, if you want to bring about a change in Pakistan, the fundamental change you have to make is to empower your people. You empower your people by having a strong local government system. Western societies give freedom to their people not through a centralised system but through a devolved structure of empowering the people at the grass roots level. Now, before the British came here, under the Mughals and even before that, the village was actually empowered. The village was a self -contained unit. In fact, if you go to the tribal areas today, you will find that the village has its own jury system, it has its own parliament. It’s actually autonomous.

Q: A lot of us believe that it is a parallel judicial structure and you can’t have jirgas meting out their own brand of justice.

IK: In the tribal areas, this is not a parallel structure, it is the only structure. There is only one structure, where every village has its own jury system and it has worked very well for them, which is why they don’t want to become part of Pakistan. In Swat, one of the reasons why they started the Nifaz-e-Shariat movement is because the imposed system did not work. When Swat became part of Pakistan in 1974, Pakistani laws came in and their whole devolved structure of free justice at the village level disappeared. Suddenly they had to hire lawyers and pay fees and still had no guarantee of justice. So the poorer classes all joined this movement to bring their system back. You have to empower people at the grassroots level, in other words at the village level.

Q: But that is the level where these biradaris, powerful clans and feudals continue to dominate the lives of the people.

IK: These braderies existed before the British came but at the village level, people were empowered. Remember that it’s impossible to have a false witness at the village level. In fact, Mirza Ghalib wrote in 1860 that the first time the British introduced sessions courts was the first time [the people] started hearing of false witnesses. Sixty per cent of the issues that clog the rural courts are land issues and they should be resolved at the village level. The schools should be under the village committee, and the same goes for the local health services.

Q: Do you support biradari politics?

IK: How are you going to destroy it?

Q: How are you going to destroy thana culture?

IK: They are not linked. Thana culture is feudal and perpetuates the feudal system. The first thing a politician does when he comes into office is he gets his own thanedar and patwari in place. This is because he wants to control the thana, he wants to control the patwari and therefore he enslaves the people. What I am talking about is empowering the people through local government. One of the greatest Pakistanis was Akhtar Hameed Khan and in the Orangi Pilot Project, he proved to people that the moment you empower the people, the people can lift their own standard of living. They can look after themselves.

Q: And the problem that many people feel that the PTI is going to be mired in the politics of clans and of all of these old structures that exist. Do you think that the PTI can break free of these feudal structures as well as these biradaris?

IK: Look Quatrina, I won the election in one of the most difficult rural areas. I understand about biradari systems. The moment you destroy the oppression in the thana, you will liberate the people. How does a feudal operate? The way the feudal operates is by controlling the thana. If you liberate the people from the thana, you give them justice at the village level, which is the most important thing. That is how you will liberate the people. I went to China and understood how the Chinese got four hundred million people out of poverty in twenty years. There were some interesting ideas that came out, and one of them was how to help the small farmer. If you want to help the small farmer, you must liberate him from the thana and the patwari system.

Q: How?

IK: We have to have e-government. We have a plan through which we can implement a whole system in 90 days and bring in e-government which can not only eliminate corruption but also help people.

Q: That’s for when and if you get into government, what’s your political plan right now?

IK: We are going to have a rally in Karachi on the 25th of December. The whole objective of the rally is reconciliation. We want to bring everyone together, especially the Urdu-speaking community and the Pashtuns. We are probably the only party that can get these two ethnic groups together and not engage in the divisive politics which certain people and parties exploit. They make people fight each other and get votes and power through discord and bloodshed. Our idea is to bring about a grand reconciliation.

Q: Nawaz Sharif has now officially gone on the warpath against the government. Will you ally yourself with Nawaz Sharif for your mutual goal of removing the current administration?

IK: I think after 30 years of seeing power, it is time for Nawaz Sharif to think of retirement. Thirty years is a long time.

This interview has been adapted from the televised interview of Imran Khan by Quatrina Hosain on Witness with Quatrina, which aired on 14th November 2011

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 24th, 2011.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, redistributed or derived from.
Unless otherwise stated, all content is copyrighted © 2011 The Express Tribune News Network.
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The Express Tribune

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Imran Khan: Man of the Hour

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Imran Khan: New Trouble Man for US in Pakistan The PTI leader criticized not only President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but also blasted US policies in the biggest-ever show of political power in Lahore in the past 25 years

By Hamid Mir

2011-10-30T180751Z_1187942809_GM1E7AV062Z01_RTRMADP_3_PAKISTAN

Imran Khan gestures after arriving to lead the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) rally in Lahore October 30, 2011.    

REUTERS/Raza

ISLAMABAD — Imran Khan is no more a cricketer turned politician. He has suddenly become an important regional player in the US endgame in Afghanistan.

A mind-blowing public rally of Imran Khan in Lahore on October 30 made it very difficult for the Zardari regime to give new commitments or accept any demands from the US to push its decade-long war against terror. Imran Khan has not only become a threat for traditional political parties inside Pakistan but is also going to become a big hurdle in the implementation of demands made by US during the recent visit of Hillary Clinton to Islamabad.

The PTI leader criticised not only President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but also blasted US policies in the biggest-ever show of political power in Lahore in the past 25 years. The last time Lahore saw this kind of political tsunami was on April 10, 1986 when late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned after many years in exile. A big reception to the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a bombshell for the then military dictator. Benazir Bhutto addressed a big rally in Iqbal Park, adjacent to the historical Lahore Fort. That rally was the beginning of General Zia’s end.

The October 30 rally by Imran Khan in the same Iqbal Park also looked like an end of pro-US policies started by General Pervez Musharraf ten years ago. Imran addressed US Secretary of State as “Chachi Clinton”

(Aunty Clinton) and said a big no to any more army operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas. It will now be impossible for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and its coalition partners to start new operations in North Waziristan or even continue the old operations from South Waziristan to Khyber Agency. Elections are close and no political government can take the risk of going against public opinion.

Hillary Clinton is these days desperately looking for someone who can become a bridge between Afghan Taliban and the US. Imran Khan can make some serious efforts in this regard but is more focused on the situation inside Pakistan. He has offered his services for the engagement of Pakistani Taliban but wants assurances that there will be no more military operations.

Imran said all this just one day before the meeting of President Asif Ali Zardari with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Istanbul. The US has arranged this meeting through Turkish President Abdullah Gull for the success of the Istanbul conference. Army Chief General Kayani also left for Turkey on Monday. Afghan officials will discuss the US endgame with Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, UAE, Turkey, US and UK in Istanbul Conference from November 1.

The US wants some commitments from Pakistan at this conference and that is why the Pakistani Army Chief is also invited to this conference.

However, Imran Khan’s massive anti-American rally has made it very difficult for Pakistani leaders to oblige their friends from Saudi Arabia and Turkey who have became part of the process on the US request.

Imran criticized the Army operations in the tribal areas in very strong words. He clearly said some tribal elders had given him assurances that if US drone attacks were stopped and the Pakistan Army halted operations in the tribal areas they would control all militants. Imran Khan also arranged meetings of these tribal elders (mostly from North Waziristan) with his ex-wife Jemima Khan who is making a documentary against drone attacks.

Jemima and Imran are separated but often meet because of their two sons. An American lawyer Clive Smith is also helping Jemima and they are planning a big campaign against drone attacks in the Western media.

Jemima writes for Vanity Fair magazine. She is helping not only Imran but also Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, and Assange may also speak at the inauguration of documentary against drone attacks. The documentary is expected to have a lot of “WikiLeaks”. Imran Khan has repeatedly said, “Pakistan has changed”. He threatened, “I will not spare anyone who gave Pakistani bases to US and sold my people for dollars.”

Without naming Pervez Musharraf he sent him a message not to come back to Pakistan. He also said: “We want friendly relations with every country but we cannot accept slavery of America”. Imran Khan came out openly in support of the Kashmiris and advised India to withdraw its troops from Kashmir.

He tried to satisfy the central Punjab voters who are not happy with the soft stance of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif on India. This hawkish stance will definitely bring him closer to the military establishment but he opposes military action in Balochistan. He also criticized the role of Pakistan Army in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in his recently published book “Pakistan a Personal History.”

According to the sources in Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) more than a dozen ambassadors from different Western countries wanted to see Imran Khan this week but he left for China immediately after addressing the mammoth public rally in Lahore on Sunday night. He will be a guest of the Chinese government. His opponents often declared him “Taliban Khan” or the “modern face of Jamat-i-Islami” but hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed the songs of many popular singers in the Lahore rally.

For some critics it became a grand musical show but the fact is that the crowd enjoyed the music at a public place after a very long time.

Pakistan has many popular pop singers but they cannot sing at public places due to fear of suicide bombings that started in 2007. There was a suicide attack on the musical show of Sono Nagam sometime back in Karachi and after that many pop singers were threatened not to sing at public places. Many singers like Adnan Sami, Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar tried their luck in India in recent years but now they can come back.

Imran Khan is bringing back not only the political activities on the roads but also encouraging many pop singers like Shehzad Roy to sing publicly who made songs against drone attacks. Roy presented his famous song ‘uth bandh kamar kya darta hey phir dekh Khuda kya karta hey” in the Sunday rally. Thousands of youngsters were dancing on this song and Imran was clapping with them.

Imran Khan is becoming the voice of the common Pakistanis who are neither religious extremists nor secular fascists. He is becoming a ray of hope for those disgruntled youngsters who have started hating democracy due to bad governance and corruption. These youngsters can now bring about a change in Pakistan through their vote power. Youth is the real power of Imran Khan and this youth belongs to the lower middle, middle class. This is the most disillusioned class in Pakistan but now the youth of this class is becoming active, which is a positive sign.

Dozens of sitting parliamentarians are contacting Imran Khan for joining his PTI. Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and many political big shots will make some shocking decisions soon but Imran is more interested in young blood and well-educated minds.

He warned the government on Sunday that all politicians must declare their assets inside and outside Pakistan within a few months failing which his party would launch a civil disobedience movement and block all major cities with public support. For many analysts he is emerging as the third option after Zardaris’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.

Some say he will ruin Nawaz Sharif in the central Punjab and PPP would be the ultimate beneficiary. Imran does not agree with this analysis.

He always criticizes PPP and PML-N jointly because one is ruling at the center and the other is ruling Punjab, which is more than 60 percent of Pakistan. Imran has definitely proved that he enjoys more political support in Lahore than Nawaz Sharif but it does not mean that he is going to get clear majority in the coming elections. He needs some winning horses not only in the central Punjab but also in south Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Sindh.

He needs big rallies in Faisalabad, Multan, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta and then he can make some bigger claims. He will definitely make dents not only in the vote bank of PML-N but will also damage the PPP badly. There are 25 seats of national assembly in Lahore division of which PML-N has 20, PPP has 3 and PML-Q has one. Imran may snatch at least half of the PML-N and all the seats won by PPP and PML-Q in Lahore. Out of 23 seats in Gujranwala division PML-N has 13, PPP 8 and PML-Q has 2. Imran will damage PPP and PML-Q more than PML-N in Gujranwala. There are 20 seats in Faisalabad division – PML-N has only 4 while PML-Q has 8 and PPP has 7 seats.

Many sitting members of the national assembly from Faisalabad are pleading to Imran to accept them in his party. Some PPP, PML-Q and ANP members from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also in contact with Imran, which means that his popularity is not confined to Punjab.

His biggest stronghold in the north is the tribal area where he is expected to make a clean sweep and more than 10 seats are in his pocket. This is the same area where he will not allow government to start any new Army operations.

If there is no operation then what will be the future of Pakistan-US relations? Zardari regime is at the crossroads. There is US pressure from one side and the PTI pressure from the other.

Nawaz Sharif was trying to play safe by targeting only Zardari and not the US but Imran Khan has suddenly changed the political dynamics in Pakistan. He is the new trouble man for US and also for the pro-US political elite in Pakistan. All the popular parties have no option other than to follow his anti-Americanism.

Hillary Clinton needs to realize the wave of change in Pakistani politics. She cannot understand this change without engaging Imran Khan. October 30 was just a beginning. World will see more changes on the political map of Pakistan and Imran Khan will play a leading role.

The News (Pakistan)

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Pakistan Gets UNSC Seat

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Pak Says India Played Role

PTI

india-pakistan-flag_0

KARACHI: India played a big role in supporting Pakistan’s successful bid to become a non-permanent member of the powerful UN Security Council, Islamabad’s envoy to the world body Abdullah Hussain Haroon said here today.

Many of the countries that Pakistan had considered as friends were no longer its friends, but India “supported us in becoming a non-permanent member of the 15-member Security Council,” Haroon told reporters at the Karachi airport.

Pakistan, which was challenged by Kyrgyzstan, was backed by 129 of the 193 member states in the UN General Assembly. Kyrgyzstan polled 55 votes.

Pakistan will replace Lebanon, which currently occupies the Asian seat, on January 1, 2012, for a two-year term.

Haroon said that Pakistan had worked very hard in the past six months to win votes for the prestigious seat.

“I think we should not be discouraged by the reaction by some of the nations in the UN because I can say the world wants Pakistan to play its positive role in the global scenario,” he said.

Pakistan has been on the Council six times earlier — 1952-53, 1968-69, 1976-77, 1983-84, 1993-94 and 2003-04. It’s new term would overlap with India — which began its two-year tenure on January 1 this year — for the fourth time.

Pakistan and India had earlier shared terms on the Security Council in 1968, 1977 and 1984.

Haroon said Pakistan was committed to multilateralism and promoting principles and purposes enshrined in the UN Charter.

To a question on US drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, he said he could only take up the issue if the government authorised him to do so. “But we should not be scared of these attacks.” he added.

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Former Intel Chief: Call Off The Drone War (And Maybe the Whole War on Terror)

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Shachtman

ASPEN, Colorado Ground the U.S. drone war in Pakistan. Rethink the idea of spending billions of dollars to pursue al-Qaida. Forget chasing terrorists in Yemen and Somalia, unless the local governments are willing to join in the hunt.

Those arent the words of some human rights activist, or some far-left Congressman. Theyre from retired admiral and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair the man who was, until recently, nominally in charge of the entire American effort to find, track, and take out terrorists. Now, hes calling for that campaign to be reconsidered, and possibly even junked.

Starting with the drone attacks. Yes, they take out some mid-level terrorists, Blair said. But theyre not strategically effective. If the drones stopped flying tomorrow, Blair told the audience at the Aspen Security Forum, its not going to lower the threat to the U.S. Al-Qaida and its allies have proven it can sustain its level of resistance to an air-only campaign, he said.

The statements wont exactly win Blair new friends in the Obama administration, which forced him out of the top intelligence job about a year after he was nominated. Not only has Obama drastically escalated the drone war thereve been 50 strikes in the first seven months of this year, almost as many as in all of 2009. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the remotely-piloted attacks the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaida leadership.

Plus, American relations with the Pakistani government are at their lowest point in years. And every time Washington tries to tip off Islamabad to a raid, it seems, the targets of the raid seem to conveniently skip town. No wonder the U.S. kept the mother of all unilateral strikes the mission to kill Osama bin Laden a secret from their erstwhile allies in Pakistan.

But Blair believes the cooperation not only with Pakistan, but also with the government in Yemen and with whatever authorities can be found in Somalia is the only way to bring some measure of peace to the worlds ungoverned spaces. We have to change in those three countries, he told the Forum (Full disclosure: Im a moderator on one of the panels here.)

The reconsideration of our relationship with these countries is only the start of the overhaul Blair has in mind, however. He noted that the U.S. intelligence and homeland security communities are spending about $80 billion a year, outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet al-Qaida and its affiliates only have about 4,000 members worldwide. Thats $20 million per terrorist per year, Blair pointed out.

You think woah, $20 million. Is that proportionate? he asked. So I think we need to relook at the strategy to get the money in the right places.

Blair mentioned that 17 Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by terrorists since 9/11 14 of them in the Ft. Hood massacre. Meanwhile, auto accidents, murders and rapes combine have killed an estimated 1.5 million people in the past decade. What is it that justifies this amount of money on this narrow problem? he asked.

Blair purposely let his own question go unanswered.

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Metal Allies–The new face of a faceless global war: drones and the CIA.

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By William Saletan

uav4tf31In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has developed an air force of drones to fight its new enemies. Faced with terrorists willing to take any life, we built machines that hunt and kill but don’t bleed.

In the next decade, our reliance on drones and the spies who support them may increase for a different reason: We’re losing friends.

Since Sept. 11, the U.S. drone fleet has grown from a few dozen to 7,000. The Air Force now trains more pilots to operate drones than to fly bombers or fighter jets. Spy drones have flown extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we’ve fought ground wars. But killer drones have been particularly useful in Pakistan, where we can’t send troops.

Every time U.S. ground forces have entered its territory—most recently in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden—Pakistan has freaked out. But Pakistani leaders have tolerated U.S. drone strikes that killed nearly 2,000 insurgents in the country’s frontier provinces over the past five years. In fact, since the Bin Laden raid, the drone strikes have escalated and spread.

Hand in hand with the drone war, the CIA’s role has expanded. Like the drones, the CIA is invisible. It can hunt and kill in a country without officially being there. So while the military operates our drones in Afghanistan, the CIA operates them in Pakistan. Apparently, we’ve been allowed to launch some of our drone missions over Pakistan from bases within the country.

That may change. The Bin Laden raid, coupled with a lethal incident involving a U.S. agent inside Pakistan, has frayed the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Instead of investigating Pakistani officials who may have helped shelter Bin Laden, Pakistan has rounded up people it suspects of helping the CIA set up the raid. Pakistan has also snuffed out a U.S. program to train Pakistani troops to fight al-Qaida. And the CIA has caught insurgents being tipped off when the U.S. shares intelligence with Pakistan.

So the U.S. is preparing to fight on without Pakistan’s help. The backup plan is to move our drones to Afghan bases and fly them into Pakistan from there. And as we pull out of Afghanistan, we’d leave drones in place. That way, we can continue to hunt al-Qaida in both countries even when, as a human presence, we’re no longer there.

A similar scenario is unfolding in Yemen. With Bin Laden’s decline and death, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, led by radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, has become the chief orchestrator of terror plots against the U.S. The regime in Yemen, like the one in Pakistan, prefers that we fight this enemy with drones rather than ground forces.

Until now, the drone war in Yemen has been run by the U.S. military. But the military has screwed up. First it misidentified a target and killed a Yemeni envoy. Then it failed three times to take out Awlaki. But the bigger problem is that the Yemeni regime is unraveling. Its collaboration with U.S. forces has collapsed. Its political opponents want to take over and end U.S. military operations.

So the U.S. is preparing the same nonexit strategy. We’re putting extra CIA officers in Yemen and instructing the agency to run an expanded drone campaign based outside the country.

Legally, the U.S. military needs the consent of the host government to wage a drone war.* The CIA doesn’t. The war can be euphemized as intelligence gathering and “covert action.” Nor does Yemen have to host the drones. We can fly them over the border, as in Pakistan. We already launch drone missions over Yemen from Djibouti. Now, according to reports, we’re building a CIA base outside Yemen from which we can run a drone war in that country without its approval. U.S. officials are keeping the base’s location secret, but the logical guess is Saudi Arabia, where the drones’ intelligence-gathering network will be headquartered. Presumably, the base will support a bigger drone fleet than the Djibouti airfield, where limited runway capacity has constrained the number of drone missions.

We’re also flying killer drones over Libya. But there, we’re waging an open military conflict in concert with NATO. What’s significant about Pakistan and Yemen is that they’re off the books. We use drones instead of ground troops. We don’t even send pilots who can be shot down. We put the CIA in charge of the war so we don’t have to respect the laws of war.* And we build bases outside the country so we can conduct the entire operation by remote control, except for the collection of targeting intelligence, which we leave to the CIA.

To top it off, we put the former director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, in charge of the military. And we put our top general, David Petraeus, in charge of the CIA. The CIA and the drones are the team of the future. They’re the new face of a faceless war.

None of this is diabolical. It’s evolution. Al-Qaida, with its network of terrorist cells diffused among failed states, is an organism well-designed to evade conventional warfare. We, in turn, are evolving to fight the new threat. In a world of political chaos, waning American power, unstable allies, untrustworthy friends, and enemies who obey no rules, we’re developing a new kind of war that we can wage from regional air bases with killer machines in the air fed by covert human networks on the ground. And the scary thing isn’t that it might work. The scary thing is that it might not.

Clarification, June, 23, 2011: The Obama administration says that all its drone strikes respect the laws of war and that the U.S. military can legally wage a lethal drone campaign in a country without the consent of that country’s government. Specifically, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh said last year that it is the considered view of this Administration … that U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war. …

As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaida, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law. …

In this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law … to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al-Qaida leaders who are planning attacks. … [W]hether a particular individual will be targeted in a particular location will depend upon considerations specific to each case, including those related to the imminence of the threat, the sovereignty of the other states involved, and the willingness and ability of those states to suppress the threat the target poses.

On this view, when a state is unwilling or unable to deal with people within its borders who threaten the U.S., both the Department of Defense and the CIA can legally use drones or other lethal force against those people, in the name of self-defense, even without that state’s consent.

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More Bucks, Less Bang:

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Ineffective Weapons Disease Infects Another Generation of Weapons

By Dina Rasor, Truthout

In the early 1980s, the Pentagon was in the midst of several new generations of tanks, aircraft and missiles, especially during the Reagan defense budget buildup. It was in one of the hottest times of the cold war and I had many sources tell me that, because of nuclear weapons, there probably wasn’t going to be a land war with the Soviet Union in Europe, so these weapons were just bluff and window dressing. Much of the attitude was that it didn’t matter much if these weapons failed their test and cost too much because they were designed to look tough, but not to actually be used in war.
In many ways, the cold war was perfect for DoD managers of major weapons systems: they could project that their new technically laden weapon could do all types of terrifying things, but they were reasonably sure that they would not be used in a major war. It was the equivalent of saying you had a poker hand of four aces, really only having a couple of queens, but knowing that you wouldn’t have to lay down your hand to verify it. The problem of expensive weapons that didn’t work as advertised led me to edit a book in 1982 entitled “More Bucks, Less Bang: How the Pentagon Buys Ineffective Weapons.” The book reproduced over 30 news articles on various weapon failures with an introduction and final chapter on how the system failed and what to do about it.

Now, it is almost 30 years later and we are seeing signs of the same dilemma facing our next generation of weapons where they are costing more, but doing less than promised. The difference now is that we are currently in several hot wars and struggling through a serious recession. Many of these failing weapons are being introduced into the battlefield even as they are being developed, overrunning their costs and flunking their tests.

I could write numerous columns outlining all the current overpriced and low functioning weapons, but there is a new group of weapons that the DoD has promised to revolutionize warfare for these various wars we are involved. According to Wired.com’s Danger Room, the Pentagon plans to double its unmanned air force. This is in the face of budget cuts and concerns about the overruns and technical problems of the next generation of aircraft, especially the F-35. Unmanned aircraft, better known as drones to the public, have suddenly been elevated to new heights with the spying on Bin Laden’s compound to drone missile strikes in Pakistan. The military’s manned aircraft program is not growing, but the unmanned aircraft is slated to grow from “approximately 340 in FY [fiscal year] 2012 to approximately 650 in FY 2021,” according to the DoD’s Aircraft Procurement Plan 2012-2041.

There are already heated discussions on whether drone warfare works or not from a strategic point of view, but I will refrain from that argument today in order to just look at whether the drones are working as advertised and whether their price is becoming as prohibitive as the manned DoD aircraft.

On June 6, 2011, Bloomberg News reported that Michael Gilmore, the director of the DoD’s Operational Test and Evaluation office, declared that the newest version of Northrop’s Global Hawk “is not operationally suitable.” According to a May 27 report from the testing office, “mission-critical components fail at high rates, resulting in poor takeoff reliability, high air about rates, low mission capable rates, an excessive demand for critical spare parts and a high demand for maintenance support.”

According to Aviation Week, the Global Hawk’s poor performance had a “poor sortie turnaround performance. And, “Effective time on station (ETOS) or the amount of time the aircraft can loiter over a target gathering intelligence, was expected to be 55% but the system achieved only 27%.” There are quality problems with something as simple as nut plates that were breaking, requiring 24-hour cure time to fix the problem, thereby grounding the planes for a day each time these nut plates failed.

This “Block 30” of Global Hawk drones have already been used to fly over the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan to take thermal images of the damaged plant, and have been used in surveillance missions over Libya. The Global Hawk is a “remotely piloted spy plane that can fly at high altitudes – up to 60,000 feet – to evade easy detection. Its primary role is to take pictures, while also picking up enemy communications signals and electronic signals like those from a nuclear detonation,” according to an article from The Hill.It has been cited as the replacement for the cold war manned U2 airplane. The report that Gilmore released on the testing is highly critical and blunt for that office and has 16 recommendations to improve the Global Hawk, including upgrading the communications systems and boosting its all-weather capabilities.

The problem with looking at the recommended fixes is that the Global Hawk production costs have already overrun by at least 25 percent. The unit cost has been pegged at $113.9 to $161 million each. When you count the cost of research and development and the construction of the facilities to build it, each Global Hawk has risen to an astounding $173.3 million, rivaling many of the DoD current manned aircraft. To give it perspective, the estimate of the much-maligned F-35 is now put at $133 million each (with an equally astounding life-cycle cost of one trillion dollars.) There are threats to cut down the amount of F-35s and replace a percentage of them with current fighters.

However, even though this testing report was issued on May 27, 2011, there are assurances that the Global Hawk’s problems can be fixed and that the program will survive and the weapon will work. While Gilmore has revealed serious problems in the testing, the head of Air Force testing, Maj. Gen. David Eichorn puts a softer spin on the bad news. According to Aerospace Daily, Eichorn said that he found the system to be “effective with significant limitations … not suitable and partly mission capable.” He went on to explain his softer version of the operational tests: “I was much more comfortable with the shade of gray in this case rather than the black and white of is it effective or not.”

The pressure will be on to put in some fixes, retest the drone and quickly declare a victory to get it out in the field. Several corporate watchers say that the Global Hawk will survive this because the original Predator drone had major operational test problems, but there were enough fixes to make it effective in the field. Philip Finnegan of the Teal Group, an industry consulting group, told The Hill, “The Predator/Reaper suffered from serious criticism from testers early on, but it came back and is now very effective and I would anticipate that the Global Hawk would solve its problems.” There are still questions whether the Predator or Reaper have truly solved their testing problems because of the circle-the-wagons mentality by the Air Force and the DoD when a weapon is questioned. I am glad that Mr. Finnegan was willing to talk for free to The Hill, because the Teal Group’s white paper on unmanned aircraft costs a whopping $1,895.00 for a copy – sort of in line with the Pentagonal costs of weapons.

To help ensure that the Global Hawk survives any DoD cuts, the June 7 email issue of Politico’s Morning Defense had several Northrop ads sprinkled through the text including:

    A message from Northrop Grumman: The newest and most capable Global Hawks, Block 40, have started arriving at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. Block 40 provides affordable, state-of-the-art wide area surveillance sensor for the future.
    [and]
    The employees of Northrop Grumman salute the men and women of the U.S. Air Force and citizens of North Dakota on arrival of the first RQ-4 Global Hawk to Grand Forks Air Force Base. This milestone marks the activation of the second Global Hawk main operating base, bringing expanded intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to our troops. Global Hawk is the world’s preeminent high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, capable of flying above 60,000 feet for more than 32 hours and having already flown more than 43,000 hours in combat.

There was no mention of the severe test results that were in the press only the day before. Northrop has been running positive ads on Global Hawk in Politico’s Morning Defense since April, including extolling its virtues in combat. Since the DoD would have briefed Northrop on its results, I have no doubt that Northrop knew that the bad news was coming and wanted to soothe the problem with ads that predicted great successes for their drone.

Despite all the problems, the Global Hawk most likely will be approved for full production, despite the poor operational tests.

Inside Defense gave several reasons the Global Hawk will succeed in a June 6, 2011, story:

    Tom Christie, who headed the Pentagon’s weapons testing shop from July 2001 to 2005, when the Global Hawk Block 10 variant was being operationally assessed, doubts that the new report will impede Pentagon plans to proceed with full-rate production of the Block 30 variant.

    “Once again, we have a system that has failed to meet effectiveness and suitability requirements – but one that no doubt will probably proceed post-haste into full production and deployment,” Christie said. “In fact, the Global Hawk has been deployed for years prior to any semblance of realistic OT&E [Operational Test and Evaluation].”

    Last year, the Pentagon flagged the Global Hawk program for running afoul of statutory cost-growth thresholds for a third time. The Pentagon has spent $7.7 billion of a projected $13.9 billion to develop and acquire Global Hawk systems. The program has already breached “significant” cost growth thresholds, and on two occasions – including last June – exceeded “critical” cost growth levels, prompting the Pentagon to restructure the program and certify it as essential to national security.

    Later this month, Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s acquisition executive, is scheduled to convene the high-level Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) to consider whether to proceed with full-rate production of the Block 30 variant. As part of that review, the Pentagon plans to restructure the program, breaking out elements of the Global Hawk program into subprograms.

    This DAB meeting is expected to be a culminating moment for a program that has been under close scrutiny for more than a year, including an internal Pentagon review last summer and an Air Force-directed blue-ribbon panel set up in December.

    On April 6, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley revealed that the Pentagon was cutting the Global Hawk procurement objective from 77 to 66, a 14 percent decrease (DefenseAlert, April 21).

Here, based on my experience, is how the Air Force and Northrop will save face on this failing program and get it through, even during these tough budget times.

Many of the problems listed above are failures by Northrop to have Global Hawk do its mission and to be maintainable (remember the nut plates that broke and needed 24 hours to fix). In a realistic world, not the world of military procurement, Northrop would be expected, under their fixed-price contract, to fix these serious problems on their own dime and lose any incentives built into the contract. However, since this would be at a high cost to Northrop, the Air Force will probably declare that the fixes of these problems are actually changes requested by the government and will put in Engineering Change Orders and other government “requests” for changes (not to be called fixes anymore). This will allow the defects of this drone to be fixed at government cost, not Northrop’s cost because the government initiated the fixes. This will raise the baseline of Northrop’s fixed-price contract (called rubber baseline in the trade), nourish the contract and lessen the specter of having overruns, all because the government will now pour more money into the drone. With these fixes, the Air Force, once embarrassed, will make sure that the drone passes the next set of operational tests by tricks in the scoring of what is a failure and is not a failure. It has been a common practice for over 40 years for services to manipulate test data to make sure that a troubled weapon passes the operational tests and goes into full production.

I helped pass the law in the 1980s to set up an independent test office in the DoD, the office that Gilmore now heads. Sen. David Pryor of Arkansas read an article that I wrote about cheating on weapons testing and urging for an independent testing office, and sponsored a bill to create an independent testing office. We were successful in getting the office established, but there was much resistance in the DoD to give it enough funding and to find tough leaders of the office to insist on hard-nosed testing. One of the directors, Thomas Christie did try to fight the bureaucracy while he was head of that office, but the institutional DoD and the military services fight any bad news coming out of the office.

The Global Hawk test report was stronger than usual, but it probably won’t help fix all the problems, keep the government from paying for Northrop’s mistakes or make sure that this weapon is truly effective in the battlefield, even during an active war. Even having an independent testing office in the DoD won’t guarantee that; even when problems are made public, things will change.

Northrop will marshal its supporters in Congress and in the DoD to help them look good so that the DoD program managers will also look good and everyone will be happy. The drone programs are headquartered at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, and the Dayton Daily News helped tout that base’s future in a May 19, 2011, story headlined “Pentagon plan for drones may secure WPAFB future,” outlining how this base is “Ohio’s largest single-site employer with more than 27,000 workers …”  The district that has the bedroom communities for Wright Pat and has the base literally on the border of the district is Speaker of the House John Boehner’s district, which means that there will be a heavy hitter to make sure that the drone programs make full production and are well funded despite any bad testing news or critical cost overruns.

In the eyes of most involved in this program, everyone will win except the taxpayers who will have to pay more for a flawed weapon and the troops that will be relying on the data or lack of data that the drone is supposed to capture.

So, what is the solution here? I worked for years to make sure that there was independent review of weapons testing, but the bureaucracy has dulled its impact. The DoD just released two studies that showed that testing of a weapon does not cause delay or overrun, but that fixing the problems found in testing caused by bad management is a main reason for delay and overrun. So, the testing isn’t the problem; fixing the mistakes is a big problem.

Once again, this is such a huge problem that any small-slice solution will be quickly deformed by the crushing power of the forces that want to keep the weapons’ money flowing. I believe that this system won’t change until we successfully get rid of the overwhelming problem of self-dealing: where people in this system have personal monetary stakes in these weapon systems proceeding through the system. One of the biggest problems is the revolving door among the military, Congress and the industry. In my past column, “The Buying and Selling of the Pentagon (Part II),”  I take each group, the Congress, the military and the defense contractors, and put in very strict restrictions that forces a decision: if they want to be a part of the system that buys weapons for our troops, which puts them in a very special category, then they have to sacrifice for their country, as our troops have had to sacrifice.

These solutions are not easy, but I don’t believe that we can solve problems like the Global Hawk without drastic action.

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Taliban Reward Fighter for Shooting Down US Drone

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Malik Mumtaz Khan & Mushtaq Yusufzai, TheNews.com

MIRAMSHAH/PESHAWAR: Taliban in North Waziristan Monday rewarded one of their fighters with a new model car for shooting down the US drone on Sunday evening.

Also, government officials in the restive tribal region finally confirmed the downing of the US spy aircraft by Taliban militants. The militants led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur had claimed on Sunday shooting down the drone in Hamzoni village.

Tribal sources in Miramshah said the militants congratulated each other on Monday for shooting down the drone, known as `bangana’ locally due to the thundering sound of the pilot-less aircraft.

The militant was given a new car by the Taliban leaders as reward to shoot down the drone. The militants from adjoining villages thronged Hamzoni to have a look at the wreckage of the drone. Such drones have claimed lives of many militants and are considered the most fatal weapon.

The militants wanted to meet and congratulate their fellow fighter who accurately fired and hit the spy plane to the ground. Taliban sources confirmed that the man behind the downing of the drone had been gifted a car, but declined to name the fighter. They said he would be remembered as a `hero’ among the Taliban.
“The shooting down of the drone has lifted the morale of our fighters. It’s a huge success for the poorly armed Taliban against a powerful enemy,” remarked a senior Taliban commander, but pleaded anonymity.

He also claimed that four missiles were fitted on the drone when it was hit and shot down, but the missiles did not explode. Taliban said friends of the six tribal militants killed in the US drone attack on January 19 in Deegan village of Dattakhel tehsil had taken a vow to avenge the killing by shooting down the spy plane.
“Since then, a group of four well-trained militants had been waiting to hit the drones. They had also installed an anti-aircraft gun on their double-cabin pickup truck,” a Taliban source said.

The sources said six militants were killed on that occasion when the drone had struck a house and a car, which was about to enter the building. “They honoured their commitment made after the killing of their friends by the US drone,” said a Taliban fighter. Meanwhile, government officials in Miramshah said five spy planes were seen flying over various villages of South Waziristan Monday evening.

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The Next Step: A Stealth Drone

January 4, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

AFP

beastofkandahar2 WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Air Force on Tuesday confirmed for the first time that it is flying a stealth unmanned aircraft known as the “Beast of Kandahar,” a drone spotted in photos and shrouded in secrecy. The RQ-170 Sentinel is being developed by Lockheed Martin and is designed “to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces,” the air force said in a brief statement.

The “RQ” prefix for the aircraft indicates an unarmed drone, unlike the “MQ” designation used for Predator and Reaper aircraft equipped with missiles and precision-guided bombs. Aviation experts dubbed the drone the “Beast of Kandahar” after photographs emerged earlier this year showing the mysterious aircraft in southern Afghanistan in 2007.

The image suggested a drone with a radar-evading stealth-like design, resembling a smaller version of a B-2 bomber.

A blog in the French newspaper Liberation published another photo this week, feeding speculation among aviation watchers about the classified drone. The air force said the aircraft came out of Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works,” also known as Advanced Development Programs, in California — the home of sophisticated and often secret defense projects including the U-2 spy plane, the F-22 fighter jet and the F-117 Nighthawk.

The photo of the drone in Afghanistan has raised questions about why the United States would be operating a stealth unmanned aircraft in a country where insurgents have no radar systems, prompting speculation Washington was using the drones for possible spying missions in neighboring Iran or Pakistan.

The Sentinel was believed to have a flying wing design with no tail and with sensors built into the top side of each wing, according to published photos.

The RQ-170 is in line with Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ request for more intelligence and surveillance resources and with the Air Force chief of staff’s plans to expand the fleet of unmanned aircraft, the air force said.

The new drone is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron out of Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, which is under Air Combat Command’s 432nd Wing at Creech Air Base, also in Nevada. The United States has carried out an extensive bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan using the Predator and larger Reaper drones.

Robots or “unmanned systems” in the air and on the ground are now deployed by the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Insurgents Intercept Drone Video in King-Size Security Breach

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noah Schachtman, Wired Magazine

Even worse…

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military depends on an array of drones to snoop on and stalk insurgents. Now it looks as if insurgents are tapping into those same drones’ broadcasts, to see what the flying robot spies see. If true — and widespread — it’s potentially one of the most serious military security breaches in years.

“U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds,” Wall Street Journal reports. “In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.”

How’d the militants manage to get access to such secret data? Basically by pointing satellite dishes up, and waiting for the drone feeds to pour in. According to the Journal, militants have exploited a weakness: The data links between the drone and the ground control station were never encrypted. Which meant that pretty much anyone could tap into the overhead surveillance that many commanders feel is America’s most important advantage in its two wars. Pretty much anyone could intercept the feeds of the drones that are the focal point for the secret U.S. war in Pakistan.

Using cheap, downloadable programs like SkyGrabber, militants were apparently able to watch and record the video feed — and potentially be tipped off when U.S. and coalition forces are stalking them. The $26 software was originally designed to let users download movies and songs off of the internet. Turns out, the program lets you nab Predator drone feeds just as easily as pirated copies of The Hangover.

And here’s the real scandal: Military officials have known about this potential vulnerability since the Bosnia campaign. That was over 10 years ago. And, as Declan McCullagh observes, there have been a series of government reports warning of the problem since then. But the Pentagon assumed that their adversaries in the Middle East and Central Asia wouldn’t have the smarts to tap into the communications link. That’s despite presentations like this 1996 doozy from Air Combat Command, which noted that that “the Predator UAV is designed to operate with unencrypted data links.”

If you think militants are going to be content to just observe spy drone feeds, it’s time to reconsider. “Folks are not merely going to listen/watch what we do when they intercept the feeds, but also start to conduct ‘battles of persuasion’; that is, hacking with the intent to disrupt or change the content, or even ‘persuade’ the system to do their own bidding,” Peter Singer, author of Wired for War, tells Danger Room.

This has long been the nightmare scenario within Pentagon cybersecurity circles: a hacker not looking to take down the military grid, but to exploit it for his own purposes. How does a soldier trust an order, if he doesn’t know who else is listening — or who gave the order, in the first place? “For a sophisticated adversary, it’s to his advantage to keep your network up and running. He can learn what you know. He can cause confusion, delay your response times — and shape your actions,” one Defense Department cybersecurity official tells Danger Room.

Despite this rather massive vulnerability, drone operations show no signs of letting up. According to the Associated Press, “two suspected U.S. missile strikes, one using multiple drones, killed 17 people in a Pakistani tribal region.”

Meanwhile, military officials assure are scrambling to plug the hole. “The difficulty, officials said, is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones,”  the Journal notes. “Instead, many components of the network linking the drones to their operators in the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan have to be upgraded to handle the changes.”

So it may be quite some time before this enormous security breach is filled.

– Nathan Hodge and Noah Shachtman

Obama’s Quiet War

June 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Jeremy Scahill

2009-06-19T075405Z_01_AAL103_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-VIOLENCE

An internally displaced woman, who fled a military offensive in the Swat valley region, walks the grounds of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Jalozai camp, about 140 km (87 miles) north west of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, June 19, 2009.   

REUTERS/Ali Imam

In a new interview, Obama said he has “no intention” of sending US troops into Pakistan. But US troops are already in the country and US drones attack Pakistan regularly.

Three days after his inauguration, on January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama ordered US predator drones to attack sites inside of Pakistan, reportedly killing 15 people. It was the first documented attack ordered by the new US Commander in Chief inside of Pakistan. Since that first Obama-authorized attack, the US has regularly bombed Pakistan, killing scores of civilians. The New York Times reported that the attacks were clear evidence Obama “is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy.” In the first 99 days of 2009, more than 150 people were reportedly killed in these drone attacks. The most recent documented attack was reportedly last Thursday in Waziristan. Since 2006, the US drone strikes have killed 687 people (as of April). That amounts to about 38 deaths a month just from drone attacks.

The use of these attack drones by Obama should not come as a surprise to anyone who followed his presidential campaign closely. As a candidate, Obama made clear that Pakistan’s sovereignty was subservient to US interests, saying he would attack with or without the approval of the Pakistani government. Obama said if the US had “actionable intelligence” that “high value” targets were in Pakistan, the US would attack. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, echoed those sentiments on the campaign trail and “did not rule out U.S. attacks inside Pakistan, citing the missile attacks her husband, then- President Bill Clinton, ordered against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. ‘If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured,’ she said.”

Last weekend, Obama granted his first extended interview with a Pakistani media outlet, the newspaper Dawn:

Responding to a question about drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal zone, Mr Obama said he did not comment on specific operations.

‘But I will tell you that we have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan. Pakistan and its military are dealing with their security issues.’

There are a number of issues raised by this brief response offered by Obama. First, the only difference between using these attack drones and using actual US soldiers on the ground is that the soldiers are living beings. These drones sanitize war and reduce the US death toll while still unleashing military hell disproportionately on civilians. The bottom line is that the use of drones inside the borders of Pakistan amounts to the same violation of sovereignty that would result from sending US soldiers inside the country. Obama defended the attacks in the Dawn interview, saying:

“Our primary goal is to be a partner and a friend to Pakistan and to allow Pakistan to thrive on its own terms, respecting its own traditions, respecting its own culture. We simply want to make sure that our common enemies, which are extremists who would kill innocent civilians, that that kind of activity is stopped, and we believe that it has to be stopped whether it’s in the United States or in Pakistan or anywhere in the world.”

Despite Obama’s comments about respecting Pakistan “on its own terms,” this is how Reuters recently described the arrangement between Pakistan and the US regarding drone attacks:

U.S. ally Pakistan objects to the U.S. missile strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster support for the militants.

Washington says the missile strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistani leaders to publicly criticise the attacks. Pakistan denies any such agreement.

Pakistan is now one of the biggest recipients of US aid with the House of Representatives recently approving a tripling of money to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for five years. Moreover, US special forces are already operating inside of Pakistan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Baluchistan. According to the Wall Street Journal, US Special Forces are:

training Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, who cross freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said. The U.S. trainers aren’t meant to fight alongside the Pakistanis or accompany them into battle, in part because there will be so few Special Forces personnel in the two training camps.

A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the U.S. to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan’s borders.

In February, The New York Times reported that US forces are also engaged in other activities inside of Pakistan:

American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.

It is clear-and has been for a long time- that the Obama administration is radically expanding the US war in Afghanistan deeply into Pakistan. Whether it is through US military trainers (that’s what they were called in Vietnam too), drone attacks or commando raids inside the country, the US is militarily entrenched in Pakistan. It makes Obama’s comment that “[W]e have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan” simply unbelievable.

For a sense of how significant US operations are and will continue to be for years and years to come, just look at the US plan to build an almost $1 billion massive US “embassy” in Islamabad, which is reportedly modeled after the imperial city they call a US embassy in Baghdad. As we know very clearly from Iraq, such a complex will result in an immediate surge in the deployment of US soldiers, mercenaries and other contractors.

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