Is this Russia’s Stuxnet? Experts analyze Snake, Uroburos, Turla malware samples dating back to 2005

n13-iconTechworld reports: The mysterious ‘Uroburos’ cyberweapon named last week in Germany has been stalking its victims since as far back as 2005 and large enterprises and governments need to pay urgent attention to the threat it poses, UK security firm BAE Systems has urged.

German firm G Data’s recent analysis dubbed it ‘Uroburos’ while it is also known to some security firms as ‘Turla’. BAE Systems’ Applied Intelligence division, which today published its own research, prefers the catchier ‘Snake’ but under any name the picture is alarming.

According to BAE Systems, It now transpires that Snake has been slithering silently around networks in the US and its NATO allies and former Soviet states for almost a decade, stealing data, getting ever more complex and modular and remaining almost invisible.

To be clear, this isn’t any old malware. Snake is just too long-lived, too targeted, too sophisticated, too evasive, too innovative. It appears to be on par with any of the complex cyberweapons attributed to the US such as Flame, first analysed by Kaspersky Lab in 2012.

After several months of research, the UK firm takes what we know a lot further, offering for the first time some objective data on targets. Culling data from malware research sites (i.e. those to which suspected malware samples are submitted for inspection), it has been spotted 32 times in the Ukraine since 2010, 11 times in Lithuania, 4 times in the UK, and a handful of times altogether from the US, Belgium, Georgia, Romania, Hungary and Italy.

These are very small numbers but BAE Systems believes that on past experience they are highly indicative. While they represent a tiny fraction of the number of infections that will have occurred in these countries and beyond, they can be used to reliably infer that Snake has been aimed at Western and Western-aligned countries pretty much exclusively.

In a week Russia planted boots on the ground in the Crimean region of the Ukraine, this is an unfortunate coincidence because while BAE Systems refused to name the state as the culprit, G Data and others are convinced that the links are suspicious.

Hints of the malware’s provenance have surfaced from time to time. In 2008, the US Department of Defense (DoD) reported that something called, Agent.btz had attacked its systems, an incident later attributed on more than one occasion to the Russian state without further elaboration. [Continue reading...]

The 2008 attack targeted U.S. Central Command. A few days ago, threats coming from the Syrian Electronic Army via Twitter were also directed at #CENTCOM, an indication perhaps that this group, linked to the Assad regime, has its roots in Russia.

Softpedia reports: “SEA advises the terrorist Obama to think very hard before attempting ‘cyberattacks’ on Syria,” the hackers wrote on Twitter. “We know what Obama is planning and we will soon make him understand that we can respond.”

So far, the Syrian hacktivists have mainly targeted media organizations whose reporting they don’t like. Social media accounts have been compromised, and websites have been defaced. However, they claim that their attacks against the US government will not be of “the same kind.”

“The next attack will prove that the entire US command structure was a house of cards from the start. #SEA #CENTCOM,” reads the last tweet they posted.

The #CENTCOM hashtag suggests that the hackers’ next target is the US Central Command (centcom.mil).

The Syrian Electronic Army’s announcement comes shortly after the New York Times published an article about the United States’ intention to develop a battle plan against Syria. The use of cyber weapons is being taken into consideration.

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Pentagon says 20,000 Russian troops may be in Crimea

n13-iconReuters reports: The Pentagon on Friday estimated as many as 20,000 Russian troops may be in Crimea but acknowledged its information was imperfect, as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised the restraint of Ukrainian forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies that the forces with no national insignia that are surrounding Ukrainian troops in their bases are under Moscow’s command. The West has ridiculed his assertion.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, asked about the number of Russian forces in Crimea, cited estimates of up to around 20,000 of them. Pressed on the 20,000 figure, Kirby said: “That’s a good estimate right now.”

“But it’s just an estimate. And as I said, we don’t have perfect visibility on the numbers,” Kirby said at a Pentagon news conference.

Ukraine’s border guards have put the figure far higher.

Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the border guards’ commander, said 30,000 Russian soldiers were now in Crimea, compared with the 11,000 permanently based with the Russian Black Sea fleet in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis. [Continue reading...]

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Mattea Kramer: Is the Pentagon doomed — to be flush forever?

Washington and Kabul have, for endless months, been performing a strange pas de deux over the issue of American withdrawal.  Initially, the Obama administration insisted that if, by December 31, 2013, Afghan President Hamid Karzai didn’t sign a bilateral security agreement the two sides had negotiated, the U.S. would have to commit to “the zero option”; that is, a total withdrawal from his country — not just of American and NATO “combat troops” but of the works by the end of 2014.  Getting out completely was too complicated a process, so the story went, for such a decision to wait any longer than that.  Senior officials, including National Security Adviser Susan Rice, directly threatened the Afghan president: sign or else. When Karzai refused and the December deadline passed, however, they began to hedge.  Still, whatever happened, one thing was made clear: Karzai must sign on the dotted line “in weeks, and not months,” or else.  Washington couldn’t possibly wait for the upcoming presidential elections in April followed by possible run-offs before a new Afghan leader could agree to the same terms.  When, however, it became clear that Karzai simply would not sign — not then, not ever — it turned out that, if necessary, they could wait.

And so it goes.  At stake has been leaving a residual force of U.S. and NATO trainers, advisors, and special operations types behind for years to come, perhaps (the figures varied with the moment) 3,000-12,000 of them.  With time, things only got curiouser and curiouser.  The less Karzai complied, the more Obama administration and Pentagon officials betrayed an overwhelming need to stay.  In the 13th year of a war that just wouldn’t go right, this strange dance between the most powerful state on the planet and one of the least powerful heads of state anywhere, to say the least, puzzling.  Why didn’t the Americans just follow through on their zero-option threats and pull the plug on Karzai and the war?  Obviously, fear that the Taliban might gain ground in a major way after such a departure was one reason.

In January, David Sanger and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times provided another.  They reported that a paramount issue for Washington was “concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their [Afghan] air bases used for drone strikes against al-Qaeda in Pakistan.” It might, it turned out, be difficult to find other regimes in the region willing to lend bases in support of the U.S. drone campaigns in the Pakistani tribal areas and possibly Afghanistan as well.

Today, TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer provides a third potential reason in her striking explanation of just how the Pentagon has been managing to avoid serious sequestration cuts.  It turns out that billions of dollars in extra funding are being salted away in a supplementary war-fighting budget that Congress grants the U.S. military, which is subject to neither cuts nor caps.  But here’s a potential problem: that budget relies on the existence of an Afghan War.  What if, after 2014, there isn’t even a residual American component to that war?  Not that the Pentagon wouldn’t try to keep “war budget” funding alive, but it’s clearly a harder, more embarrassing task without a war to fund.

That’s just one of the questions that emerges from Kramer’s clear-eyed look at what — once you’ve read her piece — can only be considered the Pentagon’s sequestration con game.  It’s a shocking tale largely because, while the budget figures are clear enough, you can’t read about them anywhere except here at TomDispatch. Tom Engelhardt

The Pentagon’s phony budget war
Or how the U.S. military avoided budget cuts, lied about doing so, then asked for billions more
By Mattea Kramer

Washington is pushing the panic button, claiming austerity is hollowing out our armed forces and our national security is at risk. That was the message Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered last week when he announced that the Army would shrink to levels not seen since before World War II. Headlines about this crisis followed in papers like the New York Times and members of Congress issued statements swearing that they would never allow our security to be held hostage to the budget-cutting process.

Yet a careful look at budget figures for the U.S. military — a bureaucratic juggernaut accounting for 57% of the federal discretionary budget and nearly 40% of all military spending on this planet — shows that such claims have been largely fictional. Despite cries of doom since the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration surfaced in Washington in 2011, the Pentagon has seen few actual reductions, and there is no indication that will change any time soon.

This piece of potentially explosive news has, however, gone missing in action — and the “news” that replaced it could prove to be one of the great bait-and-switch stories of our time.

[Read more...]

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Tom Engelhardt: Thug state U.S.A.

Documenting darkness
By Tom Engelhardt

Here, at least, is a place to start: intelligence officials have weighed in with an estimate of just how many secret files National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden took with him when he headed for Hong Kong last June. Brace yourself: 1.7 million.  At least they claim that as the number he or his web crawler accessed before he left town.  Let’s assume for a moment that it’s accurate and add a caveat.  Whatever he had with him on those thumb drives when he left the agency, Edward Snowden did not take all the NSA’s classified documents.  Not by a long shot.  He only downloaded a portion of them.  We don’t have any idea what percentage, but assumedly millions of NSA secret documents did not get the Snowden treatment.

Such figures should stagger us and what he did take will undoubtedly occupy journalists for months or years more (and historians long after that).  Keep this in mind, however: the NSA is only one of 17 intelligence outfits in what is called the U.S. Intelligence Community.  Some of the others are as large and well funded, and all of them generate their own troves of secret documents, undoubtedly stretching into the many millions.

And keep something else in mind: that’s just intelligence agencies.  If you’re thinking about the full sweep of our national security state (NSS), you also have to include places like the Department of Homeland Security, the Energy Department (responsible for the U.S. nuclear arsenal), and the Pentagon.  In other words, we’re talking about the kind of secret documentation that an army of journalists, researchers, and historians wouldn’t have a hope of getting through, not in a century.

We do know that, in 2011, the whole government reportedly classified 92,064,862 documents. If accurate and reasonably typical, that means, in the twenty-first century, the NSS has already generated hundreds of millions of documents that could not be read by an American without a security clearance.  Of those, thanks to one man (via various journalists), we have had access to a tiny percentage of perhaps 1.7 million of them.  Or put another way, you, the voter, the taxpayer, the citizen — in what we still like to think of as a democracy — are automatically excluded from knowing or learning about most of what the national security state does in your name.  That’s unless, of course, its officials decide to selectively cherry-pick information they feel you are capable of safely and securely absorbing, or an Edward Snowden releases documents to the world over the bitter protests, death threats, and teeth gnashing of Washington officialdom and retired versions of the same.

[Read more...]

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How a careerist culture leads to military scandals

f13-iconKelley Vlahos writes: Popular culture reveres the U.S. military as an institution of pride and strength, as keeper of the American moral center. But a recent series of scandals suggests that, instead, ethical corrosion may be eating away at its very core.

Sarah Palin was in top rhetorical form when she told an assembled crowd of thousands on the National Mall in 2010 that soldiers were “a force for good in this country, and that is nothing to apologize for … for these men and women, honor was never lost.” But behind the partisan politics in which Democrats and Republicans have used the military as props, padded its budgets, and publicly deferred to its leadership in myriad ways over 12 years of war, there lies a complicated breakdown in its culture, military experts tell TAC. Without reform, they believe institution is headed for more embarrassment and transgression.

“I’m not surprised at all—one [scandal] relates to the other,” charges Donald Vandergriff, a retired Army officer who often lectures on leadership and reform, including in the service academies. A West Point grad and former deputy director of Army ROTC at Georgetown University, he wrote The Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs, in 2002.

“The [military] system that’s evolved over the last 100 years does not test moral courage, it does not test strength of character, or the ability to tell the truth regardless of harm to one’s career,” Vandergriff added. “We don’t do things like that. We are looking at people who follow the process, fall in line, don’t cause waves, aren’t open to innovation, and these personality traits leave them open to scandal.” [Continue reading...]

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Nick Turse: The Pentagon makes history the first casualty

Call me human.  It turns out that I’m no better at predicting the future than the rest of humanity.  If as a species we were any good at it, right now I would undoubtedly be zipping through the gloriously spired skies over my hometown, New York City, my jet pack strapped to my back, just as I was promised by those imagining the future in my youth.  I’ve been an editor in the book business for almost four decades and I still wouldn’t put a buck at decent odds on my predictions about which books will make it.  When it came to Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, whose focus is American war crimes in Vietnam, I spent years assuring its author, Nick Turse, that in the America we both knew, the odds were it would promptly fall into the abyss where unnoticed books go to die.  Mind you, I never had a second’s doubt that it would be a great book — but a great, ignored book was my best guess.  Of course, as most readers of TomDispatch know, it hit the New York Times bestseller list.

It was published in January 2013 and it’s fair to say that my predictive inadequacies have been brought home to me in the most literal way every single day since.  I’ve never had an experience like it.  Because Nick is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and, as today, often publishes his work at this site, it’s natural that people would often write him about his book care of TomDispatch.  Nonetheless, in the last year plus I doubt a single day has passed without at least one such email, and often a slew of them, arriving at the site.  Thirteen months and still going.

Sometimes book editors work their whole lives on manuscripts they think the universe needs to read and never quite see how the books they’ve shepherded into existence settle into our world, how reading them touches, affects, changes lives.  It’s been a rare honor to be a sideline witness to exactly that through those emails.  My role since publication has fallen somewhere between messenger boy and peeping Tom.  I always at least glance at them, since from the subject lines it’s seldom initially clear what they are, and I have to say that they have been eye-opening.  Many come from Vietnam vets, who want to thank Nick for documenting their war, for confirming their own experiences or those of their buddies.  Some want to tell him stories — horrors, really — they witnessed, experienced, or committed more than 40 years ago as exceedingly young men in “Nam” and have been living with ever since.  Often, by their own accounts, until writing Nick they have been incapable of confiding in a soul, including their own wives and children.  There were also letters from those children, letting Nick know that, thanks to his book, they finally understood what their silent, unnerved, disturbed dads had gone through in lives shadowed by, or even cut short by, the pain of memories that remained unbearable and acts, witnessed or committed, that were worse.

If I didn’t admit that these have been moving private accounts to read, I’d be a liar.  I’ve never quite seen anything like them, nor while working on the book did it ever cross my mind that such a thing might happen.  The new afterword to the just published paperback of Kill Anything That Moves focuses on the emails, letters, and encounters that followed publication of the hardcover.  Nick writes: “I had spent years painstakingly tracking down witnesses, victims, and perpetrators.  Now, people with stories to tell were finding me.”

In his book, Nick has created a one-man Grand Guignol of the real American war in Vietnam.  Admittedly, it’s not the sort of thing that countries like to commemorate when they hand out medals, pump up their populaces, or “remember” their wars.  A series of visits Nick paid to a website billed by the Pentagon as a 50th anniversary commemoration of Vietnam makes the point well.  (And by the way, 1962, the year chosen for the beginning of that commemoration, ludicrously enough, was the anniversary of nothing, neither of the end of the war and a staggering defeat nor of its beginning and the sad path ahead.) Tom Engelhardt  

Misremembering America’s wars, 2003-2053
The Pentagon’s latest “mission accomplished” moment
By Nick Turse

It’s 2053 — 20 years since you needed a computer, tablet, or smart phone to go online.  At least, that’s true in the developed world: you know, China, India, Brazil, and even some parts of the United States.  Cybernetic eye implants allow you to see everything with a digital overlay.  And once facial recognition software was linked to high-speed records searches, you had the lowdown on every person standing around you.  Of course, in polite society you still introduce yourself as if you don’t instantly know another person’s net worth, arrest record, and Amazooglebook search history.  (Yes, the fading old-tech firms Amazon, Google, and Facebook merged in 2033.) You also get a tax break these days if you log into one of the government’s immersive propaganda portals.  (Nope, “propaganda” doesn’t have negative connotations anymore.)  So you choose the Iraq War 50th Anniversary Commemoration Experience and take a stroll through the virtual interactive timeline. 

Look to your right, and you see happy Iraqis pulling down Saddam’s statue and showering U.S. Marines with flowers and candy.  Was that exactly how it happened?  Who really remembers?  Now, you’re walking on the flight deck of what they used to call an aircraft carrier behind a flight-suit-clad President George W. Bush.  He turns and shoots you a thumbs-up under a “mission accomplished” banner.  A voice beamed into your head says that Bush proclaimed victory that day, but that for years afterward, valiant U.S. troops would have to re-win the war again and again.  Sounds a little strange, but okay. 

A few more paces down the digital road and you encounter a sullen looking woman holding a dog leash, the collar attached to a man lying nude on the floor of a prison.  Your digital tour guide explains: “An unfortunate picture was taken.  Luckily, the bad apple was punished and military honor was restored.”  Fair enough.  Soon, a digital General David Petraeus strides forward and shoots you another thumbs-up.  (It looks as if they just put a new cyber-skin over the President Bush avatar to save money.)  “He surged his way to victory and the mission was accomplished again,” you hear over strains of the National Anthem and a chorus of “hooahs.”

[Read more...]

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Bin Laden death images subject to purge, emails reveal

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: Eleven days after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, the US military’s top special operations officer ordered subordinates to destroy any photographs of the al-Qaida founder’s corpse or turn them over to the CIA, according to a newly released email.

The email was obtained under a freedom of information request by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch. The document, released on Monday by the group, shows that Admiral William McRaven, who heads the US Special Operations Command, told military officers on 13 May 2011 that photos of Bin Laden’s remains should have been sent to the CIA or already destroyed. Bin Laden was killed by a special ops team in Pakistan on 2 May 2011.

McRaven’s order to purge the bin Laden material came 10 days after the Associated Press asked for the photos and other documents under the US Freedom of Information Act. Typically, when a freedom of information request is filed to a government agency under the Federal Records Act, the agency is obliged to preserve the material sought – even if the agency later denies the request. [Continue reading...]

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The NSA’s secret role in the U.S. assassination program

f13-iconJeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald report: The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.

The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

In one tactic, the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist’s mobile phone, enabling the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device. [Continue reading...]

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Chase Madar: The folly of arming Israel

Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s pledge to sell advanced antiaircraft weapons to Syria, noting that it would have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.”  And really, who could argue that pouring more weapons into a heavily-armed corner of the globe, roiled by conflict, convulsed by civil strife and civil war, could do anything but inflame tensions and cost lives?

Yet Kerry’s State Department, in coordination with the Pentagon, has been content to oversee a U.S.-sanctioned flood of arms and military matériel heading into the region at a breakneck pace.  In December, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment, announced that it had approved the sale of more than 15,000 Raytheon-produced anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia under two separate agreements worth a combined $1 billion.  Last month, potential deals to sell and lease Apache attack helicopters to the embattled government of Iraq were also made public, in addition to an agreement that would send the country $82 million worth of Hellfire missiles.  At about the same time, the DSCA notified Congress of a possible $270 million sale of F-16 fighters to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  All of this was on top of a potential $600 million deal to train 6,000-8,000 Libyan military personnel and a prospective $150 million agreement for Marines to mentor members of the UAE’s Presidential Guard Command, both of which were announced in January.  And let’s not forget that, last month, Congress also turned on the spigot to allow automatic weapons and anti-tank rockets to flow to rebel fighters in — wait for it — Syria.

Of course, Muslim nations around the region aren’t alone in receiving U.S. support.  The U.S. also plies Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with copious amounts of aid.  Since World War II, the Jewish state has, in fact, been the largest beneficiary of U.S. foreign assistance, almost all of it military, according to the Congressional Research Service.  Yet the topic is barely covered in the U.S.  Today, TomDispatch regular Chase Madar provides a remedy for that collective silence, taking us on a deep dive into what that aid means in Israel, Palestine, and Washington.  In the process, he explains why you’re unlikely ever to hear John Kerry suggest that sending weapons to Israel might have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.” Nick Turse

Washington’s military aid to Israel
Fake peace process, real war process
By Chase Madar

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid — nearly all of it military since 2008 — has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming.  In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel — for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse — who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

[Read more...]

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American troops with nuclear weapons strapped to their backs

f13-iconAdam Rawnsley and David Brown write: As Capt. Tom Davis stands at the tailgate of the military cargo plane, the night air sweeps through the hold. His eyes search the black terrain 1,200 feet below. He grips the canvas of his reserve parachute and takes a deep breath.

Davis and the men who make up his Special Forces A-team are among the most highly trained soldiers in the U.S. Army. It’s 1972, and Davis isn’t far removed from a tour in Vietnam, where he operated along the Cambodian border. His communications sergeant served in Command and Control North, which was responsible for some of the most daring operations in the heart of North Vietnamese territory. But none of the men has ever been on a mission like this before.

Their plan: drop into Eastern Europe, make their way undetected through forested mountains, and destroy a heavy-water plant used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Leading up to the operation, during four days of preparation, Army regional experts briefed them on routes of infiltration and anticipated enemy patrols. The team pored over aerial photographs and an elaborate mock-up of the target — a large, slightly U-shaped building. It’s situated in a wide, open area with a roving guard, but at least the team won’t have to sneak inside.

Hanging awkwardly from the parachute harness of Davis’s intelligence sergeant is a 58-pound nuclear bomb. With a weapon this powerful, they can just lay it against a wall, crank the timers, and let fission do its work.

Davis had planned to follow in the footsteps of his family’s prominent jurists — his father was a lawyer; his grandfather a federal court judge — until a notice from the draft board arrived during his first year of law school. Rather than be drafted, Davis signed up for officer candidate school and volunteered for Special Forces, graduating from the demanding “Q course” as a second lieutenant. From there, it was on to Vietnamese language school and off to the war in Southeast Asia, where he served as a civil affairs/psychological operations officer.

As a first lieutenant, Davis got his own A-team. His team sergeant suggested they volunteer for training with what the Army called Special Atomic Demolition Munitions — tactical nukes designed to be used on the battlefield in a war with the Soviets. “What the hell. Why not?” he responded. Their company commander forwarded their names and the team was accepted for training.

As the plane approaches the drop zone, the jump commands come quickly, shouted over the frigid, deafening wind. “Check static lines!” The men sound off for equipment check from the back of the chalk forward. “Stand by!” The light turns green, and each man is tapped out: “Go!” the soldiers, each carrying something on the order of 70 pounds of gear in addition to 30 pounds of parachute rigging, don’t so much jump from the plane as waddle off the back of it and fall to the ground at about 20 feet per second.

At half-second intervals, their silhouettes emerge from the rear of the plane, their deflated parachutes streaming behind like comets’ tails. Canopies catch air and expand, and the team speeds downward, fast enough to avoid being spotted (or shot at) but just slow enough not to be killed when the men collide with the ground. Once the team has landed and released and cached their parachutes, they skulk to a predetermined rally point hidden in trees and shadows, where they unseal the special jump container and assess its contents for damage, making sure their payload is intact and not leaking radiation. Then they slip the bomb into a rucksack, bury the container, and set out through the mountains, moving only at night so as not to be seen.

It takes them about two days to make their way to the target. On D-day, they set the device at the plant — and run.

Capt. Davis’s “mission” was, of course, an exercise. In reality, he and his men parachuted not into Eastern Europe, but near the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. The heavy-water plant was actually a shuttered paper mill in the nearby town of Lincoln, and the bomb was a training dummy.

The mission wasn’t real, but the job was. [Continue reading...]

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Video: The F-35 — how the military-industrial welfare system works in America

a13-iconThe F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history, with a total cost of $1.5 trillion. Learn more here.

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DARPA’s plan to mainstream cyberwarfare

FeatureNoah Shachtman reports: The target computer is picked. The order to strike has been given. All it takes is a finger swipe and a few taps of the touchscreen, and the cyberattack is prepped to begin.

For the last year, the Pentagon’s top technologists have been working on a program that will make cyberwarfare relatively easy. It’s called Plan X. And if this demo looks like a videogame or sci-fi movie or a sleek Silicon Valley production, that’s no accident. It was built by the designers behind some of Apple’s most famous computers — with assistance from the illustrators who helped bring Transformers to the silver screen.

Today, destructive cyberattacks — ones that cause servers to fry, radars to go dark, or centrifuges to spin out of control — have been assembled by relatively small teams of hackers. They’re ordered at the highest levels of government. They take months to plan. Their effects can be uncertain, despite all the preparation. (Insiders believe, for example, that the biggest network intrusion in the Pentagon’s history may have been an accidental infection, not a deliberate hack.)

With Plan X, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking to change all that. It wants munitions made of 1s and 0s to be as simple to launch as ones made of metal and explosives. It wants cyberattack stratagems to be as predictable as any war plan can be. It wants to move past the artisanal era of hacking, and turn cyberwarfare into an industrial effort. [Continue reading...]

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Investigations expose the Pentagon’s systemic problem with abusive commanders

NewsThe Washington Post reports: There are miserable bosses, and then there are toxic military commanders.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Schmidt was unquestionably among the latter in the view of some staff members under his thumb. A profane screamer, he ran through six executive officers and aide-de-camps in a year. He retired this month after an Air Force inquiry concluded that he was “cruel and oppressive” and mistreated subordinates.

More than a dozen people who worked with Brig. Gen. Scott F. “Rock” Donahue, a retired commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, reported him as a verbally abusive taskmaster. One was so desperate to escape from division headquarters in San Francisco that he asked for a transfer to Iraq. An Army investigation cited the general for “exhibiting paranoia” and making officers cry.

Troops who served under Army Brig. Gen. Eugene Mascolo of the Connecticut National Guard, described him as “dictatorial,” “unglued” and a master of “profanity-fused outbursts.” An Army investigation found widespread evidence of “verbal mistreatment.” He received a written reprimand but remains in the National Guard.

U.S. military commanders are not trained to be soft or touchy-feely. But over the past two years, the Pentagon has been forced to conduct a striking number of inspector-general investigations of generals and admirals accused of emotionally brutal behavior, according to military documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The affliction of abusive leadership has even infected some civilian leaders at the Pentagon, raising questions about the Defense Department’s ability to detect and root out flaws in its command culture.

Inspector-general files show, for example, that Army officers described the working atmosphere under Joyce E. Morrow, a powerful civilian official at Army headquarters, as “toxic,” corrosive” and “like you were in a prisoner of war camp.” Officers complained of menial servitude and said they were forced to fetch Morrow’s iced tea, which she would refuse to drink if it was not served in a cup with a lid and a straw, but no ice.

Most military commanders are upstanding and well-respected by their troops. Many are hailed as heroes, particularly after more than a dozen years of war. But in recent months, the armed forces have been shaken by an embarrassing number of generals and admirals who have gotten into trouble for gambling, drinking and sleeping around, among other ethical lapses.

Some current and former officers say those cases are symptomatic of a more damaging problem: a system that promotes and tolerates too many lousy leaders. [Continue reading...]

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Almost everything in Dr. Strangelove was true

AnalysisEric Schlosser writes: This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Released on January 29, 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” Another compared it to Soviet propaganda. Although “Strangelove” was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” (See a compendium of clips from the film.) When “Fail-Safe” — a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet — opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth — and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATO officers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?

With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. [Continue reading...]

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Contrary to Obama’s promises, the U.S. military still permits torture

Jeffrey Kaye writes: The United States Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogation (pdf) has been sold to the American public and the world as a replacement for the brutal torture tactics used by the CIA and the Department of Defense during the Bush/Cheney administration.

On 22 January 2009, President Obama released an executive order stating that any individual held by any US government agency “shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3.”

But a close reading of Department of Defense documents and investigations by numerous human rights agencies have shown that the current Army Field Manual itself uses techniques that are abusive and can even amount to torture.

Disturbingly, the latest version of the AFM mimicked the Bush administration in separating out “war on terror” prisoners as not subject to the same protections and rights as regular prisoners of war. Military authorities then added an appendix to the AFM that included techniques that could only be used on such “detainees”, ie, prisoners without POW status.

Labeled Appendix M, and propounding an additional, special “technique” called “Separation”, human rights and legal group have recognized that Appendix M includes numerous abusive techniques, including use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. [Continue reading...]

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America’s forgotten lobotomized soldiers

The Wall Street Journal reports: Roman Tritz’s memories of the past six decades are blurred by age and delusion. But one thing he remembers clearly is the fight he put up the day the orderlies came for him.

“They got the notion they were going to come to give me a lobotomy,” says Mr. Tritz, a World War II bomber pilot. “To hell with them.”

The orderlies at the veterans hospital pinned Mr. Tritz to the floor, he recalls. He fought so hard that eventually they gave up. But the orderlies came for him again on Wednesday, July 1, 1953, a few weeks before his 30th birthday.

This time, the doctors got their way.

The U.S. government lobotomized roughly 2,000 mentally ill veterans—and likely hundreds more—during and after World War II, according to a cache of forgotten memos, letters and government reports unearthed by The Wall Street Journal. Besieged by psychologically damaged troops returning from the battlefields of North Africa, Europe and the Pacific, the Veterans Administration performed the brain-altering operation on former servicemen it diagnosed as depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.

The VA doctors considered themselves conservative in using lobotomy. Nevertheless, desperate for effective psychiatric treatments, they carried out the surgery at VA hospitals spanning the country, from Oregon to Massachusetts, Alabama to South Dakota.
Roman Tritz talks about the scars from his lobotomy.

The VA’s practice, described in depth here for the first time, sometimes brought veterans relief from their inner demons. Often, however, the surgery left them little more than overgrown children, unable to care for themselves. Many suffered seizures, amnesia and loss of motor skills. Some died from the operation itself.

Mr. Tritz, 90 years old, is one of the few still alive to describe the experience. “It isn’t so good up here,” he says, rubbing the two shallow divots on the sides of his forehead, bracketing wisps of white hair.

The VA’s use of lobotomy, in which doctors severed connections between parts of the brain then thought to control emotions, was known in medical circles in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and is occasionally cited in medical texts. But the VA’s practice, never widely publicized, long ago slipped from public view. Even the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it possesses no records detailing the creation and breadth of its lobotomy program.

When told about the program recently, the VA issued a written response: “In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, VA and other physicians throughout the United States and the world debated the utility of lobotomies. The procedure became available to severely ill patients who had not improved with other treatments. Within a few years, the procedure disappeared within VA, and across the United States, as safer and more effective treatments were developed.”

Musty files warehoused in the National Archives show VA doctors resorting to brain surgery as they struggled with a vexing question that absorbs America to this day: How best to treat the psychological crises that afflict soldiers returning from combat.

Between April 1, 1947, and Sept. 30, 1950, VA doctors lobotomized 1,464 veterans at 50 hospitals authorized to perform the surgery, according to agency documents rediscovered by the Journal. Scores of records from 22 of those hospitals list another 466 lobotomies performed outside that time period, bringing the total documented operations to 1,930. Gaps in the records suggest that hundreds of additional operations likely took place at other VA facilities. The vast majority of the patients were men, although some female veterans underwent VA lobotomies, as well.

Lobotomies faded from use after the first major antipsychotic drug, Thorazine, hit the market in the mid-1950s, revolutionizing mental-health care.

The forgotten lobotomy files, military records and interviews with veterans’ relatives reveal the details of lives gone terribly wrong. There was Joe Brzoza, who was lobotomized four years after surviving artillery barrages on the beaches at Anzio, Italy, and spent his remaining days chain-smoking in VA psychiatric wards. Eugene Kainulainen, whose breakdown during the North African campaign the military attributed partly to a childhood tendency toward “temper tantrums and [being] fussy about food.” Melbert Peters, a bomber crewman given two lobotomies—one most likely performed with a pick-like instrument inserted through his eye sockets.

And Mr. Tritz, the son of a Wisconsin dairy farmer who flew a B-17 Flying Fortress on 34 combat missions over Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe.

“They just wanted to ruin my head, it seemed to me,” says Mr. Tritz. “Somebody wanted to.”

The VA documents subvert an article of faith of postwar American mythology: That returning soldiers put down their guns, shed their uniforms and stoically forged ahead into the optimistic 1950s. Mr. Tritz and the mentally ill veterans who shared his fate lived a struggle all but unknown except to the families who still bear lobotomy’s scars. [Continue reading...]

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