WASHINGTON - The body of 25-year-old U.S foreign service officer Anne Smedinghoff of Illinois is expected to be returned to the U.S. today. She was one of six Americans killed in the remote Zabul province of Afghanistan on Saturday.
This is the same place that I and USAF Capt. Steve Wackowski (pictured below) camped out at in 2010 during an intelligence mission.
Capt. Steve Wackowski in Afghanistan in 2011. (WTOP/J.J. Green)
We walked those same streets. It's also the same place where I met Air Force Lt. Col. John Loftis, who was killed last year in an ambush. My heart and prayers go out to the families of those who lost loved ones.
March 21: Reflecting on the Iraq War, 10 years later
WASHINGTON - In May of 2006, I went to Iraq for the first time as the National Security Correspondent for WTOP Radio. I came home a different man.
After a month of travel across the war zone and into Africa, Afghanistan, and eight other countries, the war became a state of mind for me. The people I met, the places I went to and scenes I witnessed are still with me and will likely stay with me my whole life.
I remember the thick black smoke after a suicide bombing in Hillah. I remember meeting a 22-year-old soldier who had lost half of his face in an improvised explosive device attack.
One significant memory is May 30, 2006. I remember being at the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Faciltiy (CASF) field hospital the day CBS News cameraman Paul Douglas, 48, and soundman James Brolan, 42 were killed in an explosion. I recall when CBS' Kimberly Dozier, now at the Associated Press, came into the facility, seriously wounded.
I remember realizing that even though I was traveling with the Air Force, I was still vulnerable.
I remember the real sense of fear that this adventure might not turn out so well, if I'm not careful. Below are just a few snapshots from that time frame:
Balad, Iraq: May 2006
It was about 7:30 am. Already, the day was incredibly hot. The sun was bearing down through a fine orange-like haze. I recall thinking these conditions are just not suitable for helicopters. But in Balad, Iraq, a place that came to be known as the "bloody Sunni triangle," helicopter was the only safe measure of short- distance transport. My traveling team and I boarded a Blackhawk helicopter; strapped in and in a few short moments it thundered skyward along with another Blackhawk. We began to fly low and fast across the desert. There were two door gunners sitting on either side of the chopper, with their fingers caressing the triggers on .50 caliber guns and their eyes scanning the palm trees and the desert floor.
I remember flying over the infamous Abu Gharib prison facility, where explosive evidence of U.S. prisoner abuse emerged, which we were not able to shoot video of or photograph at the time. Our trip took about 45 minutes and we landed just outside of Baghdad.
While in Baghdad as a war correspondent, I divorced myself from an opinion on whether the war was warranted or not, because I felt the outcome would best address it. Instead I focused on the places, issues and most of all the people I met.
There were a lot of experiences that changed my thinking about journalism -- what to report, what not to report, when to report and where. The learning curve of working in a war zone is steep, but it makes it so much easier to work back here at home, where the daily grind is nothing compared to what people in a war zone deal with every day.
So, obviously I came back home, continued my career, but not a day goes by that I don't think about those men and women who didn't get that option. I mean the military personnel, American civilians, the foreign nationals, the journalists and countless Iraqi citizens that were killed in the war. I've been asked several times today, "did we win the war?" My response is, "it's not over."
March 21: New AQAP terror manual published
WASHINGTON - Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is a dangerous terror organization in Yemen, and on Tuesday they demonstrated precisely why U.S. authorities are very worried about them: The Lone Mujahid Pocketbook, 64 pages of detailed, in-depth, do-it-yourself terror plot and plans.
The digital book is a picture-packed, painstakingly detailed portable guide to eight of the most devastating terrorism tools from bombs, to blowing out tires at high speeds. It contains everything from "torching parked vehicles", to setting forest fires with cigarettes.
The document, published by AQAP -- a group widely regarded as al-Qaida's most dangerous franchise -- doesn't just give a line or two of instruction, but goes into deep detail. For example, one of its lessons is instruction on how to cause a massive traffic pile-up by spreading oil in the bend of a busy roadway. The document explains how the centrifugal force of the vehicle would push it out of control once it hit the oil.
The document, published in English and aimed at an American audience, uses American symbols as tools of terrorism. It utilizes a picture of a Ford pick-up truck in the section called the "ultimate mowing machine". Readers are encouraged to use it to mow down the "enemies of Allah." Intricate, but simplified, sections on bringing down buildings and bomb making are also a featured in this go anywhere pocket guide.
J.J. Green, wtop.com
What's the Chinese cyberstrategy?
It's called "Assassin's Mace," which comes from Chinese folklore. "Assassin's Mace" in Chinese is "Shashou Jian." The idea came from a story about an undersized hero who defeats a far more powerful adversary with one sudden, incapacitating blow.
Several years ago, the thinking in the Department of Defense and U.S. cybercommunities was that the Chinese were working on the capability to knock out U.S. military defense and critical infrastructure systems in what some called a "digital Pearl Harbor."
In 2006, I asked a member of the DOD Joint Task Force for the Global Computer Network just how many attacks were taking place on U.S. military computers.
The response: "Just think of how many times a day your personal computer is pinged and multiply it by 5 million." (That was the number of computers in the DOD system at the time).
The number of DOD computers is significantly more now, and the attacks have continued to grow and expand.
Not only have the Chinese gone after the military, but they have absolutely mugged corporate America. One expert told me recently that major corporations are attacked every 30 seconds.
But many are asking why it's taking the U.S. so long to get up to speed, and some call it a false sense of security.
Tim Sample, author of the book "#Cyberdoc No borders -- No Boundaries," suggests the U.S. has yet to fully understand that cyberattacks can make you bleed, just like kinetic attacks.
"There's this sense that we have time. We have time to do this -- the government is behind in doing this and industry is behind but we have time because there's no nuclear weapon coming over and we have time to react," Sample says.
"That's kind of a false sense of timing," he argues. "It's really playing out a ticking clock. In the book many of us believe we're already at war."
So what is the government doing?
"In this time of economic recovery, this work is more important than it has ever been before," Holder said Wednesday at the White House. "I am pleased to report we are fighting back more aggressively and collaboratively than ever before."
But is this happening quickly enough? The National Counterintelligence Executive released a long report in 2011 identifying the threat and revealing the degree of U.S. negligence.
Feb. 13: What next in North Korea?
J.J. Green, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - The Intelligence community is working to determine the size and make- up of the device that North Korea detonated at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility this week.
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative:
Punggye-ri is "North Korea's only nuclear test site and was the host of the 2006, 2009 and 2013 nuclear tests. The facility is located in mountainous terrain with three visible tunnel entrances known in South Korean press as the South Entrance, East Entrance and West Entrance.
Since the 2006 nuclear test, numerous satellite images have revealed on-going construction, excavation, and movement at the facility, most recently around the area of the south and west tunnels."
Ambassador Joe Detrani, former director of the National Counter Proliferation Center, says "all indications are it was a significantly larger event than that which happened in 2009." The international community is concerned that North Korea may have managed to miniaturize a power nuclear device, which might be suitable to perch on top of a rocket.
Detrani talked with me about his concerns.
Jan. 25: New threat arises against westerners in Benghazi
J.J. Green, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Coming on the heels of sometimes animated Congressional hearings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, the British Foreign Office has issued an urgent call for its citizens to evacuate.
"We are aware of a specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi. We advise against all travel to Benghazi and urge any British nationals who are there against our advice to leave immediately," says the statement. "Following French military intervention in Mali, there is a possibility of retaliatory attacks targeting Western interests in the region."
A U.S. intelligence source says British expatriates and oil facilities are at risk.
As a result of the concern, British nationals are advised against all but essential travel to Tripoli, Zuwara, Az Zawiya, al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, as well as coastal towns from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian Border, with the exception of Benghazi. British nationals are also advised against all travel to all other areas of Libya, including Benghazi.
Authorities say attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers. They also believe there is a threat of kidnapping in Libya.
In general, British nationals, including people who have dual citizenship, and all westerners in Libya are being advised to keep a low profile and avoid all but essential travel in their local area and to other parts of the country, especially at night.
The problem in Libya is that law and order in the country is still being re- established and the threat from crime, including carjacking, remains high. There is also limited police capacity to prevent or deal with street crimes, including muggings.
The U.S. Department of State warned U.S. citizens in early January of the risks of traveling to Libya. The department strongly advises against all but essential travel to Tripoli and all travel to Benghazi, Bani Walid and southern Libya, including border areas and the regions of Sabha and Kufra.
Dec. 12: North Korea rocket launch not a threat to U.S.
J.J. Green, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - North Korea has launched another rocket. The government says they've deposited what they call a "communications" satellite into orbit.
Here's what the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) says about the event:
Scientists and technicians of the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) successfully launched the second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 into its orbit by carrier rocket Unha-3, true to the last instructions of leader Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il]. Carrier rocket Unha-3 with the second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 atop blasted off from the Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North phyongan [P'yo'ngan] Province at 09:49:46 on December 12, juche [chuch'e] 101 (2012). The satellite entered its preset orbit at 09:59:13, 9 minutes and 27 seconds after the lift-off. The satellite is going round the polar orbit at 499.7 km perigee altitude and 584.18 km apogee altitude at the angle of inclination of 97.4 degrees. Its cycle is 95 minutes and 29 seconds.
North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) officials acknowledged today that U.S. missile warning systems detected and tracked the launch of a North Korean missile at 7:49 p.m. EST. The missile was tracked on a southerly azimuth.
Initial indications are that the first stage fell into the Yellow Sea. The second stage was assessed to fall into the Philippine Sea. Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit. At no time was the missile or the resultant debris a threat to North America.
"North Korea's launch today - using ballistic missile technology despite express prohibitions by United Nations Security Council resolutions - is a highly provocative act that threatens regional security, directly violates United Nations Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874, contravenes North Korea's international obligations, and undermines the global non-proliferation regime," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor says. "This action is yet another example of North Korea's pattern of irresponsible behavior.
"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and fully committed to the security of our allies in the region. Given this current threat to regional security, the United States will strengthen and increase our close coordination with allies and partners."
As NORAD mentioned in its statement, the DPRK appeared to put an object into space successfully. That worries U.S. national security officials, not only because of North Korea's defiance, but sources tell me the satellite could interfere with legitimate operations of other nations.
The bottom line is North Korea could use space as another dimension into which it can export its aggressive behavior.
Nov. 29: Iran working on plutonium bomb
WASHINGTON - The U.N. says Iran could be stepping up its plan to build a nuclear bomb, and they appear to be working towards both uranium and plutonium bombs.
For Iran it's all about time.
Dr. James Acton, senior associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says, "Iran wants the option to build a bomb on short notice, but hasn't actually decided to assemble it yet."
How does he define short notice? "I would probably define that within weeks," says Acton.
There is no evidence that Iran has enough material to build either bomb at the moment.
What's the difference a uranium or plutonium bomb?
"Plutonium is far more complex to design and deliver than a uranium based weapon," says Dr. David Kay, Sr., research fellow at the Potomac Institute for policy studies.
A plutonium bomb is built from byproducts of uranium that's been irradiated in a nuclear reactor.
Oct. 9: U.S. allows S. Korea to possess longer-range missiles
WASHINGTON - The United States has agreed to allow South Korea to possess longer-range missiles that could strike all of North Korea. As a result, on Tuesday North Korea says it views the act as a provocation of war.
A 2001 agreement with Washington had barred South Korea from deploying ballistic missiles with a range of more than 185 miles and a payload of more than 1,100 pounds because of concerns about igniting a regional arms race. But that's all changed now.
Sources tell me that the U.S. has negotiated for the past 18 months with South Korea on this, and one particular source says it was a very difficult negotiation. South Korea argued that it wanted and needed an independent missile capability to strike in the region that was stronger than what they had.
The U.S. argument was that we're here to help you if North Korea attacks and according to the source, the hope was to get the South Korean government to back away from the proposition.
But the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak reportedly countered saying in his own words, we need it, because we are a sovereign nation and the North has significant reach with their missiles and we have to have something comparable.
But when examining the issue a bit more closely, the real reason, I'm told Myung- bak pushed so hard for the deal, is because elections are coming in October; he is leaving office and is concerned about his legacy.
The U.S. pushed back, hard, because it knows the North, even with a new, perhaps more moderate leader in Kim Jong Un, is likely to take great umbrage to the decision.
In fact, the North Korean government announced Tuesday that it has missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland. It obviously sounds like a threat to the U.S., suggesting the North feels the U.S. let this happen and is now at risk.
North Korean long-range rockets are believed to have a range of more than 4,000 miles, putting parts of Alaska within reach.
The question is, will North Korea actually launch a missile towards the U.S.?
Not likely says a source, because, North Koreans, he says "are not suicidal."
North Korea has a nuclear capability and has threatened to test launch another missile, but sources say launching anything that approaches U.S. territory would put North Korea in dire straits.
Sept. 13: The Libya consulate timeline
WASHINGTON - U.S. national security officials are discussing what happened in Libya and what to do about it. They've all but come to a conclusion that it was a terror attack.
What do we know?
It happened on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It was a coordinated and somewhat complicated attack. And it was a surprise - something U.S. intelligence and security officials have tried hard to avoid and have had success avoiding for 11 years.
How did it happen?
Looking back at some information that began to emerge on Tuesday, there were some clues as to what might have happened. Early in the day, Mohammed al-Zawahiri - the brother of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri - went public with a very odd peace proposal designed to bring the West and the Muslim world together.
Late in the day, Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video eulogizing Abu Yahya al-Libi, his second in command, who was killed in a drone strike in June. He also called on Libyans to rise up against the West to avenge the death of al-Libi. Several hours later, a protest erupted in Egypt, which curiously is where the Zawahiris were born and raised.
As the protests there were wrapping up, another protest was sparked in Libya at about 4 p.m. EDT, or 10 p.m. Libyan local time.
Here's the stream of events according to a U.S. official:
- (NOTE: The timeline is based on an initial briefing from a U.S. official
and subject to change or error)
10 p.m. Libyan local time: U.S. consulate facility began taking on gunfire from militants.
10:15: Militants gained access to the property. U.S. diplomats became scattered after the building began to fill with smoke, and they were separated from security while trying to escape smoke. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and staffer Sean Smith, who had driven into the facility for the day, became separated from security, perhaps while trying to get to a secure facility. Security went back to look for Smith and discovered he was deceased. But they were unable to locate the ambassador.
10:45 p.m.: U.S. security personnel and local police tried to regain control of the main building but were unsuccessful.
11:20 p.m.: U.S. and Libyan personnel made another unsuccessful attempt to regain control of the main building. Sometime after that point, some staffers had been evacuated, but two other U.S. personnel had been killed.
2 a.m.: Libyan security forces helped U.S. security regain control of the situation and discovered that at some point Stevens had escaped the building. Somehow he ended up in a hospital, but was pronounced dead. His body was taken to the Benghazi airport where all U.S. personnel had been evacuated for transport to Tripoli.
"It is the host government's responsibility to provide adequate security and protection for all diplomats inside their country, much like we have the U.S. Secret Service Uniform(ed) Division providing security," says Fred Burton, a retired diplomatic security agent and current vice president of intelligence at Stratfor. "One of the more problematic events that you can ever deal with is a large mob that overtakes a facility."
"You never see that inside the U.S. simply because we have adequate police presence and can set up perimeters and keep rolling out the resources to counter that kind of event taking place," Burton adds.
There are many questions yet to be answered. Chief among them is what happened to Stevens and how did he get separated from his security detail?
"We don't know exactly where or when the ambassador was killed," says Burton. "Was he killed coming back to the mission or was he trying to exit the mission? Was he trying to exit the safe house?"
In the fog of such a dangerous and dynamic situation, Burton says: "You may have had a situation that deteriorated so rapidly that a snap decision was made to load up the ambassador, and 'Let's get the hell out of dodge,' and they just vacated and ran into a situation where you had a perimeter set up and RPGs were fired into the limo as it was departing."
As the investigation progresses, it's becoming more and more clear that perhaps the Zawahiri message, and the confluence of events on Sept. 11, were an elaborate plan to catch the U.S. off-guard - which appears to be what happened.
Sept. 11: The high cost of taming terrorism
WASHINGTON - In the hours after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, stunned Americans followed the developments on radio and TV with a rising sense of anger and patriotism. They were galvanized during a speech by President George W. Bush that night after he hopscotched across the country aboard Air Force One to avoid a wave of follow-up attacks that many thought might come.
- "Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very
came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims
were in airplanes or in their offices -- secretaries, businessmen and women,
military and federal workers. Moms and dads. Friends and neighbors. Thousands of
lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror."
It was a defining moment for an entire generation. Ordinary people changed their lives the very next day. People made decisions that would affect the rest of their lives. Some were purely personal, like taking a little time to enjoy life more. Some survivors re-dedicated themselves to the lives they felt fortunate to still have.
One of those people was John Yates, a civilian security manager for the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff at the Pentagon.
Yates told me that at 9:34 a.m. on Sept. 11, he and his co-workers were "standing around talking about what was unfolding in New York," oblivious to the fact that they were seconds away from an attack.
"When the American Airlines Flight 77 hit the outside of the Pentagon, there was just a tremendous explosion," Yates says. "I've never heard anything that loud in my life."
Almost immediately, jet fuel erupted in a bright, hot trail of flames, blowing Yates off his feet.
"I now know that I landed about 30 feet from where I was standing," he says. When Yates woke up, he was trapped in his office, "surrounded by a mix of dark smoke and fire burning at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.
"There was just a ball of fire that came from behind me and from my left, and it just came across the ceiling over my head," he says.
A colleague eventually found him.
"He said he put his hand within a foot of my back, you could feel the heat coming off of it," Yates says.
Yates was in bad shape. He was the only person in that group left alive. His life was radically changed, but he recovered and is back at the Pentagon working.
But in keeping with the strong impact of that day, a lot of people made radical changes. Some quit their jobs and went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency. Many others joined the military, like Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive back Pat Tillman, who gave up his career to become an Army Ranger. He later gave his life for this country.
The sentiment to find and bring to justice those responsible for the 9/11 attacks was a common thread that galvanized America. Later in his brief remarks that evening, Bush said:
- "The search is under way for those who are behind these evil acts. I've
the full resources for our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find
those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between
the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."
Less than a month later, the U.S. was engaged in a full-fledged war in Afghanistan, which is still going on.
The main goals at the time were to find Osama bin Laden and shut down the safe haven that allowed him and his cronies to plan the 9/11 attacks.
Along the way, the U.S. ended up in Iraq, in part because of a defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons program but later admitted that he lied about it.
Whatever the reasoning behind that war, a lot of lives were lost.
The Iraq war is over, but the Afghan conflict continues. And while that war likely will mean heartbreak ahead for more American families, on this day, a key fact stands out as the war against terrorism continues: While the cost of freedom is steep, Americans are willing to pay it.
And in return, Osama bin Laden's message and his influence are fading. Scholars who follow Muslim political developments say many people in the vulnerable places that bin Laden and al-Qaida tried to sway to their violent, hostile way of thinking are rejecting that mindset, because they too were victims and survivors of al-Qaida's "despicable acts of terror".
Sept. 10: Details, details, details
WASHINGTON - Four years ago today, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the House Armed Services Committee, "In past testimony, I have cautioned that, no matter what you think about the origins of the war in Iraq, we must get the endgame there right. I believe we have now entered that endgame - and our decisions today and in the months ahead will be critical to regional stability and our national security interests for years to come."
He was talking about details.
Gates' prescience regarding Iraq is playing out even now, one day after car bombs and shootings killed more than 80 and wounded almost 300 people in mostly Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad.
Since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in December, the Iraqi government has been deadlocked by sectarian bickering. The endgame Gates spoke of is clearly in jeopardy and U.S. national security and regional security are threatened by the growing tide of attacks.
But the underlying threat is the permissive environment that has allowed a resurgence by the Islamic State of Iraq, the al-Qaida linked terror organization that's engineered a string of deadly terror attacks, including Sunday's.
"As we proceed deeper into the endgame, I would urge our nation's leaders to implement strategies that, while steadily reducing our presence in Iraq, are cautious and flexible and take into account the advice of our senior commanders and military leaders," Gates said later in his testimony that day. "I would also urge our leaders to keep in mind that we should expect to be involved in Iraq for years to come, although in changing and increasingly limited ways."
Again, he spoke of details.
Questions that loom today are beyond the 16,000 contractors, intelligence and diplomatic personnel currently in Iraq - many of whom are involved with the operation and protection of the largest embassy in the world (the U.S. Embassy) - how is the U.S. involved there, and is it the right kind of involvement?
As U.S. military forces inch toward an exit from Afghanistan, a mirror image of the Iraq endgame is emerging, beginning with the announcement of a public timeline which should have all combat troops out in 28 months. The Taliban seized upon that information and has reportedly tried to develop a strategy to undermine U.S. plans.
While the U.S. and NATO forces have had overwhelming success in the Afghan War, the Taliban has begun to chip away at the success by systematically ambushing International Security Assistance Force members.
Some Taliban have infiltrated the ranks of recruits and have been carrying out what's called "green-on-blue" attacks - or "insider attacks" as current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta calls them. Yes, some of the attacks have resulted from cultural misunderstandings, alleged disrespect of Afghan recruits and disputes.
But a significant number of attacks that have killed American troops were set up by the Taliban, accomplished by taking advantage of the fact that some details were overlooked when screening Afghan police recruits.
Again, details loom large.
July 10: Cold pack alert
WASHINGTON - A joint DHS/FBI bulletin dispatched recently is warning law enforcement nationwide about commercially available cold packs.
The packs contain chemicals -- usually 30 to 85 grams of ammonium nitrate or urea -- that can be used as precursors for improvised explosives. The advisory says the chemicals, which are packaged in granular form, can be used directly or ground into powder when being used in homemade explosive production. Five hundred packs would yield 30 to 90 pounds of material for use in an improvised explosive device (IED).
On at least three occasions since 2008 -- the latest in last September -- suspects acquired large amounts of ammonium nitrate extracted from cold packs. Authorities believe the material was going to be used to build IEDs.
The FBI and DHS sent out a Roll Call Alert to law enforcement warning that this is a new tactic that has been noted in other countries. The bulletin urges authorities to stay alert to complaints about theft of cold packs from emergency medical service lockers and fitness facilities, and to the unexplained presence of a large number of cold packs in a location where they are not typically found.
June 27: Cloned vehicles
WASHINGTON - You see package delivery trucks all the time, but U.S. law enforcement authorities are warning they may not be official trucks. In mid May, U.S. Border Patrol agents intercepted what appeared to be a UPS truck after it avoided a security checkpoint in Texas, 50 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
After inspection, the truck was determined to be unaffiliated with UPS. The driver, a U.S. citizen, was found be smuggling 13 Mexican citizens into the United States. The driver and passengers were arrested and the fake delivery truck was impounded.
Law enforcement officials nationwide are being warned to be on the lookout for cloned vehicles, which could be used in any number of illegal and dangerous purposes. Law enforcement officials have been reminded that al-Qaida sympathizers have suggested using cloned vehicles to launch terror attacks. The big concern with the Fourth of July approaching is that cloned vehicles could be parked close to large crowd gatherings to be used as tools in an attack.
June 8: Lawmakers say leaks must stop
WASHINGTON - An undercover U.S. intelligence asset was exposed in Yemen, the U.S. and Israel were publicly identified as the authors of the stealthy, centrifuge- killing Stuxnet virus and classified conversations in the White House Situation Room were revealed to a reporter.
All of the highly sensitive information was revealed in recent weeks.
The stream of high-level intelligence leaks appears to be routine, and top congressional leaders say it has got to stop. They held a joint news conference on June 6 to make the point crystal clear.
"In recent weeks, we have become increasingly concerned at the continued leaks regarding sensitive intelligence programs and activities, including specific details of sources and methods. The accelerating pace of such disclosures, the sensitivity of the matters in question and the harm caused to our national security interests is alarming and unacceptable," read a joint statement put out by the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
"There has been just a cascade of leaks coming out of the intelligence community in the last several weeks and months," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the committee, said she is "deeply disturbed by the continuing leaks of classified information to the media, most recently regarding alleged cyber efforts, targeting Iran's nuclear program."
The unusual bipartisan news conference, where both sides were in lockstep about the leaks, accentuated the gravity of the situation.
Among the most alarming elements of the problem is that the leaking stands out in stark contrast to the warnings and repeated threats of prosecution the intelligence community have issued in recent years to employees, the press and ordinary citizens.
On Jan. 18 of last year, a U.S. official released a statement, indicating great pains were being taken to safeguard information within the intelligence community.
"There's a strong sense inside the intelligence community that you can't err so much on the side of need-to-share that you take chances with our nation's most sensitive secrets," the statement read. "The pendulum is swinging back toward exercising greater care in information-sharing. That means making sure the right people have the right information to do their jobs the right way. If you widen the circle too greatly, you assume a potentially unacceptable level of risk."
Later that year in May, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta warned employees about stiff penalties for leaking.
"The intense public and media interest in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden has led to an unprecedented amount of very sensitive - in fact - classified information making its way into the press," Panetta said in a memo.
Ironically, unprecedented access had already been granted to a film crew working on the bin Laden story.
The leak of sensitive information that appeared in The New York Times about the U.S and Israel's involvement in building and deploying the Stuxnet virus left many wondering ... why?
Sara Carter, national security correspondent for the Washington Examiner, said there may be many reasons, including ones "that may be related to our own intelligence. Reasons that may be beyond our own grasp right now."
She also thinks there may be a political angle. The joint intelligence committee was asked about that and they all steered clear of saying the Obama administration was leaking sensitive information to improve the public's view in an election year.
Whether that is true or not is something the FBI and other investigators will have to determine, but it may shed some light on the selection of outlets that received leaked information.
In one case, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers referred to certain media being present in a "classified" setting. He was thought to be referring to the movie crew given access to personnel and details involved in the bin Laden killing.
But there may be other reasons.
"The Saudis, the Egyptians and others in the Arabian Gulf region see Iran as a growing threat," Amos Harrell, a defense reporter from Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, recently said. "They would like someone to get rid of the problem."
The leaks might be a way to show them they are working hard to deal with Iran.
Regardless of the reasoning, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters last week that "classified information is classified for a reason ... to keep it secret."
Now, the question is: Who did not get the memo?
March 2: An American Hero
WASHINGTON - On a cold day in early December of 2009, I stepped off a Russian made KA-27 chopper in Qalat, Afghanistan. The mid-day sun bathed the valley in Zabul Province.
I had an uneasy feeling.
I could see in the distance the snow-capped, jagged, flint-like mountains that Afghanistan is known for. I immediately remembered the country is sometimes called the "Graveyard of Empires," because of its long, untamed history and many invasions and war.
The first person I met was Maj. J.D. Loftis of the 866th Air Expeditionary Squadron.
The uneasiness subsided.
He said, "Welcome to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Smart."
The next few days were crammed full of knowledge about that place that I call the "end of the world" because it looks and feels like the last stop on a bus line. The place where the sidewalk runs out, where there's no streetlight and you can feel the danger in the air.
FOB Smart was one of the small outposts across Afghanistan where the U.S. military and the State Department teamed up to offer protection and opportunities to local Afghans. Loftis, from Calloway County in Kentucky, was the bridge between U.S./ISAF forces and the locals. He spoke perfect Pashto (the Afghan language) and blended well with both sides.
He was a very bright, regimented, detail-oriented officer, whose goal was "getting messages on the part of the government of Afghanistan and the ISAF forces to the Afghan people."
Their goal, he said, was to "work as much as we can behind the scenes in helping connect the government to its people and helping to disconnect the people from the insurgency."
That was both a profound and prophetic statement because, unfortunately, a little more than two years later, he became a victim of the very thing he was trying to help achieve.
On Feb. 25, Loftis, who was now a lieutenant colonel, was shot in the back of the head while meeting at the Afghan Interior Ministry Intelligence Department in Kabul.
Sources say the suspected gunman, 25-year-old Abdul Saboor, a junior officer in the ministry's intelligence department, reportedly had spent several months in a Pakistani religious school -- obviously being persuaded to take revenge.
As fractious and dysfunctional as Afghanistan is, in the days since the mistaken burning of the Koran, the unity of mission to exact revenge has been astounding. Those who have rioted, protested and even assassinated the very people who've walked side-by-side with them through the dark days of the last 10 years have created a teaching moment.
As painful as it is to acknowledge, one wonders if Afghanistan will be able to turn the corner before the U.S. leaves. Ten-thousand troops left last year, and another 23,000 are scheduled to leave this year. The international military presence is drawing down as well, and the Taliban is well-aware of it.
At least six American troops have been killed since the Koran burning, and the drumbeat for more blood continues. Loftis, who leaves behind a wife and two young daughters, was a tireless advocate for education because more than 80 percent of the Afghan population can't read or write, which includes many of the military and police forces. They are being trained to read and write while on the job. They don't have 15 or 20 years of education and reading experiences behind them to help them reason out their actions.
A Taliban or insurgent representative shows up and encourages them to kill to save the honor of the Koran and the Afghan people, and they do it. And they kill a man like Col. Loftis, who I can assure you never wanted anything more than for Afghans to be as free as he was.
He was a really good man and a credit to this nation.
When I finally left Qalat on a Blackhawk headed for Bagram, the wind was whistling and the flat, gray sky promised a hefty snow on the plains and the uneasy feeling was back.
Oct. 21: Death's door
J.J. Green, wtop.com
This is a look back at a blog I wrote early June, 2006 embedded in Iraq as the war was raging
(Aboard a C-17 leaving Balad, Iraq) - After traveling more than 16,000 miles, in 26 days to nine countries, from Afghanistan to Djibouti to Romania, we were cycling out of the heavily rocketed Balad Air Force Base in Iraq's violent Sunni triangle. Next stop: Landstuhl Hospital at Ramstein AFB in Germany.
Our ride was an Air Force C-17 hospital ship, piloted by the good folks of the Mississippi Air National Guard. This bird will blow your mind, because it's basically an intensive care unit in the air. Walking into the big, open door on the back of this technological wonder ushered in the moment I had been dreading the whole trip. Along, with the thrill of watching high-tech military medicine at 37,000 feet, came the gut-wrenching experience of watching a young soldier lying flat on his back, trying to fight off death's attempt to break down the door to his soul.
I never saw his face, but I knew he was very ill, because we waited for six hours at the Contingency Air Staging Facility (CASF) in Balad as the medical team worked feverishly to stabilize him enough to fly.
He was brought aboard the plane covered in a mass of tangled wires, hoses, tubes, blankets and monitors. About a dozen people boarded with him --way more than were necessary, but as one Air Force Customs agent put it, people line up for the honor to help load the patients on the plane. It was an awesome sight to witness. All eyes were on the procession, because the military personnel who fly on those missions knew that the slightest mistake and this young warrior could flat-line at any time.
I rarely tear up, but this scene brought me very close.
A part of this intriguing scene was the attending physician. After the giant hatch in back of the plane closed and we were airborne for the eight hour flight, I watched her intently for an hour. I was drowsy from being up all night, but stimulated by what I saw. She and her team calmly and precisely attended the soldier as he wavered close to that invisible void between life and death. The doctor indeed seemed to be in another world, rarely taking her eyes off the monitors or her patient. She worked her way through numerous facial expressions, leaving me confused as I was trying to read the patient's condition through her body language. No luck. But I already knew this young man was in the fight of his life.
I inquired about the doctor's name and communicated my interest in talking to her at some point, if she had a moment, doubting she'd even respond (because she was so busy). As I looked up from my laptop a few minutes later, I saw her walking over to me. Major Karin Hawkins of the Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) approached and asked how she could help. I asked for an interview.
She said she'd have to wait and see how her patient would do. Then she did something that typified the class act that she is. Touching her heart she said, "I can speak for my entire team (Nurse Vickie Autmon, Medical Technician Luke Manning) when I say it's an honor to take care of our wounded soldiers."
I got up to look out of the window near the rear of the plane at the rolling hills of southern Turkey. Walking to the window, I passed some of the other servicemen and women being treated on the plane. Some were lying on stretchers and still others sitting in regular passenger areas on the plane. I'm sure the families of the wounded and sick service members on the flight will be happy to know that their sons and daughters were well cared for and protected at all times.
Back to the critical care patient - I wondered if he knew what happened to him and that he had a whole plane load of people pulling for him. I wondered if he knew that the CASF, which saved his life, is one of the best critical care facilities in the world - and that by him just being stable enough to get on the plane meant his chances of survival were pretty high. Something tells me he could feel it.
Still, it was a very tense flight. Though I had been awake and working for the last 24 hours and hadn't eaten anything since the day before, I couldn't sleep and I didn't eat. I sat in my seat holding my video camera watching Major Hawkins and Nurse Autmon for any sign that might tell me how the patient was doing. Still no luck - but at one point I saw one of his feet move and at that very instant, the team sprang into action. The anesthesia was wearing off, but the medical team quickly took care of the situation.
The hours ticked away. I was stirred by a nudge from the Marine sitting next to me. I had fallen asleep and as I floated back to consciousness, I saw him as he brought the insides of his fist together in front of his waist (the universal military sign for fasten your seatbelt). We were landing at Ramstein AFB.
It was early afternoon. The big hatch opened in back of the plane and bright sunshine and for the first time in many days, fresh clean air blasted into my nostrils. The critically injured soldier was being prepared for transport and like a true warrior; he was still clinging to life. As he and the rest of the patients were off-loaded, you could feel the prayers pouring out of the plane behind them. This mission of mercy had reached its final chapter but one question was still unanswered.
Would he make it?
I'd have to wait a while to find out. Thinking about what he was facing created another heavy moment in a very heavy week.
Moments like the day at the CASF hospital in Balad when my colleague from CBS, Kimberly Dozier, came in. I had been there earlier the same day interviewing staff and patients. I was in the chow hall when I learned via the big screen TV that she was being transported there; the victim of an improvised explosive device that killed her crew members and left her seriously wounded.
I thought back to my own experiences during the week, including landing at Balad while the runway was under attack, and escaping unharmed.
I remembered flying at low level in a Blackhawk helicopter to and from Baghdad without incident (I later learned that shooting down a Blackhawk is a priority for insurgents). It was also the main reason why I had to sign a "hold harmless" release.
Images also flashed through my head of the smoking remnants of a suicide attack in Hillah as we were driving toward Baghdad. Still fresh in my mind was diving to the floor during mortar attacks earlier in the week (there were many, many attacks), and I was still in one piece - but so many others were not.
I drifted back to reality as my team began to stand up. It was our turn to get off the plane.
I took a last look at the young man in critical care as he was being loaded into a waiting vehicle. As I turned to walk away, Major Hawkins grabbed my arm and as I turned to her she said "Thank you, sir, for your coverage."
The sincerity in her face said a whole lot more. It said she was weary, worried, relieved, and perhaps grateful, because she and her team had successfully defended the young soldier from the relentless advances of death - for now.
Oct 17: Foreign governments using U.S. citizens in plots
"The use of naturalized American citizens for this kind of activity is deeply concerning," says Fred Burton, vice president of intelligence at Stratfor.
He told me that foreign intelligence agencies often recruit naturalized American citizens specifically to do this kind of thing.
And this of course creates another problem.
Burton says: "The challenge that U.S. federal law enforcement face is, they have to find these people," who are embedded in the fabric of American society.
In reality though, it's not that simple for organizations like Iran's Quds Force, which is said to be behind the plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, to find capable and willing participants. Jamshid Sharmahd, the victim of an Iranian assassination plot in Los Angeles, has figured out a key failing.
"They have one problem in U.S. They have problem to hire professional" (his own words).
Whether it's hiring a spy or a killer in the U.S., Iran, Syria and others are worried about leaving their own fingerprints on these operations.
"That is the reason they have to cooperate with Mexican or South American drug cartels," Sharmahd says.
Burton says the cartels are one-stop-shops.
"You're talking about an umbrella criminal enterprise that exists for the purpose of making money."
The buyer can get all the nasty little details taken care of in one place.
Sharmahd says the fact that a connection between a de facto arm of the Iranian government and a drug cartel to kill an ambassador sends one message.
"It's very dangerous, very dangerous, because they are very serious and they want to keep the power," Sharmahd says.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp's (IRGC) Quds Force exists solely to carry out covert operations to preserve the power of Iran's hard-line government.
Washington is no stranger to Iranian assassination plots by the IRGC. The 1980 killing of an Iranian by the name of Ali Tabatabai, was the last time, Burton says, who remembers it well.
It took place in "Bethesda, Md. right off of Greentree Road near the Montgomery Mall area."
Burton says it was a well-executed plot in which a "black Muslim convert dressed as a mailman, knocked on the door and shot Mr. Tabatabai at point blank range."
The suspect, according to Burton, "fled and is still in Iran."
Sources tell me the suspect, known as Dawuud Salahuddin, is sheltered and protected by the IRGC, and interestingly enough, has also been linked to the disappearance of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson in Iran.
Whether it's Iran, Syria, China, Russia or Cuba, the U.S. has a new problem: All of them seem able to tap into naturalized U.S. citizens as tools of their foreign policy objectives or platforms to launch criminal acts.
Oct. 7: Too soon to tell
WASHINGTON - In 1968, U.S. President Richard Nixon is said to have asked Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai what his thoughts were regarding the French Revolution in 1789. He reportedly said, "it's too soon to tell."
I believe the same is true about the effect of the killing of Osama bin Laden on U.S./Pakistani relations.
As I walk the halls of the Pentagon and other official Washington corridors every day, engaging with various military and intelligence officials, there is little doubt that many believe Pakistani intelligence leaders knew exactly where bin Laden was, and were protecting him.
My discussions with Pakistani officials leave me with the impression they are angry with the U.S. because the entire world began to view them as an extension of al-Qaida after the killing of bin Laden. The bottom line is Pakistan was painted as either as complicit or incompetent.
It's a harsh and perhaps unjustified view of Pakistan, but that entire nation will have to suffer for the sins of the ISI. Because there were, without doubt, those who knew exactly where bin Laden was and perhaps even extended protection to him.
I say that because it's hard to overstate the difficulty in today's wired up, GPS implanted world, for the most wanted man on the planet to hide in a technologically savvy nation capable of producing and maintaining nuclear weapons, without their knowledge.
Since I started writing this update more than two weeks ago, another key al-Qaida figure was killed by a drone -- Anwar al Awlaki. And this week, one of the key questions asked by members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was how Awlaki's death will affect the war against terrorism inside the U.S.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olson both responded saying essentially the same thing: Awlaki is dead, but not gone. And it may be months or years before we know how many people he radicalized. And as we wait for them to show themselves, a greater concern is, when will their plots emerge and how sophisticated will they be?
That is a key consideration, because before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab got on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in December of 2009, he and his al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) handlers were probably the only ones thinking about putting a bomb in his underwear. The same holds true about the printer cartridge bombs used in AQAP's Dubai plot last year.
Simply put, they're a very creative bunch and only time will tell how Awlaki's death will affect what they do next.
Sept. 30: al-Awlaki killing a blow to al-Qaida
WASHINGTON - There was no doubt it was going to happen. The question was when.
A U.S. official told me early Friday morning: "It's been confirmed that AQAP's (Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula) chief of external operations, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed today in Yemen."
My first thought was this is a temporary lobotomy for al-Qaida's next generation.
Apparently a drone-strike operation early on Friday, in cooperation with the Yemeni government, targeted his convoy. Another source tells me it was a direct hit and he was positively identified via photo.
A DNA comparison is sure to come.
The U.S. official says: "Anwar al-Awlaki was one of AQAP's most dangerous terrorists, and was directly involved in planning attacks against the United States, including the 2010 cargo bomb plot and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempt to blow up a plane in December 2009."
The reason al-Awlaki's killing is so important is because he was the brainpower behind al-Qaida's new digital threat. INSPIRE, AQAP's online magazine, was essentially his project and he made it very easy for aspiring terrorist to learn how to plan terror attacks, to build sophisticated and hard to detect bombs and to grow into their hatred of the West.
As it happens, the actual editor of the magazine, Samir Khan, was also killed in the drone strike. Khan was an online propagandist, and wrote most of the material in the magazine. He, like al-Awlaki, was an American, but unlike al-Awlaki, he was a naturalized citizen.
One troubling element about al-Awlaki is he was born in the U.S., partook of all the freedoms we have here and then decided he didn't like it and began to use American democracy as a tool to recruit and radicalize people, like Khan, to destroy it.
Another more disturbing element is al-Awlaki and his disciples, like Khan, not only speak American English, but they also speak the slang of the street fluently. And they have a connection with many young men, who romanticize the combination of the slang, the lore behind being a product of the street and the supposed nobility of Jihad. A growing number of these young, often well-educated people, appear to be bored or disenchanted with America.
They're looking for something more and al-Awlaki was the man who provided that "more" for them.
The U.S. official told me: "Awlaki and AQAP are also responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Yemen and throughout the region, which have killed scores of Muslims. His death takes a committed terrorist, intent on attacking the United States, off the battlefield."
Sept. 23: A drone with their name on it
WASHINGTON - The stunning, public rebuke by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen of Pakistan's intelligence service in front of Congress, which happened to be broadcast around the world as it happened, has set up a new fight between the two countries.
Mullen had apparently warned his Pakistani counterpart Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani about what was to come during discussions in Spain on Sept. 17. DoD spokesman John Kirby said Mullen's shocking rebuke had nothing to do with him being a week away from leaving the job, but about new information that left them "confident" Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Agency is "supporting and encouraging" the Haqqani Network in attacks against forces U.S. in Afghanistan.
The problem it seems is not whether Kiyani gets it, but whether any element of the Pakistani military or government can rein in the ISI. Previous experience suggests it would be difficult at best.
The ISI is widely understood to be divided into two camps: Leadership that is trained by and believes in Western intelligence doctrines -- and those who share close bonds with a Pakistani system that has evolved since the end if the Soviet Afghan war. That system employs extremist groups as an extension of political power and apparently has used them against the U.S.
Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani, (no relation to the Haqqani Network) has told me Pakistan no longer engages in that practice, but people at the Pentagon are not buying it.
At the end of the day, what this has come down to is how long before the U.S. begins firing drones at the Haqqani Network?
And a more pressing question is, if DoD believes the ISI are working together, how do you tell the difference between ISI assets and Haqqani Network?
An even bigger question is after the "convincing evidence" the Pentagon says it has that the ISI is helping the Haqqani Network, will it matter to them?
Pentagon spokesmen won't put a timeline on it, but the suggestion is that unless there is evidence of a change in the relationship between the ISI and the Haqqani Network, they could take action any day now.
Sept. 11: After the darkest day
WASHINGTON -- The 10 years since the Sept. 11 attacks have ushered in new national security technologies, ideas, faces and threats. The pace of terror attacks have not stopped or even slowed around the world.
Osama bin Laden and many other top al Qaida leaders have been erased from the canvas of life, but their vitriolic, skewed views on world order remain intact and are carried on by narrow-minded disciples, not yet exposed to the feeling of freedom.
One of the most tragic parts of this narrative is that bin Laden himself was a rich man familiar with the treasures life, diversity and what the world had to offer, but he chose to build a network based on hatred and designed to achieve his own selfish goals. As a result, legions of young minds were led astray and lost -- duped by bin Laden into thinking that killing others, who are different, could change the world.
It's been tried many times and it's never worked.
In the meantime, the world continues to turn. There are good days and there are not so good days. In the 7 years I've spent covering terrorism, war, and security matters, never have I seen a more optimistic, promising time.
Once again the hatred and evil-doers of the world have seen the people rise up as they did during the Arab Spring and triumph over self-appointed dictators who rob them of their birthright: to be free and equal.
Experts have said it could be decades or even a century before Al Qaida is silenced, but regardless, there are young people who have seen proof that they can organize and execute their political will in a peaceful, democratic way.
That is another nail in the al-Qaida coffin.
July 28: Terror in Norway
J.J. Green, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - I got a look at the 2011 Norwegian Police Security Service Annual Threat Assessment. There is a curious and unfortunate section in the assessment that sheds light on the bombing and massacre in Oslo on Friday July 22:
As in previous years, the far-right and far-left extremist communities will not represent a serious threat to Norwegian society in 2011. There was an increase in the activity of far-right extremist groups in 2010, and this activity is expected to continue in 2011. An increased level of activity among some anti-Islamic groups could lead to increased polarisation and unease, especially during, and in connection with, commemorations and demonstrations.
Clearly the police were not focused on domestic extremism, but I've also spoken with a security official from another country who visited recently and "warned them about right-wing extremism." Since the attack, all of Western Europe is reviewing its security postures and looking to see if they too have overlooked any threats.
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June 30: Yemen simmering
WASHINGTON - Six al-Qaida fighters, who the government of Yemen says were on its most wanted list, have been arrested. They're said to be a part of an Aden-based cell. The arrest took place on Monday as the individuals were identified by the Yemen's Army in a checkpoint.
Yemeni authorities said the suspected militants were specialists in bomb-making and were attempting to infiltrate into Aden when arrested. The suspected al-Qaida members were allegedly planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Aden and other cities.
U.S. authorities have been on alert since a big jail-break in Yemen last week. Read the whole story.
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June 16: Al-Qaida news dominates
WASHINGTON - At the top of the list is Ayman al-Zawahiri's official coronation as the leaders of the organization. But he's got a couple of problems:
- Al-Qaida wants to project image of equality, but the projection of equality
doesn't really stand up. When you look closely at the organization, people from
the Arabian Gulf feel superior to people from North Africa. They think they're
superior to people from south Asia. They have their dirty internal laundry that
suggests that they are susceptible to operations aimed at fomenting dissent.
- We view Osama bin Laden as the architect of Sept. 11, but he was also the main umbrella of the organization. He held them together and made it a cohesive unit. Zawahiri may not be able to do that. He is not good at building coalitions. So I'm wondering if the same kind of factionalism that has torn up some of the other international terror groups is going to hit al-Qaida eventually.
The CIA, concerned about the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Yemen, is building up its capacity to quickly strike at al-Qaida.
A quiet, stable U.S.-friendly country in the Persian Gulf is currently a focal point of stepped up U.S. efforts aimed at shutting down al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), operating nearby in Yemen. The group is led by American born Anwar al-Awlaki, a terror savvy cleric. More...
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June 9: 'Digital Pearl Harbor' already underway
WASHINGTON - For years, many in the media have been told the Chinese were working aggressively to build up their capacity to bring the U.S. to its knees in a conflict.
U.S. intelligence sources tell me the Chinese are working to secretly take possession of U.S. command and control systems and then launch a massive kinetic strike if they so choose.
Well, news flash -- it's already happening.
William O'Brien, director of operations for Deloitte's Center for Security & Privacy Solutions, indicates the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians and transnational bad actors are chipping away at U.S. defense, intelligence and corporate systems day-by-day.
And waiting for a big, all-out attack may never happen.
O'Brien and Roger Cressey, senior vice president at Booze Allen Hamilton, were members of a Cyber Security expert panel that I moderated. Both agreed that war is underway now.
"In the last 12 months," Cressey says. "We have seen the 'Four Horsemen' of the cyber-apocalypse: Wikileaks, Stuxnet, Google penetrations and the penetration of NASDAQ."
He says U.S. Cyber vulnerabilities are being exploited at an unprecedented rate, which means hostile nation-states, transnational threats and even U.S. friends are chipping away at the U.S. everyday.
What they steal and all of the data being leaked out about U.S. systems are reportedly being mapped in the marketplace of the dark world and bought and sold. If anyone out there is smart enough to connect all the dots successfully, the U.S. will face an unprecedented threat.
The good news is the U.S. is not just sitting idle. DoD, the Intelligence Community and the private sector are working hard to stop the leaking and stealing.
But Andy Purdy, chief cyber security strategist at Computer Sciences Corporation, also a member of the panel, got it right when he said the time has passed for talking, there needs to be some action.
Truth is, sadly most of us are going to continue to stumble along thinking cybersecurity is too big a deal to affect us personally. But the day we wake up and nothing works -- lights, water, the car, the computer, traffic lights and of course the banks -- it could very well be too late.
Or is it already too late? It could be, because every one of the aforementioned entities has been impacted by hackers in the last year. Let's hope no one figures out how to do it all on the same day.
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May 19: Shut up already!
Yesterday it was Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen saying it's time to "stop talking." Later in the day, CIA director Leon Panetta released this:
Protecting Classified Information
The intense public and media interest in the operation that killed Usama Bin Ladin has led to an unprecedented amount of very sensitive-in fact, classified- information making its way into the press. While much of that information is likely coming from other places, I feel compelled to remind everyone that our continued success against terrorists and every other threat to our nation's security depends on our ability to keep secrets.
Disclosure of classified information to anyone not cleared for it-reporters, friends, colleagues in the private sector or other agencies, former Agency officers-does tremendous damage to our work. At worst, leaks endanger lives.
As I said the morning after the raid on Bin Ladin's hideout, our Intelligence Community applied the full range of its most advanced and powerful capabilities to this operation. Every kind of source and method contributed to this success. Unauthorized disclosure of those details not only violates the law, it seriously undermines our capability to do our job. For those reasons, the Office of Security will fully investigate, and, when warranted, referrals will be made to the Department of Justice.
We have every reason to be proud of the Bin Ladin operation. Let's live up to our secrecy oath in protecting it so that our Agency can look forward to even greater accomplishments in the future.
What's more interesting is that the U.S. government has an intense effort underway to target leakers and the recipients of the information, including task forces and grand jury investigations. Who's leaking? Good question. Panetta's memo simply refers to it as "other places" WTOP will be looking into it.
Members of Congress, CIA leaders and DoD have some ideas that are circulating.
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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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