Tag Archives: cia

The Body Count and the Small Footprint

Jan. 14, 2014. Islamic State marching in Raqqa Syria. Image Associated Press

The U.S. assaults… have been far more deadly than is generally recognized. Military sources say that drone strikes have killed between 20,000 and 25,000 Islamic State operatives in Iraq and Syria. U.S. conventional attacks have killed about 30,000 more, for a total “body count” of over 50,000….The CIA and JSOC both conduct roughly the same number of drone flights every day. But the sources said the military’s drones conducted more than 20,000 strikes over the last year, in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, while the CIA is said to have struck less than a dozen targets over that same period.

The CIA oversaw much of America’s drone warfare during the first half of Obama’s presidency, when it was targeting al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan. But the agency’s focus on such counterterrorism “direct action” appears to have diminished over the past several years.
Obama’s  preference for special operations forces and their “small-footprint” tactics, as opposed to big conventional assaults….One unlikely legacy of Obama’s presidency is that he made the secret, once-impermissible tactic of targeted killing the preferred tool of U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Excerpt from David Ignatius, Pentagon and CIA in a terror turf war,  Washington Post. Dec 12, 2016

Codification of Best Practices to Capture or Kill

image from http://www.socom.mil/pages/jointspecialoperationscommand.aspx

The creation of a new  Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC ) entity,  the “Counter-External Operations Task Force,” this late [November 2016]  in the Obama’s tenure is the “codification” of best practices in targeting terrorists outside of conventional conflict zones, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity …[These practices]include guidelines for counterterrorism operations such as approval by several agencies before a drone strike and “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed. This series of presidential orders is known as the “playbook.”

The new JSOC task force could also offer intelligence, strike recommendations and advice to the militaries and security forces of traditional Western allies, or conduct joint operations, officials said. In other parts of the world, with weak or no governments, JSOC could act unilaterally…

The new JSOC task force will report to the Pentagon through the U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, according to U.S. military officials, creating a hybrid command system that can sidestep regional commanders for the sake of speed….But [the problem is that] regional commanders, all four star generals, guard their turf carefully.

Officials hope the task force, known throughout the Pentagon as “Ex-Ops,” will be a clearinghouse for intelligence coordinating and targeting against groups or individuals attempting to plot attacks in places like the United States and Europe.  According to officials familiar with plans for the task force, it will initially draw on an existing multinational intelligence operation in the Middle East that tracks foreign fighters, called Gallant Phoenix, and one of JSOC’s intelligence centers in Northern Virginia.

While in the past the smaller task forces, such as Gallant Phoenix, were staffed by representatives from different intelligence agencies, the new task force aims to have decision-makers present, ensuring that the targeting process happens in one place and quickly…. “There has never been an ex-ops command team that works trans-regionally to stop attacks.”

Excerpts from  Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe, Obama administration expands elite, Washington Post, Nov.25, 2016

 

 

What’s Your Threat Score?

instagram

Among the 38 previously undisclosed companies receiving In-Q-Tel funding, the research focus that stands out is social media mining and surveillance; the portfolio document lists several tech companies pursuing work in this area, including Dataminr, Geofeedia, PATHAR, and TransVoyant….The investments appear to reflect the CIA’s increasing focus on monitoring social media. In September 2015, David Cohen, the CIA’s second-highest ranking official, spoke at length at Cornell University about a litany of challenges stemming from the new media landscape. The Islamic State’s “sophisticated use of Twitter and other social media platforms is a perfect example of the malign use of these technologies,” he said…

The latest round of In-Q-Tel investments comes as the CIA has revamped its outreach to Silicon Valley, establishing a new wing, the Directorate of Digital Innovation…

Dataminr directly licenses a stream of data from Twitter to visualize and quickly spot trends on behalf of law enforcement agencies and hedge funds, among other clients.  Geofeedia collects geotagged social media messages to monitor breaking news events in real time.Geofeedia specializes in collecting geotagged social media messages, from platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, to monitor breaking news events in real time. The company, which counts dozens of local law enforcement agencies as clients, markets its ability to track activist protests on behalf of both corporate interests and police departments.PATHAR mines social media to determine networks of association…

PATHAR’s product, Dunami, is used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “mine Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media to determine networks of association, centers of influence and potential signs of radicalization,” according to an investigation by Reveal.

TransVoyant analyzes data points to deliver insights and predictions about global events.  TransVoyant, founded by former Lockheed Martin Vice President Dennis Groseclose, provides a similar service by analyzing multiple data points for so-called decision-makers. The firm touts its ability to monitor Twitter to spot “gang incidents” and threats to journalists. A team from TransVoyant has worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan to integrate data from satellites, radar, reconnaissance aircraft, and drones….

The recent wave of investments in social media-related companies suggests the CIA has accelerated the drive to make collection of user-generated online data a priority. Alongside its investments in start-ups, In-Q-Tel has also developed a special technology laboratory in Silicon Valley, called Lab41, to provide tools for the intelligence community to connect the dots in large sets of data.  In February, Lab41 published an article exploring the ways in which a Twitter user’s location could be predicted with a degree of certainty through the location of the user’s friends. On Github, an open source website for developers, Lab41 currently has a project to ascertain the “feasibility of using architectures such as Convolutional and Recurrent Neural Networks to classify the positive, negative, or neutral sentiment of Twitter messages towards a specific topic.”

Collecting intelligence on foreign adversaries has potential benefits for counterterrorism, but such CIA-supported surveillance technology is also used for domestic law enforcement and by the private sector to spy on activist groups.

Palantir, one of In-Q-Tel’s earliest investments in the social media analytics realm, was exposed in 2011 by the hacker group LulzSec to be innegotiation for a proposal to track labor union activists and other critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobbying group in Washington. The company, now celebrated as a “tech unicorn” …

Geofeedia, for instance, promotes its research into Greenpeace activists, student demonstrations, minimum wage advocates, and other political movements. Police departments in Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, and other major municipalities havecontracted with Geofeedia, as well as private firms such as the Mall of America and McDonald’s.

Lee Guthman, an executive at Geofeedia, told reporter John Knefel that his company could predict the potential for violence at Black Lives Matter protests just by using the location and sentiment of tweets. Guthman said the technology could gauge sentiment by attaching “positive and negative points” to certain phrases, while measuring “proximity of words to certain words.”

Privacy advocates, however, have expressed concern about these sorts of automated judgments.“When you have private companies deciding which algorithms get you a so-called threat score, or make you a person of interest, there’s obviously room for targeting people based on viewpoints or even unlawfully targeting people based on race or religion,” said Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Excerpt from Lee Fang, THE CIA IS INVESTING IN FIRMS THAT MINE YOUR TWEETS AND INSTAGRAM PHOTOS, Intercept, Apr. 14, 2016

Hungry for Your DNA-the CIA

DNA methylation image from wikipedia

The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”Though the public-facing side of the company touts a range of skin care products, Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including DNA collection.  Skincential Science’s noninvasive procedure, described on the Clearista website as “painless,” is said to require only water, a special detergent, and a few brushes against the skin, making it a convenient option for restoring the glow of a youthful complexion — and a novel technique for gathering information about a person’s biochemistry.  In-Q-Tel, founded in 1999 by then-CIA Director George Tenet, identifies cutting-edge technology to support the mission of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and provides venture funding to help grow tech firms to develop those solutions…. The CIA fund approached his company, telling him the fund shares an interest in looking at DNA extraction using the method pioneered by Skincential Sciences, according to Lebovitz (the CEO of the company).  The CIA fund has described human skin as a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.”…

Despite the association with computer and satellite technology, In-Q-Tel also maintains a long-running interest in developing advanced genetic analysis, biological technologies for detection and diagnostics, as well as research into what is known as physiological intelligence, which, in a 2010 article, the fund described as “actionable information about human identity and experience that have always been of interest to the Intelligence Community.”

The article, which is no longer available on the fund’s website but ispreserved by a cache hosted by the Internet Archive, argues that advances in medical research into biomarkers can be leveraged by intelligence agencies for a variety of uses, from airport security to next-generation identification tools.

A diagram in the article calls human skin the body’s largest organ and a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.” The author, Dr. Kevin O’Connell, then a “senior solutions architect” with In-Q-Tel, notes, “The DNA contained in microorganisms in a person’s gut or on a person’s skin may contain sequences that indicate a particular geographical origin.”

In-Q-Tel has invested in several companies working in this realm, in addition to Skincential Sciences. In 2013, In-Q-Tel publicly announced a strategic partnership with Bio-NEMS, a firm that developed a semiconductor device used to analyze DNA for a variety of diagnostic and human identification applications. Claremont BioSolutions, a diagnostics firm, and Biomatrica, a firm that specializes in preparing biological samples for DNA testing, are also backed by In-Q-Tel.

Skincential Sciences did not start out as a beauty company. The firm was founded in 2010 as DX Biosciences, which was developed around a patent by a team of scientists including Dr. Samir Mitragotri of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Mitragotri has published research into the use of biomarkers as a “window to body’s health.

Excerpts from Lee Fang,  Beauty Secrets of the Spies, the Intercept, Apr. 8 2016

West versus the Islamic State: the Apostles

ODA 525 team picture taken shortly before infiltration in Iraq, February 1991.  Image from wikipedia

Undercover warriors [led by the US spy agency CIA] will aim to “cut the head off the snake” by hitting the command structure of the Islamist terror group responsible for a trail of atrocities across Iraq and Syria, reports the Sunday People.  PM David Cameron has told the SAS and UK spy agencies to direct all their ­resources at defeating IS [Islamic State] after a video of US journalist James Foley being beheaded shocked the world.

British special forces will work with America’s Delta Force and Seal Team 6. The move sees a rebirth of top secret Task Force Black, which helped defeat al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq .This time the counter-terrorist ­experts will be targeting Abu Bakr ­al-Baghdadi, leader of IS and now the world’s most wanted terrorist.

A source said: “We need to go into Syria and Iraq and kill as many IS members as we can. You can’t ­negotiate with these people.  “This is not a war of choice. They are cash rich and have a plentiful ­supply of arms. If we don’t go after them, they will soon come after us…You have to get on the ground and take out the commanders – cut off the snake’s head.

The new task force will comprise a squadron of the SAS, special forces aircrews from the RAF and agents from MI5 and MI6. The operation will be led by America’s CIA spy agency.

One of the first jobs will be to identify the British Muslim shown on an IS video released last week apparently cutting Foley’s head off with a knife. UK intelligence sources confirmed that the killer, believed to be a British-born Pakistani from London, is already at the top of a CIA “kill list”…

Troops will also train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters…There are also moves to revive a defunct Iraqi special forces unit called the Apostles, which was ­created by the first Task Force Black a­fter the Iraq War.

Excerpts from Aaron Sharp, SAS and US special forces forming hunter killer unit to ‘smash Islamic State’, Mirror, Aug.23, 2014

The CIA in the New Kurdistan

ebril internatioal airport

Western contractors hired to expand the facility and a local intelligence official confirmed the construction project, which is visible from the main highway linking Erbil/Irbil to Mosul, the city whose fall June 10, 2014 triggered the Islamic State’s sweep through northern and central Iraq. Residents around the airport say they can hear daily what they suspect are U.S. drones taking off and landing at the facility.  Expansion of the facility comes as it seems all but certain that the autonomous Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad, never easy partners, are headed for an irrevocable split — complicating any U.S. military hopes of coordinating the two entities’ efforts against the Islamic State…

The peshmerga Kurds has worked closely over the years with the CIA, U.S. Special Forces and the Joint Special Operations Command, the military’s most secretive task force, which has become a bulwark of counterterrorism operations. Peshmerga forces already are staffing checkpoints and bunkers to protect the CIA station, which sits a few hundred yards from the highway.

“Within a week of the fall of Mosul we were being told to double or even triple our capacities,” said one Western logistics contractor who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’d signed nondisclosure agreements with the U.S. government on the matter.  “They needed everything from warehouse space to refrigeration capacity, because they operate under a different logistics command than the normal military or embassy structures,” the contractor said. “The expansion was aggressive and immediate.”…The local Kurdish intelligence official described what was taking place as a “long-term relationship with the Americans.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said July 3, 2014 that Irbil would host such a center, in addition to one being set up in Baghdad, and suggested it had already begun operating. “We have personnel on the ground in Irbil, where our second joint operations center has achieved initial operating capability,” he said then.

The Kurdish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s no secret that the American special forces and CIA have a close relationship with the peshmerga.” He added that the facility had operated even “after the Americans were forced out of Iraq by al-Maliki,” a reference to the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal after the Obama administration and the Iraqi government couldn’t agree on a framework for U.S. forces to remain in the country.

The official refused to directly identify the location of the facility but when he was shown the blurred-out location on an online satellite-mapping service he joked: “The peshmerga do not have the influence to make Google blur an area on these maps. I will leave the rest to your conclusions.

Expansion of ‘secret’ CIA post suggests closer U.S.-Kurd ties, Seattle Times, July 11, 2014

NGO Sues CIA over Freedom of Information

foia

[T]he Central Intelligence Agency has a track record of holding itself apart from, and largely above, the Freedom of Information Act, consistently ignoring deadlines, refusing to work with requesters, and capriciously rejecting even routine requests for what should be clearly public information.  Additionally, we [MuckRock] are suing against the CIA’s general practice of rejecting requests for email records which do not include the time frame, subject, and to and from fields, regardless of what other information is including to help narrow the request. This practice replaces the required functional test for whether or not a request reasonably describes the records sought with a per se test that automatically rejects any request for email records based on whether or not it includes all four pieces of information, virtually ensuring that vast amounts of CIA email records go unprocessed and unreleased.

Excerpt, Michael Morisy, Why we’re suing the CIA: After 10,000 requests, MuckRock launches its first lawsuit, MuckRock Press Release, June 11, 2014

United States Wars in Africa: colonization and its logistics

SOCAFRICA_Logo.  Image from wikipedia

US Army Africa Command (Africom) wants private contractors to move military equipment and supplies from the US to Egypt and 55 other countries within its Area of Responsibility (AOR) starting this month (Sept. 2013).  This comes hard on the heels of a transport contract awarded by the US Army’s Transport Command (US-TRANSCOM) to Berry Aviation to provide to provide air transport service in support of operations in western and central Africa. This contract is reportedly worth $49 million.

A solicitation notice issued by Africom Surface Distribution Services (ASDS) from its contracting office in Vincenza, Italy, on August 5 seeks contractors who will provide “transportation services of intra-theatre cargo within the Africom Area of Responsibility (AOR) and Egypt.”  The solicitation adds: “The contractor shall provide all necessary resources including logistics support and management to perform surface transport and distribution of general cargo within all fifty five (55) nations of the Africom AOR and Egypt.  In the solicitation document, Africom says materials to be transported, “although normally general in nature will not include sensitive cargo but may include hazardous materials.”  The solicitation notice adds contractors will not be required to transport classified equipment and materials, gunpowder, ammunition or military weapons and explosives.  It also states the successful contractors will not be required to move military tanks, self-propelled armoured combat vehicles with weapons, aircraft and spacecraft including satellites, radar or radio devices for remote control of weapons and equipment.

These developments come when at least one American military watcher, Nick Turse of TomDispatch.com, maintains Africom is involved in the A to Z of Africa.  “They’re involved in Algeria and Angola, Benin and Botswana, Burkina Faso and Burundi, Cameroon and the Cape Verde Islands. And that’s just the ABCs of the situation. Skip to the end of the alphabet and the story remains the same: Senegal and the Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the US military is at work. Base construction, security co-operation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion—except at US Africa Command,” he wrote

Another solicitation notice (HTC711-13-R-R016) issued in July seeks dedicated fixed wing service for the deployment and extraction of US military personnel involved in operations in the central African region.  It specifies contractors must be able to transport personnel and willing to carry hazardous cargo including ammunitions for small arms, signal flares, smoke grenades, blasting caps, rockets, mines and explosive charges in the central African theatre of operations. “The contractor will be asked to routinely take off and land on improved and unimproved dirt airfields of a minimum of 1 800 feet in length to support resupply and personnel transportation requirements,” part of the solicitation note reads.  It said routine locations involved in the operations could include airfields such as Entebbe in Uganda, Obo and Djema in the Central African Republic. The operations will also support the training of counter-narcotics law enforcement agencies from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Niger, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Togo, Guinea and Mali.

Apart from these developments the US Military has been supporting construction all over Africa for its allies.  A report by Hugh Denny of the Army Corps of Engineers issued earlier this year references 79 such projects in 33 countries between 2011 and 2013 including Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, The Gambia, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia with a reported price tag of $48 million.

In addition to creating or maintaining bases and engaging in military construction across the continent, the US is involved in near constant training and advisory missions. According to Davis, the command is slated to carry out 14 major bilateral and multilateral exercises by the end of this year. These include Saharan Express 2013, which brought together forces from Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, among other nations, for maritime security training; Obangame Express 2013, a counter-piracy exercise involving the armed forces of among others Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Togo; and Africa Endeavour 2013, in which the militaries of Djibouti, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia, and 34 other African nations took part.

And it’s not only on land and in the air that US forces are making their presence felt more. The Defense Logistics Agency is preparing to buy 65 000 metric tonnes of marine gas oil for Africom operations.

Written by Oscar Nkala and Kim Helfrich, US Army looking to contractors for African operations, defenceWeb. com  Sept. 17, 2013

See also Drone War in Africa (1), Drone War in Africa, US Trains Uganda Military

Naming the Dead of the CIA Drone War

Naming the Dead is a project run by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit research organisation based in London. The project aims to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan.  Over the past nine years, the tribal region of Pakistan’s north west has been hit by hundreds of drone attacks as the CIA has sought to stamp out al Qaeda fighters and the militant groups that have given them shelter.  Missiles launched from these high-tech, unmanned aircraft have hit homes, cars, schools, shops and gatherings. At least 2,500 people have been killed, according to data already collected by the Bureau as part of our wider Covert Drone War research.

Senior US officials have described drones as highly precise weapons that target and kill enemies of the US. John Brennan, who oversaw the development of the drone campaign and is now director of the CIA, has called drone technology an ‘essential tool’ for its ‘surgical precision – the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it.’

Those killed by drones include high-ranking militant leaders – figures such as Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s feared second-in-command, or Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).  But according to credible media reports analysed by the Bureau, the dead also include at least 400 civilians. Some were unlucky enough to be nearby when militants were attacked. Others were killed alongside their husbands or fathers, who were believed to be militants. Still others were mistaken for terrorists by drone operators sitting thousands of miles away.

In most cases, there is little information available about who the drones are really killing. Most of the dead – an estimated four-fifths of those killed – are believed to be militants. But their deaths are typically reported as a number – their names, origins and livelihoods remain a mystery.  For so many people to die in obscurity, unnamed and unacknowledged, is a tragedy. But it is a further tragedy that the public, and even policy makers, are unable to properly test whether drones are ‘highly precise weapons’ when so little is known about who is actually dying.

Through Naming the Dead, the Bureau aims to increase the transparency around this conflict and inform the public debate. Initially this project will record all names published in open-source material – in credible reports by journalists, in legal documents presented in court, in academic studies and in field investigations carried out by human rights groups.  In the future, the Bureau aims to identify more of the dead on a regular basis, and to uncover more details of those who have been killed. Where possible we will provide further identification – where they were killed, and their occupations, full names and ages. In the remote areas of Pakistan where drone strikes take place, official identification is rare. Few people possess identification cards, birth certificates, or even documents recording their relatives’ deaths. But wherever possible this project will provide documentation recording a person’s death.

Photographs of the destruction of a particular site are included in the database. Affidavits, photos, hospital records, student identification and transcripts of interviews with researchers are all provided when available. Over time, the Bureau aims to build on such currently scarce records in an attempt to properly scrutinise the little that is reported, and the claims being made – on all sides.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism