Fleet of drones to patrol Australia’s borders

snowbirds2Australia has announced plans for a fleet of giant high-tech unmanned drones to help patrol the nation’s borders, monitoring energy infrastructure and attempts to enter the country illegally.  Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which can remain airborne for 33 hours, would be based in the southern city of Adelaide.

A report in February said seven of the US-made drones would be purchased for Aus$3 billion, but Abbott said the details of how many and when had yet to be finalised.  ”These aircraft will patrol Australia’s vast ocean approaches, and work closely with other existing and future Australian Defence Force assets to secure our ocean resources, including energy resources off northern Australia, and help to protect our borders,” he said.  ”They will provide the Australian Defence Force with unprecedented maritime surveillance capabilities, operating at altitudes up to 55,000 feet (16,800 metres) over extremely long ranges while remaining airborne for up to 33 hours.”

Continue reading.

 

Facebook buying 11,000 drones to connect Africa

Solara_50_drone

Facebook is in negotiations to buy a drone manufacturer with the aim of using its high-altitude autonomous aircraft to beam internet connections to isolated communities in Africa, according to reports.  The social networking company is one of the main backers of the internet.org project, which aims to connect the large parts of the world which remain offline.  Today, only 2.7 billion people – just over one-third of the world’s population – have access to the internet, according to Facebook. Other founding members include Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung.

 

Now TechCrunch reports that Facebook intends to buy the maker of advanced solar-powered drones which can remain in the air for up to five years at a time, in the hope that they can be modified to provide internet connectivity for those on the ground.  Titan Aerospace’s drones fly so high – up to 65,000 feet – that they can effectively operate as satellites with far lower operating costs, which the company calls “atmospheric parking”. The Solara 50 and 60 models can carry up to 100kg of equipment.

Continue reading.

 

The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program

The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.  According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.  The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.  In one tactic, the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist’s mobile phone, enabling the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device.

The former JSOC drone operator is adamant that the technology has been responsible for taking out terrorists and networks of people facilitating improvised explosive device attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But he also states that innocent people have “absolutely” been killed as a result of the NSA’s increasing reliance on the surveillance tactic.

Continue reading.

The first congressman to battle the NSA is dead. No-one noticed, no-one cares

Last month, former Congressman Otis Pike died, and no one seemed to notice or care. That’s scary, because Pike led the House’s most intensive and threatening hearings into US intelligence community abuses, far more radical and revealing than the better-known Church Committee’s Senate hearings that took place at the same time. That Pike could die today in total obscurity, during the peak of the Snowden NSA scandal, is, as they say, a “teachable moment” —one probably not lost on today’s already spineless political class.

In mid-1975, Rep. Pike was picked to take over the House select committee investigating the US intelligence community after the first committee chairman, a Michigan Democrat named Nedzi, was overthrown by more radical liberal Democrats fired up by Watergate after they learned that Nedzi had suppressed information about the CIA’s illegal domestic spying program, MH-CHAOS, exposed by Seymour Hersh in late 1974. It was Hersh’s exposés on the CIA domestic spying program targeting American dissidents and antiwar activists that led to the creation of the Church Committee and what became known as the Pike Committee, after Nedzi was tossed overboard.

Continue reading.

Seattle elects socialist candidate to city council

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle voters have elected a socialist to city council for the first time in modern history.  Kshama Sawant’s lead continued to grow on Friday, prompting 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin to concede.  Even in this liberal city, Sawant’s win has surprised many here. Conlin was backed by the city’s political establishment. On election night, she trailed by four percentage points. She wasn’t a veteran politician, having only run in one previous campaign.  But in the days following election night, Sawant’s share of the votes outgrew Conlin’s.  “I don’t think socialism makes most people in Seattle afraid,” Conlin said Friday.  While city council races are technically non-partisan, Sawant made sure people knew she was running as a socialist — a label that would be politically poisonous in many parts of the country.

Continue reading.

Confessions of a Drone Warrior

He was an experiment, really. One of the first recruits for a new kind of warfare in which men and machines merge. He flew multiple missions, but he never left his computer. He hunted top terrorists, saved lives, but always from afar. He stalked and killed countless people, but could not always tell you precisely what he was hitting. Meet the 21st-century American killing machine. who’s still utterly, terrifyingly human.  From the darkness of a box in the Nevada desert, he watched as three men trudged down a dirt road in Afghanistan. The box was kept cold—precisely sixty-eight degrees—and the only light inside came from the glow of monitors. The air smelled spectrally of stale sweat and cigarette smoke. On his console, the image showed the midwinter landscape of eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province—a palette of browns and grays, fields cut to stubble, dark forests climbing the rocky foothills of the Hindu Kush. He zoomed the camera in on the suspected insurgents, each dressed in traditional shalwar kameez, long shirts and baggy pants. He knew nothing else about them: not their names, not their thoughts, not the thousand mundane and profound details of their lives.

Continue reading.

Report: Documents show close collaboration of NSA and CIA in drone strike program

WASHINGTON —

The National Security Agency has been extensively involved in the U.S. government’s targeted killing program, collaborating closely with the CIA in the use of drone strikes against terrorists abroad, The Washington Post reported after a review of documents provided by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden.  In one instance, an email sent by the wife of an Osama bin Laden associate contained clues as to her husband’s whereabouts and led to a CIA drone strike that killed him in Pakistan in October 2012, the Post reported in its online edition Wednesday night.  While citing documents provided by Snowden — the American is hiding out in Russia after being granted asylum there — the Post reported that it was withholding many details about the drone-strike missions at the request of U.S. intelligence officials. They cited potential damage to ongoing operations and national security for their request, the paper reported.

Continue reading.

Migrant-Spotting: EU Plans Big Brother System in Mediterranean

In May 2011, two SPIEGEL reporters described a brief moment of happiness on a deadly voyage undertaken by dozens of refugees in the Mediterranean. Seventy-two people had crowded onto an open boat — only seven meters (23 feet) long — that was to take them from Tripoli, Libya, to Europe. Two days after leaving Libya, they were already in trouble at sea.But then came hope: Survivors described feeling relieved when a helicopter flew over the boat and hovered just above it. Water bottles and packages of cookies were lowered from the aircraft. One of the men in the helicopter, they claim, appeared to have waved. But then the helicopter flew away — and help never came.

Continue reading.

How The NSA Scours 75% Of The Nation’s Internet Traffic

The NSA – which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens – has, according to the Wall Street Journal, built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say. The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic. The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S. But the WSJ reports that officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones. Details of these surveillance programs were gathered from interviews with current and former intelligence and government officials and people from companies that help build or operate the systems, or provide data. Most have direct knowledge of the work. Here is how the system operates…

Continue reading.

Texas Police Hit Organic Farm With Massive SWAT Raid

A small organic farm in Arlington, Texas, was the target of a massive police action last week that included aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search.  Members of the local police raiding party had a search warrant for marijuana plants, which they failed to find at the Garden of Eden farm. But farm owners and residents who live on the property told a Dallas-Ft. Worth NBC station that the real reason for the law enforcement exercise appears to have been code enforcement. The police seized “17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants … native grasses and sunflowers,” after holding residents inside at gunpoint for at least a half-hour, property owner Shellie Smith said in a statement. The raid lasted about 10 hours, she said.

Continue reading.

Sensors Report Gunfire Directly to Police in 70 U.S. Cities, No 911 Call Needed

As Americans use digital methods for more of their interpersonal communications, law enforcement agencies have seized the opportunity to scoop up more information for cheaper than they could before, hoping to ferret out criminal activity. But violent crime still takes place in the physical world, with fragile human bodies on the line. A growing number of U.S. police departments are using a system of sound-detecting software to locate and respond to gunfire in hopes of catching more shooters and saving more victims.

Continue reading.

NSA vs. Google: Who Gets to Spy on You

Recently, the media spotlight has been on the PRISM furore of spying by government agencies such as the NSA. However in all of the hype surrounding this issue, it is overlooked that the private sector has also been culpable in these kinds of privacy transgressions.  Comprehensive surveillance by the state is a serious matter, yet the colossal network of monitoring undertaken by the private sector in targeted digital advertising is just as potentially dangerous, if not more so, in the event this information is abused. Dozens of companies exist solely to profile users and in turn build digital profiles detailing almost all of an individual’s online activities: websites visited, visit duration, and the location of the website, which theoretically tracks the type of people they are contacting (e.g. an Iranian website).

Continue reading.

Obama promises changes to NSA surveillance program

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday he would pursue changes to open the legal proceedings surrounding government-surveillance programs to greater scrutiny, the administration’s most concerted response to a series of disclosures about secret monitoring efforts.  At his first full news conference in more than three months, Obama said he intends to work with Congress on proposals that would add an adversarial voice — such as a lawyer assigned to advocate privacy rights — to the secret proceedings before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves requests for warrants and other collection efforts.

Continue reading.

TSA expands duties beyond airport security

With little fanfare, the agency best known for airport screenings has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train stations.  As hundreds of commuters emerged from Amtrak and commuter trains at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station on a recent morning, an armed squad of men and women dressed in bulletproof vests made their way through the crowds.  The squad was not with the Washington’s police department or Amtrak’s police force, but with one of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads — VIPR teams for short — tasked with performing random security sweeps to prevent terrorist attacks at transportation hubs across the United States.

Continue reading.

NSA Collects ‘Word for Word’ Every Domestic Communication, Says Former Analyst

JUDY WOODRUFF:   And we pick up on the continuing fallout from the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Last night, we debated the role of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence court, which approves the government’s requests to gather intelligence information on Americans.  Tonight, we have a conversation with three former NSA officials, a former inspector general and two NSA veterans who blew the whistle on what they say were abuses and mismanagement at the secret government intelligence agency.  William Binney worked at the NSA for over three decades as a mathematician, where he designed systems for collecting and analyzing large amounts of data. He retired in 2001. And Russell Tice had a two-decade career with the NSA where he focused on collection and analysis.

Continue reading.

The Decline of China’s Internet Cafes

Yesterday Freedom House released a report on Internet censorship in China based on information they collected for their Freedom on the Net survey.  The report is especially interested in Internet censorship since the leadership transition that brought Xi Jinping to power last November. It not only examines the obstacles citizens face in getting Internet access, but also on what is censored, surveillance, and how citizens are punished by the state for their activities online.  One of the more interesting findings contained in the report was that 40 percent of China’s cybercafés are now owned by chains instead of small businesses.

Continue reading.