Posts Tagged ‘Pentagon’

The Deep State Weaponizes Vetting of Trump Appointees

May 2, 2018

Unaccountable Pentagon officials block a security clearance for a would-be White House aide.

The Deep State Weaponizes Vetting of Trump Appointees
PHOTO: CHARLES DHARAPAK/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Nothing ends a Washington career like being branded an unacceptable national-security risk. That’s why officials adjudicating personnel-security cases must act in a mature, objective and nonpartisan fashion. But when it comes to vetting Trump appointees, they often aren’t. Instead, security clearances are being weaponized against the White House by hostile career bureaucrats, thwarting the president’s agenda by holding up or blocking appointees.

Consider the case of Adam Lovinger. Mr. Lovinger is a highly regarded and politically conservative Defense Department official. In January 2017, the Trump administration made a “by name” request for him to serve as a senior director on the White House National Security Council.

Before departing the Pentagon that January, Mr. Lovinger raised documented concerns with his supervisor about the misuse of contractors. One outfit, run by a woman Chelsea Clinton describes as her “best friend,” was being used to perform foreign-relations activities on behalf of the U.S. Mr. Lovinger, an attorney, perceived the arrangement as violating a federal law delineating inherently governmental functions. He also took issue with millions of dollars in public funds being spent on contractor studies of questionable relevance. One taxpayer-funded study sought to determine whether Americans are a “war-like people.”

Months after Mr. Lovinger raised these issues, the Pentagon suspended his security clearance and his White House detail was canceled without warning. The reason? Specious, and constantly evolving, claims of misconduct. One of Mr. Lovinger’s alleged transgressions was that Pentagon officials had improperly marked an academic report he took aboard an airplane for reading.

The father of three, his family’s primary breadwinner, remains on administrative leave. The same official who suspended Mr. Lovinger’s security clearance is now moving to cut off his pay while the allegations are under review. Amplifying due-process concerns, the panel rendering the final decision reports to the official who suspended him. She refuses to recuse herself or her subordinates despite a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials ignored a longstanding executive order requiring they provide the accused with the government’s evidence within 30 days. This forced Mr. Lovinger to respond blindly to vague allegations, then contend with bureaucrats claiming he did not adequately rebut documents he has never seen. Pentagon officials underscored their contempt for anyone who challenges them by leaking false, defamatory information about Mr. Lovinger.

Mr. Lovinger’s lifeline is that his case, although symptomatic of a political agenda, is fundamentally one of whistle-blower reprisal. That affords him legal tools and remedies—including an inspector general investigation and potential monetary damages—that other Trump appointees, victims of similarly abusive practices, can’t access.

As an attorney who defends security-clearance holders, including Mr. Lovinger, I have had a front-row seat to behavior that only a year ago I would have dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Across the federal government, what was long an apolitical process with clearly defined standards has devolved to the point that wildly unfounded accusations are now being used to smear reputations and settle petty vendettas. And it all occurs in closed-door proceedings not appealable to the courts. Failure to stop these abuses risks undermining the integrity of the entire personnel-security system.

In Mr. Lovinger’s case, those weaponizing the security-clearance process include a senior official who remains on the job despite publicly disparaging President Trump as “unfit” to lead, a Pentagon attorney who instructed colleagues on the importance of concealing retaliatory motives behind their actions, and the Defense Department’s security adjudications chief, who persists in advancing false allegations.

They and other unelected partisans are quietly usurping presidential prerogatives through a litany of seemingly small but slowly compounding abuses of bureaucratic power. Their efforts evidence a philosophy that laws and rules are not static boundaries of societal norms, but flexible tools of the administrative state.

It is imperative that federal-agency heads and inspectors general step in to stop the power grab, lest those targeting Mr. Lovinger and others like him believe themselves immune to accountability. Failure to act decisively will mean not only the continued destruction of lives and careers, but also a precipitous dwindling of the pool of patriots willing to subject themselves to such abuses.

Mr. Bigley is a national-security attorney and a partner at Bigley Ranish LLP.

Appeared in the May 2, 2018, print edition.

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-deep-state-weaponizes-vetting-of-trump-appointees-1525215143
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China, U.S. in Artificial Intelligence Technology Race

April 30, 2018
Image may contain: indoor
 – The Washington Times – Sunday, April 29, 2018

The growing race for military superiority between Washington and Beijing is entering a new phase, with both world powers preparing to square off in the cutting-edge realm of artificial intelligence.

A cadre of tech gurus at the Defense Department and in the intelligence community are working to develop an interagency center designed to position the United States as the dominant force in the emerging technology subsector.

Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s chief of research and engineering, has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill and in national security circles in Washington to extol the necessity and opportunity posed by the organization, dubbed the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

Artificial intelligence technologies, which leverage various binary computations and algorithms to replicate human decision-making and risk assessments, has revolutionized the commercial and defense sectors.

On the military side, automation fueled by artificial intelligence has assisted the U.S. and allied forces in areas such as combat logistics, resupply and analysis of raw intelligence collected by the Pentagon, the CIA and other agencies.

Those advantages will be key not just for U.S. forces but for their international allies as well.

“Everything that will be required in terms of intelligence — artificial intelligence, the changes that it will bring about, ability to attract talents. And we will have to work to make sure that it is still possible because we know how to defend this peace that we cherish together,” French President Emmanuel Macron said last week in a speech at the State Department.

Mr. Macron was in Washington for a three-say state visit, the first foreign leader honored with that distinction in the Trump administration.

The Pentagon’s Project Maven — an effort to use artificial intelligence to scan through the hours of aerial footage gathered by American surveillance drones to identify potential targets — is one example of the untapped potential of artificial intelligence.

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“These technology areas are not just important to the Department of Defense. They are, in fact, the focus of global industry, something we must learn to leverage,” Mr. Griffin told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee this month.

But that learning curve has been fraught with challenges, the Pentagon official told lawmakers. The department’s massive bureaucracy and a commercial sector that is wary of cooperating with Washington to develop technologies for the intelligence and defense communities have hastened the Pentagon’s efforts to compete with near-peer adversaries, such as China, in the realm of AI.

“The [Defense] Department is not short of innovators; we’re short of time, and we lack in expertise in adapting commercial market advances to military needs,” Mr. Griffin said during the April 18 hearing of the Senate defense panel.

“We need to strike a balance between bringing in new technology and getting current technology out to the field,” he said, adding that the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center will be just the vehicle to achieve that balance.

Development of the Pentagon-led AI center will be part of a grander strategy on how the U.S. can compete on the technological battlefield of the 21st century. Department officials anticipate submitting a final road map to Congress in June on how it will leverage artificial intelligence into the overall U.S. National Security Strategy.

But congressional lawmakers remain concerned that Washington’s efforts to achieve parity with Russia and China in the field of AI may be too little, too late as both countries continue to move out aggressively in developing such technologies.

“The Chinese are leaning forward in advanced technology to gain momentum ahead of others. Their decision cycle between development and production is faster, frankly, than what the [Pentagon] is able to do,” Mr. Griffin said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Navy’s fiscal 2019 budget request.

Beijing technologies are “now rivals in artificial intelligence, in quantum computing, in biotechnology. … The innovation ecosystem that they are building, right now, as we speak, is something that I hope we open our eyes to,” he told Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller during Thursday’s hearing.

China does not encounter the same resistance from its state-sponsored technology firms in developing applications for intelligence and military use, unlike Silicon Valley’s uncomfortable relationship with the Pentagon and the CIA in the post-Edward Snowden era.

China’s advantages in its indigenous tech sector aside, it is incumbent on Washington’s national security apparatus to not cede any more ground to Beijing or other competitors in the field of artificial intelligence, despite any challenges, officials say.

“Everyone wants innovation, but innovation is messy. If the department is really going to succeed in innovating, we’re going to have to get comfortable with people making mistakes,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

As Trump Bashes Amazon, the Government Increasingly Relies on It

April 5, 2018

The company has won billions of dollars in business to help the government shift computing services from legacy mainframes onto the cloud

Amazon Web Services has garnered more operating profit than Amazon’s main retail business.
Amazon Web Services has garnered more operating profit than Amazon’s main retail business. PHOTO: STAFF/REUTERS

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN 1.33% is best known for transforming the U.S. retail industry, a feat that President Donald Trump has recently attacked. But the company has quietly been cultivating a major customer in his own backyard: the federal government.

In the past several years, the Seattle-based company has won much of the business to help the government shift computing services from legacy mainframes onto the cloud, a business where Amazon is the world leader.

This extraordinary transformation has included the provision of cloud services across Washington’s bureaucracy from the Department of Homeland Security to the Smithsonian Institution. It also has made the U.S. government a top Amazon customer.

The company doesn’t release specifics, but GBH Insights, a research firm, predicts that Amazon’s government business will grow to $2.8 billion in 2018 and $4.6 billion in 2019, up from less than $300 million in 2015. Other company analysts say those projections are optimistic, but not implausible.

An even bigger prize looms: Amazon is seeking a 10-year contract with the Department of Defense that could be worth $10 billion.

Prime InfluenceAmazon’s federal lobbying expendituresSource: Center for Responsive Politics
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In Mr. Trump’s attacks on Amazon, suggesting the company doesn’t pay its fair share of taxes, he hasn’t focused on Amazon’s federal government business. Analysts say they don’t see a reason to doubt Amazon will continue to rise as a major Washington contractor, though the president’s criticisms have whipsawed its stock price and injected uncertainty into the equation.

“The overriding question is whether there is risk to Amazon because Trump seems to have it in for the company,” said Tom Forte, an analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co. He added that it would be hard for the administration to shift the government’s business elsewhere.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that Mr. Trump is “not involved in the process” of awarding the Defense Department contract.

Amazon’s competitors have seized the moment to seek to slow the company’s march into government business. Over dinner with Mr. Trump Tuesday at the White House, Oracle  Corp.’s co-CEO Safra Catz complained that the Pentagon’s process gives Amazon an advantage.

Amazon’s growing government business coincides with a rapid rise of its presence in Washington. In 2010, the company employed 8 lobbyists and spent $2.1 million lobbying federal officials, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Last year, Amazon spent $13 million and employed 95 lobbyists. Only six other companies spent more on lobbying in 2017.

Amazon has also mounted an aggressive effort to hire former government officials and executives from the company’s competitors to help it navigate government procurement rules. In 2010, the company hired Teresa Carlson, who led federal sales at Microsoft . Scott Renda joined the company in 2014 from the Obama administration where he oversaw efforts to develop cloud computing.

Amazon’s most important early win was in 2013 with a contract to house data for intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency. Amazon fought off a challenge from IBM to retain the contract.

The intelligence community’s willingness to entrust its closely held data to Amazon was a vital signal to other government agencies. Amid a general enthusiasm for using cloud computing to improve effectiveness, the CIA imprimatur suggested that Amazon Web Services, the cloud-computing division known as AWS, was a safe choice, these observers said.

Later that year, the Interior Department awarded a $10-billion contract to 10 different vendors, half of whom partnered with Amazon.

In 2014, Amazon benefited from another Obama-era computing initiative: 18F, a consultancy made up of former Silicon Valley developers, which guides government agencies on software and computing procurement.

One of 18F’s first projects was cloud.gov, which helps government agencies such as the Federal Election Commission move some data into the cloud. The government chose to run Cloud.gov on AWS’ GovCloud service, making it easier for government agencies to purchase other Amazon services.

Over time, Amazon has built up other security approvals from the government that allow it to store increasingly sensitive categories of data. Amazon is the only cloud company that has received approval for the government’s most sensitive information.

Those security approvals have enabled Amazon to lock in an advantage over the competition, analysts say. In January, for instance, the U.S. Transportation Command said it was prepared to award AWS a contract without a competitive bid. The company was the only “responsible source” for the business, because it had been approved to handle government classifications up to “Secret,” the command said.

Amazon worked with 2,300 government entities in the U.S. and overseas in 2017, up from roughly 100 in 2011, according to data the company provided at a conference for Wall Street analysts.

Government sales have helped propel AWS to become Amazon’s biggest profit source. Last year, the cloud computing business had $4.3 billion in operating income on $17 billion in sales, compared with operating income of $2.8 billion on sales of $106 billion at its North American business. Analysts estimate 10% of that comes from government contracts.

GBH Insights says Amazon is likely to win the “lion’s share” of $20 billion in federal cloud computing projects in the next five years. The Washington area is one of the finalists for Amazon’s new “second headquarters.”

The next big break could come with the Pentagon’s planned $10 billion, 10-year move to the cloud. The proposed contract, called JEDI, would require a cloud infrastructure that could handle unclassified material as well as data classified as secret or top secret, defense department documents said.

Amazon’s competitors worry that the Pentagon will award the contract to a single vendor, rather than multiple providers, which they say is preferable because it would provide needed redundancy in case of outages.

Competitors such as Oracle and Microsoft question the security of Amazon’s cloud architecture. They also argue that Amazon could use its dominance to block other tech companies from winning government business.

A Pentagon spokesman said the department is “conducting a full and open competition” with “no favorites.”

Write to Ted Mann at ted.mann@wsj.com and Brody Mullins at brody.mullins@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/as-trump-bashes-amazon-the-government-increasingly-relies-on-it-1522920600

‘The Business of War’: Google Employees Protest Work for the Pentagon

April 5, 2018
Thousands of Google employees have signed a letter to Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive, protesting Google’s role in a program that could be used to improve drone strike targeting. Credit Michael Short/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes.

The letter, which is circulating inside Google and has garnered more than 3,100 signatures, reflects a culture clash between Silicon Valley and the federal government that is likely to intensify as cutting-edge artificial intelligence is increasingly employed for military purposes.

(Read the text of the letter.)

“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” says the letter, addressed to Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive. It asks that Google pull out of Project Maven, a Pentagon pilot program, and announce a policy that it will not “ever build warfare technology.”

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That kind of idealistic stance, while certainly not shared by all Google employees, comes naturally to a company whose motto is “Don’t be evil,” a phrase invoked in the protest letter. But it is distinctly foreign to Washington’s massive defense industry and certainly to the Pentagon, where the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, has often said a central goal is to increase the “lethality” of the United States military.

From its early days, Google has encouraged employees to speak out on issues involving the company. It provides internal message boards and social networks where workers challenge management and one another about the company’s products and policies. Recently, the heated debate around Google’s efforts to create a more diverse work force spilled out into the open.

Google employees have circulated protest petitions on a range of issues, including Google Plus, the company’s lagging competitor to Facebook, and Google’s sponsorship of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Employees raised questions about Google’s involvement in Project Maven at a recent companywide meeting. At the time, Diane Greene, who leads Google’s cloud infrastructure business, defended the deal and sought to reassure concerned employees. A company spokesman said most of the signatures on the protest letter had been collected before the company had an opportunity to explain the situation.

The company subsequently described its work on Project Maven as “non-offensive” in nature, though the Pentagon’s video analysis is routinely used in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations, and Defense Department publications make clear that the project supports those operations. Both Google and the Pentagon said the company’s products would not create an autonomous weapons system that could fire without a human operator, a much-debated possibility using artificial intelligence.

But improved analysis of drone video could be used to pick out human targets for strikes, while also better identifying civilians to reduce the accidental killing of innocent people.

Without referring directly to the letter to Mr. Pichai, Google said in a statement on Tuesday that “any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns.” It added, “We’re actively engaged across the company in a comprehensive discussion of this important topic.” The company called such exchanges “hugely important and beneficial,” though several Google employees familiar with the letter would speak of it only on the condition of anonymity, saying they were concerned about retaliation.

The statement said the company’s part of Project Maven was “specifically scoped to be for non-offensive purposes,” though officials declined to make available the relevant contract language. The Defense Department said that because Google is a subcontractor on Project Maven to the prime contractor, ECS Federal, it could not provide either the amount or the language of Google’s contract. ECS Federal did not respond to inquiries.

Google said the Pentagon was using “open-source object recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer” and based on unclassified data. “The technology is used to flag images for human review and is intended to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work,” the company said.

Some of Google’s top executives have significant Pentagon connections. Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Google and still a member of the executive board of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, serves on a Pentagon advisory body, the Defense Innovation Board, as does a Google vice president, Milo Medin.

Read the rest:

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/technology/google-letter-ceo-pentagon-project.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Trump tells advisers he wants U.S. out of Syria: senior officials

March 31, 2018

Reuters

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has told advisers he wants an early exit of U.S. troops from Syria, two senior administration officials said on Friday, a stance that may put him at odds with U.S. military officials who see the fight against Islamic State as nowhere near complete.

 

A National Security Council meeting is set for early next week to discuss the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State in Syria, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plan.

Two other administration officials confirmed a Wall Street Journal report on Friday that said Trump had ordered the State Department to freeze more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria while his administration reassesses Washington’s role in the conflict there.

Trump called for the freeze after reading a news report that the U.S. had recently committed an additional $200 million to stabilize areas recaptured from Islamic State, the paper said.

The funding was announced by departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February at a meeting in Kuwait of the global coalition against Islamic State.

The decision to freeze the funds was in line with Trump’s declaration during a speech in Richfield, Ohio, on Thursday, where he said it was time for America to exit Syria.

A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said that “in line with the President’s guidance, the Department of State continually re-evaluates appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilized, which they do on an ongoing basis.”

Trump is spending Easter weekend at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate.

“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” Trump said on Thursday, based on allied victories against Islamic State militants.

“Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said. “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”

Trump’s comments came as France said on Friday it could increase its military presence in Syria to bolster the U.S.-led campaign.

While the Pentagon has estimated that Islamic State has lost about 98 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, U.S. military officials have warned that the militants could regain the freed areas quickly unless they are stabilized.

Trump still needs to be convinced of that, said the U.S. officials with knowledge of the NSC meeting.

U.S. DELIBERATIONS

The two administration officials who confirmed the Wall Street Journal report and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Trump’s comments on Thursday reflected internal deliberations with advisers in which he has wondered aloud why U.S. forces should remain with the militants on their heels.

Trump has made clear that “once ISIS and its remnants are destroyed that the United States would be looking toward having countries in the region playing a larger role in ensuring security and leaving it at that,” one official said.

Such a policy is nowhere near complete, however, the official added.

The second official said Trump’s national security advisers have told him U.S. forces should stay in small numbers for at least a couple of years to make sure gains against the militants are held and ensure Syria does not essentially become a permanent Iranian base.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Palm Beach International Airport, Florida, U.S., for the Easter weekend at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Top national security aides discussed Syria in a White House meeting recently but have yet to settle on a strategy for U.S. forces in Syria to recommend to Trump going forward, the official said.

“So far he has not given an order to just get out,” the official said. About 2,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Syria.

Trump last year went through a similar wrenching debate over whether to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, ultimately agreeing to keep them there but only after repeatedly raising questions of why they should stay.

Trump’s view on Syria may put him at odds with those of former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, named by Trump a week ago to replace H.R. McMaster as White House national security adviser.

Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, John Walcott and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by David Gregorio, Susan Thomas and Tom Hogue

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US judge rejects Saudi bid to drop 9/11 lawsuits

March 29, 2018

Al Jazeera

Judge says plaintiffs’ lawsuit provides him with ‘reasonable basis’ to proceed under act passed by Congress.

Relatives of victims in September 11, 2001 attacks are demanding billions of dollars in compensation from Saudi Arabia [Reuters]
Relatives of victims in September 11, 2001 attacks are demanding billions of dollars in compensation from Saudi Arabia [Reuters]

A United States federal judge has rejected a motion by Saudi Arabia to drop charges accusing the Gulf kingdom of playing a role in the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Judge George Daniels says the plaintiffs’ lawsuit “narrowly articulate a reasonable basis” for him to proceed under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JUSTA).

The act, which was passed by Congress in 2016, allows charges against Saudi Arabia to go ahead after they were previously rejected in court.

Daniels dismissed claims against two Saudi banks and a Saudi construction company that had ties with Osama bin Laden, citing that he did not have jurisdiction.

At least 3,000 Americans were killed after four planes were hijacked in 2001.

Two planes deliberately crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and a third hit the Pentagon in Washington, DC. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, prompting hundreds of the victims’ families and relatives to sue the Saudi Arabian government and several Saudi corporations in 2003.

The lawsuit, which is demanding billions of dollars in financial compensation, claims that Saudi Arabia knowingly assisted the hijackers who carried out the attack, and is the reason for al-Qaeda’s influential rise into a terrorist organisation as a result of backing charities that financed the group.

Lawyers of the victims of the September 11 attacks filed new evidence in the New York court case which implicates several employees of the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC of financing and supporting members who carried out the attacks.

Saudi Arabia has long denied any involvement in the attacks.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Russia not withdrawing forces from Syria, Pentagon says

December 12, 2017

Reuters

Image result for Putin in Syria, december, 2017, photos

Russian President Vladimir Putin, 2nd left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, chat with Russian military pilots at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Declaring a victory in Syria, Putin on Monday visited a Russian military air base in the country and announced a partial pullout of Russian forces from the Mideast nation. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday it has not observed any meaningful withdrawal of Russian combat forces from Syria, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on Monday of a significant pullout.

“There have been no meaningful reductions in combat troops following Russia’s previous announcements planned departures from Syria,” said Marine Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman.

U.S. Forces in Niger Were Denied Armed Drone

October 28, 2017

New information shows ambushed Green Beret team was part of a larger, potentially more dangerous mission

Members of the 3rd Special Forces Group Airborne 2nd Battalion leave pins and salute the casket after the burial of Army Sgt. La David Johnson on Oct. 23 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.
Members of the 3rd Special Forces Group Airborne 2nd Battalion leave pins and salute the casket after the burial of Army Sgt. La David Johnson on Oct. 23 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. PHOTO: MIKE STOCKER/ZUMA PRESS
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U.S. military officials sought permission to send an armed drone near a patrol of Green Berets before a deadly ambush Oct. 4 in Niger, but the request was blocked, raising questions about whether those forces had adequate protection against the dangers of their mission.

New information shows the Green Beret team was part of a larger mission, one potentially more dangerous than initially described, and one believed to merit an armed drone. But the request was blocked in a chain of approval that snakes through the Pentagon, State Department and the Nigerien government, according to officials briefed on the events.

One focus of military investigations into what happened in Niger will be what a military official now says were two changes in the mission of the Green Beret team—from initially training Nigerien forces, to advising on a mission to capture or kill a wanted terrorist, to investigating the terrorist’s abandoned camp.

U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers observe Nigerien armed forces service members during an exercise in Niger this year.
U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers observe Nigerien armed forces service members during an exercise in Niger this year. PHOTO: ZAYID BALLESTEROS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

On Oct. 4, after the U.S.-Nigerien team had destroyed the camp, four Americans and five Nigerien soldiers were killed in a firefight with suspected Islamic State fighters, and two other Americans and as many as eight Nigeriens were wounded.

The ambush and the circumstances surrounding it have taken on political weight in Washington as the deadliest military clash for Americans since President Donald Trump took office. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has pressed for more information, and a public spat broke out about condolence calls by Mr. Trump.

The drone request suggests that military officials were aware of a change in the security landscape in western Niger, where more than two dozen previous patrols had been conducted without incident. Intelligence indicated a low risk of enemy contact, and there had been no enemy attacks on U.S. forces there for the past year, according to officials investigating the incident.

The initial decision against the use of an armed drone reflects an effort by the U.S. mission in Niger to maintain a light footprint in the country amid local resistance to the deployment of armed aircraft—a challenge for officials also seeking to adequately support U.S. troops there.

An Department of Defense handout shows U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black (top left), Sgt. La David Johnson (top right), Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, (bottom left), and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, (bottom right), the four U.S. soldiers killed in the attack on U.S. and Nigerien forces on Oct. 4.
An Department of Defense handout shows U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black (top left), Sgt. La David Johnson (top right), Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, (bottom left), and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, (bottom right), the four U.S. soldiers killed in the attack on U.S. and Nigerien forces on Oct. 4. PHOTO: DEOARTMENT OF DEFENSE/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

After the firefight broke out on Oct. 4, some military officials also wanted an armed drone, but it is unclear if one was in the area and whether any request was made, according to a military official. An unarmed drone was dispatched, and French Mirage jet fighters arrived about an hour later, followed by French helicopters.

U.S. officials have repeatedly modified the timeline as facts trickle in.

The Green Beret patrol was one of two operating in the area at about the same time, Pentagon officials said. The second consisted of an elite commando team specializing in missions to track down wanted jihadists; both were involved at the time in a hunt for an associate of Adnan abu Walid al-Sahawi, the leader of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, according to current and former officials briefed on the events.

The targeted militant was operating in the border region, moving between Niger and Mali, and the elite team was also operating on both sides of the border, officials said. The jihadist is an important figure in Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, an organization operating in the two countries, according to a person briefed on the investigation.

The Green Beret team’s role in Niger was initially to help train the country’s security forces. But then, before the October mission began, the group was asked to advise the Nigerien quick-reaction force that was to assist the elite commando unit on its mission to capture or kill the terrorist target, according to a military official.

That mission was scrubbed because weather conditions increased the risk for helicopter flight to the site where the jihadist was thought to be, the official said.

The commando unit then sought another U.S. team to check out what appeared to be an abandoned terror camp that the jihadist had used, according to current and former officials briefed on the events.

The Green Beret patrol, now available to be retasked, was sent to the camp, the officials said.

The patrol was made up mostly of Green Berets, with other soldiers attached. All were considered well trained, having gone through the comprehensive work-ups of the elite Special Forces, according to Pentagon records. But their experience levels varied, according to the records; at least one had never deployed and at least four hadn’t seen combat.

The team, along with 30 Nigerien troops, left the country’s capital, Niamey, the morning of Oct. 3.

The new mission, to find the abandoned camp and shelter, was considered relatively low-risk. An assessment showed there was little likelihood of an enemy attack, officials have said, after the wanted terrorist was known to have abandoned the camp.

Military investigators have been examining the official orders that led to the assignment. A key unanswered question is who formally changed the Green Beret-led team’s mission—the U.S. Africa Command, known as Africom, the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, or another agency.

Investigators also are working to find out if there was adequate intelligence to evaluate the likelihood of enemy contact and whether the team was prepared for helping an elite commando team track and kill Mr. Sahawi’s associate.

Investigations into the ambush by military officials, aided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are likely to take weeks, according to officials briefed on the inquiry.

Mr. Sahawi is considered a top target in the “tri-border” region of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, according to European officials. The area is made up in large part of wildlife preserves, allowing militants, often in groups of just a few dozen, to move across borders, hide out and strike as needed.

The joint U.S.-Nigerien team relatively quickly located and arrived at the camp that had been abandoned by Mr. Sahawi’s lieutenant. The team, according to military reports, collected some information and destroyed the shelter they found, though military officials don’t know if it was a regular camp or had only been used once.

From there, late on Oct. 3, the team began the trek back to their base camp, according to a military official.

Based on the reports submitted by the Green Berets after they left the abandoned terrorist camp, the team hiked throughout the night of Oct. 3 to Oct. 4, never staying in one place for more than a couple of hours.

While on the route back to their camp, in the morning of Oct. 4, the Nigerien forces asked to stop at a village to get breakfast and refill their canteens.

When U.S. forces visit a village, it is standard procedure to meet with the elder, explain their broader mission and enlist a measure of support from the local population.

That meeting went longer than expected. At 10:40 a.m. local time, minutes after leaving the village, the troops were ambushed.

Investigators are probing the question of how the jihadists found the Green Berets, since intelligence hadn’t documented any militants operating in the area of the village.

The length of the village meeting has caused some military officials to question whether villagers tried to delay the Green Berets. But military officials said they now believe the village elder wasn’t involved.

Military officials don’t know if the fighters who ambushed the Green Beret-led team were affiliated with the terrorist being hunted by the elite team.

One official noted that the areas were far apart, and the Green Beret team had taken steps to avoid being tracked. Other officials believe he was likely responsible for the attack.

An hour into the fight, minutes after a request from the team for air support, the unarmed drone arrived, allowing more senior military commanders to watch the firefight.

The French Mirage jet fighters from an airfield in Niamey were underway within a half-hour and in the area 30 minutes later, the Pentagon said. French helicopters left from Mali, officials said.

During the fight, four soldiers became separated from the rest of the team. Those soldiers would be the Americans killed.

Late on the afternoon of Oct. 4, French helicopters evacuated two wounded U.S. soldiers. It wasn’t until that evening that the bodies of three of the four U.S. soldiers killed were evacuated.

The body of the fourth soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson, was still missing. He was found two days later by Nigerien forces.

Military officials declined to say why the initial request for an armed drone was made. The U.S. Africa Command, which is responsible for military operations for most of the continent, typically must request permission from the U.S. ambassador or the chief of mission at a U.S. embassy in a given country for any military operation, according to current and former officials briefed on the events.

If the ambassador blocks the mission, the decision can be appealed by military officials to the Pentagon.

That step typically requires a discussion between the secretaries of Defense and State. Military officials said top officers are reluctant to take disputes with an ambassador to the secretary of Defense, out of concern of sending a signal that the command isn’t able to work effectively with its diplomatic partners. No high-level discussion in advance of the Green Beret patrol that began Oct. 3 appears to have taken place.

State Department officials denied that their teams in Africa can block military requests for drone flights or strikes and said diplomats didn’t stop a request for an armed drone in Niger.

“The U.S. ambassador in Niger did not deny support or protection for military personnel involved in the October 4 ambush,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “The ambassador supported all efforts to ensure the safety of our military colleagues in the field.”

One of the officials briefed on the events said sensitivities in Niger concerning the use of armed drones have delayed their use. The two countries signed an agreement in 2013 allowing Washington to establish a drone base there. The $100 million base is set to be completed next year.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com, Nancy A. Youssef at Nancy.Youssef@wsj.com and Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-forces-in-niger-were-denied-armed-drone-1509146561

Russia’s Kaspersky to Allow Outside Review of Its Cybersecurity Software

October 23, 2017

Company hopes sharing source code will build trust after allegations its software helped Russia spy on Americans

Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm whose software U.S. officials suspect helped the Russian government spy on Americans, promised to make its source code available for an independent review.

The company said Monday the review is part of a “global transparency initiative” that it hopes will improve the trustworthiness of its products. It said it would hand over the source code for its software in the first quarter of next year but didn’t specify who would undertake the review or how widely the code would be…

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/russian-cybersecurity-firm-kaspersky-to-make-source-code-available-for-review-1508756502
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Eugene Kaspersky

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Kaspersky fights spying claims with code review plan

October 23, 2017 — 0745

Apple Pay now in 20 markets, nabs 90% of all mobile contactless transactions where active

Russian cybersecurity software maker Kaspersky Labs has announced what it’s dubbing a “comprehensive transparency initiative” as the company seeks to beat back suspicion that its antivirus software has been hacked or penetrated by the Russian government and used as a route for scooping up US intelligence.

In a post on its website today the Moscow-based company has published a four point plan to try to win back customer trust, saying it will be submitting its source code for independent review, starting in Q1 2018. It hasn’t yet specified who will be conducting the review but says it will be “undertaken with an internationally recognized authority”.

It has also announced an independent review of its internal processes — aimed at verifying the “integrity of our solutions and processes”. And says it will also be establishing three “transparency centers” outside its home turf in the next three years — to enable “clients, government bodies and concerned organizations to review source code, update code and threat detection rules”.

It says the first center will be up and running in 2018, and all three will be live by 2020. The locations are listed generally as: Asia, Europe and the U.S.

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Finally it’s also increasing its bug bounty rewards — saying it will pay up to $100K per discovered vulnerability in its main Kaspersky Lab products.

That’s a substantial ramping up of its current program which — as of April this year — could pay out up to $5,000 per discovered remote code execution bugs. (And, prior to that, up to $2,000 only.)

Kaspersky’s moves follow a ban announced by the US Department of Homeland Security on its software last month, citing concerns about ties between “certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks”.

The US Senate swiftly followed suit, voting to oust Kaspersky software from federal use. While three months earlier the General Services Administration also removed Kaspersky Lab from a list of approved federal vendors.

The extensive system-wide permissions of antivirus software could certainly make it an attractive target for government agents seeking to spy on adversaries and scoop up data, given the trust it demands of its users.

The WSJ has previously reported that Russian hackers working for the government were able to obtain classified documents from an NSA employee who had stored them on a personal computer that ran Kaspersky software.

Earlier this month CEO Eugene Kaspersky blogged at length — rebutting what he dubbed “false allegations in U.S. media”, and writing: “Our mission is to protect our users and their data. Surveillance, snooping, spying, eavesdropping… all that is done by espionage agencies (which we occasionally catch out and tell the world about), not us.”

We’re proud to keep on protecting people against all cyberthreats – no matter of false allegations in U.S. media https://kas.pr/x78t 

Photo published for What’s going on?

What’s going on?

I doubt you’ll have missed how over the last couple months our company has suffered an unrelenting negative-news campaign in the U.S. press.

eugene.kaspersky.com

But when your business relies so firmly on user trust — and is headquartered close to the Kremlin, to boot — words may evidently not be enough. Hence Kaspersky now announcing a raft of “transparency” actions.

Whether those actions will be enough to restore the confidence of US government agencies in Russian-built software is another matter though.

Kaspersky hasn’t yet named who its external reviewers will be, either. But reached for comment, a company spokeswoman told us: “We will announce selected partners shortly. Kaspersky Lab remains focused on finding independent experts with strong credentials in software security and assurance testing for cybersecurity products. Some recommended competencies include, but are not limited to, technical audits, code base reviews, vulnerability assessments, architectural risk analysis, secure development lifecycle process reviews, etc. Taking a multi-stakeholder approach, we welcome input and recommendations from interested parties at transparency@kaspersky.com

She also sent the following general company statement:

Kaspersky Lab was not involved in and does not possess any knowledge of the situation in question, and the company reiterates its willingness to work alongside U.S. authorities to address any concerns they may have about its products as well as its systems.

As there has not been any evidence presented, Kaspersky Lab cannot investigate these unsubstantiated claims, and if there is any indication that the company’s systems may have been exploited, we respectfully request relevant parties responsibly provide the company with verifiable information. It’s disappointing that these unverified claims continue to perpetuate the narrative of a company which, in its 20 year history, has never helped any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts.

In addition, with regards to unverified assertions that this situation relates to Duqu2, a sophisticated cyber-attack of which Kaspersky Lab was not the only target, we are confident that we have identified and removed all of the infections that happened during that incident. Furthermore, Kaspersky Lab publicly reported the attack, and the company offered its assistance to affected or interested organisations to help mitigate this threat.

Contrary to erroneous reports, Kaspersky Lab technologies are designed and used for the sole purpose of detecting all kinds of threats, including nation-state sponsored malware, regardless of the origin or purpose. The company tracks more than 100 advanced persistent threat actors and operations, and for 20 years, Kaspersky Lab has been focused on protecting people and organisations from these cyberthreats — its headquarters’ location doesn’t change that mission.

“We want to show how we’re completely open and transparent. We’ve nothing to hide,” added Kaspersky in another statement.

Interestingly enough, the move is pushing in the opposite direction of US-based cybersecurity firm Symantec — which earlier this month announced it would no longer be allowing governments to review the source code of its software because of fears the agreements would compromise the security of its products.

Source:https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/23/kaspersky-fights-spying-claims-with-code-review-plan/

Pentagon Takes Control of F-35 Cost-Cutting Push

October 8, 2017

The price of the combat jet has been falling, but some military chiefs are concerned about the pace and source of savings

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The Pentagon has taken over an effort to cut the cost of the F-35 combat jet, after rejecting plans proposed by Lockheed Martin Corp. and its partners, as it tries to make a program estimated to cost $400 billion more affordable.

The U.S. plans to buy more than 2,400 of the jets over the next three decades to replace much of its combat fleet. But after years of delays and overruns drew flak from lawmakers and Donald Trump, the military has been pressing suppliers to reduce the cost of producing and flying the F-35.

The aircraft’s sticker price has fallen in recent sales to the U.S. and other countries, in part because of a contractor-led effort launched in 2014 called the Blueprint for Affordability that invested $170 million to make the jets cheaper to produce.

Lockheed and the Pentagon announced plans in July 2016 to continue the program, with the company and partners Northrop Grumman Corp. and BAE Systems PLC investing another $170 million over three years in cost-saving measures. The contractors said the initial plan saved $230 million and could be worth $4 billion over the life of the program.

Some military chiefs, however, have expressed concern about the pace and source of savings. In January, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also ordered a review of the high-profile program.

The Pentagon opted this summer not to press ahead with the extension and instead last month gave Maryland-based Lockheed a $60 million contract to pursue further efficiency measures, with more oversight of how the money was spent.

“Using a contract vehicle instead of an agreement with industry provides the government with greater insights into the cost savings efforts,” said the F-35 program office, led since May by Navy Rear Adm. Mat Winter.

A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II flies over Estonia in April. The U.S. plans to buy more than 2,400 of the jets over the next three decades to replace much of its combat fleet. Photo: Christine Groening/ZUMA Press

The F-35 leadership say they want more of the cost-saving effort directed at smaller suppliers that haven’t been pressured enough. A quarter of the initial $60 million is earmarked for projects outside the main three contractors. The Pentagon said it may boost its investment to $170 million if the initial efforts yield e nough savings.

Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp. that makes the engines for the F-35, is continuing a separate effort to reduce costs.

The Pentagon has also yet to approve a plan announced last year for the three main companies to spend $250 million over five years to shave 10% off the running costs of the F-35 fleet over its lifetime, which are estimated to be more than $1.1 trillion for the U.S. aircraft. Allies plan to buy another 500 jets.

That huge bill led the Pentagon to consult with logistics experts at companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to find potential savings. President Trump, who frequently criticized the F-35 on the campaign trail and before taking office, also held multiple direct discussions with Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson.

The company has pledged to aggressively drive down the costs of the F-35 program, which is central to its growth and already delivers almost a quarter of its sales.

Lockheed said the new arrangement won’t affect those efforts, even as the efficiency drive has been hampered by the Air Force cutting its planned annual procurement to around 60 jets from 80.

“The government’s decision to fund this next phase of cost-reduction initiatives is a testament to their confidence in our ability to deliver the cost savings, based on the success of the original Blueprint for Affordability projects,” said Jeff Babione, Lockheed’s F-35 general manager.

The latest cost-saving push is part of a plan to reduce the price of the F-35A model—the plane used by the U.S. Air Force and most overseas allies—to around $80 million by 2020, after adjusting for inflation. Officials estimated that 75% of the target is tied to efficiencies gained from higher output, with the balance coming from efforts like the Blueprint for Affordability program.

Lockheed is currently negotiating a deal with the Pentagon for an 11th batch of jets, which it hopes to conclude by the end of the year. The last sale, agreed on in January, priced the F-35A at $94.6 million each, a 7.3% drop from the previous batch. That price was broadly in line with the Pentagon’s price target before Mr. Trump took aim at the program.

However, critics say the claimed prices don’t capture the full cost of the jets once additional modifications, added later, are included.

“There’s very little transparency about it,” said Dan Grazier, of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pentagon-takes-control-of-f-35-cost-cutting-push-1507464002