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US drones spy on Americans – ‘incidentally’

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Published: 12 May, 2012, 17:28

A leaked US Air Force document stipulates a drone that happens to capture surveillance images of Americans may store them for a period of 90 days. The paper appears to justify spying on citizens, as long as it is “incidental.”

­The document accepts that the Air Force may not record information non-consensually; however it does state “collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent.”

The report, dated April 23 was discovered by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists and has been put online.

Data that is accidentally recorded may be stored for a period of 90 days by the Pentagon while it is analyzed to see if the subjects are legitimate targets for state surveillance. The Pentagon may also disseminate this data among other government organizations if it sees fit.

“Even though information may not be collectible, it may be retained for the length of time necessary to transfer it to another DoD entity or government agency to whose function it pertains,” states the document.

In addition, it justifies the gathering of data on domestic targets in certain circumstances. According to the paper, these include surveillance of natural disasters, environmental studies, system testing and training, and counterintelligence and security-related vulnerability assessments.
The document seems to spell bad news for civil liberties, considering the US government passed a bill in February allocating $63 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

If the bill is signed into law it will effectively allow the FAA to fill US skies with drones, a massive 30,000 predicted to be operational in US airspace by 2020.

Over 30 prominent civil rights groups in the US have rounded on the FAA and demanded that it reconsider the legislation and hold a rule-making session to address privacy and safety threats.

“Unfortunately, nothing in the bill would address the very serious privacy issues raised by drone aircraft. This bill would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected,” said the American Civil Liberties Union in response to the legislation.

The bill has sparked fears among Americans that their civil liberties may be under threat, considering that the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been extended to carry out attacks on militants.

Source

China top military paper warns of armed confrontation over seas

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By Chris Buckley
BEIJING | Sat Apr 21, 2012 2:21am EDT

(Reuters) – China‘s top military newspaper warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea.

The commentary in China’s Liberation Army Daily falls short of a formal government statement, but marks the harshest high-level warning yet from Beijing about tensions with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have recently sent ships to assert their claims.

This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.

The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.

“Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force,” said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People’s Liberation Army.

“Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability.”

Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute about the uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy shipping lanes.

REGIONAL TENSIONS

Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one but there is worry among its neighbors over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking claims over the seas and various islands, reefs and shoals.

In past patches of regional tension over disputed seas, hawkish Chinese military voices have also emerged, only to be later reined in by the government, and the same could be true this time.

Since late 2010, China has sought to cool tensions with the United States over regional disputes, trade and currency policies, human rights and other contentious issues. Especially with the ruling Chinese Party preoccupied with a leadership succession late in 2012, Beijing has stressed its hopes for steady relations throughout this year.

Nonetheless, experts have said that China remains wary of U.S. military intentions across the Asia-Pacific, especially in the wake of the Obama administration’s vows to “pivot” to the region, reinvigorating diplomatic and security ties with allies.

The Liberation Army Daily commentary echoed that wariness.

“The U.S. strategy of returning to the Asia-Pacific carries the implication of a shift in military focus, and there is no better strategic opening than China’s sovereignty disputes with the Philippines and other countries in the South China Sea,” said the newspaper.

“The United States’ intention of trying to draw more countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea is being brandished to the full,” it said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Begins Military Exercises Near The Strait Of Hormu

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AP | Feb. 4, 2012, 6:07 AM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard began military exercises Saturday in the country’s south, the latest show of force after threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for tougher Western sanctions.

Plans for new Iranian naval games in the Persian Gulf off the country’s southern coast have been in the works for weeks. State media announced new maneuvers in southern Iran involving ground forces, but it was not immediately clear whether they were part of the planned naval training missions scheduled for this month or a separate operation.

The latest military maneuvers got under way following stern warnings by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, about any possible U.S. or Israeli attacks against Tehran’s nuclear facilities. It also comes after Western forces boosted their naval presence in the Gulf led by the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

Iran officials and lawmakers have repeatedly said that their country would close the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf in retaliation for sanctions that affect Iran’s oil exports. They have as yet made no attempts to disrupt shipping through the waterway, the route for one-fifth of the world’s crude oil, and the U.S. and allies have said they would respond swiftly to any attempts at a blockade.

Last month, Iran’s navy wrapped up 10 days of exercises in the Gulf, but the Revolutionary Guard — which is directly under control of the supreme leader — represents a significantly stronger military force and controls key programs such as missile development. Iranian state media announced the new maneuvers, but gave no further details.

Khamenei, in a speech nationally broadcast on Friday, staked out a hard line after suggestions by Israel that military strikes are an increasing possibility if sanctions fail to rein in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

He pledged to aid any nation or group that challenges Israel and said any military strikes would damage U.S. interests in the Middle East “10 times” more than they would hurt Iran. The comments also may signal that Tehran’s proxy forces — led by Lebanon’s Islamic militant group Hezbollah — could be given the green light to revive attacks on Israel as the showdown between the archfoes intensifies.

The West and its allies fear Iran could use its uranium enrichment labs — which make nuclear fuel — to eventually produce weapons-grade material. Iran insists it only seeks reactors for energy and medical research.

Israel has so far publicly backed the efforts by the U.S. and European Union for tougher sanctions that target Iran’s crucial oil exports. But Israeli leaders have urged even harsher measures and warn that military action remains a clear option despite Western appeals to allow time for the economic pressures and isolation to bear down on Iran.

Iran’s oil minister repeated claims that an EU oil embargo will not cripple Iran’s economy, claiming Saturday that the country already has identified new customers to replace the loss in European sales that accounted for about 18 percent of Iran’s exports.

Rostam Qassemi also reinforced Iran’s warning to Saudi Arabia and other fellow OPEC members against boosting production to offset any potential drop in Tehran’s crude exports, saying the cartel should not be used as a political weapon against a member state.

Although Israel has raised the strongest hints that it is likely to start a military campaign, Khamenei reserved some of his strongest comments for Israel’s key U.S. ally.

“A war itself will damage the U.S. 10 times” more in the region, said Khamenei.

Khamenei claimed Iran, however, could only emerge stronger. “Iran will not withdraw. Then what happens?” asked Khamenei. “In conclusion, the West’s hegemony and threats will be discredited” in the Middle East. “The hegemony of Iran will be promoted. In fact, this will be in our service.”

On Thursday, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, suggested the world is increasingly ready to consider a military strike if sanctions fail. The head of the country’s strategic affairs ministry, Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, also suggested Iran’s main military installations are still vulnerable to airstrikes — even as Iran starts up a new uranium enrichment facility deep in a mountainside bunker south of Tehran.

Yaalon’s comments appear to reinforce earlier suggestions by other Israel officials that the window for a possible attack is closing and Israel would need to strike by summer to inflict significant setbacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under standing guidelines.

At Ramstein Air Base in Germany, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said sanctions remain the best approach to pressure Iran. But he told U.S. airmen Friday that Washington keeps “all options on the table and would be prepared to respond if we have to.”

Khamenei answered by repeating Iran’s declarations that it will never roll back its nuclear program, which he had earlier said was now part of the country’s “identity” and a cornerstone of its technological endeavors. On Friday, Iran said it successfully sent a small satellite into orbit in the third such launch in recent years, state media reported.

“From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear expressing this,” said Khamenei, using the phrase widely used by Iran’s leader to describe Israel.

Read more: BI

These New Developments Could Be Paving The Way For Military Action In Iran

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An Iranian Ghader missile launched at the shore of sea of Oman.

Robert Johnson

There are so many snippets of rhetoric being reported about Iran, Israel and the U.S. that it’s begun to feel like a middle school circle of “he said, she said.”

Piecing together sound bites to form a rough idea of what’s actually going on is about the only option available right now, so when Leon Panetta announced yesterday that he thinks Israel may strike Iran this spring it immediately made the news.

David Ignatius at The Washington Post reported Panetta’s thoughts Thursday when the Secretary of Defense said he believed Israel would launch an attack on Iran in April, May or June.

After that, Israel allegedly believes Tehran will enter a “zone of immunity” where they will have enough enriched uranium, stashed in bunkers deep enough, that only U.S. bombs will be able to penetrate and they will be helpless to act on their own.

Ignatius did not cite a source, but reported the news from Brussels where Panetta was attending a NATO Defense meeting.

It’s a reasonable argument that is bolstered by the fact that Israel cancelled its massive missile defense drill with the U.S., slated for the same period, saying that they couldn’t spare the forces at that time. The drill is said to be back on the books for October.

For its part, Iran is doing nothing to assuage any concerns over its intentions as it launched a satellite into orbit Friday.

Nasser Karimi at the Associated Press reports the launch raises concerns not only for the satellites possible military applications, but because the rocket that delivered it uses the same technology as a ballistic missile would use. Say, an inter-continental ballistic missile fitted with a nuclear warhead.

Israel announced Thursday that Iran is developing technology that will enable it to launch such a missile that will reach the continental United States. This satellite launch only reinforces this possibility.

In an official announcement the Iranian supreme leader warned any action against Iran will have dire effects on the U.S.

CNN reports that Iran’s supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni announced “You see every now and then in this way they say that all options are on the table. That means even the option of war.” During Friday prayers in Tehran, he continued, “This is how they make threats against us.”

“Well, these kinds of threats are detrimental to the U.S.,” he said. “The war itself will be 10 times as detrimental to the U.S.”

The Ayatollah went on to say that Iran pledges its full support to any country or organization that attacks Israel and that the U.S. and Israel will soon face defeats in a coming “great event.”

In a random aside: A South African telecom is being sued for aiding Iran’s nuclear development in exchange for an exclusive cellular license within the country.

Read more: BI

Hundreds of slaughtered civilians isn’t a "huge number" for Obama

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United States, Washington: US President Barack Obama participates in an interview with YouTube and Google from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, January 30, 2012. (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

Published: 31 January, 2012, 22:08

On Monday afternoon, Barack Obama became the first president to host a virtual town hall live on the Internet.

While that might be a feat worthy of the record books, President Obama did something else during his address that America has become accustomed to: he lied to the world.

Speaking Monday during a live web-chat hosted by Google, the president took on a series of issues submitted by the American people. Over the span of 45 minutes, President Obama addressed the Stop Online Piracy Act while refusing to side with either end of the argument, admitted to the world that he isn’t all that swell of a dancer and took a query from a professional puppeteer. In between ignoring the real issues or offering any sort of solid solution to the nation’s biggest problems, the president did put something rather important out for the world to ponder: America’s ongoing drone missions aren’t really all that bad.

If you ask anyone outside of the Oval Office — or especially America — they might tell you otherwise.

Tackling a question posed on drone strikes, President Obama defended the ongoing missions on Monday, saying they were necessary to target terrorists in a most effective manner. “For us to be able to get them in another way would involve probably a lot more intrusive military action than the ones we’re already engaging in,” the president said on the topic of drones. While an argument could easily be made that operating drone missions in lieu of putting boots on the ground is best for the US Armed Forces, the president put a lot on the line Monday when he downplayed the result of the strikes.

Those drone attacks, carried out by unmanned aircraft controlled thousands of miles away, don’t do a lot of harm, said the president. According to Obama, drones had

 “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties” and he added that it’s “important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash.”

How small is that not-so huge number? If you ask anyone outside of the American intelligence community, they’ll tell you it is in the hundreds.

But what’s a few hundred civilian deaths, right?

Obama suggested that continuing the drone program would not be detrimental to the safety of foreign citizens, but studies conducted outside of the US say otherwise. Last summer, the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism argued that since America began drone strikes, at least 385 civilians had been executed in US-led attacks. Of those statistics, the Bureau added that around half of the dead were children under the age of 18.

If you don’t take the word of foreign reporter’s, even American intelligence can confirm that the “not a huge number” statistic might be a bit of an exaggeration. One senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity added to CNN last year that CIA drone strikes had taken the lives of 50 civilians in all. As drone strikes go unreported and deaths unaccounted for, the actual number, unfortunately, is probably much higher than what either the CIA or the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can come up with. In a single strike last March, 26 Pakistanis were killed during a US strike over Islamabad. Once all deaths were accounted for, it was revealed that over a dozen of the deaths in that single raid were suffered by innocent civilians.

When the Bureau of Investigative Journalism released their findings last year, they said that the number of civilians killed in US drone strikes were probably 40 percent higher than what the US was actually reporting. Between 2004 and 2011, they put the estimate of civilian deaths at a figure of 385, but added in the research that the toll could actually come close to tallying 775 casualties.

Which, if you ask President Obama, is not a huge number.

If 775 isn’t a huge number, than 56 is practically a fraction. That’s the number of children executed by US drones in the first 20 months of the Obama administration.

“Even one child death from drone missiles or suicide bombings is one child death too many,” responded Unicef to the news at the time.

In 2009 alone, almost 600 civilians were killed on the ground in Afghanistan, and the United Nations put 60 percent of that figure as a direct result of airstrikes, drone or otherwise. In Pakistan, civilians say they are terrified of the robotic planes and the damage that they have already done. “There was not a single Taliban militant in Pakistan before 9/11 but since we joined this war, we are facing acts of terrorism, bombing and drone strikes,” Movement for Justice leader Imran Khan told the press in 2011.

In Libya, where the United States never even engaged in an official war, according to Obama, American troops launched 145 drone strikes in an attempt to oust the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in a matter of months. As with most drone missions, the Department of Defense has not released any official statistics on what casualties were caused by the strikes.

Regardless of what damage a drone strike can have on enemy insurgents, experts say that the toll visited on civilians is several times that of militants. In a 2009 report from the Brookings Institute, Senior Fellow Daniel L Byman wrote that “for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.”

In Pakistan where drone strikes have become practically commonplace, civilians are terrified that they will become the next accidental target of American aircraft. Saadullah, a teenage boy who spoke with a BBC reporter last year, lost both of his legs in drone strikes. Three of his relatives, all civilians, have also been killed by American strikes. Asghar Khan, an elder in Islamabad that also spoke to BBC, said three of his relatives were also shot down in airstrikes.

“My brother, my nephew and another relative were killed by a drone in 2008,” said Khan. “They were sitting with this sick man when the attack took place. There were no Taliban.”

A decade after the US began so-called cooperation with Pakistani intelligence, anti-American sentiments continue to grow as do the number of casualties. “When we intervene in people’s countries to chase small cells of bad guys, we end up alienating the whole country and turning them against us,” counterterrorism expert David Kilcullen tells the Brookings Institute.

Now as the US puts surveillance drones over the skies of Iraq even after that war has officially ended, yet another country is becoming concerned that drones will drop bombs on their own civilians. “We hear from time to time that drone aircraft have killed half a village in Pakistan and Afghanistan under the pretext of pursuing terrorists,” 37-year-old café owner Hisham Mohammed Salah told the New York Times just this week. “Our fear is that will happen in Iraq under a different pretext.”

Under the Pentagon’s new revised budget, the US will phase out around 100,000 military staffers while adding droves of drones to its already established arsenal of robotic planes. Will drones soon become the United States’ not-so-secret weapon and phase out its Armed Forces personnel entirely? It’s not out of the question. After all, a drone strike authorized by Obama last year led to the death of two American citizens with alleged terrorist ties.

Don’t worry, though. Obama says these things are kept on a tight leash. Who actually pulls on that is as good of a guess as anyone’s, though. In November, the Wall Street Journal wrote that the “signature” strikes that account for most of the CIA’s drone missions only end up on the desk of the president after they are carried out. The US must only inform Pakistan of those strikes, by the way, if they believe the death toll will exceed 20.

Which really isn’t that big of a number either.

Source – RT

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