About Defense Tech

Defense Tech examines the intersection of technology and defense from every angle and provides analysis on what’s ahead.

Tip Us Off

Tip for Defense Tech?


It’s Confidential!

Cloak and Dagger

CIA Boosting Cyber War Capabilities

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

By Kevin Coleman
Defense Tech Cyber War Correspondent

For some time now the CIA has been making investments in technology focused on defensive systems to prevent cyber threats, as well as offensive capabilities to launch cyber attacks and collect cyber intelligence. This is one of the CIA’s top three priorities within their current strategic plan looking out five years.

These are just a few of the numerous government wide initiatives to increase cyber capabilities across all agencies. These focus mainly on those who are responsible for protecting critical infrastructure within the United States like the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. Those who have reviewed this plan all concur, that technology and technological capabilities combine to become the key focus of the CIA’s strategic plan.

Inside officials said that the agency would substantively increase the technology budget by tens of millions of dollars. The same insiders said that technology provides advanced capabilities that increase the effectiveness and efficiency of intelligence collection, as well as increasing the ease with which covert operations can establish more credible covers.

In addition, the new technology will increase the collaborative capabilities of the CIA which is now a critical success factor for the organization. Some members of the intelligence community and experts in the field have expressed concern about the integrity of the new tech solutions given that many of the components that make up our technology capabilities come from foreign sources. “We need to bring hi-tech manufacturing back inside the United States,” said a source.

This is one of the reasons why Technolytics increased the intelligence technology market estimates back in June of 2009 to tens of billions of dollars.

The Interrogator Hunt Begins

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009


There’s an interesting story this morning in the New York Times that chronicles the beginnings of the CIA’s harsh interrogation program used to squeeze information out from KSM and Abu Zubaydah — and others.

It’s a good read, and lays bare the utter simplicity of how the program got started. There was no Cheney-lead conspiracy to push aside other methods; these were not sadistic vampires praying on the pain and discomfort of enemy leaders; this was not constructed as pay back for 9/11. No, these were learned men with an alternative approach that CIA leaders were willing to give a try to get as much information out of those who knew the most about al Qaeda plans of anyone in US custody.

The article slants toward the idea that Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jensen were wading into waters well over their heads — suggesting they didn’t really know what they were doing based on their graduate degrees and lack of actual interrogation experience. But that’s like saying an infantry platoon leader shouldn’t do his job because he hasn’t seen combat…whatever.

They had never carried out a real interrogation, only mock sessions in the military training they had overseen. They had no relevant scholarship; their Ph.D. dissertations were on high blood pressure and family therapy. They had no language skills and no expertise on Al Qaeda.

Tell me at the time who had?

Another interesting tidbit is the mention of CIA counter-terrorism center director Cofer Black’s enthusiasm for the program. Remember he’s the one that in the wake of 9/11 pledged to lawmakers that he’d bring bin Laden’s head in a dry-ice cooled box back to the Hill for them.

At the C.I.A. in December 2001, Dr. Mitchells theories were attracting high-level attention. Agency officials asked him to review a Qaeda manual, seized in England, that coached terrorist operatives to resist interrogations. He contacted Dr. Jessen, and the two men wrote the first proposal to turn the enemys brutal techniques slaps, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall-slamming and waterboarding into an American interrogation program.

By the start of 2002, Dr. Mitchell was consulting with the C.I.A.s Counterterrorist Center, whose director, Cofer Black, and chief operating officer, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., were impressed by his combination of visceral toughness and psychological jargon. One person who heard some discussions said Dr. Mitchell gave the C.I.A. officials what they wanted to hear. In this persons words, Dr. Mitchell suggested that interrogations required a comparable level of fear and brutality to flying planes into buildings.

By the end of March, when agency operatives captured Abu Zubaydah, initially described as Al Qaedas No. 3, the Mitchell-Jessen interrogation plan was ready. At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, as reported in prior news accounts, two F.B.I agents used conventional rapport-building methods to draw vital information from Mr. Zubaydah. Then the C.I.A. team, including Dr. Mitchell, arrived.

It’s a story worth reading and part two is coming. As the Holder justice department spools up its CIA witch hunt, more of these stories will come out from attorneys eager to paint their clients in the best light. But after nine years of the most complex war America has ever fought, we’ve grown weary of being under threat, and a new administration is trying to reap political retribution for an anti-terror policy the left has always seen as overkill.

Let’s not forget that the Church Committee ruined the CIA and gave us the over-bureaucratized, risk-averse, by-the-numbers agency that we had when the Soviet Union fell to everyone’s surprise and when we were caught flat-footed on 9/11 with no plan to counterattack. Luckily the agency had veterans who’d stuck around and knew how to fire an M4 and live off the land — and those who were willing to push the envelope on interrogations to get vital followup strike information before 3,000 more civilians were killed.

PS – On a different note, the NYT also reports that two AP journalists were badly wounded in an IED attack while embedded with Marines in southern Afghanistan. Photographer Emilio Morenatti and videographer Andi Jatmiko were in a military vehicle when it struck a roadside bomb. According to reports it looks like Morenatti lost a foot in the attack. A horrible, horrible thing and our prayers go to their families and loved ones.

– Christian

WHAT! The CIA Was Trying to Kill bin Laden?

Monday, July 13th, 2009


Ok…so let me get this straight.

Leon Panetta cancelled a secret CIA program to kill or capture Al Qaeda operatives at close range — meaning using hit teams to do the dirty work instead of Predator drones. The Bush administration makes a presidential finding calling for the assassination or capture of AQ operatives known to Congress, but then conceals the program (which never really got off the ground) from regular briefings since then.

A secret intelligence program canceled by CIA Director Leon Panetta in June was meant to find and then capture or kill al-Qaida leaders at close range rather than target them with air strikes that risked civilian casualties, government officials with knowledge of the operation said Monday.

And why are we all freaked out about this? Doesn’t this seem logical in the extreme?

In fact, didn’t we execute a couple of those missions of the capture variety with Ramzi Binalshibh and KSM in Pakistan? Sounds like it worked just fine to me.

Panetta canceled the effort on June 23 after learning of its existence, its failure to yield results, and the fact that Congress had been unaware of the program since its inception in 2001, according to one official with direct knowledge of the plan.

That official said former President George W. Bush authorized killing al-Qaida leaders shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and that Congress was made aware of that. However, the official said, Panetta also told members of Congress that according to notes that he had been given on the early months of the program, then-Vice President Dick Cheney directed the CIA not to inform Congress of the specifics of the secret program.

A.) Tell me how firing hellfires from Predators is more ethical or legal than sending a team to kill or capture a single person.

B.) Doesn’t this sort of smack of Sandi Berger-esque national security policy? We know from the 9–11 commission report that Berger got cold feet when he had bin Laden in his sights for a proxy raid in Afghanistan because he was afraid of collateral damage and blowback. Now some of the same national security policy minds are back in the driver’s seat so we cancel a program to kill bad guys using CIA assets. Great idea folks.

His private revelation ignited a storm of protests from Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, who accused the CIA of lying to Congress. Some are calling for a congressional investigation.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested that the Bush administration broke the law by concealing a CIA counterterrorism program from Congress. Feinstein said the Bush administration’s failure to notify Congress about the 8-year-old counterterrorism program “is a big problem, because the law is very clear.”

According to Feinstein, Panetta told Congress late last month that “he had just learned about the program, described it to us, indicated that he had canceled it and … did tell us that he was told that the vice president had ordered that the program not be briefed to the Congress.”

“We were kept in the dark. That’s something that should never, ever happen again,” said Feinstein.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he agreed with Feinstein that the CIA should keep Congress informed. But Cornyn said the new assertion “looks to me suspiciously like an attempt to provide political cover” to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Pelosi has accused the CIA of lying to her in 2002 about its use of waterboarding, or simulated drowning, which many people, including Obama, consider torture.

Once again it’s politics, my friends. And Republicans have to be salivating over this one as news trickles out of a justice department probe into interrogation methods. That’s all this administration needs as it tries to convince us we need Canada-style health care — a debate over whether we should be sending spooks to kill or capture Al Qaeda operatives and squeeze information from them (without a lawyer) when we nab one.

– Christian

So What Was this Super Secret CIA Plot? (With Links)

Friday, July 10th, 2009


I’m completely flabbergasted by this CIA program that the spooks supposedly lied to Congress about for the last eight years.

Apparently the program was initiated after 9/11, but the critics are still mum on what the nature of the program was. Now I want a little speculating here.

Our boy Bryant Jordan says he heard the program may center around an elite assassination squad that was put together of the Sept. 11 attacks and reported exclusively to then VP Cheney. I love that story, but it doesn’t sound believable since Panetta only learned about it a few months ago and shut it down then.

Again, back to Seymour Hersh rumors, was it a program to upend the Iranian regime with Delta operators, CIA cutouts and political manipulation? Maybe.

Huff Post actually has a good article on this and says one of its sources said even Republicans were stunned when they learned about the program. I have a feeling it’s a pretty hard core one given the silence so far on what the nature of the program was. We all know that Congress leaks like a sieve — especially if it will gain political points for certain players. So if the folks in the know have been quiet this long, it’s gotta be pretty damned Earth shaking…

…which makes me want to know even more…

All right readers, what do you think about this? So what was this TOP SECRET program?

– Christian

Iraqi Spooks Come in from the Cold

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007


From Today’s Front Page at Military​.com:

The top American official responsible for training the new Iraqi intelligence services said Tuesday that country’s spies could be ready to go it alone by the end of next year.

After years of fits and starts, the Iraqi military and ministry of defense intel services are up and running, and, with coalition help, scoring some significant wins against insurgent groups, bombers and cross-border infiltrators.

“I would say by this time next year they would be likely self-sufficient to the extent that within the capability they have, both technical and human, that they can, in fact, collect, analyze and disseminate information to provide support to the Iraqi ground forces,” said Dan Maguire, the senior American trainer for Iraqi intelligence services, in an interview with military bloggers Nov. 27.

Read the entire transcript of the interview with Dan Maguire.

Maguire said in and around Baghdad the number of targets Iraqi intelligence personnel develop has jumped from less than a dozen per week before this year’s troop buildup to an average of 50 to 60 targets per week.

Moreover, Iraqi intel services are now able to go after about 90 percent of the bad guys they finger, where before the surge few targets had hard enough intelligence to nab.

Check out more intel news at Norman Polmar’s Spy Corner.

The new intel services have been able to develop their own information, analyze it and grab insurgents using Iraqi military and police forces about 30 percent of the time, “so they are right now on par in terms of going after targets and having success on that with the rest of the coalition forces,” Maguire said.

But that doesn’t mean Iraqi intelligence services don’t have some work to do before the U.S. can cut the cord.

Maguire said his pupils are short on basic signals intelligence technology that can help them intercept enemy communications, there are too few Arabic-language intelligence analysis software options — which hampers the exploitation of the information gained from sources — and there’s a lasting suspicion among military commanders that their intelligence personnel are simply spying on them.

“Many commanders view the tactical intelligence organizations in a division as being there to spy on the commanders, because that’s their experience or their knowledgeability from the Saddam era days,” Maguire explained. “We are working very hard to rectify that by direct interface with division commanders, by recruiting and putting in place G-2s at each of those division levels and working closely with them so that the commander and the G-2 build a bond and a trust so that they can, in fact, utilizes the resources effectively.“

At the higher levels, however, Maguire likes what he sees.

“Their joint staff [intelligence officer], and his staff are a very, very competent group of individuals,” Maguire said. “We have a new [chief intelligence officer] that’s only been in place now for about a month and a half, who is a former officer in the Saddam era, was an instructor at their National War College equivalent institution, a very, very balanced individual, very knowledgeable, very, very good at leading and mentoring his staff. And they are really starting to get it and put it together.”


Blackbird Drivers Strut Their Stuff

Monday, November 26th, 2007


I got forwarded a little number the other day that I thought DT readers would get a kick out of. I gotta tell you, I still have a thing for the SR-71. I mean, it conjures up all kinds of images of pirated space alien technology, super secret dealings, Cold War spying and raw, unadulterated speed…Shelby Cobra-type speed.

So when I saw this excerpt from a book about SR-71 pilots, my retro hackles tingled.

One day, high above Arizona, we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. Ninety knots, ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. One-twenty on the ground, was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was. Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground, ATC responded.

The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walters mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walter startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground. We did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.

And another…

Odd are the thoughts that wander through ones mind in times like these. I found myself recalling the words of former SR-71 pilots who were fired upon while flying missions over North Vietnam. They said the few errant missile detonations they were able to observe from the cockpit looked like implosions rather than explosions. This was due to the great speed at which the jet was hurling away from the exploding missile.

Just an opportunity to get inside one of these jets in a literary way satisfies my curiosity. Any former Blackbird drivers out there that can add anything to this?

(Gouge: CM)

– Christian

Into the Black

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007


The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments issued an updated analysis recently of the classified projects budget for fiscal 2008.

Comprising about 18 percent of the DoDs acquisition budget, the $31.9 billion will continue programs with names like Link Plumeria and Black Light and others which have no name.

Aviation Week reports the programs include…

…a growing ability to invade sensors, create false targets, take over networks, plant misleading information and mine computer data, even from manned or unmanned aircraft flying close to the emitter of interest. A new generation of stealththat will be invulnerable to low– as well as high-frequency radaris being developed.

A lot of money has gone into technologies to find, disarm, jam or preempt the construction, planting and detonation of improvised explosive devices. High-power microwave devices are being designed to disable electronics, erase or scramble computer memories, or shut down electrical activity in road vehicles, aircraft in flight or satellites in orbit.

CSBA said the budget line for classified programs has more than doubled since 1995, increasing by 112 percent while unclassified acquisition in the Pentagon fiscal year budget has increased 77 percent.

The record for classified acquisition programs has been mixed. Some successful and effective weapon systems were developed and even produced as black programs. These include the F-117 stealth fighter and the B-2 stealth bomber.

On the other hand, some classified programs have had troubled histories. Restrictions placed on access to classified funding have meant that DoD and Congress typically exercise less oversight over classified programs than unclassified ones. This lower level of scrutiny, coupled with the compartmentalization of information generally associated with classified efforts has contributed to performance problems and cost growth in a number of programs, such as the Navys ill-fated A-12 attack aircraft program.

Still, a UAV that plants a virus in an enemy computer? Im all for it.

(Gouge: NC)


Secret Squirrels in Action

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

secret squirrel.jpg

According to The Washington Post’s Al Kaman, an editorial in the July 10 edition of the Iranian newspaper Resalat reported the following:

“A few weeks ago, 14 squirrels equipped with espionage systems of foreign intelligence services were captured by [Iranian] intelligence forces along the country’s borders. These trained squirrels, each of which weighed just over 700 grams, were released on the borders of the country for intelligence and espionage purposes. According to the announcement made by Iranian intelligence officials, alert police officials caught these squirrels before they could carry out any task.

“Fixing GPS devices, bugging instruments and advanced cameras in the bodies of trained animals like squirrels, mice, hamsters, etc, are among modern methods of collecting intelligence. Given the fast speed and the special physical features of these animals, they provide special capabilities for spying operations. Once the animals return to their place of origin, the intelligence gathered by them is then offloaded.…”

I’m convinced my local government has employed a similar tactic to spy on me and I will continue to counter using my English Setters to scare the varments off of my property.

(Gouge: CM)

– Ward

‘From the Clouds to the Sidewalk’

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

The Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, released the new U.S. Counterintelligence Strategy for 2007 this week.

Its pretty predictable what the main goals are:


Secure the Nation Against Foreign Espionage and Electronic Penetration

Protect the Integrity of the US Intelligence System

Support National Policy and Decisions

Protect US Economic Advantage, Trade Secrets and Know How

Support US Armed Forces

Manage the Counterintelligence Community to Achieve Efficient Coordination

Improve Training and Education of the Counterintelligence Community

Expand National Awareness of Counterintelligence Risk in the Private as well as Public Sector

Whats interesting, however, is the intelligence communitys emphasis on enlisting civilians in the counter-intel process

By engaging the private sector and academia in meaningful dialogue, there is much we can learn, and in turn we can provide a mechanism to coordinate the public dissemination of information on intelligence threats to the nation.

Itll be interesting to see if the private sector cooperates. But as the national counterintelligence chief, Dr. Joel Brenner, said in a release: “The President and the Director of National Intelligence expect us to make measurable progress on all of these goals soon. Our job now is to drive this strategy from the clouds down to the sidewalk.”


New Spy Chief’s “Total Information” Ties

Friday, January 5th, 2007

“John Michael McConnell, the retired vice admiral slated to become America’s new top spy, [has some] longtime associations [which] may cause him headaches during Senate confirmation hearings,” Newsweek​.com notes.“One such tie is with another former Navy admiral, John Poindexter, the Iran-contra figure who started the controversial ‘Total Information Awareness’ program at the Pentagon in 2002.“

The international consultancy that McConnell has worked at for a decade as a senior vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton, won contracts worth $63 million on the TIA “data-mining” program, which was later cancelled
[kinda sorta — ed.] after congressional Democrats raised questions about invasion of privacy… While his role in the TIA program is unlikely to derail McConnell’s nomination, spokespeople for some leading Democratic senators such as Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Ron Wyden of Oregon say it will be examined carefully.
McConnell was a key figure in making Booz Allen, along with Science Applications International Corp., the prime contractor on the project, according to officials in the intelligence community and at Booz Allen who would discuss contracts for data mining only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “I think Poindexter probably respected Mike and probably entrusted the TIA program to him as a result,” said a longtime associate of McConnell’s who worked at NSA with him…
Intel experts agree that McConnell will need all the good will he can get from the intelligence and defense communities. “It’s a good appointment for a bad office,” says John Arquilla, who teaches intelligence at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “The directorate of national intelligence should not exist. It’s very redundant.” Insiders say Negroponte was frustrated by his lack of budgeting control over Pentagon intelligence, and the resistance of the CIA to his direction since his office was created in 2004 as part of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 reforms.

And by the way, Rutty asks in the comments (I’m paraphrasing heavily here): What was McConnell’s role in Echelon — the NSA’s massive information sweeper, which got some much attention during the Clinton years? (The project had been around for decades, remember.)