Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Declassified memo reveals Obama's NSA improper domestic spying


THE HILL: 

The National Security Agency and FBI violated specific civil liberty protections during the Obama administration by improperly searching and disseminating raw intelligence on Americans or failing to promptly delete unauthorized intercepts, according to newly declassified memos that provide some of the richest detail to date on the spy agencies’ ability to obey their own rules.

The memos reviewed by The Hill were publicly released on July 11 through Freedom of Information Act litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union.

They detail specific violations that the NSA or FBI disclosed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or the Justice Department's national security division during President Obama’s tenure between 2009 and 2016. The intelligence community isn't due to report on compliance issues for 2017, the first year under the Trump administration, until next spring.

The NSA says that the missteps amount to a small number — less than 1 percent — when compared to the hundreds of thousands of specific phone numbers and email addresses the agencies intercepted through the so-called Section 702 warrantless spying program created by Congress in late 2008.

“Quite simply, a compliance program that never finds an incident is not a robust compliance program,” said Michael Halbig, the NSA’s chief spokesman. “The National Security Agency has in place a strong compliance program that identifies incidents, reports them to external overseers, and then develops appropriate solutions to remedy any incidents.”

But critics say the memos undercut the intelligence community’s claim that it has robust protections for Americans incidentally intercepted under the program.

“Americans should be alarmed that the NSA is vacuuming up their emails and phone calls without a warrant,” said Patrick Toomey, an ACLU staff attorney in New York who helped pursue the FOIA litigation. “The NSA claims it has rules to protect our privacy, but it turns out those rules are weak, full of loopholes, and violated again and again.”

Section 702 empowers the NSA to spy on foreign powers and to retain and use certain intercepted data that was incidentally collected on Americans under strict privacy protections. Wrongly collected information is supposed to be immediately destroyed.

The Hill reviewed the new ACLU documents as well as compliance memos released by the NSA inspector general and identified more than 90 incidents where violations specifically cited an impact on Americans. Many incidents involved multiple persons, multiple violations or extended periods of time.

For instance, the government admitted improperly searching the NSA’s foreign intercept data on multiple occasions, including one instance in which an analyst ran the same search query about an American “every work day” for a period between 2013 and 2014.

There also were several instances in which Americans’ unmasked names were improperly shared inside the intelligence community without being redacted, a violation of the so-called minimization procedures that Obama loosened in 2011 that are supposed to protect Americans' identity from disclosure when they are intercepted without a warrant. Numerous times improperly unmasked information about Americans had to be recalled and purged after the fact, the memos stated.

“CIA and FBI received unminimized data from many Section 702-tasked facilities and at times are thus required to conduct similar purges,” one report noted.

“NSA issued a report which included the name of a United States person whose identity was not foreign intelligence,” said one typical incident report from 2015, which said the NSA eventually discovered the error and “recalled” the information.

Likewise, the FBI disclosed three instances between December 2013 and February 2014 of “improper disseminations of U.S. persons identities.”

The NSA also admitted it was slow in some cases to notify fellow intelligence agencies when it wrongly disseminated information about Americans. The law requires a notification within five days, but some took as long as 131 business days and the average was 19 days, the memos show.

U.S. intelligence officials directly familiar with the violations told The Hill that the memos confirm that the intelligence agencies have routinely policed, fixed and self-disclosed to the nation's intelligence court thousands of minor procedural and more serious privacy infractions that have impacted both Americans and foreigners alike since the warrantless spying program was created by Congress in late 2008.

Alexander Joel, who leads the Office of Civil Liberties, Privacy and Transparency under the director of national intelligence, said the documents chronicle episodes that have been reported to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for years in real time and are a tribute to the multiple layers of oversight inside the intelligence community.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Military wants small drone engagement rules after F-22 near collision


Small, civilian-owned drones can buzz past the US Air Force’s stealthy fighter fleet sitting at domestic bases and the service’s head of Air Combat Command (ACC) has no way to deal with them.

In the course of one day last week, the air force counted two reports of small drones interfering with operations at an ACC base, Gen Mike Holmes told an audience in Washington DC this week. In one incident, a Lockheed Martin F-22 almost collided with a small drone during its final approach and during another, a gate guard watched a drone fly over the top of a gate and tracked the vehicle as it flew over the flight line, Holmes says.

“I have no authority given to me by the government to deal with that,” he says. “Imagine a world where somebody flies a couple hundred of those and flies one down the intake of my F-22s with just a small weapon on it.”

While ACC has no authority to disable or track UAS near its bases, the air force’s nuclear sites are working on getting government approval for deal with gate-crashing drones. Earlier this year, the head of Global Strike Command lamented the complex web of government agencies that must approve a drone defence strategy.

“It’s not a military authority...it’s a civil authority that can the be executed by military forces,” Holmes says. “The rules are basically the same as if it were a civil aircraft. If it was a civil aircraft I could track it back to where it started from and I could admonish that pilot or take their license, where the small UAS is really hard to get after.”

The USAF will receive approval for the nuclear bases first and Holmes will request air force headquarters to extend those authorities beyond global strike assets, he says. The USAF has already issued requests for counter drone technologies and industry representatives are vocal about their offerings, but the service still needs to wait for approval.


U.S. State Department has approved a possible $3.9 billion missile defense sale to Romania


The U.S. State Department has approved a possible $3.9 billion missile defense sale to Romania, in a move likely to anger Russia. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement on Tuesday that it delivered the required certification notifying Congress of the potential sale to NATO member Romania on July 10.

Announcing the deal, the agency said: “The proposed sale of the Patriot system will support Romania’s needs for its own self-defense and support NATO defense goals.”

It added: “Romania will use the Patriot missile system to strengthen its homeland defense and deter regional threats. The proposed sale will increase the defensive capabilities of the Romanian military to guard against aggression and shield the NATO allies who often train and operate within Romania’s borders. Romania should have no difficulty absorbing this system into its armed forces.”

Moscow has previously raised issue with Romania hosting a U.S. missile shield that it said was a threat to Russian security. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned back in May when the Romanian element of the shield was activated that there would be repercussions for the shield, and is unlikely to react well to the U.S.’ missile defense sale to Romania…

Read full post here.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bell 525 Relentless back in the air a year after deadly crash

file photo by Steve Douglass 
AIN ONLINE: Today, a year and a day after the fatal crash of its first prototype, Bell Helicopter resumed the flight test program of its model 525 Relentless super-medium twin after receiving experimental certificate renewal from the FAA.
Today we have resumed a key element of the Bell 525 program,” said Bell CEO Mitch Snyder. “Bell Helicopter has worked with the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA since the accident and we are confident in the resumption of flight test activity.” Snyder said Bell remains on track to certify the 525 in 2018. The 525 features fly-by-wire flight controls and the Garmin G5000H touchscreen-controlled avionics system. The flight test program had been stood down since the fatal crash of 525 flight test vehicle 1 (FTV-1) last July 6th.
Neither of the remaining two test aircraft had engaged in ground runs during the standdown. Two more test aircraft are being built at Bell's plant in Amarillo, Texas. One of those new aircraft is expected to fly this year and the other early next year.
The NTSB has yet to issue its final report on the FTV-1 accident. That aircraft was conducting tests near Vne speeds when the main rotor rpm dropped off and the main rotors departed the normal rotation plane and struck both the tailboom and the nose during the in-flight break-up sequence that destroyed the helicopter, according to the NTSB. A Bell executive told AIN last year that the company was making unspecified modifications to the remaining test aircraft in the wake of the accident.
file photo 
According to FlightRadar24, the helicopter was traveling 199 knots (about 229 mph) at an altitude of 1,975 feet immediately before the crash. Throughout its one-hour test flight, radar data shows the helicopter increased and decreased speed several times.

Bell Helicopter had hoped to complete the certification process for the 525 in 2017, but the crash has delayed certification as well as first deliveries to customers.

“We do remain committed to the 525 program and will work to ensure the aircraft will be a safe, reliable and high-performance helicopter,” said Textron chief executive Scott Donnelly last week. Textron owns Bell Helicopter.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

NYTIMES: In North Korea, ‘Surgical Strike’ Could Spin Into ‘Worst Kind of Fighting


NYT: 

SEOUL, South Korea — The standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program has long been shaped by the view that the United States has no viable military option to destroy it. Any attempt to do so, many say, would provoke a brutal counterattack against South Korea too bloody and damaging to risk.

That remains a major constraint on the Trump administration’s response even as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, approaches his goal of a nuclear arsenal capable of striking the United States. On Tuesday, the North appeared to cross a new threshold, testing a weapon that it described as an intercontinental ballistic missile and that analysts said could potentially hit Alaska.

Over the years, as it does for potential crises around the world, the Pentagon has drafted and refined multiple war plans, including an enormous retaliatory invasion and limited pre-emptive attacks, and it holds annual military exercises with South Korean forces based on them.

But the military options are more grim than ever.

Even the most limited strike risks staggering casualties, because North Korea could retaliate with the thousands of artillery pieces it has positioned along its border with the South. Though the arsenal is of limited range and could be destroyed in days, the United States defense secretary, Jim Mattis, recently warned that if North Korea used it, it “would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”

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