Iraqi insurgents have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to monitor U.S. military operations regionally.
Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber – available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet – to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.
U.S. officials say there is no evidence that hackers were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. observation.
The drone intercepts mark the emergence of a shadow cyber war within the U.S.-led conflicts overseas. They also point to a potentially serious vulnerability in Washington’s growing network of unmanned drones, which have become the American weapon of choice in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Obama administration has come to rely heavily on the Falconry drones because they allow the U.S. to safely monitor and stalk insurgent targets in areas where sending American troops would be either politically untenable or too risky.
The stolen video feeds also indicate that U.S. adversaries continue to find simple ways of counteracting sophisticated American military technologies in region.
U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds. In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.
In the summer 2009 incident, the military found “days and days and hours and hours of proof” that the feeds were being intercepted and shared with multiple extremist groups, the person said. “It is part of their kit now.”
A senior defense official said that James Clapper, the Pentagon’s intelligence chief, assessed the Iraq intercepts at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and concluded they represented a shortcoming to the security of the drone network.
“There did appear to be a vulnerability,” the defense official said. “There’s been no harm done to troops or missions compromised as a result of it, but there’s an issue that we can take care of and we’re doing so.”
Senior military and intelligence officials said the U.S. was working to encrypt all of its drone video feeds from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but said it wasn’t yet clear if the problem had been completely resolved.
Some of the most detailed evidence of intercepted feeds has been discovered in Iraq, but adversaries have also intercepted drone video feeds in Afghanistan, according to people briefed on the matter. These intercept techniques could be employed in other locations where the U.S. is using pilotless planes, such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, they said.
The Pentagon is deploying record numbers of drones to Afghanistan as part of the Obama administration’s troop surge there. Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who oversees the Air Force’s unmanned aviation program, said some of the drones would employ a sophisticated new camera system called “Gorgon Stare,” which allows a single aerial vehicle to transmit back at least 10 separate video feeds simultaneously.
Gen. Deptula, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said there were inherent risks to using drones since they are remotely controlled and need to send and receive video and other data over great distances. “Those kinds of things are subject to listening and exploitation,” he said, adding the military was trying to solve the problems by better encrypting the drones’ feeds.
The potential drone vulnerability lies in an unencrypted downlink between the unmanned craft and ground control. The U.S. government has known about the flaw since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.
Last December, U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered copies of Predator drone feeds on a laptop belonging to a Shiite militant, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter. “There was evidence this was not a one-time deal,” this person said. The U.S. accuses Iran of providing weapons, money and training to Shiite fighters in Iraq, a charge that Tehran has long denied.
The militants use programs such as SkyGrabber, from Russian company SkySoftware. Andrew Solonikov, one of the software’s developers, said he was unaware that his software could be used to intercept drone feeds. “It was developed to intercept music, photos, video, programs and other content that other users download from the Internet — no military data or other commercial data, only free legal content,” he said by email from Russia.
Officials stepped up efforts to prevent insurgents from intercepting video feeds after the July incident. The difficulty, officials said, is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones. Instead, many components of the network linking the drones to their operators in the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan have to be upgraded to handle the changes. Additional concerns remain about the vulnerability of the communications signals to electronic jamming, though there’s no evidence that has occurred, said people familiar with reports on the matter.
Predator drones are built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of San Diego. Some of its communications technology is proprietary, so widely used encryption systems aren’t readily compatible, said people familiar with the matter.
In an email, a spokeswoman said that for security reasons, the company couldn’t comment on “specific data link capabilities and limitations.”
Fixing the security gap would have caused delays, according to current and former military officials. It would have added to the Predator’s price. Some officials worried that adding encryption would make it harder to quickly share time-sensitive data within the U.S. military, and with allies.
“There’s a balance between pragmatics and sophistication,” said Mike Wynne, Air Force Secretary from 2005 to 2008.
The Air Force has staked its future on unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones account for 36% of the planes in the service’s proposed 2010 budget.
Today, the Air Force is buying hundreds of Reaper drones, a newer model, whose video feeds could be intercepted in much the same way as with the Predators, according to people familiar with the matter. A Reaper costs between $10 million and $12 million each and is faster and better armed than the Predator. General Atomics expects the Air Force to buy as many as 375 Reapers.
source: Wall Street Journal , Washington
The Real Outcome of the Recent Pak-US Official Visits
US vice President, Joseph Biden recent visit to Pakistan was a matter of great concern for the entire nation, media and our US-led government, which is strongly believed to be acting like a puppet in US hands after its failure to resolve the issue of military insurgency and continuous drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan. It was a shrewd and tactful move on the part of the USA as the trust deficit between Pak-US relations continues to increase after the Indo-US nuclear deal, Obama’s visit to India and his endorsing India to become a permanent member of Security Council. Infact all these policies point directly towards its deep-rooted strategic interests and inclination towards India. The simple logic or reason behind all this is America’s fear of China and security threat from Pakistan. In the upcoming years it is not likely to be Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s Pakistan who can possibly become a safe haven for the terrorists and its previous Pro Taliban policy still haunts the Americans. USA alleges Pakistan’s ISI being supportive to these extremist elements and considers its nuclear arsenals being unsafe. Out of this fear, Biden has announced in his few days back visit to Afghanistan that USA forces would continue to stay and expected gradual withdrawal, starting this summer of US troops, can be postponed if Afghanistan wants, in order to prevent civil war and to fully eliminate the terrorists from its land.
America’s security depends greatly on Pakistan so it is bound to establish good ties with Pakistan and this surprise visit was another goodwill gesture out of courtesy and more likely out of its own self interest. In his visit, Joe Biden tried to clarify the misconceptions that prevail in Pakistan about US intentions and actions. He appreciated Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and reiterated US support to democracy in Pakistan and its stability. Biden assured that the new US administration would support Pakistan’s efforts to counter terrorism, religious radicalism and to meet its developmental needs and capacity building. He also expressed his condolence over assassination of Governor Salman Taseer. He assured Pakistan that no US boot will tread on Pakistani soil and there will be no violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,”
Our President Asif Ali Zardari recently also visited USA to attend the memorial services of Pak-Afghan envoy Richard Holbrook. There was no ceremonial welcome, no state banquet, and no joint presser, not even an opening statement on his arrival. No one is really quite sure what Zardari had hoped to accomplish, by meeting the US President and the state secretary Hillary Clinton as the two countries are battling an enormous trust deficit despite public protestations of cooperation in combating terrorism. The two leaders renewed pledges of cooperation over the aspects of the US-Pakistan strategic partnership, including mutual commitment to economic reform, support for good governance, democracy and joint efforts against terrorism. The discussion focused on shared efforts to fight terrorism, resolve the issue of blasphemy law and to promote regional stability, specifically on the importance of cooperating towards a peaceful and stable outcome in Afghanistan. However, Washington is not ready to pay any heed over the Kashmir issue and the real outcome of these two visits seems quite bleak for Pakistan, giving us neither new hopes for betterment nor any positive prospects for the future.
The years of US policies toward Pakistan based on financial allurements and conventional weaponry have done little to induce any change. Despite all these assurances, Pakistani nation is now skeptical of US motives having bad experiences in the past like drone strikes on Pakistani border areas, failure of Kerry Lugar bill and inadequate US material and financial aid for the war on terror and in crucial times of floods. These two visits are another deceptive picture by USA to allure Pakistan towards itself, after foreseeing Pakistan’s growing diplomatic and economic cooperation with China in December. No matter how much USA assures Pakistan of its staunch support, the atmosphere of misperceptions and doubts continue to hail around the country and America can never win the hearts and minds of Pakistani people through its fake assurances, callous policies and political/ military tactics as the two sides have a long way to go to overcome their significant differences. As it is well said that assurance cannot be bought but achieved only through mutual trust, cooperation and it requires time and experience.
THE SILENT MAJORITY
by Arslan Khalid
A couple of days ago Pakistan saw The Governor of its largest province murdered in broad daylight by his own security personal. The murderer has claimed it to be in reaction to governors’ statements against blasphemy law. Irrespective of the political turmoil it may have created, the society is divided into two groups over this issue. 5% people claiming it to be a justified act while 5% considers governor as a martyr .
Now where does majority 90% stand on this issue? Well they are once again busy doing their usual thing which is “to keep silent”.
Maulana Roomi once said that Nations die when they fail to differentiate between the right and wrong .It would have been very convenient to accept that our nation had died many years ago but the fact is that this silent majority of our nation has still got the ability to differentiate between right and wrong only if they can come out of their self created prison .Their major concern is just to pass there solitary lives in captivity without being disturbed. They have become immune to oppression and injustice. They have allowed a minority to rule over them and to represent them as a nation whether this minority be extremists or liberal fascists.
In Islam we are blessed with an eternal gift. A blessing that no other religion is offering which is a clear guideline to pass our lives. The whole message of Almighty is there in Quran and then elaborated clearly by Hadiths and the Holy life of The Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him).Unlike other religions where u follow a church or a synagogue to understand it, we Muslims can lead good,pious lives by studying Quran and Hadiths ourselves. So role of a Molvi becomes very well defined . His job should just be spreading the message of namaz,zakat and basic principles of Islam. If some Mullah tries to spread the message against the spirit of Islam which is peace why cant the majority sitting in mosque take a stand and ask him afterwards that he shouldn’t indulge himself in that domain. The little contribution on our part can save somebody from getting wrong meaning of Islam by that Mullah. However as followers, people need to understand that Islam is a religion and not a fashion that needs change with time. There is no radical or moderate Islam .The radicalization is a whole different phenomenon and has more to do with political and social issues than religious ones.
It will take long to explain causes for the radicalization and intolerance that we witness in our society so I would rather stick to my topic about the silent people out there who sometimes gather courage and decides to speak up but limit their voice to facebook or twitter only. alas!! Almost all my friends living abroad on watching governors’ murder news, updated their status on face book showing immense disappointment and remorse. Unfortunately none of them ever update their status when everyday drone attacks are killing innocent people in our tribal region .In an estimate 42% people who died in last yrs drone attack were just a collateral damage and the missile never differentiated between a child, a woman or a 70 yr old man. Last month people affected by drones from South and North Waziristan protested in Islamabad. Prominent human rights associations that claim to be champions of human rights in Pakistan and get dollars for their NGOs in return for their services never turned up for them. Nobody even bothered that a 8 year old child waiting for mercy after having lost his parents in drone attack is an ideal target to get exploited by terrorists.
Even American and British people adopted Iraqi orphans after Iraq war but our silent class has gone so selfish that they couldn’t help one of their own. Living their lives in fear and avoiding trouble, not foreseeing that few yrs from now this very child’s activity can give them some irreplaceable loss.
We always blame an individual for some act but never bothered that this was bound to happen. Give me one explanation why should we only blame an individual and never considered our silence responsible for the act. Why do we expect peace when we are so far from the concept of Islam? Why do we expect logical decisions from people when there is no effort of educating people on real issues? How can we expect a better future for us when we haven’t learnt anything from history? Why do we even think of being sovereign when we know we are being ruled by corrupt puppets of super powers and do nothing to remove them? We want people to be keep deep sentiments for the country but want to restrain their sentiments when somebody shows mala fide intentions towards the religion? How can we expect a great Muslim scholar to come out of some madarasa when we ourselves have generalized all madarasas as terrorist training centers and have labeled all students there as terrorists? Why do we hope for some genuine National heroes when we are busy making disputed people of past as heroes and martyrs? Why do people mention about Rule of Law and States authority to implement some law when the people running the state are the biggest thugs and frauds? why do we even mention about making better laws when the law makers are themselves the biggest law breakers? How can we wish for a revolution that can change the fate of this nation but aren’t willing to sacrifice for it? Aren’t these questions enough to tell that where we demand others to be clear in their heads we ourselves are confused? Last but not least why am I expecting answers to these questions when I know that these questions were addressed to ‘The Silent Majority’ of this nation which hopefully will one day wake up from the deep slumber they are presently in.
Your Opinion Poll Regarding Salman Taseer’s Killing [VOTE]
”]Salman Taseer killed by his own security guard “Mumtaz Qadri” in reaction to Taseer’s statement terming the blasphemy law as a black law. He fired 27 bullets into Salman Taseer’s body. 500 religious Scholars alone from Karachi urged Muslims to boycott the funeral ceremony.
The statement which has been endorsed by senior Barelvi leaders such as Professor Saeed Shah Kazmi, Allama Syed Riaz Hussain Shah, Syed Shah Turabul Haq Qadri and Hajji Mohammad Tayyab calls the assassin Mumtaz Hussain Qadri ‘Ashiqe Rasool Ghaziye Mulk (Lover of the Prophet, Commander of the Country)’.
“We pay rich tributes and salute the bravery, valour and faith of Mumtaz Qadri,” the statement said, adding that the ministers, politicians, ‘so-called’ intellectuals and anchor persons should learn lessons from the governor’s death. The scholars said that those who insult the Holy Prophet (pbuh), even if they did not intend to, were liable for death.
Hajji Mohammad Tayyab, who is also the secretary general of the Sunni Ittehad Council, told The Express Tribune that scholars had “repeatedly urged the president, prime minister and Governor Taseer himself that if their knowledge about the blasphemy law are limited, they should consult them and avoid debating over the issue as it would inflame the people and then anything could happen.”
Shah Turabul Haq Qadri’s son Siraj, also a senior member of the JASP, endorsed the statement and said it was now binding on every Muslim.
Jamiat Ulemae Pakistan (JUP) central executive committee member Maulana Shabbir went as far as saying that in his opinion Salmaan Taseer was ‘Wajubul Qatil’ (must be killed according to divine law). “He had called the divine law of God, a black law and tried to protect a condemned blasphemer,” he said.
Mumtaz Qadri have done the Right action or Wrong ?
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Your Opinion Poll Regarding Salman Taseer’s Killing [VOTE]