October 11: Military/Intelligence
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A launch company said Thursday that it had launched a satellite for the U.S. government, and experts said it would relay data such as imagery collected by other spy satellites to ground stations for use by intelligence experts.
International Launch Services -- a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Russian companies Khrunichev and Energia -- said in a statement it successfully launched a "national security payload" Wednesday evening for the National Reconnaissance Office, a U.S. intelligence agency that designs, builds and maintains spy satellites.
"ILS is honored to have a role in enhancing our nation's security by launching this NRO payload," ILS President Mark Albrecht said. "Every one of these missions is vitally important for national defense."
The firm did not provide any details about the type of satellite launched on an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
But satellite experts said earlier this week that the type of rocket being used to launch it and the location of the launch indicated it was a relay satellite rather than one that collects imagery.
Spy satellites beam the information up to the relay satellite, in orbit about 25,000 miles high, which in turn sends it back to intelligence analysts on the ground.
One expert, Craig Covault, senior editor at Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, said earlier this week that the satellite launch had been planned for months and was not specifically related to the current U.S. military action in Afghanistan, begun Sunday in response to the attack on the United States on Sept. 11.
An NRO satellite launched last Friday from California was believed to be a top-secret KH-11 spy satellite that could monitor Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Qualms about publishing data that could be used to plot terror attacks have prompted a leading official-secrecy foe to scrub its Web site -- joining a trend well under way among U.S. government agencies.
The Federation of American Scientists, a staunch advocate of government openness, said Thursday it had yanked about 200 of its estimated half-million Web pages since Sept. 11 terror attacks killed some 5,500 people in the United States.
The federation's site, http://www.fas.org, contains one of the Web's biggest archives of national security-related material, including detailed rundowns on U.S. weapons systems, spy satellites and nuclear plants.
"It's a peculiar situation," said Steven Aftergood, director of the group's Project on Government Secrecy. "We're not in the business of concealing government information. We're in the business of publishing government information."
The federation -- a research and advocacy group that counts 50 or so Nobel laureates among its 3,000 members and sponsors -- was trying to do the responsible thing, Aftergood said.
U.S. government departments and agencies, meanwhile, have stripped a wide range of documents from Web sites because of perceived threats to such critical systems as pipelines, water supply stations and power plants.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for instance, took down its entire Web site Thursday to review its content for "information that might be useful to adversaries," said spokeswoman Rosetta Virgilio.
She said many other federal agencies also appeared to be in the process of removing such information from their sites.
The Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics has cut off public access to databases used for mapping because of stepped-up concern about U.S. transportation infrastructure.
"At this time, we are only providing geospatial data to federal, state, and local government officials," said a notice on the bureau's Web site, http://www.bts.gov/gis/.
At the Defense Department, the armed forces and specialized agencies "probably are reviewing material (on their Web sites) as we speak," said Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood. "Everything is sort of a little different than before Sept. 11."
The Environmental Protection Agency has dismantled its risk management Web site, which contains general information about emergency plans and chemicals used at 15,000 sites nationwide.
ONE OF BIGGEST ARCHIVES
In taking down a small part of its archive, the Federation of American Scientists said it had acted entirely on its own initiative, not in response to any official prodding.
"There's all the difference in the world between those two things," said Aftergood, publisher of a newsletter that regularly blasts what he considers excessive government secrecy.
Some of the pages ditched, Aftergood said, showed "locations and layout" of U.S. intelligence facilities such as those presumably being used in the ongoing U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan against the network and hosts of Osama bin Laden, suspected mastermind of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Also scrubbed were "operational characteristics" of U.S. weapons platforms such as Navy warships and "loading and unloading procedures" of certain ships, he said.
"From my point of view, we are exercising our freedom of the press -- which includes both the freedom to publish and not to publish," Aftergood said in a telephone interview. He said he expected most of the information to be restored to the site eventually along with new material being added daily.
In many cases, data pulled together by the federation and by a handful of other public policy groups is so widely scattered in the public domain as to be practically inaccessible even though it is unclassified.
John Pike, a former Federation of American Scientists policy analyst who left to start GlobalSecurity.org -- a defense, space and intelligence policy group -- scoffed at the idea of scrubbing any information from the public domain.
"The Soviets tried that during the period of (Cold War) stagnation and it bankrupted their society," he said. "There were no phone books in Moscow. There were no street maps. None of the buildings had signs on them. And it destroyed their society."
OMB Watch, a Washington-based group that promotes government accountability, criticized the trend toward removing material from the public record.
Limiting the free flow of information is "how totalitarian societies operate," said Gary Bass, the group's executive director. "While security may improve, the spirit of civil society is lost. We cannot let that happen here."
WASHINGTON -- Armed with a virtual blank check from the Bush administration, the CIA is pouring operatives and money into and around Afghanistan, and has decided to pay a bounty to anyone who helps the agency capture or kill Osama bin Laden, officials said Wednesday.
Within the CIA, the rapid mobilization is called a "surge." Scores of intelligence officers and analysts, apparently including some recalled from retirement, are being dispatched to outposts in Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere.
Such a surge is necessary because the CIA largely dismantled its local networks and operations in Afghanistan after the retreat of Soviet military forces from the country in 1989, and the collapse of communism soon after. The intelligence agency upgraded its efforts after 1998 in a search for Bin Laden, but it has been unable to penetrate his inner circle and thus has failed to detect his plans or whereabouts.
Although official U.S. policy has barred assassinations since 1976, a senior intelligence official said the agency has spread word that it will reward anyone who helps eliminate Bin Laden. U.S. officials say the Saudi fugitive is the prime suspect behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"I'm sure if someone were to deliver to us evidence of his timely demise, we'd find a way to demonstrate our gratitude," said the official.
Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that America's no-assassination policy has not been abandoned and that its first aim is to capture Bin Laden.
But he added that different standards apply during wartime. "In a state of war, you don't go out and assassinate people," he said. "You take them out."
Goss added that if Bin Laden was "desperate and he was never going to surrender, then it's pretty obvious that he's going to have a demise."
The intelligence official indicated the bounty for Bin Laden might exceed the $5 million that the State Department previously has offered for information leading to his arrest or conviction. Thousands of matchbooks advertising the reward were handed out last year in refugee camps and other sites along the Afghan border.
The State Department offered a separate $5-million reward this week to "individuals providing information" on those responsible for last month's synchronized skyjackings and crashes of four commercial airliners in New York, suburban Washington and Pennsylvania in which about 5,600 people are dead and missing. Protection of identities and family relocation, if necessary, was also offered.
An initial goal of the current CIA campaign, officials said, will be to try to sow dissension in the ranks of the ruling Taliban in hopes of gaining an informant who could help U.S. forces pinpoint and punish Bin Laden and his allies.
Officers also are likely to probe for vulnerable links between Bin's Laden's terrorist network, known as Al Qaeda, and the surrounding population, such as relatives who provide food, medicine and other support.
"They have to get support somewhere," said a former CIA agent with experience in the region. "They probably do have some food stores, but those aren't unlimited."
He said the ongoing bombing campaign, and pending Special Forces operations, may help U.S. intelligence efforts. The war may "move people off the fence," he said, predicting that either fear or money may induce Afghans to cooperate.
"We probably have peripheral information already, and it's a matter of following that information over time," the former official said. "You want to do it right. You don't want to misfire and send them deeper underground."
But the covert campaign will not be easy, especially because the CIA has so few operatives in the region.
Robert Baer, a former CIA officer in the Middle East and Central Asia, warned that collecting reliable intelligence in Afghanistan is as rough as the parched and rocky countryside.
"If you're think you're going to penetrate Bin Laden and the Taliban in a couple of weeks, it isn't possible," Baer said. " . . . It's extremely hostile country. People are suspicious. They're insular. They hate foreigners. A stranger just can't walk up into one of those valleys and say, 'I'm moving here,' because they'll kill him."
Baer said the CIA largely abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet pullout. "Afghanistan was looked at as a basket case. You couldn't send Americans in there to work. . . . You'd have Congress all over you saying why are you sending people to get killed in Afghanistan? That part of the world was written off."
As the CIA gears up for a covert campaign, other U.S. intelligence services have refocused their efforts in support of U.S. military operations, from bombing to search-and-rescue missions, officials said.
They include the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic surveillance and breaks codes, and various Defense Department agencies that provide high-altitude satellite surveillance, detailed mapping and other military intelligence.
As part of the covert war, intelligence services reportedly are trying to reach out to ethnic Pushtun commanders who might provide a more popular alternative to the fractious ethnic minorities gathered under the banner of the Northern Alliance. Foreign reporters, unable to reach the rest of the country, have made media stars of the Northern Alliance in recent weeks, but many experts are extremely wary.
"Anybody who thinks you have a long-term solution by going with the Northern Alliance is not paying attention to history," warned Milton Bearden, who ran the CIA support operations to the moujahedeen during the final years of the Afghan war. "It would be a disaster, a full-time civil war."
Yossef Bodansky, author of a book on Bin Laden and director of the House task force on terrorism and unconventional warfare, warned that U.S. intelligence efforts face major obstacles if their plans call for another surrogate war.
"We've been out of the loop so long," he said. "We didn't have [operatives] in the mud huts with the understanding of what makes them kill and die. We don't even speak the language. Now, suddenly, we come out of the blue and take an all-terrain vehicle and drive across the border and say, 'Hi, Ahmed, my name is Joe. I'm going to teach you what to do.' "
During the 1980s, the CIA worked through the Pakistani intelligence services to provide weapons, aid and billions of dollars to the moujahedeen guerrillas, according to several former CIA officials.
After suffering 15,000 casualties, the demoralized Soviet military retreated in early 1989. The CIA continued assistance to rebel forces until the pro-Russian government in Kabul fell in 1992. The Taliban consolidated its control of the country soon after.
Bin Laden helped recruit and train fighters from around the Islamic world for the war in the 1980s, but the CIA insists it had no dealings with him. "The CIA never employed, paid or maintained any relationship whatsoever with Osama bin Laden," CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said.
Since Sept. 11, the CIA has sought additional cooperation and support from spy agencies and security services around the world, officials said. Among those with special experience and expertise are Britain, Russia and Pakistan, but the net has been spread far wider.
"If we succeed in this, it's not because the CIA has got guys from the University of Michigan done up in dark paint running around the hills," said another former CIA official. "It's because they're talking to the Russians, the Uzbeks, the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Filipinos, all the way down the line."
The British "have a whole lot of people who were on the ground" during the 1980s war, the official added.
Russia probably has no agents or credible informants left in the country, according to Oleg Kalugin, a former general in the KGB, the Soviet-era spy service.
Kalugin said Moscow can assist Washington with Dari and Pashto translators and other services. "Russia can help with some of the intercepts," said Kalugin, who now lives in the Washington area. "They have developed good resources in that area, especially coded traffic."
The Soviet experience offers several red flags, however. A Soviet veteran of an intelligence unit during the Afghan war warned that although different Afghan ethnic groups may hate one another, they probably hate outsiders even more. He said almost none of the information his unit ever received was accurate, and his comrades often found themselves ambushed as a result.
Pakistan remains the most important--and most problematic--U.S. ally in the war.
The turbulent country's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Islamabad's chief spy service, has had close and direct contact with the Taliban since it first appeared in 1994. The ISI since has played a major role in arming, training and at times advising Taliban military forces, according to U.S. officials.
The ISI also had ties with Bin Laden, according to Pakistani intelligence officials. It sent Muslim militants to train in his terror camps for guerrilla actions in Indian-controlled portions of Kashmir.
The issue became an embarrassment after Bin Laden helped orchestrate the truck bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in August 1998 and the Clinton administration sought Pakistan's help in capturing Bin Laden.
Islamabad began to support the Taliban in an effort to stabilize its 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan, especially as weapons and narcotics began flooding into Pakistan in the early 1990s.
Moreover, an ethnic Pushtun minority, as well as a fundamentalist camp, within the Pakistan army and high command strongly supported the largely Pushtun Taliban.
Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, fired the head of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, earlier this week. He was not known as a fundamentalist, but he ran Islamabad's connections to the Taliban.
Musharraf also changed leadership in five of the Pakistan Army's eight corps commands. In at least two corps, the changes appeared to be the result of concerns that the commanders were fundamentalists or had Taliban sympathies.
Times staff writers Rone Tempest in Islamabad and Maura Reynolds in Moscow
contributed to this report.