Tag Archives: covert war

Killing US Enemies: Covert Operations

The U.S. has some of the best special operations units in the world, but they can’t do everything on their own. The American military relies on allied special operators from places like Britain, Iraq, and Israel to collect intelligence and kill enemy insurgents and soldiers. Here are 6 of those special operations commands.

1. SAS and SBS (UK)
These could obviously be two separate entries, but we’re combining them here because they’re both British units that often operate side-by-side with U.S. forces, just with different missions and pedigrees. The Special Air Service (SAS) pulls from the British Army and focuses on counter-terrorism and reconnaissance. The Special Boat Service (SBS) does maritime counter-terrorism and amphibious warfare (but will absolutely stack bodies on land, too).

2. Sayeret Matkal (Israel)
Israel’s Sayeret Matkal has generated rumors and conjecture for decades, and it’s easy to see why when you look at their few public successes…. The commandos in the unit are skilled in deception, direct action, and intelligence gathering…One of their most public recent successes came when they led a daring mission to install listening devices in ISIS buildings, learning of a plan to hide bombs in the battery wells of laptops.

3. French Special Operations Command
French special operations units are even more close-mouthed than the overall specops community…

4. Kommando Spezialkräfte (Germany)
The commandos have reportedly deployed to Syria in recent years to fight ISIS.

5. Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service

6. Afghan National Army Commando Corps
It’s even capable of the rapid nighttime raids that U.S. forces became famous for when they were in the lead in that country…Afghanistan also has the Ktah Khas, a counter-terrorism unit known for daring raids like their 2016 rescue of 59 prisoners in a Taliban hideout.

Logan Nye, We Are The Mighty: 6 foreign special operations units the US relies on to collect intelligence and kill enemy insurgents, Business Insider, Nov. 30, 2018

 

Double-Tap Drone Strikes: attacking rescuers

A field investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Pakistan’s tribal areas appears to confirm that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) last year briefly revived the controversial tactic of deliberately targeting rescuers at the scene of a previous drone strike. The tactic has previously been labelled a possible war crime by two UN investigators.  The Bureau’s new study focused mainly on strikes around a single village in North Waziristan – attacks that were aimed at one of al Qaeda’s few remaining senior figures, Yahya al-Libi. He was finally killed by a CIA drone strike on June 4 2012. The Bureau’s field researcher found five double-tap strikes took place in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque.

Congressional aides have previously been reported as describing to the Los Angeles Times reviewing a CIA video showing Yahya al-Libi alone being killed. But the Bureau’s field research appears to confirm what others reported at the time – that al-Libi’s death was part of a sequence of strikes on the same location that killed up to 16 people.  If correct, that would indicate that Congressional aides were not shown crucial additional video material.

The CIA has robustly rejected the charge. Spokesman Edward Price told the Bureau: ‘The CIA takes its commitment to Congressional oversight with the utmost seriousness. The Agency provides accurate and timely information consistent with our obligation to the oversight Committees. Any accusation alleging otherwise is baseless.’

The Bureau first broke the story of the CIA’s deliberate targeting of rescuers in a February 2012 investigation for the Sunday Times. It found evidence of 11 attacks on rescuers – so-called ‘double-tap’ strikes – in Pakistan’s tribal areas between 2009 and 2011, along with a drone strike deliberately targeting a funeral, causing mass casualties.  Reports of these controversial tactics ended by July 2011. But credible news reports emerged a year later indicating that double-tap strikes had been revived.  International media including the BBC, CNN and news agency AFP variously reported that rescuers had been targeted on five occasions between May 24 and July 23 2012, with a mosque and prayers for the dead also reportedly bombed.

The Bureau commissioned a report into the alleged attacks from Mushtaq Yusufzai, a respected journalist based in Peshawar, who reports regularly for NBC and for local paper The News.  Over a period of months, Yusufzai – who has extensive government, Taliban and civilian contacts throughout Waziristan – built up a detailed understanding of the attacks through his sources.  His findings indicate that five double-tap strikes did indeed take place again in mid-2012, one of which also struck a mosque. In total 53 people were killed in these attacks with 57 injured, the report suggests.  Yusufzai could find no evidence to support media claims that rescuers had been targeted on two further occasions.  No confirmed civilian deaths were reported by local communities in any of the strikes. A woman and three children were reportedly injured in one of the attacks. Yusufzai says: ‘It is possible some civilians were killed, but we don’t know’.

However a parallel investigation by legal charity Reprieve reports that eight civilians died in a double-tap strike on July 6 2012 (see below), with the possibility of further civilian deaths in a July 23 attack.  Islamabad-based lawyer Shahzad Akbar says Reprieve’s findings are based on interviews with villagers from affected areas…

The rescuer strikes examined by Yusufzai all appear to have been aimed at very senior militants – so-called High Value Targets. Under international humanitarian law, the greater the threat a target represents, and the more imminent that threat is deemed to be, the greater the leeway for targeting. The Bureau’s findings suggest that strikes on rescuers are still permitted in certain circumstances, such as in the pursuit of a high value target such as Yahya al-Libi….

Bureau field researcher Mushtaq Yusufzai notes that civilians now rarely appear to take part in rescue operations, and are often prevented from doing so by militants. They also fear further CIA attacks, he says.

Chris Woods,Bureau investigation finds fresh evidence of CIA drone strikes on rescuers, Aug. 1, 2013

US Special Operations in 70 Countries

Not long after Adm. William H. McRaven led the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, he was put in charge of the nation’s entire contingent of Special Operations forces, and set to work revamping them to face a widening array of new threats as America’s combat role in the Middle East and southwest Asia winds down….Admiral McRaven’s goal is to recast the command from its popular image of commandos killing or capturing terrorists, and expand a force capable of carrying out a range of missions short of combat — including training foreign militaries to counter terrorists, drug traffickers and insurgents, gathering intelligence and assessing pending risk, and advising embassies on security.

But along the way, the ambitious Admiral McRaven has run into critics who say he is overreaching, or as one Congressional critic put it, “empire building” at a time when the military is shrinking its footprint in Afghanistan and refocusing on other hot spots around the world. Congress has blocked, at least temporarily, an idea to consolidate several hundred of the command’s Washington-based staff members in a $10 million-a-year satellite office here, saying it would violate spending limits on such offices.

At the same time, Admiral McRaven has also faced criticism that he is encroaching on the turf of the military’s traditionally powerful regional commanders. Shortly before leaving the Pentagon, former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta granted Admiral McRaven new authority to make staffing decisions in the Special Operations units assigned to the regional commanders. While they will still have the final say on missions in their region, Admiral McRaven will now have the ability to allocate the much sought-after 11,000 deployed Special Operations forces where he determines intelligence and world events indicate they are most needed.

Indeed, in the past year, the command has conducted three classified exercises to determine where it can expand Special Operations forces in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As for the office he has sought in Washington, Admiral McRaven couches his plans to consolidate the command’s disparate operations into a new “National Capital Region” office in similar reform-minded terms, telling Congress in April that it would “better support coordination and decision-making” with other federal agencies.  Supporters described the plan as a management efficiency for the 373 people serving as liaison officers scattered in dozens of executive branch departments and the intelligence community, as well as members of a legislative affairs office that has operated here since the mid-1980s.  If the plan is approved, an additional 70 Special Operations personnel could be assigned to the Washington office. By comparison, the Central Command, which oversees the Middle East and South Asia, has just 15 people in Washington. The Africa Command has 10. The headquarters would be overseen by a three-star officer and is envisioned to have an annual budget of $10 million, although some of that money is already in the command’s budget for staff assigned to duties here.

Admiral McRaven’s proposals have run afoul of Congress before. Last spring [2012], the Special Operations Command sought approval for new authority from Congress to train foreign internal security forces that had been off limits to the American military… Statistics provided by Special Operations Command noted that in any given week, its personnel were operating in more than 70 countries. During one week in March (2012), for example, the command had teams in 92 nations.  Until now, those troops have been financed through the geographic commands in the Middle East, Africa, Europe or Latin America….The goal, command officials say, is not just improving their quality but also improving their coordination with foreign troops and diplomats. The command has sent liaison officers to 10 United States embassies worldwide – Australia, Canada, Britain, Jordan, Poland, Colombia, France, Turkey, Kenya and Italy – to advise indigenous special forces and coordinate activities with those troops.

Nearly a decade ago a similar experiment to place small teams of Special Operations troops in American embassies to gather intelligence on terrorists and to prepare for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them, backfired.  In one case, members of the “military liaison elements” in Paraguay were pulled out of the country after killing an armed robber who attacked them. The shooting had nothing to do with their mission, but the episode embarrassed senior embassy officials, who had not been told the team was operating in the country.

Admiral McRaven says those early problems have been ironed out, and his troops carry out missions only with the approval of the regional American commander and the United States ambassador in that country.

ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER, A Commander Seeks to Chart a New Path for Special Operations, New York Times, May 1, 2013

 

Killing Unknown Extremists: drones

The US government was accused of hiding the truth about its drone programme after leaked intelligence files revealed that it was targeting unidentified militants who posed no immediate threat to the United States.

Despite President Barack Obama’s public promise that the CIA’s armed Predators and Reapers were only firing on those suspected of plotting against America, top-secret documents show that in one year alone almost half of those killed were simply listed as “unknown extremists”. The documents, obtained by US news agency McClatchy, also reveal Pakistan’s intelligence agency was co-operating with the US at the same time as its government was condemning drone strikes on its soil.  “There is now mounting evidence that the Obama administration is misleading the American public – and the world at large – about the drone war it is waging in Pakistan,” said Jennifer Gibson, a lawyer working with the British human rights charity Reprieve.

“The reports show a significant number of the strikes have nothing to do with al-Qa’ida. Instead, they may have been a quid pro quo exchange between two countries’ spy agencies. The result is that the US often doesn’t know who it is killing.”

The US has come under increasing international pressure to open up its decision-making process to scrutiny following claims that the drone programme has killed hundreds of civilians among an estimated death toll of 2,500, predominantly in Pakistan and Yemen. Preparations are in place to transfer more control of the programme from the CIA to the Pentagon, in a move said to herald greater transparency.

The US intelligence reports leaked to McClatchy covered, its reporters said, most of the drone strikes in Pakistan during 2006 to 2008 as well as 2010 to 2011. Most of the attacks targeted al-Qa’ida but many were aimed at the Haqqani network and factions of the Pakistani Taliban.  At least 265 of the 482 people killed by the CIA programme in the 12 months up to September 2011 were listed as Afghan, Pakistani or “unknown extremists”.This contrasts sharply with US administration’s claim that drones are only used to target “senior operational leaders” in al-Qa’ida, those involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks or individuals plotting imminent attacks on the US.

Last night a spokesman for the US Department of Defence said neither they nor the CIA commented on intelligence matters

Excerpt, Terri Judd US drones target low-level militants who pose no threat, Independent, April 10, 2013

Inside the CIA: the Scorpions

The rapid collapse of a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya exposed the vulnerabilities of State Department facilities overseas. But the CIA’s ability to fend off a second attack that same night provided a glimpse of a key element in the agency’s defensive arsenal: a secret security force created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.  Two of the Americans killed in Benghazi were members of the CIA’s Global Response Staff, an innocuously named organization that has recruited hundreds of former U.S. Special Forces operatives to serve as armed guards for the agency’s spies.   The GRS, as it is known, is designed to stay in the shadows, training teams to work undercover and provide an unobtrusive layer of security for CIA officers in high-risk outposts.  But a series of deadly scrapes over the past four years has illuminated the GRS’s expanding role, as well as its emerging status as one of the CIA’s most dangerous assignments.

Of the 14 CIA employees killed since 2009, five worked for the GRS, all as contractors. They include two killed at Benghazi, as well as three others who were within the blast radius on Dec. 31, 2009, when a Jordanian double agent detonated a suicide bomb at a CIA compound in Khost, Afghanistan.  GRS contractors have also been involved in shootouts in which only foreign nationals were killed, including one that triggered a diplomatic crisis. While working for the CIA, Raymond Davis was jailed for weeks in Pakistan last year after killing two men in what he said was an armed robbery attempt in Lahore. (pdf from cryptome.org)

The increasingly conspicuous role of the GRS is part of a broader expansion of the CIA’s paramilitary capabilities over the past 10 years. Beyond hiring former U.S. military commandos, the agency has collaborated with U.S. Special Operations teams on missions including the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and has killed thousands of Islamist militants and civilians with its fleet of armed drones.

CIA veterans said that GRS teams have become a critical component of conventional espionage, providing protection for case officers whose counterterrorism assignments carry a level of risk that rarely accompanied the cloak-and-dagger encounters of the Cold War.  Spywork used to require slipping solo through cities in Eastern Europe. Now, “clandestine human intelligence involves showing up in a Land Cruiser with some [former] Deltas or SEALs, picking up an asset and then dumping him back there when you are through,” said a former CIA officer who worked closely with the security group overseas.  Bodyguard details have become so essential to espionage that the CIA has overhauled its training program at the Farm — its case officer academy in southern Virginia — to teach spies the basics of working with GRS teams.

The security apparatus relies heavily on contractors who are drawn by relatively high pay and flexible schedules that give them several months off each year. In turn, they agree to high-risk assignments in places such as Benghazi and are largely left on their own to take basic precautions, such as finding health and life insurance.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said the GRS has about 125 employees working abroad at any given time, with at least that many rotating through cycles of training and off-time in the United States.  At least half are contractors, who often earn $140,000 or more a year and typically serve 90- or 120-day assignments abroad. Full-time GRS staff officers — those who are permanent CIA employees — earn slightly less but collect benefits and are typically put in supervisory roles.  The work is lucrative enough that recruiting is done largely by word of mouth, said one former U.S. intelligence official. Candidates tend to be members of U.S. Special Forces units who have recently retired, or veterans of police department SWAT teams.  Most GRS recruits arrive with skills in handling the weapons they will carry, including Glock handguns and M4 rifles. But they undergo additional training so they do not call attention to the presence or movements of the CIA officers they are in position to protect.

Although the agency created the GRS to protect officers in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been expanded to protect secret drone bases as well as CIA facilities and officers in locations including Yemen, Lebanon and Djibouti.  In some cases, elite GRS units provide security for personnel from other agencies, including National Security Agency teams deploying sensors or eavesdropping equipment in conflict zones, a former special operator said. The most skilled security operators are informally known as “scorpions.”  “They don’t learn languages, they’re not meeting foreign nationals and they’re not writing up intelligence reports,” a former U.S. intelligence official said. Their main tasks are to map escape routes from meeting places, pat down informants and provide an “envelope” of security, the former official said, all while knowing that “if push comes to shove, you’re going to have to shoot.”

The consequences in such cases can be severe. Former CIA officials who worked with the GRS still wince at the fallout from Davis’s inability to avoid capture as well as his decision to open fire in the middle of a busy street in Pakistan. The former security contractor, who did not respond to requests for comment, said he was doing basic “area familiarization” work, meaning learning his surroundings and possibly mapping routes of escape, when he was confronted by two Pakistanis traveling by motorcycle.  Davis became trapped at the scene, and his arrest provoked a diplomatic standoff between two tense allies in the fight against terrorism.  The CIA took heavy criticism for the clumsiness of the Davis episode, temporarily suspending the drone campaign in Pakistan before U.S. payments to the families of the men Davis had killed helped secure his release.

Excerpt, Greg Miller and Julie Tate, CIA’s Global Response Staff emerging from shadows after incidents in Libya and Pakistan, Washington Post. Dec. 26, 2012

The CIA Drone Program in Yemen: cover up

A rickety Toyota truck packed with 14 people rumbled down a desert road from the town of Radda, which al-Qaeda militants once controlled. Suddenly a missile hurtled from the sky and flipped the vehicle over.  Chaos. Flames. Corpses. Then, a second missile struck.  Within seconds, 11 of the passengers were dead, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter. A 12-year-old boy also perished that day, and another man later died from his wounds.

The Yemeni government initially said that those killed were al-Qaeda militants and that its Soviet-era jets had carried out the Sept. 2 attack. But tribal leaders and Yemeni officials would later say that it was an American assault and that all the victims were civilians who lived in a village near Radda, in central Yemen. U.S. officials last week acknowledged for the first time that it was an American strike.  “Their bodies were burning,” recalled Sultan Ahmed Mohammed, 27, who was riding on the hood of the truck and flew headfirst into a sandy expanse. “How could this happen? None of us were al-Qaeda.”

More than three months later, the incident offers a window into the Yemeni government’s efforts to conceal Washington’s mistakes and the unintended consequences of civilian deaths in American air assaults. In this case, the deaths have bolstered the popularity of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s Yemen affiliate, which has tried to stage attacks on U.S. soil several times.

Furious tribesmen tried to take the bodies to the gates of the presidential residence, forcing the government into the rare position of withdrawing its assertion that militants had been killed. The apparent target, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said, was a senior regional al-Qaeda leader, Abdelrauf al-Dahab, who was thought to be in a car traveling on the same road.

U.S. airstrikes have killed numerous civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world, and those governments have spoken against the attacks. But in Yemen, the weak government has often tried to hide civilian casualties from the public, fearing repercussions in a nation where hostility toward U.S. policies is widespread. It continues to insist in local media reports that its own aging jets attacked the truck.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has kept silent publicly, neither confirming nor denying any involvement, a standard practice with most U.S. airstrikes in its clandestine counterterrorism fight in this strategic Middle Eastern country.  In response to questions, U.S. officials in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it was a Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing warplane, that fired on the truck. The Pentagon declined to comment on the incident, as did senior U.S. officials in Yemen and senior counterterrorism officials in Washington.

Since the attack, militants in the tribal areas surrounding Radda have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. The two survivors and relatives of six victims, interviewed separately and speaking to a Western journalist about the incident for the first time, expressed willingness to support or even fight alongside AQAP, as the al-Qaeda group is known.  “Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans,” Mohammed said. “If the Americans are responsible, I would have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is fighting America.”…

After Osama bin Laden’s death last year, Yemen emerged as a key battlefield in the Obama administration’s war on Islamist militancy. AQAP members are among those on a clandestine “kill list” created by the administration to hunt down terrorism suspects. It is a lethal campaign, mostly fueled by unmanned drones, but it also includes fixed-wing aircraft and cruise missiles fired from the sea.  This year, there have been at least 38 U.S. airstrikes in Yemen, according to the Long War Journal, a nonprofit Web site that tracks American drone attacks. That is significantly more than in any year since 2009, when President Obama is thought to have ordered the first drone strike.

The Radda attack was one of the deadliest since a U.S. cruise missile strike in December 2009 killed dozens of civilians, including women and children, in the mountainous region of al-  Majala in southern Yemen. After that attack, many tribesmen in that area became radicalized and joined AQAP.,,,

“The government is trying to kill the case,” said Abdul Rahman Berman, the executive director of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, or HOOD, a local human rights group. “The government wants to protect its relations with the U.S.”  After the 2009 strike in al-Majala, the Yemeni government took responsibility for the assault. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was then the head of U.S. Central Command, according to a U.S. Embassy e-mail leaked by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks…

On extremist Web sites and Facebook pages, grisly pictures of the attack’s aftermath, with bodies tossed like rag dolls on the road, have been posted, coupled with condemnations of the government and the United States. In Sabool and Radda, youths have vowed to join al-Qaeda to fight the United States.

Excerpts, Sudarsan Raghavan,When U.S. drones kill civilians, Yemen’s government tries to conceal it, Washington Post, Dec. 24, 2012

The CIA Drone Program and Right to Information

A London court  has ruled against examining intelligence-sharing by [Government Communications Headquarters] GCHQ  that leads to CIA drone strikes, claiming it would ‘imperil relations’ with the US.   The case was brought by Noor Khan, a Pakistani national whose father was killed in a drone strike in March 2011. The strike, which killed over 40 people, mostly civilians who had gathered to resolve a mining dispute, is one of the bloodiest on record. Khan has also launched court action against drone strikes in Pakistan. His UK case was supported by legal charity Reprieve and solicitors Leigh Day & Co.

Khan’s lawyers argued that in cases where the UK shared intelligence with the US security services on the location of suspects, knowing that this may be used to kill them with drone strikes, the GCHQ agents responsible may be committing crimes including accessory to murder. The case was an application for a judicial review of the UK’s intelligence-sharing policy in cases where the information might lead to drone strikes.  But Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Simon yesterday rejected the application.  ‘It is plain, from the nature of the claims, that the purpose of the proceedings in England and in Pakistan is to persuade a court to do what it can to stop further strikes by drones operated by the United States,’ said Lord Justice Moses in his written response.  He cited a legal principle whereby ‘the courts will not sit in judgment on the sovereign acts of a foreign state’; breaking with this principle would ‘imperil relations between the states,’ he added.

In order to decide whether GCHQ agents might be open to prosecution if they shared information with the CIA that was used to target drone strikes, a UK court would have to rule on whether the CIA’s campaign in Waziristan could be considered a formal war, as this would allow the agents to claim combatant immunity.  ‘I reject the suggestion that the argument can be confined to an academic discussion as to the status of the conflict in North Waziristan,’ wrote Lord Justice Moses. ‘The claimant cannot demonstrate that his application will avoid, during the course of the hearing and in the judgment, giving a clear impression that it is the United States’ conduct in North Waziristan which is also on trial.’  ‘

The government has never officially confirmed or denied sharing intelligence for drone attacks, although in 2010, a Sunday Times article quoted ‘insiders’ claiming GCHQ had shared information about the locations of al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. GCHQ told the Sunday Times all intelligence sharing was in ‘strict accordance’ with the law.

Noor Khan announced he would appeal the decision. Rosa Curling, of Khan’s solicitors Leigh Day & Co, said: ‘We are disappointed that the court has decided not to engage in this very important issue, leaving our client no option but to appeal the decision. This claim raises very serious questions and issues about the UK’s involvement in the CIA drone attacks in Pakistan. This case seeks to determine the legality of intelligence sharing in relation to GCHQ assistance in CIA drone strikes.’  Kat Craig, legal director of Reprieve, said: ‘By avoiding judicial scrutiny over drone attacks, combined with its ongoing attempts to push through secret courts, this government is showing a disturbing desire to put itself above the law… If the Government is supporting the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes which are illegal, the British public have the right to know.’

Alice K Ross, High court rejects first UK challenge to CIA’s drone campaign, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Dec. 22, 2012

The Alliance between CIA and Pakistan

And, perhaps most crucially, the two fractious allies’ top spies are talking again, with a view to enhancing their cooperation as the 2014 deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan looms.   The relationship between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has been at the core of Washington and Islamabad’s alliance for over a decade now — and sometimes the source of the mutual misery. After 9/11, both intelligence agencies collaborated closely to capture scores of al-Qaeda suspects. But over the past two years, as suspicions have grown, the two sides have become near adversaries.

The ISI is often accused of supporting jihadist proxies attacking U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan — and is widely considered to have been either incompetent or complicit when it came to Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan. The CIA was found to be operating independently within Pakistan’s jealously guarded territory, running unauthorized contractors, recruiting local informants and showering drones at their fiercest pace yet.  But as bitter memories of those disputes begin to recede and new faces assume leadership roles, there is some cautious optimism going forward now — this despite domestic imperatives in both countries (an election year in the U.S., the heated anti-American populism in Pakistan) making rapprochement difficult. Last month the new head of ISI, Lieut. General Zaheer-ul-Islam, made his first visit to Washington, meeting with top intelligence, defense and Administration officials. Tentative agreements were made in terms of joint operations against militants in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported. But, officials from both sides say, fundamental differences linger.

Little is known about General ul-Islam, but a change at the top of ISI will please U.S. security officials. The previous ISI chief, now retired Lieut. General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, had become fiercely hostile to Washington in his final year — engaging in “shouting matches” with then CIA director Leon Panetta, cutting cooperation down to a minimum, ordering the harassment of U.S. diplomats in Pakistan and locking up Shakil Afridi, the physician who ran a vaccination program in the town where bin Laden was found hiding.

Afridi is currently serving a 33-year sentence handed down to him by a tribal court. The charges were not explicitly for spying for the U.S., but there is little doubt in observers’ minds that this is the reason he was punished. Afridi wasn’t arrested for the alleged offenses he has been convicted for until the ISI discovered his vaccination program and links to the CIA. At one point, according to a Pakistani military official familiar with the discussions, the CIA suggested that the ISI strip Afridi of his nationality and hand him over to the U.S. General Pasha angrily refused, saying it would set a bad precedent — one that could encourage others to spy for foreign countries if there were no consequences. U.S. Congressmen reacted angrily to Afridi’s imprisonment, voting to cut $33 million of U.S. assistance to Pakistan, one million for each year he’s serving in prison. The question of Afridi’s fate will likely have come up during ul-Islam’s visit to the U.S. There may be no movement soon, but if relations between Washington and Islamabad grow warmer, the ISI may eventually be persuaded to arrange for Afridi’s quiet release.

The harassment of U.S. officials hasn’t changed much, says a U.S. official. Vehicles are constantly stopped, security personnel searched with unusual rigor, and there is even pressure on the U.S. to abandon the construction of a new consulate in Peshawar. On other fronts, ul-Islam has maintained a low profile, a decision thought to be influenced by his predecessor’s controversial visibility. “Unlike General Pasha,” says a senior politician from Pakistan’s opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, “we don’t see the new head of the ISI interfering in politics — yet.”

During the new ISI chief’s visit, U.S. officials repeated their long-standing concerns about the Haqqani network, a potent jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda that is based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal territory along the Afghan border. From their sanctuary there, say U.S. officials, the group contentedly plots terrorist attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, before slipping back across the border. The ISI is widely suspected of offering the group support, with Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, even describing the Haqqanis as “a veritable arm of the ISI” in his valedictory testimony before Congress last year.

The Pakistanis deny backing the Haqqanis but concede links with them and their reluctance to confront them. They plaintively cite a lack of resources and insist their priority is targeting militants mounting attacks inside Pakistan, but tellingly add that the Haqqanis will be crucial to any future Afghan settlement that Pakistan hopes to be a part of. But a series of unremitting, violent attacks in and around Kabul, authored by the Haqqanis, has intensified the pressure on the Pakistanis.

Last October, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, discussed the possibility of “limiting the space” given to the Haqqanis in North Waziristan with Clinton during her visit to Islamabad. The Pakistani army said it had certain contingency plans in place for limited, surgical operations to reclaim territory in some of North Waziristan’s main towns. These plans were shelved soon after, with the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. Now, as pressure builds again, with enduring attacks and Congressmen calling for the Haqqani network to be designated as a foreign terrorist organization, the plans will have to be revisited. The new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olson, told U.S. lawmakers during his confirmation hearings last month that he will be committed to taking on the Haqqanis.

Without a Pakistani military operation against the Haqqanis, the CIA has focused on drone strikes against them and other militants in the region. The strikes, U.S. officials insist, are effective. Some Pakistani military officials also have conceded improved accuracy. But there are limits to what can be achieved by a drone-only strategy, and there are political costs. Drone strikes have not only become hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where the parliament has united in denouncing them, but also across the world. A Pew Research Center survey published in June found that majorities in countries as diverse as France, Germany, the Czech Republic, China, Japan, Brazil and Turkey opposed the widespread use of drone strikes.

An acknowledgment of the accumulating political costs may temper the frequency with which the CIA uses drone strikes. General David Petraeus, the new CIA director, is said to appreciate that the program is unsustainable. Previous CIA director Panetta was seen as being indulgent of “the CT guys and their shiny toys,” says the official. Drone strikes increased to a pace of one every four days at their height.

But there are certain points at which they are seen as a necessity — and they will continue to be used despite ul-Islam’s insistence last month in Washington that they stop. Just days after Clinton’s apology and the reopening of the NATO supply lines, a drone strike in North Waziristan reportedly killed 20 suspected militants. The actual figure, the U.S. official says, was lower. But it was a truck packed with explosives heading across the border. “It was a clear shot,” the official says. “We had to take it.” And that is one of the many differences in opinion that both sides will somehow have to learn to live with.

Omar Waraich.The CIA and ISI: Are Pakistan and the U.S.’s Spy Agencies Starting to Get Along?, Time, Aug. 7, 2012

United States, Iran and the Stuxnet Worm

From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.  Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.  At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.  “Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.  Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.

This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.  These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.

Whether Iran is still trying to design and build a weapon is in dispute. The most recent United States intelligence estimate concludes that Iran suspended major parts of its weaponization effort after 2003, though there is evidence that some remnants of it continue.

Iran initially denied that its enrichment facilities had been hit by Stuxnet, then said it had found the worm and contained it. Last year, the nation announced that it had begun its own military cyberunit, and Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, said that the Iranian military was prepared “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and Internet warfare.” But there has been scant evidence that it has begun to strike back.

The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks against personal computers used by members of Al Qaeda, and of contemplated attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the NATO-led air attack on Libya last year. But Olympic Games was of an entirely different type and sophistication.

It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country’s infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives. The code itself is 50 times as big as the typical computer worm, Carey Nachenberg, a vice president of Symantec, one of the many groups that have dissected the code, said at a symposium at Stanford University in April. Those forensic investigations into the inner workings of the code, while picking apart how it worked, came to no conclusions about who was responsible.

A similar process is now under way to figure out the origins of another cyberweapon called Flame that was recently discovered to have attacked the computers of Iranian officials, sweeping up information from those machines. But the computer code appears to be at least five years old, and American officials say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the United States was responsible for the Flame attack.

Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons — even under the most careful and limited circumstances — could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks.

“We discussed the irony, more than once,” one of his aides said. Another said that the administration was resistant to developing a “grand theory for a weapon whose possibilities they were still discovering.” Yet Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.If Olympic Games failed, he told aides, there would be no time for sanctions and diplomacy with Iran to work. Israel could carry out a conventional military attack, prompting a conflict that could spread throughout the region.

The impetus for Olympic Games dates from 2006, when President George W. Bush saw few good options in dealing with Iran. At the time, America’s European allies were divided about the cost that imposing sanctions on Iran would have on their own economies. Having falsely accused Saddam Hussein of reconstituting his nuclear program in Iraq, Mr. Bush had little credibility in publicly discussing another nation’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranians seemed to sense his vulnerability, and, frustrated by negotiations, they resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took reporters on a tour of the plant and described grand ambitions to install upward of 50,000 centrifuges. For a country with only one nuclear power reactor — whose fuel comes from Russia — to say that it needed fuel for its civilian nuclear program seemed dubious to Bush administration officials. They feared that the fuel could be used in another way besides providing power: to create a stockpile that could later be enriched to bomb-grade material if the Iranians made a political decision to do so.  Hawks in the Bush administration like Vice President Dick Cheney urged Mr. Bush to consider a military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities before they could produce fuel suitable for a weapon. Several times, the administration reviewed military options and concluded that they would only further inflame a region already at war, and would have uncertain results.

For years the C.I.A. had introduced faulty parts and designs into Iran’s systems — even tinkering with imported power supplies so that they would blow up — but the sabotage had had relatively little effect. General James E. Cartwright, who had established a small cyberoperation inside the United States Strategic Command, which is responsible for many of America’s nuclear forces, joined intelligence officials in presenting a radical new idea to Mr. Bush and his national security team. It involved a far more sophisticated cyberweapon than the United States had designed before.

The goal was to gain access to the Natanz plant’s industrial computer controls. That required leaping the electronic moat that cut the Natanz plant off from the Internet — called the air gap, because it physically separates the facility from the outside world. The computer code would invade the specialized computers that command the centrifuges.  The first stage in the effort was to develop a bit of computer code called a beacon that could be inserted into the computers, which were made by the German company Siemens and an Iranian manufacturer, to map their operations. The idea was to draw the equivalent of an electrical blueprint of the Natanz plant, to understand how the computers control the giant silvery centrifuges that spin at tremendous speeds. The connections were complex, and unless every circuit was understood, efforts to seize control of the centrifuges could fail.

Eventually the beacon would have to “phone home” — literally send a message back to the headquarters of the National Security Agency that would describe the structure and daily rhythms of the enrichment plant. Expectations for the plan were low; one participant said the goal was simply to “throw a little sand in the gears” and buy some time. Mr. Bush was skeptical, but lacking other options, he authorized the effort.  It took months for the beacons to do their work and report home, complete with maps of the electronic directories of the controllers and what amounted to blueprints of how they were connected to the centrifuges deep underground.  Then the N.S.A. and a secret Israeli unit respected by American intelligence officials for its cyberskills set to work developing the enormously complex computer worm that would become the attacker from within.  The unusually tight collaboration with Israel was driven by two imperatives. Israel’s Unit 8200, a part of its military, had technical expertise that rivaled the N.S.A.’s, and the Israelis had deep intelligence about operations at Natanz that would be vital to making the cyberattack a success. But American officials had another interest, to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To do that, the Israelis would have to be convinced that the new line of attack was working. The only way to convince them, several officials said in interviews, was to have them deeply involved in every aspect of the program.

Soon the two countries had developed a complex worm that the Americans called “the bug.” But the bug needed to be tested. So, under enormous secrecy, the United States began building replicas of Iran’s P-1 centrifuges, an aging, unreliable design that Iran purchased from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear chief who had begun selling fuel-making technology on the black market. Fortunately for the United States, it already owned some P-1s, thanks to the Libyan dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.  When Colonel Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003, he turned over the centrifuges he had bought from the Pakistani nuclear ring, and they were placed in storage at a weapons laboratory in Tennessee. The military and intelligence officials overseeing Olympic Games borrowed some for what they termed “destructive testing,” essentially building a virtual replica of Natanz, but spreading the test over several of the Energy Department’s national laboratories to keep even the most trusted nuclear workers from figuring out what was afoot.

Those first small-scale tests were surprisingly successful: the bug invaded the computers, lurking for days or weeks, before sending instructions to speed them up or slow them down so suddenly that their delicate parts, spinning at supersonic speeds, self-destructed. After several false starts, it worked. One day, toward the end of Mr. Bush’s term, the rubble of a centrifuge was spread out on the conference table in the Situation Room, proof of the potential power of a cyberweapon. The worm was declared ready to test against the real target: Iran’s underground enrichment plant.

“Previous cyberattacks had effects limited to other computers,” Michael V. Hayden, the former chief of the C.I.A., said, declining to describe what he knew of these attacks when he was in office. “This is the first attack of a major nature in which a cyberattack was used to effect physical destruction,” rather than just slow another computer, or hack into it to steal data…  Getting the worm into Natanz, however, was no easy trick. The United States and Israel would have to rely on engineers, maintenance workers and others — both spies and unwitting accomplices — with physical access to the plant. “That was our holy grail,” one of the architects of the plan said. “It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn’t think much about the thumb drive in their hand.”

In fact, thumb drives turned out to be critical in spreading the first variants of the computer worm; later, more sophisticated methods were developed to deliver the malicious code.  The first attacks were small, and when the centrifuges began spinning out of control in 2008, the Iranians were mystified about the cause, according to intercepts that the United States later picked up. “The thinking was that the Iranians would blame bad parts, or bad engineering, or just incompetence,” one of the architects of the early attack said.  The Iranians were confused partly because no two attacks were exactly alike. Moreover, the code would lurk inside the plant for weeks, recording normal operations; when it attacked, it sent signals to the Natanz control room indicating that everything downstairs was operating normally. “This may have been the most brilliant part of the code,” one American official said.

Later, word circulated through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, that the Iranians had grown so distrustful of their own instruments that they had assigned people to sit in the plant and radio back what they saw.  “The intent was that the failures should make them feel they were stupid, which is what happened,” the participant in the attacks said. When a few centrifuges failed, the Iranians would close down whole “stands” that linked 164 machines, looking for signs of sabotage in all of them. “They overreacted,” one official said. “We soon discovered they fired people.”

Imagery recovered by nuclear inspectors from cameras at Natanz — which the nuclear agency uses to keep track of what happens between visits — showed the results. There was some evidence of wreckage, but it was clear that the Iranians had also carted away centrifuges that had previously appeared to be working well.  But by the time Mr. Bush left office, no wholesale destruction had been accomplished. Meeting with Mr. Obama in the White House days before his inauguration, Mr. Bush urged him to preserve two classified programs, Olympic Games and the drone program in Pakistan. Mr. Obama took Mr. Bush’s advice….

But the good luck did not last. In the summer of 2010, shortly after a new variant of the worm had been sent into Natanz, it became clear that the worm, which was never supposed to leave the Natanz machines, had broken free, like a zoo animal that found the keys to the cage. It fell to Mr. Panetta and two other crucial players in Olympic Games — General Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. — to break the news to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.

“I don’t think we have enough information,” Mr. Obama told the group that day, according to the officials. But in the meantime, he ordered that the cyberattacks continue. They were his best hope of disrupting the Iranian nuclear program unless economic sanctions began to bite harder and reduced Iran’s oil revenues.

American cyberattacks are not limited to Iran, but the focus of attention, as one administration official put it, “has been overwhelmingly on one country.” There is no reason to believe that will remain the case for long. Some officials question why the same techniques have not been used more aggressively against North Korea. Others see chances to disrupt Chinese military plans, forces in Syria on the way to suppress the uprising there, and Qaeda operations around the world. “We’ve considered a lot more attacks than we have gone ahead with,” one former intelligence official said….

Mr. Obama has repeatedly told his aides that there are risks to using — and particularly to overusing — the weapon. In fact, no country’s infrastructure is more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.

DAVID E. SANGER,Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran, New York Times, June 1, 2012