September 2010


Wired has revealed details of NATO plans to issue biometrically backed identification cards to 1.65 million Afghans by next May. Local and NATO forces are already compiling “biometric dossiers on hundreds of thousands of cops, crooks, soldiers, insurgents and ordinary citizens”.

According to Wired, there are two primary biometric projects underway in Afghanistan.

“One is run by NATO forces, and uses the fingerprint readers, iris scanners and digital cameras of the Biometric Automated Toolset (.ppt) to capture information on detainees and other “persons of interest.” The U.S. military says it has assembled 410,000 of these biometric dossiers in the past year-and-a-half.

The second project, the Afghan Automated Biometric Identification System (AABIS), run by the Afghan government, collects data on Afghan National Army and police recruits.

Fingerprints, irises and faces are all scanned into Crossmatch Jump Kits. The kits are periodically brought back to Kabul, where the data is dumped into the AABIS mainframe — and cross-checked with biometric records from the Afghan National Detention Facility, Kabul Central Police Command, Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan and FBI prison enrollments from Kabul, Herat and Kandahar.

As the report observes: “It’s a high-tech upgrade to a classic counterinsurgency move — simultaneously taking a census of the population, culling security forces of double agents and cutting off guerrilla routes”.

The Safran Group is buying L-1 Identity Solutions‘ biometric, identity and recruitment operations for around 1 billion. According to DefenceNews, the move will make the French aerospace and defence group the world’s biggest biometric identification company, “ahead of NEC of Japan and Cogent of the United States” (see also Safran’s press release).

Meanwhile, BAE Systems is buying L-1’s Intelligence Services Group for $296 million. “Their capabilities will enhance BAE Systems’ existing knowledge and expertise and will better position us to offer our government customers the security and intelligence support they need to complete their missions, now and in the future,” said Linda Hudson, president and CEO of BAE Systems, Inc.

BAE’s press release adds that “The acquisition of L-1’s Intelligence Services Group reflects BAE Systems’ global strategy to enhance and grow its business in the area of customer support and services, which includes cyber and security as well as readiness and sustainment activities. For the six months to 30 June 2010, this area of the business generated 49% of BAE Systems revenues.”

As The Times (20.9.10) observes: “as defence spending in traditional areas of procurement, such as warships and armoured vehicles, comes under pressure, BAE has increased its exposure to the well-funded security market.”

Here’s a question: what do Monsanto, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Deutsche Bank, Barclays and the Netherlands police have in common with the US Military’s European Command?

The answer, as Jeremy Scahill – author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army – explains in The Nation, is that they have all availed themselves of the services of one of the most controversial private security companies on the planet. Here’s most of the article…

Blackwater’s Black Ops | 22.09.10 | Jeremy Scahill | The Nation

Over the past several years, entities closely linked to the private security firm Blackwater have provided intelligence, training and security services to US and foreign governments as well as several multinational corporations, including Monsanto, Chevron, the Walt Disney Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and banking giants Deutsche Bank and Barclays, according to documents obtained by The Nation.

Blackwater’s work for corporations and government agencies was contracted using two companies owned by Blackwater’s owner and founder, Erik Prince: Total Intelligence Solutions and the Terrorism Research Center (TRC). Prince is listed as the chairman of both companies in internal company documents, which show how the web of companies functions as a highly coordinated operation. Officials from Total Intelligence, TRC and Blackwater (which now calls itself Xe Services) did not respond to numerous requests for comment for this article.

One of the most incendiary details in the documents is that Blackwater, through Total Intelligence, sought to become the “intel arm” of Monsanto, offering to provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.

Governmental recipients of intelligence services and counterterrorism training from Prince’s companies include the Kingdom of Jordan, the Canadian military and the Netherlands police, as well as several US military bases, including Fort Bragg, home of the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and Fort Huachuca, where military interrogators are trained, according to the documents. In addition, Blackwater worked through the companies for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the US European Command.

On September 3 the New York Times reported that Blackwater had “created a web of more than 30 shell companies or subsidiaries in part to obtain millions of dollars in American government contracts after the security company came under intense criticism for reckless conduct in Iraq.” The documents obtained by The Nation reveal previously unreported details of several such companies and open a rare window into the sensitive intelligence and security operations Blackwater performs for a range of powerful corporations and government agencies. The new evidence also sheds light on the key roles of several former top CIA officials who went on to work for Blackwater.

The coordinator of Blackwater’s covert CIA business, former CIA paramilitary officer Enrique “Ric” Prado, set up a global network of foreign operatives, offering their “deniability” as a “big plus” for potential Blackwater customers, according to company documents. The CIA has long used proxy forces to carry out extralegal actions or to shield US government involvement in unsavory operations from scrutiny. In some cases, these “deniable” foreign forces don’t even know who they are working for. Prado and Prince built up a network of such foreigners while Blackwater was at the center of the CIA’s assassination program, beginning in 2004. They trained special missions units at one of Prince’s properties in Virginia with the intent of hunting terrorism suspects globally, often working with foreign operatives. A former senior CIA official said the benefit of using Blackwater’s foreign operatives in CIA operations was that “you wouldn’t want to have American fingerprints on it.”

While the network was originally established for use in CIA operations, documents show that Prado viewed it as potentially valuable to other government agencies. In an e-mail in October 2007 with the subject line “Possible Opportunity in DEA-Read and Delete,” Prado wrote to a Total Intelligence executive with a pitch for the Drug Enforcement Administration. That executive was an eighteen-year DEA veteran with extensive government connections who had recently joined the firm. Prado explained that Blackwater had developed “a rapidly growing, worldwide network of folks that can do everything from surveillance to ground truth to disruption operations.” He added, “These are all foreign nationals (except for a few cases where US persons are the conduit but no longer ‘play’ on the street), so deniability is built in and should be a big plus.”

The executive wrote back and suggested there “may be an interest” in those services. The executive suggested that “one of the best places to start may be the Special Operations Division, (SOD) which is located in Chantilly, VA,” telling Prado the name of the special agent in charge. The SOD is a secretive joint command within the Justice Department, run by the DEA. It serves as the command-and-control center for some of the most sensitive counternarcotics and law enforcement operations conducted by federal forces. The executive also told Prado that US attachés in Mexico; Bogotá, Colombia; and Bangkok, Thailand, would potentially be interested in Prado’s network. Whether this network was activated, and for what customers, cannot be confirmed. A former Blackwater employee who worked on the company’s CIA program declined to comment on Prado’s work for the company, citing its classified status.

In November 2007 officials from Prince’s companies developed a pricing structure for security and intelligence services for private companies and wealthy individuals. One official wrote that Prado had the capacity to “develop infrastructures” and “conduct ground-truth and security activities.” According to the pricing chart, potential customers could hire Prado and other Blackwater officials to operate in the United States and globally: in Latin America, North Africa, francophone countries, the Middle East, Europe, China, Russia, Japan, and Central and Southeast Asia

[...]

Through Total Intelligence and the Terrorism Research Center, Blackwater also did business with a range of multinational corporations. According to internal Total Intelligence communications, biotech giant Monsanto-the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds-hired the firm in 2008-09. The relationship between the two companies appears to have been solidified in January 2008 when Total Intelligence chair Cofer Black traveled to Zurich to meet with Kevin Wilson, Monsanto’s security manager for global issues.

After the meeting in Zurich, Black sent an e-mail to other Blackwater executives, including to Prince and Prado at their Blackwater e-mail addresses. Black wrote that Wilson “understands that we can span collection from internet, to reach out, to boots on the ground on legit basis protecting the Monsanto [brand] nameŠ. Ahead of the curve info and insight/heads up is what he is looking for.” Black added that Total Intelligence “would develop into acting as intel arm of Monsanto.” Black also noted that Monsanto was concerned about animal rights activists and that they discussed how Blackwater “could have our person(s) actually join [activist] group(s) legally.” Black wrote that initial payments to Total Intelligence would be paid out of Monsanto’s “generous protection budget” but would eventually become a line item in the company’s annual budget. He estimated the potential payments to Total Intelligence at between $100,000 and $500,000. According to documents, Monsanto paid Total Intelligence $127,000 in 2008 and $105,000 in 2009.

Reached by telephone and asked about the meeting with Black in Zurich, Monsanto’s Wilson initially said, “I’m not going to discuss it with you.” In a subsequent e-mail to The Nation, Wilson confirmed he met Black in Zurich and that Monsanto hired Total Intelligence in 2008 and worked with the company until early 2010. He denied that he and Black discussed infiltrating animal rights groups, stating “there was no such discussion.” He claimed that Total Intelligence only provided Monsanto “with reports about the activities of groups or individuals that could pose a risk to company personnel or operations around the world which were developed by monitoring local media reports and other publicly available information. The subject matter ranged from information regarding terrorist incidents in Asia or kidnappings in Central America to scanning the content of activist blogs and websites.” Wilson asserted that Black told him Total Intelligence was “a completely separate entity from Blackwater.”

Monsanto was hardly the only powerful corporation to enlist the services of Blackwater’s constellation of companies. The Walt Disney Company hired Total Intelligence and TRC to do a “threat assessment” for potential film shoot locations in Morocco, with former CIA officials Black and Richer reaching out to their former Moroccan intel counterparts for information. The job provided a “good chance to impress Disney,” one company executive wrote. How impressed Disney was is not clear; in 2009 the company paid Total Intelligence just $24,000.

Total Intelligence and TRC also provided intelligence assessments on China to Deutsche Bank. “The Chinese technical counterintelligence threat is one of the highest in the world,” a TRC analyst wrote, adding, “Many four and five star hotel rooms and restaurants are live-monitored with both audio and video” by Chinese intelligence. He also said that computers, PDAs and other electronic devices left unattended in hotel rooms could be cloned. Cellphones using the Chinese networks, the analyst wrote, could have their microphones remotely activated, meaning they could operate as permanent listening devices. He concluded that Deutsche Bank reps should “bring no electronic equipment into China.” Warning of the use of female Chinese agents, the analyst wrote, “If you don’t have women coming onto you all the time at home, then you should be suspicious if they start coming onto you when you arrive in China.” For these and other services, the bank paid Total Intelligence $70,000 in 2009.

TRC also did background checks on Libyan and Saudi businessmen for British banking giant Barclays. In February 2008 a TRC executive e-mailed Prado and Richer revealing that Barclays asked TRC and Total Intelligence for background research on the top executives from the Saudi Binladin Group (SBG) and their potential “associations/connections with the Royal family and connections with Osama bin Ladin.” In his report, Richer wrote that SBG’s chair, Bakr Mohammed bin Laden, “is well and favorably known to both arab and western intelligence service[s]” for cooperating in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Another SBG executive, Sheikh Saleh bin Laden, is described by Richer as “a very savvy businessman” who is “committed to operating with full transparency to Saudi’s security services” and is considered “the most vehement within the extended BL family in terms of criticizing UBL’s actions and beliefs.”

In August Blackwater and the State Department reached a $42 million settlement for hundreds of violations of US export control regulations. Among the violations cited was the unauthorized export of technical data to the Canadian military. Meanwhile, Blackwater’s dealings with Jordanian officials are the subject of a federal criminal prosecution of five former top Blackwater executives. The Jordanian government paid Total Intelligence more than $1.6 million in 2009.

Read the article in full in The Nation

The Guardian (24.9.10) has reported that the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which works closely with police forces and MI5, has released an “unusually detailed” public tender notice requesting submissions from suppliers of airborne observation “platforms” that can be adapted for “target acquisition” and intelligence-gathering.

The agency’s request for bids is entitled “UK-London: intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance”. It proposes the use of both conventional planes and UAVs for a national air patrol service. The document suggests the surveillance contract could be put out to a private company.

The tender seeks information on “a fully serviced, airborne, surveillance-ready platform for covert observation”. Drones, or planes, should be available for deployment within two hours of orders for “urgent taskings”. Missions lasting up to five hours and night-flying are anticipated. “Low noise signature and unobtrusive profile” as well as a “discreet while accessible operating base” are said to be desirable features of any future aerial security system.

Pictures from onboard cameras and thermal-imaging equipment should be capable of being beamed down to “command and control rooms” as live, Soca’s tender specifies. The agency adds that it “welcomes information from potential suppliers with regard to any UAV technology options”.



The FP7 programme is supposed to be about implementing the ‘Lisbon strategy’ and making the EU the “most dynamic competitive knowledge-based economy in the world”. According to the Commission: “The ‘knowledge triangle’ – research, education and innovation – is a core factor in European efforts to meet the ambitious Lisbon goals. Numerous programmes, initiatives and support measures are carried out at EU level in support of knowledge”.

This includes the European Security Research Programme, which has just awarded Selex (a Finmeccanica company) a €10 million ‘research’ contract to develop an EU sea border surveillance system (the total project cost is €15.5 million, the EC contribution is €9.8 million).

The “SEABILLA” consortium, which includes a host of arms companies and defence contractors (BAE Systems, EADS, Thales, Sagem, Eurocopter, Telespazio, Alenia, TNO and others) promises to:

1) define the architecture for cost-effective European Sea Border Surveillance systems, integrating space, land, sea and air assets, including legacy systems;

2) apply advanced technological solutions to increase performances of surveillance functions;

3) develop and demonstrate significant improvements in detection, tracking, identification and automated behaviour analysis of all vessels, including hard to detect vessels, in open waters as well as close to coast.

According to the project synopsis, these surveillance systems will be used for:

a) fighting drug trafficking in the English Channel;

b) addressing illegal immigration in the South Mediterranean;

c) struggling [sic] illicit activities in open-sea in the Atlantic waters from Canary Islands to the Azores; in coherence with the EU Integrated Maritime Policy, EUROSUR and Integrated Border Management, and in compliance with Member States sovereign prerogatives.

In 2009, Finmeccanica revenues were somewhere in the region of €18 billion, of which 12% (approx €2.16 billion) was reinvested into Research and Development. Finmeccanica’s annual R&D budget is thus more than 10 times the annual budget of the entire European Security Research Programme.

Finmeccanica has already established itself as a global, market-leading provider of Homeland Security and maritime surveillance systems, as demonstrated by recent contracts with Libya and Panama (among others), each worth hundreds of millions of Euros.

This begs the obvious question of whether EU R&D subsidies for the likes of Finmeccanica are really warranted, and whether this kind of contract is strictly in accordance with FP7’s ‘knowledge triangle’ of research, education and innovation.

In reality the SEABILLA project has very little to do with innovation and everything to do with procurement. The EU is already committed to developing the kind of high-tech surveillance systems that only the defence sector can deliver [on maritime surveillance, see pages 36-40 of the NeoConOpticon report] but it lacks the mandate, budget and office to procure the requisite expertise, software and hardware.

Of course, were the EU to attempt to fulfil its ambitions by establishing a European Department of Homeland Security, there would be fierce resistance among the member states, not to mention civil society groups and a reluctant public.

What we have instead is an unaccountable EU procurement strategy – masquerading as research – committing hundreds of millions of taxpayer Euros in ‘seed money’ to security apparatuses that pre-empt both the political and legal authority needed to put them into practice.

It’s certainly innovative, but is it the kind of innovation that the architects of the FP7 programme had in mind?

Following last weeks Drone Wars conference in London, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control is meeting in Berlin to discuss possible ways of limiting the development of armed robots, particularly those with ‘autonomous targeting’ functions (see further Guardian report).

These themes will be taken-up at another “Drone Wars” meeting organised by the Royal Society on the evening of 11 October, and at a Chatham House lunchtime seminar on International Law and the Use of Drones on 21 October 2010.

Meanwhile the death toll continues to mount. According to Associated Press, over 60 people were killed in 13 US drone strikes in the 12 days from 2nd-14th September 2010.

Starting in September, the entire 2,000-mile US-Mexico border will be monitored by drones, the Christian Science Monitor has reported.

The EU is headed the same way. Subject to drone manufacturers and operators getting clearance from European air traffic controllers, the EU’s borders could be buzzing with UAVs within a few years. Not that any of this is being debated by, for example, the European parliament.

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers