US military may take over part of CIA drone war

Updated 27 February 2013
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US military may take over part of CIA drone war

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama’s administration is looking at easing the secrecy around the drone war against Al-Qaeda by shifting control for some air strikes from the CIA to the US military, officials say.
But the move would likely not apply to drone attacks in Pakistan, where most of the bombing raids take place.
And even if the policy change is carried out, Obama has no intention of abandoning a tactic that his advisers say has decimated the Al-Qaeda network.
Faced with growing calls in Congress for more oversight around the drone war, the administration is weighing the change partly to allay concerns from lawmakers and to put the air campaign on a more permanent legal footing, analysts said.
“There is serious consideration being given to moving some of these activities to” military control, a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
The administration believes the strikes are legal and effective but the change is “about transparency and the perceived legitimacy of the operations,” the official said.
If the military were to take charge of some drone raids, that would subject the operations to more public scrutiny as the armed forces must operate under stricter legal guidelines and answer inquiries at public hearings in Congress.
Until now, the “targeted killings” with armed drones in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia have been carried out under the CIA’s authority as officially designated “covert” attacks, which allow officials to deny their existence.
But the drone strikes have become an open secret, and lawmakers and rights advocates have demanded the administration discuss the open-ended campaign publicly.
“If it’s no longer possible with a straight face to deny that we’re conducting these operations, then it makes sense to bring at least some of them out into the open, where the oversight is easier to conduct,” said John Nagl, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank with close ties to the Obama administration.
In Congress, there is growing interest “in regaining more of its authority over some of the the operations of the executive branch after a decade of war,” he said.
Some lawmakers have called for creating a special court to oversee the drone strikes or vet “kill lists” of terror suspects, but the proposal appears unlikely to win approval in Congress.
In his State of the Union address, Obama promised to be “more transparent” about the program and told a recent online forum: “It is not sufficient for citizens to just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing.”
Military leaders favor the possible move, which has been debated for months inside the administration, officials said.
The military’s top brass “want this back” and believe the time has come for the CIA to stop running a large-scale air war against Al-Qaeda and instead focus on its main job of gathering intelligence, another official said.
The change likely would apply to drone bombing runs in Yemen, where the government publicly supports US assistance in fighting Al-Qaeda forces, and other countries ready to acknowledge an American role, officials said.
But the CIA is expected to retain authority for some secret strikes and to remain in charge of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the vast majority of the covert killings have taken place, officials said.
Out of an estimated 420 drone strikes carried out in Pakistan and Yemen since 2004, 350 have taken place in Pakistan, according to a tally by the independent New America Foundation.
The proposed policy shift would be welcomed by some lawmakers but fail to satisfy critics of “targeted killings,” including rights groups and many foreign governments that view the attacks as illegal assassinations.
While senators have voiced concern about a small number of attacks that killed US citizens suspected of Al-Qaeda links, rights activists have condemned so-called “signature” strikes that target groups of unidentified militants.
Obama’s pick to run the CIA, John Brennan, is seen as the architect of the drone war but is believed to support scaling back the spy agency’s role, analysts said.
The White House favored a modest “reform” of the drone program partly to preempt any drastic action by Congress or courts that could jeopardize what it deems a successful tool in countering Al-Qaeda, said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“They want to do this forever. And they know if they continue on the same path they’re on, they’ll have constraints imposed on them externally.”


FBI warns Russians hacked hundreds of thousands of routers

Updated 16 min 50 sec ago
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FBI warns Russians hacked hundreds of thousands of routers

WASHINGTON: The FBI warned on Friday that Russian computer hackers had compromised hundreds of thousands of home and office routers and could collect user information or shut down network traffic.
The US law enforcement agency urged the owners of many brands of routers to turn them off and on again and download updates from the manufacturer to protect themselves.
The warning followed a court order Wednesday that allowed the FBI to seize a website that the hackers planned to use to give instructions to the routers. Though that cut off malicious communications, it still left the routers infected, and Friday’s warning was aimed at cleaning up those machines.
Infections were detected in more than 50 countries, though the primary target for further actions was probably Ukraine, the site of many recent infections and a longtime cyberwarfare battleground.
In obtaining the court order, the Justice Department said the hackers involved were in a group called Sofacy that answered to the Russian government.
Sofacy, also known as APT28 and Fancy Bear, has been blamed for many of the most dramatic Russian hacks, including that of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Earlier, Cisco Systems Inc. said the hacking campaign targeted devices from Belkin International’s Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear Inc, TP-Link and QNAP.
Cisco shared the technical details of its investigation with the US and Ukrainian governments. Western experts say Russia has conducted a series of attacks against companies in Ukraine for more than a year amid armed hostilities between the two countries, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and at least one electricity blackout.
The Kremlin on Thursday denied the Ukrainian government’s accusation that Russia was planning a cyberattack on Ukrainian state bodies and private companies ahead of the Champions League soccer final in Kiev on Saturday.
“The size and scope of the infrastructure by VPNFilter malware is significant,” the FBI said, adding that it is capable of rendering peoples’ routers “inoperable.”
It said the malware is hard to detect, due to encryption and other tactics.
The FBI urged people to reboot their devices to temporarily disrupt the malware and help identify infected devices.
People should also consider disabling remote-management settings, changing passwords and upgrading to the latest firmware.