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  • Digital Unknowns Surround Afghanistan Fight
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 2:45 PM on Oct 23, 2009

    With a new build up in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is trying to understand how much the Taliban and other foes understand and can attack the allies’ digital tools, weapons and organizational backbone.

    “We need to understand what’s going on in this fight,” says Maj. Gen. David Scott, Air Force director of operational capability requirements . “I’m not sure we’re there yet. The pirate [as an example of the irregular warrior] uses very inexpensive [tactical] capabilities [like RPGs and satellite phones] that have caused the U.S. strategic problems. That’s what we’ve got to start looking at in irregular warfare – how to get into the [foe’s] decision cycle.”

    That then brings up the question of what the U.S. and its allies have in their non-kinetic, digital and cyber arsenals. Several advanced weapon projects have surfaced -- some as research projects while others are in development or well on their way to production.

    “Non-kinetic weapons include high power microwaves (HPM), high power lasers, electronic attack and cyber warfare,” says a long-time cyber warrior. “These are primarily digital things that don’t blow up. It is easy to shut off communications for 30 min. while an airborne strike package flies by.  It they want to bring down the comms and computers for several days, then go to HPM and fry everything and the enemy has to bring in replacements. You can fry optics with a laser. These things are all related.”

    The Air Force’s Suter projects (BAE Systems and L-3 Communications) demonstrated that an airborne platform can invade a ground based computer network to extract information or even take over as system administrator.

    The Marine Corps’ Corporal program (Northrop Grumman) uses the detection and location capability of ground-based radio battalions, the surveillance of UAVs and electronic attack from EA-6B Prowlers to disrupt or silence enemy communications during tactical ground force operations.

    A man-portable, network analysis and attack device for ground forces called Viper (BAE Systems) is designed to analyze and locate the nodes in an ad hoc enemy communications network. The device would then offer the operator a series of choices about the type and traceability of attack desired and the effects to be created. Viper is designed for the non-engineer to operate in the field.

    Eglin AFB, Fla.’s Air Armament Center is working on high power microwave devices – to damage or confuse enemy electronics
    that fit inside the shape of conventional 500-to-2,000-lb. air-launched weapons so that they could be carried aloft without being noticed by spies near airbases.

    The Pentagon is buying into PayPal software that was devised to fight cybercriminals from Eastern Europe and Russia. Its software makes connections between seemingly unrelated attempts by crime networks to defraud the on-line bill paying system. Now the software is being turned to spying and intelligence analyses.

    “We cannot talk about this domain,” says a veteran National Security Agency cyberwarrior. “It’s surprising to see this information in the open. But yes, it provides a good perspective about one aspect of what is going on [in cyber operations]. “

    PayPal researchers demonstrated that they could relate activities like travel and money transfers to networks of people through telephone numbers and addresses. It also linked previously separate data bases at the CIA and DIA that also could help tie together terrorists and companies that finance terrorism.

    The concept gets around many classification barriers by categorizing each piece of information separately – phone numbers, last names, first names, addresses, bank transfers. Projects have included analysis of captured al-Qaeda documents, suicide-bombing networks, cyber attacks during the Russia-Georgia war and roadside bomb deployments.

    U.S. intelligence agencies are also interested in Visible Technologies, a software firm that monitors social media including blogs and tweets, says a new report on Wired’s Danger Room blog.  It is part of the effort by government analysts to better use open source intelligence that flows through the internet, television, newspapers and magazines, radio and video venues like YouTube.

    Non-kinetic attack is also associated with blackworld UAV projects. “The Air Force is studying the Navy’s fighter-size, Next Generation Jammer” for some of those classified projects, says a participant in the program.

    An Army program administered by BAE Systems is developing micro-mechanical robots that imitate small biological objects like spiders, bees and dragonflies that can conduct surveillance and deliver sensor payloads. Intelligence gathering material can be put into virtually any material.

       “What if that cute little spider can deliver a squirt of radio paint with a transceiver in it and it sticks on a big radar?” says an IT industry research. “ I know where it is and I can talk to it. Here comes an airborne strike package, so I tell it to turn off the radar. You don’t need jigawatts of jamming power if your transceiver is stuck to the radar antenna.”

    Tags: ar99, BAE, NorthropGrumman, cyberwar, Taliban, Pentagon

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