Friday, August 31, 2012

Combined Force Detains Several Suspected Insurgents

From an International Security Assistance Force Joint Command News Release

KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 31, 2012 – An Afghan and coalition force detained several suspected insurgents during an operation to arrest a Haqqani bomb maker in the Pul-e ‘Alam district of Afghanistan’s Logar province today, military officials reported.

The sought-after Haqqani leader facilitates the construction of improvised explosive devices and directs their use in the Pul-e ‘Alam district, officials said.

In other Afghanistan operations today:

-- In the Gelan district of Ghazni province, a combined force detained many suspects during a search for a Taliban leader. The sought-after insurgent leader manages the finances, supplies and the movement of foreign fighters into the area.

-- A combined force detained several suspects during a search for a Taliban leader in the Gelan district of Ghazni province. The sought-after insurgent leader plans and coordinates attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in southern Ghazni province.

-- Afghan and coalition forces confirmed the Aug. 29 arrest of a Taliban leader during an operation in the Andar district of Ghazni province. The detained insurgent leader prepared and conducted attacks targeting Afghan and coalition forces. He also facilitated the movement of weapons and supplies, including IEDs, throughout the Andar district.

In Afghanistan operations yesterday:

-- A combined force killed two armed insurgents during a precision airstrike in the Sayyid Karam district of Paktiya province. No civilians were harmed and there was no damage to civilian structures.

NORAD, Russia Train to Confront Terrorist Hijackings

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – It was a scene unthinkable even 30 years ago as U.S., Canadian and Russian militaries worked together this week at the North American Aerospace Command headquarters to confront a common enemy: terrorist hijackers.

That’s exactly what happened during Vigilant Eagle 12, the third exercise of its kind designed to promote collaboration in detecting hijacked aircraft and scrambling military jets to intercept and escort them to safety.

This year’s three-day exercise was computer-based, with participants at the NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and at two bases in Russia.

The scenario involved commercial airliners on international flights that had been seized by terrorists, Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard W. Scobee, NORAD’s deputy operations director, told reporters as the exercise wrapped up yesterday. One simulated hijacking took off from Alaska and was headed for Russian airspace; the other originated in Russia and was bound for the United States.

The scenarios required NORAD – the U.S.-Canada command that safeguards U.S. skies under Operation Noble Eagle -- and the Russian air force to go through the procedures they would use to dispatch fighter jets to investigate and track the aircraft heading toward each other’s airspace. At that point, they handed off the missions to the other to complete.

Applying lessons learned during last year’s exercise, which involved actual aircraft, the participants worked through escort and handoff procedures using their different communications, command-and-control and air traffic control systems, Scobee explained.

To complicate the scenarios, and to reflect what assets might be available during a real-life hijacking, they had to work without input from the U.S. Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Control System or Russia’s A-50 Beriev system.

NORAD and Russia share surprisingly similar tactics, techniques and procedures, Scobee said yesterday during a post exercise news conference. “It is remarkable that they are so similar,” he said. “Even though we developed them separately, we see the problem similarly.”

Subtle differences became transparent during the exercise, Scobee said, because of the “clean handoff” as one command handed the mission and authority over to the other. “It was like a handshake,” he said.

The unifying factor, Scobee said, was an understanding that actions taken could mean the difference between life and death for passengers. “That is the No. 1 thing – and the Russian Federation is just like NORAD [and] the United States and Canada,” Scobee said. “We want to protect our citizens, and that is our primary goal.”

Scobee and Maj. Gen. Sergey Dronov of the Russian air force, who led Russia's delegation in Colorado, praised the professionalism of both the NORAD and Russian militaries and their shared appreciation of the importance of the mission.

“Right now, we have a common enemy, and that is terrorism,” Dronov said through an interpreter.

“Our countries are uniquely plagued by terrorism,” agreed Scobee. “And this exercise gives us an opportunity to work together, to learn from each other about how we are dealing with those kinds of events.”

The goal, he said, is to increase the complexity of the exercises, refining concepts and procedures in simulation, then applying them in the sky the following year.

“Next year, we will go back and use lessons learned from this exercise and apply them to another live-fly exercise,” he said. “It will be one of those things where we learn from each other and keep building on the exercises we have.”

Future exercises will continue to integrate new curve balls that keep participants on their toes while reflecting how adaptable adversaries operate, Scobee said.

“It is a constant chess game, because just like we don’t keep our tactics stagnant, terrorists do the same thing,” he said. “They are always thinking of another way to try to get past our systems of control. So we always have to think about adjusting our tactics, our training and our procedures.”

Dronov said he was impressed during this year’s exercise by how quickly the participants dealt with challenging scenarios thrown their way. “They are also walking away with some priceless experience of interaction with each other,” he said. “I am confident that in the future, this cooperation will continue.”

The Vigilant Eagle series stems from a 2003 agreement between the U.S. and Russian presidents to promote closer cooperation as they move beyond the Cold War era, Scobee explained. The threat of international hijackers served as a foundation to help advance that effort, resulting in a relevant exercise program that helps address a recognized threat.

“The populations of the United States and Canada and the Russian Federation should hear this loud and clear: We are here to ensure their safety,” Scobee said. “Not only do we practice here at NORAD multiple times a day for this to happen, but now we are also practicing with our international partners to ensure that the air systems of all our countries are safe. And then, if something does go wrong, that we are there to take action.”

This helps to provide a unified front against terrorist hijackers like those who attacked the United States on 9/11, giving birth to the Noble Eagle mission, he said.

“We will never be helpless again,” Scobee added. “[The public] should hear that loud and clear.”

Former U.S. Consulate Guard Pleads Guilty to Attempting to Communicate National Defense Information to China

WASHINGTON – Bryan Underwood, a former civilian guard at a U.S. Consulate compound under construction in China, pleaded guilty today in the District of Columbia in connection with his efforts to sell for personal financial gain classified photographs, information and access related to the U.S. Consulate to China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

 At a hearing today before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, Underwood pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to communicate national defense information to a foreign government with intent or reason to believe that the documents, photographs or information in question were to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation.

 The guilty plea was announced by Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; and Eric J. Boswell, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.

 Underwood, 32, a former resident of Indiana, was first charged in an indictment on Aug. 31, 2011, with two counts of making false statements and was arrested on Sept. 1, 2011.  On Sept. 21, 2011, he failed to appear at a scheduled status hearing in federal court in the District of Columbia.  The FBI later located Underwood in a hotel in Los Angeles and arrested him there on Sept. 24, 2011.  On Sept. 28, 2011, Underwood was charged in a superseding indictment with one count of attempting to communicate national defense information to a foreign government, two counts of making false statements and one count of failing to appear in court pursuant to his conditions of release.  Sentencing for Underwood has been scheduled for Nov. 19, 2012.  He faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison.

 “Bryan Underwood was charged with protecting a new U.S. Consulate compound against foreign espionage, but facing financial hardship, he attempted to betray his country for personal gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Monaco.  “This prosecution demonstrates that we remain vigilant in protecting America’s secrets and in bringing to justice those who attempt to compromise them.”

 “Bryan Underwood was determined to make millions by selling secret photos of restricted areas inside a U.S. Consulate in China,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.  “His greed drove him to exploit his access to America’s secrets to line his own pockets.  The lengthy prison sentence facing Underwood should chasten anyone who is tempted to put our nation at risk for personal gain.”

 “Bryan Underwood sought to benefit from his access to sensitive information, but his attempted betrayal was detected before our nation’s secrets fell into the wrong hands,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin.  “Together with our partners, the FBI will continue to work to expose, investigate and prevent acts of espionage that threaten our national security.”

 “The close working relationship between the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office resulted in the capture and conviction of Bryan Underwood before he could harm the security of our country,” said Assistant Secretary of State Boswell.  “The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to thoroughly investigating all potential intelligence threats to our nation.”

 According to court documents, from November 2009 to August 2011, Underwood worked as a cleared American guard (CAG) at the construction site of a new U.S. Consulate compound in Guangzhou, China.  CAGs are American civilian security guards with Top Secret clearances who serve to prevent foreign governments from improperly obtaining sensitive or classified information from the U.S. Consulate.  Underwood received briefings on how to handle and protect classified information as well as briefings and instructions on security protocols for the U.S. Consulate, including the prohibition on photography in certain areas of the consulate.

 Plan to Sell Information and Access for $3 Million to $5 Million

 In February 2011, Underwood was asked by U.S. law enforcement to assist in a project at the consulate and he agreed.  In March 2011, Underwood lost a substantial amount of money in the stock market.  According to court documents, Underwood then devised a plan to use his assistance to U.S. law enforcement as a “cover” for making contact with the Chinese government.  According to his subsequent statements to U.S. law enforcement, Underwood intended to sell his information about and access to the U.S. Consulate to the Chinese MSS for $3 million to $5 million. If any U.S. personnel caught him, he planned to falsely claim he was assisting U.S. law enforcement.

 As part of his plan, Underwood wrote a letter to the Chinese MSS, expressing his “interest in initiating a business arrangement with your offices” and stating, “I know I have information and skills that would be beneficial to your offices [sic] goals.  And I know your office can assist me in my financial endeavors.”  According to court documents, Underwood attempted to deliver this letter to the offices of the Chinese MSS in Guangzhou, but was turned away by a guard who declined to accept the letter.  Underwood then left the letter in the open in his apartment hoping that the Chinese MSS would find it, as he believed the MSS routinely conducted searches of apartments occupied by Americans.

 In May 2011, Underwood secreted a camera into the U.S. Consulate compound and took photographs of a restricted building and its contents.  Many of these photographs depict areas or information classified at the Secret level.  Underwood also created a schematic that listed all security upgrades to the U.S. Consulate and drew a diagram of the surveillance camera locations at the consulate.  In addition, according to his subsequent statements to U.S. law enforcement, Underwood “mentally” constructed a plan in which the MSS could gain undetected access to a building at the U.S. Consulate to install listening devices or other technical penetrations.

 According to court documents, the photographs Underwood took were reviewed by an expert at the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security who had original classification authority for facilities, security and countermeasures at the U.S. Consulate.  The expert determined that many of the photographs contained images classified at the Secret level and that disclosure of such material could cause serious damage to the United States.

 In early August 2011, Underwood was interviewed several times by FBI and Diplomatic Security agents, during which he admitted making efforts to contact the Chinese MSS, but falsely claimed that he took these actions to assist U.S. law enforcement.  On Aug. 19, 2011, Underwood was again interviewed by law enforcement agents and he admitted that he planned to sell photos, information and access to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou to the Chinese MSS for his personal financial gain.

 The U.S. government has found no evidence that Underwood succeeded in passing classified information concerning the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou to anyone at the Chinese MSS.

 This investigation was conducted jointly by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.  The prosecution is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorney Brandon L. Van Grack from the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Wisconsin Guard Soldiers protect Afghan drivers

By Sgt. Gregory Williams
3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

Afghanistan - The lives of soldiers and host nation truck drivers are intertwined every day as they hit the road together.

The drivers depend on the Soldiers for security and the Soldiers depend on the HNTs to get cargo from point a to point b.

Both play an integral part of the mission of Joint Sustainment Command - Afghanistan, which is to oversee the sustainment operations and other functions in Afghanistan.

The 1157th Transportation Company provided security for 25 host national truck drivers out of Jalalabad Airfield during a recent convoy mission.

Sgt. Michelle L. Meuer, a truck commander with the 1157th TC, said no mission is guaranteed to go smoothly for Soldiers of the Wisconsin National Guard unit and getting everyone to the base in one piece is always the focus of every mission.

"Out here 99 percent of the population isn't bad, but there's always that one percent that are looking to harm you," Meuer said."When I was in Iraq there was a curfew in place, but out here the traffic makes the convoys move slower, which keeps us out on the road longer and makes the mission harder." 

With cars speeding by the convoy, gunners used laser escalation force system to signal drivers to slow down in order to avoid any unnecessary accidents.

Providing security does not just mean looking out for enemy fire and dealing with drivers, it also involves providing mechanical assistance, water and food to drivers as well.

"We have to make sure the HNTs and loads get to base safely so we try to provide basic life support to the drivers," Meuer said. "If you're nice to them the drivers will drive better, which helps us out."

Unfortunately for the 1157th TC, just when things were going as planned something happened disrupting the convoys movement. One of the vehicles broke down on the road causing the convoy to stop with oncoming traffic on one side and a cliff on the other.

"We inspect vehicles before we start each convoy to try to mitigate the risks, but you never know," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason R. Mattke, a convoy commander with the 1157th TC. "With the risks of attacks and unplanned incidents, we're responsible for the HNTs and it's all about getting them from point a to point b.

"Throughout all of this, you have to make sure you're communicating everything to the soldiers."

Over the course of two hours, radio communication intensified between the three truck elements making sure that each vehicle had eyes on their designated HNT vehicles.

Meuer said if a vehicle breaks down, it's not uncommon for Afghan drivers to leave their vehicles to talk to one another or even converse with Soldiers on the while waiting.

"They ask for cigarettes if we ever come to a halt and we'll chat with them for a while," Meuer said. "But when it's time to roll, we'll shine their trucks with a spotlight to make sure they know we're ready to go."

As the vehicle is fixed and the convoy starts to roll again, the 1157th TC has taken care of every situation that has come up.

The truckers finally pulled up to an entry control point after a nine-hour journey, which usually takes the drivers three hours to complete on a good day.

The Soldiers have once again successfully escorted another group of HNTs, but their mission will continue until all U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan end.

"The other day I read an article called "Afghanistan: The Forgotten War" and it made me mad because we're out here every day," Meuer said. "I hope people realize that soldiers are still busting their butts and that a majority of the Afghans do appreciate what we do for them."