Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Iran, Robot Soldiers, and Pentagon Propaganda

by Micah Zenko
December 7, 2012

A U.S. helicopter hovers over an Iranian patrol ship in the Strait of Hormuz (Jumana El-Heloueh/Courtesy Reuters). A U.S. helicopter hovers over an Iranian patrol ship in the Strait of Hormuz (Jumana El-Heloueh/Courtesy Reuters).


Jessica Donati and Daniel Fineren, “Exclusive: Iran Shipping Signals Conceal Syria Ship Movements,” Reuters, December 6, 2012.

Large vessels must transmit their identity and location to other ships and coastal authorities using an automatic satellite communication system, but in the last month Iranian vessels sailing in Asian seas have sent signals that took over the identity of other vessels, so the same ship appeared to be in two places at once.

“It is of course possible to manipulate or falsify information in these messages,” said Richard Hurley, a senior analyst at IHS Fairplay, a maritime intelligence publisher.

At least three Iranian oil tankers are transmitting such false signals, effectively taking over the identity of Syrian-owned vessels travelling between Syria, Libya and Turkey.

Brian Bennett, “Homeland Security Grants Abused, Report Says,” Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2012.

Since 2003, a Department of Homeland Security grant program called the Urban Areas Security Initiative has ballooned from 12 major metropolitan areas to 31 jurisdictions. The study found that some cities and towns had created implausible attack scenarios to win federal grants, and had scrambled at the end of each fiscal year to buy extra, unnecessary gadgets to spend excess cash.

Columbus, Ohio, for example, used $98,000 to buy an underwater robot for local rivers. Peoria, Ariz., spent $90,000 to install cameras and car bomb barriers at the spring training field for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners.

Police in Oxnard spent $75,000 to outfit a cultural center with surveillance equipment and alarms. Officials in Clovis, Calif., used the police department’s $200,000 armored personnel carrier to patrol an annual Easter egg hunt.

In San Diego in September, police officers and rescue workers were allowed to use Homeland Security grant money to cover the cost of a five-day counter-terrorism conference held at Paradise Point Resort & Spa. The $1,000 conference fee included admission to a “zombie apocalypse” demonstration, in which first responders zapped 40 actors dressed as the undead.

Amnesty International, Conflict in Yemen: Abyan’s Darkest Hour, December 4, 2012.

Jay Solomon and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. Raises Monitoring of Iranian Reactor,” Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2012.

The U.S. has significantly stepped up spying operations on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor over the past two months, American officials said, driven by heightened concerns about the security of weapons-grade plutonium after Tehran unexpectedly discharged fuel rods from the facility in October.

The increased U.S. surveillance of Bushehr, on Iran’s southwestern coast, has been conducted in part with the Pentagon’s fleet of drones operating over the Persian Gulf. The effort resulted in the interception of visual images and audio communications coming from the reactor complex, these officials said.

Kenneth Anderson and Matthew Waxman, Law and Ethics for Robot Soldiers, Hoover Institution Policy Review, December 1, 2012.

Greg Miller, “DIA Sending Hundreds More Spies Overseas,” Washington Post, December 1, 2012.

The project is aimed at transforming the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has been dominated for the past decade by the demands of two wars, into a spy service focused on emerging threats and more closely aligned with the CIA and elite military commando units.

When the expansion is complete, the DIA is expected to have as many as 1,600 “collectors” in positions around the world, an unprecedented total for an agency whose presence abroad numbered in the triple digits in recent years.

The total includes military attachés and others who do not work undercover. But U.S. officials said the growth will be driven over a five-year period by the deployment of a new generation of clandestine operatives. They will be trained by the CIA and often work with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, but they will get their spying assignments from the Department of Defense.

Human Rights First, How to Ensure that the U.S. Drone Program Does Not Undermine Human Rights: Blueprint for the Next Administration, December 2012.

Russell Rumbaugh and Matthew Leatherman, The Pentagon as Pitchman: Perception and Reality of Public Diplomacy, Stimson Center, September 2012.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    Thank you for those, particularly the last. The Pentagon has nominally eliminated its “strategic communications” activities -but of course this bears watching.

  • Posted by Don Bacon

    Perhaps “eliminated” strategic communications was a bit strong. Rosa Brooks explains it in her “Confessions of a Strategic Communicator.”
    “But reports of strategic communication’s demise are greatly exaggerated. The memo obtained by USA Today — also obtained by yours truly, and available here — isn’t really about the demise of strategic communication at “the Pentagon,” which is, after all, an awfully big building.”

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