Internet Dictatorship Begins in Singapore

A “new” system that records every move, stores all passwords and homogenizes software and that will control the net from 3 major hubs.

by John Markoff
NYTimes
June 25, 2011

A small group of Internet security specialists gathered in Singapore this week to start up a global system to make e-mail and e-commerce more secure, end the proliferation of passwords and raise the bar significantly for Internet scam artists, spies and troublemakers.

“It won’t matter where you are in the world or who you are in the world, you’re going to be able to authenticate everyone and everything,” said Dan Kaminsky, an independent network security researcher who is one of the engineers involved in the project.

The Singapore event included an elaborate technical ceremony to create and then securely store numerical keys that will be kept in three hardened data centers there, in Zurich and in San Jose, Calif. The keys and data centers are working parts of a technology known as Secure DNS, or DNSSEC. DNS refers to the Domain Name System, which is a directory that connects names to numerical Internet addresses. Preliminary work on the security system had been going on for more than a year, but this was the first time the system went into operation, even though it is not quite complete.

The three centers are fortresses made up of five layers of physical, electronic and cryptographic security, making it virtually impossible to tamper with the system. Four layers are active now. The fifth, a physical barrier, is being built inside the data center.

The technology is viewed by many computer security specialists as a ray of hope amid the recent cascade of data thefts, attacks, disruptions and scandals, including break-ins at Citibank, Sony, Lockheed Martin, RSA Security and elsewhere. It allows users to communicate via the Internet with high confidence that the identity of the person or organization they are communicating with is not being spoofed or forged.

Internet engineers like Mr. Kaminsky want to counteract three major deficiencies in today’s Internet. There is no mechanism for ensuring trust, the quality of software is uneven, and it is difficult to track down bad actors.

One reason for these flaws is that from the 1960s through the 1980s the engineers who designed the network’s underlying technology were concerned about reliable, rather than secure, communications. That is starting to change with the introduction of Secure DNS by governments and other organizations.

The event in Singapore capped a process that began more than a year ago and is expected to be complete after 300 so-called top-level domains have been digitally signed, around the end of the year. Before the Singapore event, 70 countries had adopted the technology, and 14 more were added as part of the event. While large countries are generally doing the technical work to include their own domains in the system, the consortium of Internet security specialists is helping smaller countries and organizations with the process.

The United States government was initially divided over the technology. The Department of Homeland Security included the .gov domain early in 2009, while the Department of Commerce initially resisted including the .us domain because some large Internet corporations opposed the deployment of the technology, which is incompatible with some older security protocols.

Internet security specialists said the new security protocol would initially affect Web traffic and e-mail. Most users should be mostly protected by the end of the year, but the effectiveness for a user depends on the participation of the government, Internet providers and organizations and businesses visited online. Eventually the system is expected to have a broad effect on all kinds of communications, including voice calls that travel over the Internet, known as voice-over-Internet protocol.

“In the very long term it will be voice-over-I.P. that will benefit the most,” said Bill Woodcock, research director at the Packet Clearing House, a group based in Berkeley, Calif., that is assisting Icann, the Internet governance organization, in deploying Secure DNS.

Secure DNS makes it possible to make phone calls over the Internet secure from eavesdropping and other kinds of snooping, he said.

Security specialists are hopeful that the new Secure DNS system will enable a global authentication scheme that will be more impenetrable and less expensive than an earlier system of commercial digital certificates that proved vulnerable in a series of prominent compromises.

The first notable case of a compromise of the digital certificates — electronic documents that establish a user’s credentials in business or other transactions on the Web — occurred a decade ago when VeriSign, a prominent vendor of the certificates, mistakenly issued two of them to a person who falsely claimed to represent Microsoft.

Last year, the authors of the Stuxnet computer worm that was used to attack the Iranian uranium processing facility at Natanz were able to steal authentic digital certificates from Taiwanese technology companies. The certificates were used to help the worm evade digital defenses intended to block malware.

In March, Comodo, a firm that markets digital certificates, said it had been attacked by a hacker based in Iran who was trying to use the stolen documents to masquerade as companies like Google, Microsoft, Skype and Yahoo.

“At some point the trust gets diluted, and it’s just not as good as it used to be,” said Rick Lamb, the manager of Icann’s Secure DNS program.

The deployment of Secure DNS will significantly lower the cost of adding a layer of security, making it more likely that services built on the technology will be widely available, according to computer network security specialists. It will also potentially serve as a foundation technology for an ambitious United States government effort begun this spring to create a system to ensure “trusted identities” in cyberspace.

U.S. Drones to Confront China in the Pacific

Russia Today
May 17, 2011

The US military is working to develop drones capable of taking off from US Navy aircraft carriers based in the Pacific. Analysts say the primary goal will be to confront China.

They will play an integral role in our future operations in this region [Asia],” Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, commander of the US 7th Fleet in the Pacific and Indian oceans, told AP. “Carrier-based unmanned aircraft systems have tremendous potential, especially in increasing the range and persistence of our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, as well as our ability to strike targets quickly.”

Land based drones are used frequently by the US military, especially in tactical operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Sea based drones are still in development, with the first tests having been conducted earlier this year.

While a counter-balance to China has not been mentioned by the Pentagon directly, most analysts and experts see the development of sea based drones as a weapon of choice against rising Chinese military power.

Chinese military modernization is the major long-term threat that the U.S. must prepare for in the Asia-Pacific region, and robotic vehicles — aerial and subsurface — are increasingly critical to countering that potential threat,” Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Center for New American Security told AP.

While China’s military is still smaller and less sophisticated than America’s, its growth potential has caused the US to pay greater attention. The development of drones for aircraft carriers is evidence the US Navy is seeking new weapons and strategies for future defense tactics with China and others in mind.

Currently carrier based fighter jets must take off from about 500 nautical miles from their target, leaving the carrier ships within range of land based missiles. Drones however would be able to operate as far out as 1,500 nautical miles from the carrier, putting the ships out of range.

Introducing a new aircraft that promises to let the strike group do its work from beyond the maximum effective firing range of the anti-ship ballistic missile — or beyond its range entirely — represents a considerable boost in defensive potential for the carrier strike group,” explained James Holmes of the US Naval War College.

Drones, if they work, are just the next tech leap. As long as there is a need for tactical aviation launched from the sea, carriers will be useful weapons of war,” commented Ret. Read Adm. Michael McDevitt.

The currently timeline has operational drones on ships by 2018. Some in the US Navy however want them much faster.

Seriously, we’ve got to have a sense of urgency about getting this stuff out there,” Adm. Gary Roughhead, chief of naval operations said. “It could fundamentally change how we think of naval aviation.”

Roughhead feels the 2018 timeline is “too damn slow.”

Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Lockheed Martin are all working to develop sea based drones.

Northrop Grumman was the first to launch a successful test flight of their X-47B prototype from the ground. Sea based testing is set for sometime in 2013.

The Military Industrial Complex’s Scheme to Control the Internet

By Tom Burghardt

The training of thousands of qualified airmen, will form the nucleus of an elite corps of cyberwarfare operatives.

Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once famously wrote that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” Acentury later, radical French philosopher Michel Foucault turned Clausewitz on his head and declared that “politics is the continuation of war by other means.”

In our topsy-turvy world where truth and lies coexist equally and sociopathic business elites reign supreme, it would hardly be a stretch to theorize that cyber war is the continuation of parapolitical crime by other means.

Through the Wormhole

In Speed and Politics, cultural theorist Paul Virilio argued that “history progresses at the speed of its weapons systems.” With electronic communications now blanketing the globe, it was only a matter of time before our political masters, (temporarily) outflanked by the subversive uses to which new media lend themselves, would deploy what Virilio called the “integral accident” (9/11 being one of many examples) and gin-up entirely new categories of threats, “Cyber Pearl Harbor” comes to mind, from which of course, they would “save us.”

That the revolving door connecting the military and the corporations who service war making is a highly-profitable redoubt for those involved, has been analyzed here at great length. With new moves to tighten the screws on the immediate horizon, and as “Change” reveals itself for what it always was, an Orwellian exercise in public diplomacy, hitting the “kill switch” serves as an apt descriptor for the new, repressive growth sector that links technophilic fantasies of “net-centric” warfare to the burgeoning “homeland security” market.

Back in March, Wired investigative journalist Ryan Singel wrote that the “biggest threat to the open internet” isn’t “Chinese hackers” or “greedy ISPs” but corporatist warriors like former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.

Having retreated to his old haunt as a senior vice president with the ultra-spooky firm Booz Allen Hamilton (a post he held for a decade before joining the Bush administration), McConnell stands to make millions as Booz Allen’s parent company, the secretive private equity powerhouse, The Carlyle Group, plans to take the firm public and sell some $300 million worth of shares, The Wall Street Journal reported last week.

“With its deep ties to the defense establishment” the Journal notes, “Booz Allen has become embedded in a range of military operations such as planning war games and intelligence initiatives.” That Carlyle Group investors have made out like proverbial bandits during the endless “War on Terror” goes without saying. With “relatively low debt levels for a leveraged buyout,” the investment “has been a successful one for Carlyle, which has benefited from the U.S. government’s increasing reliance on outsourcing in defense.”

And with 15,000 employees in the Washington area, most with coveted top secret and above security clearances, Booz Allen’s clients include a panoply of secret state agencies such as the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, NSA and the U.S. Air Force. With tentacles enlacing virtually all facets of the secretive world of outsourced intelligence, the firm has emerged as one of the major players in the cybersecurity niche market.

While McConnell and his minions may not know much about “SQL injection hacks,” Singel points out that what makes this spook’s spook dangerous (after all, he was NSA Director under Clinton) “is that he knows about social engineering. … And now he says we need to re-engineer the internet.”

Accordingly, Washington Technology reported in April, that under McConnell’s watchful eye, the firm landed a $14.4 million contract to build a new bunker for U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM). Chump change by Pentagon standards perhaps, but the spigot is open and salad days are surely ahead.

Now that CYBERCOM has come on-line as a “subordinate unified command” of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), it’s dual-hatted Director, Air Force General Keith B. Alexander confirmed by the Senate and with a fourth, gleaming star firmly affixed on his epaulettes, the real fun can begin.

A denizen of the shadows with a résumé to match, Alexander is also Director of the National Security Agency (hence the appellation “dual-hatted”), the Pentagon satrapy responsible for everything from battlefield signals- and electronic intelligence (SIGINT and ELINT), commercial and industrial espionage (ECHELON) to illegal driftnet spying programs targeting U.S. citizens.

Spooky résumé aside, what should concern us here is what Alexander will actually do at the Pentagon’s new cyberwar shop.

Fact Sheet posted by STRATCOM informs us that CYBERCOM “plans, coordinates, integrates, synchronizes, and conducts activities to: direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks and; prepare to, and when directed, conduct full-spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”

As Antifascist Calling previously reported, CYBERCOM’s offensive nature is underlined by the role it will play as STRATCOM’s operational cyber wing. The training of thousands of qualified airmen, as The Register revealed last month, will form the nucleus of an “elite corps of cyberwarfare operatives,” underscoring the command’s signal importance to the secret state and the corporations they so lovingly serve.

Cybersecurity: The New Corporatist “Sweet Spot”

Fueling administration moves to “beef up,” i.e. tighten state controls over the free flow of information is cash, lots of it. The Washington Post reported June 22 that “Cybersecurity, fast becoming Washington’s growth industry of choice, appears to be in line for a multibillion-dollar injection of federal research dollars, according to a senior intelligence official.”

“Delivering the keynote address at a recent cybersecurity summit sponsored by Defense Daily,” veteran Post reporter and CIA media asset, Walter Pincus, informs us that “Dawn Meyerriecks, deputy director of national intelligence for acquisition and technology, said that along with the White House Office of Science and Technology, her office is going to sponsor major research ‘where the government’s about to spend multiple billions of dollars’.”

Bingo!

According to a Defense Daily profile, before her appointment by Obama’s recently fired Director of National Intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, Meyerriecks was the chief technology officer with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), described on DISA’s web site as a “combat support agency” that “engineers and provides command and control capabilities and enterprise infrastructure to continuously operate and assure a global net-centric enterprise in direct support to joint warfighters, National level leaders, and other mission and coalition partners across the full spectrum of operations.”

During Defense Daily’s June 11 confab at the Marriott Hotel in Washington (generously sponsored by Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics and The Analysis Group), Meyerriecks emphasized although “tons of products” have been commercially developed promising enhanced security, “there’s not an answer Band-Aid that is going to come with this.”

All the more reason then, to shower billions of taxpayer dollars on impoverished defense and security corps, while preaching “fiscal austerity” to “greedy” workers and homeowners facing a new wave of foreclosures at the hands of cash strapped banks.

“We’re starting to question whether or not the fundamental precepts are right,” Meyerriecks said, “and that’s really what, at least initially, this [new research] will be aimed at.”

Presumably, the billions about to feed the “new security paradigm,” all in the interest of “keeping us safe” of course, means “we need to be really innovative, because I think we’re going to run out of runway on our current approach,” she said.

Washington Technology reported Meyerriecks as saying “We don’t have any fixed ideas about what the answers are.” Therefore, “we’re looking for traditional and nontraditional partnering in sourcing.”

Amongst the “innovative research” fields which the ODNI, the Department of Homeland Security and one can assume, NSA/CYBERCOM, will soon be exploring are what Washington Technology describe as: “Multiple security levels for government and non-government organizations. Security systems that change constantly to create ‘moving targets’ for hackers,” and more ominously for privacy rights, coercive “methods to motivate individuals to improve their cybersecurity practices.”

The Secret State’s Internet Control Bill

Since major policy moves by administration flacks always come in waves, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy June 18, that in order to fight “homegrown terrorism” the monitoring of internet communications “is a civil liberties trade-off the U.S. government must make to beef up national security,” the Associated Press reported.

While the Obama regime has stepped-up attacks on policy critics who have disclosed vital information concealed from the American people, prosecuting whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake, who spilled the beans on corrupt NSA shenanigans with grifting defense and security corps, and wages a low-level war against WikiLeaksCryptomePublic Intelligence and other secret spilling web sites, it continues to shield those who oversaw high crimes and misdemeanors during the previous and current regimes.

In this light, Napolitano’s statement that “we can significantly advance security without having a deleterious impact on individual rights in most instances,” is a rank mendacity.

With enough airspace to fly a drone through, the Home Sec boss told the gathering “at the same time, there are situations where trade-offs are inevitable.” What those “situations” are or what “trade-offs” were being contemplated by the administration was not specified by Napolitano; arch neocon Joe Lieberman however, graciously obliged.

As “Cyber War” joins the (failed) “War on Drugs” and the equally murderous “War on Terror” as America’s latest bête noire and panic all rolled into one reeking mass of disinformation, Senators Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 in the Senate.

The bill empowers the Director of a new National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC), to be housed in the Department of Homeland Security, to develop a “process” whereby owners and operators of “critical infrastructure” will develop “response plans” for what the legislation calls “a national cybersecurity emergency.”

This particularly pernicious piece of legislative flotsam would hand the President the power to declare a “national cyber-emergency” at his discretion and would force private companies, internet service providers and search engines to “comply with the new risk-based security requirements.” Accordingly, “in coordination with the private sector … the President [can] authorize emergency measures to protect the nation’s most critical infrastructure if a cyber vulnerability is being exploited or is about to be exploited.”

Under terms of the bill, such “emergency measures” can force ISPs to “take action” if so directed by the President, to limit, or even to sever their connections to the internet for up to 30 days.

While the administration, so far, has not explicitly endorsed Lieberman’s bill, DHS Deputy Undersecretary Philip Reitinger told reporters that he “agreed” with the thrust of the legislation and that the Executive Branch “may need to take extraordinary measures” in the event of a “crisis.”

Under the 1934 Communications Act, the World Socialist Web Site points out, “the president may, under ‘threat of war,’ seize control of any ‘facilities or stations for wire communications’.”

“Though dated,” socialist critic Mike Ingram avers, “that definition would clearly apply to broadband providers or Web sites. Anyone disobeying a presidential order can be imprisoned for one year. In addition to making explicit the inclusion of Internet providers, a central component of the Lieberman bill is a promise of immunity from financial claims for any private company which carries through an order from the federal government.”

Under terms of the legislation, the president requires no advance notification to Congress in order to hit the internet “kill switch,” and his authority to reign supreme over the free speech rights of Americans can be extended for up to six months after the “state of war” has expired.

While the bill’s supporters, which include the secret state lobby shop, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) claim the Lieberman-Collins-Carper legislation is intended to create a “shield” to defend the U.S. and its largest corporate benefactors from the “looming threat” of a “Cyber 9/11,” one cannot discount the billions of dollars in plum government contracts that will fall into the laps of the largest defense and security corps, the primary beneficiaries of this legislation; thus the bill’s immunity provisions.

Indeed, current INSA Chairwoman, Frances Fragos Townsend, the former Bushist Homeland Security Adviser, was appointed in 2007 as National Continuity Coordinator under the auspices of National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51) and was assigned responsibility for coordinating the development and implementation of Federal continuity of government (COG) policies. As readers of Antifascist Calling are aware, plans include contingencies for a declaration of martial law in the event of a “catastrophic emergency.” Whether or not a “national cybersecurity emergency” would fall under the penumbral cone of silence envisaged by NSPD-51 to “maintain order” is anyone’s guess.

However, in a June 23 letter to Lieberman-Collins-Carper, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and 23 other privacy and civil liberties groups, insisted that “changes are needed to ensure that cybersecurity measures do not unnecessarily infringe on free speech, privacy, and other civil liberties interests.”

CDT states that while “the bill makes it clear that it does not authorize electronic surveillance beyond that authorized in current law, we are concerned that the emergency actions that could be compelled could include shutting down or limiting Internet communications that might be carried over covered critical infrastructure systems.”

Additionally, CDT avers that the bill “requires CCI owners to share cybersecurity ‘incident’ information with DHS, which will share some of that information with law enforcement and intelligence personnel.” While Lieberman-Collins-Carper claim that “incident reporting” doesn’t authorize “any federal entity” to compel disclosure “or conduct surveillance,” the bill does not indicate what might be included in an ‘incident report’ and we are concerned that personally-identifiable information will be included.” Count on it!

In a press release, INSA’s chairwoman declared that the legislation is important in “establishing a public-private partnership to promote national cyber security priorities, strengthen and clarify authorities regarding the protection of federal civilian systems, and improve national cyber security defenses.”

Amongst the heavy-hitters who will profit financially from developing a “public-private partnership to promote national cyber security priorities,” include INSA “Founding Members” BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSC, General Dynamics, HP, Lockheed Martin, ManTech International, Microsoft, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

Talk about one hand washing the other! A casual glance at Washington Technology’s 2010 list of the Top 100 Federal Government Contractors provides a telling definition of the term “stakeholder”!

Blanket Surveillance Made Easy: Einstein 3’s Roll-Out

During a recent Cyberspace Symposium staged by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), an industry lobby group chock-a-block with defense and security corps, a series of video presentations set the tone, and the agenda, for CYBERCOM and the secret state’s new push for heimatcybersecurity.

During a question and answer session “with a small group of reporters” in sync with the alarmist twaddle peddled by AFCEA and STRATCOM, Defense Systems’Amber Corrin informed us that “one possibility” floated by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynne III to “keep us safe,” is the deployment of the privacy-killing Einstein 2 and Einstein 3 intrusion detection and prevention systems on civilian networks.

“To support such a move” Defense Systems reported, “a task force comprising industry and government information technology and defense interests … has been forged to examine issues surrounding critical infrastructure network security.”

As Antifascist Calling reported last July, Einstein 3 is based on technology developed by NSA under its Tutelage program, a subordinate project of NSA’s larger and more pervasive privacy-killing Stellar Wind surveillance operation.

Einstein 3’s deep-packet inspection technology can read the content of email messages and other private electronic communications. Those deemed “threats” to national security networks can then be forwarded to analysts and “attack signatures” (or suspect political messages) are then stored in a massive NSA-controlled database for future reference.

Federal Computer Week disclosed in March that the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) “plans to partner with a commercial Internet Service Provider and another government agency to pilot technology developed by the National Security Agency to automate the process of detecting cyber intrusions into civilian agencies’ systems.”

“The exercise,” according to reporter Ben Bain “aims to demonstrate the ability of an ISP to select and redirect Internet traffic from a participating government agency using the new technology. The exercise would also be used demonstrate the ability for U.S. CERT to apply intrusion detection and prevention to that traffic and to generate automated alerts about selected cyber threats.”

That testing is currently underway and has been undertaken under authority of National Security Presidential Directive 54, signed by President George W. Bush in 2008 in the waning days of his administration. While the vast majority of NSPD-54 is classified top secret, hints of its privacy-killing capabilities were revealed in the sanitized version of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) released by the Obama White House in March.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed suit against the government in federal court after their Freedom of Information Act request to the National Security Agency was rejected by securocrats. The agency refused to release NSPD-54, since incorporated into Obama’s CNCI, stating that they “have been withheld in their entirety” because they are “exempt from release” on grounds of “national security.”

In a follow-up piece earlier this month, Federal Computer Week disclosed that the exercise “will also allow the Homeland Security Department, which runs the Einstein program, to share monitored information with the National Security Agency, though that data is not supposed to include message content.”

“The recent combination of those three elements–reading e-mail messages, asking companies to participate in the monitoring program, and getting the NSA in the loop–has set off alarm bells about future uses of Einstein 3,” FCW’s John Zyskowski disclosed.

Those bells have been ringing for decades, tolling the death of our democratic republic. As military-style command and control systems proliferate, supporting everything from “zero-tolerance” policing and urban surveillance, the deployment of packet-sniffing technologies will soon join CCTV cameras, license plate readers and “watchlists,” thus setting the stage for the next phase of the secret state’s securitization of daily life.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research, his articles can be read on Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily, Pacific Free Press, Uncommon Thought Journal, and the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military “Civil Disturbance” Planning, distributed by AK Press.

The Militarization of Outer Space: The Pentagon’s “Space Warriors”

Air Force Raises the Stakes for a New Arms Race

Global Research

It’s not as if things aren’t bad enough right here on planet earth.space war

What with multiple wars and occupations, an accelerating economic meltdown, corporate malfeasance and environmental catastrophes such as the petroleum-fueled apocalypse in the Gulf of Mexico, I’d say we have a full plate already.

Now the Defense Department wants to up the stakes with new, destabilizing weapons systems that will transform low- and high-earth orbit into another “battlespace,” pouring billions into programs to achieve what Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) has long dreamed of: “space dominance.”

Indeed, Pentagon space warriors fully intend to field a robust anti-satellite (ASAT) capability that can disable, damage or destroy the satellites of other nations, all for “defensive” purposes, mind you.

Back in 2005, The New York Times reported that General Lance W. Lord, then commander of AFSPC, told an Air Force conference that “space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny. … Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future.”

Five years on, that “mission” is still a top priority for the Obama administration. While some might call it “net-centric warfare” on steroids, I’d choose another word: madness.

Air Force X-37B

On April 22, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) successfully launched its robot space shuttle, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Sitting atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket, the unmanned, reusable space plane roared into orbit after more than ten years of development by Boeing Corporation’s “Phantom Works” black projects shop.

The successful orbital insertion of the X-37B was the culmination of a decades’ long dream by the Department of Defense: to field a reusable spacecraft that combines an airplane’s agility with the means to travel at 5 miles per second in orbit.

From the Pentagon’s point of view, a craft such as the X-37B may be the harbinger of things to come: a johnny-on-the-spot weapons platform to take out the satellite assets of an enemy de jour, or as a launch vehicle that can deliver bombs, missiles or kinetic weapons anywhere on earth in less than two hours; what Air Force wags refer to as “operationally responsive space.”

Prior to launch, Air Force Deputy Undersecretary of Space Programs, Gary Payton, ridiculed speculation that the X-37B is the prototype for a new space-based weapons system. Payton told reporters, “I don’t know how this could be called a weaponization of space. Fundamentally, it’s just an updated version of the space shuttle kinds of activities in space.”

Needless to say, such denials should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.

The highly-classified program has a checkered history. According to GlobalSecurity.org, the project is envisaged as a “reusable space architecture” that would provide “aircraft-like operability, flexibility, and responsiveness, supporting AF Space Command mission areas.”

While early examples such as the Dyna-Soar/X-20 program of the 1950s-1960s never panned out due to technological constraints, the Air Force never stopped trying. Programs such as the X-40 Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) and the X-41 Common Air Vehicle (CAV), a hypersonic craft intended to serve as a key component in developing the off-again, on-again “Prompt Global Strike” project, demonstrate continuing Air Force interest in “high frontier” weapons programs.

The X-40 project eventually merged with the Air Force’s X-37B program and the X-41 CAV program has been absorbed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV-2).

Last month, the first test of the Falcon (apparently) ended in failure when DARPA researchers claimed they had lost contact with the craft moments after take-off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Falcon was supposed to demonstrate the feasibility of launching a vehicle to the edge of space and then have it come “screaming back into the atmosphere, maneuvering at twenty times the speed of sound before landing north of the Kwajalein Atoll, 30 minutes later and 4100 nautical miles away,” according to Wired.

Did the HTV-2 mission fail? Since misdirection and disinformation have long been staples of Pentagon black world projects, most likely we’ll never know one way or the other.

Inevitably, even if these projects amount to no more than monumental failures, their intended target audience, China, Russia or any other nation viewed as a “rogue state” by the imperialist hyperpower, in all likelihood would be drawn in to an expensive, and deadly, contest to devise countermeasures.

In this light, Space.com reporter Jeremy Hsu wrote May 5, that ambiguities in devising militarized space technology “can make it tricky for nations to gauge the purpose or intentions behind new prototypes.” And such uncertainties are precisely the fodder that fuel an arms race.

According to GlobalSecurity.org’s John Pike, the U.S. military “could even be using the cloak of mystery to deliberately bamboozle and confuse rival militaries.” Pike told Space.com that “the X-37B and HTV-2 projects could represent the tip of a space weapons program hidden within the Pentagon’s secret ‘black budget,’ or they might be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.”

Pike said that current work “leaves plenty of room for misinterpretation or even outright deception, which could be a ploy to distract other nations with military space projects.”

“‘One of them could be a deception program and the other could be the spitting image of the real thing,’ Pike noted. He said that such misdirection could force other nations’ militaries to waste money chasing down dead ends.”

While Pike’s assertions sound plausible, given the Pentagon’s track record and an annual $50 billion black budget directed towards research on new weapons and surveillance systems, the X-37B, the Falcon HTV-2 or other systems on the drawing board would certainly be useful assets if the military chose to deploy them as offensive weapons.

A Space Bomber?

Less ambitious perhaps, but potentially more destabilizing than unproven hypersonic technology, the X-37B was originally designed by Boeing for NASA in 1999 as an emergency escape vehicle for the International Space Station.

The civilian agency once viewed the craft as a potential lifeboat that could rescue stranded astronauts from the ISS. However, with Russia’s Soyuz space capsule doing yeoman’s work for just such a contingency, NASA no longer saw the need for an expensive winged re-entry vehicle and dropped the program.

But, as with all things having to do with the Military-Industrial Complex’s insatiable appetite for new weapons, DARPA, the Pentagon’s “blue sky” geek shop, picked up the slack in 2004 when NASA headed towards the exit.

After further testing and design enhancements by DARPA, the project was handed off to the Air Force in 2006. The program is now run by the USAF’s secretive Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) and spokespeople there have been tight lipped, refusing to say how much the vehicle costs; a sure sign that funds for the robot shuttle come from the black side of the budget where new weapons systems spawn and metastasize.

A tip-off to the covert nature–and militaristic intentions–of the program, comes from the office running the show. According to an Air Force Fact Sheet, the RCO “responds to Combat Air Force and combatant command requirements” and “expedites development and fielding of select Department of Defense combat support and weapon systems by leveraging defense-wide technology development efforts and existing operational capabilities.”

According to investigative journalist Sharon Weinberger, the author of Imaginary Weapons and A Nuclear Family Vacation, her recent piece in Popular Mechanics, revealed that prior to the Pentagon assuming ownership of the X-37 project, “the spacecraft was regarded as just another experimental prototype.” Today however, Weinberger wrote, “Air Force officials are skittish to mention even the smallest details.”

When Air Force chief scientist Werner J.A. Dahm was asked by Weinberger “what he could say about the X-37B,” he replied, “‘Nothing very useful,’ before quickly changing the subject.”

In a 2006 piece in Air Force Print News (AFPN) however, we were informed that the X-37B will “will serve as a test platform for satellites and other space technologies. The vehicle allows satellite sensors, subsystems, components and associated technology to be transported into the environment where they will be used–space.”

With information scarce on what the OTV’s current mission is, the Air Force has said that after the first few flights (a second test in slated for 2011), “you get into the realm of using it as a reusable space test platform–putting space components into its experimental bay and taking them to space for testing,” RCO’s X-37B program manager Lt. Col. Kevin Walker told AFPN.

While the Air Force has denied that the X-37B is the vanguard for a space-based system to be deployed for spying or as an orbital weapons’ delivery platform, and while this may betechnically accurate in so far as the mini-shuttle is a prototype, the vagaries of the project raise intriguing questions.

This is borne out by an April 22 announcement by the 45th Space Wing Public Affairs office at Patrick Air Force base. Deputy Undersecretary Payton said “if these technologies on the vehicle prove to be as good as we estimate, it will make our access to space more responsive, perhaps cheaper, and push us in the vector toward being able to react to warfighter needs more quickly.”

This was seconded by Col. André Lovett, 45th Space Wing vice commander: “This launch helps ensure that our warfighters will be provided the capabilities they need in the future.”

Nothing ambiguous in these statements as to how the USAF views the future role for the system, nor do they bear a relationship to Payton’s earlier claim to reporters that the X-37B is “just an updated version of the space shuttle kinds of activities in space.”

Weinberger notes that “the most daring job of a space plane, and the one least discussed, is the role of a bomber.” According to Weinberger, the X-37B “could fly over targets within an hour of launch to release cone-shaped re-entry vehicles that would both protect and guide weapons through the atmosphere.” Equally destabilizing, a craft such as the X-37B “could carry 1000- or 2000-pound re-entry vehicles armed with precision munitions like bunker-busting penetrators or small-diameter bombs, or simply use the explosive impact of kinetic rods cratering at hypersonic speeds to destroy targets.”

Joan Johnson-Freese, a Professor of National Security Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, told Space.com journalist Leonard David last month that “other countries” will likely view the X-37B “as another capability intended to assure the United States will be able to dominate access to and the use of space.”

William Scott, coauthor of the militaristic novel Counterspace: The Next Hours of World War III, told David that a reusable space plane “could deliver small satellites having specific, limited roles to bridge critical capabilities gaps.”

The former bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology told David that amongst the most vital characteristics for fielding a weapons’ platform such as the X-37B is surprise: “On the first orbit, a space plane could capture data, before the ‘target’ knew it was coming.” Since a space plane could be “launched into any orbit, at any inclination, providing prompt ‘eyes-on’ of virtually any area of the world,” unlike a satellite with known, predictable trajectories, it could also be used as a surveillance platform or even as a means to surreptitiously “kidnap” or disable an adversary’s satellite.

Seconding Weinberger’s assessment, Scott told Space.com that “ultimately, weapons could be delivered from a space plane in low Earth orbit.” As noted above, these could come in the form of “precision” munitions or insane hypervelocity rod bundles, so called “Rods from God,” tungsten projectiles lobbed from space at 36,000 feet per second that can “hit a cross-haired target on the ground.”

“I did a story about the rods concept in 1994 or 1995, based on concepts being discussed in the U.S. Air Force at the time,” Scott said. “Fifteen years later, maybe they’re ready for testing.”

This view is shared by Everett Dolman, a professor of Comparative Military Studies at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at the Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Regardless of its original intent, Dolman told Space.com, “the most obvious and formidable is in service as a space fighter–a remotely piloted craft capable of disabling multiple satellites in orbit on a single mission and staying on orbit for months to engage newly orbited platforms.” A project such as the X-37B, more advanced systems still on the drawing-board or in development in any number of Air Force black sites such as Groom Lake (Area 51) “would be a tremendous tactical advantage,” Dolman said.

Even were the system not to be transformed into a space bomber, Dolman theorized that the X-37B could be maneuvered close to an adversary’s satellite and capture details in the form of signals intelligence. “With the anticipated increase in networked-microsatellites in the next few years, such a platform might be the best–and only–means of collecting technical intelligence in space.”

While the system may evolve into a destabilizing new weapon, Dolman said that “all of the information leaked about the X-37B suggests its primary function will be as a test platform, but a test platform for what?”

Regardless of how the X-37B prototype pans out, we can be certain that as the U.S. imperialist empire continues its long trek on the road towards failed statehood, the Pentagon, always eager to expend the blood and treasure of the American people on endless wars of conquest, will continue to build new and ever-more destabilizing weapons.