Tag Archives: White House

[Infographic] U.S. new raids, drone attacks target review process

The Associated Press has recently published the first detailed description of the once classified military’s review process for choosing terror leaders to be added to the capture or kill list.

Two current and three former officials U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity to the AP and described the current targeting procedure, developed by the Assistant to the President of the U.S. for Homeland Security John Brennan, that concentrates power over the use of both drones and special forces outside war zones, withinin a small White House’s team.

According to the U.S. officials, the Pentagon’s role in targeting process has been minimized: it can still carry out its own procedures to make recommendations to the Secretary of Defense, but the Brennan’s team would be in charge of approving the final recommendation to Obama.

[Read also: The mysterious U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle detachment in Djibouti. Are they conducting covert air strikes in Yemen?]

Previously, targets were reviewed within a military-run procedure that saw Brennan as just one of the voices in the debate. Under the new plan, Brennan’s staff leads the debate on which targets must be put on the list and runs the names past agencies such as the State Department at a weekly White House meeting.

Since Brennan is still the one to approve the final recommendation to President Barack Obama, there’s a widespread concern that bringing more power to his team could turn it into a sort of military headquarters, entrusting the fate of terrorist targets all around the world to a small number of senior officials.

[Read also: Covert US drone operations tracked in real time, via Twitter. Exposing tactics too.]

Several human rights groups have requested the White House to make public the process by which individuals end up on the targeting lists and the revelation by the officials who have spoken to the AP could help showing the American public that terrorist targets are chosen only after painstaking and exhaustive debate.

This could be particularly useful in an election year, when drone strikes across the globe can be a quite sensitive debating point.

The above image is a modified version of an AP infographic released on May 21

Photo: President Barack Obama inside a CH-47 in Afghanistan (without flak jacket)

Just released by the White House, this photograph, taken on May 1, at Bagram airfield, shows Barack Obama talking with Ambassador Ryan Crocker aboard Marine One moments before the helicopter took off to bring the President, just arrived from Andrews AFB on board the Air Force One, to the Afghan Presidential Palace in Kabul.

Seated next to the President, from left, are Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough and Chief of Staff Jack Lew.

Noteworthy neither Obama nor Crocker wear a flak jacket.

Marine One” is the designation and radio callsign used by any helicopter with the POTUS on board. However, it is quite unlikely that the helicopter used this easily recognizable radio callsign for the dangerous trip in Afghanistan.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The (not-so) secret Air Force One trip to Afghanistan

Hiding a large aircraft is not easy. If such plane is the world’s most famous Boeing 747, the undertaking will be even more challenging.

As you already know by now, President Obama arrived in Afghanistan on May 1 at 10.30PM (Kabul time), to sign a strategic-partnership agreement with President Hamid Karzai. His “surprise” visit took place on the first anniversary of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

Image credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The VC-25 (military designation for the presidential Jumbo) landed in the darkness of the night at Bagram airfield, one of the largest U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

Even if we don’t have any specific detail about the Air Force One flight, we can assume the aircraft used the same precautions used on visits to other dangerous spots around the world (as reported by accompanying journalists and military analysts):

  1. steep descent and “aggressive turns” during the last part of the flight to prevent a predictable flight path that could ease targeting attempts
  2. fake radio callsign since take off, in order to mask the flight to all the Air Traffic Control (ATC) agencies encountered enroute
  3. use of two almost identical VC-25s
  4. accompanying /preceding cargo planes to sequence arrivals in such a way to mask the AF1 between airlifters
  5. fighter escort (when needed)
  6. strict security measures for embedded media

All of the above, while at Washington DC everyone is pretending the President is in the White House.

A screenshot of the bogus White House Schedule for May 1, published on the WH’s website.

However, all such “countermeasures” are not always enough to keep the travel secret.

Bogus callsigns and transponder codes, used during Bush’s trip to Baghdad in 2003 (as explained by Col. Mark Tillman, former AF1 pilot), can be noticed and arise suspicion among the community of aircraft enthusiasts that track all military and civilian air traffic with commercial off-the-shelf and/or freely available tools (among them LiveATC.net, the same Internet radio feed that gave the opportunity to hear the comms of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft over NYC and Washington DC).

Fortunately, deceiving terrorists or insurgents is usually easier than fool an aviation geek into believing that the one he has just heard on a radio is not the Air Force One crossing the ocean enroute to a secret place, but a routine ferry flight.

If you thought the Presidential helicopter had tinted windows, you were wrong.

The top AP picture took me by surprise. Taken on Apr. 27 at Andrews AFB, shows Barack Obama through the window of the Presidential chopper.

I’ve always thought most VIP vehicles, cars and helicopters had tinted windows. First of all because they are cool. Second, for quite obvious security reasons: even if those are bulletproff windows, you might not want a sniper know where the very important person is sitting.  However, he might still guess his position, since interiors are very well known.

For instance, even if Obama can move inside the cabin of the VH-3D operated by the USMC HMX-1 (Marine Helicopter Squadron One), we can assume he will sit with his seat belt fastened at take off and landing either on the right or left Presidential seats that you can clearly identify by looking at the pictures published on the White House Flickr gallery.

Anyway, whether it is safe or not (most probably it is, otherwise it would not be that way), as a matter of fact, the Marine One (from the callsign the helicopter uses when the President of the U.S. is on board), has no tinted windows.

Image credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

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