SAN FRANCISCO - Hacker group Anonymous on July 11 released a trove of military email addresses and passwords it claimed to have plundered from the network of U.S. defense consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
AN IMAGE OF a data center in Chicago. Hackers say they stole thousands of passwords for U.S. military email addresses by getting into Booz Allen Hamilton's network. (Microsoft)
Anonymous made available a file containing more than 90,000 email addresses and other information it said in online messages that it stole from an unprotected server at Booz Allen.
"While this should certainly be embarrassing to Booz Allen Hamilton, the real impact is on the U.S. military," the post continued."Anonymous claims to have erased four gigabytes worth of source code and to have discovered information which could help them attack U.S. government and other contractors' systems," computer security firm Sophos said in a blog post.
In a message accompanying the data at file-sharing website The Pirate Bay, Anonymous said Booz Allen was targeted in a "Meltdown Monday" as part of an anti-security, or "antisec," movement.
"So in this line of work you'd expect them to sail the seven proxseas with a state-of-the-art battleship, right?" Anonymous said, using pirate jargon and playing off a reference to proxy computer servers.
"Well, you may be as surprised as we were when we found their vessel being a puny wooden barge," the message continued. "We infiltrated a server in their network that basically had no security measures in place."
Although some downplayed the value of the looted data, computer security specialists warn that the email addresses could be used to target messages that trick recipients into revealing information or downloading viruses.
Booz Allen declined to comment on the incident, citing a company policy of not discussing "specific threats or actions taken against our systems."
Anonymous rose to infamy last year with cyber attacks in support of controversial whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.
The group was linked to attacks on Visa, Mastercard and Paypal, which blocked donations to WikiLeaks after it published thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables.
Early this year, Anonymous took credit for breaking into the website of HBGary Federal, stealing tens of thousands of email messages and temporarily routing traffic to a page with a vitriolic message.
Anonymous claimed to have busted through HBGary Federal computer defenses in February because the firm was working with federal agents to expose the hackers' identities.
The HBGary hack was more sophisticated than the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks last year on the Amazon, Visa and MasterCard websites in apparent retaliation for their decisions to stop working with WikiLeaks.
In a typical DDoS attack, a large number of computers are commanded to simultaneously visit a website, overwhelming its servers, slowing service or knocking it offline completely.
In recent months, police in Spain, Turkey and Italy have arrested suspected members of Anonymous, which is believed to have branches in several countries.
WASHINGTON - Two Republican U.S. senators on July 12 expressed concerns about a possible agreement to base a missile-shield radar in Turkey, citing the NATO ally's strained ties with Israel and relations with Iran.
Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeking reassurances on the possible deal, which was described in a news report last week.
The lawmakers asked for "written assurances" that data collected by a so-called X-band radar "will be made available, in real time" to staunch U.S. ally Israel to be "fully integrated into its battlement management and control."
They also sought a guarantee that "Turkish entities are not engaged, or suspected of engaging" in activities that fall afoul of various U.S. laws aimed at curbing suspected nuclear weapons programs in Iran and Syria and keeping sensitive know-how from North Korea.
And President Obama's administration must also certify that the powerful radar will only be operated by U.S. personnel, and for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except for maintenance breaks, the senators said.
Kyl, the No. 2 two Senate Republican, and Kirk also questioned whether the reported decision to locate the radar in Turkey would "ensure the best defense of the United States against the Iranian long-range ballistic missile threat."
They cited a U.S. Missile Defense Agency study that found that the South Caucasus to be "the optimum placement" if the system is designed to defend against an eventual Iranian ballistic missile attack.
"The administration's plans for missile defense will require the cooperation of the Congress; the prospects for such cooperation are jeopardized if the Congress is not provided the information it requests," they warned.
WASHINGTON - A U.S. defense contractor pleaded guilty July 12 to one charge of conspiring to illegally export U.S. Defense Department weapons plans to China in an apparent money-saving scheme, the Justice Department said.
From 2004-09, New Jersey-based Swiss Technology had contracts with the Defense Department to make rifle and machine gun parts to use in military operations, the Justice Department statement said.
But rather than manufacture the parts itself, Swiss Technology outsourced plans for the work to China "at a much cheaper price per unit" without first obtaining the required license from the U.S. State Department, the statement said.
"We simply can't risk that companies trying to manufacture military equipment on the cheap will expose our troops to more danger than they already face," said Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.
Swiss Technology admitted that it entered into the Chinese contracts for its own financial benefit, the statement said.
The government said the fraudulent contracting meant a loss of more than $1.1 million to DoD.
Under terms of the plea agreement, Swiss Technology will pay that money back to the Pentagon. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 15.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE TORA, Afghanistan - President Nicolas Sarkozy said July 12 that France would withdraw a quarter of its 4,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, becoming the latest NATO power to downsize its combat mission in the war-torn country.
The French leader announced the withdrawal during a surprise visit to meet troops stationed in Sarobi district, northeast of Kabul, and to be briefed on progress against the Taliban by a French general.
"It's necessary to end the war," Sarkozy told journalists at the base. "There was never a question of keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely."
France has around 4,000 troops deployed in the country, mostly in Sarobi, Kabul, and in northeastern Kapisa province.
"We will withdraw a quarter of our troops, that's to say 1,000 men, by the end of 2012," he said. Those remaining in Afghanistan will be concentrated in Kapisa, where they have been deployed since 2008.
"The first group will leave at the end of this year," Sarkozy said, without specifying the magnitude of this "first phase."
That withdrawal will be "in consultation with our allies and with the Afghan authorities," he said, as "the situation allows."
The partial drawdown follows similar announcements by Britain and the United States, as Western leaders look to a final deadline of the end of 2014 to extract all combat troops from an increasingly deadly and costly conflict.
In Kabul, Sarkozy held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was in a somber mood after receiving news shortly before the discussions that his younger brother Ahmed Wali Karzai had been assassinated in Kandahar.
Sarkozy did not rule out that French military advisors and trainers would remain after combat troops leave, "if the Afghan authorities want", adding that civilian cooperation would also continue.
"We must not abandon Afghanistan. We will continue to help Afghanistan. We'll go from military to economic cooperation," Sarkozy said after his meeting with Karzai before flying out of the country.
The French leader earlier met the top U.S. commander on the ground, Gen. David Petraeus, who will oversee the initial drawdown of 33,000 U.S. troops set to leave by the end of next summer - effectively ending a military "surge" ordered into Afghanistan, principally the south, in late 2009.
Britain has said 500 of its soldiers will leave by the end of next year. Belgium has also announced some of its troops will depart and Canada last week ended its near 3,000-strong combat mission in the southern province Kandahar.
It was Sarkozy's third visit to the battle-scarred country since becoming president and came two days ahead of the Bastille Day French national holiday. His earlier trips were in December 2007 and August 2008.
His trip came a day after a 22-year-old French soldier was killed in a shooting blamed on "accidental fire" by a fellow French soldier.
France has lost 64 soldiers in the course of the war, according to figures compiled by the independent icasualties.org.
Last month, Sarkozy said "several hundred" French troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan before the end of the year.
His office had said earlier that France would carry out a progressive pullback of its 4,000 troops "in a proportional manner and in a timeframe similar to the pullback of the American reinforcements."
Sarkozy's visit comes days after that by new U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and a week after a visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron, with Western leaders focused on efforts to draw down troops and end the long war.
Commanders are now preparing to hand over seven NATO-held areas to Afghan control starting in mid-July, although there is widespread doubt over the ability of Afghan forces to take full responsibility for their own security.
Sarkozy said he shared U.S. President Barack Obama's belief that security had improved since the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in May and that the handover to Afghan troops and police was proceeding smoothly.
Should the situation improve, the pullout of all Western combat troops in 2014 might be "brought forward", he said.
U.S.-led coalition forces have been fighting the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan since they invaded in late 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks orchestrated by bin Laden.
WASHINGTON - Iraq has renewed talks to buy up to 36 U.S. F-16 fighter jets in a deal worth billions that Washington hopes will help contain neighboring Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported July 11.
Iraq had frozen a $4.2 billion deal to buy 18 fighter jets earlier year because of instability related to the Arab Spring but is now considering an even larger purchase, the Journal said, citing U.S. and Iraqi officials.
The newspaper said the renewed interest was linked to higher-than-expected Iraqi oil revenues and concerns on both sides ahead of the withdrawal of the remaining 46,000 U.S. troops from the country by the end of the year.
Any potential deal would be worth billions of dollars and take years to implement, as it would require the manufacture of the planes and the training of Iraqi pilots.
The Journal said Iraq has also requested ground-based air defense systems, including ground-to-air missiles and large guns.
It said Oman was also looking to purchase 18 F-16s at an estimated cost of $3.5 billion.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said earlier July 11 during a surprise visit to Baghdad that U.S. forces were continuing to pursue Iran-backed insurgents, saying they had killed a "heck of a lot" of U.S. troops.
Washington has been pressing Iraq to make a decision on whether it wants US troops to remain in the country beyond the end of the year, when all U.S. forces are to be withdrawn under a 2008 security pact.
MONTREAL - Canada will use air and port facilities in Kuwait to help ship back home military materiel used during its nine-year combat mission in Afghanistan, Defense Minister Peter MacKay said July 11.
"Kuwait is an influential partner in the region and we are very pleased that this agreement has been reached for the benefit our respective countries," MacKay said in a statement.
He was speaking after he signed a deal during a two-day visit to Kuwait for logistical support from the Gulf nation.
Canada officially ended its nine-year combat mission in Afghanistan on July 7, closing the curtain after the deaths of 157 troops.
The departure of nearly 3,000 troops, who took on some of the heaviest fighting in the southern province of Kandahar, comes as Western forces begin to announce gradual drawdowns of troops ahead of a full withdrawal in 2014.
After spending more than C$11 billion on the war and with popular support waning at home, most of the Canadian soldiers, based mainly in the dangerous battleground of Kandahar, have packed up and gone home.
"The movement of equipment and vehicles from Afghanistan requires access to both an airport and sea terminal for the transhipment of materiel back to Canada," the Canadian defense ministry said in a statement. "The establishment of this support presence in Kuwait allows this to happen in a safe and controlled environment."
Until last year, Canada was using a base situated in Dubai to support its operations in Afghanistan. It was forced to leave the base amid differences with the United Arab Emirates over increasing commercial flights between the two nations.
MacKay recalled that Canada had deployed some 4,000 troops during the first Gulf War in 1991, and "our friendship has grown stronger over the past 20 years," he added.
A separate Canadian training mission involving 950 troops will continue to work in Kabul with Afghan security forces.
Canada will also continue to give aid to Afghanistan, with its overall involvement between now and the end of 2014 expected to cost around US$700 million a year.