Cyber attack generates publicity in national press

Two Irish activists at the "No to NATO - No to War" Conference in Strasbourg on 3-5 April presented an innovative, hi-tech approach to monitoring transits by US military and CIA aircraft at the supposedly "civilian" airport at Shannon, in the west of Ireland. And the sophisticated cyber warfare that has been waged against their website suggests that their hi-tech surveillance activities present a real threat to the interests of the military-industrial complex.

Since December 2001, local activists Conor Cregan, Tim Hourigan and Edward Horgan have spent countless hours standing at the fence at Shannon Airport, photographing aircraft that have played a clandestine role in the so-called War on Terror. Their sightings have included hundreds of aircraft in the livery of "civilian" airlines such as World Airways and Omni Air, but in fact transporting armed US troops to the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. US Air Force aircraft such as Hercules C130 have transited with military cargo to the same destinations.

The activists have also documented occasional transits of aircraft associated with the CIAs "extraordinary renditions" program, under which civilians have been abducted for torture in extrajudicial prison camps at Guantnamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere. Sightings of a Gulfstream jet registered N379P at Shannon played a key role in unraveling the international network of airports involved in the now notorious torture program. N379P refueled at Shannon on July 22nd, 2002, the day after it transported Binyam Mohamed to Rabat, Morocco, to be tortured.

The Irish government acknowledges more than a million US troop transits at Shannon in association with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but denies that this invalidates Irish neutrality. And it refuses to take any measures against CIA aircraft, on the grounds that it has no evidence that they have had any prisoners on board when refueling at Shannon.

In recent months, another local activist, John Lannon, has taken the initiative to upgrade the technologies used to gather, process and publish current data about unwelcome transits at Shannon. Using their own hardware and software to monitor and analyze air traffic, the group now publish monthly reports of US troop transports, military cargo transits and CIA flights on the ShannonWatch website. Statistics for overflights of US military craft through Irish airspace at the expense of the Irish taxpayer are also published on the site at www.shannonwatch.org.

Within weeks of the launch of the ShannonWatch website in December 2008, it was the target of sophisticated cyber warfare that made the site temporarily inaccessible. From Thursday 8 January, computers in India, South America and the United States were recruited to generate such massive junk traffic that the local Internet servers could not keep up what is known as distributed denial of service attacks.

But the watch group took these cyber attacks in good cheer, taking them as a perfect opportunity to generate sympathetic coverage in two national newspapers. And within a week they had the site up and running again on another server.

Members of the ShannonWatch group have exchanged visits with like-minded activists based in Leipzig since 2006, when World Airways transferred its transits of US troops from Shannon to Leipzig-Halle Airport. Another German group, based near Frankfurt-Hahn, publishes data from a consortium of 24 German commercial airports. (See "Ziviler" Militrflugverkehr auf dem Flugplatz Hahn at http://www.fluglaerm.de/hahn/index.html )

The advantage of the ShannonWatch groups independent, hi-tech surveillance system is that it can count transits of specific types of military aircraft and identify individual CIA aircraft. For example, 8 Hercules C-130 aircraft registered to the US Air Force or Navy transited at Shannon between 20 and 26 March, part of a marked overall increase in US military traffic for the month.

Another example: Learjet N54PA landed at Shannon on 3 March. N54PA has a permit to land at US military bases, and flight logs show that it has in fact landed at Guantnamo Bay, Cuba.

ShannonWatch also reports that a plane registered to Kalitta Air landed in Shannon on 20 and 22 December 2008. Kalitta is known to carry munitions around the world for the US Air Force. Given that this same airline transported laser-guided bombs to Israel for the war in Lebanon in 2006, and that it transited them through Prestwick Airport in Scotland without clearance, there are good grounds to suspect that Kalitta's recent transits at Shannon have been involved in the IDFs offensive in Gaza.

Revelations like these cast an ominous new light on the slogan on the doors at Shannon Airport: "Open For Business".

A US Department of Defense news release documents further nefarious business that may be on its way. The Defense Security Cooperation Agencys Transmittal no. 08-82 reports a "possible Foreign Military Sale to Israel of GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs as well as associated equipment and services" and states: "Implementation of this proposed sale will involve multiple trips to Israel by U.S. Government and contractor representatives for one-week intervals, for approximately three years".

Although US President Obama has now instructed his administration to stop using terminology such as "Global War on Terror" or "Long War", the Irish activists are under no illusion that they can soon retire. For while the United States has begun to speak more softly, and even seductively, the increase in traffic in March shows that it is still aggressively pursuing military dominance in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The ShannonWatch group invites other peace groups to share technologies, skills and information to ever more effectively monitor unwelcome traffic at airports in the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa, the Caribbean, or anywhere else in the world where flights may be involved in crimes of war and crimes of torture.

If monitors at a network of sites can alert each other to suspicious flights through their airports, then they may be able to track the routes of aircraft used to abduct torture victims or to transport specific items of military equipment to the battlefield.

The Irish activists will go on using the information gathered to spur the media and politicians to intervene to prevent crimes of torture and to promote peace.

Coilin O'hAiseadha

April 9th, 2009

This article is copyright-free on condition that the author is advised of intent to publish: doctorashey(at)gmail(dot)com.  

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