Intelligence Research & Development Outsourced

NeverSleepsAfter the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011, Congress opened up the check book and the intelligence community suddenly found itself able to get everything that had been on its wish list for years. Now the budget constraints on the intelligence community have forced the outsourcing of research and developments, which some in the community do not think will achieve the desired results:

Experts said the shift reflects a larger issue in the defense contracting community: Companies are less willing to take risks, and the government doesn’t have the money to fund all the innovation it needs.

“I think there’s an acknowledgment that the system is broken,” a senior industry executive said. But the executive was skeptical that the commercial sector will or can make up for the R&D deficit.

“We’ve seen this before. For a period of time there’s been a big call on using commercial capabilities in the space area, and it just hasn’t worked. They haven’t achieved the kinds of engineering feats that are required in defense.”

That the federal government would turn toward commercial space makes sense given differing perceptions of risk, said Peter Singer, director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution.

“One of the major shifts is how the civilian side is accelerating not just ahead, but in some case well past the innovation from the traditional firms,” he wrote in an email. “And a large part of that is due to a business model that looks at risk as not something to be pushed on the government, but part of the very act of being in business.”

Read more here.

As U.S. Deploys Patriot Missiles and F-16s to Jordan, Could Syrian Conflict Engulf the Middle East?

Pro-government Syrian forces have seized control of the key border town of Qusair, which had been controlled by rebel fighters for the past year. This comes as the United Nations accuses both sides of the Syrian conflict of reaching “new levels of brutality.” Since fighting broke out over two years ago in Syria, more than 80,000 people have been killed and another 1.6 million Syrian refugees have fled. We’re joined by longtime foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn of The Independent, who recently returned from Syria where he reported on how the conflict is spreading across the Middle East. Cockburn warns that pending global peace talks will have no effect without a ceasefire on the ground. “The best you could really hope for at this stage is a ceasefire, get the level of violence down, and then later you might have talks of sharing power,” Cockburn says. “But you are not going to have that at the moment.”

State Department Cancels Billion Dollar Drone Competition

ShadowHawkThe Department of Defense has made the vast majority of purchases of unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, more than any other government agency. However, in September of 2011 the State Department solicited bids from defense contractors for drones that could be used “achieve and maintain situational awareness, automatically generate and disseminate high quality video imaging, respond to a security incident at locations remote from the core of operations, disseminate threat information for use in route planning, receive, view, and analyze in route activity.” Apparently none of the bids could meet the State Department’s standards:

The U.S. State Department canceled its $1 billion surveillance drone competition, saying none of the proposals met its requirements, according to the U.S. government’s Federal Business Opportunities website.

The competition had called for companies to operate small-scale unmanned aircraft that would supply real-time video of convoy routes and buildings. It was an opportunity for companies such as Aerovironment Inc. (AVAV) and Vanguard Defense Industries LLC to boost sales outside the Department of Defense, the biggest U.S. buyer of unmanned aircraft.

The State Department “plans to examine closely the requirements stipulated in the solicitation with the intent of developing and releasing a new” request for drone proposals, according to the notice.

Photo: Vanguard Defense Industries Shadowhawk drone.

Did Obama violate his own rules on drone strikes?

A high ranking member of the Taliban was killed in Pakistan this week by a US drone strike only days after President Obama announced a shift in the country’s counterterrorism operations. Wali ur-Rehman was among those killed and his death is being lauded as a blow to the Taliban. But what does the event say about Obama’s remarks regarding the drone program? Marcy Wheeler of EmptyWheel.net joins Meghan Lopez to discuss what this means for Obama’s promise of respecting state sovereignty and his proposed changes in the war against terror.

Inside Story Americas – Obama’s Speech and the Question of Drones

US President Barack Obama gave a speech that was meant to contextualise the global drone war that has escalated under his presidency, outline the framework for future targeted killing, and address concerns about the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay. But did he succeed? To discuss this, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Carlos Warner, a lawyer for Guantanamo detainees; and Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.