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Report: Insurgents years ago obtained U.S. systems used to stop IEDs

GE031910iedINng The Army detonates an IED in Afghanistan, the leading cause of death and injury for U.S. soldiers.Sgt. Joshua LaPere/Army

Insurgents in Afghanistan obtained more than two years ago several U.S. systems the military uses to jam signals that detonate improvised explosive devices, and they might have passed them on to Iran to research how the technology can be foiled, according to a Secret Army document posted on Monday by WikiLeaks.org.

The systems, called Warlocks, scramble signals such as those sent from cell phones that insurgents use to detonate remote roadside bombs, which have been the leading cause of death and injuries for American soldiers in Iraq. The Defense Department has released few details on the Warlock systems, but jammers, in general, emit powerful radio signals to knock out other signals that, in the case of IEDs, are used to set off deadly bombs.

"Intelligence indicates that insurgents in Afghanistan have recovered several Warlock systems," said a private report the Army Counterintelligence Center published on March 18, 2008. "It is possible that Warlock systems captured in Afghanistan were sent to Iran for reverse engineering and for use in developing countermeasures to Warlock."

The center wrote the report to discuss the threat to the military that WikiLeaks.org presents when it publishes sensitive documents obtained from government agencies and corporations. Founders of the small Web site say they serve a whistleblower role to root out contracting fraud and unethical behavior. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that WikiLeaks posted the document on its site.

In its report, Army intelligence discusses WikiLeaks' account of the acquisition of the Warlock systems to illustrate how the Web site "incorrectly interprets the leaked data regarding the components and fielding of the Warlock system, resulting in unsupportable and faulty conclusions to allege war profiteering, price gouging and increased revenues by DoD contractors involved in counter-IED development efforts."

But in the report, the Army cites another counterintelligence report it wrote that found the service had lost a number of Warlock systems, which were sent to Iran to determine how they worked. That report was not included in the WikiLeaks article. The Army pointed out that if terrorists, insurgents or the Iranian government successfully developed countermeasures for the jamming systems, "U.S. and coalition forces would be at greater risk of [radio-controlled IED] attacks, especially those units equipped with Warlock systems similar to those that had been exploited.

"It is also possible that any countermeasures developed to defeat the Warlock system would be provided to the Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) and other anti-U.S. insurgent or terrorist groups operating in Iraq and Afghanistan," the report added.

Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, confirmed the authenticity of the online document, but said the Joint Improved Explosive Device Defeat Organization would have to answer questions about whether insurgents in Afghanistan had captured Warlock jammers and if they had been sent to Iran for reverse engineering. A JIEDDO spokesman had not responded to calls for comment before this article was posted.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said because the report is two years old, the Army could have developed new technology to alter the jamming systems, negating any changes insurgents had incorporated to circumvent the Warlocks. "Nothing ever stands still. The Army is always upgrading, creating newer measures to deal with new threats," he said. "It's a perennial cycle."

Aftergood added that posting information about the Warlocks could have put soldiers in danger. "If disclosing information simplifies the task of those seeking to disable the systems, then there is a problem," he said. "I think the concern expressed by the Army is a plausible one. . . . Some types of records are really sensitive. I wouldn't want to be the publisher of information that got people killed."

EDO Corp., a division of ITT Corp., developed the Warlock jammers and the Army spent $469 million to acquire them in fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010. The service plans to spend another $711 million on the systems between fiscal 2011-2015.

Nextgov Executive Editor Allan Holmes contributed to this article.

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