Wired‘s Danger Room’s Noah Shachtman drew last week world-wide attention to an airbase under construction in the Arabian desert Rub’ Al Khali near the border to Yemen. He speculated that this might have been the American drone base from which American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, as well as Samir Khan had been assassinated in September and October 2011. Prior to that, the Washington Post had prepared its readers,
“The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year (emphasis added),”
which is the real scandal. Wired had become quite infamous in the Bradley Manning case when one of its
reporters computer hackers who had been contacted by email by Manning in May 2010 had betrayed him to the FBI a couple of days later who had then been arrested immediately. So, the two ex-officers who talked to Shachtman should be on alert. Whistle-blowing is heavily prosecuted under Obama’s administration. Shachtman writes,
“But a pair of former American intelligence officers tell Danger Room that they are reasonably sure that this is the base revealed by the media earlier this week.
‘I believe it’s the facility that the U.S. uses to fly drones into Yemen,’ one officer says. ‘It’s out in eastern Saudi Arabia, near Yemen and where the bad guys are supposed to hang out. It has those clamshell hangars, which we’ve seen before associated with U.S. drones.’
The former officer was also impressed by the base’s remote location. ‘It’s way, way out in the Rub al Khali, otherwise known as Hell, and must have been built, at least initially, with stuff flown into Sharorah and then trucked more than 400 kilometers up the existing highway and newly-built road,’ the ex-officer adds in an e-mail. ‘It’s a really major logistics feat. The way it fits inconspicuously into the terrain is also admirable.'”
Well, not really. The region seems to be replete with air bases, as cryptome.org knows. Besides Um Al Melh (the one revealed by Shachtman), another one just 8 km south to the border to Yemen, apparently Oyba Al Badie according to Cryptome, can easily be identified in Google Earth.
As Cryptome writes,
“Comparison of several Saudi Arabia and Yemen border guard airports with the base identified by Wired as a possible CIA drone base shows that the Wired base is markedly more complex with dual runways — the main one longer — with hangars and extensive support structures lacking in the existing simpler bases.
This suggests that the Saudis may have named the Wired base as a border guard base to camouflage Saudi participation in the drone program with drone launch capabilities inserted into border guard functions.
However, with the US-assisted global spread of drone use, the Saudis may well have added drone capabilities to its border defense in response to the rise in Al Qaeda threats from Yemen.”
The site displays satellite images of numerous air bases in the (Saudi) Arabian desert (most having been taken around 2007, long before the reported (by Wired) late 2010/early 2011 start of construction of the CIA drone base). But drone launch platforms do not need airports.
“Drone launch platforms are likely to increase at airports, air strips, highways, roads, fields, dry lake beds, prairies, flat mountain tops, ice fields, from whereever aircraft have traditionally gone aloft. As drones decrease and increase in size it should be expected that launch sites will proliferate in benign dual-use locations to cloak their operation.”
12 February 2013 @ 8:33 am.
Last modified February 12, 2013.