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Archive for April, 2003

DEFENSE TECH ON AIR

Wednesday, April 30th, 2003

For the first time in its 60-year history, the University of California’s $2.2 billion contract with the government to run Los Alamos National Laboratory will be put up for competitive bid.
Tomorrow’s Wired News will have my take on this development. But before then, you can hear me blab about Los Alamos on Los Angeles’ KNX radio tonight. Thursday morning, I’ll be a guest on Future Tense, a National Public Radio/Public Radio International show.
For past Defense Tech coverage of the series of scandals at the world’s most important nuclear lab, click here.

COPS STILL DON’T HAVE GOOD TERROR “WATCH LISTS”

Wednesday, April 30th, 2003

The 9/11 hijackers were allowed to get into the country, and get on planes, because various federal agencies didn’t share their watch lists — their registers of terrorist suspects.
But 20 months after the 9/11 attacks, ABC News reports, “the U.S. government still lacks a consolidated terrorism watch list that is easily accessible to all law enforcement.

Nine different federal agencies run at least 12 different watch lists, and frustrated local police fear the same sort of information breakdown could happen again.
“I truly believe that we are not getting the information that’s needed to protect our community members,” said Michael Chitwood, the police chief in Portland, Maine, one of the nation’s busiest seaports and the place where Mohamed Atta and another 9/11 hijacker boarded a plane to attack the World Trade Center.
“It’s outrageous. It does not make any sense.”

U.S. TROOPS FIRE ON IRAQI PROTESTERS — IS THIS THE ONLY WAY?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2003

U.S. troops have once again fired on protesters in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, the Associated Press reports. In less than 48 hours, at least 15 Iraqi civilians have been killed.
Is this the only way to do crowd control? A recent Tech Central Station article of mine looks at high-tech police aids that might help save lives.

PORN SAVES FILE-SHARING NETS

Wednesday, April 30th, 2003

It has nothing to do with military technology. But my latest Wired News article does deal with two of the day’s most weighty issues: online music and porn.

By most accounts, Apple’s new iTunes music download service is pretty cool — the first legitimate alternative to the song swapping on Kazaa, Morpheus and other file-trading services.
But Apple’s move won’t slow down the manic expansion of these trading networks. Why not?
Here’s a one-word answer: porn.
Kazaa and company are increasingly trafficking in dirty video clips. And until Apple starts offering up Christy Canyon downloads, the swapping services can sleep easy.

E.P.A. CONCENTRATING ON TERROR

Tuesday, April 29th, 2003

You’d think that the Environmental Protection Agency’s investigators would concentrate on crimes against Mother Nature. But you’d be wrong.
Since 9/11, the 220 sleuths in the Agency’s criminal division have focused on counter-terror efforts, the New York Times reports, and shied away from environmental inquiries.
“They have dropped the ‘E’ in the E.P.A. and have become just a protection agency,” one government watchdog told the paper.
According to the Times, “annual criminal referrals made by the environmental agency to the Justice Department had dropped about 30 percent, from 481 in 2000 to 341 in 2002.”

THOUSANDS OF LOS ALAMOS COMPUTERS M.I.A.

Tuesday, April 29th, 2003

Los Alamos National Laboratory hasn’t kept track of thousands of its computers — including ones containing classified information. The lab’s own guards stole four of the machines. And employees didn’t have to pay the government back when their laptops suddenly went missing.
Those are just a few of the conclusions of a disturbing report from the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, who has been examining how the world’s best-known nuclear lab handles its inventory of laptop and desktop PCs. The University of California operates Los Alamos on the Energy Department’s behalf.
As Defense Tech readers know, Los Alamos has been involved for months in a series of scandals involving nod-off management and droopy-eyed security. This latest report offers more evidence for just how narcoleptic lab officials have been.
Many laptop computers that couldn’t be found were simply “written-off,” without a formal inquiry. One was used for classified work, without proper approval. And 762 computers bought with government credit cards didn’t receive “property numbers,” which are required to track all “sensitive items” at the lab.
To Project on Government Oversight’s Peter Stockton, a longtime lab critic, this report gives further evidence that “these characters running the lab are out of control.“
Stockton’s watchdog group today sent a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, asking him to put the $2 billion-per-year Los Alamos up for bid now, instead of waiting until 2005, when the agreement runs out.
On Thursday, the House Energy Committee will hold the last of three hearings into the lab’s management. Witnesses will include Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman and University of California president Richard Atkinson.

ANTHRAX SUSPECTED IN EGYPTIAN SAILOR’S DEATH

Tuesday, April 29th, 2003

An Egyptian sailor has died in northern Brazil — and anthrax is suspected in his death.
Details are sketchy in this case. But according to wire reports, the man, Ibrahim Saved Soliman Ibrahim, had traveled from Cairo to the Amazon state of Para about two and a half weeks ago. There he was to meet a ship, destined for a smelter on the Saguenay River in Quebec. But before he could get on board, Ibrahim died in his hotel room, after vomiting, internal bleeding and multiple organ failure.
A spokesman for Brazilian police said that anthrax was responsible for the death. Ibrahim was given a suitcase in Cairo by an unidentified person and was due to deliver it to somebody in Canada, according to the spokesman. But he fell ill after opening the case.
Canadian authorities now have the ship in quarantine, 1,000 meters off the Nova Scotian port of Halifax. But they’re not convinced that anthrax is to blame for the sailor’s death.
“I can assure you we’ve discovered no threat to Canada, criminally or terrorism-wise,” a Canadian inspector in Halifax told Canada Press. “Right now it’s just a story.“
Health Canada officials are expecting definitive test results on samples taken from the ship “early this week.“
For background information on anthrax, click here.
THERE’S MORE: Now Brazilian health officials are saying that whatever killed the sailor, “it is not anthrax.”

SUPERFAST MISSILE FOR FUTURE SADDAMS

Monday, April 28th, 2003

If the reports are right, two U.S. strikes during Gulf War II missed Saddam by minutes.
So it’s no wonder that AFP is reporting a new Pentagon push for a faster version of the Tomahawk missile — one that can go as much as 12 times the speed of sound.
The Defense Department is asking for an extra $150 million in research funds for this so-called “Fasthawk.“
Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Michael Wynne told a Senate subcommittee recently that “we believe that demonstrations of Mach 12 by 2012 are within reach.”

MORE CONFUSION OVER IRAQ CHEMICALS

Monday, April 28th, 2003

It’s happening again. A chemical cache first touted as possible “smoking gun” evidence for Saddam’s WMD programs is now being called into question.
“Initial tests indicated the presence of the deadly nerve agent cyclosarin and an unspecified blister agent in a stash of 55-gallon drums, about 130 miles north of Baghdad,” says CNN.
But a later test on the material turned out negative. Now, the chemicals are being flown back to the U.S. for definitive exams.
Why the conflicting answers? A recent Tech Central Station story of mine has the answers.

NIXING NUKES IN NAM: A LOOK BACK

Monday, April 28th, 2003

The Bush Administration is beginning to build a new arsenal of “tactical” nuclear weapons — small Bombs, used in discreet areas, like underground biochem labs. So it’s helpful to look at another time when such weapons were also being considered. This month’s Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has such a view.

As the Vietnam War escalated in spring 1966, a high-ranking Pentagon official with access to President Lyndon Johnson was heard by scientist Freeman Dyson to say, “It might be a good idea to toss in a nuke from time to time, just to keep the other side guessing.”


So Dyson and a handful of other scientists conducted a study to see just how effective tactical nukes would be. Their conclusion:

It would take 3,000 tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) per year to interdict supply routes like the Ho Chi Minh trail. More problematically, U.S. forces might become vulnerable to a Soviet-orchestrated counterattack; and the first use of tactical nuclear weapons against guerrillas might set a precedent that would lead to use of similar weapons by guerrillas against U.S. targets.


Read the rest of the story here. (There’s also a funny wrap-up of reactions to my February excursion to Los Alamos. I’ll link to the article once it comes on-line.)
THERE’S MORE: One Defense Tech reader isn’t buying the study. “If there was one thing the Johnson Administration was good at, it was throwing out wild numbers to justify a point of view,” he writes. “Dyson’s numbers are inflated.”