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Archive for May, 2003


Friday, May 30th, 2003

“The Iraqi military came within seconds of possibly wiping out the headquarters of the coalition ground forces with a missile on March 27,” CNN reports. “The missile was intercepted and destroyed by a U.S. Patriot missile shortly before it could have hit its target.“
The short range, relatively slow al-Samoud missile was launched toward Camp Doha in Kuwait from just north of Basra.

An analysis of the Iraqi missile’s trajectory by the U.S. Army’s air defense unit showed it would have landed on or near the building housing the Coalition Forces Land Component Command operations center and war room.
The missile was launched during the middle of the command’s morning battlefield update, a time when ground forces commander Lt. Gen. David McKiernan and other top officers were in the building.
A U.S. missile battery crew based across the street from Camp Doha fired two Patriot missile at the Iraqi al-Samoud. One intercepted it…
Just minutes after the Iraqi attack, the air defense command was able to plot the location of the Iraqi launch site and two A-10 Thunderbolts already in the Basra area destroyed the missile battery.


Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

You may have read about the Pentagon’s eerie LifeLog proposal here first. But now, the rest of the press is starting to take interest in the project, which aims to gather up everything in a person’s life, index it, and make it searchable.
Reuters has a story on LifeLog here. The Register and the Washington Post’s online edition chime in here and here.
But the most interesting analysis comes from Reason’s Charles Freund, who compares LifeLog to “the CIA’s Cold War fascination with the chimera of mind control.” He also questions the biographical impulse behind the project.
“The notion that peoples’ lives actually have had the narrative shape… is one of our more pleasant cultural delusions,” Freund writes.
THERE’S MORE: Ten days after my story on LifeLog, the New York Times is running the Reuters take on the system.


Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

You remember all those breathless accounts of American bleeding-edge technology being used in the air war above Iraq? Well, you can forget ‘em now.
Sure, the U.S. did use an unprecedented number of spy drones in Gulf War II. But “many of the weapons used were quite oldsome of them nearly antiqueand most of their missions were not in the least bit exotic,” Slate’s Fred Kaplan writes.
A recently-released Air Force report documents exactly what the service did in the war — the number and kind of bombs dropped, missions flown, and planes used.
Kaplan sifts through the report, and finds a number of surprises. Here’s one:

During the war, most analysts assumed the majority of bombs were smart bombs and the majority of smart bombs were the new, cheap Joint Defense Attack Munitions or JDAMs. The old smart bombs, the ones used in Desert Storm, were laser-guided. In other words, a crew member would shine a laser on the target; the bomb would follow the beam. However, the beam could be deflected by dust, smoke, rain, even humidity. And the laser-guided bombs were expensivearound $100,000 apiece. JDAMs are guided by Global Positioning Satellites. The pilot punches the target’s coordinates into the bomb’s GPS receiver andthe bomb homes in on the spot; environmental conditions aren’t a factor. And they’re cheapa JDAM kit can be strapped onto an old-fashioned “dumb bomb” for $18,000.
However, it turns out that of the 19,948 smart munitions fired during Gulf War II, 8,716two-fifthswere the ‘90s-era laser-guided bombs. Substantially fewer, 6,642, were JDAMs. The other 4,590 smart weapons were GPS-guided but much more expensive models than the JDAM.
More surprising, another 9,251 bombsor one-third of all the bombs dropped during this warwere unguided, unmodified dumb bombs. It would be good to know where these dumb bombsand the less-reliable laser-guided bombswere dropped: on the battlefield, in cities? In other words, was “collateral damage” a greater problem than our vision of a JDAM-dominating war suggested?


Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

Years to buy computer systems. Palm Pilots treated like handguns. Technology innovation discouraged. Analysts unwilling and unable to share what they know with their colleagues.
These are just some of the things Hoover Institution fellow Bruce Berkowitz found in his tenure as a “scholar-in-residence” at the CIA, examining how the Agency uses information technology. His conclusion: the spooks don’t use it all that well.
Check out his report here.
(via /.)


Tuesday, May 27th, 2003

“Two years of digging at the U.S. Army’s Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland has unearthed more than 2,000 tons of hazardous waste — including vials of live bacteria and nonvirulent anthrax that the military did not know was buried there,” the Washington Post reports.

Discovery of the pathogens at the former biological weapons research center turned what the Army thought would be industrial waste removal into the biggest cleanup in its history. So far, cleanup crews have discovered more than 100 glass vials, many containing live bacteria, and in a few, a nonvirulent strain of anthrax. The $25 million excavation is due to end this year.
While the Army searches for evidence of biological and chemical weapons in Iraq, Fort Detrick’s cleanup saga shows how, nearly 40 years after the United States ended such programs at home, it still struggles with their lingering dangers. As in the Middle East, poor documentation, the passage of time and the programs’ secrecy have slowed the effort.
“You find it, contain it and try to figure out what it is,” said Col. John Ball, Fort Detrick garrison commander. “We’re learning, but it’s expensive.”

(via Global Security Newswire)


Tuesday, May 27th, 2003

The National Reconaissance Office — the government agency in charge of all U.S. spy satellites — “is talking openly… about actively denying the use of space for intelligence purposes to any other nation at any time — not just adversaries, but even longtime allies,” EE Times reports.

At the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in early April, (NRO director Peter) Teets proposed that U.S. resources from military, civilian and commercial satellites be combined to provide ‘persistence in total situational awareness, for the benefit of this nation’s war fighters.’ If allies don’t like the new paradigm of space dominance, said Air Force secretary James Roche, they’ll just have to learn to accept it. The allies, he told the symposium, will have ‘no veto power.’

While empire-cheerleaders, like the fine folks at Winds of Change, are applauding the move, such a denial seems sure to piss off America’s dwindling handful of pals — again. And when fighting a global, decentralized enemy like Al Qaeda, don’t you need all the friends you can get?
THERE’S MORE: As if on cue, the European Space Agency has announced plans to move ahead with the 30-satellite Galileo system, which is widely seen as a rival to the U.S. military’s Global Positioning System (GPS) array. The plans call for Galileo to be operational by 2008.
As Slashdot notes, the U.S. opened up access to GPS three years ago “partly to make GPS more useful for all mankind, but also to dissuade other countries from developing their own navigational satellite system, and thus be dependant on the U.S. for both peaceful and military purposes.
“Since the demise of the Russian GLONASS system, GPS is the only game in town. Evidently recent events make Europe feel less comfortable about such things, and so they’re building their own.” (emphasis mine)


Sunday, May 25th, 2003

Thanks to their sleek, form-fitting battle suits, ordinary soldiers may someday turn into supermen.
Bullets won’t stop them; neither will chemical attacks. Their nanotech-made muscles might let them jump higher and kick more butt than their opponents. And if they do somehow get hurt, the suit could immediately start to heal them and report their injuries back to headquarters.
At least, that’s what a collection of industrial, academic and military bigwigs promised, as they gathered here this week for the official launch of MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.
The reality is that a new kind of waterproofing for their vests and ponchos is the only technological advance infantrymen are likely to see in the next few years from “ISN.“
The 125-person-plus Institute, started last year with a $50 million grant from the Army, got its official kickoff Thursday at MIT’s Technology Square. Under a pair of large white tents, and in the Institute’s new offices, a battalion of generals and vice presidents heralded the dawn of the ber-soldier with high-end videos, slick brochures and a buffet lunch.
Grunts paraded around in mock-ups of their new uniforms. And Army Specialist Jason Ashline, shot in the chest during the Afghan conflict, briefly mentioned how body armor saved his life.
But it was the nervous, smiling MIT graduate students and professors in the ISN labs upstairs who gave the most realistic assessments of what to expect from the Institute.
Yes, they’ve developed molecular structures that can swing open and shut like a hinge when hit with an electric field. And sure, someday, if they can figure out how to coordinate millions and millions of these hinges, they could maybe turn them into exo-muscles on a soldier’s battle suit that could “provide additional muscle strength for lifting or jumping.“
But right now, they can’t even get the hinges to line up, “even on a micron (1,000th of a millimeter) scale,” said graduate student Nathan Vandesteeg. It’s a long way from a micron to a muscle.
“We’re always confronted with the fact that the people we’re working for are coming up with these crazy ideas,” he continued. “It gets you excited. But then there’s the whole realization of whether this will happen when I’m here — or ever.“
Check out my Wired News article for more from the ISN.
MEDIA TECHNO-DROOL ALERT: Those critical thinkers at Reuters and USA Today have swallowed MIT’s super-soldier hype, no questions asked.

Reuters: “If you ask the U.S. Army’s chief scientist what the future American soldier may look like, he points to the science fiction body armor depicted in the ‘Predator’ movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.“
USA Today: “It was once the stuff of science fiction movies: soldiers equipped with high-tech gear that made them stronger, swifter and smarter invulnerable to bullets and able to survive the harshest conditions. On Thursday, the U.S. Army and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology unveiled a joint project that generals and scientists said could make fiction a reality within this decade.”

CNet, on the other hand, plays it straight — providing good background on nanotech — while the Register gets deliciously mean.


Friday, May 23rd, 2003

The Bush Administration is backtracking — hard — from their pre-war claims that Iraq had stockpiles of biological and chemical arms.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Iraq actually had any of the toxins in their possession, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John Bolton said today. What counts is that Iraq had the “intellectual capacity” to build these uncoventional weapons.
As Global Security Newswire notes, this directly contradicts statements made by the president during the build-up to war.
In his March 17 televised address, Bush said, “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” (emphasis mine)


Friday, May 23rd, 2003

Not all domestic surveillance and biometric technologies are created evil, says the Cato Institute’s Wayne Crews, in an e-mail to privacy advocates.
Here’s his framework for distinguishing between the mildly creepy surveillance efforts and the truly invasive:

1) BAD: Mandatory National ID cards encoded with biometric identifiers, or compulsory databases for data mining purposes.
2) NOT (NECESSARILY) BAD, but can be wholly abused and require extensive 4th amendment safeguards that do not yet exist: Gov’t run face cameras (and related technologies like iris scanners) that ride on top of a database of criminals or wanted individuals. These should **not** collect data on individuals other than those already in the database (presumably there thru appropriate 4th amendment procedures). Incidental data collected on random individuals cannot be retained. Problem is the guarantee. This is where I think the real future fight lies, and the most risk for sensible evolution of these technologies.
3) GOOD: Countless private uses of biometrics that offer the opportunity for extraordinary security by preventing others from posing as us. This is where the market can shine. However, these must not be allowed access to data gleaned by gov’t coercion, or they move into category 1 or 2 and give the entire industry (biometric or data mining) a black eye, and make it impossible to defend the industry from regulation. Let’s keep it self-regulated.
Nutshell: (1) avoid mandatory databases (2) ensure 4th amendment protections even for public surveillance, and (3) avoid mixing public and private databases.

Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear it.


Friday, May 23rd, 2003

Women worried about their safety have a new alternative to mace or pepper spray: a jacket that fries would-be attackers with an 80,000 volts of electricity.
“Dubbed ‘exo-electric armor,’ the No-Contact Jacket looks like an ordinary fashionable women’s coat,” Wired News reports. “But an inner layer of conductive fiber carries a low-amp charge that delivers a nasty but non-lethal shock to anyone who messes with its wearer.“

“It’s kind of like sticking your finger in a wall socket,” said Adam Whiton, one of its designers. “It hurts. If someone tries to grab you from behind, they get the full, hefty shock out of it. That’s really painful.“
The jacket is made from Aracon, a conductive fiber developed by DuPont, which is sandwiched between an inner rubber lining which protects the wearer from shocks and an outer layer of waterproof nylon.
Powered by a regular 9-volt battery, which builds a high-voltage but low-amp charge through a series of step-up circuits, the jacket uses technology similar to the circuitry in stun guns and bark-deterring dog collars. While the charge is enough to deliver a jolt, it won’t kill anyone, Whiton said.