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Archive for June, 2003

“WHOOPS! I BOUGHT A MUSTANG!”

Friday, June 27th, 2003

The many-faceted drama at the troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory has produced some strange moments. But this has to be the weirdest of them all:

Los Alamos equipment buyer Lillian Anaya thought she was ordering $30,000 worth of transducers. But she dialed a number that had been changed from an industrial equipment dealer to an auto parts shop, and wound up buying a Mustang with government money instead.
That’s the assertion of Los Alamos and University of California investigators, who today cleared Anaya of any wrongdoing in a case that helped engulf the world’s most important nuclear research center in a fog of scandal.
It’s a move, lab critics said, that shows that the birthplace of the atomic bomb still hasn’t come to terms with the problems of mismanagement and widespread fraud that have plagued it for years.


My Wired News story has more on this surreal moment.

MERCENARIES: MAKE US CONGO’S PEACEKEEPERS

Thursday, June 26th, 2003

A consortium of mercenary groups has made the UN a deceptively simple proposal: give us $200 million, and we’ll help bring an end to the war in the Congo.
Is the offer a symbol of how bad things have gotten there? Sure. But could it be, in the words of one observer, the only solution “that might be successful?“
Check out my Tech Central Station article for answers.

DEFENSE TECH ON THE BEEB

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003

I’ll be on BBC TV tonite, around 9 pm EDT, to talk nuclear security.

PENTAGON BUILDING SNITCH DATABASE

Wednesday, June 25th, 2003

When Attorney General John Ashcroft proposed last year that a civilian army be recruited to snoop on their neighbors, privacy advocates and Congressional leaders gagged.
Now, it seems, Ashcroft’s Operation TIPS is back — and now, it’s being run by the Pentagon.
Brian McWilliams writes in Wired News:

To track domestic terrorist threats against the military, the Pentagon is creating a new database that will contain “raw, non-validated” reports of “anomalous activities” within the United States.
According to a Department of Defense memorandum, the system, known as Talon, will provide a mechanism to collect and rapidly share reports “by concerned citizens and military members regarding suspicious incidents.“
Talon was described in a May 2 memorandum to top Pentagon brass from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. In the memo, Wolfowitz directed the heads of military departments and agencies to begin producing Talon reports immediately.

SANDIA NATIONAL SECURITY CHIEF SACKED

Tuesday, June 24th, 2003

Three months ago, we found out that investigators were told to “fake their investigation” into security lapses at Sandia National Laboratories, one of the world’s most important weapons research facilities. Today, only after very public complaints from the Senate, has the Lab finally started to clean house.
Dave Nokes, vice president for national security, has been forced to resign. And Patricia Gingrich, who has been director of the Systems Assessment and Research Center, has been reassigned.
“Labs management,” according to a Sandia statement, “is continuing to review…what additional personnel actions and policy changes may be appropriate” in light of the recent scandal.

SENATORS SNOOKERED ON MISSILE DEFENSE

Tuesday, June 24th, 2003

Two Democratic Senators thought they had a deal: they’d vote for the Bush Administration’s missile defense program, and the Pentagon wouldn’t deploy new anti-missile systems until they were properly tested.
Now, it seems, the Senators, Michigan’s Carl Levin on Michigan and Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, were snookered.
Global Security Newswire reports:

(Levin and Reed) said they were assured by administration officials the system would be declared “fielded” and not “deployed” until the missile interceptors are proven to work under realistic conditions through operational testing.
Days after gaining key House and Senate committee approval for the initiative, however, the White House on May 20 issued a policy statement declaring its intention to “deploy” the systems by the deadline. In addition, a recently leaked copy of the Dec. 16, 2002 order, “National Security Presidential Directive 23,” showed that Bush had directed the Pentagon to “deploy” the systems all along…
Its clear to me that theyre trying to slip something past the Congress and the American people, said Joseph Cirincione, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
There is certainly some deception going on, said Lisbeth Gronlund, a missile defense analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.


Last week, a key element of the anti-missile program, the ship-mounted Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system, failed a test near Hawaii.

DARPA’S LITTLE COUSIN GETS ITS PROPS

Tuesday, June 24th, 2003

“The Technical Support Working Group has been toiling against terror for years, but its technologically advanced work has been overshadowed by DARPA,” Wired News says. “Now TSWG is stepping into the limelight.“

TSWG has historically focused on short-term projects that create usable prototypes to solve real-world problems. The group’s 2002 annual report points to the group’s success in creating a better flat-panel X-ray machine to help bomb squads and a counterterrorism kit to help educate law enforcement and emergency workers how to recognize, by sight and smell, chemical, biological and radiological materials.
Chemical– and biological-weapon escape masks developed by TSWG have been ordered in the thousands by the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, according to Jeff David, deputy director of the Combating Terrorism Technology Support Office, which oversees TSWG.
Other current projects include a luggage irradiation machine that would destroy undetected biological and chemical weapons, better bomb disposal robots, bullet-detecting radar to prevent assassinations, a project to extract DNA from fingerprints, a cooling system for body armor and a mass transit surveillance camera system.

PILOTS BEGIN LASER TRAINING

Monday, June 23rd, 2003

Pilots at New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base don’t have planes equipped with ray guns — yet. But they’ll soon have a new, F-16 simulator, to help them practice for the day that they do.
“The F-16 model is a smaller version of the airborne laser weapon already under development for use on a Boeing 747 for shooting down missiles,” says the Albuquerque Tribune. “It could be ready for use in 2012, but before that happens, pilots will test the system in the simulator to see how useful it is and suggest ways it could be improved to help them in combat.”

SENATOR: SANDIA SNUBS SECURITY SLIPS

Monday, June 23rd, 2003

In March, Energy Department officials promised to follow up on allegations of lax security at Sandia National Laboratories, one of the country’s most important military research centers. Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley says the Department has welched on that promise.
The New York Times reports:

The two investigators who raised questions about security at Sandia, Pat O’Neill and Mark Ludwig, say they were transferred from an office building to a rodent-infested trailer, reassigned to noninvestigative work, and had their annual raises reduced, Mr. Grassley said.
The laboratory commissioned a former United States attorney, Norman Bay, to investigate problems. Mr. Grassley quoted from a summary of that report, which he received from the Energy Department. (He said he had obtained the whole report with difficulty but agreed to keep it secret.)
The letter from Mr. Grassley said the report covered investigations of 5 of 100 security problems identified by Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Ludwig.


(emphasis mine)

CHEMICAL AGENTS AT BALTIC’S BOTTOM

Friday, June 20th, 2003

“American teams may be struggling to find chemical weapons and other poisonous materials in Iraq,” the New York Times reports, “but tens of thousands of bombs and barrels filled with blistering agents and nerve gas lie scattered in the Baltic Sea and the eastern Atlantic.“

American, British and Soviet military dumped them there after World War II. Entire ships full of weapons, most of them captured from Nazi Germany, were scuttled for disposal and forgotten. Now they have come back to haunt the environment.
Over time, scientists say, the weapon casings have corroded in the seawater and become brittle, allowing poisons like arsenic, lewisite, mustard gas and sarin to leach out. Scientists from the Baltic countries and Russia have found lethal material mixed in with sediments, and highly toxic sulfur mustard gas, transformed into brown-yellow clumps of gel, has washed ashore.
The problem is compounded by fishermen who have gone into risky areas to chase depleted fish stocks, using increasingly aggressive methods, including bottom tackle that snag the bombs. They routinely find mustard gas clumps among their catch and haul up whole or damaged chemical bombs in their nets.