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Archive for August, 2003


Thursday, August 28th, 2003

The National Reconaissance Office — the government agency in charge of all U.S. spy satellites — is a mess, Aviation Week reports.
Morale is in the toilet, with too many people asking the snoops to do too many things with too little money.
To make matters worse, the agency hasn’t put any large spy satellites into orbit in five years, according to the magazine. (Although there have been other big launches, notes a Defense Tech pal in military intelligence.)
The latest launch, scheduled for last week after 18 months of delays, has been put off again. The earliest the satellite — likely a 100 foot-plus “folded eavesdropping antenna,” the magazine says — will be launched is September 6. But the Air Force notes that date could easily slip.
NRO director Peter Teets fried circuits earlier this year when he suggested that the U.S. should actively deny the use of space for intelligence purposes to any other nation at any time — not just adversaries, but even longtime allies.


Thursday, August 28th, 2003

The hunt for Saddam’s WMD is going so badly that U.S. officials are starting to wonder whether they’ve been tricked by Iraqi double-agents, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Former Iraqi operatives have confirmed since the war that Hussein’s regime sent “double agents” disguised as defectors to the West to plant fabricated intelligence. In other cases, Baghdad apparently tricked legitimate defectors into funneling phony tips about weapons production and storage sites.
“They were shown bits of information and led to believe there was an active weapons program, only to be turned loose to make their way to Western intelligence sources,” said the senior intelligence official. “Then, because they believe it, they pass polygraph tests … and the planted information becomes true to the West, even if it was all made up to deceive us…“
One U.S. intelligence official said analysts may have been too eager to find evidence to support the White House’s claims. As a result, he said, defectors “were just telling us what we wanted to hear.“
Hussein’s motives for such a deliberate disinformation scheme may have been to bluff his enemies abroad, from Washington to Tehran, by sending false signals of his military might. Experts also say the dictator’s defiance of the West, and its fear of his purported weapons of mass destruction, boosted his prestige at home and was a critical part of his power base in the Arab world…
The current focus on Iraqi defectors reflects a new skepticism within the Iraq Survey Group, the 1,400-member team responsible for finding any illicit arms. In interviews, several current and former members expressed growing disappointment over the inconclusive results of the search so far.
“We were prisoners of our own beliefs,” said a senior U.S. weapons expert who recently returned from a stint with the survey group. “We said Saddam Hussein was a master of denial and deception. Then when we couldn’t find anything, we said that proved it, instead of questioning our own assumptions.”


Thursday, August 28th, 2003

Could law enforcers one day forecast crime like the weather? Wired magazine says yes. Of course, they say yes — in bright orange 72-point type — to everything techno, so who knows…


Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

Pentagon spending on “black,” or classified, projects has almost doubled since the mid-90’s, the Washington Post says. Relying on this think tank report, the paper notes that such outlays are now at their highest levels — $23.2 billion — since 1988.
“But unlike the 1980s, when it was widely known that the ‘black’ budget was going to the development of stealth aircraft such as the B-2 bomber and F-117 fighter, the uses of the classified accounts today are far murkier,” according to the Post.
“This is an administration that likes to play I’ve got a secret,” Globalsecurity.org’s John Pike tells the paper. “The growth of the classified budget appears to be part of a larger pattern of this administration being secretive.“
THERE’S MORE: “A large part of the increase in the DoD black budget is due to the surge in intelligence spending,” Steven Aftergood, who heads the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, tells Defense Tech.
“There has been a significant thrust towards ‘recapitalization’ of intelligence, including new initiatives in overhead reconnaissance (spy satellites), NSA modernization, etc.”


Tuesday, August 26th, 2003

“U.N. inspectors have found traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium at an Iranian nuclear facility,” the Associated Press is reporting. “The find heightened concerns that Tehran may be running a secret nuclear weapons program.“
Sure does.
THERE’S MORE: “Now it appears that Iran’s rapid progress toward a nuclear weapons capacity came thanks to substantial assistance from Pakistan,” says Josh Marshall, citing this report. “Add that to the fact that we now know that North Korea’s progress along the uranium-enrichment track (as opposed to plutonium) was similarly the product of key assistance from Pakistan. If we’re looking for the unstable Islamist-leaning state which has nuclear weapons and is the chief proliferator of nuclear technology to other unstable rogue regimes, we’ve found it: Pakistan.”


Tuesday, August 26th, 2003

G.I.s in Iraq have a new weapon of choice: Iraqi AK-47s.

“The soldiers (of the 4th Infantry Dvision) based around Baqouba (Iraq) are from an armor battalion, which means they have tanks, Humvees and armored personnel carriers. But they are short on rifles,” the Associated Press reports.
A four-man tank crew is issued two M4 assault rifles and four 9mm pistols, relying mostly on the tank’s firepower for protection.
But now they are engaged in guerrilla warfare, patrolling narrow roads and goat trails where tanks are less effective. Troops often find themselves dismounting to patrol in smaller vehicles, making rifles essential.
“We just do not have enough rifles to equip all of our soldiers. So in certain circumstances we allow soldiers to have an AK-47. They have to demonstrate some proficiency with the weapon … demonstrate an ability to use it,” said Lt. Col. Mark Young, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.

It’s great that our soldiers have been able to adapt themselves to the situaiton they’ve found themselves in. But there couldn’t be a clearer example of how poorly their Pentagon bosses prepared for the Iraqi afterwar.
THERE’S MORE: “I don’t think it’s fair to call the use of the AK by dismounted mechanized forces in Iraq poor planning by the Pentagon. Armor crews have always been under-gunned in the US military,” writes Defense Tech pal Wyatt Earp. “The Army needs to do what the Marines do, which is give everyone an M-16 (rifle) as well as supply more M-203s (grenade lanuchers) to the units and start handing out MP-5s (submachine guns) and more Combat Shotguns.“
AND MORE: “The surprising — shocking? — part of this article is that highly trained tankers are being dismounted to patrol on foot and in humvees. What better testimony to the US Army’s need for constabulary-type units, maybe modeled on the US Constabulary formed in 1946 to police the occupation of Germany,” replies one member of the JO Forum.
AND MORE: “It’s not just the rifles,” Phil Carter adds. “Let’s think of all the things that a regular civilian police force would have — hand-held radios, shotguns, flexcuffs, handcuffs, batons, shields, etc. Then let’s compare that to what an armor battalion has — less than one M16 per soldier. These units are having to buy tons and tons of equipment to become more like cops.“
AND MORE: Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the Army has just announced that it’s speeding up the development of a potential replacement of its assault weapons.


Tuesday, August 26th, 2003

“The Army’s new state-of-the art infantry vehicle slated to make its combat debut in Iraq in October is vulnerable to the kind of rocket-propelled grenades now being used by Saddam Hussein’s guerrillas, a consultant’s report charges,” according to the Washington Times.

The Army, which rebuts the report’s findings, plans to send 300 Stryker armored vehicles and 3,600 soldiers to Iraq. This first Stryker brigade will help put down the resistance that has killed more 60 American troopers since May 1. It will also be a preview of a lighter, more mobile Army for the 21st century.
But a report prepared for Rep. James H. Saxton, New Jersey Republican, says the vehicle is ill-suited for such warfare.
“Poorly armored and entirely vulnerable to RPGs,” states the report, prepared July 18 by consultant Victor O’Reilly.

Stryker has had a long history of controversy — even before its first deployment. During the Millennium Challenge 2002 war game, for example, soldiers complained that the Stryker was susceptible to flat tires, couldn’t hit targets on the run, and would get unbearably hot inside — 120 degrees and higher.


Tuesday, August 26th, 2003

The struggle over Orwellian homeland security measures is highlighted in two fascinating Wired News articles today:

* “More and more people are becoming suspicious of radio-frequency identification tags — tiny transmitters that track the whereabouts of products with stunning accuracy. So the food industry is adding biosensors to the tags in a bid to present them as terrorism-fighting tools.“
* An unusually diverse colation of Washington power players — including the NAACP, the ACLU, and the ultra-conservative Americans for Tax Reform — is working together to stop CAPPS II, the Transportation Security Administration’s controversial airline passenger screening system.


Monday, August 25th, 2003

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used around the world to fertilize crops, monitor weather, and patrol borders. But here in the U.S., the drones haven’t gotten much of a workout in civilian life. The problem hasn’t been the technology. It’s been the regulations.
The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t want unmanned planes crashing into piloted ones. And so the agency have been extremely cautious about giving drone operators licenses to fly. For example, NASA recently wanted to test out a UAV for monitoring forest fires. But the FAA wouldn’t allow the flight to go forward.
That’s why it is particularly significant that the FAA last week gave the U.S. Air Force permission to routinely fly Global Hawk surveillance drones in civilian airspace. It’s the first COA (“Certificate of Authorization”) given to an unmanned system.
“Previously the USAF was required to file a detailed flight plan with the FAA at least 30 days in advance,” New Scientist reports. “Now the majority of the red tape has been cut making it possible for an unarmed Global Hawk to ‘file-and-fly’ even on the same day. The first use of the new COA will be a flight to Germany in October.“
(via Robots​.net)


Saturday, August 23rd, 2003

They came flush with cash, packed with cutting-edge equipment, and were led by the field’s best-known figure — the man who discovered the Titanic.
But a high-profile exploration of ancient shipwrecks has ended suddenly, with one of its central goals abandoned.
Excitement ran high when Robert Ballard — the legendary underwater explorer who found the Titanic, the German battleship Bismarck and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 — announced his summer mission off the shores of Turkey and Egypt.
It wasn’t just that Ballard and his crew were going to explore some of the oldest shipwrecks ever found during this $7 million mission. They were going to do it with the first robot ever designed for deep-sea archeology and with watch commanders directing parts of the expedition from thousands of away.
“In 1981, I sketched out a vision of the future of undersea exploration,” Ballard said before the expedition began in August. “And it’s exactly what we’re going to do in a week.“
But international politics have a way of overwhelming ambitious goals and sophisticated technologies. After scrambling to straighten out visa problems in Turkey, which kept his crew stuck on a dock for two days, Ballard ran into a roadblock from the government of Egypt.
Although the researchers say several of their most important aims were met, including successful tests of their mechanical archeologist, named Hercules, the entire Egyptian portion of the expedition had to be scrapped.
My story in today’s Chicago Tribune explores how this ambitious adventure to the depths went awry.