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Archive for September, 2003


Tuesday, September 30th, 2003

Fire up the warp drive. Wesley Clark is convinced people will one day be able to travel faster than light — a feat Einstein and others have deemed impossible.
“During a whirlwind campaign swing Saturday through New Hampshire, Clark, the newest Democratic presidential candidate… dropped something of a bombshell,” reports Brian McWilliams for Wired News.

“I still believe in e=mc, but I can’t believe that in all of human history, we’ll never ever be able to go beyond the speed of light to reach where we want to go,” said Clark. “I happen to believe that mankind can do it.“
“I’ve argued with physicists about it, I’ve argued with best friends about it. I just have to believe it. It’s my only faith-based initiative.” Clark’s comment prompted laughter and applause from the gathering.
Gary Melnick, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said Clark’s faith in the possibility of time travel was “probably based more on his imagination than on physics.“
While Clark’s belief may stem from his knowledge of sophisticated military projects, there’s no evidence to suggest that humans can exceed the speed of light, said Melnick. In fact, considerable evidence posits that time travel is impossible, he said.
“Even if Clark becomes president, I doubt it would be within his powers to repeal the powers of physics,” said Melnick.

THERE’S MORE: Glenn Reynolds, who used to chair the National Space Society, says the General’s faster-than-light dreams might not be so off-base.


Tuesday, September 30th, 2003

“Thousands of U.S. troops invaded Iraq in March without the new body armor that can stop rifle bullets, and thousands more still lack the lifesaving protection,” according to the Daily News.

“I can’t answer for the record why we started this war with protective vests that were in short supply,” Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, told Congress last week.
Abizaid asked for quick approval of President Bush’s request for $87 billion in new funding for Iraq and Afghanistan, which would include $300 million for body armor and $177 million to upgrade Humvees with chassis armor.


Monday, September 29th, 2003

“The CIA is set to spend several million dollars to develop a video game aimed at helping its analysts think like terrorists,” reports the Washington Times.
“The agency’s Counter Terrorist Center, or CTC, is working with the Los Angeles-based Institute for Creative Technologies on a project designed to help its analysts, ‘think outside the box,’” a CIA spokesman tells the paper.
In the not-too-distant past, the Insitute has helped the Army build video games that supposedly help “develop leaders that can deal with complex problems, ones that involve emotional issues, political issues and social issues.“
“Among those leadership tasks: getting a team to clear a house, protect aid workers, or hold off a mob from a U.S. embassy.“
Guess they didn’t get that one ready in time for Iraq.
Check this Wired News story from 2001 for more.


Monday, September 29th, 2003

Ten days ago, the FBI called Defense Tech, looking for information about Adrian Lamo, the so-called “Homeless Hacker.” Get ready to turn over your notes about Lamo, an agent warned.
Now, SecurityFocus.com’s Mark Rasch is shedding new light on the FBI’s move:

The demand that journalists preserve their notes is being made under laws that require ISP’s and other “providers of electronic communications services” to preserve, for example, e-mails stored on their service, pending a subpoena, under a statute modified by the USA-PATRIOT Act.
The purpose of that law was to prevent the inadvertent destruction of ephemeral electronic records pending a subpoena. For example, you could tell an ISP that you were investigating a hacking case, and that they should preserve the audit logs while you ran to the local magistrate for a subpoena.
It was never intended to apply to journalist’s records.
Similarly, the letters go on to inform the reporters that the FBI intends to get an order for production of records under the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act, a statute that applies only to ISPs. Citing that law, they insist that the journalist is mandated to preserve records for at least the next three months and possibly longer. This demand is all the more egregious in that it comes more than a year after the articles and interviews first appeared — after any actual Internet logs would have been routinely deleted.

THERE’S MORE: The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is now weighing in on the FBI’s calls.


Monday, September 29th, 2003

In recent years, the priests of the Pentagon have developed a new orthodoxy: network-centric warfare. That’s the notion that every infantryman, every pilot, every drone and every general will share everything they see and hear over an Internet for combat. It’s become the unquestionable centerpiece of the U.S. military’s vision for its future.
On the eve of Gulf War II, Defense Tech highlighted a couple of heretics, who weren’t sure network-centric fighting was such a great idea. Now, Aviation Week reports, more of these thinkers are emerging.
Yale professor Charles Perrow notes that sharing information at all levels could easily lead to generals micromanaging battles.
“It isn’t difficult to envision the fog of war being replaced by the fog of systems,” he writes.
Defense analysts Loren Thompson, with the Lexington Institute, says both the U.S. and her adversaries will have access to Internet technology.
“This means enemy forces will be able to use it themselves, and they will understand how the U.S. employment of networks can be used against U.S. forces.“
Network-centric warfare proponents seem oblivious to the vulnerabilities they themselves might create, he adds. The Navy, for example, isn’t requiring that its systems withstand an electromagnetic pulse.
“We are acting like the danger doesn’t exist at the same time we are pursuing similar [anti-electronics] weapons,” Thompson told Aviation Week.


Saturday, September 27th, 2003

The fear of flying wasn’t some abstract, idle concern for Joshua Gruber. It was as tangible as the pile of concrete and steel and flesh and ash, smoldering at Manhattan’s southern end on 9/11, the day he was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
But flying home to California for Christmas on JetBlue — his first cross-country trip after the tragedy — made the whole thing easier to take. The staff seemed like human beings, not corporate automatons. The planes were brand-new. Best of all, as he flew, Gruber could watch the Food Network on his own private television screen.
“You’d sit down, watch Food TV, and, before youd know it, youd be there,” Gruber said. “It made it easier to fly after September 11 to have that distraction.“
Although the airline is known for its cheap fares, he added, “I’d pay more to fly JetBlue. I had, in fact. And I had encouraged my friends to try it.“
All of which makes JetBlue’s decision to hand its passenger records over to a firm doing a government terrorist-screening study even more maddening to Gruber.
“It made it sort of like I had been betrayed by a friend, rather than by a big company,” he said.
Businesses sell, trade, and swap their customers’ data with each other all the time. That’s why every product registration card includes information about income, age, occupation. That’s why web-based companies even privacy-savvy ones like TerraLycos (which owns Wired News) — “will sometimes share personally identifiable information with third-party companies and organizations.“
But the JetBlue privacy debacle has unleashed unusual passions in the public. Already, there’s a class action lawsuit against the carrier for its data handover. Already, Gruber has received more than a thousand e-mails from outraged JetBlue customers. And already, the Department of Homeland security is beginning to conduct an internal investigation into how passenger data is used.
Why the fuss? Passengers, privacy advocates and airline analysts all sound a common theme: fliers like Joshua Gruber developed powerful ties to JetBlue, ties that were unusual in business and especially rare the notoriously nasty airline industry.
When the company turned over its customers’ private records without their knowledge — in violation of JetBlue’s own privacy policy — that sense of corporate love quickly exploded into rage.
My Wired News story has more.
THERE’S MORE: Defense Tech reader KH writes, about “an interesting popup ad I saw on the computerworld​.com site. The text is: ‘We helped JetBlue Airways do something unique with their data: treat customers like people. Unisys.’”
Ah, the irony…
AND MORE: Gen. Wesley Clark was on the board of one of the companies involved in the JetBlue data mess, Glenn Reynolds notes.
AND MORE: The ACLU now has a web site where JetBlue passengers can file a request to find out what the government may be holding on them.


Friday, September 26th, 2003

Public radio’s “Future Tense” program interviewed me about my run-in the gub-ment. Listen to me mumble on the topic here.


Friday, September 26th, 2003

Congress may have driven a stake through Total Information Awareness. But there are lots of other government data-mining programs — eeriely similar to TIA — that are still very much alive.
One TIA-like project is Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD), an initiative of the little-known Intelligence Community Advanced Research and Development Activity, notes secrecy guru Steven Aftergood, with the Federation of American Scientists.
“Pursued with a minimal public profile and lacking a polarizing figure like Adm. Poindexter to galvanize opposition, NIMD has proceeded quietly even as TIA imploded,” Aftergood writes.
The NIMD effort aims to comb through “structured text in various formats, unstructured text, spoken text, audio, video, tables, graphs, diagrams, images, maps, equations, chemical formulas, etc.” to help “intelligence analysts to spot the telltale signs of strategic surprise.“
By now, we all know what that means.


Friday, September 26th, 2003

Congress is delaying the planned takeoff of CAPPS II, the controversial new airline passenger-profiling system, for about four months, until a privacy study can be completed. Wired News has the story.


Thursday, September 25th, 2003

Last week, Defense Tech reported that the Senate was looking to cut off funding for most of Darpa’s Information Awareness Office — the group of minds, formerly headed by John Poindexter, that was responsbile for the Total Information Awareness uber-database and the “terror market” mess.
Now, the House has agreed to the Senate’s position, notes Associated Press writer — and Defense Tech pal — Mike Sniffen. And so it looks like many of the creepiest Pentagon surveillance programs will have their purse-strings cut — or will at least be driven to the classified side of the Pentagon ledger.
THERE’S MORE: Some of the less creepy Darpa programs, previously cut by the Senate, have now been restored. The $35 million Continuous Assisted Performance program — an attempt to help soldiers go long periods without sleep — is back, for example. Now, according to one of the scientists working on the effort, its budget has been cut only by a sixth, the $24 million.
AND MORE: Darpa’s information technology research budget should be boosted, according to a new report from the National Academies’ Computer Science and Telecommunications Board.