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Archive for October, 2003

STATE-RUN “TIA” EXPOSED

Friday, October 31st, 2003

Long-time Defense Tech readers will be familiar with MATRIX — the data-mining project, run by 10 state governments, that’s eerily similar to Total Information Awareness.
Now, the ACLU has a rundown of this creepy program, which combs through credit card transactions, marriage records, and vehicle registration data to find alleged evil-doers. This report based mostly on newspaper articles. But it’s the most complete profile to date of this largely-hidden program.
MATRIX (short for “Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange”) “is designed not only to build dossiers on all of our lives so they will be a keystroke away for police and other government officials, but also to search through our dossiers and those of others in a hunt for patterns indicative of terrorist or other criminal activity,” the report notes.
“Its scary,” says Phil Ramer, the intelligence chief for Florida, which is taking the lead on MATRIX. “It could be abused. I mean, I can call up everything about you, your pictures and pictures of your neighbors.”

DARPA’S ROBOT ROAD RACE OFF-TRACK

Thursday, October 30th, 2003

One of Darpa’s slickest PR moves in years was to sponsor a robotic road race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas — with a million bucks in cash going to the winner.
But now, there’s trouble brewing for Darpa’s “Grand Challenge”, four months before it’s slated to begin. Over 100 teams have signed up to take part in the race. But, in a surprise announcement, Darpa is saying that all but 20 of them won’t be allowed to ride.
“There are factors beyond DARPA’s control that limit the number of vehicles that can participate in the Los Angeles to Las Vegas event,” the race’s program manager, Col. Jose A. Negron, writes in a letter to racers. “The need to comply with environmental regulations, ensure the safety of the participants and spectators, and complete the event within the number of available daylight hours limit what can be accomplished in one day. Given these constraints, our analysis leads us to believe that only 20 vehicles can be allowed to run the Grand Challenge route.“
How will the 20 teams be picked? By who spent the most? By who’s got the fastest robot car? The letter doesn’t say.
(via Robots​.net)

IRAQI TERROR KINGPIN FOUND?

Thursday, October 30th, 2003

One of the things that has made the guerilla attacks in Iraq so damn scary is that the people behind them has been a mystery. There’s no Osama, no Arafat to blame for the carnage.
Now, CNN claims to have found a mastermind: General Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the northern regional commander in Saddam’s military.
“Al-Duri, the ‘King of Clubs’ in the U.S. military’s ‘most wanted’ deck of cards, is the highest-ranking member of the Saddam Hussein regime still at large, except for Saddam himself,” CNN notes.
The network says “Pentagon officials” — relying on confessions by freshly-captured members of the Ansar Al-Islam terror group — have fingered Al-Duri as the kingpin.
It’s a big breakthrough, if true. But, as with all “first reports,” take this one with a grain of salt…
THERE’S MORE: “Senior American officials” now say there’s evidence that Saddam may be behind the insurgency.
Of course, this “role by Mr. Hussein could not be corroborated, and one senior official cautioned that recent intelligence reports contained conflicting assessments,” according to the Times.
Hmm… Front page claims, backed by hazy intelligence… This all sounds so familiar, somehow…
AND MORE: “Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on Friday that he saw no signs that Saddam Hussein was active in coordinating attacks on American forces in Iraq,” Reuters reports.

“I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing, but we really don’t have the evidence to put together a claim that he is pulling all the strings among these remnants in Baghdad and other parts of the country that are causing us the difficulty,” Mr. Powell said on the ABC News program “Nightline,” according to a transcript.
He also cast doubt on reports that one of Mr. Hussein’s deputies, Izzat Ibrahim, was behind the attacks, saying, “I see no evidence to support that.”

LIGHT HEALS — BUT WHY?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2003

Tiny flashes of infrared light can play a role in healing wounds, building muscle, turning back the worst effects of diabetes and repairing blinded eyes — on this much, scientists and doctors agree. But what they can’t decide on is why all these seemingly miraculous effects happen in the first place.
For more than a decade, researchers have been studying how light-emitting diodes, or LEDs — miniscule, ultra-efficient bulbs like the ones found in digital clocks and television remotes — might aid in the recuperative process. NASA, the Pentagon and dozens of hospitals have participated in clinical trials. Businesses have sold commercial LED zappers to nursing homes and doctors’ offices. Magazines and television crews have drooled on cue. Medicare has even approved some LED therapy.
Despite all that effort, “there’s not a clear idea of how this works. There are just working hypotheses,” said Marti Jett, chief of the molecular pathology department at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
One possibility comes from Dr. Harry Whelan, a colleague of Jett’s and a neurology professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin. In a 2002 study backed by the National Institutes of Health and the Persistence in Combat program from the Pentagon’s research arm, Whelan used LEDs to restore the vision of blinded rats. Toxic doses of methanol damaged the rats’ retinas. But after exposure to the flashes of infrared light, up to 95 percent of the injuries were repaired.
Human trials have been less dramatic, but still shockingly effective. Using a Food and Drug Administration-approved, handheld LED — playfully called Warp 10 for its Star Trek style — wound-healing time was cut in half on board the USS Salt Lake City, a nuclear sub. Diode flashes improved healing of Navy SEALs’ training injuries by more than 40 percent. And a Warp 10 prototype was used by U.S. Special Forces units in Iraq, Whelan asserts.
These LEDs originally were developed by NASA to stimulate plant growth. Now, the agency wants to use the gadgets to build astronauts’ muscles during weightlessness. DNA synthesis in muscle cells quintupled after a single application of LEDs flashing at the 680-, 730– and 880-nanometer wavelengths, according to Whelan.
How exactly all this happened remains a mystery, Jett said. She’s identified more than 20 genes that typically are associated with retinal damage, for example, and “the LED alters all of them.“
My Wired News story has more on the puzzling power of LEDs.

GOV’T WEBSITES YANKED

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

Knowledge is the enemy. And the Web is his ally.
That’s the clear-cut message the Bush administration is sending. Across the government, previously public information is being taken off-line, Secrecy News shows. Here are three of the most recent examples:

- The influential Defense Science Board has removed its list of members. A spokesman cited post-9/11 security regulations as the reason. “He didn’t explain how deleting the names of corporate CEOs and others who advise the government on defense policy was likely to increase security against terrorism,” Secrecy News notes. (You can find the Board members’ names here.)
– The online Center for Army Lessons Learned has been taken down, after the Washington Post reported on an “unusually blunt” report from the website on the inadequacies of U.S. military intelligence in Iraq.
– The White House is preventing Google and other search engines from locating key documents on its website. Files referring to Iraq seem to be particularly verboten.

Two weeks ago, some of the country’s top current and former spies blasted the Bushies for their penchant for secrecy.
Rich Haver — until recently Donald Rumsfeld’s special assistant for intelligence — said, “It’s causing a total meltdown of our intelligence processes.“
THERE’S MORE: Phil Carter notes that a copy of the Iraq after-action report can be found here.
AND MORE: The White House has changed its website policies, and search engines can now access the entire site.

NEW SCRUTINY FOR BOEING DEAL

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

For months, watchdog groups like the Project on Government Oversight have been howling about the Air Force’s deal with Boeing to lease 100 tankers — even though the lease would cost $5.6 billion more than buying the planes outright.
Now, the national press’ major players are starting to catch up. Today, New York Times columnist David Brooks called the deal “the Encyclopaedia Britannica of shady. It’s as if somebody spent years trying to gather every single sleazy aspect of modern Washington and cram it all into one legislative effort.“
Yesterday, the Washington Post examined on its front-page the sordid machinations surrounding the Boeing contract in excruciating detail. And the paper profiles the “Dragon Lady” who helped ram the deal through.

CONGRESSMEN: NO TO SPACE PLANE

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

Congressional overseers may put the brakes on the Orbital Space Plane — NASA’s planned near-Earth ship to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
In a letter, Leaders of the House Science Committee told NASA chief Sean O’Keefe that work on the Plane should be put on ice until “we — the Congress, the White House, and NASA — have reached any agreement… on appropriate NASA goals for human space flight” and on how the craft fits in with those plans.

TERRORISTS COULD BREED NEW POX

Monday, October 27th, 2003

“With a basic level of biological training, terrorists could modify smallpox or monkeypox viruses and create a previously unseen strain of biological weapon,” Global Security Newswire reports.
Monkeypox is the easier of the two to make and get, says St. Louis University virologist Mark Buller. But it’s less lethal — with a mortality rate around 10 percent. The Newswire notes that “a strain of monkeypox was brought into the United States by a pet giant Gambian rat earlier this year, but there were no fatalities among the 49 reported cases.“
Earlier this month, Defense Tech heavyweights duked it out over whether terrorists would ever take the time to breed a new, pox-based biological monster.

RASHID ATTACK DETAILS EMERGE

Monday, October 27th, 2003

Details are emerging from the weekend’s deadly attack on the al-Rashid hotel in Baghdad that injured 16 people and barely missed Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz:

The missiles were launched from an improvised multirocket platform, a homemade version of the Katyusha system used by Russia, military officials said. The Irish Republican Army has used similar systems.
The launcher was hidden in a blue trailer made to resemble a mobile electricity generator, a ubiquitous item in Baghdad, where electrical service is unreliable. In the quiet of early Sunday morning, a white passenger vehicle towed the trailer down a major street that runs between the hotel and a large park. It was then unhitched at a cloverleaf that had been closed by the Americans for security reasons. The car pulled away. Soon after, at 6:08 a.m., 8 to 10 missiles thudded into the hotel, about 450 yards away, officials said.
The casualties could have been higher; 11 missiles failed to fire because of electrical or mechanical malfunctions. In addition, the wheel base of the trailer had been booby-trapped with explosives, which American soldiers deactivated.
Altogether, the launcher held 40 missile pods, said Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the First Armored Division, whose responsibility is the security of Baghdad. General Dempsey spoke Sunday evening at a news conference held in a building in a compound near the Rashid Hotel.
Half the missiles were 68-millimeter, which have a range of two to three miles; the other half were 85-millimeter, with a three– to four-mile range, he said. The smaller ones were French-made, and designed for use by helicopters. The others were Russian. The French rockets, officers said, were quite new, and were probably purchased after the arms embargo was in place. They were in pristine condition,” said one military officer who inspected the rocket tubes and assembly.
Mr. Hussein had weapons of that type, but General Dempsey said he did not know if the missiles used the hotel attack came from Mr. Hussein’s arsenal.
General Dempsey described the device as clever, but not sophisticated.” He called it a science project in a garage with a welder and a battery and a handful of wires.”
That such an unsophisticated device could be used against one of the most fortified and well-guarded sites in Baghdad raised questions about the military’s ability to secure any major site in Baghdad. The compound is surrounded by high concrete walls, but the missiles were fired over them…
A
New York Times reporter traveling with Mr. Wolfowitz was a few rooms from where one of the rockets hit. Looking across the street, he saw the trailer from which the rockets had been fired, and saw one projectile coming at the hotel, trailing sparks.


The Times also reports that bombings at five police stations and the Baghdad office of the Red Cross have killed 34 people and wounded 224 more.
“It puts us back into combat operations,” Lt. Col. Eric Nantz, a battalion commander with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, tells the Washington Post. “It’s not where we want to be. It’s not where the Iraqi people want us to be.”

NEW SOLDIER SUITS SIMPLIFIED

Friday, October 24th, 2003

“The Army is drastically simplifying the makeup of its high-tech soldier ensemble, the Land Warrior, in an effort to make the system less prone to failures and easier to use,” National Defense reports.
“After the last version of Land Warrior failed reliability tests earlier this year, the Army switched gears and decided to make the system less complex and modify the hardware to make it compatible with the new [and controversial] Stryker infantry vehicle. The so-called Land Warrior Stryker Interoperable (LWSI) is scheduled to be completed by 2006…
“The LW SI will have a single processor. The previous LW had a dual processor, which frequently malfunctioned. Other changes include a more simplified data bus and a Linux-based operating system, as opposed to Windows. ‘Evidence shows that Linux is more stable. We are moving in general to where the Army is going, to Linux-based OS,’” says the program’s manager, Lt. Col. Dave Gallop.