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Archive for February, 2004


Friday, February 27th, 2004

The Pentagon has revealed what it wants to spend next year on classified intelligence programs. That’s “an implicit repudiation of the Director of Central Intelligence,” according to Secrecy News. DCI George Tenet has said that “public disclosure of a single aggregate figure for all intelligence-related spending would damage national security and compromise intelligence sources and methods. Even fifty year old budget data remain classified at CIA.“
The Pentagon figures don’t say much– just that the generals want about $4.1 billion for intelligence R&D and $544 million in procurement funds. “Which is why,” Secrecy News says, “there are no grounds for classifying them, let alone a much broader aggregation of all intelligence spending government-wide.”


Friday, February 27th, 2004

“The Bush administration plans to announce that, in a step to lessen the dangers of land mines, it will end the use of long-lasting mines in warfare and instead concentrate on mines that go inert within hours or days,” the New York Times reports.
However, “there are no plans for the United States to sign the international treaty to ban land mines, which has been in effect since 1997.“
Nor is there any indication whether or not the U.S. military intends to pursue the so-called “Self-Healing Minefield” — mines that can move, and reorganize themselves, to avoid being cleared.
THERE’S MORE: The Washington Post puts Bush’s land mine move in a much harsher light, saying it “represents a departure from the previous U.S. goal of banning all land mines designed to kill troops. That plan, established by President Bill Clinton, set a target of 2006 for giving up antipersonnel mines, depending on the success of Pentagon efforts to develop alternatives.“
AND MORE: “The biggest problem right now in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Chechnya is not related to landmines,” says Phil Carter. It’s “the use of cluster munitions, like the CBU-87. These are large bombs dropped from aircraft which, at a certain point close to the ground, break up into hundreds of little bomblets which are essentially the size of a hand grenade or RPG warhead. The dud rate for these bomblets inevitably produces a handful of duds from each bomb or sortie, which stay in the ground long after the bombing run.“
AND MORE: Human Rights Watch thinks “smart” mines — like the ones Bush is proposing to use — aren’t much better than the dumb ones. “Experience has shown that nations — especially those in the developing world where mines have been used the most — are unwilling to give up the dumb mines in their arsenals, if more wealthy and technologically advanced nations insist on the right to keep the smart mines in their arsenals,” the group says.


Thursday, February 26th, 2004

Pakistan’s government is now trying to portray the sale of nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea as the cloak-and-dagger work of a few, isolated rogues.
But that’s a lie, says Jane’s Defense Weekly, in a report released today. Nuclear sales were so out in the open that underlings of Abdul Qadeer Khan — the father of the Pakistani Bomb — were handing out glossy brochures advertising their services at a 2000 arms conference.

One of the brochures, a 10-page catalogue from A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories’ Directorate of Vacuum Science and Technology, offered virtually all the components needed to establish a uranium-enrichment plant. The specialised centrifuge pumps, gauges, valves and other components each have civilian uses, but together provide the means to enrich the rare uranium-235 isotope to a particularly pure grade so that it can be used to fuel a nuclear weapon.
If there was any doubt as to what was on offer, a second accompanying brochure under the heading of “nuclear-related products” listed “complete ultracentrifuge machines” and other components needed to build a uranium-enrichment plant.
JDW readily obtained the brochures on the spot and inquired whether all of the listed items were available for sale. Several KRL officials provided positive assurances that all had government approval for export…
KRL was not the only Pakistani organisation peddling worrisome technology at the Karachi exhibition. Its rival laboratory — the National Development Complex — was also handing out marketing packages offering a variety of technologies useful in the development of long-range ballistic missiles. While Pakistan is under no legal international obligation to control missile technology sales, it has often pledged to do so.
Moreover, Khan himself has alleged that he received approval for the Iranian transfers from officers in the Pakistani army. One former senior US intelligence officer agrees with this assessment, saying that the former Pakistani Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, was “a crucial figure”. The official added: “Whatever the network is, it has got to envelop part of the [Pakistani] military establishment.”

THERE’S MORE: Via Cursor, here’s a link to one of Khan’s nuclear brochures.


Thursday, February 26th, 2004

The military satellite business is a strange beast. The Pentagon long ago made it policy to rely on civilian contractors to supply their eyes in the sky. But there’s not enough of a commercial market to make the satellite business worthwhile. So, instead, the U.S. military throws extra cash at the companies, to make sure they’ll keep making the orbiters.
Yesterday, for example, the Air Force announced it would start paying Boeing and Lockheed Martin “50% more to send U.S. military satellites into space to compensate for the collapse of commercial demand that threatens their launch businesses,” according to Bloomberg News.
“Payments will increase to as much as $135 million per launch from $91 million, based on a preliminary estimate, because the service wants to ensure the companies stay in the military program, said Richard McKinney, the Air Force’s deputy director of space acquisition.“
Last year, the Pentagon handed out a $500 million contract to commerical satelitte imagery provider Digital Globe. Shortly thereafter, it promised to make a similiar payment to Digital Globe’s competitor, Space Imaging, so the company could stay afloat.


Thursday, February 26th, 2004

UPI: “The Pentagon reversed course Wednesday and told Congress it would look into whether an anti-malaria drug… might be causing suicides, one month after asserting the drug could not be a factor.“
21 G.I.s assigned to Iraq and Kuwait have committed suicide, according to the wire service. “The Army is investigating another five deaths in Iraq as possible suicides, along with six deaths among soldiers in Iraq who returned to the United States and then killed themselves.“
That amounts to 15.8 suicides per 100,000 soldiers per year, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr. told a House Armed Services Committee panel. That’s not much more, he claimed, than Army suicide rates of between 9.1 and 14.8 per 100,000 in the Army between 1995 and 2002.
Last fall, a Naval Reserve commander in Iraq alleged that the military doctored his medical file to get rid of any evidence of lariam, which he claims made him suicidal.


Thursday, February 26th, 2004

Army Times has just tested out the service’s new rifle, the XM8. To say the paper’s psyched would be somewhere south of an understatement. “One Awesome Weapon” is their XM8 cover story.


Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

One of the biggest complaints about domestic defense after 9/11 was that law enforcement officials still weren’t sharing what they knew about potential threats.
In response, the Homeland Security Department put together a computer network for federal authorities to exchange information. But, until now, local cops — the guys on the front-lines of any anti-terror fight — were shut out of the extranet.
That changed yesterday, the Washington Post reports, when the Department opened the network up, launching what amounts to a giant chat room for counter-terrorists.

The network will provide a real-time instant messaging, e-mail and live chat service for 5,000 authorized users across 300 agencies in all U.S. states, five territories and 50 urban areas, Ridge said. Users with proper security clearances and software will be able to share vast quantities of data, from audio to computer models, and from foreign news clippings to refined analyses…
The system has already proved its value, authorities said. During last August’s East Coast power failure, Washington officials lost telephone contact with New York City. Using the network, New York officials within minutes ruled out terrorism and permitted colleagues across the country to ‘stand down.’


Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

The U.S. military isn’t just swapping soldiers in Iraq, the Associated Press reports. It’s slimming down, too.

The Army’s 4th Infantry Division, which currently occupies a swath of Iraq north of Baghdad, will require 19 of the Navy’s massive “roll-on, roll-off” or Ro-Ro ships to carry away its vast collection of tanks…
By contrast, the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, which will replace the Tikrit-based 4th Infantry in the coming weeks, is arriving in Kuwait on just five Ro-Ro ships…
Military officials have said the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq will take on a less-intrusive hue when the massive rotation of U.S. troops now underway sends 110,000 fresh troops into neighboring Iraq to replace the 130,000 being sent home.
Instead of patrolling Iraq in Bradley armored vehicles and 70-ton Abrams tanks — brought in for the land invasion in March — incoming soldiers and Marines will rely more on armored Humvees and other lighter, more maneuverable vehicles. Hence the need for fewer trips by Navy ships like the hulking gray U.S.N.S. Pomeroy, which was being loaded Monday with Humvees from the Army’s V Corps, which is in the process of returning to Germany.
The troop rotation also signals the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom 2, when most U.S. troops will be shifted from the current tight-knit occupation that uses dozens of bases inside Baghdad and other cities, to large camps lying on the outskirts of Iraqi cities. Several bases have already closed.


Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

Wired magazine has a big, fat preview of next month’s Darpa “Grand Challenge” — the million-dollar, all-robot road race from L.A. to Vegas.
Meanwhile, Robots​.net was a round-up of what the local press is saying about their hometown Grand Challenge teams.


Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

An international space probe set to launch Thursday morning won’t just take the closest look yet at the core of a comet. It may shed light on the origin of life on Earth.
A series of recent studies have suggested that comets may have brought water and amino acids — the building blocks of life — to Earth billions of years ago. But that’s all theoretical. Scientists don’t yet have direct proof that comets really carry these materials. Only a couple of probes have ever seen comets up close, after all.
Rosetta, the European Space Agency craft scheduled to lift off Thursday from a launching pad in French Guyana, could dramatically augment the available evidence. If it works as planned, Rosetta will be the first probe to land on a comet’s surface. The samples it takes from the soil and atmosphere of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko should determine whether these interplanetary streakers contain the chemical precursors to bacteria, plants and people.
My Wired News article has details.