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Archive for August, 2004


Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

Just when you thought our government’s secrecy policies couldn’t get any more ridiculous, this little nugget comes down the pike.
In a legal battle with the ACLU, the Justice Department blacked out a section of a legal document — not because it disclosed sensitive information, but because it contained a quote from the Supreme Court that warned about the dangers of stifling speech in the name of “security.“

“The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.”

“Now we have absolute, incontrovertible proof that the government also censors completely innocuous material simply because they don’t like it,” The Memory Hole’s Russ Kick thunders. “The mind reels at such a blatant abuse of power (and at the sheer chutzpah of using national security as an excuse to censor a quotation about using national security as an excuse to stifle dissent).”


Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

whale.jpgFor years, environmentalists and the U.S. Navy have been duking it out over a new class of ultra-loud sonars — and whether the machines are bad for the local whale population. The Navy says it needs the active sonars, to track quiet, electric submarines that roam coastal waters. But the devices can crank up to 238 decibels — 4.3 billion times as loud as the sounds that can cause people pain. Green groups say that whales, which rely on their hearing to mate, feed, and navigate, are effected even more dramatically. Sometimes, they even run aground as a result.
The Navy has long disputed that its sonars have harmed any whales. But now, according to the Washington Post, the service “has acknowledged that vessels on maneuver off Hawaii last month used their sonar periodically in the 20 hours before a large pod of melon-headed whales unexpectedly came to shore.“
“There is no evidence of a relationship here between the sonar use and the whale behavior,” a Navy spokesman said.


Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

All those Nigerian business offers and penis enlargement promises you’ve been getting? They could be coming from Pentagon computers, says USA Today.
THERE’S MORE: Crappy computer security “is eating us up,” Army CIO Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle told an IT conference today.


Tuesday, August 31st, 2004

tn_patriot_02_jpg.jpg“Despite U.S. President George W. Bushs declaration that a nascent missile defense system is nearly ready, the military officials responsible for operating the system are far from clear about who will do what, when and how,” reports Defense News.
“Parts of the system are still in development, rigorous tests have yet to be conducted, commanders are unclear about the rules of engagement, and operators have yet to be fully trained.“
So many key tests of the system have been scrapped that “the command that is responsible for drawing up the ground-based systems operating plans and procedures doesnt yet know exactly what the missile shield can do,” the magazine notes.

There are even questions about just what hardware will be part of these engagement sequences. The missile defense official said they could include the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-3 and other weapons meant for tactical battlefield use, raising the possibility that military commanders may ask to deploy PAC-3 batteries on U.S. soil, which would be a first.

Nor does the military have a firm grasp on who is going to pull the trigger — a decision that’s “more difficult than with ordinary weapons because different services and commands will operate different parts of” the missile shield.

Overall, the ground-based system will be run by the Northern Command; the future Sea-based Missile Defense system will be run by Pacific Command. The Air Force will operate some sensors, radar and satellites, and the Army will run command-and-control systems and launch and maintain some interceptor rockets. When the sea-based shield comes online, the Navys role will grow…
Missile defense officials envision a system that is never finished.


Monday, August 30th, 2004

radar_lowres2.jpgLasers have been getting pretty good at knocking down rockets, as we’ve seen in tests over the last few years. Now, the ray guns are starting to prove that they can zap one of the most common battlefield threats mortars as well.
In tests last week at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the Tactical High Energy Laser blasted individual mortar rounds and salvos of the munitions. That’s the first time a “directed energy” weapon has done so. Since 2000, the weapon, a collaboration between the American and Israeli militaries, has been successfully zapping rockets and artillery shells in tests.
U.S. forces in Iraq could sure use the ray gun right now; mortars have become a favorite of insurgents there, used almost as commonly as roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. Two teenagers were killed over the weekend when mortars struck eastern Baghdad. But the laser is still years away from operational use 2007, at the earliest. (via GeekPress)


Monday, August 30th, 2004

I’m scheduled to be on CNNfn’s “The Flip Side,” around 11:40 am, to yammer on about government secrecy.


Monday, August 30th, 2004

oav.jpgThe Pentagon wants its soldiers on the ground to have drones of their own flying robots that can spy on enemy hideouts, detect or trigger ambushes, and spot explosives. American Lieutenants and Captains have a few of these unmanned scouts already. But the drones all have their problems: too slow, too cumbersome to launch, too susceptible to the elements, or too reliant on in-flight hand-holding.
Enter Organic Aerial Vehicles, or OAVs. (“Organic,” in defense lingo, means operated by the smallest of fighting forces.) These are drones designed to take off like a helicopter, fly like a plane, and linger over a battlefield for long stretches — without orders from a flesh-and-blood master, and without a care for the weather.
Prototypes of the OAV look strange, almost like metallic pigs-in-blankets. And they come in three sizes — hand-held, midget-height, and larger-than-soldier. Recently, Honeywell, which is developing the OAVs for the Pentagon, flight tested the 29-inch-diameter, four-foot-high version at the Soldier Battle Lab in Fort Benning, Ga. And the drone flew well, according to ISR Journal, traveling up to 30 knots in light rain and moderate winds during its 18 minute, fully autonomous flights. Eventually, the OAV is supposed to fly up to 100 knots several times quicker than the current, small unit drones, like the Pointer or Dragon Eye.
Now, Pentagon mad scientist division Darpa is looking for companies to build the next phase of OAVs. These 112-pound drones should be able to stay in the air for two hours at a time. They should have a fully-developed collision avoidance system, so the OAVs don’t bump into buildings, trees or each other while they’re flying. And drones should be able to network together, to form an autonomous swarm of scouts, sitting in the sky.


Saturday, August 28th, 2004

The most common of personal electronics — the mobile phone — is becoming a tool of choice for political organizers. And when activists by the thousands gather in New York City to protest at the Republican National Convention, cell phones will get their most intense workout yet as activist instruments.
Mobile-engaged masses don’t just connect differently; they act differently too. Short-messaging system (SMS) alerts over cell phones have enabled demonstrators to shift tactics, deploy resources and respond to the police, just about instantly.
Law enforcement officials concede they’re having trouble keeping up with these fast-moving, cell-connected groups.
“Now, they can actually coordinate tactics, create a feint. They’ll start a demonstration in one place to draw the police, while their true objective is in another,” said Charles “Sid” Heal, a crowd-control specialist and 29-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“There’s nothing we can do right now to counter them,” Heal said. “They’re in a digital age, and we’re still in analog.“
There’s more in my Chicago Tribune story.


Friday, August 27th, 2004

DVD-793-2.jpg“Discussions are under way to see if Boeing Co.‘s unmanned aerial vehicle program can be applied to homeland security,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Boeing’s unmanned program is mostly known for the combat applications being designed for U.S troops and the Pentagon’s multibillion-dollar Future Combat Systems program. But Jim Albaugh, chief executive of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, said other uses could be found for the unmanned aerial vehicles, such as conducting border surveillance or detecting the release of deadly pathogens within the United States.“
As regular Defense Tech readers know, Boeing is one of two companies that’s developing killer drones for the Pentagon. But those unmanned planes are still years away from being operational. The Homeland Security Department would likely be more interested in vehicles like the ScanEagle, a lightweight drone which recently set endurance records by completing a nearly 17-hour flight over Washington’s Puget Sound.


Friday, August 27th, 2004

z01.jpgThe 9/11 Commission, leaders in Congress — even the government’s top secret-keeper — all agree that Washington’s penchant for keeping information under wraps has grown out of control. Now, a coalition of watchdog and civil liberties groups has documented just how much it’s costing to keep all those records away from the public eye.
During the 2003 fiscal year, the federal government spent more than $6.5 billion securing classified information, according to a new “Secrecy Report Card” from OpenTheGovernment​.org. That’s an increase of more than $800 million from the previous year, according to the group, and a nearly $2 billion jump since 2001. But it’s only a best guess, really; the report card’s accounting doesn’t include a penny from the Central Intelligence Agency, which keeps even its overall budget classified.
“I’ve read supposedly classified documents where page after page after page didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know,” Rep. Christopher Shays, who chairs the House Committee on Government Reform’s national security panel, tells Defense Tech. When asked what percentage of government records were being wrongly kept from the public, Shays replied, “I tend to think 90 percent is not an exaggeration.“
My Wired News article has details.
THERE’S MORE: “Tony Tether, director of DARPA, is one of the bigger [secrecy] offenders. Since he became director, more of what DARPA does has become classified, and at a higher level. In some cases, the classification level of programs has gone up at the same rate or faster than those performing the work can upgrade their clearances,” says one Defense Tech pal.
“A significant and growing element of DARPA’s work in information assurance is classified, and cannot be discussed in this forum. The future thrust is for more of these efforts to become classified. Why? Because of our increasing dependence on networks, their vulnerabilities and techniques for protecting them become more and more sensitive. Accordingly, our efforts have become classified,” Tether told the House Science Committee a few months back.
“Classifying vulnerabilities of military systems, critical vulnerabilities with no known fixes, or beyond state-of-the-art attacks can make some sense,” our pal continues. “But classifying techniques for protecting networks just guarantees that the techniques will only be available to the military, and will not be available to protect critical infrastructure and commercial networks. Defensive computer security at DARPA has traditionally been unclassified, but that has changed since Tether has been around.”