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Archive for October, 2004


Sunday, October 31st, 2004

caveman.jpgFrom the truly weird files…

Authorities have evicted a man from a cave on Los Alamos National Laboratory land where they say he apparently lived for years with the comforts of home a wood-burning stove, solar panels connected to car batteries for electricity and a satellite radio.
Los Alamos Deputy Fire Chief Doug Tucker said Roy Michael Moore’s hideaway, which also was equipped with a bed and a glass front door, was discovered earlier Oct. 13 after a Department of Energy employee working at the Los Alamos site office noticed smoke wafting from the cave in a heavily wooded, steep canyon.
The employee reported the smoke to the fire department. Tucker said the smoke came from Moore’s wood-burning stove.
Ten marijuana plants were found outside the cave. Moore, 56, has been charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court documents. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bond.

Wired News notes that “a Lab spokesman, who said the camp was about 50 yards from his office door, insisted Moore was not a ‘security threat.’”


Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

“Problems in searching fingerprint databases have left the American military unable to check fully the identities of thousands of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, raising concerns that they might be releasing suspects prematurely, according to Pentagon officials and documents,” the Times reports.

The Defense Department, in the field, has used a mobile system that records fingerprints of suspects, but it cannot always search for a match in other government databases.
In a memorandum last February, the Pentagon said the fingerprinting “problem must be rectified as soon as possible” to fight terrorism more effectively. It required that all new electronic fingerprinting systems comply with accepted standards.
The situation has improved since then, said John D. Woodward Jr., the director of the Defense Department’s Biometrics Management Office. But he added, “We still need to improve…“
Mr. Woodward, citing “national security concerns,” declined to say how many prints had gone unprocessed as a result. Another official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information, said it exceeded 16,000 at the time of the memorandum.


Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

fig5-8.jpgThere are a zillion reasons why New York is the City with a big “C,” and everyone else lives in the land of the lowercase. But right up there at the top of the list is our sprawling subway, the central nervous system of this town. And it turns 100 today.
Like every grand project, there are lots of stories behind its building. But my favorite has to be the one about the secret train which ran under Broadway.
Back in the 1860’s, New York had become beyond overcrowded, quadrupling its population in just 40 years. Something had to be done to ease the city’s traffic woes. But Boss Tweed, the City’s unchallenged ruler at the time, had his hand in the trolley business, and wouldn’t let alternatives flower.
So Alfred Beach the editor and co-owner of Scientific American decided to build a subway in secret. He had a license to build a mail delivery system under Broadway using pneumatics, or compressed-air. But Beach expanded those tubes many times over, so they could carry people in air-powered trains.
The idea was to make an underground railway so grand, that even Tweed could not resist the public pressure for it. And the scheme almost worked. Unveiled in 1870, Beach’s subway was, by all accounts, a smooth, quiet ride. And it was ornate chandeliers adorned the ceiling of the demonstration terminal. In the middle sat a grand piano.
The press went ga-ga over Beach’s railway. 400,000 people paid a quarter to make the one-block trip in the first year the train was open. New York’s Senate and Assembly passed bills authorizing Beach to build a Manhattan-long pneumatic subway.
But Tweed, as usual, had the last laugh. Governor John Hoffman, his puppet, vetoed the subway bill. Beach’s dream died that day in Albany. It’d take another thirty years before New York would start digging.


Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

CNN is reporting that “the Nuclear Regulatory Commission removed its massive public reading room from the Internet Monday after nuclear safety activists and media organizations found several documents on it containing sensitive information they said could help terrorists.“

The information included floor plans for nuclear laboratories at several universities, specifying the types and locations of nuclear materials they use.
The NRC said the removal of the online document library is temporary and that documents will be posted again after they are scrubbed of sensitive information.
Critics said the action was too late — coming three weeks after the problem was first publicized — and too drastic, involving the removal of thousands of non-sensitive documents.


Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

USMC_InterceptorOTV.jpgYou’d think it’d be a top priority for the Army, outfitting troops with new body armor, helmets, and communications gear. But the Pentagon can’t seem to find the cash in its $420 billion budget to pay for the equipment.
Instead, the Army is relying on a supplemental spending bill — one that’s meant to fund the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq — to cover the costs.
“I always tell people, thank God for the supplemental. We would not be able to do anything without them,” Defense News quotes Lt. Gen. Joseph Yakovac, the Armys top uniformed acquisition official, as telling an Association of the United States Army conference. “If those dont happen, were in a world of hurt.“
Now, last year, the Pentagon used an $87 billion emergency spending measure to buy body armor, among other things. At the time, that made some sense the war had dragged on longer, and was of a different type, than Rumsfeld & Co. had predicted.
But this year is something different. When the Pentagon was drafting its latest budget, it knew damn well there was going to be a need to get body armor into the field. So what’s going on here?
This is another case of Rumsfeld refusing to make a choice between the military’s current needs and its future, of trying to have it both ways. He needs to get gear to the troops in Iraq. But he doesn’t want to sacrifice any of the military’s big ticket items in order to do it. So he pulls a little trick on Congress. First, Rumsfeld sends lawmakers his main Pentagon budget, which has lots of line items for projects like the hulking, $117 billion Future Combat Systems. And then, crying poverty, Rumsfeld asks for body armor money which there’s no chance in hell that Congress will deny.
It’s a very, very slick Washington maneuver one you’d be tempted to call a form of blackmail. Because G.I.s is the field are now counting on that supplemental to keep them safe, Defense News says.

The supplemental will fund much of the work being done by the Armys two-year-old Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI), whose goal is to equip all deploying units and, by 2007, all active and reserve units with 76 items, including the Advanced Combat Helmet, body armor, desert boots and moisture-wicking T-shirts. Yakovac said the program could cost $5 billion.
Were hoping on supplementals to do that, he added.
Roughly 150,000 soldiers will receive the RFI kits by the end of this year, with another 250,000 troops equipped in 2005, said Brig. Gen. James Moran, the Armys soldier program executive officer.


Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

NBC now says that the 380 tons of missing Iraqi explosives might have vanished before the U.S. invasion. If true, it’s a small comfort — the bottom line is, the insurgents there now have the stuff, to go along with their giant bankroll, swelling manpower, and seemingly-impermeable command structure.
Besides, the NBC story — now being pushed by conservative commentators — doesn’t quite hold together, Josh Marshall believes.

On Monday, the Pentagon gave mixed signals about what the first troops on the scene found. Or rather, an official whom the AP describes as closely involved in the Iraq survey work says the explosives were there, while Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita says they weren’t.
Di Rita’s claim that the explosives were already gone was picked up this evening by NBC news which reported that one of its news crews embedded with the 101st Airborne visited the facility on April 10th and found no weapons…
[But] military and non-proliferation analysts say that a detachment of soldiers not specifically trained in weapons inspections work and certainly an NBC news crew simply wouldn’t be in a position to make such a determination. We’re not talking about a storage unit with a few boxes in it, but a massive weapons complex made up of almost a hundred buildings and bunkers.
Former weapons inspector David Albright was asked about this on CNN Monday evening and he said, “I would want to check it out. I mean it’s a big site. These bunkers are big and it could get lost in that complex and it may be that they just didn’t go to the right places and didn’t see it.”

THERE’S MORE: “There wasn’t a search,” says the NBC news producer with the 101st when it stopped at the weapons dump. “The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean certainly some of the soldiers head off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around. But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away. But there was at that point the roads were shut off. So it would have been very difficult, I believe, for the looters to get there.”


Monday, October 25th, 2004

wolfpack.jpg“One of the biggest threats in Iraq is [a commercial walkie-talkie] radio,” a defense contractor tells Aviation Week. “It’s a tiny thing that costs about $100. They’ve got a 10-mi. range and operate between 40–50 MHz. That’s what the terrorists are using. It’s hard to monitor. They give a guy a radio, put him on top of a hill, and [he and a string of others] will relay communications for hundreds of miles.“
So how does the Pentagon plan on fighting this $100 threat? With a set of cheap, coffee-can-sized transmitters of its own. Except, in this case, cheap means $10,000 a pop. And the little buggers “can listen to enemy radars and communications, analyze an opponent’s network and movement of systems and jam emitters or infiltrate enemy computers with packages of algorithms,” according to the magazine. An early-phase test of the system, known as “Wolfpack,” is scheduled for next week.
No one “Wolf” is particularly powerful. But, collectively, they can be used to triangulate enemy signals — like those walkie-talkie conversations — and monitor hostile networks. The idea is to “litter the battlefield with these small objects,” Preston Marshall, WolfPack’s program manager at Darpa, explained last year.
He’d like to see the Wolves tough enough to be chucked out of helicopters, dropped by drones, or places on rooftops by soldiers. “Once a cylinder hits the ground, it checks itself out. If everything is working properly, the fins will erect and make the device stand up, Marshall said. “An inflatable antenna goes up and it generates a radio signal. They form a network. Wolf networks find other wolf networks and eventually find a path back to the command center.“
one_wolf.jpg“A WolfPack typically would have at least five wolves,” Aviation Week adds. “They are designed to be identical, so each of them can take another’s role, including subpack leader, to gather information, and pack leader to send it into the larger battlefield network.“

The system would come with its own mission planning tool to optimize where wolves are placed. And, as long as a wolf can communicate with any other wolf, it has access to the whole network.
The WolfPack network is set up to be dynamic and autonomous. The pack will reassign responsibilities as needed, and the network may by itself establish sub-nets if those would be useful in attacking a target. Moreover, WolfPack is designed to be smart enough to detect patterns in how an adversary employs his electronic systems so the key nodes can be jammed, listened to or invaded. The system is designed to locate emitters with enough accuracy that they can be attacked with a mortar or bomb.

THERE’S MORE: “To put it bluntly, the ‘defense contractor’ [quoted at the beginning of the post] is full of crap,” says Defense Tech reader WT.

Every SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) radio carried in the field is capable of intercepting those transmissions, and there are intelligence assets that are specifically designed to intercept and jam those transmissions. In fact, due to the low power of those radios (typically 2.5 to 7 watts output), they are very susceptible to jamming. The positioning of these radios (on top of hills or tall buildings) makes them more susceptible to direction finding and interception. They are most definitely *NOT* hard to monitor. They are in fact little different from the Soviet era VHF radios. The only difference is in size and weight, the difference between a backpack radio and a handheld. The output wattage and frequencies are the same, as is the modulation.
I suspect that this is a case of justifying something that might be needed in the future (note the reference to infiltrat(ing) enemy computers) by tying it to the current conflict. A neat toy that could be very useful, but not something that is needed in Iraq now, or in the near future. Im not saying that this isnt something that should be pursued, just that the guy doesnt know what he is talking about.


Monday, October 25th, 2004

Why didn’t the U.S. go after Iraqi computer networks as hard as they could have during the Iraq invasion? To keep French ATMs safe, an Aviation Week article hints.

Basic services such as automatic banking machines could [have been] affected. Parts of the European banking system, for example, were a concern to U.S. officials planning electronic attacks on Iraq. Much of that country’s electronic infrastructure was built by French firms.

Nevertheless, the magazine says, the Pentagon is working to develop “computer network attack devices [that] can hijack enemy transmissions, insert specially designed algorithms and then send the altered data stream back into the foe’s network.”


Sunday, October 24th, 2004

The New York Times is reporting that ” nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives — used to demolish buildings, produce missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons — are missing from one of Iraq’s most sensitive former military installations.“

The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no-man’s land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished after the American invasion last year…
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) publicly warned about the danger of these explosives before the war, and after the invasion it specifically told United States officials about the need to keep the explosives secured, European diplomats said in interviews last week. Administration officials say they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded, beyond the fact that the occupation force was overwhelmed by the amount of munitions they found throughout the country.

Josh Marshall has more, including this heartwarming tidbit:

The Defense Department has been trying to keep this secret for some time. The DOD even went so far as to order the Iraqis not to inform the IAEA that the materials had gone missing. Informing the IAEA, of course, would lead to it becoming public knowledge in the United States.

The Times notes that “the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 used less than a pound of the material of the type stolen from Al Qaqaa.” Now, the insurgents have something like 700,000 times that amount at their disposal, to go along with their ocean of cash, and increasingly sophisticated tactics like these. Bad. Very, very bad. Andrew Sullivan hits in on the head:

In terrorist-ridden Iraq, the possibility of serious weaponry falling into the hands of the enemy and being deployed against American troops and conceivably American citizens is unforgivable. The whole point of the invasion was to prevent this kind of transfer from taking place. Yet, thanks to this administration, it may have precipitated it.

THERE’S MORE: Juan Cole points out that this is one of several “missing deadly weapons” scandals to break in Iraq. In the middle of the month, we heard about the nuclear equipment buildings that simply disappeared from the world’s satellite screens. And in the summer of 2003, we learned that radioactive materials — good for a dirty bomb — had vanished from Iraq’s al-Tuwaitha facility.


Friday, October 22nd, 2004

John Robb has a must-read post today about the “guerilla entrepreneurs” now operating in Iraq. If you want to know why this insurgency in Iraq is going to be so tough to stop, start clicking.

Arab warfare, until late in this century, was driven entirely by entrepreneurship. For example: Lawrence of Arabia, the father of modern guerrilla warfare, used combinations of direct payments and the promise of loot to build his forces. Faith played a major part, but it was almost always secondary.
Recent reports confirm from the US military analysts confirm the financial nature of the open source bazaar in Iraq:

* “Unlimited amounts” of violence capital for guerrilla entrepreneurs is flowing into Iraq from ex-Baathists, relatives of Saddam Hussein, Saudi sources, and bin Laden. Given global guerrilla ROIs (returns on investment) of up to 100,000 x, this should be cause for alarm.
* Loot from convoy hijackings, theft of oil through bunkering, and ransoms play a major part of the motivation for attacks. Fully 80% of the attacks fall into this category.
* A granular competitive market. There are over 50 guerrilla groups active in Iraq. The sheer diversity of the effort indicates a process that is very similar to historical patterns of Arab warfare.

THERE’S MORE: “About $500 million in unaccounted funds from Saddam Hussein’s former regime is being used to finance a growing insurgency in Iraq,” according to CNN.