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Archive for November, 2004


Tuesday, November 30th, 2004

detective-magnifying-glass.jpgAs if you weren’t nervous enough in the airport. The Transportation Security Administration has started to hunt for technologies that’ll secretly spot “suspicious behavior” in passengers.
The request for information, filed by the minds of the William J. Hughes Technical Center in the Atlantic City Airport, hopes to find ways to “sense patterns of individuals’ physiological response(s) and/or overt behavior that are reliably associated with malicious intent.”

Proposed technologies may be applicable to the screening of travelers or of employees of transportation facilities (e.g., airports, rail stations, and bus terminals) and carriers.
Ideally, proposed technologies will be non invasive, remote, covert, passive, automatic, and suitable for area, as well as portal use. However, alternatives requiring contact, interaction (challenge-response, for example), manual operation, etc. will also be considered.

Great. Just great. (via Cyrptome)


Monday, November 29th, 2004

eyeball.jpgI think we all winced when we read, back in September, about the Delta pilot who was hit in the eye by a laser while flying a 737. Or about the 20 year-old Los Alamos intern who was zapped during a July experiment.
Air Force researchers must not have liked what they read, either. That’s presumably why they’re looking to develop a contact lens that can protect against laser blasts (scroll down to find it).
Lasers are becoming more and more common on the battlefield. Range finders, smart bomb guidance packages, and airplane protection systems all use the rays. And while the Air Force has been working hard to put together eyewear that’ll keep the lasers at bay, it’s been hard to integrate the things with “protective equipment (helmets, goggles, and chem/bio gear), life support equipment (visors and oxygen masks), and avionics (head/helmet mounted displays and night vision goggles).” Corrective glasses only make the problem worse.
Anti-laser contact lenses might solve many of the problems, though. And they’d cover the eye better than glasses or goggles.

The contact lens sits on the eye, the entire cornea and pupil are covered, so there is no chance of a reflection, or high angle incident beam, sneaking behind the LEP [Laser Eye Protection]. Therefore, coupled with the appropriate laser protection technology, contact lenses provide a perfectly sized defense against eye injury, eliminating direct and off-axis retinal hazards from todays most dangerous military lasers that operate in the far red and near infrared spectrum (670 nm 1200 nm).


Friday, November 26th, 2004

Fallujah_112004-15.jpgIED factories, packed with radios and plastic explosives. Martyr training manuals. Illicitly-used mosques, pinpointed on a map.
That’s all part of an eye-popping PowerPoint presentation, obtained by Military​.com, “Telling the Story of Fallujah to the Word.” Allegedly created by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the Multi-National Corps — Iraq, the slide show is meant to catalog just how venomous insurgent forces in Fallujah had become.
Sixty percent of Fallujah’s mosques had fighting positions within them, according to “Telling.” That’s a violation of the laws of war. 203 weapons caches were found dotted around the city. 653 IEDs were discovered as well as 11 factories for building the bombs.
The presentation also shows ledgers, supposedly tracking foreign fighter in the city, evidence of torture chambers, and a rundown of the weapons confiscated by American and Iraqi government troops. Grisly stuff, especially for a holiday weekend. But well worth the 3MB download.
THERE’S MORE: The bosses here have turned that PowerPoint beast into good ol’ HTML. So now there’s no excuse the check it out.
AND MORE: A review of Palestinian militants’ stockpiles and production facilities, produced by a former Israeli Army soldier, is here.


Friday, November 26th, 2004

MMA.jpg- From commerical satellite pictures, the Army is putting together 3D maps of Mosul and Fallujah.
– Out of a 737 passenger jet, Boeing is making an anti-sub spyplane.
– In online chat rooms, the CIA and the National Science Foundation are hoping to catch terrorists scheming.
THERE’S MORE: With a program called FalconView, the Air Force has been cooking up satellite-generated 3-D maps since 1995 in Bosnia, notes Defense Tech pal CA.

“One of the best things about FV is not just that you can place items on imagery, but that you can ‘drape’ that imagery over 3-D Digital Terrain Elevation Data. This is what enables the hi-fidelity fly-throughs [of the area]. More cumbersome technology, using [government] imagery, has been around for years. But time and progress now allows it to get to the field…
Hi-fidelity imagery is not only a boon to the troops, but also to the intelligence community. Now lower-priority, lower-fidelity requirements (like low-resolution maps, environmental studies) can be [handled by] commercial [satellites], and not take up valuable “national” resources as they have always done. The main drawback to commercial is lack of assets (though improving), and lack of timeliness. But the capability is great if you want to, say, get mid-res city graphics of major Iranian cities, or produce mid-res familiarization products of Iranian nuclear/missile facilities.


Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

Maybe it was out of sheer laziness. Maybe it was because so many others have been covering the subject so thoroughly. But I haven’t been blogging about the ongoing Boeing-USAF tanker scandal, even though the mess has drained billions in taxpayer funds, cost several Air Force leaders their jobs, and made for some of Washington’s best political theater.
Anyway, here is a good place for background on Tankergate. Hopefully, I’ll get off my butt and start covering this thing myself.


Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

bear_cia.jpgImagine a world where Teletubbies pack heat and Spongebob goes undercover. That’s apparently what US government web designers had in mind when they followed President Clinton’s 1997 order to add child-oriented Web pages to government sites. Today, the results are bizarre — cryptographic coloring books, drug-sniffing dog cartoons, and spy-satellite sing-alongs. Are they giant inside jokes? Coded messages? The remnants of LSD experiments gone awry? Only Dick Cheney may know for sure.
Here are two examples. Click on over to my story in this month’s Wired magazine for the rest:

The National Reconnaissance Office used to be so hush-hush that officials wouldn’t admit it existed. Now the spy-satellite agency has gone cute. The site has songs (“Whoosh Goes Satellite,” to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”), stories of cats in space, and “simple-to-make, paper-plate satellite puppets.“
CIA’s Homepage for Kids
Youngsters can thank CIA “Ace Photo Pigeon” Harry Recon for the exciting overhead views of the agency’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters (presumably with some details redacted). Meanwhile, Ginger, a mischievous blue teddy bear, takes a tour of spook HQ — without a security badge. “Lucky the guard knows me!”


Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

msti1-th.gifThe possibility of a sneak attack in space has the Pentagon spooked. And one of the things that makes Rummy & Co. the most nervous is that nobody has a clue what’s actually up there in orbit. Imagine how vast and opaque the seas must have seen to World War I-era commanders, and you’ll get the idea.
There are an array of efforts underway to try to fix this. But a just-introduced Air Force program wins the coolest name award. And it could be in the running for a biggest-bang-for-the-buck prize, too, if it ever gets off of the ground.
“The Self-Aware Satellite” (scroll waaay down) starts with the premise that orbiters already have a lot of sensors on board. But these instruments are oriented inward, to keep tabs on the satellite’s health. What’s worse, many of the sensors “are fixed and uni-purpose, and they cannot be accessed in a way inconsistent with this originally envisioned purpose,” the Air Force notes.
The Self-Aware Satellite also known as Satellite-As-A-Sensor, or SAAS looks to break that rigid mold, and let free up the orbiters’ instrumentation.

In SAAS, all sensor data is posted to a centralized database, which can be freely accessed in real-time by a satellite’s own processor(s). Sensors can furthermore be redirected to other purposes. For example, a timing, telemetry and control (TT&C) radio can be retargeted to behave as a radio-frequency (RF) threat-warning sensor when not otherwise engaged. Correlations between sensors can be analyzed by the platform on orbit. When combined with an autonomous ability to exploit the information for short-loop responsive actions, a “self-aware” satellite is created.

But pulling off this trick means doing a big time reworking of satellites’ closed and centralized software. And it means reprogramming sensors, so they can spot both internal trouble as well as threats from without.


Tuesday, November 23rd, 2004

mcloud.jpgI couldn’t quite believe it, when I first got the news over the weekend. But it’s true: “Congress, in a surprising blow to the Bush administration’s nuclear weapons ambitions, has eliminated funding for two major bomb research programs, including a so-called bunker buster that the president had said was essential to the country’s security,” the San Francisco Chronicle (among others) is reporting.
The bunker-buster or, more formally, the “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator” is a weapon that burrows about 10 yards beneath the ground before unleashing hell. And it has been a contentious issue in Congress ever since it was proposed by the Administration in 2002. Last year, legislators cut funds for the project in half. Then, in June, a key Republican representative Ohio’s David Hobson, who chairs the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee moved to wipe out funds for the program entirely. The money was later restored in the Senate.
Now, Hobson seems to have struck again, fulfilling a pledge John Kerry made in the Presidential debates, to ban the bunker-buster.
“The U.S. has about 10,000 warheads in the stockpile already. To him, that number is enough,” Hobson’s press secretary, Sara Perkins, tells the Chron.
But while Hobson has complained long and loud about America’s Cold War-sized atomic stockpile, there’s a little more to his bunker-buster opposition than that. Hobson has also been a big-time critic of the Energy Department bureaucrats in charge of the country’s nuclear weapons programs. And he’s not afraid to use issues like the bunker-buster as a club against them. As I wrote back in June:

[In 2003], he pared back proposed funding for some weapons research programs. For others, he withheld funds until the Bush administration came up with a plan to shrink the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile. That road map — to halve the American arsenal by 2012 — was submitted last week.
“After several years of frustration, we finally put a fence around some of (Energy Department’s) advanced concepts funding and said that it would not be available until the department delivered a revised stockpile plan,” Hobson said in a statement. “I admit that we held a DOE program hostage until they produced this revised stockpile plan, and you know what? — the power of the purse does work!”


Tuesday, November 23rd, 2004

sniperBW.jpg“Gang members in Chicago who fire off a few rounds at their rivals [could] find cops on the scene in minutes, thanks to new gunshot-detection devices being installed in 80 locations around the city before the end of the year,” Wired News reports.

The devices, mounted on telephone poles in specific neighborhoods, listen for the distinctive sound of a gunshot and immediately alert a police dispatcher when one is detected. A video camera in the device allows the dispatcher to keep an eye on the scene until officers arrive.
The system is similar to those being used to decrease gunshot-related injuries and deaths in a half dozen other cities in the United States, including Redwood City, California; Glendale, Arizona; and Charleston, South Carolina.
Here’s how the systems work: Police mount the detection devices, which include microphones and sound-analysis hardware, on telephone poles and other locations in neighborhoods where gunfire is a problem. The devices are connected to a control center where dispatchers wait to receive alerts via their computers.

Chicago authorities have been getting increasingly worked up about using distributed technology to keep tabs on their less-than-friendly residents. In September, Mayor Daley announced a proposal to network together 2,000 surveillance cameras around the city.
Chicago’s gunshot detectors sound a whole lot like Darpa’s “Boomerang,” sniper-finder system, which G.I.s have been mounting on their Humvees since early in the year. More info on the project’s next stage –designed to fight off RPG attacks, as well — is here.


Monday, November 22nd, 2004

perugino_f.jpgNo, this doesn’t have a damn thing to do with killer drones, pain rays, or mullahs with nukes. But I’m posting this Wired News story of mine anyway, dammit. It’s about software tools that may be able to spot the difference between a real painting, and a slick forgery.

Scholars have had their suspicions that the painting of Madonna and child credited to the Italian Renaissance master Pietro Perugino wasn’t really done by him alone. But they could never be sure.
Now, a new set of software tools, developed by a Dartmouth College team, seems to confirm the art historians’ doubts, showing evidence of at least four different painters working on the canvas. The programs’ makers hope this will be the first in a long line of art authentication mysteries they can help put to rest, with code that can sort out real from fake.
“There are properties in an artist’s pen and brush strokes that aren’t visible to the human eye, but that are there nonetheless. And we can find them, through mathematical, statistical analysis,” said Dartmouth computer science professor Hany Farid, who developed the algorithms, along with math professor Daniel Rockmore and graduate student Siwei Lyu.
But museum curators and statisticians caution that the Dartmouth group’s techniques have only begun to be tested. Using algorithms to back up scholars’ suspicions is one thing; uncovering a fraud with just a computer, that’s completely different. And in the art world, no scientific method is considered as sure as the eye of a seasoned connoisseur.
“This is very unusual,” said Nadine Orenstein, the curator of the drawings and prints department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “We’re all a bit skeptical.”

THERE’S MORE: Earlier this year, Farid made noise when he unveiled his software for finding faked digital images. My New York Times story on that work is here.