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Archive for February, 2006

Rapid Fire 02/28/06

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

* WH situation room’s extreme makeover
* Army helos still undefended
* Pentagon bookkeeping FUBAR
* LAPD’s stolen-car spotter
* Britain’s “voluntary” DNA sweep
* Osprey goes to war?
* 10,000 combat hours for ScanEagle UAV
* STRATCOM consolidates
* Teeny-tiny planes take off

(Big ups: JR)

Laser Planes’ Pains

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

Jane’s has a good overview of the ray gun world’s state of play. The bits about the problems facing the beam-firing 747, the Airborne Laser, and the blaster-equipped cargo plane, the Advanced Tactical Laser, are particularly juicy.
atl.jpgFull-on flight tests of the Airborne Laser, or ABL, have been pushed back to 2008. But “some aspects of the system cannot be demonstrated on the ground,” Jane’s notes. “Laser performance in real high-altitude conditions and the performance of the entire system at high altitudes. As in a rocket, the chemical systems in the COIL [chemical oxygen iodine laser, the ABL’s weapon] are affected by atmospheric pressure at the exhaust outlet, which creates back pressure in the flow path.”

Another issue is logistics: hydrogen peroxide is corrosive and a powerful solvent of organic materials (including people) and potassium hydroxide is a toxic material used as a drain cleaner and (by Norwegians) to preserve codfish. Neither is used by any other military system, so the chemicals require new storage and transport facilities and special training and handling procedures…
The USAF’s other airborne COIL project is the ATL [Advanced Tactical Laser], which has a budget of $200 million [and] is due for high-power flight tests in mid-2007, aboard an C-130H platform.
ATL has a much lower power goal than the ABL — in the tens of kilowatts rather than megawatts — and is intended to disable rather than kill its targets, demonstrating the ability of lasers to achieve specific, ultra-precise effects. The design reference missions for ATL are to stop a moving vehicle and disable a communications node from 10,000 ft.
Stopping a vehicle does not necessarily mean destroying it or killing its occupants. If the laser can penetrate the engine cover, for example, the temperature within the engine compartment is likely to get higher than is mechanically optimal. The laser could penetrate the fuel tank and start a fire. In the case of a communications target, cables and antennas could be the weak spots.
Delivery of hardware for the ATL… started during 2005 and the C-130 platform was delivered to Boeing in January this year… Unlike the ABL, the ATL does not vent harmful gases into the atmosphere: the exhaust is ducted into a container of activated carbon, which absorbs and neutralises it.
While ATL presents less risk than ABL, it is more likely to be overtaken by other developments: primarily, the development of more powerful solid-state lasers. The attractions of a solid-state laser — which uses a solid transmissive material as the lasing medium — are clear, notes AFRL’s Hamil: the ‘magazine’ can be as deep as the aircraft’s fuel tanks (which can be replenished in flight) and there are no exotic fuels to handle and no chemical exhaust. The disadvantage is that solid-state lasers today do not have the power to do anything other than illuminate. At high powers, ‘thermal lensing’ — the change in optical qualities with heat — becomes what Hamil calls “horrific”, making it difficult to produce a high-quality beam.

(Big ups: Eric)

Stop Training Iraqi Troops?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

What if were fighting the wrong kind of war? Some of Americas better military minds have been making a transition in Iraq, from waging traditional battles to clamping down on insurgents. A major part of this shift: training Iraq forces to take over from American troops. Stephen Biddle, with the Council on Foreign Relations, says theyre making a huge mistake.
iraqi_troops.jpgThe problem is that Iraqization is a Vietnam-era solution. And the current struggle is not a Maoist ‘people’s war’ of national liberation [like Vietnam]; it is a communal civil war with very different dynamics, Biddle writes in an amazingly timely article for the new issue of Foreign Affairs. “Turning over the responsibility for fighting the insurgents to local forces, in particular, is likely to make matters worse.”

Such a policy might have made sense in Vietnam, but in Iraq it threatens to exacerbate the communal tensions that underlie the conflict and undermine the power-sharing negotiations needed to end it. Washington must stop shifting the responsibility for the country’s security to others and instead threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in order to force them to come to a durable compromise. Only once an agreement is reached should Washington consider devolving significant military power and authority to local forces
In a people’s war, handing the fighting off to local forces makes sense because it undermines the nationalist component of insurgent resistance, improves the quality of local intelligence, and boosts troop strength. But in a communal civil war, it throws gasoline on the fire. Iraq’s Sunnis perceive the “national” army and police force as a Shiite-Kurdish militia on steroids to them, the defense forces look like agents of a hostile occupation. And the more threatened the Sunnis feel, the more likely they are to fight back even harder. The bigger, stronger, better trained, and better equipped the Iraqi forces become, the worse the communal tensions that underlie the whole conflict will get.
The creation of powerful Shiite-Kurdish security forces will also reduce the chances of reaching the only serious long-term solution to the country’s communal conflict: a compromise based on a constitutional deal with ironclad power-sharing arrangements protecting all parties. A national army that effectively excluded Sunnis would make any such constitutional deal irrelevant, because the Shiite-Kurdish alliance would hold the real power regardless of what the constitution said. Increasing evidence that Iraq’s military and police have already committed atrocities against Sunnis only confirms the dangers of transferring responsibility for fighting the insurgents to local forces before an acceptable ethnic compromise has been brokered.
On the other hand, the harder the United States works to integrate Sunnis into the security forces, the less effective those forces are likely to become. The inclusion of Sunnis will inevitably entail penetration by insurgents, and it will be difficult to establish trust between members of mixed units whose respective ethnic groups are at one another’s throats. Segregating Sunnis in their own battalions is no solution either. Doing so would merely strengthen all sides simultaneously by providing each with direct U.S. assistance and could trigger an unstable, unofficial partition of the country into separate Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish enclaves, each defended by its own military force
What, then, is to be done?… First, Washington must slow down the expansion of the Iraqi national military and police. Iraq will eventually need capable indigenous security forces, but their buildup must follow a broad communal compromise, not the other way around
Second, the United States must bring more pressure to bear on the parties in the constitutional negotiations. And the strongest pressure available is military: the United States must threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to coerce them to negotiate. Washington should use the prospect of a U.S.-trained and U.S.-supported Shiite-Kurdish force to compel the Sunnis to come to the negotiating table. At the same time, in order to get the Shiites and the Kurds to negotiate too, it should threaten either to withdraw prematurely, a move that would throw the country into disarray, or to back the Sunnis
The only way to break the logjam is to change the parties’ relative comfort with the status quo by drastically raising the costs of their failure to negotiate. The U.S. presence now caps the war’s intensity, and U.S. aid could give any side an enormous military advantage. Thus Washington should threaten to use its influence to alter the balance of power depending on the parties’ behavior. By doing so, it could make stubbornness look worse than cooperation and compel all sides to compromise.

Rapid Fire 02/27/06

Monday, February 27th, 2006

* Coasties spooked by port deal
* New crooks: keyloggers
* SETI@home meets Nazi code-breakers
* “Q branch” IPO tanks (background here)
* Quantum crypto grows up
* Harvard nabs the Wonk
* Signs of hope in Iraq: “Current U.S. military commanders say they have come to understand that they are fighting within a political context, which means the results must first be judged politically. The pace and shape of the war also have changed, with U.S. forces trying to exercise tactical patience and shift responsibilities to Iraqi forces, even as they worry that the American public’s patience may be dwindling.”

Be Mickey Mouse’s Spy

Monday, February 27th, 2006

Some of you may have felt a little underqualified to become a manhunter for Special Operations Command. Never fear. An anonymous pal has found a job almost as good: “Intelligence Analyst” for the Walt Disney Company. Yeah, you read that right: a spook for the Mouse… “highly developed Internet skills” and “US Government security clearance (at least Secret-level) desirable.“
mickey_binos.jpgEmployer: The Walt Disney Company
Sector: Public
Type: Job
Status: Full-time
Location: Burbank, CA
Title: Intelligence Analyst
THE SITUATION: Basic Purpose and Objective of the Position: The Intelligence Analyst anticipates and assesses threats that could harm, or make vulnerable, The Walt Disney Company (TWDC), its employees, guests, or assets.
THE POSITION: The analyst thoroughly reviews information from open/public sources, official sources, and professional contacts, and conducts regular assessments of world events, regional/national security climates, and suspect individuals and groups. The analyst produces a range of written and verbal analyses for employees and management of the Company and provides tactical intelligence support to the Company’s security and crisis management operators…
% of Total Duties and Responsibilities
45 [%] Monitors open source media, homeland security and law enforcement bulletins, and information from professional contacts, for international, national, and local news and intelligence that may affect the security and safety of TWDC. Maintains comprehensive files of intelligence on key issues and parts of the world; maintains record of threats received, assessments, and their disposition. Plays key information processing role in the Corporate-level Emergency Operations Center, when activated.
35 [%] Anticipates scenarios, analyzes information, and produces written or verbal assessments and warning forecasts for Global Security management and other appropriate TWDC consumers. Assessments will be assigned or self-initiated. Recommends strategies to mitigate security risks as appropriate or required.
10 [%] Develops and maintains regular liaison with local, national, and international law enforcement and intelligence community partners. Maintains and broadens professional skills and contacts through external training and attendance at conferences.
5 [%] Becomes subject matter expert on issues such as counterterrorism, travel security, and international affairs.
5 [%] Finds and coordinates training opportunities and intelligence production of analytic cadre throughout TWDC…
Education Level: BA/BS Required AND 4–6 Years of Experience
Field of Study/Area of Experience: Political science, international relations, national security studies, or related field preferred Other
Training/Technical Skills/Knowledge:

* Highly developed Internet skills and knowledge of Microsoft Office-based applications, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access
* Foreign area knowledge and understanding of contemporary affairs gained through study, travel, or work abroad ” Knowledge and understanding of analysis on security issues, especially though not exclusively related to terrorism
* Familiarity with information resources and data-mining techniques ” Analytic experience and formal training with an intelligence agency, law enforcement organization, the military, or the private sector required
* US Government security clearance (at least Secret-level) desirable.

Abilities & Behaviors

* Strong research and critical thinking skills to identify, collect, and evaluate data; to absorb and synthesize large amounts of information; and to draw logical, interpretable, and potentially actionable conclusions.
* Strong written and verbal English presentation skills.
* Solid interpersonal, teambuilding, and networking skills
* Ability to work under pressure of tight deadlines and high, exacting standards
* High motivation, desire for professional growth and continuous improvement, and a sincere willingness to learn
* Ability to interface with and represent Disney Global Security to all levels of management, executives, and external partners
* Ability to organize, balance, and prioritize multiple projects
* Exhibits creativity and innovativeness ” Willingness and ability to train others ” Strong professional ethics and ability to maintain absolute discretion, confidentiality, and trust.

Boing Boing vs. U.A.E.

Monday, February 27th, 2006

Superblog Boing Boing is being “blocked by entire countries including the United Arab Emirates, and by many library systems, schools, US government and military sites, and corporations,” Xeni says. The reason: a silly little program called Smart Filter, which classified 25,000 BB posts as “nudity.“
lguaeboingboingboinged.jpgThe problem is, most of these posts don’t have any boobies at all. “They’re stories about Hurricane Katrina, kidnapped journalists in Iraq, book reviews, ukelele casemods, phonecam video of Bigfoot sightings (come to think of it, he doesn’t wear clothes either), or pictures of astonishing Lego constructions…”

[Smart Filter maker] Secure Computing offered us a devil’s bargain: if we’d change the URLs of images with “nudity” (which, they assured us, included photos of Michaelangelo’s David) to something they could detect and block, they’d let the rest of the world see us again. That guy in the UAE who was worried he’d be imprisoned for trying to read BoingBoing would be OK again.
[I]nstead we’ve decided to help put Secure Computing out of business… We’re publishing a guide to evading the SmartFilter censorware. There are hundreds of ways to defeat these censorware apps, and we’re going to catalog as many of them as possible. (We’ll publish this tutorial shortly, and update the post you’re reading with a link to the permanent page).

I.E.D. Answer: New Roads?

Monday, February 27th, 2006

I’ve spoken to a couple of company commanders in Iraq who say they don’t have much of a problem with roadside bombs. The big reason why: they avoid the main streets in their neighborhoods, travelling where their enemies aren’t.
soldier_blown_up_truck.jpgNow, the Pentagon is looking to use that technique all over Iraq, according to Inside Defense. “Rather than trying to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs) head-on with new technologies and tactics, the Defense Department is looking to… construct new roads for supply convoys that simply bypass densely populated, high-threat areas.”

The Army is seeking $167 million in military construction funds as part of the Pentagon’s soon-to-be detailed $65.3 billion supplemental spending request for fiscal year 2006 to pave roads capable of supporting two-way traffic, complete with shoulders, drainage structures and interchanges to connect with existing supply routes, according to a draft version of the request.
Failure to provide these routes will result in continued exposure of U.S. and coalition forces as well as Iraqi non-combatants to unacceptable insurgent threats to include IED and vehicle borne IED and direct fire exposure, states the draft budget document obtained by InsideDefense​.com and set to be delivered to Congress soon.…
There have been approximately 28,000 IED incidents in Iraq between April 2003 and November 2005, according to Jan. 24 briefing slides prepared by Multi-National Force-Iraq.

Iraq Rebuild More Cash than Marshall Plan?

Monday, February 27th, 2006

Adam Rogers is right: “IEEE Spectrum this month has an awesome, awesome article on why we cant get the electricity on in Iraq.“
soldier_plant.jpgHe pulls out some of the story’s juicier tidibits. Stuff like:

* Shortage of power nationwide: 4000 megawatts.
* Amount of power you could generate from the natural gas that gets flamed off — vented and burned from working oil wells instead of captured: 4000 megawatts.
* Kind of fuel the Iraqis have easy access to: crude oil.
* Kind of fuel the persnickety GE dual-fuel combustion turbines we bought use: diesel or natural gas.
* Cost of bringing high quality diesel, by truck, from the nearest source (Turkey): $85 a barrel.
* Amount of diesel all the fancy new combustion turbines in the country would use if they were up and running, which they arent: one tanker-truckful every 45 minutes.

But to me, that most amazing statistic in this numbers-rich article is that “the final [reconstruction] tally might be as high as $100 billion.”

As of fall 2005, the United States had spent or committed more than US $20 billion to the effort, other countries had pledged $13.6 billion, and Iraq itself had contributed about $24 billion, including seized assets of Saddam Hussein.… For comparison, in the first two years of their reconstruction after being devastated in wars, Germany, Japan, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan together received a total of $25.6 billion, in 2003 dollars, according to the United States Institute of Peace, a congressionally created organization devoted to conflict resolution. The first European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt much of Western Europe after World War II, spent the equivalent of about $90 billion in today’s dollars between 1948 and 1951.

Rapid Fire 02/26/06

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

typhoon_loaded.jpg*Catch o’ the day: nuclear sub
* Israel’s big-ass drone
* Navy’s swimming spy plane (background here)
* “TIA lives on“
* Data mining everywhere
* Gunny B got blown up… and lived to tell about it
* Now
that is a lot of bombs
(Big ups: RC, JQP, RN, HLS Watch)

Happy Birthday to Me

Friday, February 24th, 2006

I called my Mom one day when I was twenty-two, to complain about how totally sucky my life was. I don’t remember exactly what was so awful — I think maybe I was frustrated with a new boss or something. Whatever. I had just graduated college, spent a year on the Clinton campaign, and was sharing a 2,000 square foot apartment/recording studio in Georgetown. My job was fun, my circle of frineds was huge, my bank account wasn’t over-drawn, and I had recently spent a half-hour, solo, with Nelson Mandela. In short, I had absolutely zero to whine about.
In her polite, rosy way, Mom told me told shut the fuck up, and enjoy what I had. Great moments don’t last forever, she said, and you better enjoy them while they’re going on.
I still struggle to remember that simplest of lessons. But birthdays have a way of forcing you to stop and take an inventory of your life — especially milestone birthdays, like number 35.
So with Mom’s advice in mind, here’s a list of some of the things I’ve done since I turned 34.

- Hung backstage with Snoop
– Shot guns with Xeni
– Got shot at by Iraqis
– Climbed Chichen Itza
– Caught the dunk by Iguodala (and Knicks/Sixers with Uncle Steve)
– Rode the rapids upstate
– Got choked in Krav Maga
– Tested a killer robot
– Blew up an IED
– Threw parties
– Threw up at parties
– Rode a Black Hawk and a C-130
– Flew a Joint Strike Fighter sim
– Fasted
– Gorged
– Snowshoed
– Snorkled
– Hiked
– Spellunked
– Sinned
– Atoned
– Prayed
– Cursed
– Cried
– Comforted
– Visited:

* Brooklyn
* San Fran
* L.A.
* London
* Leeds
* Chi-town
* H-town
* Tulum
* Cozumel
* Philly
* Baghdad
* Kuwait City
* Deadwood
* DC
* Sedona
* Manchester, VT
* Norfolk
* The ‘burgh
* Ft. Irwin, CA
* Ft. Monmouth, NJ
* Ft. Huachuca, AZ
* Picatinny Arsenal, NJ
* Eglin AFB, FL
* Pentagon, VA
* And THREE laser weapon labs

- Chased crooks (A few weeks before the 34th, technically. Still counts.)
– Filed about 750 blog posts
– Wrote for Wired, Newsweek, the Times, the Forward, Pop Sci, Pop Mech, Wired News, the Times mag, the National Post, and Fast Company.
– Blabbed on CNN, NPR, and the BBC
– Had four albums come out with my name on ‘em
– Learned a nice chunk of Hebrew
– Reconnected with my brother
– Raised some Katrina cash
– And, of course, got engaged

You know what? That seems like a pretty good year to me. Thanks, Mom. You were right.