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Archive for September, 2006

Chemical Weapons? What Chemical Weapons?

Friday, September 29th, 2006

I was clearing out my in-box when I noticed this note: EDITORS ALERT: The American Forces Press Service recalls the article titled DoD Officials Urge Use of Non-lethal Weapons in Terror War by Jim Garamone, published Sept. 27, 2006. The article contains inaccurate information and should not be used.
news3.jpgUsually, news services correct innacurate information. The Armed Forces Press Service didnt do this, however, they just withdrew the entire article from their site. The great thing about the Internet, however, is that the article lives on through other websites. Ive attached the full article below.
Among other interesting tidbits, the article quotes a senior Pentagon official noting that the Chemical Weapons Convention constrains military personnel from offensive use of riot-control agents (like tear gas). This follows up on earlier debate, described in this article from 2003 in the New York Times, on President Bush authorizing tear gas for defensive operations (something presumably not in violation with the convention).
The sticky issue is when you use riot control agents for offensive operations and judging from this Armed Forces Press Service article, thats the road theyre going down.

DoD Officials Urge Use of Non-lethal Weapons in Terror War
By Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2006 DoD officials today urged a change in policy that would allow U.S. servicemembers to use tear gas and other non-lethal weapons in the global war on terror. Joseph A. Benkert, principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security policy, and Air Force Brig. Gen. Otis G. Mannon, deputy director for special operations on the Joint Staff, spoke to the Senate Armed Service Committees subcommittee on readiness and management.
At issue is an Executive Order issued in 1975 that forbids American servicemembers first use of riot control agents in war, except in defensive military modes to save lives. The policy further states that all use of riot control agents in war is prohibited unless such use has presidential approval in advance.
An amendment in the fiscal 2006 National Defense Authorization Act the Ensign Amendment after subcommittee chairman Nevada Sen. John Ensign takes non-lethal weapons for riot control out of this prohibition.
Benkert said officials want to assure that our men and women in uniform have the full range of options available to them to carry out their missions.
Benkert stressed that the riot control agents he was talking about are not listed in a Chemical Weapons Convention schedule. He is referring to such non-lethal weapons as tear gas and pepper spray. He also said his testimony did not address other non-chemical, non-lethal weapons such as foams, water canons, beanbags or rubber bullets.
It may be difficult for many Americans to understand why their armed forces can use riot control agents only in defined circumstances when they see their local law enforcement agents using them effectively every day, Benkert said. The United States military must operate within the parameters of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Executive Order 11850, which constrain the ability of our armed forces to use riot control agents in offensive operations in wartime and obviously do not apply to our colleagues in law enforcement.
Benkert and Mannon stressed that even when allowed to carry these weapons, DoD personnel go through exhaustive and comprehensive training on their use. He said they also receive training in the law of war and applicable Geneva Conventions implications. The Department of Defense has issued regulations, doctrine and training materials providing guidance as to when riot control agents may be used, he said.
Before U.S. military personnel may use riot control agents, they must have proper authorization. The president must approve any use in war in a defensive military mode to save lives.
Under various circumstances, in light of the changing environment in which armed conflicts are taking place, in such a dynamic environment the peacekeeping, law enforcement and traditional battlefield roles of deployed units may be present at different times within the same theater of operations, Benkert said. The use of riot control agents will be evaluated based on the particular unit or mission involved and the particular facts and circumstances of the mission at the requested time.

Sharon Weinberger (cross-posted at Imaginary Weapons)

UPDATE 4:35 PM: Noah here. In his tesitmony, Benkert noted that “It may be difficult for many Americans to understand why their Armed Forces can use riot control agents in only defined circumstances when they see their local law enforcement agencies using them effectively every day.” I’m one of those Americans. So I asked Edward Hammond, who heads up nonlethal-weapon-watching Sunshine Project for his thoughts. Check out his answers after the jump.


‘Invisible’ Boomerang ‘Bot

Friday, September 29th, 2006

It’s nice to have a set of robotic eyes in the sky. But surveillance drones tend to be loud, and rather obvious, as they keep watch above a Middle Eastern city. Many guerilla types know by now to avoid the things.
Phantom-Demo.jpgThat’s why a small company out of Minneapolis, VeraTech Areo, has built a hand-held spy drone that it says is practically invisible. Battery powered and shaped like a boomerang, the “Phantom Sentinel” unmanned aeiral vehicle (UAV) “is in constant motion and the center of [its] mass is located outside of the fuselage,” Catherine MacRae Hockmuth tells us in the current issue of Defense Technology International. “As the aircraft spins, it disappears from vision,” an AeroTech fact sheet adds.
Even better, the company promises, is that the folding, backpack-ready drone “has a uniquely minimal cross section allowing it to ‘slice’ through even the most adverse weather conditions that would keep conventional UAV systems on the ground. The rotational inertia generated in flight allows the UAV to self level and maintain a very high degree of stability, even while hovering.“
There don’t seem to be any military orders for the Phantom, yet. But the company does have a patents for its hard-to-spot flights — and a wacky, techno-themed video, too.

Rapid Fire 09/29/06

Friday, September 29th, 2006

* 12,000 G.I.s under NATO command
* Satcomm lowdown
* Bush buddy: WH war disarray
* Saudis plan Iraq fence
* Everyone wants high-tech soldier get-ups
* $10M more for giant spy blimp
* Space Command’s “Cosmic” R&D
* 5 year plan for drones in national airspace
* “Rocketmen unite!“
* “Be careful what you ask for”

(Big ups: RC)

CIA’s Wacky, Online ‘Personality Quiz’

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

These are tough times for the Central Intelligence Agency. It’s not just the blown calls on Iraq. Or the bruising turf battles with the White House. There’s the series of internal purges. And, of course, the constant threat of another terrorist attack. No wonder the Agency is having trouble hiring good people.
But still, can things have grown so dire at Langley that the CIA has to resort to gimmicks like this wink-wink-trying-to-be-ironic-and-cool-but-instead-looking-even-more-dorky recruiting website
The “CIA personality quiz” is supposed to show how the Agency needs all types to function. So the exam offers up a series of questions, about your favorite leisure activities, the “kind of transportation you prefer,” and what super power you’d like to have. And then the site tells you what kind of valuable asset to the CIA you’d be.
If the super power you want is flight, for example, and your dream is to climb Mt. Everest, according to the Agency, you’re a “Daring Thrill Seeker.” If you prefer shopping on Rodeo Drive and sunbathing on a yacht, that means you’re a “Innovative Pioneer.” If you’d like to have ESP and a designer wardrobe, that qualifies you as an “Impressive Mastermind.” Naturally.
Somehow, this is all meant to dispel myths about what it’s like to work for the Agency. Take Myth #1, for instance: “Youll Never See Your Family and Friends Again.” Au contraire, the site says. “The work we do may be secret, but that doesnt mean your life will be. Because the variety of CIA careers is similar to that of any major corporation. So your friends and family will still be part of your life.“
Nor will your work be all that dangerous. “Car chases through the alleyways of a foreign city are common on TV, but theyre not what a CIA career is about. And, they dont compare with the reality of being part of worldwide intelligence operations supporting a global mission.“
And that grueling background check? Don’t sweat it. “Because of our national security role, CIA applicants must meet specific qualifications but, dont worry. Getting caught smoking in high school isnt enough to disqualify you. Your intellect, skills, experience and desire to serve the nation are most important to us.“
Unless you’re setting up Agency websites, I guess.

Rapid Fire 09/28/06

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

* Sadr militia splintering
* Raptor 1, Congress 0
* U.S. vs. Sudan?
* Spybitch whines
* Wynne’s wife gets zapped
* Gun-mounted face recognition?
* New anti-tank missile blasts away
* Spaceship dream revived
* Rutan/Branson ship revealed!
* Drones’ indoor swarm
* Raven goes British
* Scorcher! Marines running marathon — in Iraq
* “Synthetic vision” for copter pilots (background here)
* Just give up now

(Big ups: EH, JQP)

Homeland Security Blues

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

When I scan the papers for how the feds, state and locals are dealing with terrorist CBRN [Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear] incidents, I cringe. We seem to swing from pandering to our worst fears to get a few more bucks to blind rote repetition in hazard response that doesn’t match logic to the threat. Here’s a few examples that I hope are not typical, but I wonder…
hazmat suit.jpg
In Denver, there was a “white powder” scare on Sunday - actually, it wasn’t even a powder scare, it was a number of capsules holding a yellow powder which were delivered to a bank. It tested positive for a biological organism (protein) but not anthrax. There was no threat in the envelope, no return address, no visible signs of ill effects on the employees handling the mail. So of course the locals did the routine thing — quarantine the seven bank employees and the police officer who answered the 911 call, call the feds, let the WMD Civil Support Team confirm it’s not anthrax, and strip and wash the employees in the bank’s parking lot. Yep — routine.

But as a precaution, the employees were scrubbed in a puffy orange tent and sent home in a hazardous– materials suit because the substance was still unknown Sunday evening. One of the female employees cried on her way out of the decontamination tent, where she was required to strip naked and get scrubbed down by a hazardous-materials team.
The police officer also was decontaminated because he came in contact with the employees when he answered the 911 call.

Okay, is it asking too much for someone — between FEMA, the FBI, the Army (assuming the 20th SUPCOM), the WMD CST, and the Denver firefighters and hazmat team — to think, hmmm, doesn’t test out as a BW agent or any typical white/yellow powder, no weird messages in the envelope, maybe we don’t have to recreate the decon scene from “Silkwood” for what is probably a false alarm and obviously not a chemical or radiological hazard that might cause an acute lethal reaction. Idiots.
Let’s flash over to Kansas City, where Kansas State University is planning to open up a Bio-Security Research Institute, which will study food safety. About $54 million is being invested in the facility. The university has a program called “Making America Safer” which includes several projects funded by DHS. They’re looking forward to helping…

Now, under the centers purview, hundreds of researchers and students are engaged in projects aimed at keeping America safe. The center works with the departments of Agriculture, Defense and Justice and other federal, state and local agencies to facilitate an effective strategy for rapid response to emerging agricultural threats, Vanier said.
The center is even developing plans for training police and firefighters who would be early responders in the event of a bioterrorist attack.

No, it’s not the scientists’ job to limit or halt bioterrorism attacks, contrary to the article’s cheery tone. Intelligence professionals find out where the terrorists are and counterterrorism units grab the bad guys. All the scientists do is preach how deadly the bugs are and why they need more money to research the hazards. Although I should take it easy on K-State’s associate vice provost for research and compliance, Jerry Jaax - he paid his dues as an Army MRIID doc working at the Reston Ebola breakout in 1989 — he’s still a typical medic: “a bioterrorism attack could cripple the agricultural-based economy of the [Kansas] region. Jaax said a ‘significant risk’ of such an attack does exist.” Yadda yadda. Where’s the intel assessment?
Last, let’s jump up to the Fed level. ABC News gets Richard Clarke (its paid consultant) and the FBI’s WMD Division to hype up the spinach E. coli incident into a potential agro-terrorism incident.

Government investigators say there’s no evidence linking the current E. coli outbreak in which tainted spinach has caused at least 171 known cases in 25 states, according to the FDA to terrorism. But those same investigators are keenly aware that America’s food supply is vulnerable to attack. An international meeting on how to fight agro-terrorism starts Monday in Kansas City.
Government agencies have held mock exercises to see what would happen if the food supply was compromised. The results were catastrophic.
“What happened was utter chaos,” said Sen. Patrick Roberts, R-Kan. “We lost almost the entire livestock herd of the United States, all export stock. We had panic at the grocery stores.”

What a shock. A national exercise which went for the “worst case scenario” route to test the leadership responses, despite all lack of any evidence of a current terrorist threat and the complete lack of any past history of agro-terrorism. But it justifies the USDA’s research bills.
Is it too much to ask for some sanity? Some logic and common sense? Natural disasters, accidents and indigenous diseases are still the major killers out there, people. I’m not against some funds for countering CBRN terrorism — it pays my bills — but certainly we could be spending it smarter, and more importantly, talking about the topic more intelligently.
UPDATE: Offices in Denver got four “anthrax” envelopes Monday — some copycat with a sick sense of humor. We need FEMA or the state EOCs to develop procedures that will minimize panic and not automatically go to four-alarm mode, assuming that every white powder is anthrax unless otherwise proven. These hoaxes and false alarms are going to continue — better figure out a sane way to face that fact.
Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist

Paint-On Antennas Take Off

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

The military would like to use blimps as eyes — and cell towers — in the sky. But, for the plan to really work, the antennas attached to those airships have to be light, flexible, and fit perfectly on the blimp’s hull. And so far, building those antennas has been hard to do.
CyberAerospacePhotos781.jpgA crew of Air Force-funded companies has a new approach: paint-on antennas that can be slopped right on the side of an airship. The goop is “a combination of polymer-based dielectrics and highly conductive paint,” Aviation Week says. And during a recent flight test, a spherical blimp with “paint-on electromagnetic antennas communicated voice and data to an Iridium Global satellite.“
The key, apparently, is a product called Unishield, a coating which “creates an electrical field that can be specifically tuned to absorb or reflect radar frequencies.” Which means that the stuff can not only be used to make paint-on antennas — but can create magnetic fields to make planes more stealthy, too.

Rapid Fire 09/27/06

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

* No NSA spy bill, for now
* Marines trying out new body armor
* Road tests for hydrogen cars
* AWOL schmuck gives up
* “What the FBI needs now“
* Shocker! Iraq fueling terror
* Aging software: sleuth’s friend?
* New bird for GPS
* Judge: come clean on border cyber attack
* Firefighting plane soars, finally
* Your very own fembot
* Schwag, beautiful schwag

The ‘Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province’

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

I don’t usually post these sorts of things. But there’s an e-mail making the rounds, from a marine in Fallujah, that’s too good not to share. From bank-robbing insurgents to Oprah-watching locals to the “Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province,” this marine has vidvidly, succinctly captured life during wartime — and made it all funny, to boot. Go read, now.
(Big ups: GH)


Army’s Funds Drying Up

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

For nearly forty years, Fred Kaplan notes, “the Army, Air Force, and Navy… have abided by an informal agreement that gives each of them a roughly equal share of the total military budget… In this way, the chiefs have avoided the interservice rivalries that tore the military establishments apart throughout the 1940s and ‘50s.“
But that was before the war in Iraq pushed a slimmed-down Army to the brink, with gear wearing out fast, and units who can’t properly prep for combat. “The Army is clearly in need of a higher share of the budget now. It is the service that’s dominating the fighting, losing most of its troops, and getting most of its equipment chewed up,” Kaplan adds.

There are ways to treat the Army’s ailments without opening the purse strings. [It could stop stuffing R&D projects into its Iraq war budget. — ed] For instance, [Army chief of staff Gen. Peter] Schoomaker could cancel or postpone the Army’s Future Combat Systems, a $200 billion confabulation that may be way overdesigned for any realistic scenario of future combat. But the FCS is the Army’s only big-ticket weapon system, and the procurement commanders wouldn’t surrender it unless the Air Force and Navy chiefs junked their big fighter planes and submarines, which isn’t about to happen, either.
Early on in his regime, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might have had the clout to force such a bargain, but no longer. He has already abdicated his authority, allowing Schoomaker to appeal directly for more money to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. (According to
Army Times, this is another unprecedented move: No service secretary has ever dealt directly with the OMB all such appeals are supposed to be made through the secretary of defense.)
This bureaucratic turbulence only reflects a broader dilemma that higher political authorities will soon have to address, whether they’d like to or not. Schoomaker’s central complaint is that he doesn’t have the money to maintain the Army’s global missions. The president and the Congress can pony up the money (a lot more money) or scale back the missions. To do otherwise to stay the course with inadequate resources is to invite defeats and disasters.

UPDATE 11:44 AM: One more quick point on this. Traditionally, the Army has been thought of as the low-tech, low-cost service. That’s no longer so. Back in the day, you could send an infantryman into battle with just a rifle and a helmet. Now, he takes all kind of gear — body armor, night vision goggles, you name it. Equipment costs, per man, have gone from something like $2,000 a soldier during Vietnam to around $25,000 today. It’s another reason why doling out the Army’s traditional slice of the budget pie ain’t gonna work this time around.