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The UAV Data Firehose

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

I wasn’t able to jump on this yesterday due to some Military​.com commitments, but there was an interesting piece in the New York Times about the huge amount of UAV data pouring into military hard drives — so much that the USAF, for example, is drowning in it.

It got me to thinking that the services are exactly right to store all that drone feed footage no matter how boring it might be. The flight of a Reaper drone from its impoundment in Jalalabad to its target in Miran Shah might be just rocky paths and scrub brush, but to a skilled analyst, the tell-tale differences from each pass over a span of time might mean the difference between detecting a new “rat line” and ignoring a key Taliban infiltration route.

A group of young analysts already watches every second of the footage live as it is streamed to Langley Air Force Base here and to other intelligence centers, and they quickly pass warnings about insurgents and roadside bombs to troops in the field.

But military officials also see much potential in using the archives of video collected by the drones for later analysis, like searching for patterns of insurgent activity over time. To date, only a small fraction of the stored video has been retrieved for such intelligence purposes.

The story seems to indicate that there’s a shortage of analysts to evaluate the video and pinpoint the intel that might prove useful — especially if it’s second or third order data.

Air Force officials, who take the lead in analyzing the video from Iraq and Afghanistan, say they have managed to keep up with the most urgent assignments. And it was clear, on a visit to the analysis center in an old hangar here, that they were often able to correlate the video data with clues in still images and intercepted phone conversations to build a fuller picture of the biggest threats.

But aren’t there software solutions that can process the footage and pick out the things analysts might be interested in? I mean, the National Geospacial Intelligence Agency doesn’t pour over hard copies of Key Hole satellite shotsKestrelTest with a magnifying glass anymore, do they?

But while the biggest timesaver would be to automatically scan the video for trucks and armed men, that software is not yet reliable. And the military has run into the same problem that the broadcast industry has in trying to pick out football players swarming on a tackle.

So I dredged up a company I’d seen one year at a trade show that developed software to run in the background of UAV feeds. The application pinpoints vehicles, personnel and other objects interesting to the operator and tracks them in a color coded box. Seems to me the same could be developed for a passive application where the video footage is just run through the processor after the mission and the software picks out certain clips that contain the clues analysts program in.

I can see the article’s point — the AF is developing new software to get key info to the field from drone passes faster to the operator on the ground…but what about that change analysis piece?

Here’s a cool analysis test from the Kestrel web site.

– Christian

The Stop Secret Sieve

Monday, August 4th, 2008

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Classified Information is defined as data, regardless of form that includes sensitive information that its disclosure is restricted by law or regulation to particular group of people. Information is classified at one of three levels based on the amount of danger that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause to national security.

The highest basic level of classified information is Top Secret. Top Secret information is defined as information that if disclosed would reasonably be expected to cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security. The next to highest level of classified information is Secret. Secret information is defined as information that if disclosed would cause “serious damage” to national security. The third level of classified information is Confidential. Confidential is defined as information that if disclosed could cause “damage” to national security.

There are other restrictions on information such as NTK — need to know and SSI — sensitive security information. In these dangerous times, a slip or accidental disclosure of classified information can easily result in loss of life and billions of dollars of damage.

The extraordinary sensitivity of our intelligence and defense organizations’ mission requires the extraordinary protection against possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Any information coming to your attention concerning the loss or unauthorized disclosure of classified information should be reported immediately to proper government officials. Due to a number of recent security incidents involving the unauthorized disclosure of classified information training programs like “Handling Classified Information” has seen a significant increase in demand according to Spy-Ops. Organizations are taking additional steps to inform employees and contract workers of their responsibilities when handling sensitive information.

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MEDIA WARFARE — Hacking Live Television

Monday, April 28th, 2008

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Last week while working on cyber attacks against media web sites I discovered some information I thought you might benefit from reading.

One of the more significant concerns with cyber warfare is a targeted attack against the news media. There are two different strategies that play here. The first possibility is a disruptive strategy — where the cyber attack disables the media from reporting on activities and disrupting their ability to inform the public about events that are or have just taken place. The second strategy addresses the use of the media as a source of misinformation. Misinformation and disinformation campaigns are easily mounted and you can even find this tactic addressed in the well known work “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. We have assessed the implication of both of these scenarios using the Scenario Based Intelligence Analysis Tool created by Spy-Ops. The result of that analysis is below.

Scenario 1 — Media Disruption
An attack against the entire media sector in an attempt to disrupt its ability to communicate with and inform the public is rated a 2.3 on our risk scale.

MEASUREMENT SCORE
Cost = 4.3
Complexity = 4.7
Difficulty = 4.4
Discovery Probability = 3.8
Success Probability = 2.0
Impact = 4.7
Current Defense = 2.5
___________________________________________
Overall Risk = 2.3

Scenario 2 — Dis or mis Information
An attack against a primary new source with the intent to inject mis-information for public dissemination is rated a 4.1 on our risk scale.

MEASUREMENT SCORE
Cost = 1.3
Complexity = 1.6
Difficulty = 2.2
Discovery Probability = 2.0
Success Probability = 4.0
Impact = 4.7
Current Defense = 2.5
___________________________________________
Overall Risk = 4.1

In support of the higher risk and increased likelihood of success in this type of attack is the following account of events that took place on June 17, 2007. The viewers of a Czech television channel watching a Web cam program monitoring weather in various Czech mountain resorts saw a nuclear explosion taking place in the Krkonose or Giant Mountains in the northern Czech Republic. CNN Europe reported that members of a Czech art group were responsible and got in trouble for hacking a television broadcast and inserting the phony video of the nuclear explosion.

One can only imagine the psychological impact on the viewers that witnessed this prank. The TV channel CT2 said that they received frantic phone calls from viewers who thought a nuclear war had started. By the way, just recently the artists were acquitted of the charges stemming from the fake nuclear blast on TV.

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Watchdog Says Shape Up ISR Systems

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

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Congress’ watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, is warning that the Pentagon needs to improve how it plans for and manages development of critical intelligence and surveillance systems.

In a report released April 23, the GAO said the military has struggled “to improve integration across DOD and national intelligence agencies” hampered by the widely differing missions and bureaucratic cultures of the intelligence agencies.

This is not an academic exercise. The report notes that the military plans to spend $28 billion over the next seven years to field a wide array of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. That’s just airborne systems and does not include spy satellites, with their traditionally hefty price tags.

The GAO report cites one example where the Pentagon “had difficulty obtaining complete information” on top secret “national” assets — usually a veiled reference to highly classified radar and electro-optical satellites — “because of security classifications of other agency documents.” Also, budget wars have hampered the effort to improve coordination across the intelligence enterprise, the GAO report says. In classic understated fashion, the report says that “disagreements about equitable funding from each budget have led to program delays.“

The Pentagon has drawn up an “ISR Integration Roadmap” but it does not appear to help much, if the report’s language is parsed carefully. The roadmap does not “provide a long-term view of what capabilities are required to achieve strategic goals or provide detailed information that would make it useful as a basis for deciding among alternative investments.”

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The Few … the Proud …

Monday, February 4th, 2008

The Marines have always been good at delivering their message, and this commercial is another great example of that:

We now return to our regular programming. Semper Fidelis.

(Gouge: BT)

– Ward

Does Airpower Create Insurgents?

Monday, February 4th, 2008

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In a recent op-ed in The Bulletin Charles Pena suggests that the American military’s use of airpower is not helping us win the war. Here’s the piece:

Operation Iraqi Freedom has rung in the new year with a bang — literally. On Jan. 10, U.S. warplanes dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, one of the largest air strikes of the Iraq war. This attack reflects the increased use of air power as a component of Gen. David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy (Gen. Petraeus is the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq and the primary author of FM 3–24, the Army’s counterinsurgency manual). In 2007, the U.S. conducted more than 1,100 air strikes, a more than fivefold increase over the previous year.

The U.S. military’s fascination with bombing is rooted in our competitive advantage in advanced technology.

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Black Program Exposed?

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

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Back in 1985, during my first airwing detachment to Fallon, Nevada, my squadron participated in an exercise called “Constant Peg.” C-Peg was super classified and involved American fighter crews flying 1v1 ACM mission against Soviet fighters like MiG-23s and MiG-21s. These fighters were based at Tonopah. (My pilot and I went up against a MiG-23.)

Now during the briefs before the exercise the guys flying the MiGs were very hyper about us NOT landing at Tonopah … ever, ever, ever … even though the exercise took place just north of the field. “If you have an emergency go back to Fallon,” was the refrain, which struck us as a bit excessive, even considering the fact these enemy airplanes were based there.

The squadron operations officer, who went on to be a corporate test pilot, said something that made sense years later: “They’re not worried about the MiGs. There’s something else going on there.” When we pushed him for details, he said he didn’t know. He just had a hunch that C-Peg was a cover for another program.

Well, we now know that other program was the F-117 developmental test program. And after seeing firsthand the V-22’s DT program for three years, I can tell you that it’s a miracle that nobody found out about the Stealth jet during that time. Incredible stories have emerged about long commutes and clueless families and night ops. They did have a couple of close calls. There were reports of UFOs by local civilians that were quashed by Air Force officials.

So, again, have the folks in Texas seen something the Air Force doesn’t want them to see?

Check out these eyewitnesses in this news report. They seem convinced that they saw something weird:

– Ward

Franks on the Take

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

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The man Fiasco author Tom Ricks referred to as (I’m paraphrasing here) the worst tactician in modern military history is in the headlines for receiving a six-digit retainer from a veterans charity that only gives 25 percent of its income to the veterans it was set up to assist.

This from our friend Simon at ABC News:

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, was paid $100,000 to endorse a veterans charity that watchdog groups say is ripping off donors and wounded veterans by using only a small portion of the money raised for veterans services, according to testimony in Congress today.

Read the entire ABC News report here.

– Ward

Navy Cleared to Off Marine Life at Will

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

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President Bush delivered a blow to California’s whale and dolphin huggers today on behalf of the Navy. Here’s the press release from DoD:

The Navy announced today that two important steps have been taken under existing law and regulations to allow it to conduct effective, integrated training with sonar off the coast of southern California after a federal court earlier this month imposed untenable restrictions on such training.

In accordance with the provisions of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), and at the recommendation of the Secretary of Commerce, the President concluded that continuing these vital exercises without the restrictions imposed by the district court is in the paramount interests of the United States. He signed an exemption from the requirements of the CZMA for the Navy’s continued use of mid-frequency active (MFA) sonar in a series of exercises scheduled to take place off the coast of California through January 2009. The Navy already applies twenty-nine mitigation measures approved by federal environmental regulators when using active sonar, and these will remain in place.

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U.S. Watched Israeli Raid

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Syrian damage.jpg
Here’s a little intrigue to wrap your head around while you’re waiting for the turkey to cook. Dave Fulghum at Ares Weblog reports the following:

There are new details of Israeli’s attack on Syria that suggests the U.S. had knowledge of the event and perhaps some back-channel involvement. The Pentagon was monitoring the electronic emissions coming from Syria during Israel’s Sept. 6 attack and, while there was no active Pentagon engagement in the operation to destroy a nuclear reactor, there was advice provided, say military and aerospace industry officials.

Read the rest at Military​.com.

(Photo: Syrian target before and after. Courtesy Washington Post.)

And all of us here at Defense Tech wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.