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April 14, 2012

April 16, 2012




Microsoft trumps Amazon, others for AOL patents

Reuters – April 9, 2012

By Nadia Damouni and Jennifer Saba

(Reuters) – AOL Inc’s months-long auction to sell the majority of its patent trove attracted interest from e-commerce giants Amazon and eBay, which have been largely absent from the recent patent wars.

AOL said it was selling more than 800 patents related to advertising, search, e-commerce and mobile to Microsoft Corp for just over $1 billion, surprising investors with the size of the deal and sending AOL shares up more than 40 percent.

The sale includes technology rights from AOL’s current and former businesses, ranging from Netscape, ICQ and MapQuest to CompuServe, and others, according to a source close to the matter.

The sale process, which AOL Chief Executive Tim Armstrong described as a “full-blown dynamic auction,” started last fall after board approval.

Armstrong said he made a call to Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer alerting him of the decision to sell the patents.

The auction included e-commerce companies such as Amazon and eBay as well as Google and Facebook, according to the source. Spokesmen for Google, Facebook, eBay and Amazon were not immediately available for comment.

A final buyer was selected late on April 5, Armstrong said.

Technology companies in recent years have sparked a frenzy for patents, bidding up prices in a defensive move to keep competitors at bay.

The AOL deal is one of the larger patent auctions in recent times, representing roughly $1.3 million per issued patent.

That compares to the bankrupt Nortel Networks patent auction last year — considered a blowout $4.5 billion sale of its 6 ,000 patents — for roughly $1.05 million per patent.

The Nortel deal sparked a wave of patent sales and litigation and played a part in AOL’s decision to launch a patent auction.

Google is in the process of buying Motorola Mobility Holdings for $12.5 billion mainly for its intellectual property. Google also acted as the stalking-horse bi d f or Nortel Networks’ wireless patents.

Microsoft was part of the group led by Apple Inc that won the Nortel patents.

Yahoo has launched a lawsuit against rival Facebook for patent infringement involving advertising.


AOL and Microsoft are no strangers when it comes to partnerships. Last year the two companies along with Yahoo formed an advertising alliance.

Microsoft’s latest move with AOL proves it is keen on shoring up its patent portfolio.

“Investors had anticipated little to no value for the portfolio – a few hundred million at the most,” said Clayton Moran, an analyst with Benchmark.

AOL said a “significant portion” of the proceeds would be passed on to its shareholders.

As part of the deal, AOL will continue to hold more than 300 patents related to key strategic areas for the company, including advertising, search, and social media, and will receive a license to the patents being sold to Microsoft. Also, Microsoft will be granted a non-exclusive license to the patents AOL retains.

“We think this move is a big win for AOL in both the speed at which the sale was made and the actual amount it received,” wrote Anthony DiClemente, an analyst with Barclays Research.

AOL shares soared $7.87 to $26.29 in afternoon trade.

One of the pioneering companies during the early days of the Internet, AOL was known for e-mail and dial-up access services. It has been trying to reshape itself into a media and entertainment powerhouse dependent on advertising revenue.

Activist shareholder Starboard Value LP had pressed AOL management to pursue a patent auction, arguing the portfolio could produce more than $1 billion in licensing income if properly monetized.

The deal, expected to be completed by the end of 2012, includes the sale of an AOL unit, on which AOL expects to record a capital loss for tax purposes.

AOL said it expected to use about $40 million of its existing deferred tax assets — 20 percent of its total — to offset any ordinary income taxes resulting from the licensing of its remaining patent portfolio.

Evercore Partners and Goldman Sachs acted as financial advisers to AOL. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner acted as legal counsel. Covington and Burling LLP offered legal advice to Microsoft.

If the deal falls through, Microsoft may pay AOL a termination fee of $211.2 million, AOL said in a regulatory filing.

(Additional reporting by Sayantani Ghosh in Bangalore and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Supriya Kurane and John Wallace)


Army continues moving emails to cloud system


By Joe Gould – Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Apr 8, 2012 12:23:45 EDT


The Army has resumed its migration to the cloud-based Enterprise Email system following a report to Congress that says the project will save $380 million over five years, less than originally projected.

The project was suspended between January and March 19 to comply with 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which ordered its funding withheld until the Army addressed concerns in Congress over the cost and oversight of the project.

Army Secretary John McHugh in mid-February certified the acquisition approach is in the best technical and financial interests of the Army and provides for the maximum amount of competition. The Army has also established a formal program office to oversee Enterprise Email with a requirement to report to the Army’s acquisition executive.

“I’m pleased to announce that on [March 19] the Army resumed migrations to the DoD Enterprise Email managed service,” Mike Krieger, deputy chief information officer/G-6, wrote in a blog post a day after the effort began again.

Since the migrations began in early 2011, more than 310,000 soldiers and other Defense Department personnel have received Enterprise Email accounts, officials said. Although there have been some technical glitches, groups of soldiers — usually 5,000 in a night — are being moved from disparate Army networks to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s globally distributed servers.

The intent is to give users one email address,, to replace and other command-based email addresses. Users’ mailbox storage also increases from 100 megabytes to four gigabytes.

The 46-page submission to Congress characterizes the project as the Army’s No. 1 information technology initiative and the key to the Army’s plan to give soldiers a single identity on Defense Department networks, collaboration tools and connectivity anywhere in the world.

The plan includes eventually shuttering email based on Army Knowledge Online, the service’s intranet. According to the report, AKO lacks the ability to share calendars across organizations, duplicates mail services and has more security vulnerabilities, among other drawbacks.

An Army audit found the plan would save an average of $76 million annually and that the original estimate of $100 million per year was “overstated” because it failed to take into account all costs.

Since the CIO/G-6 and DISA announced the deal in 2010, defense industry critics have claimed the Army did not allow private industry to compete for its business. Robert Guerra, a partner at federal consulting firm Guerra Kiviat, told Army Times that Army G-6 officials “unilaterally” defined the requirement and the solution, Enterprise Email.

“I’m not saying the solution was wrong, but the government is obligated to go out to industry to find out what solutions can meet their requirements,” Guerra said. “It seems like someone at the G-6 said they wanted something and they were going to get it come hell or high water.”

According to the Army report, the service was granted the lead in DoD’s Enterprise Email efforts in 2009. The following year, it opted not to release a formal request for proposals and chose DISA’s proposal, which months later ranked favorably in a cost-benefit analysis versus an unnamed commercial option.

Based on this comparison, the commercial option’s estimated cost was $516 million over six years, while DISA was estimated at $466 million and credited with better cyber defense and cross-organization collaborative tools.

The Army also leveraged its existing Microsoft licenses, which “did not require a new contracting action and was in compliance with statutory competition requirements,” the report states — another point of contention for critics who wanted more competition.

CIO/G-6 spokeswoman Margaret McBride said the Army audit and other analyses show the Army chose the right path with DISA.

“This report certainly lays out how this decision was arrived at and makes the case that this is exactly what is the best solution,” McBride said.

Thirty days after the report to Congress, the project restarted migrations with Army headquarters at the Pentagon and McHugh, said John Hale, DISA’s enterprise applications chief.

Migrations to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network will begin in April, and migrations to both the Army’s secret and nonsecret networks are set to be completed in early 2013, according to an Army news release.

The Army is not the only organization in line to migrate to DISA-hosted email, Hale said. DISA itself and the Joint Staff are in the process of migrating.

DISA is in discussions with several combatant commands, including U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Pacific Command, to migrate to the DISA cloud.

Army officials said the migrations will progress soon to the rest of the Army, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. European Command, Special Operations Command and the National Security Agency.



Sequestration Could Be Left To Lame-Duck U.S. Congress

Apr. 7, 2012 – 10:33AM |

Defense News



Between now and Jan. 2, when automatic spending cuts are set to slash up to $54 billion from the Pentagon’s 2013 budget, there is only one date that truly matters: Nov. 6, Election Day.

That is practically the only thing that people watching the U.S. government’s budget battle can agree on.

“Barring an earth-changing event, it’s hard to see any political agreement before the election,” said David Berteau of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

How Democrats and Republicans fare at the polls will determine whether some kind of deal on deficit reduction and a slew of other issues can be achieved during the final weeks of the 112th Congress.

For people with a stake in defense spending, sequestration — the process by which automatic spending cuts will take place — is the most significant problem that needs to be solved. However, it is just one of several divisive issues that will be on Congress’ plate in December.

Around that time, the U.S. Treasury is expected to ask for another extension of the debt ceiling or risk defaulting on U.S. debt. The tax cuts that were first signed into law by President George W. Bush are set to expire at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Appropriations bills for fiscal 2013 will need to be passed, or at the very least a temporary spending bill to avert a government shutdown. Reauthorization is needed for the farm bill and transportation funding. Plus, the so-called “doc fix,” a temporary measure by which doctors are paid by Medicare, will also require legislative action.

While the number of items is astounding, the fact that so many are on the table could mean a grand bargain is within reach, according to former budget officials and defense analysts.

With months to go and so much at stake, speculation is running rampant in Washington: What are the chances a lame-duck Congress will solve any of these problems?

In the meantime, the Pentagon and other federal agencies under the sequester gun are beginning to consider their options as they begin building their 2014 budget requests.


Looking Ahead

When Congress returns to work after the November elections, some members will have lost their re-election bids and will know that come January, when the 113th Congress begins, they will not be returning to Capitol Hill. This is what’s called a lame-duck Congress.

Speaking March 27 in Washington, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., predicted this December would be the most powerful lame-duck session in history, with the results of the November elections shaping everything.

While a decisive win for either party would remove any incentive to tackle these big problems in December, the consensus is that divided government is here to stay.

The likelihood that either side will receive a mandate to act from the election is very low, said Mackenzie Eaglen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

While the White House or one of the congressional chambers could flip, the government will likely remain divided between the two parties, she said.

For that reason, the results of the election may not matter all that much, Berteau said.

“I have cautious optimism that the lame duck might be able to solve this, almost regardless of the outcome of the election,” he said.

For now, Berteau is not alone in his optimism.

“There is a genuine desire on the part of members of both parties for a deal that goes big,” Eaglen said.

A large-scale debt deal was within reach last summer before negotiations between the White House and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, collapsed.

It was also the goal of the bipartisan congressional supercommittee before it announced it had failed to reach an agreement on deficit reduction in November.

The list of issues that are up in the air until after the election is getting long. That could be a recipe for a train wreck or the opportunity to make a deal, said Gordon Adams, who oversaw national defense budgeting at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Clinton administration.

“It’s not definitive, but the opportunity for a deal is enormous when you get to November and December,” Gordon said.

According to an April 2 report by Credit Suisse, the items that are realistically going to be in play in December are the upper-income Bush tax cuts; the lower payroll tax rates and unemployment benefits; and sequestration cuts.

It is an unlikely scenario, but if the automatic cuts to discretionary spending go forward and all of the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will take a 4 percent hit, according to the analysis. “Until Congress acts, the economy will still technically be on a collision course with the largest fiscal hit in modern times.”

That could serve as impetus to act. Or, Congress could choose to avert the crisis and kick the can down the road with some kind of temporary fix, “as there won’t be enough time or political will to deal with big changes to policy,” according to the Credit Suisse report.

Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), said he agrees. “I think the most likely outcome is that the lame-duck Congress punts on the big issues and lets the next Congress deal with it.”

Pentagon Choices

While full-blown sequestration remains an unlikely outcome, the pressure is on the Pentagon to consider its options if further cuts to defense spending are called for.

For now, DoD officials maintain they are not planning for sequestration. However, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told Congress that the Defense Department will begin planning this summer if there is still no deal within sight.

To do so, DoD will need to know the baseline from which sequester cuts will be made and the amount of flexibility it will have in administering those cuts.

Berteau said there is “vigorous internal debate” over what the baseline would be in the case of sequestration.

The Budget Control Act mandates that roughly $500 billion be cut from the defense budget over the next decade if Congress fails to identify $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

According to analysis by CSBA, sequestration would take an extra $54 billion from the 2013 budget, dropping the base budget to $472 billion from the Pentagon’s request of $525 billion.

However, the Budget Control Act (and the 1980s Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation on which it is based) is ambiguous about what the baseline should be.

Depending on the baseline, the Pentagon may have to ax anywhere from $30 billion to $55 billion, Berteau said.

Adams said he doesn’t think it is quite that uncertain.

“My understanding is that the baseline will be whatever action has been taken by the appropriators at that point in time,” he said

Before the Pentagon or the rest of the government can plan for sequestration, it needs guidance from OMB about how these cuts will be administered.

The cuts could hit at the title level — for example, DoD-wide procurement. Or they could target the account level, the sub-account level or the program element level, which would be the most restrictive.

Many expect OMB to issue guidance to plan for the most painful, least flexible cuts possible in an effort to spur Congress to act.

Giving the Pentagon flexibility to administer the cuts makes sequestration more acceptable, and that was never the point, Berteau said.

There is no incentive for OMB to announce that decision now, without seeing what the cards will look like when they are dealt in November, Adams said.

In the meantime, it is possible the Pentagon will start drafting alternative budget scenarios like it did last summer in preparation for the Budget Control Act, Berteau said.

This type of planning has become the norm inside the Pentagon. However, under sequestration, it’s not an alternative budget that will be needed, but a brand new strategy, Eaglen said.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in February, Panetta said, “If you take another $500 billion out of this defense budget, the strategy I just presented you, I’d have to throw out the window.”



Study ties oil, gas production to Midwest quakes

Apr 6, 6:39 PM EDT

AP Science Writer



NEW YORK (AP) — Oil and gas production may explain a sharp increase in small earthquakes in the nation’s midsection, a new study from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests.

The rate has jumped six-fold from the late 20th century through last year, the team reports, and the changes are “almost certainly man-made.”

Outside experts were split in their opinions about the report, which is not yet published but is due to be presented at a meeting later this month.

The study said a relatively mild increase starting in 2001 comes from increased quake activity in a methane production area along the state line between Colorado and New Mexico. The increase began about the time that methane production began there, so there’s a “clear possibility” of a link, says lead author William Ellsworth of the USGS.

The increase over the nation’s midsection has gotten steeper since 2009, due to more quakes in a variety of oil and gas production areas, including some in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the researchers say.

It’s not clear how the earthquake rates might be related to oil and gas production, the study authors said. They note that others have linked earthquakes to injecting huge amounts of leftover wastewater deep into the earth.

There has been concern about potential earthquakes from a smaller-scale injection of fluids during a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is used to recover gas. But Ellsworth said Friday he is confident that fracking is not responsible for the earthquake trends his study found, based on prior studies.

The study covers a swath of the United States that lies roughly west of Ohio and east of Utah. It counted earthquakes of magnitude 3 and above.

Magnitude 3 quakes are mild, and may be felt by only a few people in the upper floors of buildings, or may cause parked cars to rock slightly. The biggest counted in the study was a magnitude-5.6 quake that hit Oklahoma last Nov. 5, damaging dozens of homes. Experts said it was too strong to be linked to oil and gas production.

The researchers reported that from 1970 to 2000, the region they studied averaged about 21 quakes a year. That rose to about 29 a year for 2001 through 2008, they wrote, and the three following years produced totals of 50, 87 and 134, respectively.

The study results make sense and are likely due to man-made stress in the ground, said Rowena Lohman, a Cornell University geophysicist.

“The key thing to remember is magnitude 3s are really small,” Lohman said. “We’ve seen this sort of behavior in the western United States for a long time.”

Usually, it’s with geothermal energy, dams or prospecting. With magnitude 4 quakes, a person standing on top of them would at most feel like a sharp jolt, but mostly don’t last long enough to be a problem for buildings, she said.

The idea is to understand how the man-made activity triggers quakes, she said. One possibility is that the injected fluids change the friction and stickiness of minerals on fault lines. Another concept is that they change the below-surface pressure because the fluid is trapped and builds, and then “sets off something that’s about ready to go anyway,” Lohman said.

But another expert was not convinced of a link to oil and gas operations.

Austin Holland, the Oklahoma state seismologist, said the new work presents an “interesting hypothesis” but that the increase in earthquake rates could simply be the result of natural processes.

Holland said clusters of quakes can occur naturally, and that scientists do not yet fully understand the natural cycles of seismic activity in the central United States. Comprehensive earthquake records for the region go back only a few decades, he said, while natural cycles stretch for tens of thousands of years. So too little is known to rule out natural processes for causing the increase, he said.



Seeking Robots to Go Where First Responders Can’t

NY Times

April 9, 2012


In the event of another disaster at a nuclear power plant, the first responders may not be humans but robots. They may not even look humanoid.

The Pentagon’s research and development agency is to announce a competition on Tuesday to design specialized robots that can work in disaster zones while operating common tools and vehicles. And while such tasks may well inspire humanoid designs, roboticists say they may also lead to the robotic equivalent of the Minotaur — a hybrid creature that might have multiple arms and not just legs but treads. Rumors of the challenge have already set professional and amateur robot builders buzzing with speculation about possible designs and alliances. Aaron Edsinger, a founder of Meka Robotics in San Francisco, said he was speaking with fellow roboticists around the country and was considering a wide array of possible inspirations.

“Analogs to animals such as spiders, monkeys, bears, kangaroos and goats are useful inspiration when considering parts of the challenge,” he said.

In the Tuesday announcement, the Defense Advanced Research and Planning Agency, or Darpa, lists eight likely tasks the robot will need to perform — among them driving a vehicle to a simulated disaster site, moving across rubble, removing rubble from an entryway, climbing a ladder, using a tool to break through a concrete wall, finding and closing a valve on a leaking pipe, and replacing a component like a cooling pump.

Mr. Edsinger said the challenge would be not in completing any one of the tasks but rather in integrating them into a single mission. “I feel we have already have systems that can achieve each individual task in the challenge,” he said.

The idea for the competition came from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan a year ago, said Gill Pratt, a program manager in Darpa’s defense sciences office. “During the first 24 hours,” he added, “there were things that should have been done but were not done because it was too dangerous for people to do them.”

The agency has not yet announced how much it intends to spend on the program or the size of the prize. It is calling the program a “robotics challenge,” which is distinguished from a series of “grand challenge” events it held in 2004, 2005 and 2007, with $1 million and $2 million prizes for a contest to design autonomous vehicles to drive in desert and urban settings.

Corporate and university teams will compete to enter the robots in contests in 2013 and 2015. The robots will not need to be completely autonomous, but rather will be “supervised” by human operators, much as ground-based pilots now fly military drones.

The competition underscores the rapid progress being made in autonomous systems in military, manufacturing and home applications. Robotics researchers have said that these advances are largely a result of the falling cost of all kinds of sensors, as well as developments in perception technologies that make it possible for robots to move in unplanned environments.

A number of ambitious humanoid robots have already been designed by industrial researchers. The Honda Asimo was unveiled in 2000 and by 2005 could operate for a full hour on batteries. Last year it demonstrated the ability to run as fast as six miles an hour.

Darpa officials said they were hoping for international participation in the robot competition. Indeed, the challenge echoes a proposal made in November by Hirochika Inoue, the father of humanoid robot development in Japan.

Despite Japan’s significant investment in robotics, he noted that the country did not have any robots capable of completely replacing humans at the time of the Fukushima disaster.

“Many people wanted to do it by robots,” he said in an e-mail, “but we had not prepared.”

In the United States, both General Motors and Boston Dynamics, a small research lab financed by the military, have developed humanoid robots. G.M.’s Robonaut 2 is now on the International Space Station, where it is being tested as an astronaut’s assistant. Boston Dynamics, which has attracted attention for a transport robot called BigDog and more recently for a four-legged running robot called Cheetah, has a humanoid robot called Atlas.

In its announcement, Darpa says it will distribute a test hardware platform with legs, torso, arms and head to assist some of the teams in their development efforts. Several robot researchers said a version of the Boston Dynamics Atlas was a likely candidate for this role, but Mr. Pratt said his agency would also provide a software simulator to allow the widest possible participation in the challenge.

“We’re opening the aperture as wide as we can,” he said.



U.S. Deploying Advanced Tech Along Border 

Aviation Week

By Paul McLeary

From the way that Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and other members of Congress grumbled when the Obama administration pulled 1,200 Army National Guard soldiers off the U.S.-Mexican border in February, you would think the White House threw open the gates and sent every uniformed U.S. service member home.

“It defies logic that we would remove the National Guard from the border when the border is not secure,” Poe said. “If anything, we need more National Guard troops.”

Careful what you wish for, congressman.

Beginning that same month, the U.S. Army quietly deployed part of a Stryker brigade and an air defense unit to the Mexican border to assist local law enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency under the Homeland Security Department. Dubbed Operation Nimbus II, the deployment featured 500 soldiers from 6th Sqdn., 1st Calvary Regiment, 1st Armored Div. (Stryker) from Fort Bliss, Texas; and E Battery, 1st Battalion, 44th Air Defense Regiment from Fort Hood, Texas.

Jeremy Copeland, a CBP agent in the Tucson, Ariz., sector, says the units are equipped with Boeing’s Avenger air defense systems (not including rockets) and Sentinel air defense radar systems, made by ThalesRaytheonSystems. The solders were sent to the Tucson and El Paso, Texas, sectors “to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to the Border Patrol,” Copeland says. He also noted that the soldiers do not have the power of arrest, and can only report what they see to CBP or local law enforcement, who can then take action. The deployment of the Sentinel might at first seem odd, but the unit is being tasked with tracking drug-laden light aircraft that Mexican cartels have been flying over the border in recent years. The Army units are assisting the border patrol “by targeting, identifying and classifying all aircraft that enter the surrounding area of responsibility,” Copeland says.

Run through Joint Task Force-North (JTFN)—the Fort Bliss-based military command that regularly tasks Army units to provide engineering support to border law enforcement—the two Army units are using Nimbus II partially as a training exercise (thus the Avenger mobile missile launchers), much like other units that have cycled through in recent years, JTF-N officials say. Copeland adds that CBP works with the Defense Department on a “regular” basis to identify joint operations that will allow the military to fulfill training requirements and, at the same time, enhance CBP’s operational capabilities by leveraging defense assets and experience. The deployments are funded using Pentagon counterdrug accounts, says a spokesman at JTF-N.

This is not the first time Strykers have been deployed to the area. In 2005, the 4th Sqdn., 14th Calvary, and elements of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team patrolled the border in New Mexico supporting JTF-N. According to the Army, the 4-14’s deployment led to the seizure of more than 4,000 lb. of illegal drugs and the apprehension of “more than 2,000 illegal aliens.”

This latest deployment comes hard on the heels of the March 1 deployment of National Guard rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft to assist law enforcement along the border, in a move that will add significantly to Homeland Security’s robust UAV and manned aircraft fleet. The Guard units, pulled from across the country, have been flying primarily over Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley, in Texas, and the Tucson sector, says Lt. Col. Kerry Dull, chief of the Army National Guard Counterdrug Aviation Program. The plan is to fly about 320 hr. per month in Texas, and about 360 hr. per month in Arizona.

The workhorses of the deployment, which involves about 300 Guardsmen, are the Bell Kiowa OH-58 Mission Equipment Package (MEP) helicopter and the Lakota UH-72, another helo equipped with the Security and Support Battalion MEP. According to the Lakota’s maker—EADS North America—the MEP includes an electro-optical infrared (EO/IR) sensor with a 5-mi. range that provides still imagery and real-time streaming video to ground stations or command centers, while an onboard computer can archive the footage for later use by law enforcement. It also features touch-screen monitors, GPS with street address capability and a 30-million candle power search light.

Dull says that there are 10 UH-72s, seven UH-58s and one Fairchild RC-26 fixed-wing aircraft involved in the deployment, which is being staged out of the Silverbell Army Heliport in Marana, Ariz., Houston’s Ellington International Airport and Harlingen, Texas, in the state’s southern tip. The Guard already has 144 Kiowas dedicated to the counterdrug mission across the U.S., and of these, 116 are “fully outfitted and specially equipped” for the mission, according to the 2011 Army Posture Statement. The Guard also flies 11 RC-26Bs.

The Lakota is set to replace the Kiowa in the fleet, and Dull says that it “exceeds everything that the Kiowa was capable of doing. It has a better EO/IR system on it, it has a better radio package on it, and it has full-motion video capability,” so it can pass video to ground units in real time. The fixed-wing RC-26B also comes outfitted with Flir’s StarSafire HD EO/IR system, along with the capability to transmit full-motion video, a mission operations system and a moving map. The mission is a complex one, which involves Guardsmen acting as on-the-ground liaisons with Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, and with the units from Fort Bliss and Fort Hood coordinating information.

The deployments come at a time when the number of illegal border crossers has fallen sharply—about 340,000 migrants were apprehended in 2011, down from a peak of 1.1 million in 2005—but as fears of “spillover violence” from Mexico have become more acute. The overall cost of the 11-month program will not exceed $60 million, according to Dull.

Still, as significant as these military moves are, they pale in comparison to the real, long-term solution for border security: the radical restructuring of CBP’s plan to install a mix of technologies along the frontiers with Mexico and Canada. Homeland Security hurriedly launched its now-infamous SBInet program in 2006 in an effort to line the border with a series of integrated, fixed camera systems and sensors. Boeing quickly landed the deal as lead systems integrator and prototype towers were installed in Arizona in February 2008. After a string of technical problems, cost issues and environmental concerns, the program was canceled by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in January 2011, with only a 53-mi. segment operational in Arizona. Those 53 mi. cost taxpayers about $1 billion.

Regarding the SBInet experience, Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, does not pull any punches. “We frankly did not have a strong capacity to [develop the technologies], and that was part of the issue,” he says. “We probably could not defend the requirements we put forth with SBInet. It seemed like a good thing to do, but in retrospect, we really couldn’t say why we aspired to that.”

In many ways, Homeland Security’s new plan for acquiring technology to monitor the border looks strikingly like the Army’s new acquisition plan—first, define capability gaps and then put the call out to industry to see what mature technologies companies have that might fit the bill. As Borkowski says, the plan is “don’t start by developing technologies, start by using what technologies are available and use your experience with that to decide if you want something more.” The two largest items on Borkowski’s wish list are things that already exist in some form: Integrated Fixed Towers (IFT) and the Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS). Indeed, IFTs are seen as something similar to what Boeing designed for SBInet. In a presolicitation notice in February—the formal request for proposals is expected by this month—Homeland Security said it wants tower-mounted sensors that can “detect and track” moving objects while providing near real-time video back to operator workstations.

The government says that it plans to award an IFT contract by the end of fiscal 2012. The list of companies who have declared interest is an industry Who’s Who, including Boeing, L-3 Communications, EADS, ITT Exelis, Harris, General Dynamics, Qinetiq, BAE, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

In February, Homeland Security also issued a solicitation to upgrade its aging RVSS, which Borkowski says is “obsolescent—you can’t even find spare parts for them.” The RVSS makes use of multiple color cameras and thermal IR detection video cameras. Both the IFT and RVSS programs will be firm fixed- price contracts because the department wants to stamp out system development risk, Borkowski says. “We want [industry] to commit to what it will perform, and if we pick them we’ll hold them to that commitment on a firm fixed-price contract.”

Buying these new systems is surely a worthwhile effort to help secure the nation’s borders, but what about criticisms from government watchdogs about the department not taking into account lifecycle costs when buying new equipment? “We considered 10 years of lifecycle costs as part of our estimate,” Borkowski responds. “We asked the bidders to provide us options to continue to sustain these systems year-to-year until we can evolve to where we can pick that up under our existing capabilities to do operations and maintenance and drive the cost down that way.”




Issa seizes spotlight on GSA’s $822K scandal

The Hill

By Jordy Yager 04/11/12 05:00 AM ET


Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is aggressively grabbing the spotlight in the controversy surrounding the General Services Administration (GSA).

In between releasing damning GSA videos on YouTube and blasting the Obama administration on the cable-news circuit, Issa locked down the first shot at grilling White House officials over the agency’s spending as he announced his powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing next Monday.

The assertive approach, however, is not without risk for Issa.

The media-savvy lawmaker has become known as Obama’s chief antagonist by elbowing his way into hot-button political issues over his past 15 months as chairman. But along the way, Issa has ruffled the feathers of his GOP colleagues, who are also eager for the limelight but don’t have his nearly 80 staff members.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) will also hold a hearing next week on the GSA’s 2010 junket that ran up a taxpayer-funded bill of $822,000 on expenses such as a clown, a mind reader and commemorative coins. The costs were exposed in an Inspector General (IG) report released last week that led to the resignation of the GSA’s administrator and the firing of two of her top deputies.

Mica was out in front of the issue early on. While the rest of Congress was home on recess, he held a press conference on Capitol Hill the day after the report’s release condemning the findings.

Mica said his hearing would be later next week. But after Issa’s announcement of his Monday hearing, Mica’s staff moved its hearing up to next Tuesday.

The offices of both Issa and Mica said they have been in touch with one another about their respective hearings, and Mica’s staff said the move was based on scheduling considerations. But in an election year, when Republicans are desperate to maintain a united front against Democrats, the move was also an effort to deliver the most impact from a GOP-led critique of the administration.

Issa has hit the cable-news circuit over the recess, blasting the administration and painting himself as the face of Congress’s investigation into the GSA.

Issa even went so far as to point the finger at Congress for not doing a better job of providing oversight of the GSA, which has been under heavy scrutiny in past Congresses for its financial troubles.

“Congress has to be proactive; we have to see these trends coming; we have to have more direct relations with the IGs and with all the other parts of government,” said Issa in an interview Monday with Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren.

“Failure to do your job is certainly something Congress should be held accountable for, because we have failed to do our job of keeping after this ever-growing bureaucracy which is our responsibility. We shouldn’t fund and then forget.”

The ramped-up attention on Issa has, at least for the time being, pushed Mica to the back of the stage.

Given the wide breadth of Oversight’s jurisdiction, the GSA issue is not Issa’s first foray into the jurisdiction of another chairman.

Issa’s lengthy investigation of Fast and Furious and Attorney General Eric Holder’s role in the botched gun-tracking operation has overshadowed any of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-Texas) investigation into the matter. And Issa’s investigation into the multimillion-dollar loan guarantee to failed energy company Solyndra has stepped broadly into the field of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

Issa has been leading the charge of congressional oversight of the Obama administration. But after 15 months of investigating everything from botched gun tracking to failed energy loans, he has not found an issue that has created a widespread outcry of injustice from the American public.

The GSA issue could be the magic one for Issa, though another risk is that it could lead to questions about how the agency was handled under the George W. Bush administration and how such mismanagement has escaped Issa’s own scrutiny.

Price tags for the GSA’s biannual conference from 2004 to 2010 show spending rose dramatically, from $93,000 in President George W. Bush’s first term in 2004 to $655,000 in his last term in 2008. From 2006 to 2008, the cost of the conference nearly doubled, from $323,000 to $655,000, which is more of an increase than the $185,000 it increased from 2008 to 2010 under Obama.

In anticipation of this line of attack from Democrats, Issa indicated he won’t shy away from looking at how Congress has handled the GSA over the years, as well as how the agency was run under Bush.

“There was a trend; there was a direction; there was a cultural shift that was making this more and more easy to do,” Issa told Fox. “So by the time it came to the $800,000 party, the fact is the damage had been going on for a period of time unchecked.”

A spokesman for Issa said the committee has requested information from the GSA about the earlier conferences, including their cost and the number of people who attended.

“It’s certainly important to understand whether costs in past years were used for real work and offset elsewhere or if increases were attributable to the kind of lavish spending that occurred in 2010 on parties, clowns, mind readers, commemorative coins and music videos done on official time,” said Issa spokesman Frederick Hill.


Alaska base overhaul circumvents BRAC, lawmakers say


By Amanda Palleschi

April 6, 2012

Lawmakers from Alaska claim a Defense Department proposal to consolidate some functions at two large Air Force bases in the state circumvents the Base Closure and Realignment approval process.

The Air Force announced plans earlier this year to transfer an F16 squadron at Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson — both in Alaska — anticipating the move could save $3.5 million in fiscal 2013 and $169.5 million during the next five years.

The savings would result from “eliminating approximately 640 manpower authorizations that Headquarters Pacific Air Forces determined were no longer needed at Eielson once the [F16 squadron] relocates,” Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley wrote in a letter to Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The senators said they’ve yet to receive a concrete answer on the number of civilian cuts the switch would entail and argued the proposal constitutes circumventing a formal Base Closure and Realignment Commission process. They say BRAC would be preferable because it requires a more objective review of Defense closure and realignment proposals.

“In addition to concerns about the validity of cost savings and impact to our defense posture, we also question the wisdom of making decisions regarding real property outside the formal BRAC commission process,” Begich and Murkowski wrote in February in a letter addressed to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

“It our is our understanding you are seeking authorization from Congress for establishment of a BRAC commission in recognition of the value this process provides to DoD,” they wrote. “The Air Force’s proposal appears contrary to your guidance.”

In his response to the Senators, Donley argued the shift was “not a closure” and would not trigger reporting thresholds for realignments under BRAC.

Still, the lawmakers’ charge is notable after Defense officials in March threatened to act outside the BRAC process if they didn’t receive congressional approval to reconvene the commission.

Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment, told lawmakers the Pentagon would be forced to resort to a closure process with less oversight if Congress failed to approve the closures and realignments it proposed.

“One reason we want to avoid that approach is that, if [Defense] acts outside of the BRAC process, the department is severely constrained in what it can do to help local communities,” Robyn warned lawmakers at a March hearing.

The department’s BRAC request has been unpopular with lawmakers, since the 2005 round of closures has yet to see promised savings and has cost the department an estimated $35 billion.

Begich has continued to press Defense officials for information about the consolidation in his state, and he believes other lawmakers are having similar experiences in their districts, a spokeswoman said. The senator told a panel last week that “they cannot give us an answer to this day on civilian [reductions], and we’ve asked them four times.”

“We’ve asked for it over and over and over again,” Begich told Jo Ann Rooney, acting Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness. “I would expect when they make a reduction to a military base to ship 600-plus people, plus more civilians which we don’t know of, that you would have more information to make those judgments.”

Rooney told Begich she would “check with her team” on the status of his requests. A Defense spokeswoman told Government Executive the department could not currently provide any additional information on the requests.

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the name of Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment.



B-52 celebrates 60 Years

by Staff Sgt. Brian Stives and Megan Meyer
Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs

4/10/2012 – BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. — Air Force Global Strike Command will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first flight of the B-52 Stratofortress on April 15, 1952. This flight was made by the YB-52 prototype in Seattle.

Air Force Global Strike Command will commemorate the airframe’s anniversary with events centered around the theme: “The B-52: An Icon of American Airpower.”

During the celebratory campaign, AFGSC will recognize the heritage and accomplishments of the B-52 and the people – both past and present – responsible for the development, acquisition, operation, maintenance and security of the weapon system.

The B-52’s long and rich heritage is illustrated by stories of families who have up to three generations of Airmen who worked on the B-52, such as 1st Lt. Daniel Welch, a B-52 co-pilot at Minot. Welch is a third-generation crew member on the airframe.

According to Welch, his grandfather flew every B-52 model and commanded Welch’s current squadron at Minot, the 23rd Bomb Squadron. Welch’s father was also a B-52 crew member during his time in the Air Force.

Through the course of the year, the Command will highlight the history of deterrence and combat capabilities the B-52 has provided through its distinguished career, in conflicts from Vietnam to Operation Enduring Freedom.

Some accomplishments to be highlighted throughout the year include:

April 15, 1952 – The first flight of the YB-52 Stratofortress will be commemorated with a long-duration flight from AFGSC Headquarters at Barksdale.

May 10 through Oct. 23, 1972 – Operation Linebacker – Linebacker was the first continuous bombing effort conducted against North Vietnam since the bombing halt instituted by President Lyndon B. Johnson in November 1968.

June 18, 1965 – Operation Arc Light – The first use of the B-52D Stratofortress as a conventional bomber from bases in the U.S. to Guam to support ground combat operations in Vietnam.

Aug. 2, 1994 – B-52’s first round-the-world bombing mission.

Oct. 26, 1962 – Strategic Air Command received the last B-52 from production line

Dec. 18 through 29, 1972 – Operation Linebacker II – This operation saw the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the U.S. Air Force since the end of World War II.


U.S. carriers to launch databases to ID stolen phones

New databases and public education campaigns will attempt to address the incentives thieves have to steal smartphones


By Grant Gross

April 10, 2012 12:37 PM ET


IDG News Service – Five U.S. mobile phone carriers will launch databases allowing customers to report stolen phones and prevent them from being reactivated, in a wide-ranging effort also supported by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and police chiefs to attack a growing problem of smartphone thefts.

A database for stolen phones on GSM networks will launch by Oct. 31, and U.S. carriers will launch a common database for LTE smartphones by Nov. 30, 2013, mobile trade group CTIA announced Tuesday. Carriers AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA, Sprint Nextel and Nex-Tech Wireless, which have more than 90 percent of the mobile customers in the U.S., have committed to the mobile phone theft prevention program.

Smartphone theft is a huge problem in many cities, several police chiefs said during a press conference in Washington, D.C. Mobile phone thefts made up about 8 percent of New York City’s robbery and grand larceny cases 10 years ago, but now they make up 40 percent, said Ray Kelly, commissioner of the New York City Police Department.

In many cases, smartphone thefts involve violence or guns, added Charles Ramsey, commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department. “This is no small crime,” he said.

The new databases will significantly reduce the incentive for thieves to steal smartphones, officials said. The effort will reduce smartphones to a “worthless piece of plastic,” Kelly said.

In addition to the databases, the mobile carriers will begin, within the next year, to notify customers about features to lock their smartphones with passwords. By the end of this year, smartphone makers will include information in user guides or other materials on how to lock new phones.

The new databases, in addition to other measures that mobile carriers will take, will have “significant implications for cities, police forces, and law abiding smartphone users across our country,” added Vincent Gray,
Washington’s mayor.

Mobile carriers will also begin this year to educate customers about applications that can lock smartphones, locate them and erase data on them. By July, carriers will also launch a public education campaign of smartphone theft prevention.

Several other countries, including the U.K., France and Germany, already operate similar databases of stolen phones.

But there hasn’t been major pressure to create a U.S. database until recently, because U.S. carriers have heavily subsidized the cost of buying smartphones, thus reducing an incentive to steal them, said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, CTIA’s vice president of regulatory affairs. Carriers responded quickly when the FCC and police asked for support this year, he said.

New handsets such as Apple’s iPhone, which can cost hundreds of dollars, have made smartphones a growing target for criminals, officials said. In addition, smartphones can contain bank account information, credit card numbers and other attractive information to thieves, officials said.

Police in New York City have focused on the issue since 2009, and Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier began pushing for new tools to combat smartphone theft this year. Lanier approached the FCC and other police departments about ways to reduce mobile phone theft, she said.


Fifth-generation Wi-Fi is coming: Are you ready for 802.11ac?

Fifth-generation Wi-Fi technology promises to deliver faster-than-cable speed–without the cables.

Michael Brown


April 10, 2012
(PC World)

If your business has kept pace with changes in wireless networking, you’ve deployed dual-band routers and client adapters that can stream encrypted data over the airwaves at speeds greater than 100mbps at relatively close range.

But no good deed goes unpunished. New hardware based on the nearly finished 802.11ac standard is about to debut, and it will make your existing wireless infrastructure feel as though it’s mired in molasses.

Though the standards body responsible for defining 802.11ac hasn’t finished dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s, semiconductor manufacturers Broadcom and Qualcomm Atheros are already sampling 802.11ac chipsets (Broadcom has labeled its effort “5G Wi-Fi”). Both companies are closely involved in defining the standard, and they promise to deliver firmware updates to correct for any minor changes that may creep into the standard between now and the moment it is ratified (probably later this year or early in 2013).

Wondering how the IEEE moved from 802.11n to 802.11ac? The standards body uses a new letter suffix to identify each new technical paper related to the 802.11 project, so the logical follow-ons to 802.11z were 802.11aa, 802.11ab, and now 802.11ac. At the risk of muddying the waters, there is an 802.11ad standard in the works, but it’s not the next step in mainstream wireless networking. WiGig, as that standard is known, is a short-range, line-of-site technology that uses the 60GHz frequency band to stream media.

Unlike 802.11n networking hardware, which can use either the 2.4GHz or the 5GHz frequency bands, 802.11ac devices will operate exclusively on the 5GHz band. The 2.4GHz band delivers better range, but Wi-Fi data streams that use it must compete with a multitude of other devices that operate at the same frequency–everything from microwave ovens to Bluetooth headsets). The 5GHz band contains many more available channels; and in the 802.11ac standard, each of those channels is 80MHz wide, versus the 40MHz width specified for channels under the 802.11n standard.

What’s more, 802.11ac will use a modulation scheme that quadruples the amount of data that will fit on an encoded carrier signal. The maximum bandwidth per spatial stream in 802.11n is 150 mbps, which means that an 802.11n router outfitted with three transmit and three receive antennas can deliver maximum theoretical throughput of 450 mbps. In contrast, the maximum bandwidth in 802.11ac jumps to 433 mbps per spatial stream, and the maximum number of spatial streams increases from three to eight. So the theoretical maximum throughput on an 802.11ac network will eventually be several times that of gigabit ethernet. First-generation devices, however, will be limited to using either two or three transmit and receive antennas to deliver a theoretical throughput maximum of 866 mbps or 1.3 gbps).

As we’ve seen with 802.11n networks, real-world throughput will likely be one-third to one-half as fast as the theoretical maximums. Still, even mobile devices outfitted with 802.11ac chipsets and just one transmit and one receive antenna–think smartphones and tablets–should be able to handle more than twice the bandwidth that today’s devices with 802.11n chipsets can manage. With bandwidth-intensive applications such as videoconferencing and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) moving from the desktop to smartphones and tablets, 802.11ac networks will become essential infrastructure elements for businesses large and small.

To overcome the 5GHz band’s shorter range, 802.11ac chipsets will utilize transmit and receive beam-forming technology. Beam forming was an optional element in the 802.11n spec, but its implementation is mandatory in 802.11ac. Most of today’s 802.11n devices use omnidirectional signal transmission and reception. Signals propagate in a series of concentric rings, like the ripples you create by dropping a stone in a pond.

With beam forming, the router and its clients develop an awareness of each other’s relative location, so they can coherently focus their transmission streams at each other. Without beam forming, reflected signals may arrive out-of-phase and cancel each other out, reducing total bandwidth. A beam-forming chipset can adjust the signals’ phase to overcome that problem, thereby substantially increasing usable bandwidth.

The first generation of 802.11ac routers, such as the Trendnet TEW-811DR, will be concurrent dual-band models that support 802.11n clients on the 2.4GHz frequency band and 802.11ac clients on the 5GHz band. These devices are likely to reach the market in the third quarter of this year. Laptops with 802.11ac chipsets should arrive in time for the winter holiday season, with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets following in early 2013. The Wi-Fi Alliance, the marketing consortium that has assumed responsibility for ensuring that wireless networking products interoperate properly, plans to begin its 802.11ac certification program in early 2013.


Lawmakers ask how much LightSquared tests cost taxpayers

Two U.S. senators asked the NTIA for an accounting of federal costs for GPS interference testing


By Stephen Lawson


April 10, 2012 08:50 PM ET

IDG News Service – Two U.S. lawmakers pressed a federal agency on Monday to say how much taxpayer money went into testing the proposed LightSquared network, a private 4G system that the FCC ultimately rejected because it would interfere with GPS.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission wants to ban LightSquared’s plan to build a national LTE network in addition to its existing satellite service. The LTE system would operate on spectrum next to the band used by GPS (Global Positioning System). Two rounds of tests last year showed interference between the network and GPS, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which recommended that the FCC block the project.

On Tuesday, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and Representative Michael Turner of Ohio asked the NTIA how much taxpayer money was spent on testing LightSquared’s network and how many government employees worked on the tests. They also asked whether the government would ask to be reimbursed for those costs.

In addition, the senators asked whether the FCC had requested that the NTIA spend money on the tests without reimbursement, a question that evoked earlier concerns by Grassley and others about possible preferential treatment for LightSquared at the FCC. They want answers by April 19.

Some critics have accused the agency of cutting corners in LightSquared’s approval process in return for political contributions from the company’s backers. Grassley has been a longtime critic of the FCC’s handling of the affair and is blocking the confirmation of three nominees to the commission to try to get information from the agency about its handling of LightSquared. Both he and Turner are Republicans, while FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama.

The letter raised concerns about who would pay for the tests in light of the fledgling carrier’s financial predicament. LightSquared has already spent billions on the LTE plan but can’t start collecting revenue from the network until it’s built. Philip Falcone, the head of parent company Harbinger Capital Partners, has said the company is considering bankruptcy for LightSquared.

“If LightSquared does indeed declare bankruptcy, our concern is that the Federal government will be unable to recoup the taxpayer dollars it has expended funding testing on LightSquared’s network,” Grassley and Turner wrote.

Meanwhile, two other senators reportedly are urging Genachowski to seek alternative spectrum where LightSquared could deploy its network safely. Sen. John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, wrote to Genachowski to ask him to work with industry and other agencies to find other frequencies for the carrier to use, according to a report on the blog The Hill. It said their letter was dated March 29.

LightSquared’s planned wholesale mobile data service would boost wireless competition and serve the public interest, Kerry and Graham said, according to the report.

The carrier itself has suggested the government assign it other frequencies farther from the GPS band. However, a spectrum swap probably would take a long time and involve a complex new decision-making process by the FCC, according to industry observers.


The following piece by Congressman Randy Forbes was featured in Sunday’s edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.


America’s Foundation Holds Her Steady
By Congressman Randy Forbes

Americans are not giving up. Even in the face of economic challenges and a polarized government, there remains a hope for an optimistic future. I hear it in the voices of men and women who ask me if the future of America is positive. I see it in the members of our youngest generation who look at me with earnestness, continuing to believe that the opportunities before them are endless.

Why are Americans so tenacious? Why do we refuse to accept a future that is anything but better than where we are today? Because we know we stand on something that is worth fighting for.

Two-hundred thirty-five years ago, our Founding Fathers had a vision for a nation free from the tyranny of England. They had no reasonable expectation of success, and they were unsure what the new world would look like — they had only a dream. And out of that dream — despite the overwhelming chance of failure, of personal ruin, of death — they built a revolution. They built America.

When they built our nation, they placed her on four foundational pillars that hold our nation steady. These core pillars are unique because they find strength in each other. Together, they build a product that is stronger than any one on its own. They are wholly dependent upon each other, and chipping away at one is to weaken the others.

These four pillars are the exceptional combination of economic freedom, respect for the rule of law, dedication to a well-guarded peace, and commitment to a freedom of faith. Most Americans understand to a very personal degree what each of these pillars means, because they are built into our daily lives and rooted deep beyond a surface level.

Therefore, economic freedom is more than just a thriving housing market or low interest rates — it is the degree to which our government empowers ordinary people to achieve their highest aspirations. When Americans see government leaders spending away our future, increasing its involvement in individual pocketbooks, regulating businesses or hindering global competition, they know a pillar is being weakened. Our nation was built on the premise that we are the “land of the free.” Economic freedom is not separate from that premise, and Americans refuse to accept otherwise. We must empower businesses to create jobs. We must increase competitiveness for U.S. manufacturing. We must pay down America’s unsustainable debt burden.

Respect for the rule of law is far greater than appointing the right judges to the bench. It is about protecting a set of rights that are anchored in our Constitution and birthed by concepts in the Declaration of Independence. When we hear the secretary of defense say we need international permission to go to war or see Supreme Court justices using foreign law as a basis of decisions in the United States, it feels strongly like abandoning the rule of law. What is at stake? Our very rights as Americans. We must renew our commitment to the Constitution.

Americans understand that casing our defense budget is the dedication to a well-guarded peace. Our Founding Fathers knew that our freedoms were so precious that they were worth protecting and worth defending. They also knew, as we know today, that one of the realities of having these freedoms is that there will always be individuals who want to rob them from us. We would be foolish to place our national defense second. We must fight for a strong defense, because it creates a strong America.

Americans know that a commitment to faith is about something deeper than the right to pray or recite the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms. It is about a set of rights, endowed by the Creator, that cannot be taken away from us. It is about being created one nation, under God. These foundations lay the bedrock of liberty and freedom upon which we stand. To chip away at the freedom of faith is to break the very core of who we are as a nation. We must reaffirm and protect the freedom of faith that defines our nation.

Americans are tenacious because there is too much at stake. To this day, no other nation in the world has matched the level of America’s greatness. Our nation didn’t just happen. Our principles are different from the rest of the world’s. We have inherited a nation worth fighting for, and it isn’t government that will sustain us. It is our people — our tenacious people — because the pillars of America are collectively rooted in the rights of the individual.


U.S. Congress Cybersecurity Bill Attacked Over Privacy Issues

Defense News

Apr. 11, 2012 – 05:39PM |


A proposal for combating cyberattacks is getting plenty of support in the U.S. Congress and the private sector — and plenty of opposition from critics who say it threatens privacy rights.

The proposal by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, would encourage the intelligence community and the private sector to share certain information to better protect computer networks from cyber-threats.

Under Rogers’ bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), private companies and the government could share any information “directly pertaining to a vulnerability of, or threat to” a computer network. Currently, the government can’t share classified intelligence on cyber-threats with the private sector.

The bill is one of several measures being considered by Congress following high-profile attacks targeting Google and the NASDAQ stock exchange. It passed the Intelligence Committee 17-1 in December and likely will be heard on the House floor later this month.

The bill is supported by 30 companies, including Facebook and Microsoft.

“The broad base of support for this bill shows that Congress recognizes the urgent need to help our private sector better defend itself from these invidious attacks,” Rogers said in a statement last month. He said the bill would not increase federal spending or create a new government bureaucracy.

But the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology say the bill lacks explicit privacy protections and doesn’t specifically define what information companies should share with the government.

They also say the bill wouldn’t require companies to strip shared information of details that could be used to identify specific people.

“What we’re fundamentally deciding here is whether to blow a hole through all of our privacy laws and allow companies to turn over very sensitive information to the government,” ACLU legal counsel Michelle Robertson said. “It’s a threshold question — what will they turn over?”

On April 8, the Internet collective known as Anonymous claimed responsibility for denial-of-service attacks targeting the websites of two groups that support Rogers’ bill, USTelecom and Tech America. In a YouTube video, Anonymous compared the bill to the controversial Stop Online Privacy Act in its potential to harm Internet users.

During a conference call April 10, Rogers said “there is no comparison” between his bill and the Stop Online Privacy Act because his bill would not allow the government to censor information, shut down websites or monitor people.

The bill’s supporters said they’re working on modifying it to resolve some of the issues raised by critics.

The bill is designed to help prevent computer networks that help maintain critical infrastructure and to prevent economic espionage, which sponsors of the bill say results in $2 billion to $400 billion in losses every year.

“Intelligence sharing is the only way we’re going to be able to protect the private sector,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, R-Md., the bill’s co-sponsor.

Cyber-attacks by China and other countries are one of the nation’s “most rapidly-evolving and most serious set of threats,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said recently.

Homeland Security officials responded to 106,000 such attacks last year and have increased their cybersecurity personnel by 500 percent in the past several years, Napolitano said.

Cyber-attacks threaten critical infrastructure and human lives, and could cause “massive economic damage or massive displacement of persons, or massive interference with national security,” Napolitano said.

Rogers said his bill targets malicious code, not user content. He also said the bill would protect privacy by encouraging private companies to strip personal information from data shared with the government.

Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said that protection is “toothless” because it’s voluntary and “not enforceable by the users whose data can be shared.”

Critics have also warned that the bill would increase military control over domestic cybersecurity information. The bill would allow the National Security Agency and other government agencies to warn Internet service providers about detected cyber-threats.

“Information is power, and NSA wants more of it,” Nojeim wrote in a recent CDT article.

Rogers said he may amend his bill to make the Homeland Security Department responsible for verifying that the government and private companies share information related to cyber-security and nothing else.


Retirement claims backlog is down since January

By Kellie Lunney

April 9, 2012

The Office of Personnel Management processed more retirement claims in March than in the previous two months, making a dent in its backlog despite an increase in claims, according to agency figures.

OPM’s retirement claims backlog was 52,274 in March, a decrease of 14 percent from January. The agency received 7,090 new claims in March, 2,090 more than it expected and 675 more than were submitted in February. OPM has received 34,984 new submissions since the beginning of the year.

Despite the spike, OPM processed 12,386 claims in March, exceeding projections by 4,086. The agency estimates it will receive 8,000 new submissions in April, and process 8,300 claims.

In January, OPM experienced an influx of 21,469 pension claims, adding to its 48,378 backlog as of December 2011. The agency is projecting a retirement claims backlog of 29,478 by the end of 2012.

OPM administers benefits for 2.5 million federal retirees and processes about 100,000 new claims annually. Director John Berry has said eliminating the backlog is his highest priority in 2012. Earlier this year, OPM unveiled a plan that aims to get rid of the claims backlog within 18 months and to reduce processing times so that 90 percent of claims are administered within two months of receipt.

The plan, which Berry outlined in testimony on Capitol Hill in February, includes hiring more staff to process retirement claims, firing poor performers and incrementally upgrading technology to expedite payments. The strategy is composed of four pillars: people; productivity and process improvement; partnering with agencies; and partial, progressive information technology improvements. OPM also is considering giving bonuses to claims processing employees to motivate them.

Lawmakers asked OPM in February to report monthly on the status of the backlog.

Processing retirement claims, particularly disability claims, can be complex and time-consuming, and OPM relies heavily on other federal agencies to provide retirees’ information, including the amount of their annuity. The agency uses more than 500 different procedures, laws and regulations to address retirement applications.



Why it’s criminal to lie about military honors

By Linday Windsor and Arthur Rizer

April 11, 2012

Rick Duncan was a politician’s dream. A former Marine Corps Captain and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, he was awarded the Purple Heart due to combat injuries he sustained from an IED while serving on one of his three tours in Iraq. Mr. Duncan, with his unassailable credentials, served as the perfect mouthpiece for anti-Iraq War candidates during the 2008 elections. He took center stage and spoke with authority about the failed Bush policies in Iraq, commanding attention from politicians, reporters, and even other veterans. For almost two years, Duncan continued to be a fierce anti-war advocate, creating the Colorado Veterans Alliance and speaking at length about the plight of his brethren.

But there was a problem with Rick Duncan. He did not actually earn the Purple Heart, go to Annapolis, or serve even one tour of duty. In fact, he had never served one day in the military. His name was not even Rick Duncan; rather, it was Rick Strandlof and he was a total fraud. For his lies, Strandlof was convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act.

This Act, as codified in Title 18, Section 704 of the United States Code, makes it a crime to lie about having received a military award such as the Purple Heart or the Medal of Honor. The law has its origins in history dating back to the Founding Fathers, but it is now being challenged before the Supreme Court on the grounds that it infringes upon free speech rights. Strandlof’s was one of the first cases to be overturned by a Denver federal judge, on the grounds that the statute was “facially unconstitutional” as a violation of the First Amendment.

This law, though, does not restrict the free speech protected by the First Amendment, because lies are inherently fraudulent. Fraud, alongside obscenity and incitement, is among the categories of speech recognized by the Supreme Court whose “prevention and punishment . . . have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem.” A statute that punishes fraud therefore comports with First Amendment freedoms. As the name of the Act implies, every lie about a military honor defrauds true heroes and American society, polluting the very meaning of heroism and causing harms that Congress can constitutionally criminalize.

Read the full story at The Atlantic.


Government Workers Are Unfairly Assailed

Ted Kaufman

Fmr. U.S. Senator from Delaware

Posted: 04/10/2012 9:54 am


We’ve heard a lot in the past couple of years, pro and con, about escalating CEO compensation, but it seems to me at least one argument in their defense has merit. It is important to pay enough to recruit and retain the best talent available in the highly competitive global marketplace.

What seems strange to me is that those who believe this is true, that you have to pay well to attract the best talent, usually don’t accept the same argument when it comes to government employees. One of the more dangerous consequences of the financial crisis is how governments at all levels are, in effect, cutting off their noses to spite their faces. In the rush to balance their budgets, some are indiscriminately firing, freezing and cutting pay, and cutting pensions–too often impacting the people who actually make government work.

We need to take a hard look at pensions, but it is important in a fair society that reforms take into account the fact that over the years many public employees helped meet government budgets by forgoing salary increases in return for ironclad promises about pension benefits.

Our education system turns out students who will have to compete in that same global marketplace. Doesn’t it follow that our teachers’ pay and benefits should be competitive enough to attract first-class talent? We need capable, dedicated first responders–police and fire department personnel — to meet the global and local threats we face. Yet financially strapped state and local governments are drastically cutting their pay and benefits. Do we really want to lose the best and brightest among them?

At the federal level, do we want to cripple the agencies in charge of food and drug safety? How about the National Institutes of Health or the Center for Disease Control? Don’t we need the best in the FBI and the Inspector Generals’ Office to fight waste and fraud?

Federally employed scientists working at the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the U.S. Geological Survey have been responsible for enormously important inventions, from the Internet and GPS to the bar code and the micro chip. Do we want to cut their funding so drastically that such achievements will not be possible in the future? From the Commerce Department to the State Department to the National Science Foundation to the Patents and Trademarks Office, we need to recruit and retain the very best if we are to compete successfully with China, India and other rising powers.

As I write this, we are doing exactly the opposite. We are losing the very people we need to make us successful. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers student survey, the number of students planning to work in the public sector has dropped by 40 percent. Federal government retirements have increased by 24 percent in the past year. It is estimated that over 20 percent of all federal employees are eligible for retirement. Can you imagine what would happen to this country if 10 percent or 20 percent of our most experienced federal government employees suddenly walked out the door?

Yes, there are those who think they would welcome this. Just get rid of all those overpaid government jobs, they say. The fact is, there are fewer executive branch civilian employees today than there were when Richard Nixon was president. As for public employees being overpaid, the Congressional Research Service reported that the average private-sector salary in 2010 for a recent college graduate was $48,661. Entry-level federal workers start at $34,075, or $42,209 for candidates with superior academic achievement.

Is there waste in government? Of course, just as there is in most human activities. But if you think it can be rooted out by congressional fiat, you are dreaming. You need dedicated, smart, qualified people on the ground to smell it out and fix it.

Most people in government are not there just to make money. They want to make a difference, but they do need to provide for themselves and their families.

What we need in the complex world we live in is smarter government, and to do that we must recruit and retain the best.

Ted Kaufman is a former U.S. Senator from Delaware. Please visit for more information.

This piece first appeared in the Wilmington News Journal.


Iran’s nuclear programme: legal debate stirs over basis for US or Israeli attack

As US and Israeli officials weigh up prospect of military strike on Iran, critics say any attack would go against international law

Chris McGreal in Washington, Thursday 12 April 2012 11.19 EDT

Amid the sabre-rattling and bluster over Iran, a furious if little-noticed debate is boiling over the legal basis for a US or Israeli attack on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The threat of a military strike hangs over this weekend’s talks in Istanbul between the major powers and Iran.

The Israeli leadership says an attack will come within months, not years, if the present diplomatic push fails. The US Congress is not far behind, with the Republican leadership pledging to pass an authorisation for the use of “overwhelming military force” if there are signs Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.

Barack Obama is more cautious, but says the “military option” remains on the table if sanctions fail to persuade Tehran to give up its enriched uranium.

But while intelligence agencies grapple to assess whether Tehran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon and militaries on both sides of the Atlantic consider the logistics of bombing Iran, legal authorities are confronting the challenge of constructing a legal case for attack, if it comes.

And already there is considerable dispute over the issue.

Alan Dershowitz, the renowned jurist and supporter of Israel, has argued that the US and the Jewish state can invoke a long-standing right under customary international law of “pro-active self-defence” as well as article 51 of the United Nations charter.

Sceptics counter that international law only permits military action in response to an imminent attack, or if one is under way. They say there is no immediate threat because, as the White House has said, there is no evidence Tehran is building a nuclear weapon.

Then there are those who argue that the legal grounds for a military assault have already been met because the US and Israel are already under attack from “terrorist organisations” sponsored by Iran.

There is considerable support among politicians who favour an attack on Iran for the view of Anthony D’Amato, a professor in international law at Northwestern University, who has argued cases before the European Court of Human Rights. He says using force to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would uphold international law, not undermine it.

“Iran says it wants to push the Israelis into the sea and that they are constructing nuclear weapons. That’s enough for me to say that cannot be allowed. If the US or Israel takes the initiative to block that action, it can hardly be said to be violating international law. It can only be preserving international law for future generations,” he said.

“In order to preserve international law we have to defend it once in while. I think we have to defend it against rogue states or states that have expressed a hostile intentions, like Iran and like North Korea. The only reasonable thing to do is to take those weapons out. Remove that threat and the world is going to be safer.”

But D’Amato’s view is scorned by other specialists in international law.

Much of the the legal argument centres on the interpretation of one word: imminent.

Although the United Nations charter recognises the right of self-defence, it is imprecise. Lawyers look beyond the charter to an older standard in customary international law, established in the 19th century, allowing one state to use force to preempt an imminent attack by another.

That came out of a cross-border raid by British forces into New York state in 1837 to destroy an American ship, the SS Caroline, which was delivering aid to a rebellion in Canada. The British raiding party set fire to the Caroline and cast her adrift toward Niagara Falls. One American was killed.

In the ensuing diplomatic battle, London and Washington agreed on a treaty providing for a right of pre-emptive self-defence – more commonly spoken of today as a pre-emptive strike – but only when there is “instant, overwhelming” necessity, “leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation”.

That formula has long been regarded as an integral part of international law, but there are wide differences over how the “Caroline test” would apply to a US or Israeli attack on Iran.

D’Amato said the threat is imminent because of Tehran’s rhetoric against Israel. He said the US and Israel are also entitled to act under a clause in the UN charter – article 2, paragraph 4 – requiring countries to refrain from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

“Let’s ask the question: who would be violating that clause? Would it be the United States‘ attack on Iran or would it be Iran’s threat against Israel? Who is the violator here? If Iran is in a war to the death with Israel, as they claim they are, and they are also preparing nuclear weapons against a small state, I think any reasonable person would look at that and say they are in violation of article 2 section 4 of the charter,” he said.

But Kevin Heller, author of The Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law, and who served as Human Rights Watch’s external legal advisor on Saddam Hussein’s trial, is dismissive of D’Amato’s interpretation.

“To say that argument is profoundly flawed is an understatement. It may well be that by threatening the use of force Iran is in breach of the UN charter. But that couldn’t possibly justify a military response,” he said.

Heller said that whatever threat Iran my pose, it is not “imminent”, as required by the Caroline test.

“In terms of Iran, I don’t even think it’s enough under the UN charter for the US to say Iran has a nuclear weapon. At a minimum, they would actually have to have a nuclear weapon, and they would have to issue some kind of concrete threat to use it against Israel or some other country before a military response would be acceptable,” he said.

Bruce Ackerman, an influential constitutional law professor at Yale, is similarly sceptical of any claim of an imminent threat.

“The idea that the United States is under imminent threat from Iran is preposterous. It is not preposterous that Israel’s under threat from Iran. It just isn’t imminent,” he said.

Ackerman said interpretations of the UN charter have evolved to permit the use of force in situations such as a “duty to protect” where there are large scale abuses of human rights.

“Those arguments were begun most obviously in the Kosovo matter and continued with Libya, although in the Libyan case there was an express United Nations security council authorisation. It also arises in Syria right now. But Iran is not that kind of case,” he said.

“Similarly, this is not a case having to do with the war on terror. It’s a case in which one sovereign feels threatened by another sovereign. It’s just the kind of thing that has been happening for a very long time and it was precisely this kind of anticipatory anxiety generating wars that the League of Nations and then the United Nations was intended to respond to.”

Critics of the argument that the US and Israel have the right to pre-empt Iran’s attempts to build a nuclear weapon – something it says it is not doing – point to Washington’s reaction to the Israeli attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak 31 years ago.

That was condemned not only by the rightwing Reagan administration but by Margaret Thatcher, and drew a unanimous condemnation in the UN security council.

But the politics has evolved since then. When Israel attacked a Syrian nuclear facility five years ago, it did not draw a whisper of criticism in Washington or London.

John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism chief, has argued for a more flexible interpretation of “imminence” in the context of pre-emptive strikes because of the threat from terrorism. Supporters of an attack on Iran say that any reinterpretation could equally apply to “rogue states” or those that sponsor terrorism.

Others have proposed that the US and Israel justify an assault as self-defence because Iran has already attacked both countries through Tehran-backed groups such as Hezbollah. Dershowitz has said that Israel can already justify an attack on those grounds and that the US could likely construct a similar case.

“If Israel were compelled to act alone against Iran’s nuclear programme, it too would be reacting as well as pre-empting, since Iran has effectively declared war against the Jewish state and its people,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Heller is sceptical. “Iran doesn’t have the kind of overall and effective control over Hamas and Hezbollah that would make their actions imputable to Iran, justifying self-defence,” he said. “But even if they did, just because there may be an armed attack on Israel by Hamas doesn’t mean you can take out a country’s nuclear programme. There has to be some kind of necessity and proportionality between the armed attack and the response.”

The legal niceties are unlikely to stop the US or Israel if they are determined to attack Iran. The Bush and Obama administrations both shopped around within their own legal departments until they got the advice they wanted to hear on issues from invading Iraq to the growing government surveillance of ordinary Americans.

But Ackerman notes that riding roughshod over international law carries dangers. For a start, Iran could make a reasonable case that it is the one under threat, with all of the bellicose rhetoric out of Washington and Jerusalem – and therefore it has a right of pre-emptive self-defence.

“Where does this kind of radically expanded notion of pre-emptive attack stop?” asked Ackerman. “What’s going to happen when China feels threatened by Taiwan, or India by Pakistan, or vice versa? We would be setting a precedent here which be a very serious blow to the rule of international law.”


Physicists Create First Long-Distance Quantum Link

By ScienceNow

April 12, 2012 |

By Jim Heirbaut, ScienceNOW

For more than a decade, physicists have been developing quantum mechanical methods to pass secret messages without fear that they could be intercepted. But they still haven’t created a true quantum network — the fully quantum-mechanical analog to an ordinary telecommunications network in which an uncrackable connection can be forged between any two stations or “nodes” in a network. Now, a team of researchers in Germany has built the first true quantum link using two widely separate atoms. A complete network could be constructed by combining many such links, the researchers say.

“These results are a remarkable achievement”, says Andrew Shields, applied physicist and assistant managing director at Toshiba Research Europe Ltd. in Cambridge, U.K., who was not involved in the work. “In the past we have built networks that can communicate quantum information, but convert it into classical form at the network switching points. [The researchers] report preliminary experiments towards forming a network in which the information remains in quantum form.”

Quantum communications schemes generally take advantage of the fact that, according to quantum theory, it’s impossible to measure the condition or “state” of a quantum particle without disturbing the particle. For example, suppose Alice wants to send Bob a secret message. She can do the encrypting in a traditional way, by writing out the message in the form of a long binary number and zippering it together in a certain mathematical way with a “key,” another long stream of random 0s and 1s. Bob can then use the same key to unscramble the message.

But first, Alice must send Bob the key without letting anybody else see it. She can do that if she encodes the key in single particles of light, or photons. Details vary, but schemes generally exploit the fact that an eavesdropper, Eve, cannot measure the individual photons without altering their state in some way that Alice and Bob can detect by comparing notes before Alice encodes and sends her message. Such “quantum key distribution” has already been demonstrated in networks, such as a large six-node network in Vienna in 2008, and various companies offer quantum key distribution devices.

Such schemes suffer a significant limitation, however. Although the key is passed from node to node in a quantum fashion, it must be read out and regenerated at each node in the network, leaving the nodes vulnerable to hacking. So physicists would like to make the nodes of the network themselves fully quantum mechanical—say, by forming them out of individual atoms.

According to quantum mechanics, an atom can have only certain discrete amounts of energy depending on how its innards are gyrating. Bizarrely, an atom can also be in two different energy states—call them 0 and 1—at once, although that uncertain two-states-at-once condition “collapses” into one state or the other as soon as the atom is measured. “Entanglement” takes weirdness to its absurd extreme. Two atoms can be entangled so that both are in an uncertain two-ways-at-once state, but their states are perfectly correlated. For example, if Alice and Bob share a pair of entangled atoms and she measures hers and finds it in the 1 state, then she’ll know that Bob is sure to find his in the 1 state, too, even before he measures it.

Obviously, Alice and Bob can generate a shared random key by simply entangling and measuring their atoms again and again. Crucially, if entanglement can be extended to a third atom held by Charlotte, then Alice and Charlotte can share a key. In that case, if Eve then tries to detect the key by surreptitiously measuring Bob’s atom, she’ll mess up the correlations between Alice’s and Charlotte’s atoms in a way that will reveal her presence, making the truly quantum network unhackable, at least in principle.

But first, physicists must entangle widely separated atoms. Now, Stephan Ritter of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, and colleagues have done just that, entangling two atoms in separate labs on opposite sides of the street, as they report online today in Nature.

As simple as this may sound, the researchers still needed a complete lab room full of lasers, optical elements, and other equipment for each node. Each atom sat between two highly reflective mirrors 0.5 mm apart, which form an “optical cavity.” By applying an external laser to atom A, Ritter’s team caused a photon emitted by that atom to escape from its cavity and travel through a 60-meter-long optical fiber to the cavity across the street. When the photon was absorbed by atom B, the original quantum information from the first atom was transferred to the second. By starting with just the right state of the first atom, the researchers could entangle the two atoms. According to the researchers, the entanglement could in principle be extended to a third atom, which makes the system scalable to more than two nodes.

“Every experimental step had to be just right to make this work,” says Ritter, who works in the group of Gerhard Rempe. “Take, for example, the optical cavity. All physicists agree that atoms and photons are great stuff for building a quantum network, but in free space they hardly interact. We needed to develop the cavity for that.”

“This is a very important advance,” says Toshiba’s Shields, because it would enable technologists to share quantum keys on networks where the intermediate nodes can’t be trusted and could also lead to more complex multiparty communication protocols based on distributed entanglement. “However,” Shields cautions, “there is still a great deal of work to be done before the technology is practical.” Miniaturization of the components that constitute one node will no doubt be on the researchers’ wish list.

This story provided by ScienceNOW, the daily online news service of the journal Science.


Top House Republican on Defense plans bigger budget than planned by Obama

The Hill

By Jeremy Herb 04/13/12 06:00 AM ET

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is sticking with the House Republican budget for this year’s Defense authorization bill, which would set defense spending levels higher than the president’s budget and the budget caps agreed to in last year’s debt-limit deal.

McKeon’s plan to use the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which committee aides confirmed to The Hill, is the chairman’s first negotiating marker in a battle with the Obama administration and Senate Democrats over how big the defense budget should be.

While the size of the defense budget is frequently up for debate, this year the defense budget is constrained by spending caps set in last year’s Budget Control Act.

The Budget Control Act caused the Pentagon to plan for budget cuts of $487 billion over the next decade, which were included in the president’s budget this year.

Ryan’s budget plan undoes some of those reductions. His budget, which passed the House before the spring recess, would boost defense spending numbers over the next decade while cutting other discretionary spending.

McKeon gave a speech last month at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., where he said he also would fight to undo the $487 billion in cuts from the debt-limit deal.

The Pentagon has said it can assume the risk from the initial $487 billion cut, but not an additional $500 billion in cuts through sequestration that’s set to hit in January 2013.

Most assume the sequestration battle will occur during the lame duck session after the election, while the Armed Services committees are looking to finish the authorization bill before the election, with a conference committee in September or October, according to one GOP aide.

A McKeon aide confirmed Thursday that the House Armed Services Committee will use Ryan’s $554.2 billion for its defense spending level, an increase of $3.6 billion from the president’s $550.6 billion defense request. Both budgets are above the $546 billion cap in the Budget Control Act.

The defense budgets include the base discretionary Pentagon budget and some nuclear funding in the Department of Energy, but not the $88 billion requested for overseas contingency operations.

Republicans have been wrangling with the Pentagon over president’s cuts to the Pentagon, repeatedly questioning military leaders during congressional hearings about whether the president’s budget provides enough funding.

Ryan ignited a controversy last month when he said, “We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice” on the budget, a remark he later apologized for.

If the House passes an authorization bill with the House Republican spending levels, it will almost assuredly be a different top-line figure than the bill the Senate passes, requiring a deal to reconcile the differences in conference committee.

House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said that the GOP using the defense spending level from the Ryan budget was an”opening gambit.”

“My belief is we should stick to the BCA number, because it’s the law first of all, and second of all, we have an enormous deficit,”Smith told The Hill.

Smith said that if defense spending comes in over the budget caps, “you have to slash away at other things like transportation and infrastructure, housing, and a lot of other places that have already been severely cut.”

Still, he expected the conference committee between the House and Senate could resolve any issues, as they solved a $20 billion gap last year — because the House passed its authorization bill before the debt-limit deal was reached, and the Senate after the caps had been established.

The House Armed Services aide said the committee hopes to mark-up the bill in May and get it through conference committee by September or October.




‘Do Not Pay’ Portal Targets Federal Spending Waste

New Web portal aims to cut down on fraud and prevent federal agencies from making improper payments to ineligible recipients.

By J. Nicholas Hoover, InformationWeek
April 12, 2012

The Obama administration Thursday released a new online tool to help agencies prevent improper payments, whether through benefits or contract spending, to individuals or organizations that have defrauded the government or are otherwise ineligible to receive government money.

The new Do Not Pay site, launched by the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury, is a Web portal that started from a June 2010 Presidential memo ordering a single list through which federal agencies could determine whether or not particular contractors or individuals were eligible to receive federal funds. The single portal replaces a series of anti-fraud portals that had been in place.

Deployment of tools to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse has been a priority for the Obama administration over the last few years. It has resulted in online transparency tools like,, and the IT Dashboard, as well as behind-the-scenes anti-fraud tools deployed by the Recovery Board to track down improper economic stimulus spending.

The effort is an urgent one. In fiscal 2010, federal agencies estimated that they had spent about $125 billion in improper payments to individuals and organizations, including improperly made payments, payments to the wrong account or recipient, and payments to individuals or organizations banned from receiving money from the government. Improper Medicaid and Medicare payments alone reach into the billions annually, and between 2007 and 2010 federal auditors reported that the government doled out $180 million to deceased recipients, and $230 million to ineligible felons.

Agency managers and inspectors general will be able to use the new portal before awarding contracts, before payment, and after payment.

Before making a contract award or issuing a payment, the user submits information about the organization or proposed beneficiary. The portal then pulls data from a number of different data sources, such as Social Security death records and the Excluded Parties List System, to determine the payee’s eligibility to receive funds. In the event that the system misses something, a team then analyzes data using advanced data matching and analytics tools. They can, if necessary, stop payments or prevent future payments from being issued.

A memo issued by OMB director Jeff Zients on Thursday will accelerate the Do Not Pay portal’s deployment. The memo requires all federal agencies to submit by June 30 a timetable and a plan for moving to and using the new system.

Agencies already using the system include the Bureau of the Public Debt, the Government Printing Office, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Numerous other agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and the Small Business Administration, are on deck and will soon be using the Do Not Pay site as well.



U.S. approves Sinclair College for flying unmanned aircraft

Dayton Daily News

By John Nolan, Staff Writer

3:06 PM Friday, April 13, 2012

DAYTON — Sinclair Community College has received federal approval to offer hands-on flying of small unmanned aircraft, a key step in the college’s expanding effort to train students, law enforcement, emergency first-responders and others in operating the airplanes.

The Federal Aviation Administration informed the college Thursday that the FAA had approved Sinclair’s application for approval to fly the unmanned aircraft at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, just outside the city of Springfield.

The hands-on flying opportunity will complement the training simulators Sinclair unveiled in March for flying unmanned aerial vehicles, plus the UAV classroom training that the college began last July, said Deb Norris, Sinclair’s vice president for workforce development and corporate services.

Dayton is trying to develop itself as a nationally recognized center of unmanned aerial systems, which are the UAVs combined with their information-gathering sensor systems.

Sinclair is working with community leaders to be a center of UAV training. The school will host a two-day UAV and sensors industry conference, beginning on Tuesday.

Under the FAA-approved certificate of authorization, a Sinclair instructor will be permitted to let students fly either of the school’s unmanned aerial vehicles within sight, in an area the size of several football fields, Sinclair officials said.

Sinclair hasn’t determined when it will begin offering the UAV flying lessons, Norris said.

The training could support new jobs for the Dayton region in UAV operations, maintenance and manufacturing, Norris said.

The college owns two UAVs, called Spears, that weigh 12 pounds apiece and have 54-inch wingspans. The UAVs were made for Sinclair by Co-Operative Engineering Services Inc. at Dayton’s Tech Town complex.

Sinclair applied for the FAA authorization last fall. The certificate is good for a year. It can be renewed, or amended to include other UAVs, with FAA approval.

Some other colleges and universities around the nation already have similar FAA-approved UAV flying areas. Sinclair is the first in the Dayton region. Previously, the closest available designated UAV flying area was at the Indiana National Guard’s Camp Atterbury, near Columbus, Ind.

The military has represented the big early market for UAVs. But officials of the unmanned aircraft industry predict that there will ultimately be a much larger civilian market for the planes in law enforcement, emergency response, border patrol, and monitoring agricultural crops and utility high-voltage power lines.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2242 or


Microsoft wins its biggest cloud computing client

LONDON (Reuters) – Microsoft announced its biggest-ever customer for cloud computing – software that it hosts on behalf of clients and delivers over the Internet – after winning a contract to provide free services to a major Indian education body.

Microsoft, which was built on the sale of expensive software that is installed on individual computers, has been forced by competition from Google and others to branch out into the fast-growing world of cloud computing.

The U.S. software giant said on Thursday it would provide its Live@edu communication and collaboration software to more than 7 million students and half a million teachers through a deal with the All India Council for Technical Education.

The service, which Microsoft is providing for free as part of its education initiative, includes email, Office Web applications, instant messaging and storage.

For users, cloud computing is inexpensive and simple, because it removes the need to spend time and money on installing software and managing servers.

Large government departments are prime targets for vendors such as Microsoft and Google.

Last June, Microsoft unveiled a revamped online version of its hugely profitable Office software suite.


Navy Trains Pilots on WWII B25


By Bob Brewin   04/05/12 03:27 pm ET

I troll the Federal Business Opportunities website daily and often come up with an interesting nugget that makes for a good yarn, such as this notice from Tuesday that the Navy wanted to lease a WWII B25 Mitchell bomber to help train pilots at its Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Md.

Doug Abbotts, a spokesman for the Naval Air Systems Command, says the Test Pilot School has been using the B25 since 2004 to expose pilots to flight characteristics different from those found in contemporary aircraft. The school has been leasing the B25 from Rags Wings and Radials, a Mardela Spring, Md., outfit that operates a fleet of vintage aircraft.

Abbots said the Test Pilot School trains pilots on a wide variety of old and foreign aircraft, including a former Soviet MiG 15 jet fighter, which was developed in 1948 and currently is parked at the school, ready for flight.



The 45 GB Difference between Air Force Generals and Mere Mortals


By Bob Brewin   04/02/12 04:01 pm ET

The Air Force is eyeing a shift to thin client computing on both its classified and unclassified networks for 1.2 million end users, which means that all data storage will be in the cloud. Apparently the amount of storage a user gets will be determined by their rank.

In a response to questions from potential vendors, the service said an ordinary user would be provided with 5 gigabytes of storage, whereas a general officer would get a whopping 50 gigabytes.

I guess the extra 45 GB for generals is to store the all the PowerPoint slides they need to do their jobs.


U.S. intelligence gains in Iran seen as boost to confidence

Washington Post

By Joby Warrick and Greg Miller, Published: April 7

More than three years ago, the CIA dispatched a stealth surveillance drone into the skies over Iran.

The bat-winged aircraft penetrated more than 600 miles inside the country, captured images of Iran’s secret nuclear facility at Qom and then flew home. All the while, analysts at the CIA and other agencies watched carefully for any sign that the craft, dubbed the RQ-170 Sentinel, had been detected by Tehran’s air defenses on its maiden voyage.

“There was never even a ripple,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official involved in the previously undisclosed mission.

CIA stealth drones scoured dozens of sites throughout Iran, making hundreds of passes over suspicious facilities, before a version of the RQ-170 crashed inside Iran’s borders in December. The surveillance has been part of what current and former U.S. officials describe as an intelligence surge that is aimed at Iran’s nuclear program and that has been gaining momentum since the final years of George W. Bush’s administration.

The effort has included ramped-up eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, formation of an Iran task force among satellite-imagery analysts and an expanded network of spies, current and former U.S. officials said.

At a time of renewed debate over whether stopping Iran might require military strikes, the expanded intelligence collection has reinforced the view within the White House that it will have early warning of any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb, officials said.

“There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision had been made,” said a senior U.S. official involved in high-level discussions about Iran policy. “Across the board, our access has been significantly improved.”

The expanded intelligence effort has coincided with a covert campaign by the CIA and other agencies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program and has enabled an escalation in the use of targeted economic sanctions by the United States and its allies to weaken Iran’s resolve.

The Obama administration has cited new intelligence reports in arguing against a preemptive military strike by Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Israeli officials have pushed for a more aggressive response to Iran’s nuclear activities, arguing that Iran is nearing what some officials have called a “zone of immunity,” in which Iran can quickly complete the final steps toward becoming a nuclear power inside heavily fortified bunkers protected from Israeli airstrikes.

White House officials contend that Iran’s leaders have not decided to build a nuclear weapon, and they say it would take Iran at least a year to do so if it were to launch a crash program now.

“Even in the absolute worst case — six months — there is time for the president to have options,” said the senior U.S. official, one of seven current or former advisers on security policy who agreed to discuss U.S. options on Iran on the condition of anonymity.

The improved intelligence also strengthens the administration’s bargaining position ahead of nuclear talks with Iran, tentatively scheduled for Friday. The United States and five other countries — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — are expected to press Iran to accept curbs on its nuclear program that would make it far more difficult for the country to build a nuclear weapon. A key demand, Western diplomats say, is for Iran to halt production at its uranium enrichment plant at Qom, which was built in mountain tunnels beyond the reach of all but the most advanced bombs and missiles. In return for such a concession, Iran could be allowed to keep some semblance of a commercial nuclear power program under heavy international oversight, diplomats say. It is unclear, however, whether Iran would agree to restrictions on its program. In recent days, Iran has refused even to commit to a venue for the talks.

The CIA declined to comment on the nature of its operations against Iran. Officials familiar with the operations, however, acknowledged that there had been some setbacks and conceded that aspects of Iran’s nuclear decision-making remain opaque, including the calculations made by the Islamic republic’s senior political and clerical leadership.

Iranian officials insist publicly that the program is for peaceful energy production. But experts skeptical of that explanation warn that Iran may become more adept at hiding parts of its nuclear program, particularly if it succeeds in building more powerful centrifuges that can enrich uranium in smaller, dispersed facilities.

“They have been taken off-guard in the past, and now they do their best to conceal,” said Olli Heinonen, who formerly directed nuclear inspections inside Iran for the International Atomic Energy Agency. While Western spy agencies have been successful of late, he said, “they are shooting at a moving target.”

The still-fresh sting of Iraq

There is also the chastening experience of Iraq. A decade ago, analysts at the CIA and other agencies were confident that Iraq had stockpiles of banned weapons, including the components of a nuclear weapons program. A costly U.S. invasion and futile search for those stockpiles proved them wrong.

The sting of that intelligence failure was still fresh when U.S. spy agencies came under pressure to ramp up collection efforts against Iran. By 2006, U.S. intelligence officials and top Bush advisers had become alarmed by deep gaps in U.S. knowledge of Iran’s nuclear efforts and ambitions.

Michael V. Hayden, then the new CIA director, recalled a White House briefing in which Bush became visibly agitated.

At the time, Iran was rapidly expanding its stockpile of enriched uranium at its main Natanz facility while working on what was then a secret site at Qom. American officials feared that Iran might surprise the world with a nuclear weapons test that would leave U.S. leaders with two highly unpalatable options: Attack Iran or accept the emergence of a new nuclear power in the Middle East.

At one point, Bush turned to Hayden and said, “I don’t want any U.S. president to be faced with only two choices when it comes to Iran,” according to Hayden. Efforts to reach Bush for comment were not successful.

The meeting became the impetus for overhauling the CIA’s approach to a country considered one of its hardest targets. The agency’s Iran experts and operatives were moved from its Near East Division to a group focused exclusively on Iran, much as the CIA had formed its Counterterrorism Center 20 years earlier.

“We put the best people on the job and put the most talented people in charge,” Hayden said. “Then we said, ‘Tell us what you need to get the job done.’ ”

Known internally as “Persia House,” the Iran Operations Division was set up in the agency’s Old Headquarters Building. Over time, it swelled from several dozen analysts and officers to several hundred. The division is now headed by a veteran case officer who previously served as CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan.

“It got a robust budget,” said a former senior CIA official who worked in the Near East Division at the time. The Iran division’s emphasis was “getting people overseas in front of people they needed to be in front of — there are a lot of places to meet Iranians outside Iran.”

The division began assembling an informant network that stretched from the Middle East to South America, where Iran’s security services have a long-standing presence. The CIA also exploited the massive U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq to mount espionage operations against the country sandwiched between those war zones.

Limited damage

One of those operations was exposed last year, when an RQ-170, flown from an airstrip in Afghanistan, crashed inside Iran. Officials in Tehran have triumphantly claimed credit for bringing the stealth drone down and have released pictures showing the drone apparently patched up after the crash. U.S. officials say a technical failure caused the crash.

The former intelligence official familiar with the beginnings of the stealth drone missions said that there had been pointed debate before deploying the first aircraft over whether it should be equipped with a so-called self-destruction package, which could blow an RQ-170 to bits if it flew off course.

The director of national intelligence at the time, Michael McConnell, was among the high-ranking officials who pushed to have the package installed. But the CIA’s engineering team balked, saying it would add too much weight to the delicately balanced frame.

Despite the setback, U.S. officials said that some surveillance flights continue and that the damage to American espionage capacity overall has been limited.

That is partly because the drone flights were only a small part of a broad espionage campaign involving the NSA, which intercepts e-mail and electronic communications, as well as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which scours satellite imagery and was the first to spot the uranium enrichment plant at Qom.

The CIA’s expanded efforts continued under director Leon E. Panetta, who built partnerships with allied intelligence services in the region capable of recruiting operatives for missions inside Iran, former intelligence officials said.

The agency has encountered problems. Shahram Amiri, an Iranian defector and scientist in the country’s nuclear program, had been given $5 million by the CIA and relocated to Tucson. But in 2010, he abandoned his American life and returned to Tehran — where he had a young son — giving Iranian officials not only a propaganda victory but probably information on what his CIA debriefers were most desperate to learn.

U.S. officials said Amiri had been handled by the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division after he approached U.S. officials in Vienna and volunteered to spy. That division continues to handle scientists and technical experts connected to Iran’s program, while Persia House focuses on leadership figures and the nation’s sprawling military and security services, including the Republican Guard Corps.

“The real damage was image — we looked like the Keystone Kops,” said a former senior CIA official of Amiri’s return to Iran. “In terms of actual damage — no, we collected all kinds of great stuff.”

The expanded espionage effort has confirmed the consensus view expressed by the U.S. intelligence community in a controversial estimate released publicly in 2007. That estimate concluded that while Iran remains resolutely committed to assembling key building blocks for a nuclear weapons program, particularly enriched uranium, the nation’s leaders have opted for now against taking the crucial final step: designing a nuclear warhead.

“It isn’t the absence of evidence, it’s the evidence of an absence,” said one former intelligence official briefed on the findings. “Certain things are not being done.”

Staff writer Julie Tate contributed to this report.


Canal walk to connect field, Oregon District

$2M state grant will help Dayton extend Patterson Blvd. Canal Parkway.

Dayton Daily News

By Doug Page, Staff Writer

Updated 9:15 AM Monday, April 9, 2012

DAYTON — The city is using a $2 million state grant to extend Patterson Boulevard Canal Parkway four blocks as part of the long-range plans to connect downtown to nearby entertainment, education, health and research areas.

“The project is a strong addition to our downtown infrastructure. It’s very, very important,” said Sandy Gudorf, director of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. “It falls right in line with so much work the community has underway.”

The extension from Second Street to south of Fifth Street would link Riverscape and Fifth Third Field to the Oregon District.

City officials say the project is another step in Dayton’s quest to link downtown with the University of Dayton and its research components, and Miami Valley Hospital with downtown.

“This is the walking link we always wanted,” said Mike Martin, president of the Oregon District Business Association.

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The plan

In 2008, the state awarded the city a $2 million grant for construction of a cultural project. Initially, the money was to go toward a mixed-use project north of Fifth Third Field. When that project failed to reach fruition, the state asked the city if it had another close by qualifying project.

“Patterson Boulevard was part of our future plans, so we were able to put the money toward that,” said Steve Finke, assistant director of Public Works. The city is covering the engineering and planning costs.

The city commission approved use of the money for the project on Wednesday.

The project includes widening sidewalks, planting trees, flowers and shubbery, adding a bike lane and installing 12-foot-high pylons with decorative lighting along the four-lane boulevard.

“It will be a history walk with 10 pylon markers that show the history of the canal and the city,” said Finke.

“It ties Riverscape to Fifth Third to Cooper Park to the Oregon District,” Finke said. “It provides a better experience to draw people from the ballpark to the Oregon District.”

And northbound drivers leaving downtown will no longer be stuck in a left-turn only lane at Second Street, forcing a difficult lane change to the right to get across the Patterson bridge, Finke said.

“A lot of my friends yell at me about that,” Mayor Gary Leitzell said as Finke explained the plan to commissioners.

Commissioners were quick to point out that because of grant restrictions, the money could not be used to repave residential streets, another commission priority. The city budget has $3.3 million for road repaving projects.

Boulevard construction is to begin in the next two weeks, with completion scheduled for November, Finke said.

“There was no parking lot included when the stadium was built,” Martin said. “The idea was people would park downtown and walk to the stadium, to the district, for entertainment before and after the game.”

The Dayton Dragons, a Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, started its season Thursday with its 845th consecutive sellout, a professional sports record.

“It will be tremendously beautiful, a great walk along a safely lighted path,” Martin said.

And it will restore the former beauty of the boulevard.

The history

The first leg of the canal was started in 1825 from Cincinnati to Dayton.

“Until the early 1850s, Dayton was a major international port for goods coming into Ohio,” said John Gower, a retired city worker, downtown historian and part-time city urban coordinator. “That spurred explosive growth. Without the canal, Dayton today would probably be the size of Germantown (population 5,547).”

Following the Civil War, the canal started to decline as railroads expanded their reach across the country. “The Flood of 1913 was the death blow to the canal,” Gower said.

By 1920, the city had a plan for the Miami-Erie Boulevard to follow the path of the canal from the river to Carillon Park. When the canal was filled and the boulevard completed in 1938, shortly after the death of John Patterson, who had urged city officials to fill it in, city officials named it after Patterson.

Gower said after World War II, parts of the boulevard’s park space were paved over for parking lots and commercial development. It wasn’t until the late ’70s, or the early ’80s that the city began to look at returning the boulevard to a modern version of its original grace.

“This is a big step,” he said of the current extension.

The future

Gower said the city sees Patterson Boulevard and Brown Street as spines that connect downtown with the city’s growing innovation centers.

The city’s plans envision Brown Street as a corridor to the University of Dayton and Miami Valley Hospital. The city is in the midst of a $4.4 million rebuild of Brown Street through the campus. Future plans call for extending the Brown Street rebuild to Patterson Boulevard.

Updates of the boulevard further south would include sprucing up the artery all the way to the University of Dayton Research Institute at the former NCR world headquarters.

When completed, it would link the education, research and medical hubs for walkers, bikers and drivers to the growing residential areas on the east side of downtown and the numerous technology start-ups at Tech Town, just east of Fifth Third Field.

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Advocates of the Plain Writing Act prod federal agencies to keep it simple

Washington post

By Lisa Rein, Published: April 8

Federal agencies must report their progress this week in complying with the Plain Writing Act, a new decree that government officials communicate more conversationally with the public.

Speaking plainly, they ain’t there yet.

Which leaves, in the eyes of some, a basic and critical flaw in how the country runs. “Government is all about telling people what to do,” said Annetta Cheek, a retired federal worker from Falls Church and longtime evangelist for plain writing. “If you don’t write clearly, they’re not going to do it.”

But advocates such as Cheek estimate that federal officials have translated just 10 percent of their forms, letters, directives and other documents into “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use,” as the law requires.

Official communications must now employ the active voice, avoid double negatives and use personal pronouns. “Addressees” must now become, simply, “you.” Clunky coinages like “incentivizing” (first known usage 1970) are a no-no. The Code of Federal Regulations no longer goes by the abbreviation CFR.

But with no penalty for inaction on the agencies’ part, advocates worry that plain writing has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, like many another unfunded mandate imposed by Congress. They say many agencies have heeded the 2010 law merely by appointing officials, creating working groups and setting up Web sites.

What’s more, the law’s demand for clearer language seems like make-work to skeptics who say there is no money to pay for the promotion of clarity and that the status quo is the best path to accuracy.

“It’s definitely an ongoing battle,” said Glenn Ellmers, plain-writing coordinator for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “We’re trying pretty hard. But when you’re talking about something as complex as a nuclear power plant, you can’t get around specialized language. The really technical people take a little pride in using it.”

As a concession to them, the commission is simplifying only the cover letters of plant inspection reports, while leaving intact the highly technical and all-but-impenetrable text of the actual documents.

“Part of this is we have a change in culture,” said Ed Burbol, the Defense Department’s plain-language coordinator, who oversees two full-time staff members assigned to promoting clearer communication. “We’re going to encounter resistance.”

A retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, Burbol acknowledged that “some people here can write very well and some people can’t write at all,” a problem he attributes to the large number of service members who return to work as civilians.

Consider the next sentence: “This subpart identifies those products in which the Administrator has found an unsafe condition as described in Sec. 39.1 and, as appropriate, prescribes inspections and the conditions and limitations, if any, under which those products may continue to be operated.”

And here’s the revision of the sentence, a Federal Aviation Administration guideline, by the nonprofit Center for Plain Language: “Airworthiness directives specify inspections you must carry out, conditions and limitations you must comply with, and any actions you must take to resolve an unsafe condition.”

Cheek, the retired federal worker, still devotes at least 20 hours a week to the tiny nonprofit plain-language center she founded for federal employees. To inspire healthy competition when the law passed two years ago, the group started giving out annual awards for the best and worst of government-speak, including a Turn-Around prize for most improved agency. The annual ClearMark awards banquet, scheduled this year for May 22, is held at the National Press Club.

In this era of shrinking government, advocates of plain writing say their causecan actually save money.

They cite Washington state’s “Plain Talk” program: A revamped letter tripled the number of businesses paying a commonly ignored use tax, bringing $2 million in new revenue in a year, according to law professor Joseph Kimble, author of a forthcoming book on the benefits of plain language.

And after the Department of Veterans Affairs revised one of its letters, calls to a regional call center dropped from about 1,100 a year to about 200, Kimble said.

“People complain about government red tape and getting government out of your hair,” said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), House sponsor of the Plain Writing Act. “If every one of these forms was written in plain language, the number of contacts to federal agencies would plummet.” He’s started a “Stop B.S.” (for “Bureaucrat Speak”) campaign soliciting examples of badly written public documents.

The law exempts regulations from its mandate for clearer communication, although last fall the Obama administration ordered agencies to write a summary of their technical proposed or final regulations, and post it at the top of the text.

But Braley says that’s not enough. He’s introduced a bill to extend the law to the full text of regulations so ordinary people can understand them.

Americans have always loved plain talkers. But at some point, scholars point out, inscrutable language became associated with high status.

“A lot of people in government wield their jargon to make themselves seem very impressive,” said Karen Schriver, a plain-language expert at Carnegie Mellon University.

There have been many attempts to turn this trend around, including at the presidential level. Richard Nixon required that the Federal Register be written in “layman’s terms.” Jimmy Carter issued executive orders to make government regulations “cost-effective” and easy to understand. (Ronald Reagan rescinded the orders.)

The Clinton White House revived plain language as a major initiative, and Vice President Al Gore presented monthly “No Gobbledygook” awards to federal workers who translated jargon into readable language.

None of these efforts stuck, although some agencies — including Veterans Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service — took the mission seriously. The IRS won the Center for Plain Language’s top prize last year for “intelligible writing in public life.”

And then there is the difficulty of promoting revision while preserving precision. At a January meeting of the Plain Language Information & Action Network, a group of federal employees devoted to the cause, members from 20 federal agencies listened as Meredith Weberg, an editor at the Veterans Affairs inspector general’s office, described how she butted up against an “obstinate” boss.

In attempting to simplify a handbook for auditors, Weberg changed “concur” and “not concur” to “agree” and “disagree.” The manager changed it back.

One of her allies in the cause of plain writing had to, well, concur with the boss’s decision. “A concurring opinion says Justice so-and-so agrees with the conclusion of the court,” said Ken Meardan, who writes regulations for the Agriculture Department. “He may not agree” with the reasoning.

Weberg said she let this one go.

The new law is hitting larger obstacles.

“They didn’t really make it plain as to what my responsibilities are,” said the newly appointed plain-language coordinator at the Department of Transportation, describing her assignment from management. She looked bewildered.

Her counterpart at the U.S. Agency for International Development had an even bigger problem: She could not get behind an electronic firewall for online training.

“We have a lot of classified information,” Christine Brown told the group. “We’re not getting very far with this. No one has the resources.”

USAID has appointed a plain-language committee. But it is just starting to train its members to write plainly.

“A lot of people didn’t think this was the kind of thing you should do a law about,” Cheek said. “We’ll see if it works.”


DHS requests bids for second try at virtual fence


By Aliya Sternstein 04/09/2012

The Homeland Security Department has issued a much anticipated solicitation for sensor-studded towers, preferably military-grade, to replace a $1 billion virtual fence that faltered in the Arizona desert more than a year ago.

In the final work order, however, DHS Customs and Border Protection officials backpedaled on a promise to abandon the project if they could not find proven technology.

Whereas a February draft solicitation stated that “CBP will cancel the solicitation rather than procure an ineffective or high-risk offering,” the request for proposals noted, “CBP may cancel the solicitation rather than procure an ineffective or high-risk offering.”

Otherwise, the RFP hews closely to February’s plan, which was a scaled-back version of several preliminary solicitations dating back to January 2011. That month, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano killed the Secure Border Initiative network, or SBInet, amid congressional ire that the networked fence in the Southwest was over budget, behind schedule and not working. The new eight and a half year endeavor aims to start small, first stationing a single tower in Nogales and then adding up to five more towers in Sonoita, Douglas, Casa Grande, Ajo and Wellton.

The final document, like February’s draft, emphasizes — in all caps — that DHS does not want technology that requires new construction or tweaks: “First and foremost, CBP is NOT interested in any kind of a system development.”

Although the department may not cancel the project if it can’t find a vendor with existing technology from military or industrial production lines, CBP officials now say they will cancel the project if the vendor does not deliver.

“Offerors who fail to meet the performance levels they themselves propose should not expect tolerance from the government. All offerors are on notice that the government will be ready, willing and able to terminate for default any successful offeror who fails to meet the performance characteristics asserted and presented in the offeror’s proposal,” stated the final RFP, which was released on Friday.

According to the solicitation, the winning contractor must offer the best trade-off between cost and performance. There are, however, a handful of mandatory performance attributes. The baseline requirements include the tower’s ability to detect an average-size adult as far away as five miles, even if 95 percent of the individual is blocked from view for three seconds. And the unit must withstand wind speeds of up to 10 miles per hour and 15 mile-per-hour gusts.

“Offerors who cannot meet some lower priority parameters, but otherwise offer good performance and high confidence at an attractive price, should expect to compete favorably in this procurement,” the RFP stated. “Offerors who offer higher performance at a higher price should also expect to compete favorably if the increased performance is worth the marginal increase in price.”

The first tower must be installed within a year after the deal is signed.

CBP officials said future contracts may ask for novel engineering and, perhaps, towers that are networked — but not this one. Critics of SBInet had said the government stumbled partly by layering on too many bells and whistles, like interconnected towers and ground radars. “For now, the intent is to avoid ‘overshooting’ mission needs at all costs by delivering low-risk systems that can give immediate support to the overall border security mission,” officials said in the final paper.

The new system would automatically flag any humans traveling on foot, on animals or moving around on vehicles, according to the solicitation. Incursions would be reported, in near real time, to CBP personnel at remote workstations. And video would be transmitted in near real-time so that personnel can dispatch response teams.

Maps showing multiple, simultaneous incidents also would be available through the system. All the data and imagery would have to sustain connectivity in adverse environmental conditions, such as secluded locations where power and communications are limited; and in terrain ranging from open surfaces to mountains or foliage.

The work order attempts to aid applicants with a play-by-play of a real-world scenario that uses the envisioned system. It chronicles a takedown in which Border Patrol agents stop a suspicious vehicle with a tire-deflation device, prompting the occupants to bolt into the desert. “The workstation operator notifies agents of one fleeing suspect who has stopped running and has found cover in the brush. The workstation operator uses the system’s motion detection capability option to locate the hiding [individual’s] subtle movements within the video scene,” the narrative noted. The agents use night vision goggles to find the bush where the suspect is hiding and capture him.

The storyline continues, “The second suspect has continued to run through the desert and agents are no longer able to track the shoe prints through the hard caliche surface. The workstation operator directs the system to the second [suspect’s icon] marked red on the geospatial screen . . . The agents utilize their [goggles] and the workstation operator illuminates the suspect hiding in a nearby bush, which guides field agents toward the suspect who is apprehended shortly thereafter.” The next day, government officials retrieve video evidence saved in the system to prosecute the two individuals, according to the example.

The chosen contractor would net between $390 million and $465 million, including $90 million for the base contract and between $60 million and $75 million for each additional tower, Ray Bjorklund, chief knowledge officer at market research firm Deltek, estimated on Monday.

CBP officials last week rereleased a redacted solicitation for border surveillance video cameras, after accidentally disclosing a vendor’s potential trade secrets in the initial solicitation. Officials did not say whose proprietary information may have been leaked. Boeing Co. held the contract for SBInet and currently manages the northern border’s video surveillance system.

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Cyber czar: Power companies need to watch their backs


By Aliya Sternstein 04/11/2012

President Obama’s top cybersecurity official on Wednesday said utilities must pinpoint security gaps in their electricity delivery systems on a regular basis.

The Energy Department, in cooperation with the White House, Homeland Security Department and power companies, this month is expected to test a voluntary reporting model that assesses an individual utility’s security posture to identify where safeguards are needed most. As of March 30, the Office of Management and Budget was finalizing information collection procedures for the trial.

The nation’s energy sector must perform “active risk management performance evaluations, continuous monitoring, exercises and simulations to determine on a regular basis how we’re doing,” White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt told industry and government leaders at McAfee’s annual public sector conference.

As the industry moves toward smart meters with Internet-connected sensors that help utilities and customers economize, it is becoming a hacker target. Thieves can game the system to display less power than the actual amount consumed, while adversaries theoretically could darken cities by breaking into industrial control systems.

After piloting the Electric Sector Cybersecurity Risk Management Maturity assessment model this spring, the government plans to make a template available to the electric sector this summer.

McAfee officials told reporters that the most effective change agent in the power industry has been positive incentives that reward security enhancements, such as tax credits and liability reforms. Also, companies are working with regulators to shift from a blacklisting protection approach that focuses on blocking worms after antivirus programs detect a danger, to a whitelisting approach that allows only a preselected set of downloads, said Thomas Gann, McAfee vice president for government relations.

Phyllis Schneck, chief technology officer for McAfee global public sector, said her firm is building whitelisting features into systems, even computer components.

In his conference remarks, Schmidt also addressed emerging complications for the government’s cybersecurity brain trust — a team that, he said, involves officials from nearly every department. One challenge has been figuring out the motives behind various cyber incidents. “What may be an espionage issue sort of gets commingled with criminal activity,” he said. “One of the things that we’ve had to do is sit there and parse these things out.”

Surfing the Web with a virus lurking inside one’s computer is becoming increasingly commonplace. The practice of using personal smartphones for office work, known as Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, creates the potential for even more malware, Schmidt said. “One in 10 Americans has some kind of malicious software on their own devices,” he said


Cutting costs could do a lot for Defense

Washington Post

By Walter Pincus, Published: April 11

If cost overruns were eliminated along with the modernization of already flawed — and expensive — weapons, perhaps the Pentagon would not be facing the potential sequester of funds.

Of course, that’s very easy to say but very hard to do. Two recent reports make that clear.

Let’s start with the F-22, which the Air Force has touted as the only operational fifth-generation, stealthy, air-to-air and air-to-ground fighter-bomber. Last year, the Defense Department put the cost of the current fleet of 187 at $79 billion, yet the plane has not been used in battle since the first one was turned over to the Air Force in 2005.

In 2009, the Air Force said, “The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft,” yet today it is used primarily to fly air defense missions to protect the U.S. homeland while less costly aircraft are at war.

A new report by the Government Accountability Office that assesses selected Pentagon weapon systems discusses the last of four planned incremental modernization programs for the F-22s. The programs will add an additional $12.7 billion to its overall cost — and that is just an estimate.

This is an aircraft that can’t avoid trouble. A crash in 2010 delayed the testing last year of the F-22s’ second modernization increment. Testing was halted again when all F-22s were grounded in 2011. A pilot oxygen problem has been studied as the cause of the 2010 crash, but no final cause has been determined. And some F-22 pilots still report breathing problems.

The third F-22 modernization increment includes new software for electronic protection, combat identification and upgraded communication. It will be fielded in 2014, according to the GAO.

The fourth increment, which is estimated to cost $1.5 billion, will equip the F-22 to carry two new missiles. This upgrade won’t be fielded until 2017.

One of the new missiles is the AIM-9X, the latest version of the Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile. Ironically, like the F-22, it has been having cost growth problems. The GAO report states that the AIM-9X showed a cost increase in 2011, from $3.1 billion to $3.75 billion.

But the Defense Department’s latest selected acquisition report (SAR), released March 30, states that the AIM-9X has grown in cost to $4.7 billion. The spike is a result of ending production of the first Block I version and approving low-rate initial production of Block II.

Another program to watch is the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter, whose older versions have been a mainstay of the Army for years. The Defense Department’s SAR has the overall program increasing by $1.5 billion over the past year, with the total buy hitting $28.9 billion. The GAO report also has the Black Hawk costs growing some 20 percent in the last five years, and more than 90 percent beyond its original estimated cost.

Why such increases? The SAR attributes most of the year-to-year increase, some $939 million, to labor costs. An additional $217 million resulted from reduction of the multiyear procurement quantities — the argument that if you buy fewer, the ones you get cost more.

The biggest cost growth is still being racked up by the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, in more than one way a follow to the F-22. The SAR has the aircraft’s projected overall cost rising $10.7 billion in one year, with half of that because of the slower production rate. Of course, the slowdown was partly caused by some of the internal and exotic elements of this stealth fighter-bomber still undergoing development and testing while others are in production.

Then there is the F-35’s engine. Its cost increase rose, percentage-wise, faster than the aircraft. Engine costs went up $5.6 billion to an overall cost of $63.9 billion. Most of that increase, $4 billion according to the SAR, was “due primarily to increase in initial spares.”

Put together, the total projected price for 2,457 F-35 airplanes and engines is estimated at $390 billion over the life of the program. It continues to be the most expensive weapons system ever built, but as the GAO report warns, with most of development and flight testing still ahead, “the risk of future design changes and their potential effects on the program could be significant.”

The GAO report shows the Pentagon ran up $74.4 billion in added costs last year for its 96 major defense acquisition programs. Although that number covers the entire, multiyear expenses for those programs, “it puts a different light on the $55 billion-a-year the Defense Department would have to swallow under sequester, which they say would be ‘doomsday,’ ” said Winslow T. Wheeler, who directs the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information. Winslow, a former national security specialist for the GAO and several Republican senators, thinks better program management is one answer.

But more than that is needed. Over the past decade, given unlimited funds, Pentagon and White House officials, with congressional encouragement and approval, spent themselves and the country into this fiscal mess chasing one exotic weapon after another — whatever the cost.

One example: the $3.7 billion spent on a now-canceled amphibious landing vehicle for the Marines. An additional $200 million is being paid to end the contract, according to the GAO. The money is gone, but the Marines are still in the market for a new landing craft.

It remains to be seen whether the Pentagon, White House and Congress can end this cycle of developing weapons, no matter the cost.

Ransomware stops Windows from booting by replacing its master boot record

Ransomware asks users to pay up before letting them start Windows


Lucian Constantin

April 12, 2012 (IDG News Service)

A new ransomware variant prevents infected computers from loading Windows by replacing their master boot record (MBR) and displays a message asking users for money, according to security researchers from Trend Micro.

“Based on our analysis, this malware copies the original MBR and overwrites it with its own malicious code,” said Cris Pantanilla, a threat response engineer at Trend Micro, in a blog post on Thursday. “Right after performing this routine, it automatically restarts the system for the infection take effect.”

The MBR is a piece of code that resides in the first sectors of the hard drive and starts the boot loader. The boot loader then loads the OS.

Instead of starting the Windows boot loader, the rogue MBR installed by the new ransomware displays a message that asks users to deposit a sum of money into a particular account via an online payment service called QIWI, in order to receive an unlock code for their computers.

“This code will supposedly resume operating system to load and remove the infection,” Pantanilla said. “When the unlock code is used, the MBR routine is removed.”

As the name implies, ransomware applications hold something belonging to the victim in ransom until they pay a sum of money. This type of malware is considered the next step in the evolution of scareware, malicious programs that scare users into paying money.

The majority of ransomware applications disable important system functionality or encrypt documents and pictures, but this is the first ransomware program that Trend Micro researchers have seen replacing the MBR to prevent the system from starting.

This represents a serious escalation in ransomware techniques. While users can still run security tools to clean their systems of traditional ransomware applications and even recover some files, if Windows doesn’t start at all, like in this case, the remediation procedure becomes much more difficult.

Repairing the MBR is no trivial matter and usually requires booting from the Windows installation disk, getting into the recovery command console and typing special commands.

Ransomware infections are typically more common throughout Eastern Europe and South America, but this type of malware is slowly gaining traction in other regions of the world as well. Some variants that impersonate law enforcement agencies and ask victims to pay fictitious fines have recently been detected in Western Europe.

“Though overshadowed by other more newsworthy threats, ransomware attacks are definitely not out of picture. In fact, this threat appears to be flourishing, as evidenced by the growth of ransomware infections in other parts of Europe,” Pantanilla said.

SAIC: Insurance will cover funds sought in TRICARE data theft lawsuits


By Bob Brewin 04/06/2012

Science Applications International Corp. has enough insurance to cover judgments or settlements that could result from the September 2011 theft of computer tapes containing the medical records of 4.9 million beneficiaries of the military TRICARE health insurance program. The company disclosed that information last week in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Seven lawsuits have been filed against the TRICARE contractor claiming as much as $4.9 billion in damages. The computer tapes that held the data were taken from the parked car of an SAIC employee who was transporting the records from one facility to another. According to the SEC filing, the company’s insurance policy will cover any judgments after it meets a $10 million deductible payment.

The company’s annual 10-K report — a comprehensive summary of operations, financial condition and litigation required by SEC — also noted the Office for Civil Rights in the Health and Human Services Department opened an investigation into the tape theft. A TRICARE spokesman confirmed that investigation started Nov. 17, 2011. The Office of Civil Rights enforces privacy and security rules contained in the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act.

SAIC already has booked a $10 million loss related to the seven lawsuits, which it said in the SEC filing represented “the low end of the company’s estimated loss. The company believes that if any loss is experienced by the company in excess of its estimate, such a loss would not exceed the company’s insurance coverage.”

The filing said the tapes “contained personally identifiable and protected health information of approximately 5 million military clinic and hospital patients” but noted “there is no evidence that any of the data on the backup tapes has actually been accessed or viewed by an unauthorized person. In order for an unauthorized person to access or view the data on the backup tapes, it would require knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure.”

As the lawsuits progress, SAIC said many factors will affect the amount of the ultimate loss resulting from claims against the company, including “the outcome of the company’s motions to dismiss the results of any discovery, the outcome of any pretrial motions and the courts’ rulings on certain legal issues.”

Spokesman Austin Camacho said TRICARE submitted written responses to inquiries from the Office of Civil Rights on Nov. 23, 2011, and Jan. 26, 2012, “detailing our policies, procedures, and documentation related to the privacy and security rules. We have complied with all their requests and will continue to do so.”

Leon Rodriguez, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, declined to address the TRICARE investigation directly in response to a query from Nextgov. He did say if a covered entity did not take steps to resolve privacy breaches “in a way that is satisfactory” his office may decide to impose monetary penalties.

In March, the Office of Civil Rights slapped Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee with a $1.5 million fine after that insurer reported the theft of 57 unencrypted computer hard drives that contained the protected health information of more than 1 million people, including their names, Social Security numbers, diagnosis codes, dates of birth, and health plan identification numbers. This was the first enforcement action by the office under the HITECH Act data breach notification rule


Leaked Microsoft roadmap shows 2013 launch for Office 15

Microsoft needs to better communicate plans to developers, enterprises and customers, says analyst

Gregg Keizer

April 13, 2012 (Computerworld)

A leaked Microsoft roadmap shows that the next version of Office won’t ship until the first quarter of 2013, according to the Dutch developer who found the document.

Maarten Visser, the CEO of Meetroo and a decade-long Microsoft partner, stumbled upon the roadmap a week ago after clicking on a link posted on Microsoft’s Dutch website. The PDF was not password protected.

“I’m always curious about the roadmaps,” said Visser in a YouTube video he posted yesterday. “For me, since we build SharePoint applications, the release of SharePoint 15 is an important thing. The better I know when this will happen, the better I will be to ready my products before launch.”

Visser’s Meetroo is building project management software that relies on SharePoint.

While Visser noted that much of the information in the roadmap was already known — that Microsoft will release a public beta of Office alongside betas of supporting products like SharePoint and Exchange — he pointed out that the document pegged the suite’s final release as the first quarter of 2013.

The roadmap’s date for the public beta, however, doesn’t jibe with Microsoft’s recent comments.

On the roadmap, the Office beta was marked as smack-dab between the third and fourth quarters. While Microsoft has not yet revealed a detailed timetable for Office, two months ago the executive who runs the Office group, P.J. Hough, said “Everyone will have the opportunity to try the Office 15 public beta later this summer.”

To meet Hough’s “summer” promise, the beta would have to appear in the stretch between late in the second quarter and near the end of the third.

Microsoft has not assigned the next Office an official name, but has used “Office 15” as a placeholder. The roadmap used the same label.

Another section of the roadmap showed timelines for Windows — both client and server editions — as well as Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) and Windows Phone.

Windows 8’s schedule was bare, with only last September’s Developer Preview marked, and others, including Windows Server 8 — which is expected to launch at the same time as the client editions — simply showing a label of “Historical Release Cadence” that stretched from mid-2012 through early 2013.

Most experts anticipate a formal release of Windows 8 — at least the desktop version — in the fourth quarter, possibly October, because they assume Microsoft wants new Windows 8 PCs on shelves during this year’s holiday sales season.

IE10’s launch was marked as some time in the second half of 2012.

One analyst said the roadmap demonstrated just how opaque Microsoft is when it comes to disseminating information to customers. “Not only do ISVs [independent software vendors] and corporations need to know release dates, but as a customer, you need to know them, too,” said Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft.

“Everyone needs a timeline that’s dependable, but it’s not enough to just give us dates,” Cherry said, referring to the leaked document. “You have to give us descriptions why those dates are what they are.”

That’s something that Microsoft doesn’t do early enough in its development process, Cherry said, making it nearly impossible for software makers like Visser, companies that craft their own applications for internal use, and customers — especially enterprises — to make intelligent decisions on developing for a new platform or migrating to it.

Cherry argued that a reliable timeline was more important for an operating system than for an application like Office, big as the latter is to Microsoft’s revenue, because fewer partners work with Office than with Windows.

“For an OS like Windows, especially WOA [Windows on ARM], I’m kind of stunned at the lack of information available at this point,” Cherry said. “There are a lot of people who need to be aware of the changes in Windows and WOA.”

Directions on Microsoft creates detailed roadmaps for its clients, but the job is neither simple or easy.

“It’s very hard to do, to represent [a roadmap] well,” said Cherry, adding that it’s necessary to show dependencies between products — how Internet Explorer relies on Windows, for instance — and timelines that include older products for those rare times when Microsoft takes features from a new edition and backports them to a predecessor.

Cherry highlighted the roadmap’s Office 15 launch in early 2013 as another example of dependency. If Office won’t be available until then, Cherry was skeptical of a WOA launch in 2012, what with Microsoft having stressed the importance of Office on that tablet-oriented OS.

“Apple can be secretive because they build the hardware,” Cherry said. “The more you control the ecosystem, the more closed you can be. But I’ve always thought of Windows as open.”

Microsoft declined to comment today on the roadmap that Visser uncovered.


In War Against Iran, U.S. Firepower Would Vie With Guerrilla Tactics

Updated April 14, 2012, 12:15 a.m. ET



Adm. Jonathan Greenert made an important observation last fall from the tower of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis while in the Strait of Hormuz on the southern coast of Iran, the world’s busiest oil-shipping lane.

The chief of naval operations was sailing in a flotilla that showed off the Navy’s overwhelming power to strike at long distances: F-18 fighter jets, Tomahawk cruise missiles and deck guns able to fire a shell 15 miles.


As concerns grow over Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. is beginning to develop a plan in the event that military intervention is necessary. Reports WSJ’s Nathan Hodge, Iran has an inferior military that, in many ways, could make it more dangerous.

Yet in the claustrophobic waters of the strait, which narrows to just 24 miles, Adm. Greenert noted that all that long-range firepower could potentially be countered by the Iranian patrol boats that came out to track the U.S. warships. Faced with a fight in close quarters, Adm. Greenert told a Senate panel recently, “You also may need a sawed-off shotgun.”

As the U.S. and other Western powers prepare to meet Saturday in Istanbul with Iran to resume negotiations over its nuclear program, the U.S. military is sharpening its contingency planning. Advocates of peaceful engagement say economic sanctions against the Islamic regime are starting to bite, and are hopeful that Tehran will give up its uranium-enrichment program. Iran says the program is for use in electricity generation, but intelligence services say the regime is close to developing the capability of building a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration plays down the chances of a breakthrough at this meeting, the first face-to-face encounter between US. and Iranian diplomats in more than a year, saying the best outcome may be agreement for a second round.

Should all else fail and the U.S. or Israel decide to attack Iran, say analysts, they would face a miniature version of the U.S. military, circa 1975—sustained, barely, by a world-wide spare-parts bazaar. Experts say the Islamic Republic’s claims of advanced weaponry—such as armed, Predator-style drones—are mere boasts.

Spotlight on Iran

Take a look at key dates in the U.S.-Iran relationship and recent international sanctions, details on major players, a map of major nuclear sites, and possible naval strategies.

View Interactive


Military officers and defense analysts say the U.S. could quickly overwhelm Iran’s air defenses, leaving evenly spaced bomb craters, for example, on runways to disable Iranian air bases. Pinpoint airstrikes would attempt to destroy all Iran’s known nuclear facilities—a goal complicated by the fact that the regime has buried some of its production sites. The Pentagon is rushing to upgrade its largest conventional bomb to better penetrate fortified underground facilities.

Naval officers believe Iran would retaliate by waging the naval equivalent of guerrilla warfare in the Persian Gulf by mining the Strait of Hormuz or swarming U.S. naval vessels with small boats.

Such threats, so-called asymmetric warfare, could prove as dangerous and unpredictable as roadside bombs in Afghanistan or Iraq, with an low-cost mine potentially crippling or sinking a billion-dollar warship.

In such a scenario, the U.S. military would face a time-consuming and often perilous effort to reopen shipping lanes to international oil traffic.

“They have stayed true to their stripes,” said a senior military officer in the Middle East. “They have always taken an asymmetric approach, going back to the ’80s.”

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran had among the most formidable conventional arsenals in the region, equipped with modern weaponry sold to the Shah by U.S. defense firms.

Iran’s military was later battered during eight years of war with Iraq in the 1980s. Iran has since cobbled together an array of weapons—some homegrown but much acquired from China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

Plane captains stood by as a U.S. helicopter took off from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Strait of Hurmuz in February.

Iran has already threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in response to tighter international sanctions. Military analysts now estimate Iran has amassed as many as 5,000 naval mines, ranging from rudimentary devices that explode on contact, to high-tech mines that, tethered to the sea floor, can identify the acoustic signature of specific types of ships and explode only under the richest targets.

Scott Truver, a mine warfare analyst, said finding and clearing Iranian mines would be a cat-and-mouse game for the Navy. Mine warfare, he said “is as tough and dangerous as the IEDs on land were. Mines are equally hard to detect, if not harder.”

The U.S. Navy knows firsthand. In April 1988, the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian mine, which blew a hole the size of a pickup truck in the hull, and nearly sank the ship. The U.S. retaliated by attacking two Iranian oil platforms and sinking several Iranian vessels.

Among the newest threats are sophisticated torpedoes Iran acquired from Russia that can home in on the turbulence of a ship’s wake and aren’t easily fooled by the decoys commonly used by warships.

Military planners worry about torpedoes launched from Iran’s three Russian-built Kilo submarines, as well as approximately four North Korean Yono-class mini-submarines, the class of vessel that sank a South Korean warship in 2010, killing 46 sailors.

Iran’s mini-subs cannot range far or stay long under water. But in the close quarters of the Strait of Hormuz, they could be easily positioned for attacks.

Iran also is known for its fleet of hundreds of small speedboats that can carry everything from machine guns to large antiship missiles. While a single speedboat may not imperil a warship, a swarm of small boats could overwhelm a larger ship’s defenses. In early 2008, a cluster of Iranian patrol boats sailed close to a convoy of U.S. warships. No shots were fired, but the provocation underscored potential dangers.

Conventional naval vessels aren’t the only concern. Iran can deploy mines or even missiles from merchant vessels, or dhows. Such threats would be nearly impossible to spot in the crowded shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf.

Ten years ago, the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon held a top-secret war game to test a Persian Gulf scenario. A maverick Marine Corps general, Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, led the “Red Team,” the fictional Iranian adversary. Gen. Van Riper relayed orders to his front-line troops by motorcycle messenger, so the U.S. could not hack into his networks; he sent out speedboats armed with missiles and explosives to swarm U.S. warships. After the fictional smoke cleared, more than a dozen U.S. warships were at the bottom of the Persian Gulf.

That exercise, known as Millennium Challenge, was a wake-up call about the potential of asymmetric warfare. The Navy has since unveiled plans to boost the defenses of its ships in the Gulf.

Adm. Greenert said the Navy is interested in new robotic underwater vehicles that can search for mines and submarines and improved Gatling guns to counter Iranian small-boat attacks. The Navy has rushed to test and field a new anti-torpedo torpedo—a weapon that would potentially counter Iran’s more sophisticated torpedoes.

The Navy recently announced plans to double its fleet of Avenger-class minesweeping ships in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. military is taking other steps. Earlier this year, the Pentagon unveiled plans to refit a transport ship as a staging platform for different kinds of missions, from countering mines to launching remotely piloted aircraft. It also could be used as a platform for launching commando operations with small patrol boats to intercept Iranian vessels, escort ships or protect oil platforms.

Beyond the waters of the Persian Gulf, military planners worry about Iran’s expanding arsenal of ballistic missiles, built with North Korean cooperation and know-how. The Defense Department estimates Iran has around 1,000 short- and long-range missiles that can travel from 90 to 1,200 miles, the largest inventory in the Middle East.

The longer-range Shahab-3, which could reach Israel, has received the most attention. But Iran’s shorter-range Scuds are on mobile platforms, allowing them to more easily evade detection.

Within striking distance of Iranian missiles are U.S. Army installations in Kuwait, a command post in Qatar, and the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.

While relatively inaccurate, those missiles may have the potential to strike panic or provoke a wider war if they hit U.S. allies in the region. A retired Navy officer said the missiles don’t have sophisticated targeting but could score a blind hit on a Saudi oil field, a Qatari gas production facility or a city in the United Arab Emirates. “Face it, how accurate does it need to be?” he said.

Officials with Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards threaten reprisals against any country used as a launch pad for strikes against Iran. A conflict with Iran, then, could be a real-world test for U.S. missile-defense plans. As part of a shift from Bush-era missile defense, which focused on defending U.S. territory from a long-range missile attack, the Obama administration has sought defenses against shorter-range Iranian missiles targeting U.S. troops overseas, as well as allies.

There is also a presumed terror threat. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security could activate so-called sleeper agents for acts of sabotage or terror attacks, according to U.S. officials. Militants sponsored or trained by Iran might attack U.S. diplomatic facilities in Iraq or bases in the Middle East.

“The assumption is that there are sleeper cells all around that would be activated in some way,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former head of U.S. Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters that oversees the region.

Military professionals generally agree that U.S. forces would quickly overwhelm Iran’s air defenses. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, an architect of the shock-and-awe air campaign against Saddam Hussein in 2003, said a U.S. air campaign could inflict “a sense of strategic paralysis” on Iran’s air defenses by targeting command-and-control facilities, early warning radars and airfields.

But, Gen. Moseley said, Iran’s air-defense system—comprised of mostly older U.S. Hawk missiles and some surface-to-air missiles of Soviet design—was “not a trivial” threat to U.S. aircraft. “Anything that shoots at you merits some respect,” he said.

Military officials said Iran’s forces shouldn’t be entirely discounted. In the late 1970s, the Iranians “had all the latest and greatest stuff” from the U.S., said Richard Brown, a Navy fighter pilot who helped train Iranian aviators in Isfahan.

Iran maintains a fleet of Vietnam-era F-4 and F-5 jets, according to defense analysts; its helicopter fleet, which includes versions of the Chinook, the Cobra and the Huey, would look familiar to a U.S. military veteran.

It still flies the F-14 Tomcat, made popular in the movie “Top Gun.” Iran was the only foreign military customer for the F-14, once a high-end U.S. fighter.

Today, many of these aircraft are close to the end of their service life. Aviation experts say Iran keeps them airworthy by cannibalizing and reverse-engineering spare parts. Iran bought nearly 80 of the F-14s. Analysts believe around 25 can still fly. By comparison, Saudi Arabia’s fleet of U.S.-made F-15 fighters outnumbers Iran’s F-14s by about six to one.

Veterans of the 1970s training programs in Iran doubt the Iranians have maintained enough parts to keep its U.S.-made aircraft in flying condition. Ric Morrow, a naval aviator who worked on the Iranian F-14 training program, said what remained of the Iranian air force would be “no contest” for the U.S.

The air-to-air weapons built for Iran’s aircraft also may have outlived their shelf life. Steve Zaloga, a missile expert at the Teal Group, a defense consultancy, said the solid rocket motors and batteries go bad over time.

Some evidence suggests, however, that Iran operates a global procurement network to buy spare U.S. military parts. Since 2007, the U.S. Justice Department has handled more than two dozen export and embargo-related criminal prosecutions related to military spare parts destined for Iran.

Clif Burns, an export attorney at the law firm Bryan Cave in Washington, D.C., tracks such cases. He said Iran appeared to give shopping lists to independent contractors who buy parts in the world’s aviation market. “The procurement effort is pretty large and enforcement alone isn’t able to stop the flow of aircraft parts into Iran,” he said.

—Jay Solomon contributed to this article.


A version of this article appeared April 14, 2012, on page A1 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: In War Against Iran, U.S. Firepower Would Vie With Guerrilla Tactics.


Failed Rocket Spurs Questions

North Korea’s Rare Admission Raises Worries in the U.S. That a Nuclear Test Would Come Next


Updated April 14, 2012, 6:21 a.m. ET


SEOUL—North Korea’s latest attempt to fire off a long-range rocket followed the same pattern as previous efforts except for one potentially significant difference: this time it admitted failure.

Nearly a month after announcing its intentions, North Korea early Friday launched a newly designed, three-stage rocket, which it said was destined for space but other countries feared was a intercontinental missile in disguise. Less than two minutes after launch, the rocket crashed off the west coast of South Korea, whose navy Saturday deployed about 10 warships in search of debris, a Defense Ministry official said, according to the Associated Press.

The news of the failed launch was quickly relayed by South Korean and U.S. officials, whose militaries monitored the flight. About four hours later, North Korea itself announced the launch had failed.

Among North Korea observers, that acknowledgment became almost as significant as the launch itself and fed into speculation about what its authoritarian regime will do next and how far the admission of failure had weakened its grip on power.

“If you look back to their statements through history, they never say anything like this,” Choi Jong-kun, a political scientist at Yonsei University in Seoul.

The launch embarrassment also raises the probability that North Korea’s leadership will test a nuclear device in the near future, as it did after previous long-range missile tests in 2006 and 2009, many analysts said after the crash.

“The regime may be politically tempted to conduct nuclear tests to save face, but that would directly irritate China, which North Korea is economically dependent on,” Lee Jong-won, professor at Waseda University, said in Tokyo. “This poses a dilemma.”

U.S. officials said its military and intelligence agencies are working to determine what caused the North Korean missile launch to fail. President Barack Obama said the U.S. will work to try to further isolate North Korea in the wake of its failed missile launch. “We will continue to keep the pressure on them and they’ll continue to isolate themselves until they take a different path,” he said in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo en route to to a summit in Latin America.

He added that the North Korean nuclear program is an area of “deep concern,” but added, “They’ve been trying to launch missiles like this for over a decade now and they don’t seem to be real good at it.”

Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, said he expected consultations would begin at the United Nations Security Council about an international response to North Korea’s actions and possible “additional steps” if there are further provocative actions. The U.S. canceled plans to provide food aid to North Korea after the launch attempt.

U.S. intelligence agencies have long held that North Korea could have a missile capable of reaching the United States as early as 2015 or 2016, and Pentagon officials cautioned against assuming the latest failure meant Pyongyang’s advancement toward an intercontinental ballistic missile has slowed.

“Their recent track record is not good,” Mr. Little said. “This is, in our estimation, their third failed attempt.…They obviously have a ways to go with their capabilities.”

But Mr. Little added: “We’re not ready to say that somehow the brakes are on North Korean military advancements.”

Still, North Korea’s acknowledgment of the failure may be a sign that the ability of the regime to control information, which has been important to its maintenance of power, is eroding, some analysts said.

“They’re losing their grip on the flow of information in and out of the country,” said Peter Beck, director of the Korea office of the Asia Foundation.

Mr. Beck said the risk to the regime stemmed not from immediate reports, but the prospect that word of the failure would get back to North Koreans through people who travel outside the country, or via DVDs and other materials that are illegal but increasingly available.

“They decided it would be better to get out in front it rather than having the failure spread through word of month,” he said. Some noted that, after enduring a month of international criticism for the launch and inviting foreign reporters to see the rocket earlier this week, the government had no other choice but to break with past claims of successful launches, despite their failure.

As part of an effort to persuade other countries that its rocket was heading to space and was not a missile, North Korea this week invited about 50 reporters from other countries to visit the launch site, as well as its space-command center near Pyongyang. Though the reporters weren’t allowed to watch the launch, their presence may have pressured the government to acknowledge the failure.

“It was impossible for North Korea to assert the rocket launch was successful.” said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis.

North Korea’s government has long generated support for its dictators by creating mythological stories about them and keeping its 24 million people largely cut off from outside information. Its officials hoped the rocket launch would become another chapter in the mythology and said it was timed to commemorate the anniversary of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder and first leader, Kim Il Sung.

North Korea took another step in building up the image of the current leader Kim Jong Eun later on Friday when its Supreme People’s Assembly gave him the final title that his father and grandfather had before him—chairman of the National Defense Commission, considered the most powerful organ in the state.

Among those mythmaking efforts in years past, North Korea claimed that two previous rockets, which other countries also tracked until they crashed, successfully sent satellites into space. Some observers expected North Korea to pretend Friday’s crash didn’t happen.

Instead, its main TV network broke into programming early Friday afternoon for an anchorwoman to deliver a three-sentence announcement that concluded, “Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure.”

North Korean authorities gave no further explanation, but military officials in South Korea and the U.S. said the rocket apparently failed around the time its first stage was complete and second stage was taking over.

South Korea’s military said the rocket crashed in two parts. The first part split into 10 pieces that fell in waters west and slightly south of Seoul. The second part flew a bit farther south, then broke in three pieces into waters west of Gunsan.

The White House said the “provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its recent commitments.”

Asked Friday why the U.S. canceled plans to provide food aid to North Korean people because of their government’s actions, Mr. Rhodes said the lack of trust on security issues had implications for other programs.

“We cannot trust the government to provide that assistance to the people who need it. It is the North Korean government who is holding its own people hostage,” Mr. Rhodes said.

He also denied the launch meant that President Obama’s effort to engage the North Korea was a failure.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “What this administration has done has broken the cycle of rewarding provocative actions by the North Koreans that we’ve seen in the past. Under the previous administration, for instance, there was a substantial amount of assistance provided to North Korea. North Korea was removed from the terrorism list, even as they continued to engage in provocative actions. Under our administration we have not provided any assistance to North Korea.”

He said the administration made it clear that talks with Pyongyang about possibly giving food aid in exchange for a freeze in North Korea’s enrichment activities and a move toward denuclearization could not advance if the leadership didn’t keep its commitments. “And their efforts to launch a missile clearly demonstrates that they could not be trusted to keep their commitments, therefore we’re not going forward with an agreement to provide them with any assistance,” Mr. Rhodes added.

—Soo-ah Shin in Seoul, Alexander Martin in Tokyo, and Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman in Washington contributed to this article.

Write to Evan Ramstad at

A version of this article appeared April 14, 2012, on page A7 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Failed Rocket Spurs Questions.




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