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August 25 2012

August 27, 2012




U.S. Takes Another Shot At Networking the Border

Aug. 19, 2012 – 12:35PM |



After several well-publicized fits and starts — and almost $1 billion sunk into a canceled program — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is about to kick off another new program in an attempt to blanket the U.S. southern border with a family of networked surveillance towers.

Barely a year old, the plan already has its share of skeptics, including some members of Congress and government watchdogs. But CBP is determined to go forward with what it calls the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology plan. The idea is to deploy a series of networked, integrated fixed towers (IFTs) equipped with radar and cameras that will “be able to detect a single, walking, average-sized adult” at a range of 5 miles to 7.5 miles during day or night, while sending close to real-time video footage back to agents manning a command post.

Customs released a request for proposals for the towers April 6, giving industry until May 30 to submit mature, non-developmental solutions for consideration. The agency said a down-select would come about 90 days after industry’s submission date, meaning a decision should be coming any day now. The CBP budgeted $91.8 million in its fiscal 2013 budget request for the IFTs.

While the competition seems relatively simple, it comes burdened with a significant amount of politically dangerous baggage.

The precursor to this latest program is the infamous SBInet, which was canceled by the Obama administration in January 2011 after the program endured six years’ worth of schedule slippages, technology problems, and a $1 billion price tag for solutions that didn’t come close to meeting expectations. The program’s goals were the same as the IFT: to install a series of fixed surveillance towers along the southern border to give border patrol agents real-time intelligence on who, or what, was moving about along the Mexican border.

The program suffered from a litany of issues, including poorly written requirements, a lack of oversight, and issues with the placement of towers in environmentally sensitive areas.

Boeing was the lead integrator on the project, which in the end did produce 23 working tower sites in the Ajo and Tucson-1 sectors in the Arizona desert, all of which were certified and accredited by the CBP with authority to operate on March 11, 2011. But after six years of effort, only 53 miles of the 389-mile Arizona border are covered by those sites.

Still, those sites do work. Bryan Palma, Boeing’s vice president of the secure infrastructure group, said the company continues to maintain those sites, and is actively pursuing the IFT contract to build off of the success it has had at the sites that made it to completion.

“The feedback we’re getting from the boots on the ground is that the [current] system is working,” Palma said. “It’s valuable, and it’s something that they rely on to do their jobs every day.”

Lockheed Martin has also submitted a bid for the IFT contract, and has already deployed a technology demonstrator to an undisclosed location in Texas, where it has helped a local sheriff “detect small and large groups of walkers” coming over the border, said Richard Tedesco, the company’s secure borders capture manager.


General Dynamics and EADS have also teamed on the project, utilizing towers that General Dynamics has developed for the Coast Guard’s Rescue 21 program, which relies on 247 fixed radio towers along with command-and-control equipment at nearly 200 Coast Guard facilities, covering more than 41,800 miles of U.S. coastline.

Carlaine Blizzard, vice president of Homeland Security for EADS-North America, said the towers, along with EADS’s experience in deploying 8,000 miles of border solution systems, have produced a formidable system.

“What we did was take that mature border system and married it with GD’s ability to communicate and deploy their towers, and then you can employ any technologies you want,” Blizzard said.

These issues have caused the Department of Homeland Security to come in for some withering criticism from Congress. In a report issued Aug. 1, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, of the House’s Committee on Homeland Security, wrote that the DHS “does not use the necessary tools to ensure rigorous oversight of its acquisition programs, including those managed by its component agencies. Specifically, the manner in which DHS manages its acquisition investments has been flawed.”


Cornyn presses Navy for more info on Russian subs in US coastal waters

The Hill

By Carlo Munoz – 08/17/12 01:52 PM ET


A top Senate Republican wants to know how a Russian attack submarine was able to conduct a patrol mission miles off the U.S. coastline without the knowledge of the American military or intelligence officials.

In a letter to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert on Friday, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) demanded “a detailed explanation of the facts” surrounding the incident in which an Akula-class nuclear attack submarine was able to sail into the Gulf of Mexico undetected.

“The submarine patrol … seems to represent a more aggressive and destabilizing Russian military stance that could pose risks to our national security,” Cornyn said in the letter.

Two Russian submarines reportedly conducted a handful of separate patrol missions in the Gulf in June and July, according to recent news reports.

“The Akula was built for one reason and one reason only: to kill U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarines and their crews,” a U.S. official told the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday.

One of the two submarines was able to traverse U.S. coastal waters undetected for nearly a month, according to the official.

If outfitted with a full complement of torpedoes and long-range cruise missiles, the weaponry aboard the Russian Akula-class attack sub made it capable of sinking a number of U.S. nuclear submarines or aircraft carriers that happened to be stationed in the Gulf.


“If these reports are accurate, the repercussions are serious,” according to Cornyn.

The incident was the second known time Russian submarines have made their way into U.S. territorial waters. Navy officials were able to detect an Akula-class submarine patrolling off the Eastern Seaboard in 2009.

Once located, Navy officials were able to track the submarine’s movements via aerial and underwater intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in the area, according to The New York Times.

“We’ve known where they were, and we’re not concerned about our ability to track the subs, we’re concerned just because they are there,” a DOD official told the Times at the time of the East Coast incident.


Obama: Military budget deal unlikely by Nov.


The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Aug 20, 2012 21:06:37 EDT

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

WASHINGTON — President Obama says he doesn’t believe Congress can reach a deal before the November elections that avoids deep cuts in military spending, but says he is optimistic that the reductions won’t occur.

In interviews Monday with news outlets from regions with a large military presence, Obama said he has made sure that service members don’t lose pay or benefits and that veterans continue to receive their benefits.

He called on Congress to act, telling the Virginian Pilot that Democrats must understand that any deal will require spending cuts. He said Republicans must also accept the need for additional tax revenue. Without a deal, the Pentagon faces $500 billion in cuts over 10 years.

The looming cuts are part of a deal brokered last year by Obama and congressional leaders of both parties. It was designed to force a deficit agreement, but Congress was unable to come up with a compromise.

Obama warned that without congressional action, the cuts could have consequences that could affect military readiness.

“It could affect how many ships we can build, it could affect our force structure in fairly significant ways, it can have an impact in terms of our ability to respond to a wide range of challenges that could happen simultaneously in some instances,” he told KNSD in San Diego.

Still, he voiced confidence that a deal could be reached to keep the cuts from kicking in.

“There is still time and my expectation is sometimes folks on Capitol Hill don’t always do things in a timely fashion, unlike our military, but they do do them eventually,” he said.

He dismissed accusations that he has authorized disclosures of military operations, particularly the special operations raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

“My attitude towards leaks and disclosures of our military operations has been to crack down on it,” he told WVEC in Norfolk, Va. “I don’t have a lot of tolerance for it.”

Obama also granted interviews to WTLV/WJXX in Jacksonville, Fla.


DoD Plan for Rapid Cyber Buys Delayed


Aug. 20, 2012 – 08:51AM |



The U.S. Defense Department is falling behind on a plan that was intended to allow it to buy critical cyber tools quickly. The delay is due to concerns that the strategy’s bureaucracy would only slow the purchasing process, sources familiar with the plan and the internal deliberations said.

The delay, at a minimum a significant postponement for reconsideration of sections of the plan and at worst a complete rethink, casts into doubt how the Pentagon will keep up with the rapid pace of technical innovation in a rapidly changing world.

The Pentagon was directed to come up with a strategy as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. It was supposed to be done by the middle of 2011, but was not sent to congressional committees until this April. It has become known as the “933 report,” because it was mandated in section 933 of the authorization act.

The plan calls for the creation of a “senior-level” committee to oversee cyber acquisition, called the Cyber Investment Management Board (CIMB), chaired by the defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, the defense undersecretary for policy, and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. In addition, a Cyber Capabilities Team (CCT) would be created to look at broader technology developments to help guide department policy, as well as a number of policy shifts that would need to be implemented to allow the bodies to fully function.

These bodies would oversee the creation of two separate cyber acquisition tracks, one called “rapid” and the other “deliberate,” designating acquisition needed in under a year vs. longer time frames.

The CIMB has been formed and has met, a DoD spokesperson said.

But sources said that the vast majority of the framework has yet to materialize, held up by lingering doubts.

In a statement, a DoD spokesperson said the agency is working on a plan to implement the rapid acquisition initiatives.

“The implementation activities are on-going with no intention to delay,” the statement read. “The department is currently coordinating and finalizing the details of an implementation plan. The implementation plan is intended to be the foundational document where all information and/or guidance from other products in support of the new framework are integrated and synchronized.”


The 933 report broke implementation of all of the major components of the plan into three-month and six-month time frames following the delivery of the report, a source who has seen the document said. That schedule would mean large chunks of the plan should have been implemented by now, with others nearing readiness, although sources said they had seen no evidence that most of the meaningful components of the program are in progress.

DoD has created rapid acquisition programs before, notably to supply troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with critical equipment such as mine-resistant vehicles. But in the past, rapid acquisition has been limited to circumstances in which the equipment was technically straightforward, unlike the cyber domain where items can be experimental in nature, and rapidly evolving.

While the intent behind the plan is good, the additional committees would likely slow down acquisition, a conclusion that has stalled the implementation, said a former senior defense official familiar with the 933 report and internal deliberations.

“I agree with rethinking the strategy,” the former official said. “Adding bureaucracy doesn’t speed up anything. It never does.”

While the 933 report is not the ideal solution, the problem is not only significant but dates back years, the former official said.

“We’ve struggled with this,” the former official said. “This is at least a two- or three-decade-old problem.”

The plan allows for the circumventing of some standard acquisition reports and protocols for the “rapid” track.

Nonetheless, if the strategy were implemented, it would likely fail to yield significant improvements in the acquisition process, another source who has seen the full report said.

“I’m not convinced they’re going to be getting anything different, because it’s just a different name on the same thing,” the source said. “You do the same thing with the same people the same way, you’re going to get the same results. These guys are hoping to get something different out of it. That’s not going to work.”

The full 933 report has been given the security designation “For Official Use Only,” and has not been made publically available by the Defense Department. But the report’s executive summary was provided upon request. Sources who have seen the document provided details of its content.

While other organizational concerns may be playing a role in the delay, the possibility of slowed procurement as a result of bureaucracy has driven DoD to reconsider the entire plan, sources said.

“I don’t know if this will happen,” one of the sources said, “but I’d like to see something happen.”



Army moves 500,000 email users to the cloud


August 20th, 2012 | Defense | Posted by Nicole Johnson


To date, the Army has migrated 500,000 email accounts to the cloud, according to a news release.

The Army expects to move a total of 1.6 million email users from disparate local servers to centralized servers operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency by March 2013. The Army projects the move, which began January 2011, will save $380 million through fiscal year 2017.

The migration hasn’t come without challenges, delays and much scrutiny. The Army was forced to suspend the migration in December after concerned lawmakers temporarily withheld funding for the program, pending a detailed review.

About 520,000 people across the Defense Department, including the Joint Staff, U.S. European Command and DISA, have migrated to the enterprise email service, according to DISA.


DARPA Demos Inexpensive, Moldable Robots

Defense agency teams with Harvard on low-cost, silicone-based robots that can self-camouflage and navigate tough, narrow terrain.

By Patience Wait


August 20, 2012 03:16 PM


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is enthused at the prospect of silicone-molded robots capable of camouflaging themselves to match their surroundings, for less than $100 each.

The agency has called attention to work being done by Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology and its Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to demonstrate that “soft robots” can mimic living organisms’ disguise capabilities. The research is being funded by DARPA’s Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program.

“DARPA is developing a suite of robots that draw inspiration from the ingenuity and efficiency of nature,” said Dr. Gill Pratt, director of M3, in a DARPA statement. “For defense applications, ingenuity and efficiency are not enough; robotic systems must also be cost effective. This novel robot is a significant advance towards achieving all three goals.”

M3 focuses on improving the capabilities of robots by addressing the challenges of design, fabrication, and control, and developing prototypes to demonstrate new technologies. The soft robots were created using molds.

The scientists at Harvard and the Wyss Institute incorporated the camouflage capability by introducing narrow channels into the molds, which can be pumped full of air or fluids of different colors. The robots can change their contrast, shape, and temperature, or be made to glow through chemi-luminescence.

Soft robots can also move by using the channels for pneumatic pressurization and inflation

“The primary takeaways from these soft robots are that even with the added color-change capability, the robot can still be produced using molds for less than $100, and because they are made of silicone, soft robots are resilient and can maneuver across rough terrain and through very constrained spaces,” a DARPA spokesperson told InformationWeek in an email.

In addition to their potential military use, soft robots may have medical applications, according to DARPA. For example, they could simulate muscle motion for modeling or have use in prosthetics.

This demo is part of the same DARPA basic research program that is developing the Cheetah robot which earlier this year demonstrated its ability to run up to 18 miles per hour, setting a new land speed record for four-legged robots.



Microsoft starts taking orders for $14.99 Windows 8 upgrade

Some users may have to enter their Windows 7 product key; may be an anti-piracy move

By Gregg Keizer

August 21, 2012 06:40 AM ET


Computerworld – Microsoft on Monday began taking orders for the $14.99 Windows 8 upgrade promised to customers who purchased a new Windows 7-powered PC in the last 11 weeks.

People who bought an eligible Windows 7 machine starting June 2 can now file an online form to queue up for the Oct. 26 delivery of the upgrade.

The upgrade to Windows 8 Pro costs $14.99, more than in past cycles when they were often free, but less than the $39.99 for users who upgrade older systems to the new operating system.

Microsoft announced the upgrade program June 1. It covers most Windows 7 PCs purchased between June 2, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2013.

Although registration opened today, orders will not be fulfilled until Windows 8’s on-sale date of Oct. 26, Microsoft reminded customers.

“Starting on October 26, we will start sending out promo codes via email with purchase instructions,” said company spokesman Brandon LeBlanc on a Microsoft blog.

The code will change the upgrade’s price to the discounted $14.99; Microsoft will serve upgrades as a download that installs the new OS.

Customers who qualify for the $14.99 deal must provide Microsoft with name, email address, phone number, the date of purchase, the retailer, the PC brand and model, and in some cases, the 25-character Windows 7 product key associated with the PC. “You may be required to enter this as part of the registration,” said LeBlanc.

The key requirement may be part of Microsoft’s anti-piracy strategy. When Computerworld tested the upgrade registration process, first posing as a U.S. customer, Microsoft did not ask for a key and approved the registration. A second test, however, posing as an Indian consumer, asked for a key.

“We can only validate your registration when you submit a qualifying Windows 7 product key,” the registration site stated during the second test.

According to the Business Software Alliance, India’s 2011 piracy rate of 63% was more than triple the 19% in the U.S.

It’s unclear how Microsoft will prevent scams of the system — attempts to qualify for the cheaper upgrade by providing bogus information — if the process does not require a product key in every instance. Making enforcement even more difficult are Microsoft’s terms, which let a customer who is legitimately eligible for the $14.99 price to apply the upgrade not only on the recently purchased PC, but on “any compatible Windows-based PC with a qualifying operating system.”


Computerworld’s tests, including the one that was quickly approved, were conducted on a Mac, even though the upgrade offer FAQ clearly states, “This upgrade offer requires you to use your Windows PC to register.”

Closer to the Oct. 26 ship date for Windows 8, registered users will receive an email that includes the promo code, download links and instructions, and information on how to buy the optional $69.99 installation DVD.

Microsoft has expanded the deal from 131 markets to a total of 140. The company has posted a list of eligible countries, upgrade languages, and accepted currencies on its website.

Each customer may apply for up to five discounted upgrades, assuming he or she purchased that many new PCs from June 2 onward.

The promo codes must be redeemed, the $14.99 payment made and the download completed no later than Feb. 29, 2013.

The second Windows 8 upgrade offer — a $39.99 upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for owners of older Windows XP and Vista PCs, and Windows 7 machines ineligible for the less-expensive upgrade — has not yet begun taking registration information.

Like the $14.99 upgrade program, the more inclusive deal will let customers download the upgrade starting Oct. 26.



President extends federal pay freeze

Washington Post

By Lisa Rein, Published: August 21

President Obama told congressional leaders Tuesday that he is extending a two-year pay freeze for federal employees until at least next spring because Congress has not agreed on a budget for the next fiscal year.

The freeze will stay in effect until a spending plan is passed, but the presidential election makes it unlikely that will happen before the start of fiscal 2013 on Oct. 1. As a result, the president is required by the end of August to come up with an “alternative pay plan” to avoid a legal trigger that would automatically raise federal pay in line with private-sector salaries. The alternative pay plan is usually a routine event signaling that Congress and the White House have agreed on a salary increase for federal workers.

With no budget, the freeze will stay in place until at least April, when a short-term spending deal that congressional leaders reached before their August recess to fund the government for six months runs out. The short-term agreement keeps spending at current levels and is silent on the federal pay freeze.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders, the president reiterated his support for ending the pay freeze with a 0.5 percent raise, to take effect Jan. 1, 2013, that he proposed early this year.

“Civilian federal employees have already made significant sacrifices as a result of a two-year pay freeze,” Obama wrote. “As our country continues to recover from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare, however, we must maintain efforts to keep our nation on a sustainable fiscal course. This is an effort that continues to require tough choices and each of us to do our fair share.”

Union leaders were furious, calling the decision to extend an already drawn-out pay freeze unjustified.

“The well is dry, Mr. President,” J. David Cox Sr., the newly elected president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in an interview.

“This is a president who has said he wants to end the freeze,” Cox said. “It’s unconscionable.” AFGE is the largest federal employee union.

The temporary spending agreement does not resolve an election-year debate between Democrats and Republicans on the scope and cost of government and how much federal employees should sacrifice during an economic downturn.

Under a law passed in 2010, salary rates are frozen for 2011 and 2012, although employees still can get raises upon promotion, as a performance reward or as they advance up the steps of their pay grades.

Cox said he and other union leaders had hoped the president would end the freeze by imposing the 0.5 percent raise, although the additional cost under the current budget would have required federal agencies to rein in their spending to compensate.

Cox called on the administration to negotiate a freeze in health-care premiums that would otherwise increase in January 2013.

“Federal employees cannot afford another four months or even another day of frozen wages,” Cox said. “The Veterans Administration nursing assistant struggling on less than $30,000 per year has already lost almost $2,000 during the last two years, while still facing rising health insurance premiums and annual increases in rent, child care and grocery prices.”

The pay issue has been put off but is still unresolved. The House has voted several times to extend the pay freeze by a year or more, and a budget resolution sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the GOP vice presidential candidate, calls for continuing the freeze through 2015.

The White House has objected to each measure in turn, advocating for the 0.5 percent raise.


Report: Military Drones Only ‘Slightly’ Cheaper Than Piloted Jets


By John T. Bennett

August 21, 2012


A Predator B unmanned aircraft lands after a mission at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Military drones are only slightly cheaper than manned warplanes, and data indicates the remotely piloted aircraft also are more prone to mishaps, a new report says.

The Pentagon has since the onset of the post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan wars substantially ramped up its use of drone aircraft. Recently, Obama administration officials have acknowledged a U.S. drone mission in Yemen, the newest major front in the struggle against al Qaeda.

The unmanned combat planes offer in-conflict advantages like the ability to loiter over or monitor a target for longer periods of time than a manned plane can. They also are cheaper to buy and operate, a fact often lauded by defense officials and industry executives.

But a new report released this week by the American Security Project, or ASP, concludes that most military drones are only “generally slightly cheaper to both acquire and operate than conventional fighter jets.”

Despite claims to the contrary, unmanned planes require a large crew: There is one remote pilot, another remote crew member to operate the valuable cameras mounted on many, and “because a drone is not operated individually, but as part of a system consisting of several aircraft, sensors, ground control, and satellite linkages, the number of personnel needed to operate a Predator Combat Air Patrol (CAP) is estimated to exceed 80 people,” states the report. It refers to the Predator unmanned plane that has been used in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and allegedly in Yemen. The number of crew members needed to operate other drone fleets composed of four aircraft can approach 130, ASP concludes.

In a blow to drone proponents, the report concludes they have a “greater tendency toward mishaps” than piloted warplanes.

Citing Congressional Budget Office data, the think tank concludes the Predator drones’ mishap rate is 7.6 incidents per 100,000 flight hours. That compares to 2.36 mishaps per 100,000 flight hours for the Air Force’s venerable F-15 fighter.


“Zombie Software” Blamed for Knight Capital Trading Snafu

IEEE Spectrum

POSTED BY: Robert N. Charette / Wed, August 15, 2012


A Bloomberg News story yesterday shed a bit more insight into what caused the uncontrolled electronic trading by the market making brokerage Knight Capital a few weeks ago. It seems a dormant legacy program was somehow “inadvertently reactivated”, and then interfered with (or took over?) the firm’s trading on 1 August, when a new software trading program Knight had installed began operation. “Once triggered on Aug. 1, the dormant system started multiplying stock trades by one thousand,” Bloomberg was told by two unnamed sources who were briefed on the matter.

Hmm, dead software becomes reanimated, takes over a computer system, and then runs amok. I think I’ve seen that movie somewhere.

Also, according to the sources, “Knight’s staff looked through eight sets of software before determining what happened.” Almost sounds like there was a graveyard full of dead software ready to be reanimated.

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say anything more about how the dormant software awakened and interposed itself when it came to executing trades that were supposed to be initiated by the new software Knight had installed. It also doesn’t say why Knight would keep “eight sets of software” apparently resident in its execution environment. We’ll probably have to wait until the SEC finishes its investigation to find out what actually happened as well as, presumably, some juicy details about Knight’s software development and system testing practices.

Nevertheless, the so-called “Knight-mare glitch” (among others) has spurred regulators in Asia and Australia to “clamp down” on high frequency trading firms, the Financial Times reported this week. The regulators are “unveiling sweeping proposals that would require traders to have controls on their systems and test them annually to prevent market disruption,” the paper said. Regulators want “pre-trade” risk controls in place to keep “aberrant” trading from happening, as well as trading “kill switches” when the risk controls fail.

In related news, the FT also reported that the recent glitch at the Tokyo Stock Exchange was traced to a bad “router in its Tdex+ derivatives trading system.” For reasons not yet explained, a backup router failed to kick in. This is the second time this year that a TSE backup system did not kick in when it was needed.

A router problem also caused problems for several hours yesterday morning at California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). According to the Associated Press, a problem with a California state router caused the DMV’s computers to become disconnected from the state’s network from about 0800 to noon local time, no doubt exasperating and angering many customers. According to television station CBS Sacramento, the California DMV has apologized to its customers via Twitter 26 times alone since February for technical difficulties. The station has been investigating without much luck DMV outages that have apparently been taking the system down with some regularity since 2007.


By coincidence, several other California state agencies had computer networking problems yesterday as well, which the state blamed on an unexplained “circuit reconfiguration” issue. This unrelated issue, the AP reports, was also corrected by mid-day yesterday.

Finally, Manganese Bronze, the company that makes London’s familiar black taxi, announced this week that “it is delaying the release of its unaudited half-year results for the six months ended 30 June 2012 … due to the need to restate prior years’ financial results because of accounting errors that have come to light.” The errors could probably be labeled computer-related errors, though, rather than accounting ones.

According to a company statement, in August 2010, a new integrated IT accounting system, which was installed to help manage the company’s “complex global supply chain,” missed some key transactions during the cut-over: “Due to a combination of system and procedural errors, a number of transactions relating to 2010 and 2011 and some residual balances from the previous system were not properly processed through the new IT system. This problem led to the over-statement of stock and under-statement of liabilities in the financial statements of previous years.” As a result, the company understated by £3.9 million its historical losses.

Manganese Bronze has been under heavy competitive pressure, or in its own words, “Trading in the first seven months of the year has been difficult and remains challenging with the Group continuing to trade at a loss.” Although it expects the situation to eventually improve, the current strong competition from Mercedes-Benz (which now provides nearly a third of the London taxi fleet) and some expected new competition from Nissan’s new low emission taxis may not bode well for the company’s future financial health. The FT reported that Manganese Bronze stock fell 34 percent on the news of the results restatement and now only has a market value of some £5 million.


Court Removes Key Civil Service Protection From Federal Officials Involved in National Security; Insider ‘Threat’ Concerns Cited


By: Pete Yost, Associated Press

08/22/2012 ( 8:30am)


WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court ruling that has taken key civil service protection away from government employees involved in national security work will have far-reaching implications, advocates for federal workers say.

Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower advocacy group, said Tuesday that the appeals court has given agencies “a blank check to cancel all government accountability in civil service law.”

In a 2-1 decision Friday involving two Defense Department employees, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said the Merit Systems Protection Board is prohibited from reviewing dismissals and demotions of government employees who hold “noncritical sensitive” positions, regardless of whether those jobs require access to classified information.

The dissenting judge in the case said the decision “effectively nullifies” the 1978 civil service law. Advocates for federal workers point out that federal employees in “noncritical sensitive” jobs work at many federal agencies, making the impact of the ruling government-wide.

The Defense Department welcomed the decision.

“The court acknowledged the agency heads’ expertise related to national security matters,” the Defense Department said. “This decision clarifies that the MSPB plays a limited role in its review of agency determinations concerning eligibility of an employee to occupy a sensitive position that implicates national security.”

Created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Merit Systems Protection Board is an independent, quasi-judicial agency in the executive branch that serves as the guardian of fair employment rules.

Lynne Bernabei, a Washington attorney who defends employees in personnel actions, said the decision “and the Obama administration’s support of this position is an integral part of the administration’s increasing secrecy and support of a national security system that is unaccountable.”

Bernabei called it “a very dangerous decision because it expands the class of cases that are no longer under the jurisdiction of the board.”

According to the dissenting judge and the advocates, whistle-blower protection for workers who are targets of retaliation after reporting waste, fraud and abuse in government operations would be affected by the ruling. The Office of Special Counsel, which handles whistle-blower cases, declined to comment Tuesday.

Noncritical sensitive posts are positions that federal agencies deem as having the potential to cause serious damage to national security. However, the designation covers a wide swath of job types across the federal workforce. The current case involves an accounting technician and a commissary management specialist. Neither of the two employees occupied a position that required access to classified information.

In its decision, the appeals court invoked a 1988 Supreme Court ruling that limits the board’s role in cases involving national security concerns. However, that decision 24 years ago involved a man who lost his laborer’s job at a naval facility when he was denied a security clearance, a requirement for access to classified information.

In the current case, the Merit Systems Protection Board ruled that it could conduct a review since accounting technician Rhonda Conyers, who was suspended indefinitely, and commissary management specialist Devon Northover, who was demoted, did not occupy positions that required access to classified information.

The Office of Personnel Management, which manages the federal workforce, took the case to the appeals court.

Writing for the majority, Judge Evan Wallach said eligibility to occupy a sensitive position is principally within “the purview of the executive branch, the merits of which are unreviewable by the board.”

National security concerns make the positions of the board, Conyers and Northover “untenable,” Wallach wrote. “It is naive to suppose that employees without direct access to already classified information cannot affect national security.”

“The advent of electronic records management, computer analysis and cyber-warfare have made potential espionage targets containing means to access national security information vastly more susceptible to harm by people without security clearances,” added Wallach, who was appointed by President Barack Obama last year. Joining Wallach’s opinion was Judge Alan Lourie, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.

In dissent, Judge Timothy Dyk said the ruling means that “hundreds of thousands of federal employees — designated as holding national security positions — do not have the right to appeal the merits of adverse actions to the board simply because the Department of Defense has decided that such appeals should not be allowed.”

Dyk agreed with the board’s argument, writing that the appeals court’s position also would bar review by the board and the courts of “whistle-blower retaliation and a whole host of other constitutional and statutory violations” against federal employees.

Dyk added that with the exception of agencies such as the CIA, FBI and intelligence components of the Defense Department, Congress has said that employees may challenge disciplinary action before the Merit Systems Protection Board.

“It is not the business of the Department of Defense, the Office of Personnel Management or this court to second-guess the congressional decision to provide board review,” wrote Dyk, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.

The purpose of the Civil Service Reform Act is to protect against arbitrary action, personal favoritism and partisan political coercion and the court ruling “effectively nullifies the statute,” Dyk wrote.


Iran Unveils New Missile, Starts Air Defense Site

Aviation Week

By Yeganeh Torbati/Reuters

August 22, 2012


Iran unveiled on Tuesday what it said was an upgraded short-range missile and said it would build a new air defence site, in what appeared to be an attempt to show its readiness against any Israeli attack.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi attended a ceremony at which officials unveiled the fourth-generation Fateh 110 short-range missile, with a range of about 300 km (180 miles), and other upgraded hardware.

Ahmadinejad said Iran’s military upgrades were purely for defensive purposes and should not be taken as a threat, but said they would dissuade world powers from imposing their will on Iran.

“Defensive advances are meant to defend human integrity, and are not meant to be offensive moves toward others,” Ahmadinejad said, according to Mehr news agency.

“I have no doubt that our defensive capabilities can stand up to bullying and put a halt to their plans.”

Separately, Iran announced the start of construction on an air defence site, to be built in the south of the country about 210 km (130 miles) from its uranium enrichment facility in Isfahan, officials said.

The 200-hectare air defence installation in the Abadeh area would be the largest in that part of the country and will be built by Khatam al-Anbia, the engineering arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and will eventually employ 6,000 people, Fars reported.

“If (the enemy) ever has the intent of attacking this soil, we will make the Persian Gulf their grave,” Abadeh’s governor, Mohammad Javad Askari, was quoted as saying at a ceremony marking the start of construction at the site.

Israel, believed to be the only atomic power in the Middle East, views Iran’s nuclear programme as an existential threat, citing Iranian threats to destroy the Jewish state.


America May Have Too Many College Graduates

By Jordan Weissmann | The Atlantic – August 22, 2012

There’s no question that, in today’s economy, you are better off with a college education than you are without one. The unemployment rate for grads is lower and their wages are higher, as are their chances of advancing to a management job.

But does that necessarily mean the whole economy would be better off if more Americans had a diploma? That’s a tougher issue, one which has been the subject of some lively debate since the Georgetown Center On Education the Workforce published a study last week examining how workers at different education levels have fared in the job market.

There isn’t a clear cut answer here, but count me among the skeptical. The jobs climate for bachelor’s holders still isn’t stellar, many four-year grads are taking positions they’re probably overqualified for, and there aren’t any obvious signs that employers are struggling to find educated employees. Speaking broadly, it seems the economy still has a few more college grads than it has room for in its cramped state.

Again, college-ducated Americans do have it better than most. As the Georgetown report illustrated, workers with a bachelor’s degree or better added more than 2 million jobs between December 2007 and February of this year. By comparison, the market for high school grads is still stuck in a trench, having barely moved since late 2009.

But not all college grads have it equally rosy. As the Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews has pointed out, the Georgetown report misleadingly sandwiches together plain old bachelor’s holders with workers who have a master’s, doctorate, or professional degree. And according to data Matthews cites from the Economic Policy Institute, between 2007 and 2011, 98.3 percent of the job gains in that combined group went to the advanced degree holders. These days, it seems we’re really in a grad school economy.

That reality plays out pretty clearly in the unemployment figures, as shown in this chart posted by the EPI’s Lawrence Mishel. Bachelor’s holders, like everyone else, have suffered from much worse joblessness than normal during the recovery. Today, they’re still facing 4.1 percent unemployment, well above pre-recession levels. If there was a great shortage of college talent in the labor market, it’s reasonable to assume their situation would have improved faster.

But it’s not just an issue of whether college grads are finding work; it’s the kind of work they’re getting that’s problematic. As shown in this next graph from the Georgetown report, since the recession began, employers have hired more than 700,000 bachelor’s holders into what are usually considered middle-education occupations — jobs where only half to three-quarters of employees have at least some college. Think dental hygienists, cops, and travel agents. Another 185,000 are in low-education positions. Think McDonald’s or your neighborhood coffee shop.

To be fair, those numbers aren’t quite as ominous as they sound. Many of these jobs are simply more sophisticated than they used to be and therefore require increasingly educated employees. Manufacturing workers need to operate more advanced, computer-operated machinery. Sales agents have to understand technology they’re pitching to prospective buyers. Hospitals want more nurses with bachelor’s. In a report last year, the Georgetown Center referred to that evolution as “upskilling.”

Usually, when a college graduate goes to work in traditionally low-skill field, they end up earning a good deal than their coworkers without diplomas. Take police officers. Per the Georgetown study:

[A] police officer is considered a middleskill job, but officers with a Bachelor’s degree earn 30 percent more than those with just a high school diploma. Much of this gap is related to more employees with Bachelor’s degrees working in higher-paying jobs on the police force, such as detectives or supervisors. Another example is a self-employed plumber or other craftsperson who earns more than many college graduates.

In 2009, bachelor’s holders in mid-skill occupations make a 43 percent wage premium.

So we’re not necessarily looking at an entire generation of underpaid, overqualified barristas. But upskilling can’t explain all of the migration of college grads away from traditionally white collar occupations. For instance, according to Georgetown, around 300,000 bachelor’s holders have been hired to work in “office and administrative support services.” In other words, they’re taking jobs as secretaries and clerks. It’s hard to see that as anything other than the result of a desperately lousy job market. And it means less educated workers are probably being displaced.

None of this, though, answers for sure whether we have too many or too few college graduates for the economy. And the Georgetown Center says firmly that we have too few. They reached that conclusion in their 2011 report by using the college wage premium — how much more bachelor’s holders make compared to everyone else — to try and model the changing demand for college graduates over time. Then they look at the actual number of young people getting degrees. As of 2010, demand was far outstripping supply.

But something seems intuitively off about their findings. The college wage premium has essentially been frozen for a decade, even as earnings for high school grads have actually fallen. If there was such intense competition for college-educated talent, you’d expect it to continue rising.

For another view, we can turn to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which released a study in June on the so-called “skills shortage” many believe is afflicting the economy. This is the idea that there are jobs out there, but workers just don’t have the education they need to get them. In the end, they found the evidence for such a mismatch was “mixed.” As the graph below shows, which is based off of actual hiring data, the demand for low-, medium-, and high-skill labor has all been moving more or less in tandem. The slight exception is in the medium-skill market, which could be a sign of the “upskilling” trend. But there’s really no obvious proof that employers have are scrambling over each other for educated labor.

As I wrote above, the evidence as to whether we have too many or too few college grads isn’t conclusive. Chances are, we’re not generating an entire wave of over-educated espresso artists. And there are also almost certainly specific job sectors of the economy, such as engineering, suffering from a dearth of talent. But college graduates are still facing the worst employment prospects they’ve had in years. There may simply be more of them than our limp current economy can use.


Reading and Writing a Book With DNA

Researchers are storing digital information in the form of DNA, but is it practical?

IEEE Spectrum

By Emily Waltz / August 2012


16 August 2012—Harvard University researchers converted a 53 000-word book into DNA and then read the DNA-encoded book using gene-sequencing technology, the researchers report this week in Science. The project is by far the largest demonstration of digital information storage in DNA and the densest consolidation of data in any medium, the authors say.

There is a clear need for improved long-term storage of massively large data, says George Church, a geneticist at Harvardʼs Wyss Institute and one of the leaders of the research. There is data that we are throwing away or donʼt collect because we canʼt afford to store it, such as video surveillance of public spaces and large research projects, he says. Someday that won’t be necessary. The question is, What will get us there first: electronic or molecular memory?

DNA offers advantages over electronic storage, but whether it will ever make sense practically or economically is unclear. DNA can store more digital information per cubic millimeter than flash memory or even cutting-edge experimental memories such as quantum holography. Data stored in DNA is also recoverable for millennia (consider the 7000-year-old DNA archaeologists have extracted from human remains). And given DNAʼs biological importance, we can safely assume itʼs going to remain a readable standard for a long time. “If you look at the size per bit of stored memory as DNA, itʼs unlikely that weʼll ever get better than that,” says Joseph Jacobson, a synthetic biologist at MIT who was not involved in the project.

But making and reading DNA isnʼt yet practical. Synthesizing and sequencing DNA is expensive, although the cost for both of these technologies has been dropping at a rate of five- and twelvefold per year, respectively. What’s more, unlike electronic bits, most DNA data cannot be changed once itʼs written. And with today’s technology, information in DNA usually has to be accessed as a whole, not in parts. (There is no way to make random-access DNA memory.)

Church and his colleagues set out to demonstrate a simple way to densely store data in DNA. They converted an html draft of a book comprising 53 426 words, 11 JPG images, and one JavaScript program into a 5.27 megabit set of zeros and ones. Using software they wrote, zeros were assigned the letter A or C for the DNA bases adenine and cytosine, and ones were assigned the letter G or T for DNA bases guanine and thymine. A lowercase f from the book, for example, was represented in binary as “01100110” and encoded in DNA as “ATGAATTC.”

Synthesizing that string of bits would yield a stretch of DNA that was 5.27 million bases long. Such long stretches of DNA are particularly expensive to work with, so Church and his colleagues split the DNA sequence into short chunks that were each 96 bases long. Each chunk included a 19-bit bar code, or address, to show where that chunk belonged in the whole of the book. The DNA was synthesized, inkjet-printed on a glass DNA microchip, and then cleaved off and dried to form a 50-nanogram clump smaller than a speck of pollen.

To convert the DNA back to a book, Church and his colleagues read out the bases using commercially available sequencing technology. They then arranged the sequence, decoded it back to zeros and ones, and converted those back to an HTML book. The researchers were able to complete the project with errors in only 10 bits out of 5.27 million—on par with the raw error rate of other storage media, says Sriram Kosuri, a staff scientist at the Wyss Institute who also worked on the project.

The tome that got the honor of becoming the world’s first biological book is the forthcoming Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. The book, coauthored by Church, will be published in more conventional forms this fall.

Similar approaches have been demonstrated before, but on a smaller scale. In 2001, Carter Bancroft and his colleagues at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine encoded in DNA the opening lines of Charles Dickensʼs A Tale of Two Cities. A 2010 project from the J. Craig Venter Institute encoded a 7920-bit watermark in a bacterium genome sequence. Churchʼs paper, however, takes us “from a few bits to many megabits,” says Jacobson. “If you have a big enough quantitative advance, at some point thereʼs a qualitative shift, and Iʼd say thatʼs the case here.”


But another researcher who studies the intersection of biology and technology and asked to remain anonymous calls Churchʼs paper “a silly vanity project” with little value. “Itʼs like showing you could painstakingly use an abacus to solve a Hamiltonian path problem that would take the average computer a microsecond,” he says. Other than maybe military intelligence, finding real-world applications for DNA storage technology “under no conceivable set of circumstances is even remotely likely,” he says.

Jacobson disagrees and says itʼs easy to dismiss the technology at first glance but that upon further consideration, itʼs clear there are near-term practical uses, like storing data that requires millions of copies. “DNA is expensive to write the first time,” he says, but making copies of it is cheap. “If you want to replicate it a billion times, I donʼt know of a cheaper way to do it.” The food and consumer products industries, for example, could insert in every product they produce a DNA identification tag to indicate the country of origin and other information consumers might want (or not want) to know.

Church says he hadnʼt thought of the food application but thinks it would work. His bookʼs DNA is biocompatible and biodegradable. “You could eat it,” he says.



DARPA Seeks ‘Plan X’ Cyber Warfare Tools

Defense Department looks for hardened operating systems and other new technologies for managing cyber warfare in real time on a large scale.

By Patience Wait


August 23, 2012 11:04 AM


The Department of Defense is looking to develop new technologies, including hardened operating systems and other platforms, for managing cyber warfare in real time on a large scale.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has scheduled a workshop for September 27 where it will lay out requirements for the envisioned system and invite technology vendors to demonstrate capabilities that might be part of it.

Plan X, as the program is known, aims to help the Pentagon understand, plan, and manage cyber warfare “in real-time, large-scale, and dynamic network environments,” according to DARPA. The program also encompasses cyber warfare strategies and tactics.

DARPA also wants to identify a system architecture team, which would oversee development of application programming interfaces, specifications for data formats, and acquisition of the required computer hardware and other infrastructure.

Plan X entails research in four primary areas. First, DARPA is looking to develop analytics capabilities to help the military understand the “cyber battlespace” through analysis of large scale networks.

Second, DARPA wants the ability to create a mission plan and “script” that can be used by cyber personnel. That would include quantifying potential damages associated with those plans. The agency compares the sought-after capability to the auto-pilot function on an airplane.

DARPA also seeks operating systems and platforms that can operate in “dynamic, contested, and hostile network environments.” It describes those components as hardened “battle units” that perform functions such as damage monitoring, communications, and weapon deployment.

Finally, the agency wants the ability to visualize what’s happening in a virtual battlefield for use in planning, operations, and war gaming.

While those selected to work on Plan X are expected to have off-site development facilities, the program will be based at an on-site DARPA cyberwar facility with key contractor personnel. The program will use agile development principles, DARPA’s announcement said.

Plan X is not focused on development of vulnerability analysis capabilities or cyber weapons, according to DARPA. The workshop is closed to the public and some sessions are only open to individuals with DOD “secret” clearance or higher. Following the workshop, DARPA plans to issue an industry solicitation in the form a “broad agency announcement.”


U.S.: Missile defense for N. Korea, not China

The Associated Press

Posted : Thursday Aug 23, 2012 17:30:32 EDT


WASHINGTON — The United States is in discussions with close ally Japan about expanding a missile defense system in Asia, the top U.S. general said Thursday.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was commenting on a Wall Street Journal report that the U.S. is discussing positioning an early warning radar in southern Japan, supplementing one already in place in the country’s north, to contain threats from North Korea and to counter China’s military.

The State Department, however, said the missile defense system is not directed against China.

Dempsey said no decisions have been reached on expanding the radar.

“But it’s certainly a topic of conversation because missile defense is important to both of our nations,” Dempsey told reporters at the start of a meeting with his visiting Japanese counterpart, Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki, at the Pentagon.

Japan has worked closely with the U.S. for several years on missile defense, and has both land- and sea-based missile launchers.

North Korea’s ballistic missiles are considered a threat to security in the Asia-Pacific region because of the risk of conflict erupting on the divided and heavily militarized Korean peninsula, and because of the secretive North’s nuclear weapons program. The long-range rockets it is developing have been test-fired over Japan and potentially could reach the U.S.

The North conducted its latest long-range rocket launch in April, defying a U.N. ban. The North said the launch was intended to send an observation satellite into space but it drew international condemnation as the rocket technology is similar to that used for ballistic missiles. The rocket disintegrated soon after takeoff.

U.S. defense planners are also concerned about China’s military buildup, including its missile capabilities. The U.S. wants to enhance its longstanding military presence in the region as part of a rebalancing of its forces after a decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. China views this as part of a strategy to contain its rise.

The State Department said the U.S. is taking a phased approach to missile defense in Asia, as it is in Europe and the Middle East.

“These are defensive systems. They don’t engage unless missiles have been fired,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news conference. “In the case of Asian systems, they are designed against a missile threat from North Korea. They are not directed at China.”

She said the U.S. has broad discussions with China through military and political channels about the systems’ intent.


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