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September 22 2012

September 24, 2012

 

22Sept2012

Newswire

 

Panetta Calls for Calm in China-Japan Dispute

Updated September 17, 2012, 11:41 a.m. ET

By JULIAN E. BARNES in Tokyo and BRIAN SPEGELE in Beijing

 

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called for calm amid an escalating dispute between China and Japan over a group of uninhabited islands on Monday, even as Chinese officials moved to contain anti-Japanese protests in dozens of Chinese cities following weekend violence.

But in a reminder of the potential stakes, a major Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece warned of economic retaliation if the situation deteriorates further —Beijing’s strongest signal to date that it could consider moves that could impact $345 billion in annual trade between the two. It came as a number of Japanese companies in China closed their doors as a precaution against further violence.

Separately, Mr. Panetta confirmed that Japan will host a second land-based x-band radar to defend against ballistic missiles, a move that U.S. officials have said is aimed at potential threats from North Korea and not at China. The announcement could complicate Mr. Panetta’s visit to China beginning Monday afternoon because China has raised questions about the U.S. investment in missile defenses, arguing they could be aimed at reducing the effectiveness of Beijing’s nuclear deterrent.

Fumiyuki Kitagawa, Japan’s naval executive officer, calls China’s active navy and North Korea’s ballistic missiles major threats to his nation, and discusses strategies for responding to them.

Mr. Panetta, who left Tokyo on Monday and arrived in Beijing late in the day, sought to delicately handle questions over the Japan-controlled islands, which are in the East China Sea and known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in Chinese. He emphasized America’s commitment to Japan’s defense but its neutral stance in territorial disputes.

“Obviously we are concerned by the demonstrations, and we are concerned by the conflict that is taking place over the Senkaku islands,” he said. “The message I have tried to convey is we have to urge calm and restraint on all sides.”

Mr. Panetta urged China to participate in multilateral efforts to resolve territorial disputes. “There is a danger that [with] a provocation of one kind or another, we could have a blow up,” Mr. Panetta said. “When you play the game of who is in charge, it starts to get risky.”

From Hong Kong to Shenyang, Chinese protesters take to the streets to dispute Japanese activists’ latest assertion of sovereignty over a group of islands in the East China Sea. Dow Jones’s Jeffrey Ng explains what is fueling this wave of nationalism.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koiichiro Gemba told Mr. Panetta that Tokyo was handling the situation calmly. “We will deal with the situation in a cool-headed manner, from a broad perspective,” Mr. Gemba told Mr. Panetta in their meeting, according to a Japanese official.

Mr. Panetta is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Vice President Xi Jinping, the man expected to become the next president of China but who until Saturday had been out of public view for a few weeks, sparking rumors about his health. The meeting is likely meant to be a sign from Beijing that China’s leadership transition is on track. U.S. officials said Mr. Panetta was eager to continue his own dialogue with Mr. Xi, begun at a Pentagon meeting earlier this year.

Officials also said Monday Mr. Panetta would be extending his visit by an extra day and will tour a Chinese frigate and Type O39 Song-class diesel-electric submarine at the People Liberation Army’s North Sea Fleet at the China port of Qingdao. He is scheduled to leave for New Zealand on Thursday.

Chinese security increased its presence around Japanese government offices and businesses on Monday. In Beijing, a tight security cordon in front of the Japanese Embassy there limited protesters to about 50 people, compared with hundreds who pelted the building with eggs and bottles on Saturday and Sunday. In other cities, where protests devolved into vandalism against Japanese cars and businesses, police posted images of the people involved online and asked the public for information on their identities.

Local government attempted to contain violent protests, and declared they would crack down on those breaking the law. In the southern province of Guangdong, where violent demonstrations crippled parts of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, provincial police authorities said most protests were peaceful. A statement released Monday said a small group of people “attempted to deliberately incite aggressive behavior.”

“We will only maintain reasonable patriotic passion, and express protest demands according to the law, millions of people of one mind, turning anger into strength,” the statement read.

The state-run Xinhua news agency said Monday 11 people in Guangzhou had been detained in connection with weekend violence.

Meanwhile in Xi’an, city police in a statement Sunday evening vowed they would “decisively punish” those who had taken part in violent protests.

Still, many Japanese businesses around China closed their doors as a precaution, including restaurants and bars near the Beijing embassy.

At a daily news briefing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said “China will protect foreign people and foreign companies,” adding, “Chinese citizens express their views in an ordered, legal way.”

But Mr. Hong added that the disturbances show the impact on the Chinese public of Japan’s recent move to buy the islands. “The outcome of Japan’s wrongdoing has emerged, and Japan has to take responsibilities itself,” he said.

China also ratcheted up its rhetoric on the potential economic impact of the dispute. The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, acknowledged that economic weapons were a “two-edged sword,” but it added that on issues of territorial sovereignty “China must meet the challenge.” “If Japan continues to provoke China, China must fight back,” said the commentary.

The commentary also said that Japan’s economy “would not be immune” to retaliatory actions by China, adding that Beijing could target Japan’s manufacturing or financial sectors as well as other specific export products.

China and Japan are major trading partners, with $345 billion in goods moving between them last year. Any move against trade could threaten the economies of both nations as they try to rekindle growth. China’s leaders already face pressure to bolster an economy growing at its slowest rate since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Potentially complicating the situation, Chinese fishing boats are expected to soon arrive in the Senkaku island region with the onset of fishing season. State media on Monday said about 1,000 boats typically ply the waters. Mr. Hong, of the Foreign Ministry, said the number of boats in the region depends on the fishing season.

Separately, U.S. officials said Monday they want to locate the new land-based x-band radar, formally known as a AN/TPY2, in the southern part of Japan, but not on Okinawa, where the U.S. military presence is deeply controversial. A U.S. team landed in Japan in recent days to discuss where the facility will be located, according to a U.S. defense official.

“The purpose of this is to enhance our ability to defend Japan, it is also designed to help forward deployed U.S. forces and it will also be effective at protecting the U.S. homeland from the ballistic missile threat,” Mr. Panetta said at a news conference with Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto.

The new deployment, Mr. Panetta said, showed the U.S. commitment to Japan and to its new defense strategy that emphasizes the Asia-Pacific region. Mr. Morimoto said the cooperation on missile defense would “ensure the safety of Japan and the region.”

In the past, some U.S. officials have noted that defense built up against North Korean missiles would also be positioned to track a Chinese ballistic missile. A land-based radar would also free the Navy to reposition its ship-based radar to other regional hot spots, the official said.

But defense officials said Monday that the new deployment wasn’t aimed at China. Mr. Panetta said he will continue to make clear to the Chinese that the U.S. ballistic missile defenses are aimed at North Korea.

—Yajun Zhang in Beijing and George Nishiyama in Tokyo contributed to this article.

 

 

What it takes to be ‘Made in USA’

CnnMoney

By Emily Jane Fox @CNNMoney

September 18, 2012: 5:48 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — With so much talk about the need to revive U.S. manufacturing and create jobs, more companies are touting their American-made roots in order to lure customers.

The notion that buying something made domestically will boost the economy has become an article of faith during the economic crisis. And many businesses are trying to capitalize on that by attaching a “Made in USA” label to their products.

Buying American-made goods has become personal, according to Dave Schiff, chief creative officer at Made Movement, a website that markets and sells only American-made products. Shoppers believe that supporting businesses that manufacture domestically could help them in return.

People are looking for “Made in USA” labels because they know that’s how jobs are created, he said. They think, “My son who is unemployed could benefit if I pay attention to a label. The economy at large gets a shot in the arm.”

But before a company can use the iconic label, it must comply with a complex set of rules that dictates its use.

The Federal Trade Commission has a dizzying 44-page rulebook that lays out the guidelines — and the specifics are enough to make your head spin.

For instance, domestically-made textiles, wool, fur or automobiles must, by law, have a “Made in USA” label. Companies aren’t required to disclose country of origin for most other products, but many choose to tout their American-made status in order to appeal to customers.

Companies looking for that boost from the label have to be able to prove that their final products are assembled or processed in the United States, according to the FTC. The agency doesn’t spot-check items that claim to be made in the United States, but it does investigate complaints.

Of course, many manufacturers now rely on global supply chains, which makes it much harder to determine when a company can rightly make the claim. Regulators try to assess how much of a product’s total manufacturing cost comes from the United States.

 

For goods that have parts made in many different countries, the FTC relies on what it calls a “one step removed” rule. For instance, if a shirt is made with fabric from overseas, but sewn together in the United States, it can’t be labeled “Made in USA.”

But if a manufacturer uses U.S.-made fabric that is sewn together domestically using thread made overseas, it would be permitted to use the “Made in the USA” label.

Companies that can’t get all of their component parts domestically can use what the FTC calls qualified “Made in USA” claims, such as “Made in USA from imported parts” or “Assembled in the USA.”

While the distinctions may be minor, a failure to follow the rules can cost businesses a ton of money.

If the FTC finds a label to be deceptive, it can file a lawsuit and ask for a court-ordered fine or consumer redress. According to Matt Wilshire, an FTC staff attorney, fines go as high as $16,000 per mislabeled item sold, or for every day that the item was advertised.

“This could become a very large figure very quickly,” he said, citing one case that ended up costing a business nearly $400,000 in fines.

As costly as a labeling mistake could be, many feel like the regulations protect smaller businesses in the long run.

Brian Meck, who co-owns Fessler USA, a private-label manufacturer that makes clothing for retailers like Urban Outfitters (URBN), says that the regulations reward companies who pay higher costs to manufacture domestically by safeguarding the Made in USA claim. Without the rules, he said, big brands could benefit from the label while sourcing cheaper imported materials to cut costs, without anyone knowing the difference.

Meck also said that the regulations not only protect businesses, but also help consumers. “They give [consumers] the ability to know where their dollars are going and what they’re really supporting.”

For New Balance Athletic Shoe, which is the last U.S.- made athletic footwear brand, the pros of manufacturing domestically outweigh the drawbacks.

“From a cost perspective, you add different burdens — regulatory schemes, wage and benefits — compared to competitors,” said spokesman Matt LeBretton. “But the feedback that we get is pretty outstanding, so we do everything to make that continue to work.”

First Published: September 18, 2012: 5:48 AM ET

 

Air Force continues advanced surveillance aircraft funding in Afghanistan

NextGov

By Bob Brewin

September 17, 2012

The Air Force awarded SAIC a $74.4 million contract Friday to continue operating in Afghanistan surveillance aircraft that provide ground commanders with what the service describes as “Google Earth and TiVo-like capabilities on steroids.”

The surveillance system, dubbed Angel Fire, is flown on four modified twin engine King Air 90 turboprop aircraft equipped with wide-angle cameras that provide broader coverage than the optical sensors unmanned aircraft systems carry, according to the Marine Corps. The service backed fielding of the system after a demonstration at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., in 2006.

The Marine Corps said Angel Fire, jointly developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory, is “superior to current unmanned aerial systems in that a typical UAS [collects images of] a relatively small, constantly changing area as the air vehicle moves. [Angel Fire] provides a larger, persistent, geo-rectified image with archival capability.”

While the use of a wide-angel lens typically results in a loss of detail, the Angel Fire sensor and software “mitigates this limitation,” resulting in enhanced resolution sufficient to identify individuals on the ground. Angel Fire also includes ground stations packed with computer servers and workstations that provide the TiVo-like replay capability, allowing analysts to review data transmitted from the aircraft at the rate of one to two frames per second.

Air Force Col. Mark Koch, who served as commander of the 922nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Flight in 2008 in Iraq, where Angel Fire was first deployed, said the system is the “first of its kind to provide real-time, persistent, wide-area intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to a ground commander at a tactical level.”

http://www.nextgov.com/big-data/2012/09/air-force-continues-advanced-surveillance-aircraft-funding-afghanistan/58160/

 

Can Panetta Manage China?

Defense News

Sep. 17, 2012 – 11:55AM |

By WENDELL MINNICK |

 

TAIPEI — As U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visits China and Japan for assurance that a dispute over two rocky outcrops in the East China Sea does not turn into a bloodbath, a new report has been released from the U.S. National Defense University (NDU) outlining possible ways Panetta could control China’s more aggressive inclinations.

Mark Redden and Phillip Saunders have outlined in a 30-page report, “Managing Sino-U.S. Air and Naval Interactions,” ways to understand Chinese behavior and avoid incidents at sea and in the air.

The report comes at a crucial time in Sino-U.S. relations, as China and Japan argue over two rocks both claim as sovereign territory. The Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands are claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands and Taiwan as the Tiaoyutai Islands. They have become hotly contested by China in recent years on the basis of nationalism, historic waters and historic rights, but the truth lies more under the waves than on the rocky outcrops above the water: The area around the islands is rich in fishing and possible oil and gas reserves.

China’s ever-growing demands to feed its population and grease its industrial revolution continue to push its territorial claims farther into both the East China Sea and South China Sea.

The report was written under the direction of NDU’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, of which the Center for Strategic Research (Redden) and Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs (Saunders) produce reports for the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Unified Combatant Commands.

 

Three high-profile incidents over the last decade have involved aggressive maneuvers by Chinese military and/or paramilitary forces operating in close proximity to deter U.S. surveillance and military survey platforms from conducting their missions. These missions were within China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The problem, according to the report, lies not with inadequate rules for maritime operations or the history of practice for air operations, but rather in the motivations that drive the Chinese to selective noncompliance with their provisions.

“China regards military surveillance and survey operations in its EEZ as hostile, threatening, illegal and inappropriate,” the report states. China’s harassment of U.S. naval vessels and aircraft conducting these operations “is intended to produce a change in U.S. behavior by raising the costs and risks of these operations.”

There have been three high-profile incidents that highlight concern:

• the April 2001 collision between a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese J-8 fighter jet;

• the USNS Bowditch incidents in March 2001 and September 2002;

• the USNS Impeccable and USNS Victorious incidents in 2009.

Some have suggested China and the U.S. adopt a protocol that benefited the U.S. and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA) managed air and naval interactions, thereby reducing the potential for an incident to occur or escalate. The ultimate fear was an accidental nuclear war.

However, this factor does not currently exist in the U.S.-China relationship to a degree necessary to induce mutual restraint in maritime and air interactions within China’s EEZ, the report said.

The authors of the report identified seven decision-making variables that must be considered by U.S. policymakers hoping to seek a “faster change” in Chinese behavior.

These include sovereignty and security concerns; intelligence and counterintelligence; geostrategic considerations; Chinese domestic context; global commons access; escalation control; and U.S. relations.

“A constructive relationship with the United States is important for China’s continued economic development and ability to achieve its national objectives, but Chinese leaders downplay the likelihood of a military incident causing irreparable damage to bilateral relations,” the report said.

U.S. policymakers have several broad avenues of approach to alter the Chinese policy calculus and thereby influence Chinese behavior.

The first are intelligence and counterintelligence approaches. These link China’s own ability to gather intelligence with its tolerance of U.S. intelligence-collection activities. Options include creating direct parallels between U.S. operations in China’s EEZ and Chinese operations in Japan’s EEZ; linking Chinese tolerance of U.S. surveillance operations in its EEZ with U.S. tolerance of select Chinese intelligence-collection activities in other areas or using other means; and linking the frequency of U.S. surveillance operations to Chinese concessions or cooperation in other areas.

The second involves cooperation and coercion. These approaches play on the distinction between contentious U.S.-Chinese interactions within China’s EEZ and more cooperative interactions in distant waters.

 

Cooperative options include highlighting the value of agreed operational norms and expanding U.S.-China maritime cooperation, including via surveillance cooperation in support of counterpiracy operations.

Coercive options include responding to Chinese harassment with “tit for tat” actions against Chinese navy ships or commercial shipping outside China’s EEZ.

A third consideration includes geostrategic and bilateral avenues. These approaches play on Chinese geostrategic interests in maintaining a stable regional environment, and a U.S.-China relationship conducive to economic and social development.

Options include a more structured, consistent and sustained U.S. strategic communication plan that highlights international norms of airmanship and seamanship; drawing parallels between the rights of military units to conduct operations in EEZs under the freedom of navigation principle and the more general issue of commercial access to the global commons; and challenging the Chinese assumption that military incidents inside China’s EEZ are unlikely to escalate into broader conflict or seriously threaten bilateral relations.

China has its own complaints about U.S. policy. Chinese leaders often describe a “trust deficit” that impedes bilateral cooperation. There are many suspicions within the Chinese military that the U.S. is encircling China and seeks to contain its rise to power.

Territorial integrity and sovereignty carry significant weight in the political psyche of Chinese leaders, the report said. One legacy of China’s so-called century of humiliation marked by foreign interventions in the 19th and early 20th centuries is an acute sensitivity to real or perceived threats to China’s sovereignty.

“U.S. surveillance operations in China’s EEZ are interpreted in this context as encroachment on Chinese sovereignty and a threat to national security,” the report said. “The Chinese government has instituted a multifaceted response that includes harassment of select U.S. military assets, legal maneuverings, and a strategic communication campaign with domestic and international components.”

The authors describe China’s actions as a classic example of what Thomas Schelling described as a “threat that leaves something to chance,” where one actor uses the possibility of an accident or incident as a means of shaping and deterring the other actor’s unwanted behavior.

China views the United States as more concerned about the safety of its personnel and thus more risk averse, and regards the risks of a collision or incident escalating into a major conflict as limited and acceptable.

As one People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer stated in a dialogue with U.S. counterparts, cited in the report, “We care about the safety of our people, but we care about national security more.” This type of reasoning explains why China is willing to disregard established rules and norms of maritime and air interactions, and why appeals to mutual concerns about the safety of sailors and airmen prove futile.

Turning to coercive methods of reaching U.S. policy objectives comes with risks, though not nuclear annihilation. Rather, as the Chinese rightly perceive it, coercion is mostly limited to endangering the safety of sailors and airmen.

The report warns that more coercive approaches require violating preferred U.S. norms of freedom of navigation and U.S. military standard practice of safe airmanship and seamanship to “generate the leverage necessary to alter Chinese behavior.” This risks shifting international norms in undesired directions and creating greater tension in military relations with China.

“There is some logic to beginning with softer, more cooperative policy options and holding more coercive options in reserve in case cooperative options fail or Chinese harassment increases,” the report said. “However, some might argue that the United States has already employed some soft options with limited results.”

The authors admit that their analysis does not offer a silver bullet solution for producing immediate change in Chinese behavior, and that “more cooperative approaches require time.”

 

Sequestration Might Be Manageable, Experts Say

Defense News

Sep. 16, 2012 – 01:42PM |

By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments

Devastating. Catastrophe. Disaster.

That is how Pentagon officials, lawmakers and industry executives have described $500 billion in automatic military budget cuts set to kick in Jan. 2 unless Congress comes up with a solution.

Yet amid all the dramatic rhetoric about those cuts, several nonpartisan Washington think tanks have produced analyses that suggest the process known as sequestration might be manageable.

The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that even if the sequestration cuts stick, the annual Pentagon budget would dip below $500 billion for just one year, return to current levels by 2017 and approach $600 billion by 2020.

And the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) projects the Pentagon likely could avoid canceling any weapon programs, and would not be forced to lay off troops or slash benefits.

The $500 billion in cuts will be parceled out at $50 billion annually over 10 years. Yet even if they take place, Washington likely still would spend more on its military than the rest of the world combined, experts said.

The reason, they said, is because the Pentagon’s budget has experienced such dramatic growth over the past decade, taking the fiscal 2013 budget down 10 percent would be tantamount to bringing it down to 2006 levels — when there was no hue and cry over an insufficient level of defense spending.

That opinion isn’t shared by members of industry, or on Capitol Hill.

Sen. John McCain, ranking member of the upper chamber’s Armed Services Committee, told reporters Sept. 11 that he believes sequestration is probably going to happen unless the president shows some leadership. Several times last week, McCain publicly urged Obama to call lawmakers to the White House for a summit aimed at avoiding the cuts.

Yet, the Bipartisan Policy Center study includes a chart that shows the DoD’s base budget would fall from around $550 billion to a little less than $500 billion in 2013. From that point, it would begin steadily rising.

By 2015, it would be well above $500 billion again, growing to almost $600 billion by the end of this decade.

The CSBA study, conducted by Todd Harrison, acknowledges that a sequester “would slow down nearly everything DoD does,” and predicts fewer new contract awards and extensions.

As McCain noted last week, the CSBA study says the DoD would be forced to buy things “in smaller quantities.” McCain said that means the department would be able to afford “a lot less.”

But Harrison’s findings suggest the cuts would not trigger “immediate program terminations” because “funding already obligated on contracts would not be affected.”

 

Defense insiders have said most major defense firms likely could ride out a dip in annual Pentagon spending because they are still sitting on funds from the final years of the post-9/11 defense buildup.

Even if a final deal heading off most of the cuts comes as late as April — as has been mentioned by some lawmakers — many defense sources doubt the full $500 billion cut will stick for a decade.

That means DoD would avoid a requirement to cut more than $50 billion annually from current spending plans after Congress passes a legislative package that replaces or voids the national defense cuts. Under such a scenario, at worst, the annual defense budget would climb at the rate of inflation. And if Republicans take control of Congress and the White House, it could grow even more annually.

Gordon Adams, who oversaw defense budgeting for the Clinton administration, said even if the entire $500 billion, decadelong cut to planned spending sticks, “it will be more than enough to keep the nation secure.

“You would essentially go back to 2006 and 2007 levels,” he said. “The American military would still be the biggest, toughest kid on the block. … The Pentagon would still be buying the most advanced equipment, just at slightly smaller numbers each year.”

For instance, Adams said DoD officials have stated a sequester would force them to do things like buy 25 F-35 fighter jets annually, rather than 29. “So you’d still be buying two dozen of the most advanced fighter in production in the world,” he said.

One key lawmaker, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., predicted last week that not one penny of the cuts will be enacted.

“One way or the other, since 90 percent of us don’t want it, it won’t happen,” Levin said Sept. 11. “And my hope is that it won’t happen early enough to avoid any instability.”

It has become clear that McCain wants to strike a deal to void the cuts. “I … commit to making compromises to doing things I might not otherwise agree to keep this … from taking place,” he said Sept. 13 on the Senate floor.

Moments later, McCain told Defense News he is keeping his cards close as sequestration avoidance talks continue on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t have anything specific in mind and I wouldn’t say if I did,” he said. “For me to say I’d agree to something before we enter into real negotiations wouldn’t be very wise.”

 

DoD Conference Expenses Under Scrutiny


Defense News

Sep. 16, 2012 – 01:45PM |

By MARCUS WEISGERBER and ZACHARY FRYER-BIGGS | Comments

 

LAS VEGAS and WASHINGTON — In a mammoth convention hall at a Las Vegas resort and casino that could house nine American football fields, thousands of conference goers peruse exhibits featuring some of the latest advancements in robotic technology.

 

But of the more than 7,400 attendees at the Unmanned Systems North America 2012 conference of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, one demographic was notably absent: the U.S. military. Only a few dozen military officers gave presentations or took part in panel discussions and only a handful of generals attended.

So why such a small military presence? Stricter government travel restrictions, imposed in the wake of a General Services Administration (GSA) conference spending scandal, are mostly to blame, and the repercussions could shut down some of the most widely attended military events. The restrictions have also launched a debate as to how much value these conferences actually provide.

In June, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter instructed the services to review DoD or industry conferences that cost more than $100,000 to attend. That figure includes booth space and other logistical issues, such as airfare, lodging and per diem. The services have since sought waivers to attend some of the larger events.

In response to greater scrutiny on conference and travel spending, as well as White House and Pentagon spending guidance, the Air Force is scaling back its attendance at the Air Force Association’s main conference, which starts this week.

The service is expected to save more than $280,000 on attendance cost and exhibit booth space, according to a Pentagon memo. Active-duty military and DoD civilians are being allowed to attend free of charge.

Meanwhile, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) notified its members and registered show attendees Sept. 7 that the Army would scale back its exhibits to a single space at the late October show. In prior years, the Army had numerous booths, which included multiple levels, intelligent lighting and multiple movie-screen-sized displays.

The Army confirmed the exhibit consolidation.

Army participation from the field will be reduced significantly,” Michael Scanlan, AUSA’s director of industry affairs, wrote in a Sept. 7 email to association members.

A map of planned displays at the October conference released by AUSA in July showed 75 Army booths of varying sizes spread between the two major exhibit halls, meaning the service would have to eliminate 74 booths to meet its target.

As of Sept. 14, most of those booths had been marked as empty or rented to another exhibitor on AUSA’s website, which includes an updated version of the map, while several were still scattered throughout the map.

The same July exhibit map estimated 35,000 attendees for the 2012 conference. Past estimates were that roughly one-fourth of attendees of the annual conference were military personnel.

Still, Scanlan wrote that “high-level participation from the Army’s senior leadership” is expected.

But before the Pentagon can take steps to prevent overspending, it must first figure out how much it spends. While the Defense Department does not appear to pay a premium for conference contracts, the magnitude stands out due to legislation that would cap this type of spending.

A Defense News investigation has found that DoD uses a labyrinth of contracting techniques that make spending totals impossible to calculate. Each individual command conducts its own conference contracting, typically without overarching coordination. But all told, tens of millions of dollars are spent every year.

 

Spending on Conferences

Examples found in government contracting databases provide a glimpse of multimillion-dollar spending on items, such as designing tradeshow booths, transporting those items, floor rental space and communications contracts. These contracts cover spending on conferences not hosted by DoD, with an entirely different set of costs surrounding conferences hosted by the services themselves.

Trade shows held by AUSA, the Air Force Association and Navy League have grown exponentially, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. AUSA is so popular that it was moved from a large hotel to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the U.S. capital’s biggest exhibit venue.

Between 2008 and 2011, the Air Force spent more than a half-million dollars at roughly $100,000 per event on display booth space alone at Air Force Association-sponsored conferences.

Design and construction of the booths costs even more. The Army spent $1.1 million to design a booth used at a 2008 AUSA conference.

Although many of these booths are reused at follow-on conferences, the services must spend more money to assemble, dismantle and transport the booths to each show. In 2012, the Army spent $429,231 for a small business to ship, set up and break down a booth for an AUSA conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The company, Janson Communications, performed the same service for Army Materiel Command at AUSA’s 2011 conference in Washington. In what a contracting officer described as a “typical deal,” Janson moved roughly 34,000 pounds from storage in Lawrenceville, Ga., to the U.S. capital.

On July 25, Army Contracting Command put out a request for proposals to perform the same duties in 2012 and even extended the deadline due to the number of questions, according to a contracting officer. The contract was canceled Aug. 28, shortly before the announcement the Army would shrink its presence at the show.

In another case, federal contracting data show the Army’s Tank Automotive Command (TACOM) spent $91,200 for 4,800 square feet for one booth. But it turns out, in a common practice that can make it difficult to track spending, TACOM spent the money for the Army’s acquisition division.

None of these contracts includes attendees’ travel costs.

It costs about $1,200 for a service member to attend a four-day event, according to a military official.

Using those figures, travel expenses alone for an event such as this week’s Air Force Association’s conference in Washington, which attracts about 4,000 military officers, would total nearly $5 million. The costs associated with a larger event, such as AUSA’s annual Washington conference, are exponentially higher.

What’s more, that number increases when top generals attend these conferences. Many four-stars travel on military jets, which cost $8,000 to $30,000 per hour to fly. Some of these generals are accompanied by security teams and are shuttled around in armored vehicles.

A Pentagon report shows that in January 2011, Gen. William “Kip” Ward allegedly took an 11-day trip to Washington and Atlanta with an entourage of 13 military and civilian personnel, which cost $129,000.

Ward is under investigation for excessive spending during his tenure as head of U.S. Africa Command.

Any accounting of total spending on conferences also must include the cost of events hosted by the services, another maze of numbers that cannot be fully counted. In response to a request from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., following the GSA conference scandal, DoD provided his office with a database that includes the costs of various conferences and meetings held by the agency. The total costs listed did not include travel expenses, and it wasn’t immediately clear that all of the services had fully accounted for their individual costs.

Together the database accounts for $210 million in expenses over five years. Of the more than 3,700 events listed, more than 70 cost more than $500,000, and 12 cost more than $1 million. Without travel expenses included in the conference costs, the actual budget impact of agency-hosted conferences is significantly underestimated.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has been working on a new service travel policy that would create greater visibility into spending and cut costs.

“We look for every possible way to reduce cost,” said Carla Lucchino, assistant for administration to the secretary of the Navy.

The Navy is requiring its conference planners to seek cheaper venues, particularly military installations. It has restricted rental car use, and is encouraging the use of hotel shuttles to and from the airport.

“I won’t send a package to OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] unless I’m certain it’s the best possible deal we can get and meet the mission requirements,” Lucchino said.

The Navy is looking at ways to automate the process, making it faster and simpler. It is also looking to use video conference technology as an alternative to some events.

New Navy guidance, which in the works, will seek to track conference spending throughout the service.

 

Pending Legislation

Legislation introduced in the House and Senate seeks to limit government spending on conferences and associated travel after the GSA’s lavish conference in Las Vegas came to light.

A House bill, introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., would cap spending on a single conference at $500,000. It does provide an exemption for military travel, “expenses involving military combat, the training or deployment of uniformed military personnel, and such other travel expenses as determined by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.”

The Senate bill introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would cap government-run conference spending at $200,000, which includes travel. Her legislation does allow the head of an agency to waive the cap.

Since Carter issued his DoD guidance in June, the Pentagon has approved an “extremely limited number of waivers,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a DoD spokeswoman.

Among those approved are this week’s Air Force Association show in National Harbor, Md., and an Air National Guard requirements event, according to sources. Still, the Air Force is scaling back its presence at both events.

DoD is placing increased scrutiny on decisions to host or attend conferences and has canceled a “a number of conferences of various sizes when it was deemed prudent to do so,” said Robbins, who declined to name any of the conferences canceled.

“If the decision is made to proceed with a conference, planning factors such as the geographic location of the conference, the length of the conference, the choice of venue, any associated contracts, and the number of attendees are closely scrutinized,” she said. “For example, in the case of one recent conference that received a waiver from the deputy secretary, attendance was reduced by almost 50 percent from the last time the conference had been held and overall costs were reduced by approximately one third from original estimates.”

The pending legislation on Capitol Hill is separate from guidance provided by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in May that restricted federal conference spending.

The Pentagon has been working to clean up its accounting practices so it could pass a financial audit. However, tracking conference spending, particularly travel expenses, will still be difficult.

Personnel travel is managed at the major command level, not through the Pentagon.

None of the services was able to provide data on the amount of money spent on conferences and related travel.

“Unfortunately the information … isn’t kept centrally,” Matthew Bourke, an Army spokesman, said. “To get a clearer picture of how much the Army is saving you would have to question all Army agencies that participated in past AUSA conventions.”

Even if DoD is able to pass an audit, that would tell only where the money went. It will not tell exactly what the money was spent on, according to Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.

“It doesn’t tell you what they did with the money when it got there and it doesn’t tell you what came out the other end,” Wheeler said.

 

The Value of Conventions

The service associations believe they can work within the OMB guidance, but fear the legislation being considered in Congress could put the kibosh on military attendance at their shows.

The trade shows are viewed as a forum for military and industry dialogue. If the military attendance is limited, then industry, which pays higher rates to attend and even more for exhibit hall space, would dwindle.

U.S. defense officials and service lobbying groups are expressing concerns that legislation placing limits on federal conference spending could affect the Pentagon’s ability to communicate with forces and industry.

“We do training, we do information exchange, we use them to advance scientific research, to associate with industry, things like that,” said Lucchino, assistant to the secretary of the Navy. “Those are all good reasons to get people together.”

Shows are sponsored by groups, such as AUSA, Air Force Association and Navy League. Each group holds an annual symposium in Washington and another event outside of the capital region. Some of the associations also hold additional, smaller shows.

The events are widely attended by the military, defense industry, congressmen, congressional staffers and lobbyists. The major defense companies collectively spend millions of dollars per year on exhibit hall space and elaborate display booths.

The shows are a cross between an international weapons exposition, awards show, pep rally and reunion.

Service chiefs typically use these conferences to send marching orders to troops and industry. For example, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates used a 2009 Air Force Association show to announce the service would be in charge of its multibillion-dollar aerial tanker acquisition program.

Service chiefs also use the shows to communicate with the force and announce personnel policy changes or communicate their acquisition priorities and direction to industry.

The shows outside of Washington, typically in Florida during the winter months, are smaller and always involve golfing.

For the non-Washington shows, the services typically dovetail attendance with other existing meetings.

The Air Force has traditionally held its four-star general meetings, called Corona, in Tampa, Fla., the same week the Air Force Association holds its major winter symposium in nearby Orlando. Holding the events the same week allows the travel funds to come from different accounts.

 

“The core deal of getting guys together is inherently valuable when the bureaucracy is so darn difficult and a lot of things can get solved over a five-minute conversation that would otherwise spiral over 50,000 emails and escalate to absurd proportions,” an association official said.

At the robotics show in Las Vegas, many defense exhibitors took note of the lack of military presence. After all, if you cannot get a product in front of a potential customer, they say, the chances of selling it go down the tubes.

 

Green-on-Blue” Attacks Generate Red Light

Time.com

By Mark Thompson | @MarkThompson_DC | September 17, 2012 | 8

After months of simultaneously taking seriously and dismissing the “green-on-blue” attacks inside Afghanistan as the work of Afghan troops bent on killing due to perceived cultural slights, NATO forces have officially pared back their operations with their putative Afghan partners.

The decision – taken by Army Lieut. General James Terry, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan – means that NATO and U.S. partnering with Afghan soldiers and police on patrols is no longer standard practice.

It comes two weeks after the U.S. Special Operations Command suspended such partnering with Afghan local police, a tiny slice of the overall effort that was made total Sunday. It came amid a grim weekend in which six allied troops were slain by Afghan security forces, boosting the total allied killed in such attacks this year to 51, compared to 35 for all of 2011.

“My intent is to drive down and defeat this threat,” Terry told Pentagon reporters via a video press conference Sept. 5. “The reality is we’re going to face this.”

He rattled off why the green-on-blue attacks continue. “I think what you’re seeing is an enemy out there that [is] adaptive. His counter-IED campaign is not working. His assassination, intimidation campaign is turning the population against him. I think he’s very concerned about the growing capability of the Afghan national security forces.”

Perhaps. But it U.S. and NATO forces backing down less than two weeks later, on his orders.

On Sept. 5, Terry listed what the allies planned to do to counter such attacks:

– What this is moving toward specifically is implementing improvements in their vetting system — their vetting system that’s been established.

– It’s also caused them to re-look back to their procedures and then re-look a number of individuals.

– In addition to that, they’re looking at increased efforts to improve the living conditions for their soldiers and also how they prepare their soldiers for leave periods, and then specifically how they address those soldiers once they return from leave.

– One of the things we’re looking at in relationship to doing that are the religious culture advisers which plays a huge role in the everyday life of the Afghan policeman and Army soldier that’s out there.

Unfortunately, believing such steps will curb green-on-blue attacks is as much wishful thinking as it is a strategy.

 

Terry’s decision makes three things clear: first, that NATO and the U.S. are unable to stop the insider attacks. More importantly, it signals that those who would kill their U.S. and NATO allies are having an impact, which U.S. officials fear can only embolden others.

Finally, the decision is a monkey wrench in NATO’s efforts to train 352,000 Afghan security forces by the end of 2014 so that U.S. and allied forces can withdraw from the fight. With the trust fissure rupturing into a chasm, training will be tougher to do, and fewer Afghan forces will be trained.

Joint NATO-Afghan operations will still be permitted, but they will require a specific approval from a regional commander. The question will be how freely such approval will be given, and what will happen to the commander who gives such approval only to have a “green-on-blue” attack kill one or more of his troops.

The Pentagon, and the Obama Administration, sense public support is threadbare for the Afghan mission when you have a grieving father speaking of his son’s warning that he would be killed on post by a purported Afghan ally.

The family of Greg Buckley, Jr., attended their town’s first home football game this season Friday night in Oceanside, some 30 miles east of the World Trade Center on Long Island. Greg Jr., 21, was supposed to have been at the game to watch his youngest brother play varsity for the first time. “Greg was supposed to be home for this game,” 17-year old Justin told CNN. Instead, an Afghan trainee killed him Aug. 10, two days before he was to leave the country.

Read more: http://nation.time.com/2012/09/17/green-on-blue-attacks-generate-red-light/#ixzz26pWqPDlc

 

GAO: Agencies Should Address Drone Security and Privacy Concerns

Published on Security Management (http://securitymanagement.com)

By Matthew Harwood

Created 09/17/2012 – 12:21

 

There is a growing chorus of concern regarding the privacy and security implications of integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) that federal agencies should address or risk delaying the technology’s integration into the national airspace over the next five years, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report [1](.pdf) released Friday.

More popularly known as drones, some critics argue UAVs threaten American civil liberties and privacy rights. “Concerns include the potential for increased amounts of government surveillance using technologies placed on UAS, the collection and use of such data, and potential violations of constitutional Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure,” the GAO reported.

Citing a June poll conducted by Monmouth University, the GAO highlighted the American public’s comfort level with drones. The poll found that 42 percent of those surveyed were very concerned about their own privacy if U.S. law enforcement began to use drones in their operations. Only 15 percent said they had no concerns. The poll also discovered that support for drones hinges on what they’re used for. Eighty percent were in favor of using drones for search and rescue operations while 67 percent opposed police using drones to issue speeding tickets.

In June, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation [2]banning drone surveillance without a judicial warrant.

Despite these concerns and legislative proposals, the GAO found that no federal agency “has been statutorily designated with specific responsibility to regulate privacy matters relating to UAS for the entire federal government.” The Federal Aviation Administration, which is tasked with safely integrating UASs into the national airspace [3], said privacy issues regarding UASs are outside its mission.

Some critics seem to agree, arguing that the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) are more appropriate agencies to regulate privacy and civil liberties issues relating to drone use since these issues stem from their law enforcement and surveillance missions.

Other concerns surround the ability of hackers to jam UAS’s GPS systems, increasingly the chance the flying robot crashes, as well as spoof, or counterfeit, the legitimate GPS signal and commandeer the drone. The latter scenario was proven in June when researchers at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrated to DHS how hackers could spoof a UAV’s unencrypted GPS signal [4], take control of it, and crash it.

Other worries surround terrorists or other adversaries weaponizing civilian UAVs and mounting attacks with them. Inside the report, the watchdog organization mentions Rezwan Ferdaus’s plot [5]to weaponize remote-controlled airplanes and fly them into the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol to illustrate the risk.

UAS stakeholders should address these concerns sooner rather than later, the GAO says. “Not working to proactively address security and privacy concerns could lead to further delays in the integration of UAS into the national airspace system,” the report concludes.

Under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 [6], the FAA must safely integrate UAVs into the national airspace by the end of September 2015. According to the GAO, the global market for UAVs has been estimated at $89.1 billion over the next decade.

Source URL: http://securitymanagement.com/news/gao-agencies-should-address-drone-security-and-privacy-concerns-0010406

 

Links:

[1] http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/648348.pdf

[2] http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/232489-sen-paul-proposes-bill-protecting-americans-from-drone-surveillance

 

[3] http://securitymanagement.com/news/auvsi-talks-faa-progress-toward-uas-integration-009856

 

[4] http://securitymanagement.com/news/drone-lobbying-group-says-average-person-couldn%E2%80%99t-hack-a-uav-0010089

 

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/rezwan-ferdaus-capitol-pentagon_n_1690755.html

 

[6] http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.658:

 

 

Massive Anti-Mine Naval Exercise Underway in Gulf

Defense News

Sep. 17, 2012 – 03:10PM |

By Lara Sukhtian | Comments

 

DUBAI — Naval forces from more than 30 countries were engaged Monday in a massive minesweeping exercise in the Arabian Gulf, U.S. officials said, amid Iranian threats to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

The U.S.-led International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX), the first of its kind in the Middle East, comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran over the Islamic republic’s controversial nuclear program.

The exercise kicked off Sunday, the same day the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned of retaliation against the Strait of Hormuz, Israel and nearby U.S. bases if his country is attacked and as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Tehran is “90 percent” toward having a nuclear bomb.

U.S. defense officials insist the exercise is not aimed at Iran or any one country but is simply designed to hone counter-mine capabilities among allies and partners.

“This (exercise) is not being conducted in response to any particular threat or any specific situation,” Lt. Greg Raelson of the US Fifth fleet in Bahrain told AFP on Monday.

“This exercise uses a scenario based on a violent extremist organization to prepare for the possibility … (they) may use mines or a seaborne improvised explosive device to disrupt freedom of navigation,” he added.

U.S. Vice Admiral John Miller, head of the U.S. Naval Forces in the wider Gulf region, echoed his comments.

“This exercise is about mines and the international effort to clear them,” he said in a statement.

However, analysts argue that the anti-mine maneuvers are designed to counter Iran’s escalating threats to block the strategic strait.

This is “a message to all parties in the region, to the allies and Iran, that the U.S. is ready to defend [its] common interests, keep the strait and maritime routes open and respond to any attacks against its bases in the region” said Riad Kahwaji, of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, in Dubai.

More than 500 ships, 60 percent of which are energy carriers, pass through the strait every week, a strategic chokepoint that connects the Arabian Gulf and some of the world’s top oil-producing nations to the rest of the world.

“This is a vital region where sea lanes and resources and international interests all intersect,” Raelson said.

“Defending these interests against a sea mine attack is really a core mission of navy mine warfare. … And this exercise is an effort to decrease the international threat of mining and to enhance our combined capabilities to provide long-term stability and security.”

The anti-mine maneuvers will last through Sept. 27 and involve more than 30 nations, including the U.S., Britain, Japan, France, Yemen and Jordan.

Raelson said no maneuvers “at all” will take place in the actual Strait of Hormuz, adding that a variety of anti-mine techniques will be practiced, including “mine-hunting operations, helicopter mine countermeasures operations, dive operations, small boat exercises and international cross platform refueling training.”

 

Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Iranian Guards, told a news conference in Tehran on Sunday that the strait would be a legitimate target for Iran should it be attacked.

Jafari also suggested that U.S. military bases — the two largest in Bahrain and Qatar — would be fair game for retaliation by Iran or proxy forces.

The U.S. also has several military bases in Kuwait and a military presence in the United Arab Emirates.

And if Israeli jets or missiles strike Iran, “nothing of Israel will be left, considering its size,” Jafari warned.

Netanyahu, speaking on two U.S. political television talk shows, pressed the need for a “red line” on Iran’s atomic activities, saying such a categorical bar had averted nuclear calamity with Russia during the Cold War and could ensure peace again.

Washington says all options against Iran, including military action, remain on the table, but top officials reject “red lines” as political grandstanding that might leave them at a strategic disadvantage.

Western nations believe Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, despite repeated denials from Tehran, which says its program is for peaceful purposes only.

 

Why war with Iran would spell disaster

Murtaza Hussain

Al Jazeera

Last Modified: 12 Sep 2012 08:44

After a decade of exhausting and demoralising conflict between the United States and two of the weakest, most impoverished countries in the world, Iraq and Afghanistan, many within the US political establishment are calling for the country to engage in yet another conflict; this time with a relatively powerful enemy in Iran.

In the past week alone, top Republican figures such as John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have called for increasing belligerence towards the Iranian regime, bringing the two countries closer to the brink of armed conflict.

The heightening standoff with Iran over its nuclear programme, curious in itself for its recent rapid escalation given that leading American and Israeli intelligence estimates have both concluded that Iran has neither developed nor is planning to develop nuclear weapons, is leading to increasingly belligerent rhetoric out of Washington calling for war with Iran.

Leading members of the House and Congress from both parties as well as the closest advisers to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have called for attacking Iran, with some high-ranking GOP advisers even suggesting that the time is now for a Congressional resolution formally declaring war on the country.

Romney and many other leading Republican figures have called for pre-emptive war against Iran, and have continually upped the ante in terms of threats of military action throughout the election campaign. This alarming and potentially highly consequential rhetoric is occurring in a context where the American people are still recovering from the disastrous war in Iraq and winding down the US occupation of Afghanistan, while at the same time coping with the worst economic drought since the Great Depression.

Public statements claiming that the extent of the conflict would be limited to targeted airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities are utterly disingenuous, ignoring the escalating cycle of retribution that such “limited” conflicts necessarily breed. As did the war in Libya start off with calls only for a benign “no-fly zone” to protect civilians and seamlessly turned into an all-out aerial campaign to topple Muammar Gaddafi, any crossing of the military threshold with Iran would also likely result in a far bigger conflagration than the public has been prepared for by their leaders.

War with Iran would be no quick and clean affair, as many senior political and military figures have pointed out it would make the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which cost trillions of dollars and the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians, seem like “a cakewalk”.

The fact that it is becoming increasingly likely, inevitable in the eyes of many, and that it is high on the agenda of so many leading political figures warrants exploration of what such a conflict would really entail.

Conflict on an unprecedented scale

Not a war of weeks or months, but a “generations-long war” is how no less a figure than former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy describes the consequences of open conflict with Iran. In comparison with Iraq and Afghanistan, both countries with relatively small populations which were already in a state of relative powerlessness before they were invaded, Iran commands the eighth largest active duty military in the world, as well as highly trained special forces and guerilla organisations which operate in countries throughout the region and beyond.

Retired US General John Abizaid has previously described the Iranian military as “the most powerful in the Middle East” (exempting Israel), and its highly sophisticated and battle-hardened proxies in Lebanon and Iraq have twice succeeded in defeating far stronger and better funded Western military forces.

Any attack on Iran would assuredly lead to the activation of these proxies in neighbouring countries to attack American interests and would create a situation of borderless war unprecedented in any past US conflicts in the Middle East.

None of this is to suggest that the United States would not “win” a war with Iran, but given the incredibly painful costs of Iraq and Afghanistan; wars fought again weak, poorly organised enemies lacking broad influence, politicians campaigning for war with Iran are leading the American people into a battle which will be guaranteed to make the past decade of fighting look tame in comparison.

A recent study has shown that an initial US aerial assault on Iran would require hundreds of planes, ships and missiles in order to be completed; a military undertaking itself unprecedented since the first Gulf War and representative of only the first phase of what would likely be a long drawn-out war of attrition.

For a country already nursing the wounds from the casualties of far less intense conflicts and still reeling from their economic costs, the sheer battle fatigue inherent in a large-scale war with Iran would stand to greatly exacerbate these issues.

 

Oil shocks and the American economy

The fragile American economic recovery would be completely upended were Iran to target global energy supplies in the event of war, an act which would be both catastrophic and highly likely if US Iran hawks get their way. Not only does the country itself sit atop some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves on the planet, its close proximity to the shipping routes and oil resources of its neighbours means that in the event of war, its first response would likely be to choke off the global supply of crude; a tactic for which its military defences have in fact been specifically designed.

The Strait of Hormuz, located in the Persian Gulf is the shipping point for more than 20 per cent of the world’s petroleum. Iran is known to have advanced Silkworm missile batteries buried at strategic points around the strait to make it impassable in the event of war, and has developed “swarming” naval tactics to neutralise larger, less mobile ships such as those used by the US Navy.

While Iran could never win in straightforward combat, it has developed tactics of asymmetrical warfare that can effectively inflict losses on a far stronger enemy and render the strait effectively closed to naval traffic.

The price of oil would immediately skyrocket, by some estimates upwards several hundred dollars a barrel, shattering the already tenuous steps the US and other Western economies are taking towards recovery. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has said a war with Iran could drag out years and would have economic consequences “devastating for the average American”; but these facts are conspicuously absent in public discussion of the war.

Every conflict has blowback, but if US politicians are attempting to maneouver the country into a conflict of such potentially devastating magnitude, potentially sacrificing ordinary Americans’ economic well-being for years to come, it would behoove them to speak frankly about these costs and not attempt to obfuscate or downplay them in order to make their case.

 

Conflict across borders

Finally, a war with Iran would be not be like conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya where the fighting was constrained to the borders of the country in question. Despite widespread resentment towards the country due to the perception of it as a regionally imperialist power as well sectarian animosity towards it as Shia Muslim theocracy, Iran maintains deep links throughout the Middle East and South Asia and can count on both popular support as well as assistance from its network of armed proxies in various countries.

In a report for Haaretz, Ahmed Rashid noted that an attack on Iran would likely inflame anti-American sentiment throughout the region, across both Shia and Sunni Muslim communities. Despite Iran’s poor human rights record and bellicose leadership, polls have consistently shown that Iranian and Iranian-backed leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Nasrallah remain among the most popular figures throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

This popularity comes not necessarily out of respect for Iranian ideology, but from a perception that Iran is the only assertive power in the region and is the target of aggression from the United States and its allies.

In Rashid’s analysis, both the Middle East and South Asia would become unsafe for American citizens and their interests for years to come; popular anger would reach a level which would render these area effectively off-limits and would cause grave and immediate danger to both American businesses and troops based in the region.

Again, this would be a situation quite different from the other wars of the past decade, fought against isolated regimes without the ability to call upon large and often well-funded numbers of regional sympathisers; a fact also rarely mentioned by war advocates.

Not a political game

Going to war with Iran would be an elective decision for the United States, but it is for too grave and consequential a choice to be left up to the whims of politicians seeking to win the approval of lobby groups and one-up each other to appeal to influential campaign donors who would like to see a war with Iran.

Make no mistake, the possibility of war is very real and has become eminently more so in recent months. Many of the same politicians and political advisers responsible for engineering the Iraq War have returned to public life and are at the forefront of pushing a new American conflict with Iran.

Mitt Romney’s closest foreign policy advisers include leading hawks from the war with Iraq, including John Bolton, Eliot Cohen and Dan Senor. Many of them have enthusiastically and publicly expressed their desire to engineer a US military confrontation with Iran and have already begun to tout the inevitability of this action in a Romney presidency.

What few figures on either end of the political spectrum are doing however is giving Americans an honest picture of what such a war would mean for them and their future. Not coincidentally, some of the leading voices against military escalation with Iran have come from high-ranking figures within the US military, including even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey who has expressed his desire that the US not be “complicit” in any attack against Iran.

This reticence is reflective not of goodwill towards the Iranian regime, but of a recognition that such a war would be catastrophic to American interests and would have serious implications for continued global stability. Americans are being goaded and misinformed by cynical political maneouvering which is attempting to steer them into another disastrous and assuredly bloody war for the sake of interest group politics and short-term political expediency.

If there is to be another pre-emptive war of choice, this time with Iran, American politicians must openly and honestly acknowledge what this would mean for Americans and for the world and allow them to make their decisions thusly.

War is never a choice to be taken lightly, but the potential consequences of a war with Iran would be unprecedented – the dangerous game being played at present by many US politicians is one which could take Americans down a ruinous path without their informed consent.

As the rhetoric continues to dial up, it must be remembered that this is an issue bigger than politics and it is the pressing interest of the American people that it be treated as such.

Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst, his work has appeared at Salon.com.

2026

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

 
 

 

Military Technology Adapted for Agriculture Industry to be showcased at 2012 Farm Science Review

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are military aircraft currently being repurposed for everyday use, especially within the growing field of precision agriculture. These flying robots allow farmers to detect changes in water content, plant health and pesticide dispersal in their fields.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are military aircraft currently being repurposed for everyday use, especially within the growing field of precision agriculture. These flying robots allow farmers to detect changes in water content, plant health and pesticide dispersal in their fields.

Even though the pilot programs are still underway, The Ohio State University Aeronautics and Astronautics Research Laboratory will showcase this new UAV technology and its impact on the agriculture industry at the 2012 Farm Science Review.

“While the military was the early adopter of this technology, the civilian applications in agriculture, search and rescue, and various other tasks is fast approaching,” said Matt McCrink, a Ph.D. student in the Aerospace Engineering Department at The Ohio State University and research assistant to Dr. Jim Gregory at the Aeronautic and Astronautics Research Laboratory in Columbus.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow UAVs to operate in national airspace. However, the FAA is allowing special certifications for universities and other public institutions to test whether or not UAVs can safely be integrated into national airspace.

“The data gathered in these pilot programs will be instrumental in the development of regulations and commercialization of drone technology, which could significantly impact the cost of crop production” said McCrink.

“In addition, monitoring and recording plant health, water usage, and pesticide dispersal will allow for the creation of a historical database which farmers might use to project future crop yields and soil health.”

This year’s Farm Science Review will be held Sept. 18-20 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio. Tickets are available for sale at local agribusinesses and any OSU Extension office for $5 in advance, or $8 at the gate. Children 5 and under are free. For more information, go to fsr.osu.edu.

Farm Science Review is sponsored by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. It attracts more than 140,000 visitors from all over the country and Canada, who come for three days to peruse 4,000 product lines from 600 commercial exhibitors, and learn the latest in agricultural research, conservation, family and nutrition, and gardening and landscape.

Smaller COLA on the Horizon for Federal Retirees

by Kellie Lunney, Government Executive

Updated: September 19, 2012 | 9:52 p.m. 
September 19, 2012 | 7:54 p.m.

Federal retirees again are on track to receive a small annual cost-of-living adjustment boost in 2013, but it will probably be a lot smaller than this year’s increase.

The COLA figure for next year isn’t out yet, but it’s likely to be somewhere around 1.4 percent, based on the latest numbers. The government publishes the annual cost-of-living adjustments typically in late October, based on the percentage increase (if any) in the average Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the third quarter of the current year over the average for the third quarter of the last year in which a COLA became effective. The cost-of-living adjustment for 2012 was 3.6 percent — the first increase since 2008.

The CPI-W rose 1.7 percent between August 2011 and August 2012, largely due to an increase in gasoline prices. The average of the July, August, and September numbers along with the average figure from the third quarter of 2011 will be used to calculate the 2013 COLA, which is estimated to be about 1.38 percent. In May, the Congressional Budget Office predicted a COLA boost of 1.3 percent in 2013.

Does your head hurt yet? For more math fun, check out this explanation from the Social Security Administration on how COLAs are calculated.

The bottom line? While retirees probably will get an increase, it won’t be as large as the 2012 COLA. If, for the sake of argument, the 2013 COLA turns out to be 1.4 percent, that means federal retirees — whether they are covered by the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System — will receive the full 1.4 percent. According to the formula, if the full COLA increase is 3 percent or higher, as it was for 2012, FERS retirees receive 1 percent less than the full increase. So FERS retirees received 2.6 percent for 2012. If the COLA falls between 2 percent and 3 percent, then FERS retirees would receive 2 percent. If the increase is less than 2 percent, as it likely will be in 2013, FERS retirees receive the same as CSRS retirees. In other words, 1.4 percent-ish all-around.

This year’s increase takes effect on Dec. 1 and will be reflected in retirees’ first annuity payments in January 2013. The salaries of federal employees are not affected by the COLA announcement. For a history of COLAs and federal-employee pay raises going back to 1970, check out this recent Retirement Planning column from Tammy Flanagan, the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc.

Speaking of the pay freeze, it’s important to remember that while an across-the-board freeze remains in effect until at least March 27, 2013 (that’s when the temporary spending measure funding the government expires), individual employees remain eligible for raises through promotions, step increases, and performance awards. And there’s always the chance that Congress will approve a budget in 2013 and support President Obama’s recommended 0.5 percent pay increase. Based on comments from several readers since the announcement of the extended pay freeze, however, many employees are simply indifferent at this point, given the pocket change that a 0.5 percent increase yields for the majority of them. Still, something is better than nothing, as the saying goes.

 

NIST Issues Risk Assessments Guidance

SP 800-30 Provides a Step-By-Step Approach

 

BankInfo Security.com

By Eric Chabrow, September 19, 2012. Credit Eligible

 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued what could be characterized as the bible of risk assessment.

Special Publication 800-30 Revision 1, Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments, provides direction for conducting risk assessments and amplifies the guidance found in SP 800-39: Managing Information Security Risk. Though SP 800-30 was written for federal information systems and organizations, its lessons can be applied to other organizations in and out of government.

Ron Ross, NIST fellow and one of the authors of the new guidance, says risk assessments are essential tools for managers. “With the increasing breadth and depth of cyberattacks on federal information systems and the U.S. critical infrastructure, risk assessments provide important information to guide and inform the selection of appropriate defensive measures so organizations can respond effectively to cyber-related risks,” he says.

The new guidance document, issued Sept. 18, provides direction for carrying out each of the steps in the risk assessment process, such as preparing for the assessment, conducting the assessment, communicating the results of the assessment and maintaining the assessment. It also shows how risk assessments and other organizational risk management processes complement each other.

 

Continuous Monitoring

Special Publication 800-30 also provides guidance to organizations on identifying specific risk factors to monitor systems continuously so that they can determine whether risks have increased to unacceptable levels, such as exceeding organizational risk tolerance. And it offers insights on different courses of action that should be taken.

Information technology risks include risk to the organization’s operations, such as mission and reputation, as well as its critical assets, including data and physical property as well as individuals who are part of or served by the organization.

In March 2011, NIST released SP 800-39, which describes the process for managing information security risk for federal agencies and contractors. That process includes framing risk, assessing risk, responding to risk and monitoring risk over time.

 

Can’t Protect Everything

The new publication focuses exclusively on risk assessment, the second step in the information security risk management process. The guidance covers the four elements of a classic risk assessment: threats, vulnerabilities, impact to missions and business operations. It also addresses the likelihood of threat exploitation of vulnerabilities in information systems and their physical environment to cause harm or adverse consequences.

 

“As the size and complexity of our collective IT infrastructure grows, we cannot protect everything we own or manage to the highest degree,” Ross says. “Risk assessments show us where we are most at risk. It provides a way to decide where managers should focus their attention.”

 

With the insurance of the revised SP 800-30, the original series of five key computer security documents (including SP 800-39) envisioned by the Joint Task Force to create a unified information security framework for the federal government is completed. The Joint Task Force is a partnership of NIST, the Department of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Committee on National Security Systems.

 

Napolitano Warns Of Cybersecurity, Aviation Security, Threats By Homegrown Extremists

HSToday

By: Mickey McCarter

09/19/2012 (12:30pm)

In an annual threat assessment hearing convened by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano indicated the three top concerns of her department were strengthening cybersecurity, maintaining aviation security and combating homegrown violent extremism.

Under questioning by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who was chairing his last threat hearing before his upcoming retirement from Congress, Napolitano confirmed that the Obama administration was hard at work on an executive order that would address some cybersecurity concerns in lieu of any legislation from Congress.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies have been working on the cybersecurity executive order through interagency collaboration, Napolitano said.

“Yes, we have been very actively involved as have some agencies who have primary responsibility in this area,” she remarked.

The draft executive order has included “a deep-dive analysis into areas where sector-specific authorities may already exist,” Napolitano added, declining to indulge any further information.

However, the idea behind examining existing authorities would be to build upon existing relationships in the 18 specific sectors of critical infrastructure identified by the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. Federal agencies that already have relationships with those industry sectors would collaborate with them to improve their overall cybersecurity posture.

Cybersecurity remains a challenging area because of limited awareness of the threat and a lack of minimum standards for critical infrastructure protection, Napolitano said.

She lamented the dim prospects for cybersecurity legislation this year.

“The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 would have begun to address vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical infrastructure systems. This legislation was the result of years of work. It reflected input from the administration, the private sector, privacy experts and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. Numerous current and former homeland and national security officials had also expressed the importance and urgency of this legislation,” Napolitano said in her written testimony.

Even if the administration issues an executive order, the order could not do all of the things legislation could do. For example, an order could not ease limitations on personnel hiring, which DHS and others must overcome to recruit top cybersecurity talent. It also could not resolve issues with regard to liability protections, which are necessary to encourage industry participation in cybersecurity partnerships with the government. And finally it could not increase criminal penalties on bad actors, Napolitano said.

 

Aviation security

Aviation security remains a top DHS concern, Napolitano said. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has committed itself to repeated attacks on aviation systems, most notably with the Christmas Day 2009 bombing attempt and the October 2010 cargo plane attack.

Terrorists such as AQAP continually target commercial aviation by attempting to circumvent existing security measures, Napolitano remarked, with “sometimes ingenuous and increasingly sophisticated” attacks.

Napolitano hailed layered defenses in aviation security, beginning with intelligence and information sharing between international partners, within the aviation sector and among federal agencies.

She praised a new agreement signed with the European Union on July 1 to share passenger name record data for air passengers traveling to the United States. DHS also is working with global shipping companies and the International Air Transport Association to promote terrorism awareness training and to vet personnel with access to US-bound cargo.

Meanwhile, “very interesting work” is underway in technical advances to make airport screening more efficient for travelers while addressing evolving threats to aviation security, Napolitano commented without elaborating.

Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, agreed that APAQ remained the terrorist group most likely to attempt attacks against the United States, as indicated by its plot to attack an airliner in May near the anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Olsen emphasized that federal intelligence agencies and DHS work together to disrupt such plots before a terrorist gets to an airport.

 

Homegrown extremism

Foreign terrorist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and other individuals continue to seek to recruit westerners to attack US targets, Napolitano warned. Violent extremism can be inspired by various religious, political or ideological beliefs and US authorities must stay vigilant against a range of attacks such as the Sept. 11 Libyan embossing bombing to the July 20 movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo.

Although there is no current intelligence of any planned violent attacks within the United States, DHS must work to detect threats earlier, share information faster and maximize capabilities to respond homegrown violent extremism, Napolitano said.

 

Furloughs remain a recurring theme in forecasting sequestration’s impact

GovExec

By Charles S. Clark September 20, 2012

 

On the eve of a vote to adjourn Congress until after the elections, top military and civilian Defense Department officials unveiled new details on the harm that looming across-the-board budget cuts would inflict if they kicked in this January.

Warning two House panels of impending cuts to stateside training and a need to renegotiate recent contracts, officials avoided delving down to the level of specific programs and they steered clear of taking sides in Congress’ ongoing political stalemate over the budget.

“I contend we’re already in sequestration, that jobs are being lost and things are getting cut off,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told a hearing. “As far as I’m concerned, the DoD shuts down in January.”

He noted that one program that might be jeopardized is training to thwart the improvised explosive devices that are killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It wasn’t fair, McKeon added, that defense is 17 percent of the federal budget but took 50 percent of the cuts in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Gauging the probable impact of a $52 billion cut in fiscal 2013, or 9.4 percent, to all Pentagon programs except military personnel, Comptroller Robert Hale said he foresees cuts concentrated disproportionately in operations and maintenance.

“The Army and Marine Corps would have less training, and there would be civilian personnel hiring freezes and possibly unpaid furloughs,” he said. “There would be substantial adverse effects on research and development, procurement, and military construction. We would buy fewer quantifies of weapons, which drives up unit costs, and shipbuilding would be delayed.”

Sequestration also would require cutting family housing maintenance and base operating support, while delaying TRICARE payments to providers, “which could end up in denial of service,” Hale said. “We’d have some authority to move money into operations to protect wartime operations, but I don’t want to make it sound easy. I hope Congress passes something the president can sign and halt sequestration.”

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the Army’s vice chief of staff, said sequestration would “significantly increase risks and cause us to relook” at the defense strategy the Obama administration released in January. If the automatic cuts must happen, he said, then “we must be afforded resources to adjust, to reduce inefficiencies and focus on the highest priorities.”

Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, said the Navy would be hit with a $12 billion cut that would require “difficult choices in the second half of fiscal 2013,” chiefly in procurement and force structure. “That would translate into fewer sailors, fewer [shows of fleet force] and less maintenance, and would impact the industrial base and the service life of platforms,” he said. It also would involve $4 billion in cuts to shipbuilding and acquisitions, which could harm technology development centers.

Describing a recent visit to 10,000 sailors on an aircraft carrier, Ferguson said, “all of them expressed concern over what this would mean to the Navy and to their service — the fiscal crisis is increasingly on their minds.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, made a contrary point, saying the troops in Afghanistan “are too busy doing their jobs to think about what we’re doing in Washington for the next budget.” But he said he fears that “we will lose the trust and confidence of the all-volunteer force, which will take a long time to get back.” The Marines won’t “miss a call,” he added, but January might bring the beginning of a “hollow force. The bench back home would get thinner and thinner, causing significant degradation in our readiness.”

All the officials stressed that the planning under way dealt with dollar cuts and they could not answer questions from lawmakers about specific contracts or programs. They added contracts signed using dollars from fiscal 2012 or before were fully funded.

 

“We won’t start cutting in advance, because we don’t want to sequester ourselves,” Hale said. “But it is in the back of our minds, and we will pick up the pace now that everyone understands the law, even if they don’t like it.”

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., asked colleagues “how could you listen to the comptroller and vice chiefs and conclude the Pentagon wasn’t planning?” He said it was more important to focus on a solution than on prospective harm that the Pentagon has had no choice but to anticipate.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., concerned about the prospect of the Pentagon having to renegotiate 2,500 contracts, asked Hale whether he’d favor a new law to head off sequestration. Hale said he would take the suggestion under consideration.

Hale intervened to prevent service leaders from responding when they were asked whether they agreed with the Obama administration’s insistence on a “balanced” solution to the fiscal predicament.

At a later hearing by the House Small Business Committee, Hale’s deputy, Michael McCord, delivered similar testimony to members and industry witnesses concerned that some defense small business contracts already have been canceled.

“I’d be inclined to look at furloughs more than reductions in force, meaning we won’t lose expertise but we would lose work years,” he said. The impact on morale “can’t be quantified, but you don’t wish to tell people ‘you’re about to be laid off,’ ” he added, which is why the Defense secretary advised against it. “That uncertainty creates a bad dynamic.”

Richard Ginman, director of Defense procurement and acquisition, said, “the vast majority of our contracts are fully funded, so there’s no need to terminate existing contracts unless the product is no longer needed.” But he stressed that contracts are let based on the needs of the warfighter, not on whether the contractor is small or large. Nonetheless, Ginman sought to reassure panel ranking member Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., that the Pentagon would continue its efforts to meet the goal of 23 percent of contract dollars going to small business. “The Office of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics pays attention to industrial base, sector by sector,” he said. “They will continue analysis of key technologies and take action to protect them.”

At the Armed Services hearing, sparks flew over the politics that led to sequestration becoming an increasingly real proposition. McKeon and others blamed the Senate for failing to enact a budget or to take up House-passed solutions. “The way I read the Constitution,” he said, “they have to pass something in the Senate so that we can then meet in conference to work out our differences.”

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., blamed the Senate and the White House for failing to pass a budget, saying, “it’s time for President Obama to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way of this country.” Rep. Sylvester Reyes, D-Texas, said Congress should “look in the mirror” to place blame. “I didn’t vote for this idiotic law.”

Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., said Congress is being irresponsible for leaving town with six weeks to go before the elections. He said he planned to vote no on the motion to adjourn.

 

 

Iran preparing internal version of Internet

Washington Post

By James Ball and Benjamin Gottlieb, Published: September 19

Updated: Thursday, September 20, 4:45 PM

WASHINGTON — The Iranian government, determined to limit Western influence and defend itself against cyberattacks, appears to have laid the technical foundations for a national online network that would be detached from the Internet and permit tighter control over the flow of information.

The concept of a self-contained network has been reverberating within Iran for almost a decade and has often been treated with skepticism, given the significant investment in infrastructure and security that would be required. But Iranian officials and outside experts say that development of the network has accelerated following cyberattacks aimed at the country’s nuclear program.

Last month, Iran’s communications and information technology minister unveiled a plan to take key government agencies and military outfits offline and onto the new network by the end of September. U.S. security researchers say they are for the first time seeing evidence of an operational network that is consistent with Iran’s publicly stated plans.

The researchers, working under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Global Communications Studies, say in a report to be released this week that they have found functional versions of the sites of government ministries, universities and businesses on the network. They also found evidence of an already operational filtering capability.

At the core of the network was high-end equipment manufactured by the Chinese firm Huawei that is capable of sophisticated online surveillance of traffic. The network is already “internally consistent and widely reachable,” concluded the report, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post.

William Plummer, vice president for external affairs at Huawei, said: “Huawei has not sold equipment to the Iranian government nor does it support monitoring traffic. Huawei only sells commercial equipment built to global standards to commercial operators.”

The findings are likely to worry Internet freedom activists and the Obama administration, which has spent tens of millions of dollars on initiatives designed to ease access to the Internet in Iran and other countries with repressive governments. Officials had expressed concerns even before the release of the latest research.

“We have concerns from not only a human rights perspective, but about the integrity of the Internet,” David Baer, deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said in an interview. “When countries section off parts of the Web, not only do their citizens suffer, everyone does.”

Experts say the Iranian government has a handful of reasons to establish a state-run alternative to the Internet. A protected Iran-only network could help officials counter U.S.-funded programs that allow Iranian activists to evade online surveillance. It could also help insulate Iranian computers from a covert campaign of cyberattacks that Iranian officials assert the United States and Israel continue to wage.

The Iranian network is not expected to entirely replace the Internet. But for ordinary Iranians it could be a well-run alternative to the Internet, which in Iran is often still accessed through dial-up connections.

Internet speeds in the country are intentionally suppressed to make certain Web activities, including the streaming of video, virtually impossible. Many Web sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, are blocked by the Iranian government.

Having the infrastructure for a skeleton Iran-only Internet in place would give the Iranian government greater power to shut off access to the Internet at times of civil unrest, such as the anti-government protests that swept Iran in 2009.

During the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak’s regime tried to stall its spread by shutting off access to the Internet — a move that largely backfired when it caused panic. Having a national network operational could help prevent a similar outcome in Iran.

 

“The main reason for this project is security,” said Moussavi Khoeini, a former Iranian reformer and parliament member now living in exile. “They may say it’s to increase Internet speeds or protect against harmful content, but it’s always been security.”

Not all experts are convinced that an Iranian network would be viable, especially given the need for access to the Internet for commercial purposes and international communication.

“Any attempt by a country to make an intranet is doomed to failure,” Cedric Leighton, a retired deputy director at the National Security Agency, said in an interview.

But Leighton, who spent more than 25 years as an intelligence officer specializing in cybersecurity, said that Iran’s “cyber army,” a network of government-supported hackers that has attacked Western targets in recent years, does stand to gain from the attempted creation of a national network.

By “laying down the fiber” and connecting thousands of servers inside Iran, the government would “build on their knowledge of networks and how they operate,” he said, increasing their capabilities to both launch and repel cyberattacks.

“But no matter what you do, there will always be vulnerabilities in a network,” Leighton said.

Both the Obama administration and Internet freedom experts have expressed concern that the launch of the Iranian network could set a precedent for repressive governments across the globe. Reza Taghipour, Iran’s communications and information technology minister, has lauded Iran as a “pioneer” of the idea, hinting that other nations could follow his country’s lead.

“We don’t want governments to believe that it is now legitimate to take a country offline,” explained Brett Solomon, executive director of AccessNow.org, a global digital freedom initiative. “If we look back to the Egyptian revolution, where the regime shut down the free flow of information, you can see how this act could give rise to the creation of a new international norm.”

The researchers who uncovered the foundations of the new Iranian network said they found that it already hosted a number of Web sites — typically government or academic sites — meaning that the beginning of an Iranian Internet is already in operation.

E-mail and other providers are in place, and a scan of the network’s infrastructure by the researchers uncovered more than 10,000 devices connected to the system.

Collin Anderson, a Washington, D.C.-based security researcher and the report’s lead author, said the study should prompt further work on the scope of the Iranian network, its filtering ability, its growth, and how many Web sites were available only there.

“Internet freedom is a cat-and-mouse game — bad actors will always think of new ways to thwart the aspirations of the public,” Anderson said. “People and organizations have to remain vigilant to the ever-changing environment in order to support those who want to fight back against isolation.”

 

Iran’s Optimized S-200 Air Defense System Goes on Display in Military Parades

 

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Iranian Armed Forces displayed an optimized version of the Russian-made S-200 long-range air defense system during the military parades in Tehran today.

 

 

 

 

 

The S-200 systems were displayed along with other air-defense systems, missiles and radars in the annual September 21 parades, marking the start of the Week of Sacred Defense, commemorating Iranians’ sacrifices during the 8 years of Iraqi imposed war on Iran in 1980s.

The ceremony took place at the mausoleum of the Founder of the Islamic Republic, the Late Imam Khomeini, in Southern Tehran.

Earlier this month, a senior Iranian air defense official announced that they are mounting new types of missiles on S-200 anti-aircraft missile system.

Speaking to reporters on the occasion of the National Day of Air Defense, Commander of Khatam ol-Anbia Air Defense Base Brigadier General Farzad Esmayeeli said that Iran has optimized the capabilities of the Russian-made S-200 systems.

“The system has been optimized in detection fields and electronic warfare,” Esmayeeli said, adding, “Two new types of missiles will be mounted onto the system.”

Iran’s S-200 system is a very long range, medium-to-high altitude surface-to-air missile (SAM) system designed to defend large areas from bomber attack or other strategic aircrafts. Each battalion has 6 single-rail missile launchers and fire control radar. It can be linked to other, longer-range radar systems.

Each missile is launched by 4 solid-fueled strap-on rocket boosters. Maximum range is between 200 and 350km depending on the model. The missile uses radio illumination mid-course correction to fly towards the target with a terminal semi active radar homing phase.

 

Congress wraps up, leaving work until after election

Washington Post

By Rosalind S. Helderman, Published: September 21 | Updated: Saturday, September 22, 1:20 AM

With final Senate votes cast 1 a.m. Saturday morning, Congress has concluded work and departed Washington, putting off major decisions on tax and budget issues until after the November election.

The session ended on terrain familiar from the past 18 months of gridlocked action — with both parties blaming each other for not getting more done and a procedural debate in the Senate delaying final action on a bill over which there was no big dispute.

The Senate early Saturday approved a six-month spending measure to fund the government when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 on a 62 to 30 vote. The measure, which the House approved last week, would spare Washington the specter of a government shutdown in the weeks leading up to the election.

Approval of the must-pass funding bill marked Congress’s only significant accomplishment during an eight-day work period that followed the August recess.

The unusual post-midnight votes were required after a now-common procedural dispute delayed votes that senators had once hoped to conclude Thursday.

First, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked to be allowed a vote on an amendment that would cut off foreign aide to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya. That vote failed early Saturday.

Then Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) pushed off Thursday votes because he said that GOP Sen. Scott Brown would use the floor action as an excuse to avoid a scheduled debate with Democrat Elizabeth Warren in their Massachusetts Senate race.

Then Reid clashed with Republicans about whether to hold a vote on a package of measures sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to improve access to federal land for hunters. The legislation could boost Tester’s chances in his reelection battle against Rep. Denny Rehberg (R). Senators ultimately agreed to hold a procedural vote on Tester’s bill.

Although Congress always ends work in election years to allow members to return home to campaign, this year marks its earliest departure in decades.

House Democrats took to their chamber’s front steps Friday to accuse GOP leaders of leaving town with unfinished business. In the Senate, Republicans said Democratic leaders were to blame. Lawmakers will take up series of weighty decisions in a lame-duck session after the November vote.

They will then face the looming “fiscal cliff,” an end-of-year deadline when taxes will rise and deep spending cuts will automatically take effect without congressional action.

The troubled postal service will need attention. The Violence Against Women Act has not been reauthorized. And, problematically for several lawmakers in tough election fights in agricultural states, a Senate-approved five-year farm bill remains stalled in the House.

 

Iran blamed for cyberattacks on U.S. banks and companies

Washington Post

By Ellen Nakashima, Published: September 21

 

Iran recently has mounted a series of disruptive computer attacks against major U.S. banks and other companies in apparent retaliation for Western economic sanctions aimed at halting its nuclear program, according to U.S. intelligence and other officials.

In particular, assaults this week on the Web sites of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America probably were carried out by Iran, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Friday.

“I don’t believe these were just hackers who were skilled enough to cause disruption of the Web sites,” said Lieberman in an interview taped for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program. “I think this was done by Iran and the Quds Force, which has its own developing cyberattack capability.” The Quds Force is a special unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the military.

Lieberman said he believed the efforts were in response to “the increasingly strong economic sanctions that the United States and our European allies have put on Iranian financial institutions.”

U.S. officials suspect Iran was behind similar cyberattacks on U.S. and other Western businesses here and in the Middle East, some dating as far back as December. A conservative Web site, the Washington Free Beacon, reported that the intelligence arm of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an analysis Sept. 14 that the cyberattacks on financial institutions are part of a larger covert war being carried out by Tehran.

Unlike the cyberattacks attributed to the United States and Israel that disabled Iranian nuclear enrichment equipment, experts said, the Iranian attacks were intended to disrupt commercial Web sites. Online operations at Bank of America and Chase both experienced delays this week.

In a previously undisclosed episode, Iranian cyberforces attempted to disrupt the Web sites of oil companies in the Middle East in August by routing their efforts through major U.S. telecommunications companies, including AT&T and Level 3, according to U.S. intelligence and industry officials. They spoke on the condition that their names not be used because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The effort did not cause serious disruptions, but it was the largest attempted denial-of-service attack against AT&T “by an order of magnitude,” said an industry official. A distributed denial-of-service, or DDOS, attack is designed to overload a Web site and block access to the server or site.

The U.S. intelligence community is increasingly concerned about Iran’s improving capability to mount attacks. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. told Congress in February that “Iran’s intelligence operations against the United States, including cyber capabilities, have dramatically increased in recent years in depth and complexity.”

“The Iranians aren’t very good yet,” said one U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity. “But they’re getting better rapidly, and they’re motivated to get better rapidly because they believe they’ve been attacked, and they have.”

Iran announced plans last year to establish a cyber command to counter cyberattacks aimed at Iran’s networks. Researchers also reported this week that Tehran is trying to develop its own Internet in part to cut off outside access to military and government computer networks.

In 2010, nearly 1,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges were damaged at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant as a result of a computer worm, Stuxnet, that was jointly created by the United States and Israel.

Many experts have said the launch of Stuxnet — the world’s first physically destructive cyberattack — opened a Pandora’s box.

“If you are in the glass house, you should not be the one initiating throwing rocks at each other,” Gregory Rattray, chief executive officer of Delta Risk, a cybersecurity company, said at a recent conference. “We will have rocks come back at us.”

The spate of denial-of-service assaults are “from their perspective, not an escalation. It’s retaliation,” said the intelligence official. “They really, really want to do something to us.”

Both Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security have been attempting attacks, the official said.

In the August attempt, Iran bombarded AT&T’s servers for two days, stopped for two days and then resumed the attack for two more days, the industry official said. The company was able to realign its servers to prevent the oil companies that use its service from experiencing a major loss of Web site access. But the industry official warned the next attack could be more severe.

The industry official said the affected oil companies were in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East that are taking part in an oil embargo. Some of the Web sites were temporarily disabled, but the impact was not major, the official said.

Both the industry official and the intelligence official said one of the Iranian targets has been Aramco, the Saudi Arabian national oil company. In one recent episode, the industry official said, Aramco’s Web sites were victims of a denial-of-service attack. In a more serious incident, a virus suspected of being used by Iran wiped out the hard drives of larger numbers of computers, knocking out part of the company’s system for as long as two weeks, the intelligence official said.

Describing the attacks on financial institutions, Lieberman said they are “a powerful example of our vulnerability. It’s a warning to us that if we take action against their nuclear weapons development that they have the capacity to strike back at us.

“We can’t be fearful,” Lieberman said. “Once the United States begins to get fearful of counter acts if we take action to protect our security, then we’re on the road to a much weaker and less free America.”

 


 

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