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July 12 2014

July 14, 2014




International Partners Key To DoD’s New R&D Strategy

Jul. 7, 2014 – 06:14AM   |



WASHINGTON — The US Defense Department is set to roll out a new strategy this week that is designed to make sure researchers know about ongoing technological developments around the world, and can take advantage of spending by close allies to fill gaps in capabilities and cut costs.

The document, called the “International S&T Engagement Strategy,” aims to use advances in big data technology to create easily searchable databases for use by the Pentagon’s “communities of interest,” 17 groups of experts from across the services and Pentagon offices focused on specific areas of technology.

Once that data is proliferated, the Pentagon intends to take a look at where it can do a better job of using partner investment to cut the cost of developing some technologies, and where it can take advantage of investments by allies for technologies that might fill US gaps.

Although the document doesn’t mention it, the strategy is focused on joint work with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, according to acting Pentagon research and development (R&D) chief Al Shaffer.

Shaffer said that while the document explores improving awareness of technological developments, it’s less about gathering the intelligence and more about making sure the right parties are aware of it.

“We have complete insight into our partner and allies’ laboratories, and they have pretty good insight into ours, so what I’m really interested in is using some of the tools of our international structure,” Shaffer said. “If you take a look at our footprint already, we already have a network of literally hundreds of people. So this is really a structure of how do we put in place a capability back here in the United States and layer it into our capability road maps.”

To do that requires absorbing volumes of data on developing technologies and distributing that to the communities of interest. Those communities were set up in January as part of an effort to streamline development and avoid redundancy, and the Defense Technical Information Center is being tasked with making the new system work.

“I don’t need every community of interest to look at everything that comes in worldwide,” Shaffer said. “We can have an automation machine take all that information and route the relevant information to the right [communities].”

Shaffer cited that automation as being one of the prime reasons the new effort is being undertaken, as the technical challenges might have been insurmountable previously but can be overcome because of rapid improvements in the commercial big data sphere.

“Three years ago we could not have even begun to think about doing what we’re trying to do now,” he said.

The new IT system should be up and running in the fall, with the database operational Sept. 9 and the search tools ready near Oct. 1. Both are being tested.

But once the systems are in place it will be up to officials to take advantage of the information they’re getting.

“This isn’t three guys and a coffee pot, this is a significant staff,” said James Hasik, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The good news is that two senior Pentagon people are saying that we need to pay attention, this is important.”

But Hasik pointed to the broad strokes with which the strategy is painted as being a potential flaw.

“There’s a remarkable lack of prioritization,” he said.

Shaffer acknowledged that much of the success of the effort will ride on how well the officials work with each other.

“This is not my plan, this is our plan,” he said. “If we have the right senior executives in the right areas, we will not have a stovepipe. If we have the wrong senior executives we will devolve into stove piping and all this will just be more paper. Washington’s great at producing paper that never has any impact.”

That need to coordinate was of concern to one industry source familiar with the plan.

“There’s some kumbaya here, but not much substance,” the source said. “The devil is in the details, and there are no details.”

One of the sources of skepticism that the Pentagon is facing is a lukewarm response to its last major IT effort, the Defense Innovation Marketplace. That was designed to allow contractors to get a handle on where the Pentagon is looking for new technologies.

“The DoD marketplace effort has met with limited success,” the industry source said. “What makes you think extrapolating it to an international level will work?”

Shaffer said his office has learned from the experience, and is focusing on making sure they’re improving the user interface as well as taking an iterative approach to development.

“The other thing that I think we learned was not to go for everything in the first increment,” he said.

Shaffer is also sorting out how the agency will measure success, a difficult task given the stated goal of improving technology partnerships. That’s another area where much work is left to be done, as the strategy is designed to lay the groundwork for improved international efforts by making sure there’s data in place to make decisions, but can’t outline what those changes to partnering might be.

On that front, the bigger shift already underway has been the communities of interest concept, as US partner countries aren’t confronted with officials from each of the services and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in every technology area, but rather a single figure from each community of interest.

“We were overwhelming our closest friends and allies,” Shaffer said. “By bringing it in through the communities of interest we’re still bringing in the best technology but we’re not hitting them up five times.”

Joint development also ensures that the eventual products will work effectively from an interoperability standpoint.

The one major stumbling block that could surface is interoperability within the Pentagon — getting all of the different groups to agree on where to push technologies and who should do it.

“There are many days that I wish I could go back to being a laboratory commander where I was king and I could just go back to snapping my fingers and stuff happens,” Shaffer said. “But at [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] OSD we cannot work it alone. We have to work and bring our partners in the services and agencies with us.”

Defense Forecast: So Many ‘What-Ifs’

By Sandra I. Erwin


Uncertainty remains the operative word in the defense sector. The chances that Congress will pass a defense appropriations bill by Sept. 30 appear to be slim to none. Policy decisions are on hold pending mid-term elections, but gridlock is likely to continue regardless of the outcome.

Also looming is the prospect of automatic budget cuts — starting in 2016 and extending through 2021 — that would be triggered if federal agencies fail to comply with the spending limits set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

For Pentagon contractors, many unanswered questions remain on how the Defense Department will adjust programs as spending declines, and how long a projected “procurement holiday” might last.

In his latest “Defense Scorecard,” Capital Alpha analyst Byron Callan warns industry investors that while Pentagon spending will be stable in the near term, wild cards loom large after 2016.

Despite Congress’ best efforts to return to regular order, the Defense Department is unlikely to see its 2015 budget passed when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. “At least one or more continuing resolutions are likely,” Callan says. “We see this as business as usual so it’s not catalytic for defense stocks, so long as there is an 2015 appropriations act by early spring 2015.”

What happens beyond 2015, however, “may challenge bullish sentiment,” the scorecard cautions. The Obama administration in March proposed a 2016-2019 military budget that exceeds the mandatory caps by $115 billion. The plan got a lukewarm reception on Capitol Hill. And so far lawmakers have shown little inclination to undo the Budget Control Act.

Defense hawks like Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., have called for increases to the Pentagon’s budget but only if they are offset by domestic spending cuts and not by new tax revenue — which makes such proposal a nonstarter. Whether the November election moves the needle is a guessing game.

“The mid-term election will provide a better read on when fiscal year 2015 could be completed and should inform fiscal year 2016’s prospects,” says Callan. “We see the mid-term congressional elections in the U.S. as a gating factor for defense expectations, with investors starting to pay much more attention to election implications in September.”

Defense stocks could perk up if it appears more likely that Republicans take over the Senate, he adds. “The belief only rests on the notion that Republican control could further sharpen foreign policy debates with the White House and suggest potential for more bellicose action.”

Further gridlock in Washington, Callan notes, could jeopardize White House budget plans for 2016 that propose 15 percent growth in defense investments from the 2015 request.

A Republican sweep in November, however, does not guarantee that the Pentagon will be spared from the ax, he says. “Unless there are events that appear far more threatening or disruptive to Americans — another major terrorist attack, or $6 a gallon gasoline — we doubt the Republican gains could be translated into substantially higher levels of U.S. defense spending than is now planned by the administration.” The House budget resolution earlier this year envisioned defense spending about 1 percent more than the 2015-19 plan. For the administration to secure the extra funding for defense, Congress and the White House would have to find some way to compromise on a wider range of spending and revenue issues.

“We could see defense stocks with U.S. exposure generally move higher if investors and analysts believe that the fiscal year 2016 defense plan for procurement and RD&TE (research and development) budget authority could be realized,” says Callan. The plan shows procurement up 20 percent from the 2015 request and RDT&E up 9 percent. Growth projections slow down in 2017 and beyond to mid-low single digits. “We still think that the final outcome will be investment spending levels somewhere between the plan and budget cap levels for fiscal year 2016 and beyond.”

Conflicts and political crises do not appear to spur any moves to increase military budgets. “With the possible exception of Saab Group in Sweden, very few defense stocks appear to have reacted to Russian actions in Ukraine, the war in Syria, the potential fragmentation of Iraq and wider implications of war in the Levant,” Callan says.

Another matter of concern to defense industry is how the Pentagon will choose to spend its investment dollars — specifically whether it will start looking at alternatives to current programs of record, he says. “Right now, we don’t see evidence of disruptive changes. But we still wonder if all the emphasis on innovation, rapidly evolving adversary capabilities, costs of current weapons programs and potential lower-cost alternatives won’t spawn new programs that challenge the current order.” Defense officials have been talking more openly about the erosion of U.S. defense superiority, but have not explained what they will do about it.

In the long term, the outlook is indeed worrisome for the defense sector, according to analysts Clark A. Murdock and Ryan Crotty, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The post 9/11 defense drawdown will be significantly deeper than is generally recognized,” the authors warn in a new study. Because of the “double whammy” of topline cuts and the decreasing purchasing power of defense dollars, a steep downsizing can be expected between now and 2021.

Murdock suggests the Pentagon should immediately start shedding personnel and programs before automatic budget cuts return. “The Defense Department needs to adopt a dramatically different approach to force planning grounded in the acceptance of the BCA caps,” he says.

The military’s base budget (not including war funds) peaked in 2012 at $660 billion. By fiscal year 2021, it will be $520 billion, a decline of 21 percent. During this same period, the defense dollar will have lost 15 percent of its purchasing power, CSIS analysts estimate, because defense expenditures are rising faster than inflation. They predict that the combined impact of growth above inflation of personnel, health care, operations, maintenance and acquisitions will erode procurement spending.

The 2021 fiscal reality is a “harsh one,” Murdock says. The Defense Department will have 21 percent fewer dollars to buy military capabilities and each of those dollars will have lost 15 percent of their purchasing power. The Pentagon has yet to confront this problem, he says. “The correct response is not denial and the continued submission of defense budget requests that do not conform to the BCA.”

Chronic indecision on how to restructure the military for the future is part bureaucratic inertia but also not knowing what threats the nation will face. Retired Marine Corps Gen. Tony Zinni, former chief of U.S. Central Command, says the Pentagon cannot continue to put off tough decisions.

“Today it’s very difficult to determine the kind of military we need,” Zinni states in a new book, titled, “Before the First Shots Are Fired,” that is scheduled for release this fall.

The Pentagon has to determine what capabilities it should fund to keep a “qualitative edge,” he says. “Since we can’t keep all our capabilities at their highest possible levels, which ones can we risk weakening?”

The military also has to carefully rebalance the force between active and reserves, Zinni suggests. “We can’t keep guessing these questions,” he says. “Admittedly, we live in an unpredictable world but we know that the threats to us will be split between low end and high end. … What is the best force structure to meet challenges of transnational threats such as terrorism, instability, insurgencies and international criminal activities?” he asks. The biggest question: “What can we afford?”

Why we stuck with Maliki — and lost Iraq–and-lost-iraq/2014/07/03/0dd6a8a4-f7ec-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html

By Ali Khedery

July 3

To understand why Iraq is imploding, you must understand Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and why the United States has supported him since 2006.

I have known Maliki, or Abu Isra, as he is known to people close to him, for more than a decade. I have traveled across three continents with him. I know his family and his inner circle. When Maliki was an obscure member of parliament, I was among the very few Americans in Baghdad who took his phone calls. In 2006, I helped introduce him to the U.S. ambassador, recommending him as a promising option for prime minister. In 2008, I organized his medevac when he fell ill, and I accompanied him for treatment in London, spending 18 hours a day with him at Wellington Hospital. In 2009, I lobbied skeptical regional royals to support Maliki’s government.

By 2010, however, I was urging the vice president of the United States and the White House senior staff to withdraw their support for Maliki. I had come to realize that if he remained in office, he would create a divisive, despotic and sectarian government that would rip the country apart and devastate American interests.

America stuck by Maliki. As a result, we now face strategic defeat in Iraq and perhaps in the broader Middle East.


Finding a leader

Born in Tuwairij, a village outside the Iraqi holy city of Karbala, Abu Isra is the proud grandson of a tribal leader who helped end British colonial rule in the 1920s. Raised in a devout Shiite family, he grew to resent Sunni minority rule in Iraq, especially the secular but repressive Baath Party. Maliki joined the theocratic Dawa party as a young man, believing in its call to create a Shiite state in Iraq by any means necessary. After clashes between the secular Sunni, Shiite and Christian Baathists and Shiite Islamist groups, including Dawa, Saddam Hussein’s government banned the rival movements and made membership a capital offense.

Accused of being extensions of Iranian clerics and intelligence officers, thousands of Dawa party members were arrested, tortured and executed. Many of the mutilated bodies were never returned to their families. Among those killed were some of Maliki’s close relatives, forever shaping the psychology of the future premier.

Over a span of three decades, Maliki moved between Iran and Syria, where he organized covert operations against Hussein’s regime, eventually becoming chief of Iraq’s Dawa branch in Damascus. The party found a patron in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic of Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when Iraq used Western-supplied chemical weapons, Tehran retaliated by using Shiite Islamist proxies such as Dawa to punish Hussein’s supporters. With Iran’s assistance, Dawa operatives bombed the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut in 1981 in one of radical Islam’s first suicide attacks. They also bombed the American and French embassies in Kuwait and schemed to kill the emir. Dozens of assassination plots against senior members of Hussein’s government, including the dictator himself, failed miserably, resulting in mass arrests and executions.





During the tumultuous months following America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, Maliki returned to his home country. He took a job advising future prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari and later, as a member of parliament, chaired the committee supporting the De-Baathification Commission, an organization privately celebrated by Shiite Islamists as a means of retribution and publicly decried by Sunnis as a tool of repression.

I volunteered to serve in Iraq after watching the tragedy of 9/11 from the Texas governor’s conference room. The son of Iraqi immigrants, I was dispatched to Baghdad by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for a three-month assignment that ultimately lasted almost a decade. As special assistant to Ambassador Patrick Kennedy and the Coalition Provisional Authority’s liaison to the Iraqi Governing Council, and as one of the few American officials there who spoke Arabic, I became the Iraqi leaders’ go-to guy for just about everything — U.S.-furnished weapons, cars, houses or the much-coveted Green Zone access passes.

fter the formal U.S. occupation ended in 2004, I stayed in Baghdad to facilitate the transition to a “normalized” American diplomatic presence, and I often shared tea and stale biscuits with my Iraqi friends at the transitional parliament. One of those friends was Maliki. He would quiz me about American designs for the Middle East and cajole me for more Green Zone passes. These early days were exhausting but satisfying as Iraqis and Americans worked together to help the country rise from Hussein’s ashes.

Then disaster struck. During Jafari’s short tenure, ethno-sectarian tensions spiked catastrophically. With Hussein’s criminal excesses still fresh in their minds, Iraq’s new Shiite Islamist leaders concocted retribution schemes against Sunnis, resulting in horrifying episodes of torture, rape and other abuses. Displaced Baath Party members launched a bloody insurgency, while al-Qaeda recruited young men to stage suicide and car bombings, kidnappings, and other terrorist attacks in a bid to foment chaos.

After the February 2006 bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra, a sacred shrine for Shiite Islam’s 200 million adherents, Shiite Islamist leaders launched a ferocious counterattack, sparking a civil war that left tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis dead. Jafari initially refused American overtures to institute a curfew after al-Qaeda bombed Samarra, insisting that citizens needed to vent their frustrations — effectively sanctioning civil war and ethnic cleansing.

Washington decided that change at the top was essential. After the December 2005 parliamentary elections, U.S. Embassy officials combed the Iraqi elite for a leader who could crush the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, battle al-Qaeda, and unite Iraqis under the banner of nationalism and inclusive government. My colleague Jeffrey Beals and I were among the few Arabic-speaking Americans on good terms with the country’s leading figures. The only man we knew with any chance to win support from all Iraqi factions — and who seemed likely to be an effective leader — was Maliki. We argued that he would be acceptable to Iraq’s Shiite Islamists, around 50 percent of the population; that he was hard-working, decisive and largely free of corruption; and that he was politically weak and thus dependent on cooperating with other Iraqi leaders to hold together a coalition. Although Maliki’s history was known to be shadowy and violent, that was hardly unusual in the new Iraq.

With other colleagues, Beals and I hashed over the options with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who in turn encouraged Iraq’s skeptical but desperate national leaders to support Maliki. Leading a bloc with only a handful of parliamentarians, Maliki was initially surprised by the American entreaties, but he seized the opportunity, becoming prime minister on May 20, 2006.

He vowed to lead a strong, united Iraq.


‘There will be no Iraq’

Never having run anything beyond a violent, secretive Shiite Islamist political party, Maliki found his first years leading Iraq enormously challenging. He struggled with violence that killed thousands of Iraqis each month and displaced millions, a collapsing oil industry, and divided and corrupt political partners — as well as delegations from an increasingly impatient U.S. Congress. Maliki was the official ruler of Iraq, but with the surge of U.S. forces in 2007 and the arrival in Baghdad of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, there was little doubt about who was actually keeping the Iraqi state from collapse.

Crocker and Petraeus met with the prime minister several hours a day, virtually every day, for nearly two years. Unlike his rivals, Maliki traveled little outside the country and routinely worked 16-hour days. We coordinated political, economic and military policies, seeking to overcome legislative obstacles and promote economic growth while pursuing al-Qaeda, Baathist spoilers and Shiite Islamist militias. As Crocker’s special assistant, my role was to help prepare him for and accompany him to meetings with Iraqi leaders, and I often served as his proxy when the Iraqis squabbled among themselves. The United States was compelled to mediate among the Iraqis because we felt that the country would become stable only with united and cohesive Iraqi leadership, backed by the use of force against violent extremists.

One of the biggest breakthroughs of this era was the Awakening movement, in which, thanks to long negotiations, Sunni Arab tribal and Baathist insurgents turned their guns away from U.S. troops and pointed them toward al-Qaeda, thereby reintegrating into the Iraqi political process. Initially hostile to the idea of arming and funding Sunni fighters, Maliki eventually relented after intense lobbying from Crocker and Petraeus, but only on the condition that Washington foot the bill. He later agreed to hire and fund some of the tribal fighters, but many of his promises to them went unmet — leaving them unemployed, bitter and again susceptible to radicalization.

Settling into power by 2008, and with the northern half of the nation becoming pacified, Maliki was growing into his job. He had weekly videoconferences with President George W. Bush. During these intimate gatherings, in which a small group of us sat quietly off screen, Maliki often complained of not having enough constitutional powers and of a hostile parliament, while Bush urged patience and remarked that dealing with the U.S. Congress wasn’t easy, either.

Over time, Maliki helped forge compromises with his political rivals and signed multibillion-dollar contracts with multinational companies to help modernize Iraq. Few of us had hope in Iraq’s future during the depths of the civil war, but a year after the surge began, the country seemed to be back on track.

Maliki didn’t always make things easy, however. Prone to conspiracy theories after decades of being hunted by Hussein’s intelligence services, he was convinced that his Shiite Islamist rival Moqtada al-Sadr was seeking to undermine him. So in March 2008, Maliki hopped into his motorcade and led an Iraqi army charge against Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. With no planning, logistics, intelligence, air cover or political support from Iraq’s other leaders, Maliki picked a fight with an Iranian-backed militia that had stymied the U.S. military since 2003.

Locked in the ambassador’s office for several hours, Crocker, Petraeus, the general’s aide and I pored over the political and military options and worked the phones with Maliki and his ministers in Basra. We feared that Maliki’s field headquarters would be overrun and he’d be killed, an Iraqi tradition for seizing power. I dialed up Iraq’s Sunni Arab, Shiite Arab and Kurdish leaders so Crocker could urge them to publicly stand behind Maliki. Petraeus ordered an admiral to Basra to lead U.S. Special Operations forces against the Mahdi Army. For days, I received calls from Maliki’s special assistant, Gatah al-Rikabi, urging American airstrikes to level entire city blocks in Basra; I had to remind him that the U.S. military is not as indiscriminate with force as Maliki’s army is.

Although it was a close call, Maliki’s “Charge of the Knights” succeeded. For the first time in Iraq’s history, a Shiite Islamist premier had defeated an Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist militia. Maliki was welcomed in Baghdad and around the world as a patriotic nationalist, and he was showered with praise as he sought to liberate Baghdad’s Sadr City slum from the Mahdi Army just weeks later. During a meeting of the Iraqi National Security Council, attended by Crocker and Petraeus, Maliki blasted his generals, who wanted to take six months to prepare for the attack. “There will be no Iraq in six months!” I recall him saying.

Buoyed by his win in Basra, and with massive U.S. military assistance, Maliki led the charge to retake Sadr City, directing Iraqi army divisions over his mobile phone. Through an unprecedented fusion of American and Iraqi military and intelligence assets, dozens of Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist militant cells were eliminated within weeks. This was the true surge: a masterful civil-military campaign to allow space for Iraqi politicians to reunite by obliterating the Sunni and Shiite armed groups that had nearly driven the country into the abyss.


Maliki ascendant

By the closing months of 2008, successfully negotiating the terms for America’s continued commitment to Iraq became a top White House imperative. But desperation to seal a deal before Bush left office, along with the collapse of the world economy, weakened our hand.

In an ascendant position, Maliki and his aides demanded everything in exchange for virtually nothing. They cajoled the United States into a bad deal that granted Iraq continued support while giving America little more than the privilege of pouring more resources into a bottomless pit. In retrospect, I imagine the sight of American officials pleading with him only fed Maliki’s ego further. After organizing Bush’s final trip to Iraq — where he was attacked with a pair of shoes at Maliki’s news conference celebrating the signing of the bilateral agreements — I left Baghdad with Crocker on Feb. 13, 2009. After more than 2,000 days of service, I was ill, depleted physically and mentally, but hopeful that America’s enormous sacrifices might have produced a positive outcome.

With the Obama administration vowing to end Bush’s “dumb war,” and the continued distraction of the global economic crisis, Maliki seized an opportunity. He began a systematic campaign to destroy the Iraqi state and replace it with his private office and his political party. He sacked professional generals and replaced them with those personally loyal to him. He coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections in March 2010. After the results were announced and Maliki lost to a moderate, pro-Western coalition encompassing all of Iraq’s major ethno-sectarian groups, the judge issued a ruling that awarded Maliki the first chance to form a government, ushering in more tensions and violence.

This was happening amid a leadership vacuum at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. After two months without an ambassador, Crocker’s replacement had arrived in April 2009 while I settled into a new assignment shuttling across Middle East capitals with Petraeus, the new head of U.S. Central Command. But reports from Iraqi and U.S. officials in Baghdad were worrisome. While American troops bled and the global economic crisis flared, the embassy undertook an expensive campaign to landscape the grounds and commission a bar and a soccer field, complementing the existing Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, basketball court, tennis courts and softball field at our billion-dollar embassy. I routinely received complaints from Iraqi and U.S. officials that morale at the embassy was plummeting and that relations between America’s diplomatic and military leadership — so strong in the Crocker-Petraeus era, and so crucial to curtailing Maliki’s worst tendencies and keeping the Iraqis moving forward — had collapsed. Maliki’s police state grew stronger by the day.

In a meeting in Baghdad with a Petraeus-hosted delegation of Council on Foreign Relations members shortly after the 2010 elections, Maliki insisted that the vote had been rigged by the United States, Britain, the United Nations and Saudi Arabia. As we shuffled out of the prime minister’s suite, one stunned executive, the father of an American Marine, turned to me and asked, “American troops are dying to keep that son of a b—- in power?”


With the political crisis dragging on for months, a new ambassador for whom I had worked previously, James Jeffrey, asked me to return to Baghdad to help mediate among the Iraqi factions. Even then, in August 2010, I was shocked that much of the surge’s success had been squandered by Maliki and other Iraqi leaders. Kurds asked how they could justify remaining part of a dysfunctional Iraq that had killed hundreds of thousands of their people since the 1980s. Sunni Arabs — who had overcome internal divisions to form the secular Iraqiya coalition with like-minded Shiite Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians — were outraged at being asked to abdicate the premiership after pummeling al-Qaeda and winning the elections. Even Shiite Islamist leaders privately expressed discomfort with Iraq’s trajectory under Maliki, with Sadr openly calling him a “tyrant.” Worst of all, perhaps, the United States was no longer seen as an honest broker.

After helping to bring him to power in 2006, I argued in 2010 that Maliki had to go. I felt guilty lobbying against my friend Abu Isra, but this was not personal. Vital U.S. interests were on the line. Thousands of American and Iraqi lives had been lost and trillions of dollars had been spent to help advance our national security, not the ambitions of one man or one party. The constitutional process had to be safeguarded, and we needed a sophisticated, unifying, economics-minded leader to rebuild Iraq after the security-focused Maliki crushed the militias and al-Qaeda.

In conversations with visiting White House senior staff members, the ambassador, the generals and other colleagues, I suggested Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi as a successor. A former Baathist, moderate Shiite Islamist and French-educated economist who had served as finance minister, Abdul Mahdi maintained excellent relations with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds as well as with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

On Sept. 1, 2010, Vice President Biden was in Baghdad for the change-of-command ceremony that would see the departure of Gen. Ray Odierno and the arrival of Gen. Lloyd Austin as commander of U.S. forces. That night, at a dinner at the ambassador’s residence that included Biden, his staff, the generals and senior embassy officials, I made a brief but impassioned argument against Maliki and for the need to respect the constitutional process. But the vice president said Maliki was the only option. Indeed, the following month he would tell top U.S. officials, “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” referring to the status-of-forces agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past 2011.

I was not the only official who made a case against Abu Isra. Even before my return to Baghdad, officials including Deputy U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, Odierno, British Ambassador Sir John Jenkins and Turkish Ambassador Murat Özçelik each lobbied strenuously against Maliki, locking horns with the White House, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Maliki’s most ardent supporter, future deputy assistant secretary of state Brett McGurk. Now, with Austin in the Maliki camp as well, we remained at an impasse, principally because the Iraqi leaders were divided, unable to agree on Maliki or, maddeningly, on an alternative.

Our debates mattered little, however, because the most powerful man in Iraq and the Middle East, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was about to resolve the crisis for us. Within days of Biden’s visit to Baghdad, Soleimani summoned Iraq’s leaders to Tehran. Beholden to him after decades of receiving Iran’s cash and support, the Iraqis recognized that U.S. influence in Iraq was waning as Iranian influence was surging. The Americans will leave you one day, but we will always remain your neighbors, Soleimani said, according to a former Iraqi official briefed on the meeting.

After admonishing the feuding Iraqis to work together, Soleimani dictated the outcome on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader: Maliki would remain premier; Jalal Talabani, a legendary Kurdish guerilla with decades-long ties to Iran, would remain president; and, most important, the American military would be made to leave at the end of 2011. Those Iraqi leaders who cooperated, Soleimani said, would continue to benefit from Iran’s political cover and cash payments, but those who defied the will of the Islamic Republic would suffer the most dire of consequences.


Washington’s choice

I was determined not to let an Iranian general who had murdered countless American troops dictate the endgame for the United States in Iraq. By October, I was pleading with Ambassador Jeffrey to take steps to avert this outcome. I said that Iran was intent on forcing the United States out of Iraq in humiliation and that a divisive, sectarian government in Baghdad headed by Maliki would almost certainly lead to another civil war and then an all-out regional conflict. This might be averted if we rebuffed Iran by forming a unity government around a nationalist alternative such as Abdul Mahdi. It would be extremely difficult, I acknowledged, but with 50,000 troops still on the ground, the United States remained a powerful player. The alternative was strategic defeat in Iraq and the Middle East writ large. To my surprise, the ambassador shared my concerns with the White House senior staff, asking that they be relayed to the president and vice president, as well as the administration’s top national security officials.

Desperate to avert calamity, I used every bit of my political capital to arrange a meeting for Jeffrey and Antony Blinken, Biden’s national security adviser and senior Iraq aide, with one of Iraq’s top grand ayatollahs. Using uncharacteristically blunt language, the Shiite cleric said he believed that Ayad Allawi, who had served as an interim prime minister in 2004-05, and Abdul Mahdi were the only Shiite leaders capable of uniting Iraq. Maliki, he said, was the prime minister of the Dawa party, not of Iraq, and would drive the country to ruin.

But all the lobbying was for naught. By November, the White House had settled on its disastrous Iraq strategy. The Iraqi constitutional process and election results would be ignored, and America would throw its full support behind Maliki. Washington would try to move Talabani aside and install Allawi as a consolation prize to the Iraqiya coalition.


The next day, I appealed again to Blinken, Jeffrey, Austin, my embassy colleagues and my bosses at Central Command, Gen. Jim Mattis and Gen. John Allen, and warned that we were making a mistake of historic proportions. I argued that Maliki would continue to consolidate power with political purges against his rivals; Talabani would never step aside after fighting Hussein for decades and taking his chair; and the Sunnis would revolt again if they saw that we betrayed our promises to stand by them after the Awakening’s defeat of al-Qaeda.

Mattis and Allen were sympathetic, but the Maliki supporters were unmoved. The ambassador dispatched me to Jordan to meet with a council of Iraq’s top Sunni leaders, with the message that they needed to join Maliki’s government. The response was as I expected. They would join the government in Baghdad, they said, but they would not allow Iraq to be ruled by Iran and its proxies. They would not live under a Shiite theocracy and accept continued marginalization under Maliki. After turning their arms against al-Qaeda during the Awakening, they now wanted their share in the new Iraq, not to be treated as second-class citizens. If that did not happen, they warned, they would take up arms again.

Catastrophe followed. Talabani rebuffed White House appeals to step down and instead turned to Iran for survival. With instructions from Tehran, Maliki began to form a cabinet around some of Iran’s favorite men in Iraq. Hadi al-Amiri, the notorious Badr Brigade commander, became transportation minister, controlling strategically sensitive sea, air and land ports. Khudair Khuzaie became vice president, later serving as acting president. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Dawa party mastermind behind the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait in 1983, became an adviser to Maliki and his neighbor in the Green Zone. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Sadrist detainees were released. And Maliki purged the National Intelligence Service of its Iran division, gutting the Iraqi government’s ability to monitor and check its neighboring foe.

America’s Iraq policy was soon in tatters. Outraged by what it perceived as American betrayal, the Iraqiya bloc fractured along ethno-sectarian lines, with leaders scrambling for government positions, lest they be frozen out of Iraq’s lucrative patronage system. Rather than taking 30 days to try to form a government, per the Iraqi constitution, the Sunni Arab leaders settled for impressive-sounding posts with little authority. Within a short span, Maliki’s police state effectively purged most of them from politics, parking American-supplied M1A1 tanks outside the Sunni leaders’ homes before arresting them. Within hours of the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December 2011, Maliki sought the arrest of his longtime rival Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, eventually sentencing him to death in absentia. The purge of Finance Minister Rafea al-Essawi followed a year later.

Maliki never appointed a permanent, parliament-confirmed interior minister, nor a defense minister, nor an intelligence chief. Instead, he took the positions for himself. He also broke nearly every promise he made to share power with his political rivals after they voted him back into office through parliament in late 2010.

He also abrogated the pledges he made to the United States. Per Iran’s instructions, he did not move forcefully at the end of 2011 to renew the Security Agreement , which would have permitted American combat troops to remain in Iraq. He did not dissolve his Office of the Commander in Chief, the entity he has used to bypass the military chain of command by making all commanders report to him. He did not relinquish control of the U.S.-trained Iraqi counterterrorism and SWAT forces, wielding them as a praetorian guard. He did not dismantle the secret intelligence organizations, prisons and torture facilities with which he has bludgeoned his rivals. He did not abide by a law imposing term limits, again calling upon kangaroo courts to issue a favorable ruling. And he still has not issued a new and comprehensive amnesty that would have helped quell unrest from previously violent Shiite and Sunni Arab factions that were gradually integrating into politics.

In short, Maliki’s one-man, one-Dawa-party Iraq looks a lot like Hussein’s one-man, one-Baath Party Iraq. But at least Hussein helped contain a strategic American enemy: Iran. And Washington didn’t spend $1 trillion propping him up. There is not much “democracy” left if one man and one party with close links to Iran control the judiciary, police, army, intelligence services, oil revenue, treasury and the central bank. Under these circumstances, renewed ethno-sectarian civil war in Iraq was not a possibility. It was a certainty.


I resigned in protest on Dec. 31, 2010. And now, with the United States again becoming entangled in Iraq, I feel a civic and moral obligation to explain how we reached this predicament.

The crisis now gripping Iraq and the Middle East was not only predictable but predicted — and preventable. By looking the other way and unconditionally supporting and arming Maliki, President Obama has only lengthened and expanded the conflict that President Bush unwisely initiated. Iraq is now a failed state, and as countries across the Middle East fracture along ethno-sectarian lines, America is likely to emerge as one of the biggest losers of the new Sunni-Shiite holy war, with allies collapsing and radicals plotting another 9/11.

Maliki’s most ardent American supporters ignored the warning signs and stood by as an Iranian general decided Iraq’s fate in 2010. Ironically, these same officials are now scrambling to save Iraq, yet are refusing to publicly condemn Maliki’s abuses and are providing him with arms that he can use to wage war against his political rivals.


Sinclair forming drone partnership with Ohio State

Jul 7, 2014, 9:20am EDT

Joe Cogliano

Senior Reporter-

Dayton Business Journal


Sinclair Community College and The Ohio State University will team up to work on the booming unmanned aerial systems industry.

The schools called a press conference on Monday morning in Dayton to unveil the partnership. It centers on developing a pathway from existing Sinclair UAS certificate and future UAS associate degree programs into Ohio State’s data analytics and geospatial precision agriculture programs.

Additionally, Ohio State students will have the opportunity to take general education courses and complete UAS technical courses at Sinclair, thereby earning a UAS certificate or degree through Sinclair.

The emerging UAS industry is expected to draw $90 billion in investments during the next decade and this latest partnership should help the Dayton region bolster its position.

Sinclair and Ohio State also plan to expand upon existing UAS resources in airspace by seeking a certificate of authorization to fly over OSU’s Don Scott Airport and the Molly Caren Agricultural Facility to provide new and innovative precision agriculture programming.

A recent report by the Office of the Inspector General puts the active certificates of authorization (COAs) in the nation at about 300. Sinclair has six; three each at Wilmington Air Park and Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, and it’s looking to secure several more, including at the National Center for Medical Readiness in Fairborn.

Sinclair recently received $4 million in state funding to renovate and expand its physical location on the Dayton campus to support the mission of the National Center for UAS Training and Education.

The college has had a significant uptick in unmanned aerial system flights with about 70 flights in May and June of this year, a 90 percent increase from the same time in 2013. Last year, the school completed 100 UAS flights — and it’s close to surpassing that number already this year.


Success! Private Team Fires 36-Year-Old NASA Probe’s Engines

By Elizabeth Howell, Contributor

July 03, 2014 02:58pm ET


An old NASA spacecraft under the control of a private team fired its thrusters yesterday (July 2) for the first time in a generation.

NASA’s International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 probe (ISEE-3), which the agency retired in 1997, performed the maneuver in preparation for a larger trajectory correction next week. The spacecraft hadn’t fired its engines since 1987, ISEE-3 Reboot Project team members said.

It took several attempts and days to perform the roll maneuver because ISEE-3 was not responding to test commands. But this time, controllers got in touch. They increased the roll rate from 19.16 revolutions per minute to 19.76 RPM, putting it within mission specifications for trajectory corrections.

“All in all, a very good day,” co-leader Keith Cowing wrote in a blog post on the ISEE-3 Reboot Project’s website.

Cowing and his group are now gathering data from the spacecraft to get ready for its next contact with the Deep Space Network, a collection of NASA dishes the team is renting to get precise information on ISEE-3’s location.

The next step will be to change the spacecraft’s trajectory, which will likely happen next week, Cowing added. That might happen on Tuesday (July 7), the group said in a Twitter post.

With the help of over $150,000 raised via crowdfunding, the team reactivated the hibernating spacecraft a few weeks ago. ISEE-3 ceased operations in 1997 following a 19-year career that saw it perform a variety of missions, such as observing the sun and chasing comets.

The recent maneuvers were commanded using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, through a command center in California. While the group is made up heavily of former NASA employees, the ISEE-3 Reboot Project pointed out that isn’t true of all of its team.

“Some of our team members were not even born yet the last time the engines fired,” the team said via Twitter, giving that date as Feb. 2, 1987.

ISEE-3 needs to be moved to put it in an advantageous position to communicate with Earth. In past interviews with, Cowing has said the group will focus on what to use the spacecraft for after rescuing it. Another priority will be seeing how well its 13 scientific instruments function.

At least one instrument, the magnetometer, is working well enough to do science. “Recent magnetometer data shows recent solar event,” the team said via Twitter on Wednesday (July 1).


Federal fund goes broke, forcing states to hit brakes on road projects

Jul. 7, 2014 – 06:00AM |

By Adrienne Lu Pew/Stateline |         


Instead of shifting into high gear during what is normally the peak of construction season, state transportation departments around the country are easing off the gas pedal as the federal Highway Trust Fund barrels toward insolvency sometime next month.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund, which allocated $37 billion to the states for highway projects in the fiscal year that ends September 30, will run out of money in August unless Congress can come up with a solution before then. (The mass transit account of the fund is in slightly better shape, but not by much.)

In the absence of intervention by Congress, federal officials plan to implement cash management procedures beginning August 1 that would mean reduced payments to states along with delays in reimbursements.


For the states, which rely heavily on the federal funds to maintain, improve and build roads, bridges and rail projects and bicycle and pedestrian facilities, the situation could spell serious trouble in an area that directly impacts both public safety and economic development. Given the uncertainty over the federal funding, a number of states have delayed projects to avoid getting stuck with bills they can’t pay or starting projects they can’t finish.


States received anywhere from 14.9 percent (New York) to 58.9 percent (Montana) of their total highway and transit funding from the federal government in fiscal year 2011, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew funds Stateline). Nearly half the states (24) received a third or more of their highway and transit funding from federal sources.

Nearly all of that federal money comes from the Highway Trust Fund. Created in 1956 to finance the new interstate highway system, the fund relies on a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon and a diesel tax of 24.4 cents per gallon. The taxes have not been raised since 1993, and inflation has eroded their value. Increased fuel efficiency, decreased driving and the recession have also helped to deplete the trust fund. Since 2008, Congress has funneled $55 billion from the general fund into the Highway Trust Fund to make up the difference between spending and revenues.

Tony Dorsey, a spokesman for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said that if the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money, some states will not be able to move forward with projects they had planned to build this year while others may not be able to pay contractors for work that has already been done.


“For some states, it’s very dire,” Dorsey said.



One of the states that will be hardest hit is Arkansas, which received 45 percent of its highway and transit funding from the federal government in fiscal year 2011.

“We’ve probably got up to $120 million in projects in Arkansas that we could have gone to bid with that we can’t go to bid with now because there’s no guarantee that we’ll be reimbursed,” said Rep. Jonathan Barnett, a Republican from Siloam Springs. Barnett, who chairs the House transportation committee, previously served as chairman of the state highway commission.

Arkansas has the 12th largest highway system in the country but ranks 44th in federal and state revenues to support the system. In 2012, voters there approved a half-cent general sales tax increase for a major highway improvement program, expected to raise $1.8 billion over 10 years. In 2011, voters cleared the way for the state to borrow $1.2 billion for an interstate rehabilitation program.

Arkansas has identified $750 million in already-approved projects that rely on federal money. Now, before contracts are bid, the state highway and transportation department has to determine whether its cash flow will enable it to pay the contractors.

The state wants to complete work on any project that has already begun, make sure it maintains enough cash on hand to pay off debt service, and ensure that any employees who are paid out of federal funds can keep their jobs, said Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. In April, the state decided to hold back 10 projects with a total cost of about $60 million. More projects are likely to be delayed as the year goes on.



In Rhode Island, which relies on about $200 million a year in federal funds to plan, build and maintain the state’s transportation infrastructure, the transportation department has temporarily halted nearly all new highway construction projects to ensure sufficient funds for projects that are already underway, including the Providence Viaduct, which takes I-95 through the city.

But in the long term, the state will need to find some other source of transportation funding if the federal money falls through.


About 60 percent of the state’s roads are rated fair or worse, according to the transportation department. Twenty percent of the state’s bridges are in poor condition. Of the 15 bridges that become deficient each year, only 10 can be repaired at current funding levels. Without any changes, 40 percent of the state’s bridges would be structurally deficient by 2024.

“It cannot be overstated that [Highway Trust Fund] insolvency would be crippling for Rhode Island,” Michael P. Lewis, director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation wrote to the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works in March. Lewis added that the insolvency could put smaller contractors out of business and place stress on the transportation corridor between New York City and Boston.



Missouri, which received 47 percent of its highway and transit dollars from the federal government in fiscal 2011, was among the earliest states to take action in anticipation of the projected Highway Trust Fund shortfall. In January, Missouri’s highways and transportation commission voted not to add any projects this year to the state’s five-year transportation improvement program. In a typical year, the state adds between 300 and 500 projects. The commission is now considering adding 25 projects, most with significant safety components.

“It’s serious because typically transportation projects take a long time to develop, to be designed and constructed,” said Bob Brendel, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation. “Instead of being able to make strategic decisions, sometimes we’re forced to make reactive decisions and that’s not the best way to build infrastructure that lasts for decades.”

It costs the state $485 million annually simply to maintain the current transportation infrastructure, said Brendel. For fiscal year 2015, the state construction budget for transportation stands at $720 million, down from $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2009. By fiscal year 2017, the state anticipates having only $325 million to work with. Meanwhile, aging infrastructure means maintenance costs continue to grow, even as the public clamors for things like bicycle and pedestrian facilities in urban areas and four-lane divided highways and road shoulders in rural areas.

“Our ability to do new projects is almost eliminated,” Brendel said. “We’re going to be in virtually a maintenance-only mode, and even that is short of what we need to maintain our system.”

Missouri is among the states hoping to shore up its own transportation funding. In August, voters will decide whether to add three-fourths of a cent to the 4.225 percent state sales tax to be dedicated to transportation, which would raise about $530 million annually.

Bill McKenna, a former chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, now serves as co-chairman of Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which is advocating for the ballot measure. McKenna said he reminds residents that the state maintains 34,000 roads, and that the state has over 10,000 bridges, about 1,500 of which need repairs.

But around the country, most states are shying away from large transportation projects this year, after a number of significant increases the year before.

A number of proposals – some short-term, some long – have been floated to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, all of which will face political hurdles.

McKenna, from Missouri, said he’s not holding his breath for Congress to come up with a real and lasting solution.

“We’ve kind of given up that anything will happen other than to kick the can down the road longer, so if you want to do anything you’d better do it yourself,” McKenna said.


5 things you need to know about the immigration crisis

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN

updated 9:59 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014


Source: CNN

Washington (CNN) — Partisan hyperbole has ratcheted up as the Obama administration grapples with thousands of young undocumented immigrants surging the U.S.-Mexico border and facing angry protesters on the way to overcrowded detention centers.

Republicans blame President Barack Obama for exacerbating the problem. They say the policy of temporarily deferring deportations of children sent a signal to thousands of kids fleeing poverty and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that they could stay in America.

Immigrant children tread treacherous political landscape

And even one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose Texas district borders where immigrant children cross the Rio Grande Valley, feels Obama has been “one step behind.”

Obama and many Democrats say House Republicans are to blame for rejecting Senate-passed immigration reform last year without coming up with their own plan.

And in the latest development on Monday, the White House said most children involved probably won’t be allowed to stay in the country.

Beyond the bickering, both sides have valid points, immigration policy and law experts say. Here’s a reality check.

1. Why is this happening? Unaccompanied minors have been trekking to the United States in steadily increasing numbers since 2012, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Over roughly the past year or so, however, both the numbers and home countries shifted dramatically. Where previously Mexican children made up the bulk of them, a surge more recently from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has been seen.

“In reality, there is no single cause. Instead, a confluence of different pull and push factors has contributed to the upsurge,” the institute’s analysis found. “Recent U.S. policies toward unaccompanied children, faltering economies and rising crime and gang activity in Central American countries, the desire for family reunification, and changing operations of smuggling networks have all converged.”

An administration program that defers the deportation of children brought in illegally by their parents or guardians has also had unintended consequences, immigration policy and law experts say.

Although most children pouring over the border now would not qualify for “amnesty,” drug smugglers have used misperceptions about the program to entice kids with the promise of “permisos,” or a pass to stay in America, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told a congressional committee recently.

Inaction by the House on immigration reform has also exacerbated the problem, experts say.

Such reforms would help stabilize employment prospects for immigrants who left their kids behind. As a result, those children might not feel as compelled to flee, experts say.


2. Should government have seen it coming?: Yes.

Last year, federal agencies noticed an uptick in minors crossing the border — particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, according to a report from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

The same agencies have also realized those “children present unique operational challenges” for Border Patrol and Health and Human Services. The administration was also aware that it couldn’t simply deport them.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law and reauthorized several times during President George W. Bush’s administration set guidelines on how to best handle unaccompanied immigrant children.

In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services was authorized to take over the care of kids, which includes helping meet their health and legal needs, no later than 72 hours after being picked up by the Border Patrol.

At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last month, federal officials said they were having difficulties meeting the 72-hour hand off.

The administration has asked Congress to give the Border Patrol more leeway in deportation decisions but doing so is murky, immigration advocates say, since it involves a young and vulnerable population.


3. What’s being done now? Obama is vowing to act on his own and use his executive authority to sidestep the House, changes some proponents say could help address the problem.

Should Obama use the power of his pen to turn the tide on immigration reform?

Obama has discussed Mexico’s role with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Vice President Joe Biden brainstormed strategies with Central American leaders in Guatemala.

Johnson also will travel to Guatemala this summer and he made a public service announcement in Spanish and English last month aimed at Central American parents.

He stressed sending children to smugglers who sneak them across the border is dangerous and illegal.

Immigration officials also released graphic ads over the weekend with the same message. There is also an effort against drug cartel smuggling rings, and consideration of deploying more Border Patrol agents.


Is immigration reform dead?

White House to spend millions to curb undocumented children crossing border

Obama will request more than $2 billion from Congress to help deal with the problem.

Though now, the administration plans to spend roughly $100 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to help the immigrant children get back home and stay there.

It also setting aside $161.5 million this year for programs designed to help Central American countries respond to “pressing security and governance challenges.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the “law will be enforced.”

This means children who have been apprehended “will go through the immigration court process” and it’s unlikely that most who do so “will qualify” to stay in the country.


4. Would an immigration bill have prevented this? Perhaps, immigration law and policy experts say.

Obama likes to blame the House for not passing a Senate immigration bill that also included a path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million of the more than 11 million undocumented workers in the country.

Those reforms would have helped immigrant families become more economically stable. Those parents, in turn, would have more money to send back home which, as a result, would help eliminate the type of poverty affected kids experience.


5. Will Obama go to the border? He is in Texas for fundraisers and for an economy event this week. However, White House officials say he has no plans to visit the border now.

The White House feels that things are in hand. “The President is very aware of the situation that exists on the southwest border,” Earnest said, noting that other officials have traveled there and what they’ve seen “is troubling.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has loudly called for Obama to visit the border.


Congress has little time to finalize VA, defense bills

Jul. 7, 2014 – 02:33PM |

By Leo Shane III

Staff writer

Congress returns from its July Fourth vacation to a long list of high-profile, unfinished defense business and a short legislative calendar before the November elections.

The new Veterans Affairs Department reform bill, the annual defense appropriation bill, the annual defense authorization bill, and funding for military construction and VA operations for fiscal 2015 are all on lawmakers’ immediate to-do list — in between more briefings on the situation in Iraq and other overseas threats.

But Congress is scheduled to be in session only 28 days before breaking in August, and likely will return for only a week or two in the September/October time frame before the November midterm elections. That 28-day total also includes 10 Mondays and Fridays, days which at best feature a light schedule of work under normal circumstances.

Here’s a look at what might and might not get completed before the late-fall lame-duck session:


VA reforms

Spurred by the ongoing controversies in the department, VA reform legislation has the best chance of any defense or veterans measure to pass quickly in July.

The legislation would expand private­care options for veterans who face lengthy waits to see VA doctors or live in rural areas, and make it easier to fire underperforming VA executives.

Leaders in the House and Senate have expressed support for the idea, and members of a conference committee met before the July Fourth break to begin finalizing the bill.

Cost appears to be the only major stumbling block left. A Congressional Budget Office estimate in early June said the expanded care could require up to $50 billion a year in new spending, but Senate supporters have called that a ridiculous overestimate.


Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, has said that representatives on the conference committee will push for spending offsets to prevent the bill from adding to the federal budget deficit. To do that, he said new, more accurate spending estimates are needed, which could slow the process.

But Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, has promised that delay won’t drag on for weeks. He originally predicted the measure would be finished before July 1, and is now vowing to get it to President Obama’s desk in early July.


Defense authorization bill

The House has already approved its version of the annual defense policy bill, and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are hopeful they can bring their draft to the Senate floor in the next few weeks.

Whether that means they can reconcile differences in the two measures before the end of the fiscal year is another issue.

Both versions reject Pentagon plans to overhaul Tricare fees, trim the commissary benefit and reduce housing allowances. The House draft offers moral support — but no hard mandate — for a 1.8 percent basic pay raise next year, while the Senate agrees with the 1 percent pay increase preferred by the White House. Both measures would preserve the Air Force’s A-10 fleet, but differ in how they would pay for it.

Before the chambers can talk about negotiating differences, the full Senate must pass its version. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, still has not scheduled floor debate on the measure, although the Senate Armed Services Committee has been pushing for it since late May.

Committee chairmen Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and his House counterpart, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., have expressed optimism about finishing the legislation before Oct. 1, a rare occurrence even outside an election year. The short time frame remaining will make that nearly impossible.


Appropriations bills

Still, the defense authorization bill has a better chance of being completed than the accompanying defense appropriations bill.

The House already has approved a $570 billion defense spending plan, but the Senate Appropriations Committee won’t mark up its version until July 17. That will leave just a few legislative days to get the measure to the Senate floor, an unlikely rush for a budget bill.

In addition, the White House on June 26 sent its first draft of the proposed overseas contingency budget for fiscal 2015, totaling nearly $66 billion. Lawmakers have just begun digging into that request, which includes $1.5 billion in aid to Iraq and its neighbors “to promote internal stability” in the region.

Meanwhile, the VA appropriations bills are in the same legislative limbo. The House approved a $158 billion spending plan for the department in April, but a similar budget proposal is stalled in the Senate.

Despite early work on the measures, most Hill staffers assume that finalizing the appropriations bills will be part of the lame-duck session, with an eye toward the new lawmakers coming into office in 2015.




Chinese hackers switched targets to U.S. experts on Iraq

Deep Panda targeted think tank experts as China’s government worried about oil investments in Iraq during Sunni rebellion

By Gregg Keizer | Computerworld US | Published 07:40, 08 July 14


A sophisticated Chinese hacker group that had been stealing information from U.S. policy experts on nearby Southeast Asia suddenly changed targets last month to focus on the Middle East — Iraq, in particular — security researchers said Monday.

The group, called “Deep Panda,” switched from exploiting one area of expertise to another because of the march of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) towards Baghdad, and the collapse of Iraq’s security forces in the north and west of the country.

“The networks [of the think tanks] had been previously compromised, but Deep Panda pivoted to target systems and individuals with ties to the Middle East and Iraq,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and CTO of CrowdStrike, an Irvine, Calif. security company, of the overnight switch. The shift in Deep Panda’s targeting happened on June 18, the day that ISIS began to attack the strategically important oil refinery at Baiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

China is the largest foreign investor in Iraqi oil fields, and draws about 10% of its oil imports from the country. Most of China’s oil investments, however, are in southern Iraq.

The ISIS’ quick gains and China’s large stake in Iraq were behind the targeting changes, Alperovitch said. Deep Panda’s switch made clear that China’s government wanted to know what policy makers here thought was happening in Iraq and what military moves the U.S. might make to stabilize the situation.

President Barack Obama ended up sending several hundred military advisors to Iraq last month.

CrowdStrike, which has tracked Deep Panda for three years, believes the group either works for or is actually funded by the Chinese government. “It’s an intelligence operation, with a very far and wide collection mission to keep policy makers in China informed,” said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike.

“This shows how much control [the Chinese government] has over this group,” added Alperovitch, of the sudden targeting shift.

“It was representative of a new priority” of Deep Panda’s controllers or sponsors, echoed Meyers.

Deep Panda has successfully infiltrated technology companies, legal firms, policy think tanks and human rights organizations in part because of its advanced tradecraft, said Meyers. Once inside a network, the gang often uses Windows’ native tools for as much of its work as possible, part of an attempt to keep a low profile and escape detection by security software.

“It’s one of the best groups out of China in tradecraft,” said Alperovitch, “because it’s not using techniques that can be easily viewed.” CrowdStrike currently tracks about 30 hacker groups based in China.

Deep Panda often mines the contacts of policy experts, including those still in government, to craft more convincing emails aimed at those latter officials, in the hope that a click will compromise their PCs, said CrowdStrike.

The company was able to sniff out Deep Panda’s targeting switch because it has provided dozens of think tanks and human rights organizations with its Falcon Host technology free of charge. Falcon Host, said Alperovitch and Meyers, gives network administrators a virtual over-the-shoulder view of hackers’ moves in real time, and provides the kind of forensics information that typically takes weeks or months of painstaking research to collect.

Alperovitch declined to name the think tanks that had been targeted by Deep Panda when it shifted its aim at experts in the Middle East and Iraq.


Report: Chinese hacked into the federal government’s personnel office OPM

By Fred Barbash
July 9 at 11:42 PM


Chinese hackers penetrated the databases of the federal government’s personnel office, which contains files on all federal employees, including thousands who have applied for top-secret clearances, the New York Times reported Wednesday night.

The paper said the attack on the Office of Personnel Management occurred in March before it was detected and blocked. It quoted a “senior Department of Homeland Security official” confirming the attack, and saying that “at this time” the government had not “identified any loss of personally identifiable information.”

The Times also quoted an “unnamed senior American official” saying the attack had been traced to China, though not necessarily to the government of China.

According to the Times:

The intrusion at the Office of Personnel Management was particularly disturbing because it oversees a system called e-QIP, in which federal employees applying for security clearances enter their most personal information, including financial data. Federal employees who have had security clearances for some time are often required to update their personal information through the website.

The agencies and the contractors use the information from e-QIP to investigate the employees and ultimately determine whether they should be granted security clearances, or have them updated.

Homeland Security officials did not immediately return requests for comment from The Washington Post Wednesday night.

Cyber espionage — the United States against China and China against the United States — has become a source of constant tension between the U.S. and Chinese governments. Reports based on documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency penetrated the computer systems of Huawei, the Chinese firm that makes computer network equipment, and operated programs to intercept conversations of Chinese officials.

In May, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the indictments of five Chinese Peoples Liberation Army members on charges of hacking to benefit Chinese industry. They were accused of hacking into computers and stealing valuable trade secrets from leading steel, nuclear plant and solar power firms. It marked the first time that the United States has leveled such criminal charges against a foreign country.

Designs for many of the nation’s most sensitive advanced weapons systems have been compromised by Chinese hackers, according to a report prepared last year for the Pentagon and officials from government and the defense industry.

Among more than two dozen major weapons systems whose designs were breached were programs critical to U.S. missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships, according to the confidential report prepared for Pentagon leaders by the Defense Science Board.

Experts said recently that Chinese cyber-spies have been systematically targeting major Washington institutions, including think tanks and law firms. Middle East experts at major U.S. think tanks were hacked by Chinese cyberspies in recent weeks as events in Iraq began to escalate, according to a cybersecurity firm that works with the institutions.

The hacking goes back years. In 2006, hackers in China broke into the State Department’s computer system in Washington and overseas in search of information, passwords and other data. The bureau that deals with China and North Korea was hit particularly hard, although the system penetrated contained unclassified information, U.S. officials said.

The Times said the attack on OPM was “notable because while hackers try to breach United States government servers nearly every day, they rarely succeed.”


US Navy to Congress: We Can’t Guarantee a Safe Nuclear Fleet

Jul. 9, 2014 – 02:19PM | By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS | Comments


Letter to Congress

July 7, 2014


Dear Mr. Chairman:

We write today to express our strong concern over proposed cuts to Naval Reactors ‘ (NR’s) portion of the FY15 National Nuclear Security Administration budget request.

Our Navy and our national security rely on a nuclear Fleet of 10 aircraft carriers and 73 submarines, including our 14 OHIO-Class ballistic missile submarines — over 40 percent of our major combatants. These warships form the backbone of our Navy, enabled by the 93 reactors that power them — reactors provided, operated, and regulated solely by NR. NR has been doing this for our nation for over 60 years, compiling over 166 million miles safely steamed on nuclear power — it is an unmatched record of safety and effectiveness.

The funding level proposed in H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, proposes reducing NR’s funding below the request by $162 million which places operation of that nuclear Fleet including sustained carrier operations and the nation’s security at risk. If enacted, this would be the fifth consecutive year of significant marks to NR’s requests for funding. To date, these reductions below requested levels have totaled over $450 million; this bill would bring that total to well over $600 million. These shortfalls have resulted in delaying the construction of needed facilities, effectively halting research and development, and deferring procurement of equipment needed to address emergent fleet issues. The persistent cuts have put NR in the position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet, design and test the reactor plant for the OHIO Replacement Program, and safely and responsibly manage aging infrastructure and the facilities for processing naval spent nuclear fuel. This approach is no longer sustainable.


Moreover, the bill includes a number of provisions on the use of funds, continuing a trend that reduces NR’s ability to manage the Program consistent with the priorities of safe and reliable operation of the fleet.

As the Committee moves forward with H.R. 4923, we respectfully ask that you consider full funding for NR at the FY15 budget request and removal of restrictive provisions on the expenditure of funds. This is essential for continued operation of the nation’s nuclear-powered fleet now and into the future.



Admiral, U.S. Navy Admiral, U.S. Navy


Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Chief of Naval Operations


WASHINGTON — Fighting back at repeated budget cuts to its nuclear power budget requests, two of the US Navy’s top leaders warned Congress on Monday that the cuts can’t go on.

“This approach is no longer sustainable,” wrote Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, and Adm. John Richardson, commander of Naval Reactors (NR), the entity responsible for all aspects of the Navy’s nuclear power program. They sent the letter to chairmen and ranking members of multiple House and Senate committees.

“The persistent cuts have put NR in the position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet, design and test the reactor plant for the Ohio Replacement Program, and safely and responsibly manage aging infrastructure and the facilities for processing naval spent nuclear fuel,” Greenert and Richardson wrote.

At issue are more proposed cuts to NR’s portion of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) 2015 budget request. NNSA’s budget includes naval reactors, nuclear weapons activities and defense nuclear nonproliferation.

Over the past four years, Greenert and Richardson wrote, Congress has funded the account a total of $450 million below the budget requests. Another cut this year of $162 million would bring the total cuts to more than $600 million.

“These shortfalls have resulted in delaying the construction of needed facilities, effectively halting research and development, and deferring procurement of equipment needed to address emergent fleet issues,” Greenert and Richardson wrote.

As reported out June 20 by the House Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015 cuts the total NNSA request by $296 million, to $11.4 billion.

NR’s portion is $1.2 billion, $162 million below the budget request.

While not calling out the 2015 budget request, the House Appropriations Committee, in its June report accompanying the bill, said it “remains concerned about the high year-to-year increases that NR is using for its programmatic planning basis in future years. In order to carry out its plans, NR’s out-year budgets would need to grow dramatically, an unlikely scenario considering the current fiscal environment.”

The committee directs NR to conduct a multi-year review of requirements “to better understand how funding levels below its five-year projections might impact its long-term strategies.”


Attempts to reach spokespersons at Naval Reactors were unsuccessful by Wednesday afternoon.

But Greenert’s spokesman, Capt. Danny Hernandez, noted that, “with further cuts we can’t continue to sustain fleet support and new programs at the same time.”

The submarines and aircraft carriers of the nuclear-powered fleet, he said, continue to be safe despite being funded below stated needs.

“Rest assured, today’s nuclear fleet is operating safely and reliably,” he said.

Copies of the letter were sent to the chairman and ranking members of the House Appropriations and Armed Services committees, the House Energy and Water Appropriations and Defense Appropriations subcommittees, and the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees.



What if Iraqi Military Can’t Defeat ISIL?

Jul. 9, 2014 – 02:24PM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — For the United States, it would be the worst-case scenario: Iraq’s ethnic groups are unable — or unwilling — to form a unity government, and the country’s military is deemed irreparable.

Yet, a senior US senator tells CongressWatch most officials are “excluding” that possible outcome. Experts, however, suggest it could happen.

Senior US military officials have deployed what they are calling “assessment teams” to Iraq to provide President Barack Obama and his top aides with a better picture of the situation.

Administration officials and lawmakers are waiting for those six teams to report back on the state of the largely disbanded Iraqi military, and what it might take to rebuild it.

White House officials, lawmakers and experts say two things are necessary to beat back gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a violent Sunni group that has captured towns and territory in western and northern Iraq in recent weeks.

One is an Iraqi military capable of defeating ISIL’s troops, which are experienced and battle-hardened after years of combat in Iraq against US forces and in Syria’s civil war.

Another is a new political arrangement that tilts less toward embattled Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki and his Shia sect, and encompasses the country’s other major ethnic groups: Sunnis and Kurds.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., was asked Tuesday by reporters if he worries that the US, which already has upped its deployment of combat forces from 300 to nearly 780, is on its way to a much larger military footprint in Iraq.

Levin did not directly address the issue, saying he first wants to review the coming Pentagon assessment of the Iraqi military.

“I think what needs to happen right now is they need to complete that assessment of the capability of the Iraqi Army,” Levin said.


The US military assessment also must measure “whether the Iraqi military is coming together against a common enemy.


“What we do with [ISIL] needs to wait until the assessment is made … of whether or not the Iraqi Army is capable of stopping [ISIL].”

What should happen next if the assessment concludes indigenous forces cannot be rebuilt to a level capable of defeating ISIL or pushing it beyond Iraq’s borders?

“Well, there’s another half: Whether or not the political leaders in Iraq are able to come together to broaden their base, and to do what that government has not yet done: Involve the Sunnis a lot more and unify the country politically,” Levin said.

CongressWatch asked Levin what if the US review concludes the Iraqi military is not up to the job and there is no likelihood of a political arrangement that includes Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.

“I think,” he replied while entering an elevator, “everyone is excluding that possibility.”

Yet, a truly inclusive government in Iraq is no sure thing.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Marwan Muasher warned this week that building that kind of government and society in Iraq “will be painful and slow moving.”

“The situation in Iraq may get worse before it gets better, but in the end, exclusionist policies will never produce a functioning society,” Muasher has written.

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution and Edward Joseph of Johns Hopkins University have gone so far as to propose breaking Iraq into three autonomous regions, one for each ethnic group. Their proposal suggests an inclusive central government cannot be accomplished.

The duo wrote in a recent op-ed that while it “would be difficult to accomplish, federalism could still be a helpful element.

“The fundamental US and European goal in Iraq now is neither an intact Iraq nor a partitioned one. We can live with either outcome,” O’Hanlon and Joseph wrote. “The important objective is the defeat of [ISIL].”

Then there’s the Iraqi Army, which numerous times during ISIL’s June advance threw down their weapons and went home.

A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report summarized the Iraqi military in less-than-inspiring terms.

“The Iraqi army continues to lack adequate logistical and intelligence capabilities,” according to the report, authored by Anthony Cordesman and Sam Khazai. “It suffers from political interference in command positions, the sale of other positions at every level and other forms of corruption, a failure to maintain the facilities and systems transferred by the US, and a host of other issues.”



The Air Force May Have Already Developed Its New Long-Range Bomber


Bob Brewin Nextgov July 9, 2014


While the Air Force is expected to soon issue a request for proposals for its long-range strike bomber, a July 2 Congressional Research Service report made public Tuesday suggests that the service has already developed the aircraft through its classified budget.

The CRS report, obtained and posted online by Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said the projected Air Force budget for the Long Range Strike Bomber jumps more than tenfold, from $258.7 million in 2013 to $3.5 billion in 2019, indicating the program may already be headed for production.

“Aviation analysts and industry officials confirm CRS’s assessment that this funding stream resembles a production program more than a typical development profile. This may indicate that significant LRS-B development has already been completed, presumably in classified budgets,” the report said.

If that’s the case, CRS said, “the Air Force will be challenged to construct a truly competitive RFP.” Northrop Grumman and a Lockheed Martin-Boeing team both have said they plan to bid on the new aircraft.

The CRS report also indicated the new bomber may not even be a single aircraft, but is perhaps several aircraft working together. “Although long-range strike systems are typically thought of as bomber aircraft, the more general description is used because it is not yet clear whether the proposed Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) is to be a single platform or a group of smaller systems working in concert,” CRS reported.

In June, another CRS report described the current bomber fleet as “increasingly irrelevant” and said that only the B-2 could penetrate enemy air defenses.

The current U.S. bomber fleet consists of 76 B-52 aircraft with an average age of 50 years, 63 30-year old B-1 bombers and 20 25-year-old B-2s. “The B-52s and B-1s are currently projected to remain in service through 2040, which would be consistent with a mid-2020s introduction of the first LRS-Bs,” CRS said.

The Air Force plans to buy between 80 and 100 new bombers at a projected cost of $550 million each, or just over one quarter of the cost of the B-2, with each aircraft carrying a $2 billion price tag. CRS said some analysts speculate that the cost of each new bomber could jump to $810 million, or $81 billion total for a 100-plane fleet.


Germany asks top U.S. spy to leave amid flap

By Stephanie Kirchner July 10 at 11:39 AM


BERLIN — The German government has asked the CIA station chief at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin to leave the country, an unusual action between allies that represents a public expression of anger over reported cases of U.S. spying in Germany.

“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the Embassy of the United States of America has been requested to leave Germany,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement Thursday.

A day earlier, federal prosecutors in Germany said police had searched the office and apartment of an individual with ties to the German military who is suspected of working for U.S. intelligence. Those raids followed the arrest of an employee of Germany’s foreign intelligence service who was accused of selling secrets to the CIA.

Seibert said the request for the CIA official’s departure was made “against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations of the Federal Prosecutor General as well as the questions pending for months about the activities of the US intelligence services in Germany, for which the Lower House of Parliament has also established a parliamentary inquiry committee.”

German officials have also been angered by the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of widespread U.S. surveillance in Germany. Among the targets was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, an operation that has since been halted.

“The Federal Government takes these incidents very seriously,” said Seibert. “It remains vital for Germany, in the interest of the security of its citizens and its forces abroad, to cooperate closely and trustfully with western partners, in particular with the USA. To do so, however, mutual trust and openness are necessary. The Federal Government continues to be ready for this and expects the same from its closest partners.”

U.S. officials had no immediate comment on the German government’s action.

“We have seen these reports and have no comment on a purported intelligence matter,” said Catlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “However, our security and intelligence relationship with Germany is a very important one, and it keeps Germans and Americans safe. It is essential that cooperation continue in all areas, and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels.”

For years, Germany has sought to be included in a group of countries with which the United States has a non-espionage pact. Those nations include Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The Obama administration and that of George W. Bush both resisted such entreaties, in part because many U.S. intelligence officials believe that there are too many areas where German and U.S. security interests diverge.

“The Germans do lots and lots of stuff and don’t tell us everything they do,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who worked extensively with Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as the BND. U.S. policymakers turn to the CIA and other agencies for deeper understanding of issues, including whether there are gaps between the two countries in their commitment to efforts to block any nuclear weapons ambitions by Iran, the former official said.

The crackdown may also reflect political dynamics in Germany, where critics of Merkel have taken advantage of the Snowden leaks to cast her as weak for failing to grasp or prevent such extensive U.S. espionage.

The arrest and raids are driven in part by “this business that they want a no-espionage agreement,” said the former U.S. intelligence official. “But it’s also being driven by internal politics” and the perception that the Snowden disclosures “made them look incompetent.”

The arrest and raids in recent days have also generated concern that Germany may not be finished rounding up alleged U.S. spies. After the Snowden leaks, the CIA evaluated operations in Europe and put some on hold because of fears of exposure and ensuing tension with Germany and other allies, a second former U.S. intelligence official said.

The latest developments also exposed an apparent lapse by the CIA in keeping the White House apprised of setbacks in Germany.

A U.S. official acknowledged that when President Obama spoke with Merkel on July 3, he had not been told that a CIA informant had been arrested there the day before, a situation reported by the New York Times. Merkel did not raise the issue during the call.


US Air Force Faces Turbulent Times

Jul. 10, 2014 – 04:35PM | By TOM VANDEN BROOK | Comments


WASHINGTON — Demand for US Air Force spy planes, fighters and bombers from Eastern Europe to the Far East is spiking, and top generals say they’re scrambling to meet commanders’ needs as they struggle with shrinking budgets and keeping old planes flying.

Juggling those tasks comes as Air Force brass seek to move beyond the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and establish their service as the Pentagon’s preeminent player. But some analysts believe the military would be better served if the Air Force focused on helping other services fight.

“Their primary role in the nation’s defense is actually not about air-to-air combat in sexy fighter planes,” Janine Davidson, a military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations and former Air Force pilot and Pentagon official, said in an email. Instead, the Air Force should focus on tasks that help troops fight on the ground: spy planes, drones, medical evacuations, space and cyberwarfare, airlift and refueling.

“So their whole purpose needs to be re-thought,” Davidson said. “It is a cultural thing.”

Top Air Force commanders, however, maintain that adversaries with improving weaponry pose a threat that can’t be ignored, and that air power is the best way to deter them.

“We live in an extremely turbulent world,” Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of Air Force Combat Command, said in a recent interview. “In order to be a player in a turbulent world, you have to be able to step on the world stage. You can’t do that unless you have credibility and capability. We have tremendous credibility but our capability is being eroded away as the budgets continue to do what they do.”


Current threats

To Hostage, credibility and capability come from high-tech weapons like the F-35 fighter, a new bomber and more spy planes. The F-35 Lightning II is a radar-evading warplane being developed for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied nations. At $400 billion, the jet is the most costly weapon in Pentagon history. It has been beset by cost overruns and was grounded earlier this week after fire broke out on one June 23 in Florida.

For commanders in troubled regions, the top priority is for aircraft that collect intelligence and conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR), Hostage said. “They’re (also) asking for high-end fighter capability and for continuous bomber presence.”

Hostage, and his successor at Combat Command, Gen. Herbert Carlisle, currently in command of the Air Force in the Pacific, see the following hot spots:


■ In Eastern Europe where Russian President Vladimir Putin this spring seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and continues to sow unrest in the eastern part of that country. Air Force F-16s and Army paratroopers were sent for exercises in neighboring countries.

“I’m a student of history,” Hostage said. “If you go back and read Hitler’s playbook in 1939 it looks a lot like what Mr. Putin’s up to in Eastern Europe. I don’t see anything that’s coming along that’s going to cause him to diminish his actions. My expectation is that we’re going to have to continue our requirement to support our friends in Europe and NATO.”

■ The Middle East and southwest Asia have conflicts and unstable countries from Syria to Pakistan. The Air Force is now flying manned and unmanned spy planes on 50 missions a day over Iraq, for example, up from 30 a week ago, and few, if any this spring.

■ In the Pacific, China has jostled with Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines over offshore mineral rights and control of islands in the South China and East China Seas. The Air Force is also fortifying its bases and shifting warplanes among them in the region to withstand and retaliate to Chinese missiles, referred to as anti-access, aerial-denial weapons by the Pentagon, according to Carlisle.


Left unchecked, the Chinese could bully smaller countries into acquiescing, Hostage said.

“We’re not going to stand by and let you bully people into things,” Hostage said. “This is about being a present and credible participant in the challenge for influence in the Pacific.”

The vast territory in the Pacific and foes equipped with advanced missiles to shoot down planes, unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, are pressuring the Air Force to field new planes, said Richard Aboulafia, an expert on military aircraft with the Teal Group, a consulting firm.

“The new strategic environment involves great distances, sophisticated defenses, and a huge need to be aware of what friends and potential adversaries are doing,” Aboulafia said. “Therefore, ISR should be a very high priority. This is particularly true given the service’s aging ISR fleets.”


Baggage from the past

To help replace aging surveillance planes like the Cold War-era U-2 and pay for the F-35, the Pentagon wants to retire its fleet of 1970s-vintage A-10 “Warthog” planes. Scrapping the planes in favor of planes that perform multiple missions would save about $3.5 billion. So far, Congress has balked at the move. Some members, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., argue that there are no viable alternatives to Warthog, whose sole mission is firing at enemies attacking U.S. soldiers and Marines on the ground.

“I’ll be told I have to keep the A-10s, but I won’t be given any money to fly them,” Hostage said.

The money to fly them, Hostage and Carlisle said, will come from accounts that pay for training pilots to fly combat missions, because those funds are the easier to tap into than those already obligated to pay for weapons such as the F-35. Last year’s forced across-the-board budget cuts have further squeezed money for training.

The result: Pilots aren’t properly prepared to fight, and their planes continue to age.

“I am truly, truly concerned about readiness,” Carlisle said. “Back when I was a young pilot growing up in the ’80s and ’90s we used to make fun of the Soviet Union because they only flew 100 to 120 hours a year. That’s what our pilots are flying now. It’s pretty startling. We’d like to fly them twice that — 200 to 220 hours is about the right amount.”


Wild blue yonder

The Pentagon’s preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan — unchallenged skies for the most part — allowed the Air Force to get by with older warplanes. Future foes won’t be as forgiving, says Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute and a consultant to defense contractors.

“Much of the Air Force fleet has grown decrepit with age,” Thompson said. “The fighters, bombers, tankers, trainers and radar planes are all in need of replacement. Modernization of Cold War planes has been delayed by the fact that we fought enemies after 9/11 who lacked air forces and air defenses — so buying better planes was not a high priority.”

The Air Force has pinned much of its future on the F-35. It is expected to dominate enemy fighters and support troops on the ground.

Hostage called the F-35 “spectacular” and will continue to improve as more are built and enhanced.

Davidson, the former Pentagon official and pilot, said the Air Force would be better served emphasizing how it helps other services fight rather than boasting about its troubled, expensive fighter plane.

“They might have been in a better place if people understood the vast array of things everyone relies on them for,” Davidson said. “But they don’t manage to tell that story well.”


Pentagon Launches Contest for New Long-Range Bomber

A Defense Department Decision Is Expected Next Spring

By Doug Cameron

July 10, 2014 1:50 p.m. ET

The Defense Department said on Thursday it had launched a contest to develop a new long-range bomber, which is expected to pit Northrop Grumman Corp. against a team led by Boeing Coand Lockheed Martin Corp. for a contract that analysts value up to $80 billion.

A decision is expected next spring on who will build between 80 and 100 bombers that the Pentagon wants to peg at less than $550 million apiece and enter service in the middle of the next decade.

A win for the Boeing team would help alleviate uncertainty over the Chicago-based company’s future in the combat-aircraft business as slowing orders have raised questions about its role in the sector.

The Pentagon has provided few details on the planned bomber, citing national security issues, though officials have stressed a focus on affordability, using as much existing technology as possible to prevent the cost overruns that have dogged other big weapons programs such as the F-35 fighter.

The Defense Department, which dropped an earlier bomber program in 2009 on cost grounds, has been funding research into a replacement for the aging B-52 and B-2 fleets for several years. This has fueled speculation that prototypes already are flying after unidentified aircraft were spotted flying over Texas earlier this year.

The U.S. Air Force has identified the bomber as one of its top three priorities alongside the Lockheed-built F-35 and a new aerial tanker developed by Boeing, securing funding even as the Pentagon’s budget remains under pressure.

A Boeing-Lockheed win would leave all three Air Force priority projects in the hands of its two largest contractors, though Northrop builds the main fuselage in the F-35 and is also one of the Pentagon’s main unmanned aerial systems suppliers.

Boeing and Lockheed announced plans last October to team up for the planned program. Orlando Carvalho, head of Lockheed’s aerospace unit, said in an interview last month that it was pursuing a “best of breed” approach in contributing to the planned bomber and already had “nailed down” with Boeing the role of each company.

Boeing’s recent successes in military aircraft have been based on derivatives of commercial jets, winning the tanker contest and selling its P-8 reconnaissance plane. The company has said it expects to make a decision over the next 10 months about its combat aircraft facilities in St. Louis, with orders for the F/A-18 due to run out by 2017 and the F-15 line having enough business to last until around 2019.

“It’s a very active ongoing effort, very high priority to Boeing,” said company President Dennis Muilenburg of its investment in the bomber program, at an industry event in May.

Northrop officials have played down the need for the company to find a partner, citing its experience as the last U.S. contractor to develop a new bomber, the bat-winged B-2 that first took flight 25 years ago.

“[It is] clearly a class of technology where we have a great legacy and expertise and experience, and we see that as a very meaningful opportunity as we go forward,” said Chief Executive Wes Bush at the same industry conference as Mr. Muilenburg.

Budget pressures saw the B-2 program, which dates back to the late 1970s, cut to just 21 jets from an initial plan of 132.

The emergence of new threats and potential alternatives such as missiles and drones has derailed previous efforts to start replacing the existing fleet, even though the average age of the B-52—the last bomber built mainly by Boeing— has pushed beyond 50 years.


The Coming War with the Caliphate

by Gary Anderson

SWJ Blog Post | July 10, 2014 – 12:34pm


Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his vision of an Islamic caliphate transcending traditional international borders is becoming a reality in the form of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS has transformed itself from a terror group into a viable proto-state with a civil governance arm and a regular army capable of taking and holding cities and defeating the conventional armies of established nation-states. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has declared ISIS a Caliphate with himself as Caliph. This new proto-nation is every bit as dangerous to United States security as was the original al Qaeda infestation in Afghanistan. It now has a former Iraqi chemical weapons production facility and a number of fighters who have U.S. passports. We will have to fight them eventually. That war will not come under this administration, and if it does, any action taken will likely be some feckless combination of airstrikes and halfhearted aid to the Iraqi government; that would be throwing good money after bad at this point.

When that war comes it should not be a counterinsurgency or a series of pinprick counterterrorist strikes merely designed to take out the leadership of ISIS. The capabilities of the new Caliphate have gone far beyond mere insurgency or terrorism. If the Caliphate is to be defeated, it will require a series of ground actions using large combined arms forces to destroy the conventional military forces in the areas where they have gained control. I am not suggesting a refight of the ground war in Iraq. This is not about helping Maliki who has made his own bed, nor is it about helping either the Syrian rebels or the Assad regime in Syria. Those are other sets of issues. The coming war will be about naked U.S. self- interest and eliminating a threat before it coalesces enough to attack us in our homeland. If we buy the Iraqis time to get their act together or help the Syrian moderate rebels by eliminating extremists in the Syrian anti-Assad ranks, it would be icing on the cake, but destroying ISIS’ conventional military capability would be the primary objective.

Why are ground forces needed? Although the armed forces of the new born Caliphate are experienced regulars, they are largely composed of light infantry that can easily blend into the Sunni population. Al Baghdadi knows that tanks and armored vehicles are easy targets for U.S. airpower and will largely eschew them. Armored vehicles are also hard to maintain; at this stage in its development ISIS forces don’t need them. It will take boots on the ground to root out the foreign fighters from the civilian population; an indiscriminant air bombing campaign would make permanent enemies of the Sunni populations of Iraq and Syria that the Islamist forces of the caliphate have infested.

What would such a campaign look like? Each fight would resemble the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, but with one major difference. Once the areas where the conventional military power of the Caliphate are eliminated; we leave. The Syrians and Iraqis will have to sort out the aftermath. We tried nation building and it didn’t work. Once the Caliphate’s conventional military capability to project power and governance institutions have been eliminated, the organization formally known as ISIS will revert back to the status of a non-state terrorist organization.

When will such a campaign be feasible? Probably not under this administration unless Baghdadi and his minions do something so egregious that even Barak Obama cannot ignore it; and even then his administration’s response would probably be ineffectual if past performance, or lack thereof, in any indication. It would be better if action is postponed until an administration with some concept of how to effectively employ military strategy comes along. In this, time is on our side for two reasons. First, jihadist movements tend to turn inward on themselves over time and fight over the spoils once there are spoils worth coveting. Al Qaeda central has already disowned al Baghdadi and the nationalist fissures among the fighters who make up the Caliphate’s military arm have agendas of their own will eventually become restless as will the Sunni populations that have welcomed them as liberators from Shiite dominated governments in Damascus and Baghdad.

A second Caliphate vulnerability that can be exploited is now that they have taken territory the Jihadists have to govern. This means fixed governance and security sites that become fixed targets. Time will also sour the subject Sunnis on the strict imposition of Sharia law. Military theorist William Lind has long advocated letting insurgents win and govern for a while. His theory is that, at least we’ll know where they are.


How to Fix the Government’s Security Clearance Mess

Steve Nguyen July 10, 2014


The federal government’s security clearance process has been under intense scrutiny since last year’s Washington Navy Yard shooting by Aaron Alexis, a Marine Corp contractor with secret-level clearance and Edward Snowden’s unprecedented leak of classified information. In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pledged to correct “gaps or inadequacies in the department’s security” that could facilitate these types of incidents. If the federal government applied the same sort of risk analysis tools that insurance companies perform when they take on new clients, we could remove internal threats and maintain the safety of federal employees and government contractors.

The secretary’s announcement came shortly after the Obama administration released recommendations for changing the security clearance process for government employees and contractors following an extensive review by the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB. The administration called for better background investigations and continuous evaluation of the 5.1 million people who hold security clearances, including confidential, secret or top secret.

Under the current system, federal employees granted ‘confidential’ clearance are re-checked every 15 years. Security clearances at the secret level are reviewed only 10 years. A top secret clearance is reviewed only every five years . But major life changes can occur within any 5, 10- or even 1-year timeframe, such as bankruptcy, liens or financial troubles, arrests, criminal activity, undue foreign sympathy or influence, marital status changes and drug abuse that can affect an individual’s stability.

Clearance holders are required by law to self-report these changes, but very rarely does that happen. Because of lengthy periods between reinvestigations, red flags in an employee’s background go unnoticed and troubling gaps in the security clearance process pose serious internal threats. In fact, Hagel’s review found that threats to military and civilian personnel and DOD contractors were increasingly coming from within, including from colleagues with security clearances.

Not only does the government face the monumental task of maintaining accurate and current information on employees, many agencies face a huge backlog of reinvestigations. OMB found about 22 percent of top secret and secret clearance holders were overdue for review. Agencies simply lack the necessary resources required and a solution to continuously monitor all of the clearances manually. Hagel’s proposed changes will require time and technology before it can offer real-time alerts. Until then, agencies will most likely have to focus on reviewing a subset of clearance holders – either by random selection or by targeting individuals – which still leaves gaping holes in our nation’s security and counterintelligence efforts since troubled individuals may be overlooked. This is a serious issue with serious consequences.

The government is being asked to provide solutions by September 1 in the 120-day report. Many agencies, and defense and intelligence contractors, are considering approaches beyond traditional physical security and network system log reviews, focusing on life events for a full picture of the sort of risk an individual may pose.

We need to move from checking clearances every few years to continuous evaluation. To get rid of the backlog the government needs to better automate the security clearance process. They need to understand who they are dealing with, what is going on in their life and their associates, all valuable information in assessing an individual’s risk profile and doing so in closer to real time. Agency officials need to be able to receive an automated alert of certain life changes, such as a marriage, divorce, bankruptcy, or one of the other items noted above, allowing them to make a decision on appropriate next steps. The way to do this is to automatically monitor millions of cleared individuals with data from public records, social media and government data sets.

The government also needs to make greater use of big data through a risk- and analytics-based approach. By looking at personal risk behavior data, agencies can make better and faster decisions on who needs additional scrutiny. In fact, this process is similar to monitoring systems already in use by the insurance and financial industries, which for years have been successfully determining if individuals qualify for insurance and loans and at what rate they should be charged. They determine premium and risk by taking into account an individual’s history and assigning a risk score. These same statistical models can be customized to support the risk modeling of individuals with security clearances.

The idea of continuous workplace monitoring may sound invasive to an increasingly surveillance-wary public. But when a government employee seeks clearance, which often comes with the ability to monitor or analyze sensitive information the public can’t access, that employee voluntarily gives permission for ongoing reviews and has no expectation of privacy.

Our concerns about government eavesdropping don’t apply to this situation. The problem isn’t privacy; it’s that we aren’t monitoring our monitors.

Fixing these glaring problems as quickly and as efficiently as possible before another tragedy occurs should be a top priority for our government. The government needs to be proactive, with the ability to monitor every individual with a clearance for potential risks. There are solutions that can make this an easy process, serving as a key function in maintaining our national security.

Steve Nguyen is vice president of government solutions and LexisNexis Special Services Inc. at LexisNexis




Why We Need to Spy on the Germans

James Kirchick

We’re right to spy on a country with close ties to Russia and Iran.

I’ve lived and loved in Germany, count Berlin as one of my favorite cities, and—pending reactions to this article—may even move back there someday. But given its intense business and political ties to Russia and Iran, and Moscow’s decades-long cultivation of intelligence assets and collaborators from the first Cold War up through the current one, American intelligence agencies would be crazy not to conduct intensive espionage operations in Germany.

Ever since its postwar rebirth as the divided city at the geographic and intellectual heart of the Cold War, Berlin has been a nest of spies. The Glienecke bridge, connecting what was then Soviet-controlled territory to the American Sector in West Berlin, served as an exchange point for captured intelligence officers, earning it the nickname “Bridge of Spies.” Berlin is something of a default setting for Cold War spy novels, and for good reason: split between the Soviets and the Western powers, the city was ground zero for espionage.

When the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago and the Soviet Union collapsed shortly thereafter, Germans hoped that the city could transform its reputation from that of a tense, Cold War crossroads to cosmopolitan oasis. To a magnificent extent, they succeeded, and Berlin is without question the most exciting city in Western Europe. But Germany, and Berlin in particular, never lost its attraction as a point of penetration for Russian agents—or, for that matter, American ones trying to keep an eye on them.

Over the past year, leaks from fugitive National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed that the agency had been snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, combined with rising tensions between Russia and the West over the fate of Ukraine, have once again thrust Berlin back onto the frontlines of global spy craft.

The latest news to rock German-American relations are allegations that the CIA paid a low-level employee of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, to hand over files relating to the German parliament’s investigation into the material released by Snowden last year. As The Daily Beast’s Chris Dickey and Nadette de Visser report, the official was “More Austin Powers and Less James Bond,” perhaps even a “charity case,” and the information he handed over was not of particularly high value.

But that has done little to quell German anger, already inflamed by last fall’s revelations of NSA phone tapping.

“If the allegations are true, it would be a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners,” said Merkel, who has continuously sought to downplay fallout from the Snowden mess. As he had been ordered to do last fall when the news about Merkel’s phone hit the press, American Ambassador John Emerson was once again summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down.

German outrage at American spying would also be easier to swallow if it weren’t so hypocritical.

The country’s Justice Minister has raised the possibility of launching “criminal proceedings” against the United States, and a poll, conducted before the latest revelations, found 69 percent of Germans saying that their trust in the United States had deteriorated over the past year.


Last month, the German government canceled a contract with Verizon over allegations that it had provided call records to the NSA.

Given the righteous indignation, one would suspect that Germans were fuming about Russia, a country that had perpetrated the first annexation of territory on European soil since World War II. But their muted reaction to Russia’s outrageous behavior, combined with the hysterical response to American spying, neatly illustrates why the United States has felt a need to conduct espionage in Germany: Berlin has been a less than trustworthy ally.

Merkel, who grew up in the former communist East Germany and speaks Russian fluently, understands that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a dangerous thug and rightly spoke out against the Crimean annexation as a return to the “law of the jungle.” But in her clear-eyed understanding of the Russian threat, the Chancellor is an exception among the German political class. And despite her wariness of Putin, she is a conservative leader by temperament who governs by consensus and rarely does anything that is not already supported by most of her constituents. In a country where a majority of citizens sympathize with Putin and believe the West should “accept” his annexation of Crimea, this is a prescription for dithering.

German firms do a great deal of business in Russia and have been strong voices against sanctioning Moscow. Germany imports a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and Russia is its 11th-largest export market.

On the political side, Russia can count upon sympathizers spanning from the center-right business community to the post-communist left. Last year, in a highly publicized trip, Green Party politician (and former lawyer for members of the terrorist Red Army Faction) Hans Christian Stroebele visited Snowden in Moscow, something that could not have taken place without the express permission of Putin. Failing to convince the German government to grant Snowden asylum, Stroebele got the next best thing: a parliamentary investigation into American espionage. Russian espionage, judging by the attention devoted to it by the press and politicians, apparently does not exist in Germany.

In March, several parliamentarians from the German Left Party traveled at the behest of Moscow to Crimea alongside a batch of European right-wing extremists. There they observed Russia’s phony “referendum” authorizing the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. Weeks after leaving office in 2005, former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined the board of a Russian government-owned energy venture to the tune of a quarter-million Euros a year. In April, as Russian-backed terrorists rampaged their way through eastern Ukraine, he celebrated his 70th birthday in St. Petersburg alongside a bevy of German businessmen and political leaders and received a bear hug from Putin himself.

German outrage at American spying would also be easier to swallow if it weren’t so hypocritical. According to former NSA intelligence and computer systems analyst Ira Winkler, the BND has penetrated the SWIFT financial messaging network, passing on the information to German businesses. In his book Spies Among Us, he writes of “the apparent willingness of German businesses to funnel sensitive information and technology to nations that are hostile to the United States,” including Iran.

Germany remains one of the Islamic Republic’s largest trading partners. American espionage in Germany—home of the Hamburg Cell, the circle of 9/11 hijackers who hung out in the port city, unmolested, for years—is aimed at protecting the national security of both America and its allies, Germany foremost among them. And while the BND cooperates extensively with America’s intelligence services, it also has worked toward giving a leg-up to German businesses, an unwritten no-no in the intelligence world.

Regrettably, rather than keep mum on the disclosures of NSA and CIA spying in Germany, American officials have been apologizing left and right while simultaneously declaiming all responsibility. Obama apparently told Merkel he was unaware of what his own spy services were doing, but had he known, he would have stopped them from monitoring her phone. Senior Obama adviser John Podesta told the magazine that “some of the disclosures as to who had been targeted were probably beyond the knowledge of anybody at a political level in government.”

Though she did deliver the Germans some tough love by telling them, via an interview with Der Spiegel, that “The United States could never enter into a No-Spy agreement with any country—not you, not Britain, not Canada,” likely presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton also said that it was “absolutely wrong” for the NSA to spy on Merkel.

The extent to which the NSA should be able to monitor, if at all, the telephonic metadata of American citizens is one thing, but there are no laws and no regulations when it comes to intelligence gathering overseas—even from allies.

The problem isn’t that the NSA was snooping in on Angela Merkel (who should not have been sharing any information, other than potato salad recipes, on an unsecure cellphone), but that this information was exposed, embarrassing all involved, not least of all Merkel herself.

Americans don’t need to apologize for conducting espionage in Germany. On the contrary, this week’s revelations should lead Germans to undergo a round of soul-searching and ask why Washington felt the need to do it in the first place.


Critical Infrastructure Firms Lag Behind in Cyber-Attack Defenses

By Robert Lemos | Posted 2014-07-10


Utilities, industrial manufacturers and energy companies expect cyber-attacks in the next year, but these organizations continue to react to threats, rather than build up security measures, according to the latest Ponemon survey.

Security teams at critical infrastructure firms have little trouble understanding that their networks are vulnerable. But the companies themselves have failed to make security a priority, according to a survey of nearly 600 security executives by the Ponemon Institute published on July 10.

External attackers and malicious or negligent employees managed to compromise two-thirds of the companies’ networks in the past 12 months, leading to the loss of data or a disruption in operations, according to the report, Critical Infrastructure: Security Preparedness and Maturity, which was funded by technology firm Unisys. About 57 percent of respondents believe that their industrial control systems are at risk from cyber-attacks.

Despite the recognition of cyber-attacks as a threat, most critical-infrastructure firms are not focused on security, according to the survey. Only 28 percent of security practitioners stated that their firms considered security a top-five priority, the study found.

“It paints a picture of organizations that feel like they are at risk, yet they are not doing anything about it,” Dave Frymier, chief information security officer for Unisys, told eWEEK. “They are almost asleep at the switch, [and] they don’t seem to be taking the problem seriously.”

In the survey of 599 information technology and IT security executives, most companies were aware of the dangers of cyber-attacks: Nearly two-thirds of organizations are committed to preventing or detecting the most sophisticated attackers, known as advanced persistent threats or APTs, according to respondents. The same number of respondents agreed that one or more serious cyber-attacks would infiltrate their infrastructure in the next year.

Over the past two years, for example, a group of online hackers, whose actions bear the hallmarks of nation-state operatives, compromised hundreds of energy firms and industrial control system makers, according to the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Readiness Team (ICS-CERT) and security firms. Alternatively called “Dragonfly” and “Energetic Bear” by security firms, the attack campaign installed Remote Access Trojans (RATs) inside the networks of companies, organizations and government agencies located in Spain, the United States, Japan, France, Italy and Germany.

Because control systems and monitoring networks are designed to be reliable and last for decades, dealing with legacy systems that may have significant vulnerabilities has become a major issue for utilities. Yet, most lack confidence that their organization could upgrade such systems without causing problems.

More than half of security professionals interviewed by the Ponemon Institute stated that patching industrial systems with up-to-date security software either would not be cost-effective or would sacrifice mission-critical security, according to the report.

Until a major event shakes critical-infrastructure firms from their malaise, the gap between security professionals understanding the theoretical threat of cyber-attacks and companies focusing on making their networks and infrastructure more secure in practice will likely remain for the foreseeable future, Frymier said.

“We pretty much feel that there will have to be some precipitating event,” he said. “Something will have to happen, and unfortunately, it will probably be a bad thing that has to happen to galvanize people to understand the magnitude of the problem so they do something about it.”



High Stakes Cyber-Ransom Likely to Become the New Norm with Mobile Devices

By: Homeland Security Today Staff

07/11/2014 (10:15pm)


Cybersecurity experts say they expect ransomware threats to rise based on the prior success of this business model used by Russian cyber criminals and enterprises.

 But one company, KnowBe4, a firm that provides web-based security awareness training (employee security education and behavior management) to small and medium-sized enterprises, “has responded to the growing concern with an extended offer to cover customers ransomware with Bitcoin if they get hit after doing [KnowBe4] security awareness training,” the firm said this week.

KnowBe4 CEO Stu Sjouwerman said in response to a recent study of IT professionals that his company is extending its offer to pay any customer’s cyber ransom with Bitcoin if they are hit after completing KnowBe4’s security awareness training.


“Our 300+ sample study shows 88 percent of  IT professionals expect ransomware to grow the rest of this year,” the company said in a statement, adding, “The proliferation of ransomware attacks include a shift from PCs to mobile devices and can add up to dire consequences for organizations with BYOD.”


“IT staff are telling us their confidence in traditional endpoint security is falling, having decreased from 96 percent down to 59 percentin just six months,” Sjouwerman said. “Between increased use of smartphones for email and legacy systems still running XP, there are a number of opportunities for the Russian cyber mafia to extort users.”


KnowBe4 prepared a revealing infographic that explores existing IT attitudes in this area.


Trend Micro’s Vice President of Technology and Solutions, JD Sherry, said, “Individuals are having a hard time because they’re not using the basic security precautions. They are becoming infected, going to sites that have malicious downloads and getting this payload on their mobile device. This is a big problem not only for consumers, but for organizations that have an open BYOD policy.”


“The study showed that 81 percent of  IT professionals depend on backup to bail them out from a ransomware attack but a whopping 88 percent recognize security awareness training as the most effective protection from ransomware,” the firm said.


In the Intronis whitepaper, “State of Cloud Backup: MSPs Missing The Mark,” the company reported that over 34 percent of companies do not test their backups, and of those tested, 77 percent found that tape backups failed to restore. According to Microsoft, 42 percent of attempted recoveries from tape backups in the past year have failed.


“An effective program such as Kevin Mitnick Security Awareness Training can reduce the risk of human error,” Sjouwerman said, noting that, “To be effective, you need to keep KnowBe4 Acts on Security Threat security top of mind in an informative but practical way. So called ‘point of failure training’  (also called embedded training) doesn’t work, according to a joint study done by Dartmouth/MITRE/Vanderbilt. We are so confident our training program is truly effective, we’ll pay your ransom with Bitcoin if you get hit with ransomware while you are a customer.”


Mitnick is an internationally recognized computer security expert with extensive experience in exposing the vulnerabilities of complex operating systems and telecommunications devices. He gained notoriety as a highly skilled hacker who penetrated some of the most resilient computer systems ever developed.


Editor’s Note: Sjouwerman wrote the article, Corporate Cybersecurity Issues Aren’t Impossible to Solve, in the March Homeland Security Today.

Amazon wants an exemption from the FAA’s drone restrictions

By Brian Fung July 11 at 7:11 AM 


Remember how Amazon wants to deliver its packages to you by drone in 30 minutes or less? And remember the federal government’s objections to letting those and other commercial drones fly in U.S. airspace?

Well, Amazon is hoping to get around those. So it’s filed a petition with the Federal Aviation Administration asking for an exemption.

In a filing to the agency this week, Amazon says that it’s made tremendous strides with its drone technology. It’s now working on eighth- and ninth-generation copter designs, just three months after the company’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, told shareholders Amazon was drawing up plans for its seventh-gen drone. (Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post.)

Other details appear in the filing that the company hasn’t disclosed before: Its drones are capable of flying at 50 miles per hour, for instance. And the team working on them contains “worldrenowned roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers, remote sensing experts and a former NASA astronaut.”

But the bulk of the filing is devoted to Amazon’s main purpose, which is two-fold: To get permission from the FAA to put its drones in the air, and to be able to test them at its own research facilities in Washington state rather than having to visit one of the six test sites that the agency approved late last year. Amazon says it’s willing to take extra safety precautions, such as flying no higher than 400 feet above ground level, keeping the drone within visual range and readying a “physical button” that can cut power to the machine if something goes wrong.

“We’re continuing to work with the FAA to meet Congress’s goal of getting drones flying commercially in America safely and soon,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy. “We want to do more R&D close to home.”

Testing the drones right where they’re designed would save the company time — while conveniently shielding the machines from public view.

Amazon’s petition comes a week after the Motion Picture Association of America made its own request to the FAA for a special pass, and a month before the agency is supposed to publish new rules allowing lightweight commercial drones into U.S. airspace. Few expect the FAA to meet the deadline. The agency’s sluggishness to develop regulations has raised questions about whether the United States is lagging behind in the civil and commercial drone industries. Other countries where drone policy isn’t as strict have seen a surge of economic activity surrounding the technology.

Amazon’s filing to the FAA alludes to the international draw.

“Because Amazon is a commercial enterprise we have been limited to conducting R&D flights indoors or in other countries,” the proposal reads. “Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States.”

If the petition is rejected, well… draw your own conclusion


The New Space Race, and Why Nothing Else Matters

By Andrew L. Peek,

The Fiscal Times

July 11, 2014


Forty-five years ago this July 20th, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon. Their mission represented an emphatic American victory in the first space race, which began in earnest in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched a notably unattractive satellite, Sputnik, into orbit.

Since then, however, America’s national space program has essentially foundered. It improved space travel by building and then scrapping the Space Shuttle, without ever accomplishing – or attempting – a mission as bold or impactful as the one in 1969. It’s time for a new one. To win the next space race, the US should announce its support for private property rights in space, and NASA should take a back seat.

To be fair, NASA’s not really at fault here: its business model is just wrong. In the national consciousness, NASA seems like a luxury, in the same low-priority bucket as the F-22A fighter and development aid for Bosnia. And unlike those other items, it’s not really clear what the last thirty years of NASA funding has given us. As America’s government-run space monopoly, NASA is a money hole, no more viable over the long run than is Amtrak.

That’s a shame, because we’re not far off from the next major iteration of space exploration. Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes that humans could be travelling to Mars within 10-12 years. And former NASA official and Stanford astronautics professor G. Scott Hubbard sees private space exploration for tourism, residency, or resource extraction as goals for the next iteration of space travel.

That’s the new space race: not tourism, not residency per se, but resource extraction.

According to some estimates, a single half-kilometer asteroid could contain over $20 trillion worth of metals and other resources.

The first nation that can import and tax the raw materials of bodies in our solar system would experience an economic boom unparalleled in generations, if ever.

In addition, the military-technological spillover advantages from a vastly expanded space industry might never be surpassed. Since space is infinite, there’s no limit to how far the mining sector can expand – the bounds of the solar system in the short term, but in the longer term, who knows? It would be a period of international growth and change unseen since the Age of Discovery, when Spain and Portugal broke out of the European system and became superpowers almost overnight. And, like the 1400’s, the first country up there will win.

But only private industry will risk it. Only the private sector has people willing to take losses for years, and often be ruined, for the chance to succeed beyond imagination.

The Obama Administration’s 2010 space strategy, which encouraged commercial firms to develop the capability to fly US astronauts into space, did recognize that private industry will be the driver of space exploration. The problem, however, is that human launch capability is not that intrinsically valuable a service.

True, we need it to put astronauts into the International Space Station, where they produce marginally valuable scientific research and watch the World Cup. But that still falls into the “expensive curiosity” label that killed the Space Shuttle. Even a human visit to Mars or a permanent human presence on the moon would not be much more than a milestone for the human race, which – though laudable – is not the most alluring incentive for government or private cash.

But what if space exploration companies could be offered property rights for the resources they extract as well? Private property rights are a mainstay of economic development theory. This would in one stroke encourage far-seeing corporations to invest in space development projects that are virtually guaranteed to have a long-term (indeed, almost infinite) reward.

One that’s already in the market is Planetary Resources, a new asteroid-mining company supported in part by Google’s CEOs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. Given the right policy support, others would be quick to join it. Then it’s California in 1849, and the gold rush is on.

The US should thus make an explicit promise to space entrepreneurs: if they pay US taxes, follow to-be-created US environmental regulations, and share their technology with the government, the government will defend their claim diplomatically and legally. NASA in this model would play the role of a regulator and information repository, and possibly an R&D lab for US companies.

They’d need it, because other countries would be upset. Operating in the quirky netherworld of never-put-to-the-test space law, the US would be essentially creating customary law on the fly. To smooth the transition, it could also offer a diplomatic incentive: that it would defend the claims of foreign companies whose countries recognize US claims.

That would be a powerful inducement to cooperate in the new space race. Most likely, after initial responses ranging from ridicule to Brazil-level meltdown, the most developed US allies like Japan, Germany, and the Anglosphere would follow suit, either alone or in alliances with companies from the developing world.

Because, if it works, everything else looks like pawn-grabbing. The frontiers of Ukraine, China’s claim to Pacific atolls, even the vast caldron of inchoate sectarian rage in the Middle East: strategically, all would have less of a long-term impact than the economic and technological benefits of space mining. The first countries to do it successfully will be the superpowers of the space age – and the last may disappear.

And if it goes nowhere, then so what? The US has lost nothing except some diplomatic angst.

There’s always more where that came from.


This energy source could solve all of our problems — so why is no one talking about it?

Hint: It’s because it can’t be weaponized

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | March 4, 2014    


Thorium could make nuclear power a safe reality.

Energy is arguably the single most important strategic issue of our time. It literally powers everything we do. The world economy see-saws to the gyrations of oil prices. Most of our geopolitical squabbles are about energy in one way or another. And, of course, above all hovers the threatening Armageddon of global climate change.

But when it comes to energy, you probably don’t know who, or what, to trust. Clean energy! No, wait, that doesn’t work! (And what does that mean, exactly?) Shale gas! No, wait, you will pollute everything.

There’s a band of hipsters within the community of people who think hard about energy who think this is a bunch of hoo-ha. We already have a perfectly useful and clean energy source, they say: nuclear power. In terms of its capacity, nuclear power could provide almost all of our energy needs. In terms of carbon emissions, nuclear power is totally clean. Outside of a handful of countries whose names you probably already know, proliferation isn’t an issue. Of course, there’s the issue of safety. But nuclear power is safe, advocates say. Chernobyl happened because of the insanity of communism, and Fukushima because you probably shouldn’t build reactors on the path of tsunamis, not because of anything inherent to nuclear power. The solution to nuclear waste, they say, is more R&D, so that waste can be recycled. Look at France! It draws almost all of its energy from nuclear power, with no serious incident to note in the past 50 years, and the power is cheap, plentiful, and clean.

Within the energy analysis community, nuclear advocates are one hipster subset. But as always when we’re talking about hipsters, there’s a subset within the subset. And these energy hipsters are pushing a nuclear technology that has all the advantages of traditional nuclear and none of the drawbacks. Its name is thorium.

Thorium is an element, like uranium and plutonium, which you can use as fuel for a nuclear reactor. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium is abundant. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium reactors could have “passive” safety. Traditional nuclear reactors sometimes have the annoying tendency of sometimes exploding and showering the area around them with radioactive waste. This is because plutonium and uranium reactors, when shut down, cannot cool off on their own. They need “active” systems to cool them down. If these systems fail, the reactor starts going into meltdown. Thorium, being a lighter element, doesn’t have that problem. If you have an emergency in a thorium reactor, you shut it off, and it cools down on its own. It can’t melt down. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium produces minimal amounts of waste, and even the little waste it does produce is potentially recyclable. And finally, unlike uranium and plutonium, with thorium you can make a reactor, but you can’t make a bomb.

And there you have the problem.

Thorium advocates point out that almost from the beginning, nuclear research has been sponsored by governments — or, more accurately, military-industrial complexes. The nuclear age started in World War II and the Cold War, when researching nuclear technology meant researching military technology. Peaceful nuclear technology was a happy dividend, but it was never the focus. The list of countries with nuclear power industries is also the list of nuclear warhead superpowers (even South Africa’s peaceful nuclear industry is an offshoot of its Apartheid-era nuclear weapons program). And so those who hold the purse strings of nuclear research relegated thorium to the dustbin of history. Not because of any global conspiracy, mind you, but just because they acted rationally given their priorities at the time. And then inertia takes over. Anybody who’s anybody in the nuke-industrial sector has spent their entire career working on uranium and plutonium, which is a bird in the hand, and so they dismiss thorium as a pipe dream.

Is it? I’m no scientist, but what I’ve read suggests thorium energy is very much conceivable. And if it works, it really would be the technology that solves all our energy problems.

Am I saying it will do that? No. Am I saying we should be talking a heck of a lot longer — and louder — about it? Absolutely yes.


IBM spending $3 billion to rethink decades-old computer design

IBM is also looking ahead at a world in which computer chips don’t have silicon

By Agam Shah

July 10, 2014 05:01 AM ET


IDG News Service – IBM will pour US$3 billion into computing and chip materials research over the next five years, as it rethinks computer design and looks to a future that may not involve silicon chips.

The computer design initiative could pave the way for functional quantum and cognitive computers that mimic brain functionality.

“The basic architecture of the computer has remained unchanged since the 1940s. We feel, given the kinds of problems we see today, [that] this is the time to start looking for new forms of computing,” said Supratik Guha, director of physical sciences for IBM Research.

Silicon design has stalled and the ability to shrink chips is reaching its limit. IBM is looking at graphene, carbon nanotubes and other materials to replace silicon in computers, and will try to develop chips that can be scaled down to the atomic level.

The announcement comes a month after Hewlett-Packard disclosed that it too is rethinking the basic design of computers.

IBM’s goal is to provide the building blocks for systems that can intelligently process vast amounts of data while consuming less power, said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president for Systems and Technology Group at IBM.

Such computers could benefit areas such as cancer research, weather modeling and providing more intelligent services over the cloud. Accelerators like graphics processors are improving computer performance in the short term, but shrinking silicon-based processors to boost performance and reduce power is becoming more complex, Rosamilia said.

“We have in other points of history had to make leaps from one technology to another,” Rosamilia said. “If we don’t start inventing them now, we believe nobody will get there.”

IBM is already making quantum computers and brain-like computers, which have been theorized for decades, but proven difficult to create. Those computers are based on different architectures than those used today, which leads to questions about whether one new type of architecture ought to be preferred over another, Rosamilia said.

IBM could mix and match individual technologies to provide the building blocks for new computer systems, Rosamilia said.

“Some combination will be coming true, and we will be riding those technologies for many years,” Rosamilia said. “You have to plan many years in advance for it. We’re very serious about this.”

The first fruits of the research will likely manifest in high-performance computers, but may eventually come to laptops and desktops, although Rosamilia couldn’t provide a time frame for that.

The investment comes as Moore’s Law runs its course. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore posited that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years and while that has held steady, it is expected to be outdated within the next decade. Engineers are rethinking chip design to increase performance, especially as chips go into smaller geometries. Intel is preparing to ship PC chips made using the 14-nanometer process and has plans to move to the 10-nanometer process in the coming years.

Chip making was revolutionized when scientists purified silicon in 1950, but it will be harder to etch more features on chips when the 7-nanometer process and beyond, as the industry moves toward the atomic level, Guha said.

“What will replace it at this point is unclear,” Guha said.

Carbon nanotubes, which are cylinders made of carbon atoms, show the most promise as a silicon replacement. IBM researchers are shrinking the size of carbon nanotubes, but challenges remain in cooling them down and there is considerable debate around safety concerns. However, there is consensus that technical problems could be solved, Guha said.

Brain and quantum computers also involve research on computer behavior.

IBM is developing computers that mimic brain-like functionality as part of its Synapse program. The computer makes an approximation of how the brain processes information in parallel via trillions of connections, which are the synapses. IBM in 2011 demonstrated a neural chip with programmable and learning synapses that have navigation and pattern recognition abilities. IBM’s goal is to build a neural chip that mimics the human brain, with 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses but that uses just 1 kilowatt of power.

At the heart of quantum computers are quantum bits (qubits), which hold values of 1 and 0, which are unlike bits in conventional computers that are at a state of 1 or 0 at any given time. By storing and sharing data in more states, the qubits could speed up calculations.

Many issues still have to be resolved, including quantum noise, in which qubits are sent into undesirable states, making it difficult to execute programs normally. The only known quantum computer is sold by D-Wave Systems, but IBM’s researchers earlier this year questioned the computer’s relation to quantum mechanics, which looks at interaction and behavior of matter on atomic and subatomic levels.



Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls


Bottom of Form

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Americans are registering a lot of pessimism these days and clearly are wondering what’s going on along the Mexican border.

Fewer voters than ever think the nation’s best days are still to come. How low can you go in nearly eight years of regular surveying?

The number of voters who think the country is heading in the right direction is at a new low for the year.

It doesn’t help that voters have said for years that the economy is the number one issue on their minds but continue to give President Obama low marks when it comes to handling economic issues.  Voters believe more government spending is the worst thing for the economy, and criticism of the president’s handling of spending issues is at its highest level in a year-and-a-half.

But then Americans also have said overwhelmingly for years that it’s important to close the border to future illegal immigration, and the federal government still won’t do it. In fact, a surprisingly large number think the Obama administration through its policies and practices has encouraged the flood of illegal immigrant children at the border, and most want those kids sent back home as soon as possible.

As to how to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, Americans have some common sense suggestions, and, surprisingly, building a wall is well down the list. 

Despite their support for increasing immigration controls, Americans view their society as fair and decent, but they also feel pretty strongly that those who come here need to adopt our culture, language and heritage.

Given voter unhappiness on the economic and immigration fronts, it’s perhaps no surprise that most voters now think Republicans are likely to win control of Congress in this November’s elections, but will it make any difference?

Picking up a Senate seat in Louisiana is key to GOP hopes, so we took a look this week at how incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is doing against Republican challenger Bill Cassidy in the Pelican State.

Republicans still have the new national health care law in their sights as opposition to the law’s requirement that every American have health insurance remains at its highest level this year. The question, though, is: Is that opposition hurting sign-ups for health insurance through the new exchanges?

Many feel it’s hard to get a straight answer about Obamacare from much of the media, and the same goes for global warming. It’s surprising how many voters don’t believe the debate about global warming is over and don’t think much of the decision by the BBC, the Los Angeles Times and a growing number of news organizations to ban comments from those who deny that global warming is a problem.

Looking overseas, most voters want the United States to stay out of the latest flare-up between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and they worry about the impact of continuing U.S. support for Israel on our relations with other nations.

Democrats are ahead of Republicans again on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

The real day-to-day bottom line? The president’s daily job approval ratings and the level of confidence consumers and investors are feeling.

In other surveys this week:

Is the NSA spying on you or your family? 

— How healthy do Americans feel these days? Are we getting fatter? 

— Better yet, what do our doctors think?

— When it comes to the issue of abortion, the number of voters who consider themselves pro-life is at an all-time high.

Women on the front lines and open gays in uniform – good for the military or bad?

Senator Lindsey Graham easily turned back several challengers in South Carolina’s Republican primary last month. How’s his race against Democrat Brad Hutto shaping up?

— Democratic Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown has a double-digit lead over Republican Larry Hogan in the race to be Maryland’s next governor.


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