Skip to content

October 4 2014

October 6, 2014



Also on a blog at


Global warming: There’s no ‘Planet B’

Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune

Updated: September 28, 2014 – 6:00 PM

It’s time for world to sacrifice short-term pain for planet’s future.

The climate change dilemma isn’t all that unfamiliar. Many of us carry an extra 20 or 30 pounds and still feel great, but the doctor pulls us aside to tell us that unless we change our habits our health will soon deteriorate.

Already, hypertension and other ailments have begun their insidious work, the doctor says, looking us straight in the eye. We smile and resolve to do better starting tomorrow, or maybe next year, or maybe never.

Dealing with climate change is a far more complicated, but the dynamics are similar. Short-term pain for long-term gain is difficult bargain to strike. Last week’s United Nations summit on the climate dilemma began impressively as a vast crowd that organizers estimated at more than 300,000 marched through the streets of Manhattan chanting and carrying signs demanding action. One said: “There is no Planet B.”

Then, two days later, came the cast of world leaders saying all the right things. “There will have to be a new pricing system for carbon,” said France’s Francois Hollande. “We need all hands on deck,” said the U.N.’s Ban Ki-moon. “Nobody gets a pass,” said President Obama.

But, in the end, the way forward seemed as elusive as ever. Brazil refused to stop clearing the Amazon rain forest. China insisted that developing nations (itself included) be allowed to continue releasing heat-trapping gases almost unabated. And the United States declined to join 73 other nations in a pledge to tax carbon. Even in the world’s foremost democracy, corporate money and political influence, it seems, speak louder than scientific evidence.

Indeed, the baby steps Obama has taken administratively to curb the emissions of coal-fired power plants may be erased if, as expected, Republicans control both houses of Congress next year. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has vowed repeatedly to use the Environmental Protection Agency budget and the threat of government shutdown to force Obama to back away from climate fixes.

If successful, the tactic would seriously undercut any negotiations with China on the issue. Obama was right this week to single out China and the United States as bearing “a special responsibility to lead” in solving the climate crisis. They are, after all, the world’s largest economies and polluters; without a Beijing-Washington agreement, there’s little chance that other countries would fall in line to forge a global climate treaty in 2015.

None of that changes the sobering fact that global emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise and now stand at record levels. European progress has been canceled out by increased emissions in the United States and more so by the continuing surge of coal burning in China and India, according to a new report by the Global Carbon Project.

Another report, released earlier this month by the World Meteorological Association, said that carbon dioxide in the air is now at a level 42 percent above preindustrial era levels. If carbon emissions continue unabated, average temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial level over the next century — a condition incompatible with human civilization in its current form, the report said.

The U.S. public may finally be catching on to the predicament. The latest New York Times/CBS poll showed 54 percent of Americans believing that human activity is the major factor in atmospheric heating. That was the highest number ever recorded by a national poll — and illustrates, perhaps, that shifts in public opinion hold the greatest promise for protecting future generations. Indeed, before national governments and global corporations find the courage to act, a bottom-up revolution of sorts may be required.

Already, the real momentum is coming from local political leaders, enlightened corporate executives and, frankly, people in the streets. Among the states, Minnesota has emerged as a leader thanks to the foresight of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and others who, in 2007, committed the state to a timetable for reducing emissions. California and several northeastern states have gone further by forging cap-and-trade agreements that raise the cost of polluting. Meanwhile, the Rockefellers, a family that amassed a mega-fortune on oil, have joined a movement to disinvest in fossil fuels. And the Norwegian petroleum giant Statoil has courageously embraced the idea of a global carbon tax.

Those are just a few collective examples, but individuals, too, can exert leverage. After all, they make millions of choices every day. Buying a fuel-efficient car, supporting mass transit, choosing a smaller house or a shorter commute, buying local foods — each of those choices can influence markets and sow the seeds for the fundamental, planet-saving policy changes that must come quickly, whether we like them or not.


Are we confusing reducing pollution with global warming?

Upcoming Anniversary: October 1st Will Mark 18 Years of No Global Warming

September 24, 2014 – 5:21 PM

By Barbara Hollingsworth


( – According to the datasets used last year, October 1st will mark the 18th year of “no significant warming trend in surface average temperature,” says Patrick Michaels, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for the Study of Science.

And even if the current 18-year trend were to end, it would still take nearly 25 years for average global temperature figures to reflect the change, said Michaels, who has a Ph.D. in ecological climatology and spent three decades as a research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.

Sooner or later, even Al Gore and the numerous scientists, academics and politicians who agree with him that “Earth has a fever” will have to admit that their climate models predicting catastrophic global warming were off by a long shot, said Michaels, who was also a contributing editor to the United Nations’ second Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

“It has to be admitted eventually that too much warming was forecast too fast. That just has to happen. You can’t go on and on and on,” he told

“If the surface temperature resumed the warming rate that we observed from, say 1977 through 1998, we would still go close to a quarter of a century without significant net warming because there’s such a long flat period built into the record now. ”

But there’s no indication that after 18 years, global warming will resume anytime soon.

Michaels pointed to record Antarctic ice, which “is at its highest extent measured by the current microwave satellite sounding system” since 1978, according to data from the University of Illinois’  Polar Ice Research Center.

“And if you take a close look at the Arctic data, it appears the decline stopped somewhere around 2005/2006, which means we’ve almost had ten years without any net loss in Arctic ice,” he told

Nor does it look likely that the next El Nino, which Michaels says is “really weak,” will have much of an effect on global temperatures.

“The much vaunted and predicted El Nino, which would [ordinarily] spike global temperature, is not going according to plan,” Michaels pointed out. “That’s the major known oscillation in global temperature, and we can’t even get that one right in the near term.”

In an El Nino, trade winds suppress the upwelling of cold water. “But that doesn’t mean the cold water isn’t still down there,” Michaels explained. “So what happens after an El Nino suppresses the cold upwelling, all that cold water that was sitting down there, which normally would have been dispersed into the tropical Pacific, comes up and so the temperature drops pretty substantially after a major El Nino.

“In fact, you can see that in 1999. We had a very large El Nino in 1998, maybe the biggest one in the 20th century, it’s not completely clear, but it was really, really big. And the next year, the temperatures were way down.

“And so what an El Nino will do is it will give you a one-year or perhaps two-year spike [in temperature]. But the net change is not very much. Now it turns out the lack of warming has gone on for so long that even throwing in a one or two-year spike into it is not going to induce a significant warming trend in that data,” Michaels noted.

Pointing to a Pew survey earlier this year in which Americans listed global warming 19th out of a list of 20 issues they considered as top priorities, Michaels responded to Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statement that climate change is “the biggest challenge of all that we face right now.”

“I would say that his order of needs is a little bit out of whack,” Michaels told

“Given that a cogent political analysis indicates that the loss of control of the House of Representatives by the Democratic Party was the result of their passing the unpopular cap-and-trade bill in 2009 – in the 2010 election they lost 64 seats- you would think that this is kind of a political hot potato,” he continued.

“And in fact, our friends in Europe, who are certainly leftier and greenier than we tend to be as a country, are trying to back away from this issue,” he noted, adding that the major heads of state of China, India, Australia, Canada and Germany all declined to join President Obama at the United Nations’ Climate Summit held in New York this week.

“Angela Merkel, the German prime minister, wrote the Framework Convention on Climate Change
when she was an East German,” Michaels pointed out, but “Germany has resumed building coal-fired power plants because they can’t get enough electricity out of solar energy and windmills.

“We told you so,” he said with a laugh.

“I would also say that the administration’s pronouncement about three weeks ago that the climate agreement that the president would be seeking at the United Nations would not require a majority of two-thirds of the Senate for ratification is on very thin ice… If they are hellbent on going in this direction, they may be headed to legal hell.”


Global warming stalls — but not demands for cash—-but-not-demands-for-cash

By Ezra Levant, QMI Agency

First posted: Saturday, September 27, 2014 06:00 PM EDT


Barack Obama attended last week’s United Nations climate change conference. It would be odd if he didn’t – it was hosted in New York this year.

But many world leaders didn’t bother. China, India, Germany, Russia – some of the world’s largest economies, and largest emitters of carbon dioxide – just couldn’t be bothered.

Instead, celebrity spokesmodels took their place, actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. They’re probably more interesting to the media anyways.

But all the celebrities and PR men in the world can’t hide a fact that the United Nations itself acknowledges: there just hasn’t been any measurable global warming since 1998.

The UN has a $100 word for that — a “hiatus.” Like a recess, or vacation. As in, it hasn’t happened since the 1990s, but it will be back for sure. Any moment now.

Normally people, if they were campaigning to end something and it ended, would declare victory, have a celebration and move on.

But you don’t understand the UN. To declare victory against global warming would mean that they would have to find new jobs.

No more annual conventions in beautiful cities like New York, Bali, Marrakesh and Cancun. No more important meetings in five-star hotels. No more annual reunions with friends, paid for by taxpayers.

And, most importantly, no more cosmic excuses for tax increases and government regulations.

That’s why the UN – and their chorus in professional environmental groups and the mainstream media – have changed the terms. First it was global warming. Then climate change. Now it’s “climate disruption.” None of it is true – there are fewer tornadoes or hurricanes or sweltering days now than ever. Ice levels in the Arctic and Antarctic are firmly within normal bandwiths.

But it’s all about keeping the PR pressure on.

For what? What’s the plan from New York?

A position paper from China, leaked to Fox News, has some clues. China is now the world’s largest carbon user and emitter – twice as much as the United States does. Which makes sense – carbon is the stuff of life, and China is the country with the most lives in it. They all need electricity and transportation and industrialization. That’s why they’re building two coal-fired power plants a week.

There is no chance that China will reduce its carbon emissions. That would be tantamount to imperialism – the rich, industrialized West telling China that it can’t be rich and industrialized, too. Actually it’s more than that: China is the factory of the West. Look at everything in Walmart or Toys R Us – that pollution in China? That’s us outsourcing our emissions to them.

Ironically, China has far worse pollution problems than colourless, odourless, harmless carbon dioxide. Its air, land and water really are polluted. But you don’t have five-star celebrity reunions about that.

So if China will not tackle real pollution, and if it won’t tackle pretend pollution – namely carbon dioxide — what does its position paper call for?

That’s the scoop. They’re happy to reduce their carbon emissions – for a price. And that price is $100 billion a year, from the United States, Canada and Europe, paid into a UN fund to be redistributed to China and other beneficiaries.

One hundred billion dollars a year.

And that’s not all: Western countries must agree to give up intellectual property rights. As in patents. China is engaged in massive industrial sabotage, trying to steal the West’s commercial secrets on everything from cellphones to Hollywood. China – in the name of global warming – simply wants the West to give them that. For free.

In the name of “climate change,” you see.

Can you blame them?

Western politicians want to tax carbon, to save the planet. Taxing carbon won’t save the planet. It’s an excuse that low-information celebrities seem to buy, though.

So if Leonardo DiCaprio will go for that, maybe he’ll go for a $100 billion/year gift to China, too?

I mean, it couldn’t hurt to ask for, right?



Syria Strikes Raise Questions Over Future of OCO Funding

Sep. 28, 2014 – 03:45AM | By PAUL McLEARY and AARON MEHTA | Comments


WASHINGTON — As the price tag for operations in Iraq, Syria and West Africa continues to grow, Pentagon leadership insists that it is well prepared to pay for all of these previously unforeseen long-term operations.

Part of the reason is that the building has been able to shift money around within its overseas contingency operations (OCO) supplemental budget, and is already working with Congress to make sure that more funding is on the way.

“We’re going to require additional funding from Congress as we go forward,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sept. 26. “We’re working now with the appropriate [congressional] committees on how we go forward with the funding.”

Two prominent Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. Carl Levin and Tim Kaine, have already said they expect to grant the Pentagon more money for the latest Middle East bombing campaigns.

But this willingness to fund operations comes as the US was supposed to be weaning itself from large supplemental wartime budgets, calling into question just how long the Pentagon will require extra-budgetary maneuvers to fund itself.


“I think there was a strong desire at the beginning of this administration to make the scrub of OCO more rigorous than it had been before,” said Kathleen Hicks, formerprincipal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration.

“I think the reality is, you have to have it because you cannot always plan sufficiently to take into account operations,” she added, cautioning that “we’ve kicked to the right this question of when does OCO come to an end?”

Money for the Ebola response in West Africa and Iraq/Syria operations is being partially funded from about $5 billion taken from the Army’s operations and maintenance account in OCO, Hicks said.

President Barack Obama has pledged 3,000 US troops and $1 billion to fight the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, while the daily cost of the airstrikes in Syria and Iraq — more than 240 since Aug. 8 — has been running $7.5 million to $10 million a day.

While the Pentagon has steadfastly refused to offer a hard number for the cost of the air campaign, a rough tally places the bill at about $540 million from June until the end of August.

“We don’t dispute that number, but that is not a number we put out,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban warned when asked about the overall price tag.

But even taking the lower estimate of $7.5 million — which was made before the start of operations in Syria — would add $232 million to the bill from late August to late September.

The Defense Department has been funding all of these operations out of the $85 billion OCO account for fiscal 2014, and leadership remains “confident that we will be able to continue to do that for this fiscal year,” Urban said.

But a major wrinkle remains the inability of Congress to push through budgets on time.

Fiscal 2014 ends on Sept. 30, and with a continuing resolution in place to fund the federal government through Dec. 11, the Pentagon would continue to be funded at 2014 levels — as opposed to being taken from the $59 billion requested for 2015.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who helped the Air Force plan air operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, expressed hope that the Syrian situation will drive the Hill to reconsider shutting down the OCO account.

“When they said it would end in 2016, you didn’t have this operation ongoing,” he said. “That’s what it’s there for. That’s the purpose of those funds.”

But how to plan for those operations — and how to fund them — is something that should be up for debate, some experts say.

“There has to be a conversation among [the White House, Pentagon and Congress] about how we should think about OCO, and how we want to plan for the future,” said Hicks, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“With the reduction of the DoD topline budget, we’re pushing things into those OCO accounts because it provides a politically easier release valve for the problems of sequestration,” Hicks said.


Opportunity for Industry

As industry monitors what the conflicts will do to US defense spending, they’ll most likely continue to pay attention to new export prospects brought on by the airstrikes.


The American-led operation in Syria was joined by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan, countries that are largely flying US jets with US munitions. That interoperability will be important for future operations — and it’s not by chance.


In the past decade, the Bush and Obama administrations have used weapon sales to drive closer relations with Arabian Gulf allies, said Andrew Shapiro, a former senior State Department official who headed the bureau responsible for foreign military sales.

“It’s a means of cementing the relationship between these partners and the US in a time of great uncertainty,” Shapiro said. “Partners in the region continue to want US equipment, they continue to want close partnerships with the United States, and those sales, transfers and coordination are now paying off in these coalition attacks against [the Islamic State group].”

The conflict provides an opportunity for US industry to capitalize on those commercial ties, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group.

“For many decades, the gulf states would buy lots of high end aircraft and park them. Now they’re buying them and using them. That, in and of itself, promises good things from a business standpoint,” Aboulafia said. “From a standpoint of US exports, this is very good.”

The obvious beneficiary from the US are the manufacturers of weapons such as joint direct attack munitions, which can be mounted on US planes and the F-15s and F-16s used by gulf allies.

“As most of the aircraft flown by Arab partners are US platforms, a coalition of regional partners would rely almost exclusively on US contractors,” noted a Sept. 25 report by the Royal United Services Institute, a UK think tank. “US stockpiles are substantial but have been reduced through the effects of sequestration.”

Aboulafia expects a small, but not particularly significant, bump in munitions. Similarly, he notes a potential increase in fighter orders as these air forces continue to engage in strikes, given the region’s fondness for buying fast jets.

But while recent gulf state procurement plans have largely been based around the threat from Iran, the Islamic State represents a different kind of threat — one that may open opportunities for largely neglected parts of the fleets.

That includes ISR aircraft, both manned and unmanned, along with key enablers such as tankers and cargo transports.

“The fight against [Islamic State] is more about information, range and then payload,” he said. “They are getting into a situation where it’s less about short-range defense and more about power projection.”

Shapiro, managing director at Beacon Global Strategies, expects the gulf nations to grow and learn from these operations, which could drive new requirements.

“I think this operation will identify gaps [in their inventory] as they learn by doing,” Shapiro said. “I think from the after-action reviews of these kinds of operations, you’ll hear what they need.”

Michael Blades, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, expects a “notable” increase in the unmanned market for the region in a post-Islamic State world. But he notes that companies that provide weapons and sensors for unmanned systems could be the true beneficiary.

Smaller precision weapons such as MBDA’s Brimstone or Textron’s new G-CLAW, which can be mounted onto lighter unmanned systems, could benefit as gulf countries turn to armed drones for precision strikes against militant groups, Blades said.

“An MQ-9 with a Hellfire takes out a building. A Brimstone takes out a vehicle,” he said. “If you’re talking about no boots on the ground, but you want to be precise, that’s when you start using smaller tactical platforms and precise guided munitions. You’ll see some companies really start to salivate over this.”

Blades also noted that the commercial UAV market may benefit — but not in the way US allies will appreciate.


“Conflicts like this are also going to drive some of the little hobby stuff that the resistance will use, because it’s all they can afford,” he warned, highlighting how easy it would be for the Islamic State to buy small, commercial drones online and turn them into ISR aircraft for their own use.


Despite Signs of Disrepair, Berlin Is Hesitant to Boost Military Spending

Leaked Government Report Shows Much of Military’s Equipment Is Decrepit

By Anton Troianovski and  @AntonWSJ


Harriet Torry



 Anton Troianovski



 Harriet Torry



Sept. 28, 2014 7:59 p.m. ET


BERLIN—Germans learned in recent days that no more than seven of their navy’s 43 helicopters can fly, only one of their four submarines can operate, and one in three of their army’s weapons systems lack necessary equipment.

The revelations last week in a leaked parliamentary report and acknowledged by German defense officials have led to allegations of mismanagement and media criticism of Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman to hold the post and a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel. But one response has been slow in coming: calls to increase military spending despite mounting evidence that the German military is falling into disrepair.

The disclosures and the ensuing debate show the limits of promises by German leaders this year—from Ms. von der Leyen to German President Joachim Gauck —that Europe’s economic champion will take on more responsibility in world affairs.

Germany has become a greater diplomatic power, particularly in the Ukraine crisis. But despite calls from Western allies that it should beef up its military capabilities, the government’s focus on delivering a balanced budget and voters’ longtime aversion to the use of force mean German leaders have little incentive to increase military spending.

“People look at all this, laugh a little bit, and say, ‘If we had no need for this stuff before, then we won’t need it in the future,'” Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said of the revelations about defective military equipment. “All this is a consequence of the lack of a discourse about what Germany’s increased role after reunification really means.”

From left to right, Germany’s political culture remains steeped in pacifism that originated from the horrors of World War II.

More than a third of Germans say the country should become more engaged in international crises, but only 13% support more international troop deployments, according to a Körber Foundation poll last spring.

Germany’s annual military spending, at just over $40 billion, represents only about 1.3% of its economic output, compared with 4.4% in the U.S. and 1.9% in France, according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Like German voters, many politicians equate low military spending with a higher degree of civilization. One government minister lamented earlier this year that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine might force Western Europe to rearm.

Germany’s armed forces still rely on aging equipment such as the 1960s Transall troop carrier and Sea King helicopter. The military now faces woeful equipment shortfalls, according to a confidential nine-page government report to lawmakers last week. A defense ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report, which was seen by The Wall Street Journal.

The disclosures prompted the tabloid Bild to ask Ms. von der Leyen last week: “Is the German military nothing but junk?”

“No,” she responded. “The German military is prepared for action, which it proves daily around the world in 17 international missions.”

Ms. von der Leyen landed in Erbil, Iraq, on Thursday on a visit timed to coincide with the separate arrival of German military trainers and weapons intended for Kurdish soldiers fighting Islamic State militants. But because of equipment problems, the planes carrying the trainers and arms hadn’t yet made it to Iraq.

But in another interview published Sunday, Ms. von der Leyen said the short-term responses to the military’s problems were to improve inspections and maintenance and reduce manufacturing delays. But, she acknowledged, the military will need more money in the medium term to improve its equipment.

Getting it won’t be easy. It took weeks of intense public debate for Germany to agree to send weapons to Iraq, because a law prohibits the export of weapons to conflict zones under most circumstances. To calm public fears of Germany creeping toward war, Ms. Merkel repeatedly promised she wouldn’t send troops to Iraq. NATO members, including Germany, signed a nonbinding pledge earlier this month to boost military spending to 2% of gross domestic product. But few politicians here expect Ms. Merkel to follow through. Despite rising awareness of their military’s defects and of rising security risks from Iraq to Russia, Germans are showing little sign of supporting more investment in their armed forces.

“Jarring equipment problems in the military are coming to light, but the country is not exactly outraged,” a column on the website of the magazine Stern said on Friday. “Europe’s greatest economic power is paying for an army whose armaments are a joke.”

Leading members across the political spectrum of Ms. Merkel’s large governing coalition said the military had to be better managed and money spent more wisely.

“It’s not about more money, it’s about more efficiency,” said Hans-Peter Bartels, the Social Democrat lawmaker who heads the parliamentary committee on defense.

Germany’s Left Party said the revelations of equipment problems merely showed the country’s military should stop its international engagements.

“In the German context, it’s always popular to say let’s cut military spending because it’s an unproductive way of spending money instead of health and education or social projects,” said Tim Stuchtey, a security analyst at the Brandenburg Institute for Society and Security.

At Berlin’s central train station, Bärbel Teepp, a 47-year-old teacher from Münster, counted herself as one of them with that sentiment. “There are more urgent things to spend on [than defense], like education,” she said.

Marvin, a 25-year old technology student who declined to give his last name, said he opposed both weapons for the Kurds and higher spending on Germany’s defense sector.

“At some point it will come back to us,” he said of the prospect of more German military engagement in global conflicts. “I fear there could be a bomb attack in Berlin.”




FAA says Air Traffic Control isn’t Ready for UAS

September 30, 2014


The Federal Aviation Administration is facing significant problems with integrating UASinto US airspace. The AP reports that plans for modernizing air traffic control can’t cover the unique challenges posed by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), given that they were made years before UAVs were used for more than military missions. “It’s becoming painfully apparent that in order to get [drones] in there, there is going to have to be a fair amount of accommodation, at least in the beginning,” National Air Traffic Controllers Association representative Chris Stephenson is quoted as saying.

That’s going to add yet another set of goals for NextGen, an FAA programme that promises to create a nationwide satellite-based location tracking system, provide better tools for sharing information, and update aging technology. Launched in 2004, NextGen has made progress on these projects, but it’s also been consistently over budget and behind schedule. And large drones — which are currently mostly used for surveillance but could also carry commercial cargo or even wireless internet signals — throw a wrench in its current plans. “We didn’t understand the magnitude to which [drones] would be an oncoming tidal wave, something that must be dealt with, and quickly,” says NextGen administrator Ed Bolton.

Congress passed legislation creating NextGen in 2003, and directed the agency to accommodate all types of aircraft, including drones.

The programme, which is not expected to be completed for at least another decade, is replacing radar and radio communications, technologies rooted in the early 20th century, with satellite-based navigation and digital communications.

The FAA has spent more than $5 billion on the complex programme and is nearly finished installing hardware and software for several key systems. But the further it progresses, the more difficult it becomes to make changes.

Government and industry officials have long maintained that drones must meet the same rules that apply to manned aircraft if they are to share the sky. That is changing, however, said Chris Stephenson, who represents the National Air Traffic Controllers Association on several U.S. and international unmanned aircraft committees.

“It’s becoming painfully apparent that in order to get (drones) in there, there is going to have to be a fair amount of accommodation, at least in the beginning,” he said.

Michael Whitaker, the FAA’s deputy administrator, acknowledged that drones “weren’t really part of the equation when you go back to the origin of NextGen.”

The NextGen plans for the next five years do not address how drones will fit into a system designed for planes with pilots on board, but the agency will have to consider whether to do that, Whitaker told a recent meeting of the NextGen Institute, a nonprofit association sponsored by the FAA so that industry can assist with research.

Most of the initial demand to fly unmanned aircraft came from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, which wanted to test military drones or use them to monitor U.S. borders.

Later, interest began to build around potential uses for smaller drones, especially by police departments, but also for those wanting to spray crops, monitor pipelines and inspect offshore oil platforms. These drones can weigh anywhere from a few pounds to several hundred.


More recently, commercial demand has soared – from wedding videographers and real estate agents to Amazon and Google, eyeing potential package deliveries.

The FAA bans commercial drone operations with a few, limited exceptions. That ban, however, is undermined almost daily by frustrated small drone operators.

Bolton, also addressing the institute, said the NextGen office is working closely with a drone research team at the FAA’s technical center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

FAA officials are under pressure from Congress and industry to loosen restrictions on smaller drones. The agency is expected to propose safety rules in November for businesses that want to operate them.

Smaller drones are less an issue for NextGen because the FAA is expected to limit their altitudes to less than 400 feet. Air traffic controllers generally don’t separate aircraft at such low altitudes, except near airports.

But there is also concern about potential traffic and collisions with low-flying smaller drones. NASA researchers are working with the FAA and industry to develop an air traffic control system for aircraft flying at 500 feet or lower. There is no such system today except around airports.

Medium to large drones that are eventually expected fly in “Class A” airspace – over 18,000 feet, where they must be able to avoid collisions with other aircraft – are more of a problem for NextGen.

They will be controlled by a ground pilot, who will be able to see where the drone is on a computer screen and can communicate with controllers. But there won’t be a pilot on board who can look out and adjust course to avoid a collision.

There are other differences as well.

Pilots who fly in Class A airspace file flight plans identifying their routes. But some larger drones are expected to stay aloft at high altitudes for days or weeks at a time, and their flight plans will be much more complex.

ERAM, a NextGen computer system that controllers use to guide high-altitude air traffic, won’t be able to handle such voluminous flight plans and will have to be adjusted, aviation experts said. ERAM is already over budget and years overdue.

A greater concern is that drones fly much slower than other planes in Class A airspace, Stephenson said.

Planes at high altitudes are supposed follow designated highways in the sky to avoid collisions. A typical airliner on that highway might fly at over 500 mph, while a drone at the same altitude might fly at only 175 mph, he said. The more drones, the worse the traffic jam.

“Some people think you won’t be able to see the sun anymore because of all the (drones) that are going to be up there,” Stephenson said. “Other people say, `No, it’s just going to be a few. It’s no big deal.’ ”


Sources: FAA Managers Association, Associated Press





Islamic State Fighting Strains Pentagon Budget

President, Congress Pressed to Join Forces to Reconsider Spending Caps

Sept. 30, 2014 9:10 p.m. ET


WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama’s expansion of airstrikes in the Middle East is creating new strains on Pentagon planners who thought the days of costly military operations in that region were over—at least for now.

The U.S. military campaign is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars in the short-term, creating new demands on a tightening Pentagon budget.

That volatile combination is certain to put renewed pressure on Mr. Obama and Congress to come together and reconsider spending caps on the U.S. defense budget that resulted from a bitter and protracted budget standoff in 2011.

But deep partisan divisions over the budget may resist even the widespread political support for taking on Islamic State militants controlling large chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Instead, lawmakers are relying on an existing pool of extra wartime funding that the U.S. has used for more than a decade to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The debate is still locked in the trap that it’s been locked in for some time,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D., Wash.) “The Gordian Knot hasn’t changed.”

The Pentagon is spending up to $10 million a day on the growing military operations in Iraq and Syria, military officials said. Depending on the size and intensity of the U.S. airstrikes, they could end up costing between $2.4 billion and $6.8 billion a year, according to a new estimate from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank with close ties to the Pentagon.

Those estimates pale in comparison to other Pentagon priorities, such as the $85 billion the U.S. has allocated for military spending this fiscal year in Afghanistan.

But the spending in Iraq is expected to increase in the coming months as the Pentagon sends more forces and devotes more resources to the fight against Islamic State militants. That is sparking a new push from lawmakers and Pentagon leaders to make a deal to eliminate automatic spending caps that are reining in military spending.

“You can’t cut the military while we keep asking them to do more,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The Pentagon isn’t only facing new threats in the Middle East; it also is confronting challenges from Russian forces in Ukraine, the Ebola crisis in West Africa, regional instability in North Africa, and continuing risks from North Korea.

Nonetheless, the current crises may prove incapable of moving the needle in the debate because lawmakers can continue to rely on budgetary maneuvers, such as supplemental wartime funding—the pool of extra money—to cover the costs, said Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“That is kind of the easy compromise solution,” he said. “You can fund these operations and you can fund even more, and you don’t have to change the budget caps.”

Last December, lawmakers and Mr. Obama agreed to a short-term deal to avoid the steepest cuts until 2016. But efforts to come up with a long-term agreement to eliminate spending caps have been thwarted by ideological divisions about how to fix the problem.

Many Democrats want to raise taxes or tap other sources of revenue to cushion the blow of cuts sought by Republicans to domestic programs. Many Republicans oppose raising taxes as part of any pact, but want to restore military spending.

Some lawmakers are arguing that relying on the supplemental budget, known in Washington as Overseas Contingency Operations funds, are at best a stopgap measure. “OCO is going to have to be increased to pay for those operations, but that does not heal the wounds of the cuts,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “Further cuts when your tempo of operations is going up are just foolish.”

Lawmakers from both parties said they don’t expect a real budget debate to begin until after November’s midterm elections, which could tip the balance of power in the Senate to Republicans, giving them full control of Congress. That would provide the GOP with more clout in negotiations, but they still aren’t likely to force through a compromise without help from Democratic lawmakers and support from Mr. Obama.

But some lawmakers say Congress can’t keep deferring the tough decisions, especially now that the U.S. is becoming more involved in the Middle East.

“We need to start rebuilding right now,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This is a war—and you’ve got to win a war.”


Drone delivery: DHL ‘parcelcopter’ flies to German isle

BERLIN Wed Sep 24, 2014 3:55pm EDT


(Reuters) – Logistics firm DHL is using a drone to fly parcels to the German island of Juist, in what it says is the first time an unmanned aircraft has been authorized to deliver goods in Europe.

The company, owned by Germany’s Deutsche Post, joins the likes of and Google in testing the potential for drones to deliver parcels and packages.

Its drone – the “parcelcopter” – can fly at up to 65 km (40 miles) an hour. It will deliver medication and other urgently needed goods to the car-free island of Juist, off Germany’s northern coast, at times when other modes of transport such as flights or ferries are not operating.

If the trial is successful, the craft could be used to deliver such packages to other remote areas or in emergencies.

However, critics of delivery drones have raised concerns over privacy and whether the technology is safe, saying drones could hit other aircraft or even people.

For the Juist project, Deutsche Post has received permission from the German transport ministry and air traffic control authority for a restricted flight area that will be used only by its parcelcopter. The drone will also not fly over any houses, a spokeswoman for DHL Parcel told Reuters.

The craft has four rotors, weighs around 5 kg and can carry loads of up to 1.2 kg. Its flight is completely automated, although it will be monitored from the ground and, depending on weather conditions, the 12 km trip to Juist will take 15-30 minutes.

Flights to the North Sea island, home to around 1,700 people, will start from Friday, weather permitting, and will continue until the middle or end of October, the spokeswoman said.


What’s keeping America’s private drone industry grounded?

by Press • 1 October 2014


Colonel Robert Becklund knows the exhilaration of flying some of the world’s most powerful, fast and nimble aircraft. For 17 years he was a pilot with the 119th fighter wing of the North Dakota air national guard, and the F-16 Fighting Falcon was his plaything.

He would fly the supersonic jets at Mach-2 speeds, feeling the force of nine Gs bearing down on his chest. On formation flying days, he would hurl the plane almost vertically up into the skies, then roll it in dramatic displays beside other F-16s flying alongside him.

It is a paradox that a pilot who has such extensive experience sitting in the cockpit of one of the most advanced manned aircraft on earth should now find himself at the forefront of its nemesis: the push to take the pilot out of the plane and switch to unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, commonly known as drones. Becklund is executive director of the first official drone test site to function in the US, and as such he has made it his personal business to help find a way to introduce the devices into American civilian life.

As head of the Northern Plains unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test site, based in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Becklund oversaw the very first federally approved test flight on 5 May. The launch of a Draganflyer X4ES drone – a small quadcopter designed to carry cameras for aerial photography – may have been a relatively small step for Becklund and his team, what with the flight lasting barely 20 minutes. But, given the nature of the test sites, it might one day come to be seen as a giant leap for aviation.

“We have the ability to shape a new age in aviation,” Becklund said. “I have no doubts about this – unmanned aircraft are absolutely going to change the civilian world. It’s already happening, all around us.”

But despite the excitement around drones as the next chapter in aviation history, there is also growing frustration about the ponderous speed at which the new automated technology is being integrated into the national airspace. Under current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, almost all commercial use of the unmanned planes is strictly prohibited.

On a two-day tour of the Northern Plains test site organised by the North Dakota department of commerce, the coordinator of the site, the Guardian heard aviation experts and UAS pioneers repeatedly express their frustration at the “glacial speeds” at which the FAA is moving towards integrating drones into America’s skies. Becklund said he was so concerned about the slow rate of progress that he feared that the US could jeopardize its technological and commercial leadership in unmanned aerial vehicles.

“I worry that the rest of the world is moving ahead faster than we are,” he said. “We have a lot of interest, the phone is ringing off the hook, companies want to fly their unmanned airplanes, but if a company comes to the test site and wants to know how it can go ahead and commercialise its aircraft, we can’t really tell them. There’s something not quite adding up.”

He added: “It’s going to be a frustratingly long wait for the industry in this country. We are going to have to push to maintain leadership in this area – it’s easy for people to go to Canada.”

Benjamin Trapnell, an expert in unmanned aeronautics at the University of North Dakota, which is a key partner in the UAS test site, said: “The FAA is just rolling its eyes over this – they want to see it all go away. But that’s not going to happen. We’ve got this huge increase in technology, and the question is: can we catch up with it under a bureaucratic system that moves with glacial speeds.”

Congress has set the FAA the task of coming up with rules and standards that would safely allow drone traffic through American skies by September 2015 at the latest. But at the rate things are going, few expect that deadline to be met.

The six drone test sites – the others are in Alaska, Nevada, New York, Texas and Virginia – were set up by the FAA as part of its mission to meet Congress’s mandate. They would act as research arms assisting the FAA to solve a maddeningly difficult riddle: how to unleash the extraordinary potential of drones in US society by allowing them to fly among passenger planes in America’s busy airways, without jeopardizing the country’s unsurpassed record for air safety.

The need for a solution to the riddle appears increasingly urgent with every day that passes, as has been vividly illustrated by a spate of recent incidents. Last week, a Dutch tourist was ordered by a federal judge to pay $3,200 after he crashed his drone into the Grand Prismatic Spring, a famous hot spring in Yellowstone national park, Wyoming. In May, a New York musician was fined for “reckless endangerment” after he crash-landed in a Manhattan sidewalk just feet away from a pedestrian.

As individuals and businesses increasingly embrace drones as they come down in size and cost, the FAA has tried to hold back the tide by sending out cease and desist letters to people caught using the planes without authorization. But such are the attractions of the devices for outlets such as real estate companies, wedding photographers and hobbyists flying drones through fireworks displays that increasingly people are going ahead and using the devices even without FAA approval.

Meanwhile, companies who have done everything they are supposed to do, and are abiding by FAA rules, are hurting because they cannot recoup the investment they have made.

That includes companies like Field of View, an innovative start-up in Grand Forks that has designed a drone package specially geared to the large-scale farmer. It uses state-of-the-art aerial photography to detect plant health, irrigation and development almost to the level of the individual leaf. That could help farmers save thousands of dollars in fertiliser, water and lost crops – as well as helping the environment.

Yet right now Field of View cannot exploit the potential of its product: farmers are not allowed to fly drones over their fields. At least, not in the US. So it does roaring trade instead with Canada, parts of South America, South Africa, the Czech Republic, France, and elsewhere. “A lot of other countries are marching ahead,” said chief executive David Dvorak.

Last week the FAA announced with much fanfare that it was permitting six Hollywood and TV production studios to forge ahead with drones for aerial filming. Though the announcement was warmly welcomed by the movie industry, which has long been chomping at the bit to use drones, the concession has no bearing on the bigger picture of how to integrate UAVs into the national airspace. The film production companies will only be allowed to fly in closed studio spaces where there is no risk of encountering any manned aircraft.

With companies and individuals pushing hard to be allowed to use the technology, and the FAA straining to hold them back, the North Dakota test site finds itself in the middle of the fray. The state was chosen by the FAA as one of the six test sites because it is perfectly suited to its task: it has one of the lowest population densities in the US; its Plains are pancake flat, perfect for take-off and landing; its unencumbered open skies afford maximum visibility; it has a world-class aviation research community at the University of North Dakota; and it also has major military drone installations at Grand Forks air force base.

These advantages combine to make North Dakota a veritable drone Nirvana. But still, the Northern Plains test site is struggling.

Part of the problem is the suffocating nature of FAA paperwork, which is paradoxically even more onerous for the testers than for other drone operators. Every unmanned aircraft that the site flies has to be approved in advance through an FAA-granted “certificate of authorization” that can take weeks or months to obtain, and there must be at least three people present at the exercise including an FAA-certified pilot.

Becklund is clearly deeply frustrated by the constraints put on his team. Asked by reporters whether the rules governing the test site were a little overboard, he replied: “You’re talking to an F-16 pilot – when I’m flying I’m using every finger, talking on two radios, operating weapons, flying in formation. So yes, there could be some changes there, we need to simplify this.”

Another hurdle is the lack of any federal funding, which forces the test site to rely on companies donating their time and equipment. “That’s one of the frustrations I have here: we are completely at the mercy of external sources of research funding that may or may not have any direct connection to actual airspace integration,” Becklund said.

In turn, that skews the type of research the test site can carry out. Instead of focusing on how to merge drones into the national airspace – for instance, by testing sense and avoid technology that stops drones crashing into other aircraft or objects – the researchers must focus on the priorities of its funders, like precision agriculture.

Even if it did have capacity to carry out tests more relevant to the issue of drone integration, North Dakota would be at a loss to know which experiments to concentrate on, as the FAA has so far given no guidance. “Right at this second the FAA hasn’t actually given us clear research areas to work on,” Becklund said. “They say that’s coming.”

In a statement, the FAA said it was working to speed up the process of securing drone flight permits, or COAs, and was “continuously looking for ways to streamline the overall process.” It added that it was also in discussions with all the official drone test sites “to discuss how the test site program is progressing and ways to work out any issues.”

An FAA spokesman stressed that the agency’s overwhelming priority was safety. “Integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace will be done incrementally,” he said.

Becklund’s fear that the US could be left behind in the global drone scramble was underlined this week by news that DHL has begun deliveries in Germany using a “parcelcopter”. The move leaves major US companies, who have all been intensively developing their strategies, standing and watching. Google, Amazon and Fedex are all looking to launch drone delivery services but are stymied under the FAA prohibition.

Brendan Schulman, a New York-based expert on drone law, said that in his view Becklund’s fear that America might lose its edge had already come to pass. “If you are a company with a promising product there’s no way to develop it – you need to take it to Canada or the UK, or Australia where the regulatory environment is not so unfriendly. There’s no way for America to remain competitive.”


FAA gets more applications for drone use exemptions

by Press • 2 October 2014


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration has received nearly a dozen new applications to allow commercial use of unmanned aircraft over the past week, and it plans to publish draft rules to allow broader use by the end of the year, the top agency official for the program said on Wednesday.

The agency has received a total of 57 exemption applications and approved six for film and TV production companies last week, leaving 51 pending, Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s office of unmanned aircraft systems integration, said at an industry conference.

That’s up from 40 applications that the agency said were pending when it approved last week the first exemptions for commercial use in the continental U.S.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)


Small UAV coalition launched to advance the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

by Press • 2 October 2014


WASHINGTON, DC – Leading technology companies today formally announced the formation of the Small UAV Coalition to help pave the way for commercial, philanthropic, and civil use of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the United States and abroad. Chief among the organization’s goals is to advance a regulatory environment that will support safe, reliable, and timely operation of small


Founding members of the Small UAV Coalition are (in alphabetical order): 3DR, Aerialtronics, Airware, Amazon Prime Air, DJI Innovations, Google[x]’s Project Wing, GoPro, and Parrot. The Coalition is supported by a team of experienced attorneys at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

“Small unmanned aerial vehicles will yield tremendous benefits to consumers in so many exciting and practical ways,” said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition and senior advisor at Akin Gump. “Small UAVs can be utilized for stunning aerial photography, surveying and mapping, advances in precision agriculture, consumer delivery, disaster management, journalism, and to monitor flare stacks and gas pipelines. In addition, the Small UAV Coalition will continue to support safe recreational enjoyment of UAVs for hobbyists and enthusiasts.”

“The Small UAV Coalition believes safe commercial, philanthropic, and civil use of small UAVs will benefit the lives of consumers and promote U.S. competitiveness,” said Drobac. “We look forward to working with the FAA, FCC, the Administration and Congress to ensure this industry can flourish.”

Small UAVs weigh under 55 pounds and typically fly at an altitude of less than 400 feet AGL. These highly maneuverable, energy-efficient devices operate on rechargeable batteries and are equipped with the latest in safety features. They can be flown by a remote operator or an automated program in the UAV. For more information on the Small UAV Coalition, please visit, contact, or follow @smallUAVs on Twitter.

Manned UAVs Cost Half of UAS with No Restrictions

October 3, 2014


SkyIMD is a one-stop source for deploying an aerial surveillance system which usually involves multiple technologies and providers. The company is now promoting a new service using manned UAVs equipped with gyro stabilized gimbals and geomatic cameras pre-programmed to automatically follow GIS (Geographic Information System). The camera systems can be live controlled and viewed from the ground over an unlicensed microwave link. A 6 hour/500 mile duration is more than most drones, yet operational costs are less, and there are no flight restrictions (day/night, IFR/VFR, urban areas, altitudes).

Cessnas flown solo as manned UAVs are inherently less expensive than unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and are legal in all airspace. Equipped with the same unmanned aerial systems (UAS) sensors, the manned UAVs on large commercial missions will:

  • Operate at a lower cost per mile, or per acre
  • Have longer flight duration and better stability
  • Provide faster and greater coverage beyond line-of-sight
  • Use the same or less personnel resources, and are easier to use
  • Offer more payload weight, electrical power, and sophisticated instruments

SkyIMD can provide up to three imaging pods per single engine Cessna. Manned UAV payloads include SkyFusion Pak camera system with EO/IR (Electro Optical/Infrared) superzoom, precision agriculture multi-spectral sensors, and extreme resolution photogrammetry geomatics cameras. They are FAA approved, and can be flown now unaffected by the new unmanned regulations.

Manned UAVs have two configurations:

1) Automated: Sensors automatically follow imported GIS (Geographic Information Systems) data, record imagery, and transmit video. The pre-programmed autopilot leaves the solo pilot to focus on traffic between takeoff and landing.

2) Ground operated: System video, command, and control is microwave-linked to the ground without noticeable delay. Over the internet, operators anywhere in the world can engage hands-off automatic tracking by clicking moving objects, visual scenes, or GIS (pipelines, shorelines, search grids, etc.). New pre-programmed course GIS can be uploaded real-time, and manual slewing camera controls work seamlessly together.

Both configurations duplicate all functions for interactive use in the cockpit, allowing airborne operation the old-fashioned way. This is a reliable safe backup to completing missions if UAV ground connectivity is lost. A split screen moving-map with video overlaid augmented reality is always visible. Preloaded background street maps provide instant situational awareness with topography (topos), aerial photos, imported GIS, and 3D visualization.

Mark Zaller, Chief Operating Officer of SkyIMD, says, “Cessnas are less expensive and easier to operate than most drones, and many times more effective. For more than two years, a Law Enforcement agency has flown a Skyhawk solo on scheduled patrols using SkyFusion Pak’s day and night sensors. Pilots receive only the mission coordinates for privacy reasons while deputies, at their office desks, provide fast incident response and birds-eye assistance to ground officers.”

Cessna factory installs SkyIMD’s SkyFusion Pak on 172 Skyhawks, 182 Skylanes, and 206 Stationaires. The new diesel Cessna 172JT-A and 182JT-A will provide even longer flight duration and lower operating costs. Existing aircraft can be installed with an FAA approved Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) directly from SkyIMD. Aircraft retain all types of commercial flight operations with or without the sensor pod present (pilot removable/installable in under 10 minutes).

Kirk Demuth, CEO of RoboFlight, says, “RoboFlight, a Precision Ag company, started with only UAVs, and now SkyIMD systems allow us to fly regular Cessnas over larger acreage for less cost. These readily available aircraft and systems will increase farmer efficiency, reduce environmental impacts from excess nutrient and chemical runoff, keep food costs to a minimum, and increase food supplies worldwide.”

Source: Press Release

About SkyIMD, Inc.

SkyIMD creates aerial imaging, mapping, and data communications solutions for commercial and government customers worldwide. The company integrates best of breed technologies into cost-effective, full-featured solutions for light airplanes, helicopters, and UAS. From installation to operation, it is plug-and-play easy for untrained workers to conduct sophisticated missions previously requiring elite training.

The SkyFusion Pak is a turnkey, lightweight, gyro stabilized, multi-sensor system that mounts on the wing strut or belly of single engine Cessna aircraft. It features high-zoom capability from any altitude, and the ability to send Google Earth photos and live streaming video to iPhones and Androids of ground personnel. FLIR infrared sensors are used to see at night and through smoky conditions. Low cost, quick to install FAA STCs are available for 64 different aircraft models.



Why Boeing Beat SpaceX in NASA’s Space-Taxi Contest

Boeing Received Higher Rankings Than SpaceX During NASA’s Multibillion-Dollar Competition

By Andy Pasztor

Oct. 1, 2014 7:44 p.m. ET


Boeing Co. received consistently higher rankings than Space Exploration Technologies Corp. during NASA’s recent multibillion-dollar competition to build “space taxis,” according to an internal agency document.

The memo—dated Sept. 15 and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal—provides an inside look at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s deliberations and reveals why agency officials rated Boeing’s bid better across the board than the one submitted by SpaceX, as the smaller company is called.

Chicago-based Boeing ended up with a contract worth up to $4.2 billion, versus $2.6 billion for Southern California-based SpaceX. The goal is to use company-owned and operated spacecraft to start transporting astronauts into orbit by 2017.

The rivalry was widely viewed as the closest head-to-head matchup yet between a big traditional aerospace contractor such as Boeing and a so-called new-space upstart represented by SpaceX.

But the 29-page document, signed by NASA’s associate administrator William Gerstenmaier the day before the awards were announced, depicts more of a one-sided contest. Boeing ranked above SpaceX in every major category, from technical maturity to management competence to likelihood of sticking to a timetable.


Boeing’s submission was considered “excellent” for “mission suitability,” whereas SpaceX got a “very good” ranking. The numerical scores for that category, according to one person familiar with the details, were separated by more than 60 points out of a possible 1,000. The document shows Boeing also garnered the highest ranking of “excellent” for technical approach and program management, compared with “very good” rankings for SpaceX.

Based on Boeing’s performance on a preliminary contract, NASA concluded it had “very high confidence” in that company’s likelihood of delivering what it promised—the highest ranking possible.

Despite SpaceX’s historic achievement of becoming the first commercial entity to put a capsule into orbit and ferry NASA cargo to and from the international space station, the agency had somewhat less assurance in the company’s ability to perform, also based on performance on its own preliminary contract. NASA determined it had “high confidence” in SpaceX’s pledges.

The document won’t become public until a protest by a third company, Sierra Nevada Corp., is resolved. Sierra Nevada, which didn’t receive any award but contends its rankings were comparable to the winners, has said the government could save $900 million by picking its proposal. Legal wrangling could drag on for months, potentially slowing down progress on the vehicles or putting work by Boeing or SpaceX on hold.

The September document, among other things, indicates that the bid by Sierra Nevada, based in Sparks, Nev., had “technical uncertainty and schedule risk” partly because “complex hardware and software development remained” to be done.

NASA, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada declined to comment on the document. A Boeing spokeswoman said the document “provides a clear indication of why Boeing was selected.” She said it also “shows our demonstrated technical ability” and ability to perform on schedule.

Neither Boeing nor SpaceX were deemed to have what NASA considered significant weaknesses in their proposals. But in explaining his final decision, Mr. Gerstenmaier pointed to what he saw as some uncertainties and shortcomings in SpaceX’s bid. They included reduced government insight into certain program details and SpaceX’s intention to install parts that haven’t been specially manufactured and tested to guard against negative impacts from radiation.

Using such “non-space radiation tolerant parts” is a critical design and “has big implications,” according to the document. Mr. Gerstenmaier, who heads NASA’s manned exploration efforts, said the approach “will take extra work and add both technical and schedule risk.”

The veteran NASA official said SpaceX’s “transition from cargo to crew” capsules is likely to be more complex than others inside NASA had projected, and he worried about SpaceX’s responsiveness to government requests or direction. In addition, Mr. Gerstenmaier expressed concerns about the company’s previous performance along with a “plan to develop its own docking system and space suit.”

Overall, according to Mr. Gerstenmaier’s analysis, “schedule planning was a recurring issue on SpaceX’s projects” over the years.

In sections of the memo focused on Boeing, Mr. Gerstenmaier concluded that the company’s team submitted “a very comprehensive, credible plan” amounting to a significant discriminator, and laid out “the most well-defined plan for addressing the specific issues” that surfaced in earlier work.

Citing Boeing for having “the best management approach,” the memo emphasized the company’s “effective organizational structure” and comprehensive efforts to keep track of myriad subcontractors. In summary, Mr. Gerstenmaier decided that “Boeing’s superior proposal, with regard to [the company’s] technical and management approach and its past performance,” was worth the higher price.

A NASA evaluation board, which submitted recommendations on the awards, identified Boeing’s strengths in program management, systems engineering and controlling lifecycle costs. Various Boeing subcontractors also had “excellent” or “very good performance” on relevant contracts, according to the memo.

The same panel determined that SpaceX had strong systems for quality management and resolving launch conflicts between customers.

Reflecting Boeing’s legacy working for NASA, Mr. Gerstenmaier said the company’s strong past performance should be valuable for success on the latest fixed-price contract. His memo, however, stressed that “I also recognized that most of this past effort was done under cost reimbursement contracts.”


House Intel Chief Wants To Increase Cyber Attacks Against Russia

Patrick Tucker October 2, 2014


The United States should be conducting more disruptive cyber attacks against nations like Russia, according to Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

“I don’t think we are using all of our cyber-capability to disrupt” actors in Russia targeting U.S. interests, he said at The Washington Post’s cybersecurity summit on Thursday.

Rogers cited attacks out of Russia on the U.S. financial sector, specifically against JP Morgan Chase in August, as an example of nation states targeting U.S. companies and financial interests. The FBI is currently investigating whether or not the attacks were a response to the financial sanctions that the United States placed on Russia in March.

He didn’t directly implicate Putin’s government in the attack on JP Morgan Chase, but he called the attempted breaches a “decision [made] on the basis of sanctions,” and asked whether the intent was “to monitor transactions or go in destroy enough data to cause harm to transactions?”

He called it enough of an alarm to prompt the committee to “ramp up our efforts” and said the U.S. needs an “understandable policy on what offensive operations look like and should be.”

The power to wage cyber attacks is discussed under a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Directive issued on June 21, 2013. And it’s alluded to in a March 5 Air Force instruction mandate titled “Command and Control (C2) for Cyberspace Operations” (10-1701), but is otherwise classified.

Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of NSA and Cyber Command, said the United States has authority to conduct limited cyberwar activities. “Geographic combatant commanders already have authority to direct and execute certain Defensive Cyberspace Operations (DCO) within their own networks,” he testified at a recent Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing.

But Rep. Rogers cautioned that the private sector networks, which comprise 85 percent of the networks in the United States, are “not prepared to handle” even present-day hacks from nation states, much less a coordinated retaliatory back and forth of extremely sophisticated attacks, the sort of volleying that might be characterized as cyber war.

“If your [chief information officer] says he’s ready for what’s coming, find a new CIO,” he said.



SBA Data Show Large Firms Are Nabbing Contracts Reserved for Small Businesses

By Charles S. Clark

October 2, 2014


Federal procurement data show that large companies, including leading defense contractors, last year received millions of dollars in contracts intended for small and disadvantaged businesses. The data was obtained last week by the American Small Business League, which fought a multi-year court battle to obtain the information from the Small Business Administration.

The group, based in Petaluma, Calif., and run by software entrepreneur Lloyd Chapman, has been a thorn in the side of SBA for years. It accuses the agency of catering to large companies that misrepresent themselves as small businesses to win government contracts.

Last week the league obtained from SBA an Excel file containing nearly 107,000 entries of vendors that received $83 billion in small business contracts in fiscal 2013. While SBA annually releases analytical information about small business contracting, it took a lawsuit from the league to force the agency to release its list of vendors who receive small business contracts.

The agency sought to protect its list from disclosure on the grounds that it is compiled from data it culls from a General Services Administration database. U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel found that reasoning flawed and in a 2008 ruling ordered the information released. This is the first year SBA has provided the information without a court battle, Chapman said.

Prepared by SBA’s Office of Government Contracting and Business Development, the list is drawn from the fiscal 2013 Federal Procurement Data System. The list does not include any information about the contracts themselves, only the names of vendors who received small business contracts and the amounts they were awarded. It includes entries for such contractors as Chevron U.S.A. Inc. ($8.5 million); Lockheed Martin Management Systems Designers, Inc. ($47 million); Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. ($455,636); Raytheon BBN Technology Corp. ($5 million); Raytheon Company ($418,766); and General Dynamics C4 Systems ($947,203).

“This list of companies is the biggest piece of evidence the American Small Business League has ever received from the SBA through a FOIA request,” said Chapman. In the past, attorneys for the SBA claimed the agency had no knowledge or information on the actual recipients of federal small business contracts, he said.

Chapman believes the administration is trying to dismantle the SBA “through policies that dramatically increase the federal definition of a small business, and we can’t let him do that,” he said.

The SBA inspector general last month substantiated the notion that the agency mischaracterizes companies in a damning report that found many agencies—while striving to reach the governmentwide goal of awarding 23 percent of contract collars to small businesses—were “overstating” the eligible firms. The watchdog identified more than $400 million in contract dollars that went to firms too large to qualify for the Section 8(a) set-asides for small businesses and those in poor communities.

The IG recommended that the SBA’s associate administrator for government contracting and business development strengthen controls between SBA databases on certification data of 8(a) and HUBZone firms to improve the accuracy of information reported to the Federal Procurement Data System. The SBA largely agreed.

A previous league study concluded that 75 percent of such awards were given to large firms.


On Wednesday, the small business league said the administration “has adopted a new strategy to close the agency with a series of policies that appear to be designed to dilute and dismantle federal small business programs,” a reference to a series of proposed rules SBA began releasing in that the league says “dramatically increased the federal definition of a small business in hundreds of categories.”

One proposed rule out in August would remove the Information Technology Value Added Resellers exception under North American Industry Classification System 541519. It also “proposes to increase employee-based small business size standards for 30 industries and three sub-industries.”

The league says that would mean that a small information technology firm “with annual sales in excess of $27.5 million will be considered a large business while contracts to firms like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon will continue to be counted as small business contracts.”

Asked to respond, an SBA spokeswoman did not address the question of why large companies may be receiving contracts meant for small business, but said the agency is “puzzled” by the assertion that its proposal to remove the Information Technology Value Added Resellers exception is a “clandestine” effort to hurt small businesses. “Instead, the agency feels the proposal will provide a clear level of transparency to contracting officers, small businesses and the public at large.”

SBA said the change “prevents the general public from being confused when firms are awarded contracts under the ITVAR exception, as contracting officers are not able to identify size standard exceptions” in the federal procurement database. The proposed rule also “eliminates ambiguity with respect to the classification of a contract,” whether, for example, the contract for which the exception may apply should be classified as a service contract or supply contract, she said.

In addition, SBA said, the rule will not be finalized until after Nov. 10, the deadline for public comments. “Even with the proposed elimination, the result will still have a very minimal impact on businesses,” the spokeswoman said. “An analysis of 2007 economic census data shows that more than 99 percent of the firms below the 150-employee level will continue to operate as small under a revenue-based size standard,” she said.

Justin Chiarodo, a law partner with Dickstein Shapiro, whose clients include small businesses, noted that the SBA is required to revise the business size standards under the 2010 Small Business jobs Act. But a key issue is “whether current regulations are adequately enforced and followed to make sure large companies aren’t capturing opportunities that are intended for small business,” he said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of enforcement now, but one challenge is that some aspects of the program rely on information provided by the contractors.” Once a company receives an 8(a) set-aside contract, there is a “fairly involved certification process,” he says, but in other cases there’s only a representation from the company, which can be “mistaken, misleading or fraudulent—the regulations are confusing,” he said. “Everybody favors supporting a small business base in federal procurement, and it will continue. The challenge is making sure people understand and follow the rules so we get an accurate picture of where contracting dollars actually going.”




Ex-NSA Director Touts Cybersecurity As A Service

Gen. Keith Alexander advocates a better way for companies, large and small, to deal with cyber threats.


Elena Malykhina


Former US Cyber Command and National Security Agency (NSA) head Gen. Keith Alexander delivered sobering messages about managing cyber risks at an event Tuesday. The amount of information worldwide is increasing at a colossal rate. Technology is updating approximately every two years. The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2014 didn’t exist in 2004, so today’s students are preparing for jobs that don’t yet exist and will use technologies that haven’t yet been invented. Meanwhile, cyber threats are evolving and becoming more sophisticated.

Alexander, who now runs a firm called IronNet Cybersecurity, was the keynote speaker at the event hosted by PwC in New York City. In order to address the growing threats, Alexander said there needs to be cyber-security legislation, real-time or near-real-time situational awareness, and better training at the “defense” level.

“One of the biggest things I saw as the director of the NSA is we trained our offense at one level: these guys get world-class training and capabilities. Our defense [is] guys that are taught IT and how to bring networks up, but they aren’t taught how to go against the adversary,” said Alexander. “We’ve got to come up with a program that trains our defenders and those that operate the networks to understand exactly what’s coming at them.”

Alexander also argued that big companies with vast resources should work together with small and midsized companies to secure information within industries and across industries. One way to get small and midsized companies to opt in is to offer them cybersecurity as a service, he said.

“If the small and midsized companies are grouped together and they have this great cyber-security as a service capability, they’re not the downstream problem for the large companies. In fact, they become part of the sensing fabric that help protect the big industries — which they can’t do today. This capability would greatly improve our cyber hygiene,” said Alexander.

At the event, PwC also released its Global State of Information Security Survey 2015, which found that the number of detected security incidents in 2014 rose 48% over 2013’s study to 42.8 million — an equivalent of 117,339 attacks detected per day. Furthermore, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of detected security incidents has increased 66% year-over-year since 2009.

According to the survey, as security incidents grow in frequency, the costs associated with managing and mitigating breaches also increase. The estimated reported average financial loss from worldwide cyber-security incidents was $2.7 million in 2014, which is a 34% increase over 2013. However, global information security budgets have decreased 4% when compared with 2013.

With increased incidents and heightened regulations, corporations and government agencies are scrambling to safeguard their data and networks. There needs to be a shift from security that focuses on prevention and controls to a risk-based approach that focuses on organizations’ most valuable assets and biggest threats, the survey found.

Additionally, the survey highlighted some efforts launched by the federal government to help organizations improve their cyber-security position on a voluntary basis. One example is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cyber-security framework, which stemmed from a 2013 Obama Administration executive order. The framework is labeled Version 1.0 and is being implemented by individual companies to assess and improve cyber security.

When it comes to regional governments, however, state chief information security officers (CISOs) feel that insufficient funding (75%), sophisticated threats (61%), and shortage of skilled talent (59%) all threaten security, according to a separate new study by Deloitte and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

While the role of state CISOs continues to gain validity, they are concerned about the intensity, volume, and complexity of cyber threats, given that state information systems contain sensitive citizen data and are more susceptible to attacks. According to NASCIO chair Doug Robinson, a major challenge facing states is “how to both focus on the immediate need of securing their ecosystems against imminent threat, while maturing their cyber-security program that covers protection, early detection/containment, and ability to bounce back from incidents.”



Prisons to test security drones

Updated: 4:37 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 | Posted: 10:03 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

By Amanda Seitz

DDN Staff Writer



Local state prisons are believed to be the first in the country testing security drones in hopes of cutting down on illegal activity at the penitentiaries.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections on Wednesday launched a $170,000 aerostat, also called a “tethered balloon,” to monitor security at the Lebanon and Warren Correctional Institutions.

The aerostat will have the capability to capture video of the prisons’ grounds during the day and night as well as use infrared sensors to detect unwelcome visitors staked near the facility’s fences.

Testing, which will also examine the aerostat’s unique day and night cameras, will last until Oct. 7, Ed Voorhies, the managing director of Ohio’s prisons, told this news outlet. The security balloon is 15 feet in diameter and about a quarter the size of a hot air balloon, he added.

“We believe these vehicles and sensors can be useful,” Voorhies said. “There’s no denying, we’re trying to find ways to attack and prevent that external threat, which is ever increasing, (in our prisons).”

Starting in November, the prisons will test a series of different drones, sensors and cameras at the Lebanon and Warren facilities in collaboration with the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center. The testing is expected to last at least 120 days, Voorhies said.

Three different types of unmanned aircrafts will be tested for roughly 30 days each starting in November. First, the aerostat, or tethered balloon, will get another trial. Then, prison officials will test out a helicopter system, which can take off both inside the prison facility and outside on the grounds. A fixed-wing aircraft will also be given a test run.

Different sensors and cameras will be used in each of the drones during the testing period.

Once testing is completed, prison officials will decide if they want to proceed with drone use on prison grounds and, if so, which drones they’d like to use to monitor the prisons.

“We’re generally going to be conducting a cost-benefit analysis to determine if and what type of security we’re going to use,” Voorhies said of the drones.

The aerostat was bought and paid for in May by the Ohio Department of Transportation, which is overseeing operations at Ohio’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Center. Prison officials were unable to provide cost estimates for the six-month drone testing project slated to begin in November because the transportation department is in the process of collecting cost and project proposals.


Drones could become of statewide interest for other government agencies in coming years, said Steve Faulkner, a spokesman for the transportation department.

“These devices can be used for a number of different type of things,” Faulkner said. “We shouldn’t rule out the possibility that during a national disaster such a device can be used to aid emergency personnel.”

Unmanned air crafts are currently banned from commercial use, but the Federal Aviation Administration permits government agencies to use the devices.

Prison workers will be tasked with surveying the aerostat’s cameras. The aerostat testing will also determine if the technology can watch both the Lebanon and Warren facilities at once and how far off prison grounds the device is capable of seeing.

The drone’s line of vision is a concern for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Gary Daniels, a spokesman for the organization, said. Daniels said the ACLU isn’t against drone use, but the organization wants to see state legislation that will tell government agencies how they can use or store images of private properties, for example.

“We’re against government use of drones when that technology invades people’s privacy, which is very easy to do with drones,” Daniels said. “What we’re trying to prevent here is the widespread surveillance of people by the government.”

Voorhies said the prisons agency is working on a plan that will address how to store drone video of private property.

State union officials, who represent corrections officers, echoed concerns about neighborhood privacy and said they’re worried the state could consider cutting jobs in favor of surveillance technology.

“Technologies are never a replacement, in a prison system, for people,” Christopher Mabe, the president of the Ohio Civil Services Employee Association, said.



Drought Is Making California Shrink in Mass

By John Metcalfe


10:14 AM ET


To live in California is to be reminded every day about the dwindling water supply. With more than 80 percent of the state locked in extreme drought, it’s no wonder people are taking desperate measures like replacing their lawns with astroturf, snitching on neighbors who overuse their hoses, and eating off paper plates to avoid dish washing.

So much groundwater has disappeared—much of it from pumping to farms—that it’s causing the state to shrink in mass. We know that thanks to a pair of satellites that measure changes in the planet’s gravity. The GRACE mission, run by U.S. and German scientists, has tracked the decline in California’s water storage from 2002 (at left) to 2014 (right). The areas that have turned orange and red have lost enough water to make a significant imprint on the gravitational field.

Quantifying water loss can be tough in places like the (once-fertile) Central Valley due to poor monitoring efforts and lax water-use reporting. It’s likely governments will rely on this method in the future, as “groundwater reserves, the traditional backup for water supplies during extended periods of drought, are in decline globally,” according to a 2013 study in Science. But as for what’s happening in California, and what it bodes for the future, have a look at this assessment from scientists who used GRACE to track water loss in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins from 2003 to 2010. They write inGeophysical Research Letters:

We find that the basins are losing water at a rate of 31.0 ± 2.7 mm yr−1 equivalent water height, equal to a volume of 30.9 km3 for the study period, or nearly the capacity of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States. We use additional observations and hydrological model information to determine that the majority of these losses are due to groundwater depletion in the Central Valley. Our results show that the Central Valley lost 20.4 ± 3.9 mm yr−1 of groundwater during the 78-month period, or 20.3 km3 in volume. Continued groundwater depletion at this rate may well be unsustainable, with potentially dire consequences for the economic and food security of the United States.


The Many, Many Ideas to Fix the Broken Security Clearance Process

By Eric Katz

September 29, 2014


In just a few months beginning mid-2013, the American people’s confidence in the federal government’s ability to administer security clearances was upended.

First, cleared contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of pages of classified data on the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities. Then contractor Aaron Alexis fatally shot 12 people at one of the most protected government facilities in the country: the Washington Navy Yard. Alexis had a security clearance despite several potential red flags, including a history of mental health problems.

In the year since Alexis’ shooting rampage, lawmakers have been practically stepping on each other’s toes with proposals to fix the security clearance process. Bills have been unveiled, investigations launched, commissions formed, recommendations released and processes overhauled. Still, government leaders lack a uniform vision for reform, and the one common refrain from the president to law enforcement officials to members of Congress is that more work remains.


Legislative Proposals

Obama has signed into law two proposals stemming from the post-Snowden, post-Alexis era.

The first was the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which established a task force to enhance coordination and cooperation among federal background checkers and state and local authorities. The task force issued recommendations to improve information sharing, but those recommendations have yet to be put into practice.

In February, Obama signed into law an act that allowed the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general to use its revolving fund to investigate cases in which the integrity of a background check may have been compromised. That reform, which cleared both chambers of Congress unanimously, was designed to give OPM — the agency which since 2004 has maintained primary responsibility for doling out security clearances — more oversight authority over its own investigations.

Lawmakers viewed those changes as starting points, not solutions. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who sponsored the OPM IG Act and has championed security clearance reform, continues to look for ways to attack the problem.

“For too long we’ve played fast and loose with the security clearance process,” Tester told Government Executive. “As a result, the process has lacked accountability, transparency and led to too many individuals having security clearances — even if they don’t need them to fulfill their jobs. I will continue to work to reform the process so we can protect our nation and our interests.”

Part of that work includes introducing the Security Clearance Accountability and Reform (SCARE) Act, which would prohibit federal employees found guilty of compromising the integrity of a background investigation from conducting future investigations, and would make the manipulation a fireable offense. The bill was introduced with bipartisan support, including from Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, and cleared a committee, but has yet to receive a vote on the Senate floor.

Most parties identify over-classification of documents and overzealousness to give out security clearances as key barriers to a properly functioning security clearance process. The logic goes thus: too much classified information creates demand for too many individuals needing clearances, which puts pressure on investigators to emphasize quantity of background checks over quality. Currently, about 5.1 million individuals hold security clearances, about 40 percent of whom do not ever access classified information.

In total, the federal government spent about $11.6 billion on its security classification and clearance system in fiscal 2013.

“One of the solutions has to be [to reduce] the need for so many clearances in the first place,” said Neil Gordon of the Project on Government Oversight. He added that while OPM has cut the longstanding backlog of investigations, “quicker doesn’t necessarily mean better.”

Tester’s SCARE Act attempts to address that issue, as does the Clearance and Over-Classification Reform and Reduction (CORRECT) Act, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. The bill would codify an Obama administration initiative to reduce the number of people with clearances by 10 percent within five years, and attempt to more closely tie the need for security clearances to positions that require access to classified information.

Federal agencies have already successfully reduced the number of individuals with clearances from its peak in the post-Sept. 11 era, as demonstrated by these statistics from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence:


Building on Executive Actions

In the immediate aftermath of the Navy Yard shooting, Obama tasked the Office of Management and Budget, in conjunction with OPM; ODNI; the Homeland Security, Justice and Defense departments; and others with crafting a Suitability and Security Process Review. After 120 days, the panel came up with 13 recommendations, broken down into three main categories: increasing the availability of information to improve decision making, reducing the inherent risk in the current security clearance process and developing holistic, enterprise solutions to clearance operations.

Some of the concerns have been addressed, while lawmakers continue to seek solutions to others. Several recommendations attempt to improve the ongoing monitoring of cleared workers to ensure the proper alarms are sounded when, for example, a cleared employee checks himself into an emergency room for mental health issues.

A proposal from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would require OPM to reevaluate clearance holders at least twice every five years through an automated and random review of public records and databases. Currently, secret security clearance holders are reevaluated by a human investigator every 10 years, while top secret holders are reevaluated every five. The automated reviews would search typical databases such as court records, as well as previously uninvestigated tools such as consumer reports and individuals’ Facebook and Twitter pages.

Collins’ Enhanced Security Clearance Act, introduced with bipartisan support, has passed a Senate committee and Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., has introduced similar legislation in the House. The Obama administration has launched several pilots of its “continuous evaluation” program, which aims to evaluate clearance holders more frequently. The Pentagon has successfully implemented the program to some of its cleared workforce, and the White House expects the program to be fully implemented for the “most sensitive populations” in fiscal 2016.

The Wyden-Thompson CORRECT Act includes several provisions to address privacy concerns for employees subject to continuous evaluation programs.

Greg Rinckey, a managing partner at Tully Rinckey, a law firm specializing in security clearance issues, said the key to reform is two-pronged: reduce the number of people with clearances, then increase the number of reinvestigations.

“The more people holding security clearances the more the chances for a breach,” he said.

The OMB report also called for better oversight and metrics to review the investigations conducted by contractors. In February, the Obama administration moved to bring the previously outsourced final review of background checks in-house. More recently, the Office of Personnel Management decided not to extend a contract with USIS, the largest private-sector background investigator and the company responsible for both Snowden and Alexis’ clearances. But in a rebuttal of recent criticisms, USIS noted that its investigations of both Snowden and Alexis were complete.

Tester also introduced the Preventing Conflicts of Interest with Contractors Act, which passed the Senate earlier this month. The bill would prohibit a contractor from conducting a quality review of its own background checks.


Now What?

While lawmakers’ plans are largely abstract, the White House has taken some concrete actions.

OMB recently said it will shift all individuals with clearances to a five-year schedule, regardless of level. To meet the 10 percent reduction goal, ODNI is requiring all agencies to “review and validate” whether each individual with a clearance actually needs it. OMB is coordinating a governmentwide, metrics-based evaluation of meeting security clearance objectives. While most of the information is classified or not yet available, the statistics show the government is, for better or worse, processing clearances more quickly.

The fastest 90 percent of investigations for secret clearances took an average of 46 days as of April 2014, while top secret took 109 days. The same category of investigations in aggregate took 265 days in 2005.

“We’ve made progress, but there is more work to be done,” acknowledged Beth Cobert, OMB’s deputy director for management, on the recent one-year anniversary of the Navy Yard shooting. “We will continue to work aggressively to ensure rigorous oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place throughout government, thereby ensuring the safety of federal workers and the protection of our nation’s most sensitive information.”

In addition to the proposals already put forward, government audits point to gaps in the security clearance process. A Government Accountability Office report issued earlier this month found inconsistencies in how agencies revoke the clearances, as well as in the punishment clearance-revoked employees receive. A July GAO report found 83,000 tax delinquent Defense employees and contractors owed the government $730 million.

Congress is recessed until the November elections, at which point it will face a limited schedule and an already full agenda. If lawmakers fail to take on a larger reform bill during the lame duck session, it will be back to the drawing board in 2015.

Dan Malessa, a spokesman for Tester, said the senator does not care whether the reforms come out of the Senate or from the Obama administration, but simply believes “the process still deserves increased scrutiny and improvement.”

Malessa added: “You can expect more attention on this issue from Sen. Tester.” Whether his colleagues show similar enthusiasm remains to be seen.


Marijuana Production: The Next Great Energy Hog?,2817,2465319,00.asp

By Evan Dashevsky

September 3, 2014


The new “green” industry is anything but. And it’s a completely avoidable problem.

Marijuana Production is an Electricity Hog and it’s All the Law’s Fault

As a growing number of states flirt with marijuana legalization, they must grapple with how best to bring a multi-billion dollar industry out from the shadows and into the light of the regulated, tax-paying world. While both sides of the legalization debate cherry pick the results of these experiments to support their particular point of view, the new reality on the ground has highlighted one facet that few are talking about: marijuana production is a huge power suck.

At least producing marijuana indoors is a big fat electricity hog, which is how the vast majority of legal growhouses still operate. This issue is destined to become more pronounced in Colorado next month when the state opens the doors for standalone production facilities. Previously, the state had an inefficient system in which production facilities had to be vertically integrated with retail outlets. This coming phase has prompted a run on warehouse spaces around the Centennial State, foretelling a rush of new electron-thirsty grow operations.

Indoor Legal Marijuana Production ColoradoTraditionally, marijuana production has been an indoor activity—for understandable reasons. But why is a now kinda-sorta-legal plant still grown the same way it was under total prohibition? There’s a number of contributing factors.

For one, there’s a certain amount of inertia from an industry that grew up indoors—right or wrong, there is a pervasive idea that indoor cultivation gives growers a control over their product that might not be achievable outside. Some is due to security concerns (it’s still a mostly cash business, though this will likely change with time). However, the biggest contributor might just be the evolving and conflicting patchwork of state and federal laws that make normal energy-efficient production process unfeasible. For now.

According to a 2012 report from sustainability researcher and consultant Evan Mills, Cannabis production (legally sanctioned and otherwise) accounted for 1 percent of all national electricity consumption. To put that number in context: marijuana growhouses used the same amount of electricity as 2 million homes and equaled the carbon output of 3 million cars. Energy costs for indoor production cost $6 billion a year—six times the power needs of the entire U.S. pharmaceutical industry. A single marijuana growhouse has the same power needs of a similarly sized, energy-greedy data center.


This power thirst has even led to additional illegal activity. For example, in western Canada—where recreational pot is a prohibited, but very popular pastime—illegal “grow ops” have been the prime forces behind a wave of “electricity theft,” to the tune of $100 million per year. This often takes the form of hacked meters. The regional energy utility, BC Hydro, has even created a team of electricity theft investigators tasked with cracking down on the activity.

So, how can tiny green plants be so energy-demanding? “Most of our power needs are from the lighting that we’re using,” explains Ellis Smith, the chief development officer with the American Cannabis Company, a consulting firm for the legal grow industry. “We’re using very high power lighting—up to 1000 watts. These create a lot of heat in a very small space, so you need to pump in a lot of air conditioning. Someone needs to come in and disrupt this. Someone could come in and do something major here—this is where all our power consumption comes from and the costs are just so high.”

All these indoor environmental controls not only add hefty costs to growhouse operators—where monthly energy bills have been reported to exceed $100,000—but they can cause a cavernous carbon footprint. And this is of particular concern as the localities that might be most amenable to the legal marijuana industry also tend to be most environmentally minded. For example, growhouses in oh-so-crunchy Boulder are required to purchase their energy from renewable sources, which has been estimated to drive costs up an additional 20 percent.

One alternative option for marijuana production is greenhouses. But this is far from an energy cure-all—at least not on the industrial scale. While the greenhouse model indeed cuts down on the need for some lighting (supplemental lights would still be necessary for cloudy days or when the days grow shorter), one still needs to account for other elements such as water, humidity, and supplemental CO2 (not to mention the construction of the actual greenhouse). And maintaining these factors takes energy and money.

The benefits of using greenhouses are truly felt when used in a climate that is already somewhat amenable to the plant in question all year round (i.e. not a Colorado winter; Cannabis tends to thrive in environment with lots of sun, 50 percent humidity, and a temperature around 78 degrees—give or take).

Marijuana Greenhouse”Traditionally and historically, plants grown outdoors or in greenhouses are grown regionally, [and are] dependent on the local climate and what growers want. The challenge with Cannabis cultivation is that it must be grown in the state where it’s legal,” explains Brandy Keen, a vice president with Surna, a Colorado-based marijuana consulting firm specializing in grow technology. “You can’t ship a Cannabis plant across state or international lines. So, what we’re left with is having to grow a Cannabis plant in an environment that is not conducive to its growth. ”

Many of these issues could be avoided if the crop were—like any other legal plant—grown outside. And while Cannabis can indeed be grown outdoors in Colorado, it could only be grown seasonally, thus limiting its scalability.

Should federal law eventually bend towards legalization’s gravitational pull and facilitate legal marijuana cultivation and distribution, the plant would be able to be grown on larger scales in friendlier climates throughout the sunnier parts of the country.

For the time being, producers are left to search out sustainable (not to mention, cheaper) growhouse methods including using renewable fuels and water recycling techniques. A simple Google search for “legal Cannabis consultant” provides a window on to the rise of a marijuana consultant boom in the fields of sustainability, agriculture, and engineering.

“The industry is really really young. It’s a baby industry, still” explains Keen. “People are just starting to realize the types of technologies that are available to them. There’s just now private investment on a large scale. And the people who were successful early on are making enough money to really invest in these facilities in a way that is sustainable.”


Cultivation will inevitably expand where and when the plant can grow and increase yields. Cannabis is indigenous to southern and central Asia—basically all along The Silk Road. So, somewhere in the plant’s genetic code lays the ability to grow and prosper in high-altitude Colorado or even overcast Washington state.

Irrespective of the plant’s inherent hardiness, humans have continually demonstrated the ability to make plants grow just about anywhere. For example, some of the best premium cigar wrappers are grown in Connecticut, far from the hot humid regions of the Caribbean where most cigar leaf originates. And this agricultural feat came about before the era of genetic engineering, which greatly expands what any organism can achieve. The takeaway: plants can—with some elbow grease and assistance from technology—be trained grow outside their comfort zone.

In the end, all the debates surrounding sustainable energy and indoor vs. greenhouse cultivation may just be the result of a stop-gap moment in history. The thrust of the American electorate—particularly the younger segment of the American electorate—is relentlessly moving towards legalization. Regardless of your position, this is where the law is inevitably headed. There will, of course be hold-outs, but just as mass acceptance for gay marriage swept the country, what was once politically unthinkable can swiftly become legal reality. In the not-crazy-distant future, we may live in a country where outdoor marijuana farms are part of the rural tapestry.

As society becomes more concerned with its impact on the environment, regulators and consumers will call for marijuana to be grown in an energy-efficient manner, just like any other legal crop. And as the costs become untenable, growers will begin to demand this transition as well. “I feel that indoor cultivation will be a thing of the past in the next 8 to 12 years,” says Smith. “It’s the evolution of our industry. Our power consumption simply can’t handle this.”


JP Morgan Chase: 76M households exposed in cyberbreach

Some 7 million small businesses were also compromised in the computer attack over the summer — far more than the 1 million customer accounts initially thought to have been breached.

by Michelle Meyers and Seth Rosenblatt

October 2, 2014 3:52 PM PDT


JPMorgan Chase revealed in a regulatory filing Thursday that contact information for 76 million households and 7 million small businesses was compromised in the data breach reported in late August.

That makes it a much bigger breach than initially thought. Early accounts had estimated that around 1 million customers had been affected by the hack. It also likely makes it one of the largest corporate hacks ever reported. JP Morgan is the largest bank in the US and the sixth-largest bank in the world.

In its filing with the Security and Exchange Commission, JP Morgan said the user contact information compromised included names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and internal customer data. There’s no evidence, however, that account numbers, passwords, user IDs, dates of birth or Social Security numbers were compromised.

And thus far, the firm hasn’t seen any fraud related to the breach. It reiterated that customers aren’t liable for any unauthorized transactions on their accounts.

The JP Morgan hack was originally discovered in July, a month after hackers were suspected of breaking in to the financial institution’s servers.

Many major financial institutions — including Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and HSBC — were attacked earlier this year with denial-of-service attacks that interrupted their websites and Internet operations. US government officials believe that the attacks came from Iran.

Large-scale hacks affecting tens of millions of customers have occurred numerous times in the past 12 months. Word of the biggest single-company breach came in December as consumer retail goods titan Target said that hackers pilfered credit card data for more than 110 million customers. Other major hacks reported this year include department store Neiman Marcus, restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s, arts- and crafts-supplies chain Michaels Stores. Also making news were celebrity photos stolen through a vulnerability in Apple’s iCloud.

Although JP Morgan reported that no customer financial data was stolen, the company said that the hackers made off with knowledge of most if not all software installed on a standard JP Morgan computer.

This means that the hackers could track down known, unpatched vulnerabilities for those software programs to regain illegal access to JP Morgan’s computers.


Ramussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, October 04, 2014


What did Shakespeare’s Macbeth say of life? “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” He might just as well have been talking about politics in America today.

Remember the partial shutdown of the federal government last October and all the pronouncements of doom and gloom? The number of voters who said the country was heading in the right direction fell to a five-year low of 13%, and many in Congress feared for their political careers.

Guess what? A year later, 82% say the shutdown has had little, if any, impact on them personally. 

Confidence in the nation’s direction has returned to the mid- to upper 20s, although that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the nation’s leadership. And many pundits suggest Republicans, the villains in the shutdown saga, are on the brink of taking full control of the Congress.

Of course, it didn’t help that shortly after the shutdown ended, Obamacare made its public debut, taking the onus off the GOP for heartlessly closing down the federal government and shifting it to the Democrats for dumping the jerry-rigged national health care law on an unwilling public. Voters, by the way, still don’t care much for the health care law. 

Plus it seems there’s a new crisis nearly every day now in Washington, D.C., and who knows where the Ebola problem is leading?

Just this past week, despite strong majority support for sending the latest wave of illegal immigrants home as quickly as possible, the Obama administration announced instead that it is spending $9 million in taxpayer dollars to provide lawyers for some of these illegals. But 68% of voters think these illegal immigrants should not have the same legal rights and protections that U.S. citizens have, and even more (71%) say they shouldn’t be eligible for government services and benefits.

But who cares what voters think, right? After all, most of them opposed Obamacare, too, and have been calling for government spending cuts for years. Only 21%, however, think it’s even somewhat likely that spending will be significantly reduced over the next few years no matter which political party is in power.

President Obama has a new attorney general to nominate, too, with Eric Holder’s announcement that he is stepping down after six years as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Voters don’t think much of Holder and hope the president will pick an attorney general who is less interested in politics and more interested in administering justice fairly. Republicans want Obama to hold off on the nomination until early next year, hoping that there will be a GOP-led Senate in place to sign off on it.

It’s still too soon, though, to say whether a Republican Senate will be a reality come January. The GOP needs a net gain of six Senate seats to be the majority, and West Virginia remains one of its best chances for a pickup. Colorado, another seat now held by a Democrat, remains a dead heat.

Republican David Perdue still runs slightly ahead of Democrat Michelle Nunn in Georgia’s closely watched U.S. Senate race. That seat is now held by a retiring GOP senator and is one Republicans can’t afford to lose, especially with Kansas unexpectedly in play.

Minnesota continues to be a long-shot for the GOP, with Democratic Senator Al Franken holding an eight-point lead over his Republican challenger.

The Senate seats up this year in Illinois, New Mexico and Rhode Island are all safely Democratic.

Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even add to their existing majority. However, just 29% of voters think their representative in Congress deserves reelection.

Democrats have taken a one-point lead over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. The two parties have been separated by two points or less most weeks this year.

The president’s monthly job approval rating rose a point in September to 47%, but it’s been 47% to 48% for much of his presidency. His daily job approval rating has improved slightly in the last week or so, now running in the mid- to high negative teens.

Voters agree with the president’s decision to step up military action against the radical Islamic group ISIS in the Middle East and think involvement by Muslim nations increase the mission’s chances of success.

Obama took to the campaign trail late in the week to tout the improving economy, but he seems to be more optimistic than much of the public. The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence fell only slightly in September after reaching an all-time high in August, but consumer and investor confidence continue to track at some of their lowest levels in months.

There’s been some interesting developments in governor’s races around the country. In Colorado, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper has pulled slightly ahead of Republican challenger Bob Beauprez in his bid to keep his job.

In Alaska, the governor’s race has a revised cast of characters and a new front-runner. Incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn has edged ahead for the first time this year in Illinois’ gubernatorial race.

Republican Asa Hutchinson is now leading Democrat Mike Ross in the race to be Arkansas’ next governor. Democratic State Treasurer Gina Raimondo is beating Republican Allan Fung in Rhode Island.

Still, one of this year’s most widely anticipated contests remains as anticlimactic as it has been for months: Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott has a double-digit lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the race to be Texas’ first new governor in 14 years.

At least four deaths in this country have now been attributed to a new strain of the severe respiratory disease known as enterovirus, but most Americans are confident the U.S. public health system can control the virus. 

We’ll let you know Monday morning how confident Americans are that the public healthy system can handle the deadly Ebola virus now that it’s arrived in this country.

In other surveys last week:

Most adults think their fellow Americans should be proud of the nation’s history, but most also doubt that they actually know much about it.

Americans aren’t sure new codes of sexual conduct on college campuses will reduce the problem of sexual assault.

— Most Americans still consider military service good for young people but know fewer people who have joined the military out of frustration with the job market.

— Americans say they have a better chance for career advancement by staying at their current job than going to work for someone else.


From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: