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December 7 2013

7 December 2013



At many agencies, fears of an exodus

Hundreds of thousands of feds can retire today

Dec. 1, 2013 – 02:31PM | By SEAN REILLY


Across the federal government, only one out of every seven full-time employees is currently eligible to retire.

But that overall 14 percent ratio masks gaping disparities across agency and organizational lines. At one NASA organization — the Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley — the proportion of retirement-eligible employees stands at almost 28 percent, according to Office of Personnel Management statistics released at Federal Times’ request.

The statistics show that some agencies are far more vulnerable to a retirement-driven exodus than others.

“Yes, it is a concern to us,” said Karen Newton Cole, deputy chief human capital officer at the Housing and Urban Development Department, where almost a quarter of the workforce can immediately retire — the highest percentage of any Cabinet-level department. “If everybody suddenly decided to take a walk, it would cripple the agency.”

Although unsure of the reason for the high ratio of retirement-eligibles, Newton Cole saw it as a positive reflection of employee commitment to the department’s mission. Whatever the cause, HUD is updating its departmentwide succession plan and taking measures — such as cross-training workers for more than one job — to prepare for a smaller workforce, she said.

At the Federal Aviation Administration, a much larger agency where 22 percent of employees are retirement eligible, the cause isn’t hard to find. A large chunk of FAA’s workforce is made up of air traffic controllers hired after 1981 when President Ronald Reagan fired their predecessors in response to a strike. Unlike most federal workers, those controllers face mandatory retirement at age 56. In the past five years, the FAA has made more than 6,660 new hires to help replace about 3,000 controllers who retired over the same time, spokesman Hank Price said in an email.

But sequester-related budget cuts that took effect in March largely shut down that pipeline. The FAA had planned to hire more than 1,200 controllers in fiscal 2013; because of a sequester-related hiring freeze, only about 550 were brought on board, said Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Although hopeful that the funding outlook will improve this year, the broader demographic trend means the situation is “probably going to get worse before it gets better,” Church said.

For agencies with a large number of employees eligible to retire, a phased-retirement option is one tool “to mitigate that risk,” said Adam Cole, a senior director at CEB, a member-based advisory firm in northern Virginia. Congress approved that option last year; the Office of Personnel Management is drafting rules to implement it.

Some entities have the opposite problem. At the Patent and Trademark Office, a branch of the Commerce Department that has been rapidly hiring to reduce a backlog of patent applications, less than 7 percent of the workforce can retire. At the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the figure is 10 percent.

Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a DCAA spokesman, attributed the relatively low number to hiring that has boosted the size of the total workforce by more than 700 employees in the last four years.

Among federal organizations with more than 1,000 employees, NASA’s Ames Research Center had the highest proportion of retirement-eligibles: More than one out of four of its 1,200employees are able to retire immediately. That percentage is well above other NASA agencies. At Ames, the staff is “very energized” by its work on aeronautics and space applications, Associate Director Deborah Feng said in written answers. In addition, she said, employees often leave to take jobs at local companies, only to return later on to Ames’ benefit.

But, while the center has a succession plan, Feng said, “limited hiring flexibility” is hampering its ability to prepare for “the departure of a large share of our seasoned workforce.”


Background check contractor at risk of suspension, experts say

USIS faces fraud claims in lawsuit

Nov. 3, 2013 – 06:00AM | By SEAN REILLY


The government’s top contractor that performs security clearance background investigations appears to be scrambling to head off suspension or debarment as it comes under increased fire for allegedly defrauding the government.

Last week, the Justice Department joined in a False Claims Act lawsuit filed against USIS of Falls Church, Va.. The firm performs almost two-thirds of the background checks for security clearances that are extended to millions of federal employees and contractors, according to one lawmaker.

The case, unsealed last week, was filed in Alabama two years ago by Blake Percival, a former director of fieldwork services at the company, who alleges that USIS systematically submitted background investigations to the government that were incomplete or not properly reviewed, which, if true, would constitute fraud.

“We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that we have entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access to our country’s sensitive and secret information,” Stuart Delery, head of DOJ’s civil division, said in a news release. “The Justice Department will take action against those who charge the taxpayers for services they failed to provide, especially when their non-performance could place our country’s security at risk.”

The department is mulling whether to proceed with its own complaint.

In his suit, Percival charges that the firm defrauded the government by forwarding cases to the Office of Personnel Management that had either not undergone a contractually required review or “had not been investigated at all.”

The practice, known as “dumping,” aimed to pump up revenue because USIS is paid about $1,900 for every investigative report turned in to OPM before the next-to-last day of the month and just 75 percent of that amount thereafter, Percival alleges. When Percival refused to order his employees to continue dumping, he was fired in June 2011, according to the suit.

USIS, which became aware of the allegations 18 months ago, has cooperated with the investigation, said the company’s spokeswoman Brandy Bergman. She declined comment on whether the company has had any discussions with OPM about the possibility of suspension or debarment. By press time late last week,an OPM spokesman had not responded to the same question.

The company, owned by the investment firm Providence Equity Partners, came under scrutiny earlier this year because it performed the background checks both for Edward Snowden, the one-time National Security Agency contractor who has leaked details of classified programs to the media, and Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist who gunned down a dozen people at the Washington Navy Yard in September before being killed by police. In the latter case, OPM has said that it believes that the check on Alexis was complete and fully complied with investigative standards.

Federal contractors faced with charges of serious wrongdoing typically respond by bolstering their ethics programs and removing problem executives as a way to demonstrate they are “responsible” companies that can continue to be entrusted with federal work.

USIS has revamped its senior management team and hired an independent integrity officer reporting directly to the board and CEO, according to Bergman. “We have acted decisively to ensure the quality of our work and adherence to OPM requirements,” Bergman said in a statement. Of the three USIS employees accused by Percival of participation in the dumping scheme, none is still with the firm.

Bob Meunier, a former suspension and debarment official with the Environmental Protection Agency who is now a consultant, said it appears that USIS — formerly known as U.S. Investigations Services — is trying to avert a cutoff of government business.

“In this day and age, you would be a fool to do nothing if you knew you were under investigation,” Meunier said, stressing that he had no direct knowledge of the case.

Jessica Tillipman, a contracts law specialist and assistant dean at George Washington University Law School, also sees USIS at risk of suspension or debarment. While any federal suspension or debarment official would likely take that option more seriously after the Justice Department intervened in a False Claims Act suit, the outcome would hinge in part on what steps the company does “to remedy the issue,” she said.

Since January, the company’s CEO has been Sterling Phillips, who in 2010 was brought in to lead tech firm GTSI in a shakeup after that company was briefly suspended from federal contracts for allegedly gaming set-aside programs.


USIS is the largest of three contractors that do background checks for OPM and other agencies, handling about 65 percent of the total, according to Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

At the Senate hearing last week, Elaine Kaplan, OPM’s acting director, said her agency continues to have “some level” of confidence in USIS, citing its management changes since Percival’s suit was filed.

“Rely, but trust, but verify,” Kaplan said, according to a transcript.

The Government Accountability Office has urged OPM to create yardsticks to measure the quality of background investigations. Brenda Farrell, a GAO director for defense capabilities and management, said at the Senate hearing that several years ago OPM had an agreement with the defense and intelligence communities to move forward, “but at this time, all we know is that that plan has fallen apart.”



More Chinese Air ID Zones Predicted


Dec. 1, 2013 – 04:18PM   |  



TAIPEI, SEOUL AND TOKYO — China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) last week over the East China Sea has given the US an unexpected challenge as Vice President Joseph Biden prepares for a trip to China, Japan and South Korea beginning this week.

The trip was scheduled to address economic issues, but the Nov. 23 ADIZ announcement raised a troubling new issue for the US and allies in the region. China’s ADIZ overlaps the zones of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Sources indicate China’s ADIZ could be part of its larger anti-access/area-denial strategy designed to force the US military to operate farther from China’s shorelines.

China might also be planning additional identification zones in the South China Sea and near contested areas along India’s border, US and local sources say.

China’s ADIZ might be an attempt by Beijing to improve its claim to disputed islands in the East China Sea also claimed by Japan, sources said. These islands — known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China — are under the administrative control of Japan.

Mike Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said this is part of a larger Chinese strategy beyond disputes over islands.

“This should be viewed as a part of a Chinese effort to assert greater denial capacity and eventual pre-eminence over the First Island Chain” off the coast, he said.

Green, who served on the US National Security Council from 2001 to 2005, said China’s Central Military Commission in 2008 “promulgated the ‘Near Sea Doctrine,’ and is following it to the letter, testing the US, Japan, Philippines and others to see how far they can push.”

June Teufel Dreyer, a veteran China watcher at the University of Miami, Fla., said “salami slicing” is a large part of China’s strategic policy. “The salami tactic has been stunningly successful, so incremental that it’s hard to decide what Japan, or any other country, should respond forcefully to. No clear ‘red line’ seems to have been established,” Dreyer said.

The Chinese refer to it as “ling chi” or “death from a thousand cuts.”

For example, China’s new ADIZ overlaps not only Japan’s zone to encompass disputed islands, but South Korea’s zone by 20 kilometers in width and 115 kilometers in length to cover the Socotra Rock (Ieodo or Parangdo). Socotra is under South Korean control but claimed by China as the Suyan Rock.

Seoul decided to expand its ADIZ after China refused to redraw its declared zone covering the islands. Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) and related government agencies are consulting on how to expand the South Korean ADIZ, drawn in 1951 by the US military, officials said.

“We’re considering ways of expanding [South] Korea’s air defense identification zone to include Ieodo,” said Wi Yong-seop, vice spokesman for the MND.

During annual high-level defense talks between Seoul and Beijing on Nov. 28, South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo demanded that Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Chinese Army, modify China’s ADIZ.

“We expressed regret over China’s air defense identification zone that overlaps our zone and even includes Ieodo,” Wi said after the bilateral meeting. “We made it clear that we can’t recognize China’s move and jurisdiction over Ieodo waters.”

Amid these growing tensions, South Korea’s arms procurement agency announced Nov. 27 it would push forward on procurement of four aerial refueling planes. Currently, South Korea’s F-15 fighter jets are limited to flying missions over Ieodo for 20 minutes. New tankers will extend that time to 80 minutes.

“With midair refueling, the operational range and flight hours of our fighter jets will be extended to a greater extent, and we will be able to respond to potential territorial disputes with neighboring countries,” a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration said.

In the southern part of China’s ADIZ, which overlaps Taiwan’s ADIZ, Beijing was careful not to cover Taiwan’s Pengjia Island, which is manned by a Taiwan Coast Guard unit.

“The exclusion of the Pengjia Islet indicates that mainland China respects our stance,” said Chinese Nationalist Party legislator Ting Shou-chung. Relations across the Taiwan Strait have been improving over the past several years.

“We’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Peter Dutton, an ADIZ expert and director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College.

“We’re looking to see how China will now behave,” he said. “Hopefully, they will not try to fly inside the airspace over the Senkaku Islands, since that is under Japanese sovereign administration and would therefore be a highly provocative act.”

Dutton downplayed fears of another civilian airliner being shot down, as was the case in 1983, when a Soviet Su-15 fighter shot down a South Korean airliner that strayed into Soviet airspace, killing 269.

In 1988, a US Navy Ticonderoga-class cruiser, the USS Vincennes, shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over the Arabian Gulf, killing 290. The Vincennes mistook the airliner for an Iranian F-14 Tomcat fighter jet.

“For civilian aircraft, this is really not a major issue,” he said. “Those aircraft almost always file flight plans in advance and follow the directions of ground controllers. This means that their route through the ADIZ would already by pre-approved, and this is not a problem for the Chinese.”

Dutton said the real concern is the freedom of military flights.

“But both the US and Japan have said they do not intend to alter their behavior or to abide by the ADIZ procedures, no matter what they are, for military flights,” he said.

In 2001, a Chinese J-8 fighter collided with a US Navy EP-3 Aries signals intelligence aircraft near Hainan Island. Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist at CSIS, said she does not expect China to “back down” from its ADIZ policy, and anticipates more intercepts by Chinese fighters of US reconnaissance aircraft.

“The risk of accident will undoubtedly increase, especially [with] fighters [flown at] Mach 1 by young, inexperienced pilots,” she said.

Alessio Patalano, a lecturer in the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London, said the Chinese move might have been prompted by the current tensions in the East China Sea, and recent discussions in Japan about how the military can deal with Chinese drones and manned patrol aircraft that intrude into Japan’s air defense space.

“Chinese authorities are seeking to force Japan to accept the existence of the dispute challenging Japanese control of the islands,” Patalano said. “The problem with this is that Chinese authorities are using military and paramilitary tools to force a change of status quo to what is a political issue.

“Of course, a more robust response could see the US and Japan deploy air assets in the overlapping areas of the ADIZ to challenge the Chinese position,” Patalano said. “US and Japanese aircraft flying together in the Chinese ADIZ would present a serious dilemma to Chinese authority.”

Green said the US should at least send a “joint US-Japan patrol into the area to prove the point that coercion does not work.”

The announcement of the ADIZ also affects the Chinese military, likely adding to the Air Force’s status over the traditional role the Army has played as national defender.




Defense Executives: Shortage of Engineers Is Not a Myth

By Sandra I. Erwin


U.S. defense executives are pushing back on suggestions that a shortage of science, math and engineering graduates is a fake crisis.

A deficit of STEM (short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skilled workers has been the conventional wisdom in Washington for years, but a crop of studies in recent months has poured cold water on the notion, embraced by defense industry, that a dearth of engineering talent poses a threat to U.S. industrial competitiveness and national security.

Industry officials want to avoid letting the STEM debate become, like climate change, a reality that gets challenged by deniers.

Defense executives were surprised to see a study published in April by the Economic Policy Institute that concluded there is no shortage of STEM workers in the United States. “Contrary to many industry claims,” the study said, “U.S. colleges and universities provide an ample supply of highly qualified STEM graduates.”

The EPI study sought to counter high-tech industry lobbying efforts to increase the number of foreign guest workers that are allowed into the United States on the premise that there are not enough qualified U.S. workers. According to EPI, “Our examination shows that the STEM shortage in the United States is largely overblown.”

These findings, which were widely reported by news media, muddy the waters for defense and aerospace firms that claim they have thousands of unfilled jobs because they cannot find qualified engineers. Industry CEOs also worry that a wave of baby boomer retirements in the coming years will dig a deeper hole.

The challenge for aerospace and defense companies is to not let broad generalizations obscure the facts, said Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of the Business Higher Education Forum, an organization of Fortune 500 CEOs and research university presidents.

“Data can be misinterpreted,” he said. A case in a point is a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which also cast doubts on the STEM shortage. It concluded that nearly half of the nation’s STEM graduates don’t go into STEM jobs. “The diversion of native-born STEM talent into non-STEM educational and career pathways will continue and likely accelerate in the future,” the Georgetown study said.

That trend should alarm defense industry because it means that, even if there is an ample supply of U.S.-born STEM graduates, many will choose to work in commercial, non-defense disciplines, said Fitzgerald. “Many STEM engineers go to Wall Street,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s a reflection of the value that the economy places on quantitative and analytical skills.”

He said defense companies should stop debating this issue and do something about it.

Many top U.S. defense contractors are taking action and becoming deeply invested in the STEM cause. They are pouring millions of dollars into education and training programs to help secure a skilled U.S.-born workforce. They fear that, increasingly, a majority of STEM graduates from U.S. universities are not American citizens and therefore are ineligible to work on sensitive military programs.

Executives point out that the United States has fallen way behind the power curve in STEM education, compared to other industrialized nations. The end of the Cold War and a dramatic decline in the Pentagon’s clout as a technology mover and shaker also play against defense industry recruiting, executive said.

The defense business just isn’t interesting enough for up-and-coming engineers, executives acknowledge. “Graduates have decided that aerospace and defense isn’t as sexy as it used to be,” said Peter Nicholas Lengyel, president and CEO of Safran USA, a subsidiary of France’s aerospace giant Safran Group.

In an interview, Lengyel said the company is not experiencing an engineer shortage, partly because of its internal programs that identify engineers with superior skills and promote them into senior positions. Safran does, however, have many unfilled jobs in high-tech manufacturing, he said.

In the defense sector, leaders have to counter the perception that the work involves dull, dirty factory jobs, said Linda P. Hudson, president and CEO of BAE Systems,

“When the general public hears the words ‘industrial base,’ they typically think of steel and grease,” Hudson said in a speech last week at the Atlantic Council.

“Young engineers, mathematicians, programmers, and cyber specialists rarely graduate today anxious to work in national security,” she said. “They have exciting choices: Google, Amazon, Instagram, Microsoft, McAfee, to name a few.”

Tens of thousands of skilled workers around the globe manufacture computer chips, she said. “But how about making radiation hardened microprocessors like our electronics business produced for NASA to power the Rover’s trip to Mars? Much of this talent is now being produced outside the United States,” she said. “But unlike Silicon Valley who can hire immigrant technology talent with an H1B visa, I need U.S. citizens to work on classified programs.”

Science, technology, engineering and math graduates, she said, “are the lifeblood of our industry. Unfortunately, we’re letting that blood spill away, and the supply is increasingly limited.”

In the race for top talent, Hudson said, “our industry is running with not just an arm tied behind its back, but a leg or two trussed up as well. … If we’re forced to forgo international talent, then we damned well better be doing something to produce that talent domestically.”

Hudson recognized that “our culture as an industry simply does not appeal to the incoming generation of workers. … We scare them away with our hierarchies, with our cubicles, with our gray walls and our red tape.”


How Did The U.S. Fall So Far Behind On UAS Integration?


by Patrick Egan • 3 December 2013

While it is no big revelation the FAA’s successive FAA administrators have been fiddling while the UAS/RPAS airspace integration Rome has burnt to the ground, but here we will examine how far ahead the rest of the world is and why?

The graphic aptly illustrates who is leading the way and how the U.S. as a country has fallen by the UA technology wayside to last place. All of this glory was accomplished with the political and bureaucratic prowess of some third world government. With all chagrins aside, it is only getting worse. If you’re not first… well, you get the picture.

Most folks don’t realize that this is the case as most reports paint a rosy picture of progress through diligence and hard work. Two limited type certificates hardly justifies all the public jubilation or even meritorious mention beyond a glaring watermark of a grossly ineffective agency. Smart guys are even getting bamboozled. Amazon’s Bezos will be delivering DVD’s packages by drone in 4 years. To be honest, he is a smart guy with the publicity stunt. Bezos has probably already made more money with drones than most other folks will dream of in a lifetime. All without having to deal with the FAA.

We’ve heard the same tired excuses over the last 10 years about manpower and budgets and why the FAA just can’t seem to move anything forward. “We need data” is definitely plausible, but has outlived its shelf life as there is tons of data folks have wanted to share. The unsophisticated ruse in the estimation of the rest of the world community has only produced absolute bewilderment. They’ve been asking for and denying data for that same 10 years all the while sanctimoniously crowing about leading the way. Worse, is the world’s largest advocacy group carrying the water espousing the same obtuse mantra. Credibility and public confidence in that baloney are lower than a proverbial snake’s belly and shame just doesn’t compute in proximity to the Beltway. The whole area could be recognized and designated a UNESCO world heritage scruple free zone. No new tale to tell here.

Silver lining alert…

It’s not all doom and gloom as the FAA has been effective at one thing, silencing critics (except one) by offering either special dispensation or fear of retribution. The old carrot and stick routine. They don’t even have to show the stick just allude to the carrot. Anytime there is carrot talk you can bet the rest of the community is getting the stick and usually the dirty end at that.

I had heard reports that in public FAA folks were saying they’re watching who’s doing what and will remember them when the regulations come out. Boy howdy, is that the textbook definition of representative government or what? Man alive it just makes me well up with inspiration and pride. Do you reckon the FAA’s current administration was cagey enough to hatch this plan in house? Nope, this one is straight out of the accomplish nothing and retire to the private sector playbook. For those outside of the U.S., it is all the rage right down to the city council level. Representative government has devolved into a state sanctioned stand and deliver rebrand with supposed customer service where they pick your pockets with a smile. The teleprompter matched with the right canned goods makes for a potent tool.

Look at the budgets and manpower afforded the FAA by Congress. Nearly a billion dollars requested for NextGen in the $18.5 billion FY 2014 budget, but no money for test sites or UAS NAS integration. Whoops must have slipped past someone’s watchful eye. Or, maybe their was/is no watchful eye watching managing the UAS integration project?? How many more billions of dollars will it take Mr. Huerta? Maybe if the staff traveled less, worked more, and had real oversight we’d of had or gotten some real progress? It’s all speculation as the sUAS News is still waiting on the UAPO/UASIO budgets and SOPs that were FOIA requested many months ago. Too busy planning the next working vacation in Europe or South America I suppose to get through the everyday paperwork.

On another side note…

Lets look at the rendering used in the DOT Budget Highlights PDF

Examine the rendering (in proximity to the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo venue) looks very much like it was taken from a low altitude aerial photo. Possibly even shot from a drone. I can’t think of any tall enough buildings in that area where you get that shot.

Now, if we compare it to the budget (both manpower and money) at say the CAA U.K at 130,000,000 + pounds. They had a handful of people who certainly don’t have the budget to go on junkets all over the world. Sure, the air traffic isn’t the same scale either is the area and population, yet they were able to accomplish several stunning firsts in the vicinity of the 3rd busiest airport on the planet.

Disenfranchisement came early…

We, the small business stakeholder group, have been repeatedly and systematically disenfranchised from the public rulemaking process. Actually the process is designed and set up to disenfranchise people without lobbyists and or monetary means to stay in the public rule making process. For insurance, you install people that know as little as possible about the subject matter and drag it out for 5 to 10 years with no tangible results. Folks start falling by the wayside as they lose everything they have invested. Oh, and heaven forbid you bring it up… you should be happy to take your lumps or enjoy the fruits of the orchestrated debacle and suffer in silence.

The handwriting was on the wall over at RTCA. Things looked so bad after 7 years of reshuffled meetings with nothing to show that they had to scrap the whole 203 committee and start over. We are assured the 228 will get the support it needs to make progress. (I think the old script from 2005 was pulled out of the birdcage and trotted out as fresh ink.) But we have enough funding and manpower for this? Do we have a representative from the FAA that knows UAS from a can of Shinola. Or, do we have another new government person that will take 2 or 3 years to come up to speed? It could very well all be for naught. That effort may already be DOA as the scuttlebutt says the FAA isn’t going to support a public algorithm for ADS-B. Basically, that relegates ADS-B to a safety accessory. The Sky-king flight plan survives past 2020. Makes you wonder if that is at the behest of the AOPA. You need to get the “Administrator on the phone after hours” kind of clout. Yes, friends, they have that kind of pull.

He/she will have to take 6 months just to learn some of the acronyms. Then the vendors will all have to train them on the product lines that way when the integration hair shirt asks if they ever flown a UAS they can gleefully parrot… Wasp, Raven, Puma and sometimes ScanEagle. The later cost about $40,000 a head and isn’t as freely dispensed with as the interoffice musical chairs make a bad investment.

I can imagine that there is many an enterprising entrepreneur putting the business plan together. In the expenses column; training everyone in the UASIO, traveling to and fro D.C., following the staff around on the international junket circuit for the next 5 to 10 years. Then there are the dues and subscriptions to various associations, lobbyists, campaign contributions and all of the other trappings of the good old boy network. COA’s to fly out of public airports for commercial purposes don’t grow on trees Laddy. Actually, any and all special dispensation to play in this arena is going to cost you plenty of money. You start doing the math, and you realize real quick that your capital one card better come with an earmark-sized credit limit.

I knew it was all a sham prior to Margret Jenny (another beltway insider and company woman) who did not mention UAS when testifying to Congress about NextGen and what would be making the biggest impact on the NAS in the near future.

The only folks who still think the skies are opening up for UAS in September of 2015 are the mayor of Toronto and maybe Lindsay Lohan. However, post rehab I’m sure the doubts are starting to surface.

After 7 long years, ASTM is publishing documents. We’re fast tracking now as the canned goods have to be out and vetted for the DoD guys to fleece the municipalities out of money they could never hope to have. These same companies call me and ask what are big markets and where/how to invest to hit the jackpot. On the front side, they can’t be seen as associated with me as it would raise the ire of the FAA. No one who’s spent millions of dollars working the system wants to fall into disfavor with the Lords and Ladies of the FAA court.

The new square game includes hedging your bets by working all sides of the triangle…

You’ll hear how the DoD guys are working selflessly to get you into the NAS. I say hogwash and folks buying that malarkey are so deluded or ill informed that they could be beyond the righting of an intervention or re-education. Most reading this tome would most likely chuckle and say, ” I know, who’d buy that hogwash at this point?” Well, you’d be surprised how many people are betting the farm.

This graphic illustrates the money influence dynamic..

And it goes like this…

“I spoke with so and so over at the FAA, or someone at ATSM (they usually can’t remember whom they spoke with or his name) and he/they said in a year or so… we’ll be flying.” After laying out the end game, I get the old “you’re painting a dark picture response and that sounds like a lot of work.” On many occasions, I get off the phone and wonder how does a guy get a job with no experience in the field?

And Congress isn’t much help…

One of the newer go forward plans is to spend $10,000 on a lobbyist that knows nothing about the industry or what it needs. It’ll get the word out that we’re here, and things should work themselves out. Yeah, and then I ask if they read the BBC story about the Predator King, Big Buck’s “Buck” McKeon.

Now it is estimated that Buck has been on the receiving end of close to $850,000 in campaign contributions from the Drone industry. Now before you go breaking out the checkbook, realize that all they’ve been able to accomplish is for the public entities (the same group that can currently get COAs now) will get to go first. Gee willlikers, what systems will they buy? Most likely those usual suspects on the DOJ/DHS approved vendor list. Oh, they got this deal sewed up so tight, and everyone wants you to believe it all just happened that way. When you hear it’s all about safety, there is some truth in that as it is all about job safety. Do no harm to my career.

A couple more bullets in the back should kill this industry for small business…

Well, what about advocacy, who’s watching out for my patch? Unless your company is bringing down part of the $5 billion dollars a year in government contracts, your concerns may only warrant a chuckle.… Hard to squeeze personal gain out of a small business.

It is up to you to start advocating for yourself. Tell the companies and groups that are making money selling products that you would like to see them quit acting like the DoD blood money guys and put some of those profits into advocating for the small business end-user community.

Ok, you’ve highlighted the problems, what do we do?

Demand (not ask for) accountability from the FAA for public rulemaking.

A sub 2 or 3 kilo bin that is administered by a community based group. This will give people without huge budgets a safe place to operate. A reiteration of some of parameters… Speed under 35 knots, frangible made primarily of wood, plastic or foam. 400′ AGL and 1500′ laterally with no observer with direct pilot intervention. No class 2 medical, or commercial pilot certification.

Demand that the people involved with the rulemaking from the government side must know the technology they propose to regulate.

Demand that the people representing the industry must have industry experience. Not just board members from the DoD vendors and members of the GA groups.

Advocacy groups need to support qualified people (with experience operating UAS and running businesses) represent us to the FAA, ICAO and the Congress. Far too many mistakes have been made due to inexperience.

These existing conditions have added years as well as a hurdle to the airspace integration process.


Federal Government Shackles Unmanned Aerial System Industry

by Press • 3 December 2013

By Pamela Barrett

Border Sentinel


The relatively new technology of modern Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) inherently offers potentially great benefits to myriad facets of the U.S. economy. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the lead federal agency responsible for policy, regulation, and oversight of UAS technology and integration outside the military, has been working this issue since the mid- 2000′s—with little or nothing to show for its efforts.

The delays, lack of viable action, and strict unnecessary limitations the FAA mandates are having, and will continue to have, will negatively impact UAS businesses, UAS professionals, and the economy as a whole. UAS applications in agribusiness alone could save farmers and growers millions of dollars annually if they could apply UAS water and pest technologies that are already available. Locating precious and rare earth metals and other natural resources using UAS technology would not only economically benefit the mining and energy industries, but pinpointed drilling, excavations, and locations for infrastructure would save wild lands and wildlife as well. And while the extensive financial impact is of great import, it pales in comparison to the effect the FAA’s folly is having on public safety and disaster relief initiatives. If the UAS community were allowed to germinate and grow safe, effective, innovative, and entrepreneurial UAS/public safety technologies, lives could be saved and property reclaimed and protected. Yet the actions of the FAA are stifling the capabilities of law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel.

There are a number of significant concerns regarding the UAS roadmap recently released by the FAA, specifically regarding the timeline for regular access to the National Airspace System (NAS) and current procedures. According to Patrick Egan, author of “Are You Tired of Hearing Excuses From The FAA?” and Host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, “The small UAS ARC [Advisory and Rulemaking Committees] put out their recommendations on April 1, 2009, yet we still haven’t seen the NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking]. The NPRM was to be released for public comment almost two years ago. Sadly, it appears that we will miss the December 2013 NPRM timeline we were told about this spring/summer.” He went on to say “…recommendations for the NPRM are disheartening as there is no small business stakeholder representation in, on, or around that committee.” It appears the committee and the FAA as a body lack representation from anyone with any significant UAS experience. This is a real tragedy because small businesses potentially have the most to lose financially.

Egan stated, “References made to ‘develop standards’ or ‘facilitate the development of standards’ for pilot certification and aircraft certification are ambiguous and disheartening for those of us safety-minded stakeholders and end-users trying to build a legal business plan.” The overall effect of the FAA’s lack of adequate response and action has had a chilling effect on the UAS industry in the United States. Amazingly, this lack of action is taking place at a time of a huge economic downturn. Also, it is not affording an industry which has the opportunity to increase employment and productivity the chance to safely and effectively do so. Egan continued, “Even more disconcerting are the Class 2 medical requirements for operators of smaller UASs and the [significant] standoff distances from airports. All of this, coupled with a very limited flight envelope [and] the lack of a public algorithm for ADS-B” [a replacement/supplement to traditional radar-based aircraft surveillance] will have the effect that the domestic UAS industry will be stillborn.” Egan went on to suggest the FAA examine “the pragmatic work done by some of the European countries like the United Kingdom…,” and seek input from this nation’s stakeholders who have significant UAS experience in safe and effective UAS operations. Rather than allowing bureaucracy and lack of expertise to stifle progress, the FAA should incorporate experienced UAS companies and their experts into the process, thereby helping create comprehensive capabilities to approach and solve issues.

Small business owner Brian Wimmer of Thompson-Wimmer, Inc., a UAS consulting and systems integration company in Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca, Arizona is also frustrated by the limitations placed upon commercial and private-party uses of UAS technologies. Mr. Wimmer stated, “Our hands are tied. There are so many wonderful uses for UAS technology that could benefit not only the United States, but the world. The restrictions upon the industry will benefit no one other than the U.S. government. It’s preposterous. In a time when the people of this country need exciting technologies, economic opportunities, innovation, and a rebirth of the entrepreneurial spirit, we are hampered by red tape and nonsensical mandates by an agency that either doesn’t truly understand the industry, or that has an agenda that excludes the greater good of the American people.”


Underground drone economy takes flight

Alistair Barr and Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY 9:37 p.m. EST December 2, 2013


SAN FRANCISCO — CEO Jeff Bezos says in the future drones delivering packages will be as common as mail trucks. But for many entrepreneurs, the drone economy is already here.

“There are many people out there making extraordinary amounts of money,” says Gene Robinson, who uses drones to help authorities with search and rescue missions. “You can even get liability insurance to operate now.”

While the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t yet drafted regulations for the futuristic unmanned devices and limits their commercial use, some players have already plunged in:

Real estate specialist Manie Kohn uses drones to video luxury properties. Terence Reis flies them to photograph surfers. Brad Mathson monitors farmland in the Dakotas, while Ryan Kunde uses a drone to improve production at his vineyard.

Bezos thrust drones into the spotlight when he talked about his plans to use them to deliver packages on 60 Minutes Sunday night. But thanks to drones’ ability to shoot aerial photos and video steadily and collect other data cheaply, they are already being used in many sectors, including movie making, sports, mining, oil and gas production and construction.

Most of the activity is outside the U.S. because of regulatory uncertainty. But there are a lot of U.S. drone operators who are either hobbyists, or who provide drone services for free or in return for donations. Business owners can also operate their own drones for their own benefit. And at times, money changes hands out of the FAA’s gaze.



Manie Kohn founder and CEO of Don’t Tell Me Show Me pilots his Quadcopter at a home in Hillsborough, Cali. on Wednesday, November 6, 2013. Kohn runs a business that uses a drone to make aerial videos of real estate.(Photo: Martin E. Klimek for USA TODAY)

“I walk down the street and see drone dollars everywhere,” says Patrick Egan, a drone consultant who heads the Silicon Valley chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, a lobbying group for the industry. “The potential is huge, and thousands of people are already flying them around the U.S. making money.”

Once the FAA drafts its drone regulations, integrating the devices into U.S. airspace could boost the economy by at least $13.6 billion in the first three years and the economic benefit may top $82 billion between 2015 and 2025, the AUVSI estimated earlier this year. It could also create more than 70,000 new jobs, including 34,000 manufacturing positions, in the first three years, the group forecast. In 10 years, it projects 100,000 jobs will be added.

Egan says those numbers don’t account for the impact of future regulation, focused on safety and privacy, which could increase the cost of operating drones and reduce the value of the technology.

Despite such uncertainty, the commercial potential of drones has attracted big investors.

Airware, which makes software and systems that control drones, raised more than $10 million this year from Andreessen Horowitz, a big venture capital firm, and Google’s venture capital arm.

“There will be a whole economy around it, with entrepreneurs creating technology for specific types of customers,” says Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz who joined Airware’s board of directors. “There are a number of obvious applications, and lots of less-obvious applications that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

But a lot of the action involves individual entrepreneurs and small business owners who are using this new technology to either make more money from existing operations or branch out into new areas.

Drones have mostly been used by the U.S. military to shoot missiles at enemy combatants in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the cost of these unmanned aircraft has dropped precipitously in recent years, making them more affordable.

3D Robotics, a drone manufacturer run by former Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson has already sold “tens of thousands” of drones and the company will soon launch a new model called IRIS, aimed at consumers and other individuals, that will cost about $750.

Drones cost millions of dollars just a few years ago, partly because the components needed to control them, such as global positioning systems, gyroscopes and accelerometers, were so expensive, according to Anderson. The boom in smartphones, which contain most of the same hardware, has increased production massively, lowering costs.

Says Anderson, “This is bringing technology from the military industrial complex within reach for lots of people.”



Manie Kohn, who works in the high-end real estate market of the San Francisco Bay Area, got his hands on drones for the first time about three years ago.

He used to use helicopters to shoot aerial photos and video of luxury properties for real estate agents who were willing to pay $20,000 for an extra service that could help win big commissions.

But helicopters were expensive, noisy and limited in how low they could fly. So Kohn started building his own drones to do the job and has spent at least $45,000 developing the machines, getting trained to fly them, accumulating certifications and lining up insurance.

It took Kohn about a year to track down an insurer that would cover his drone operation. Transport Risk Management now provides him with coverage that starts at $1 million and covers damage to property, people and the drones themselves. The cost of the policy depends on proficiency, so Kohn had to get official training and certification.

“There is an ever growing demand for this type of coverage,” Dawnell West, an insurance agent at Transport Risk Management, wrote in a recent e-mail to Kohn.



Terence Reis, a 54-year-old IT professional based in Oahu, started using a drone this year for his part-time business, KahiwaKiwi Media Productions, which shoots surfing photos and takes other photos and video of Hawaii ocean life.

Reis spent about $5,000 on parts and equipment. But it has helped him take better pictures and video from locations that he couldn’t have reached before.

“Before, I would shoot from a helicopter, which was very expensive — about $300 to $400 an hour,” he says. Helicopters also could not get low enough and they vibrated a lot, which meant the images had to be edited heavily. Reis’s drone is steadier, which sometimes means no editing is needed.

“It gives a different dimension to my footage,” he added. “It’s opening up new doors to new clients.”



The biggest opportunities, at least initially, may be in agriculture, because big farms do not have many people on them, reducing the risk that wayward drones might cause injuries if and when they crash.

Dakota Precision Ag Center is using drones that cost about $3,000 to collect agricultural data that helps farmers produce more by monitoring crops and cattle and guiding watering and fertilizer application.

Using traditional methods, about 100 to 300 acres of farmland can be monitored a day, but using drones that number can rise to 2,000 or 3,000 acres a day, according to Brad Mathson, assistant director of the Dakota Precision Ag Center.

Ryan Kunde of DRNK Wines uses a drone to keep an eye on how grapevines are growing in his vineyard in Sonoma, Calif.

Kunde flies the drone over the vineyard, takes photos and uses software to stitch together a map of the area. By comparing maps at the same time of the season each year, he can spot which grapes are developing quickest, which helps to decide where to harvest first. The same drone images help with estimating crop sizes, giving Kunde more time to line up the right number of grape buyers.

“Any time I want to fly, I can get the drone in the air the same day,” he says. “Satellites and helicopters need booking in advance and the drone can fly lower and capture better images.”



The Motion Picture Association of America has been lobbying the Obama administration to let filmmakers use drones, arguing that putting a camera on an unmanned aircraft can be cheaper, safer and more useful than relying on a helicopter or a crane to get a difficult shot.


The effort has not borne fruit. But drones are already being used in making movies, TV shows and advertisements, according to Gus Calderone of IsisCopter LLC, which makes drones and related equipment.

Drones with rigs costing $25,000 carry cameras in Hollywood that weight about 15 pounds and are worth $30,000 to $40,000, he explains.

“This is a major underground market,” Calderone says. “Some people are hiding. Others are in plain sight, and it’s happening way more than people know.”



Gene Robinson runs his search and rescue service through a non-profit called RP Search Services, which uses drones with high-resolution cameras and infrared sensors to track down missing people and help authorities obtain access more safely to dangerous areas.

Gene Robinson launches a Spectra flying wing platform which can be configured to carry most any sensor and operate in just about any environment.(Photo: rpflightsystems)

RP Search Services receives donations and gets other payments to cover its costs, but it does not get any money beyond that, Robinson says, adding, “That would get us into trouble with the FAA.”



The FAA said in 2007 that drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems, cannot be flown commercially. And so much of the world’s commercial drone activity is happening outside the U.S.

The regulator aims to have regulations in place by 2015, and an FAA spokeswoman says it plans to propose a rule for small drones next year. It is also expected to pick six test sites by the end of this year.

The FAA is likely to come out with tiered regulations, according to Chris Anderson of 3D Robotics. Small drones may be regulated lightly, while heavier, faster drones that fly higher may face much stricter rules. Drone flights in very lightly populated areas will probably get cleared earlier than activity in urban areas, he predicts.

“This has the huge potential reshape the landscape of industries and the economy, but if drones are improperly deployed that would cause more harm than good,” he says. “I’m not surprised the regulatory process is involved and lengthy.”

Still, some commercial drone experts worry that the FAA is taking too long, giving a valuable head start to other countries such as Japan, Canada, the U.K., France and Australia.

“People are using this technology in a much more widespread way outside the U.S., especially in Australia, which supports commercial applications,” says Jonathan Downey, founder of Airware. “If the U.S. takes too long and the regulations are too restrictive, it will just be used in other countries, and the technology will be developed in other countries as well.”

In France, Delta Drone has been training drone operators in its own school for about a year. The course takes roughly a week and then another three days to learn techniques for specific industries. Once trained, Delta Drone signs service contracts with companies, mostly in the mining industry currently, then brings the operators in as sub-contractors.

So far, 69 drone pilots have graduated and 80 should be trained by the end of 2013.

“It’s growing very fast,” Delta Drone co-founder Fabien Blanc-Paques said.



Pentagon Disconnects iPhone, Android Security Service, Forcing a Return to BlackBerry for Some

By Aliya Sternstein

December 3, 2013


Some military members who were working off Apple and Android-based smartphones and tablets now must return to using older model BlackBerrys because of a security service switchover, according to an email obtained by Nextgov and confirmed by Pentagon officials.

The Defense Department is building a new mobile device management system to monitor government-issued consumer smartphones on military networks, but it’s not yet ready for prime time.

Employees within at least one Army organization were forced to disconnect iPhones, iPads and Android devices from their existing security service, Good Mobile Messaging, because the Pentagon is deploying a new departmentwide system by Fixmo, states an email that appeared in an Army listserve.

Army personnel “have been told that between now and whenever this ‘fixmo’ is online, their Droids and iThings are simply to become useless,” the email said. The Defense Information Systems Agency is in the midst of transitioning smartphone users in each military component to the full $16 million system.

“The victim, er organization under migration offered their [Good] licenses and servers and expertise to DISA, but were told no, don’t want it,” the email continues. “Expectation is that Droid and iThing users will be deviceless until March 2014 at earliest, and they can either do without or go back to a BB 9930,” an older model BlackBerry smartphone, “So…..once again, we are going to save money through consolidation no matter how much it costs.”

After a proposed buyout of BlackBerry collapsed last month, Pentagon officials emphasized efforts to wean service members off reliance on the company’s devices. But officials on Monday night acknowledged BlackBerry will retain its position in the department’s mobile computing arsenal for now.

“DISA will support BlackBerry devices with the existing [Blackberry Enterprise Server]. During the transition period, DISA is not provisioning new iOS/Android users on the existing server,” Pentagon spokesman Damien Pickart said in an email. “We are delaying provisioning of those devices until the [mobile device management] environment is ready in Jan 2014. We will provision new devices as rapidly as possible starting in January 2014.”

The aim is to hook up 100,000 military personnel and their government-furnished Apple, Samsung, BlackBerry and other consumer devices to the security service by September 2014.

Some defense contract analysts say the more popular commercial devices may not meet battlefield security standards.


Ray Bjorklund, a longtime procurement specialist who now serves as president of BirchGrove Consulting, speculated that “there may be a more fundamental issue of device suitability among the major manufacturers and OS versions.”

According to DISA approval documents, only BlackBerry phones and Playbook tablets have an “authority to operate,” or ATO, on Defense networks — not Android, Apple or any other device lines.

Bjorklund returned to the question raised by the listserv email, about the short-term sacrifices Defense is making to potentially control long-term costs.

“At what cost consolidation? I am quite certain the DoD has completed some semblance of a business case for this program. However, I know it’s often difficult to rationalize business cases in the military based on some future horizon,” he said. The rationale of “spend money now to save money later” is a “stretch rationale in daily government operations. I hope the disruption is worth it.”


UPS and Fedex Are Also Working on Drone Delivery Systems

By Christopher Mims

December 3, 2013


Amazon’s next-day shipping miracle is possible only because it relies on companies like UPS to deliver its goods. So the news that UPS is experimenting with its own drone delivery system, reported today by The Verge, is an implicit endorsement of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s announcement at the weekend of Amazon’s own drone delivery plans. FedEx founder Fred Smith too has plans to deliver packages by drone, but it won’t be the small, quadcopter kind favored by Amazon. Instead, Smith wants the giant planes FedEx has criss-crossing the country to be replaced by unmanned aircraft because, he told Wired four years ago, a plane that doesn’t have to carry any people can be designed quite differently, with a lot more space for cargo.

Both efforts also seem to be about eliminating humans from the supply chain. A self-driving UPS truck that rolls onto the block, cracks open like a Decepticon and spews a small fleet of drones that fly out to drop packages on front stoops would go a long way towards reducing the company’s huge—and unionized—workforce. FedEx’s plans would eliminate airline pilots, who aren’t cheap either.

What’s stopping Amazon, UPS and FedEx is a combination of technological and regulatory issues. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration wants to be able to certify drones as safe before it will allow them to fly autonomously, which means engineers have to figure out how to program drones to avoid human beings and each other. It’s the same thicket of problems faced by self-driving cars, and resolving it means trusting machines to a degree unprecedented in human history. Or in other words, it could happen any day now.



Drone-Delivery Expert on Amazon’s Plans

By Alexis Madrigal

December 3, 2013


Two and a half years ago, Andreas Raptopoulos founded Matternet, a company devoted to creating a network of drones that could deliver lightweight packages. It’s starting with medical applications, with plans to extend from there to “bring to the world its next-generation transportation system.” To hear Raptopoulostell it, when the histories are written in a few decades, people will think: electric grid, road infrastructure, telephone lines, Internet, mobile phones, and … tiny flying drones. 

“We think about it not just as a point-to-point delivery, but as a network. What can you do if you have many stations of these flying drones?” Raptopoulos said. “What can you do with a system like this in the developing world, in our cities, in our megacities? We’re convinced that it’s going to be the next big paradigm in transportation.”

Of course, last night, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos revealed Amazon Prime Air, his company’s plans to use drones at some point in the future to deliver packages to customers. 

It all sounds a little crazy. And we can all think of many objections to drone delivery networks. They won’t have enough range! People will shoot them down! What if they crash! They can’t operate in places where you can’t get a steady GPS signal! 

Given that Amazon seems unlikely to give real answers to these questions, I contacted Raptopoulos, who has spent the last several years deeply engaged with these problems since working on a project at Singularity University in 2011.

First off, why create a network of flying drones at all? 

“You have the technology that can help the most difficult part of delivery: The last-mile problem. You have a lightweight package going to a single destination.You cannot aggregate packages. It’s still way too complicated and expensive. It’s very energy inefficient,” Raptopoulos said. “UAVs or drones deal with the problem of doing this very efficiently with extremely low cost and high reliability. It’s the best answer to the problem. The ratio of your vehicle to your payload is very low.”

Part of the argument is that our current last-mile delivery system can seem kind of ridiculous, at least from an energy efficiency point of view. 

As Raptopoulos put it: “In the future, we think it’s going to make more sense to have a bottle of milk delivered to your house from Whole Foods rather than get in your car and drive two tons of metal on a congested road to go get it.”

Of course, we could also build walkable neighborhoods that don’t require driving as often as we do, but walkability requires density—and even places like San Francisco sometimes balk at the sorts of buildings that entails. And we’ve got a lot of low-density infrastructure in place that isn’t going away anytime soon. 

How quickly could this all happen?

The technology is getting there. It is not as good as people assume. There is a lot of hype around what drones can do today.

Amazon has said their timeline is dependent on rulemaking for civilian drone flights by the Federal Aviation Administration. “We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015,” their website contends. “We will be ready at that time.”

But even Raptopoulos, a booster of the technology, is skeptical of that timeline.

“It’s not going to happen in the U.S. in the next two or three years. Even if you’re optimistic, it’s not going to happen before three to five years,” he said. “Our assumption is that this may happen in other places in the world first. It may happen in the global south in countries that are developing and don’t have alternatives. There, it’s not about cost reduction but giving access when you don’t have access at all.”

Is this technology anywhere close to ready for mass deployment?

“The technology is getting there. It is not as good as people assume. There is a lot of hype around what drones can do today. We see it in biotechnology. We see it in robotic technology in particular,” Raptopoulos said. “We need to resolve a lot of things before we can get to the point where it is reliable or effective.”

Matternet has developed half a dozen drone prototypes and tested them in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. “The next step is to operate a network for a month in a real location where it solves a real problem,” Raptopoulos said. “The next big item on our calendars is how we can get that trial—and we think it’s going to happen in the first half of next year.”

But what about the range of the technology? The batteries aren’t good enough, are they? 

“We started at 10 kilometers and got to 20 kilometers. Even without assuming a battery breakthrough, we see a 5x increase in the range. If you factor in some advancements to battery development, you might see another 3x increase to 300 kilometers,” he contended.

In the near term, Matternet is still trying to get to 100 kilometers by optimizing their system and subsystems. But Raptopoulos is optimistic that itwill happen. “There are quadcopters out there that can do 50 kilometers a day, but they cost 10x what our target cost is,” he said. “How can you get the technology better while keeping the cost down? Technology is pretty good at that. It’s inevitable it’s going to happen.”


But what about reliability? 

“We need to design these vehicles to make sure they don’t represent a public risk. If we’re able to do that, we’re ready for primetime,” Raptopoulosresponded. “The way to unlock regulatory approval is to show with really good data, 99.9999999—seven nines—percent reliability. Then, of course, you’ll have regulatory approval.”

So far, he doesn’t think that any of the burrito or pizza delivery stunts qualify as anything close to a real solution to the delivery question.

“People saying, ‘We’re doing this kind of delivery in China.’ Or talking about burritos, pizza, tacos, whatever. All this stuff is BS. In order to get the deliveries working as a system, the drones need to be reliable. Cars are reliable. Planes are reliable.”

He continued, “There are three things you’re trying to optimize for reliability: time, development, and keeping the cost per vehicle down. The more time and money and cost per vehicle you allow, the better the reliability. For Amazon’s application to make sense, the vehicle cost should be below $20,000. If its $100,000, it’s not cost-effective anymore.”

But he saw reliability as far from an insurmountable problem. “It’s the same thing we have with every technology. We know we’ve been able to build much more complex machines. A 777 has thousands of moving parts, versus eight for a quadcopter. But the question is how quickly, for what level of money, for what reliability. These are the competing factors.”

But won’t you get sued if one crashes?

His company’s plan, too, is to start deploying in places where the regulatory and litigation risks are lower. “The application changes your requirement of reliability,” Raptopoulos said. “The FAA may require another level than authorities in Haiti. If you lose a vehicle in Palo Alto, you may be sued for millions of dollars. If you lose a vehicle in Haiti, you may not be sued at all. ”

But maybe, Raptopoulos contends, there are ways to integrate drones into the airspace that would present a lower risk to everyone. “Maybe there is a way to fly these things on routes where you don’t risk anything where you lose them. It will take that kind of innovation. [To us] it makes sense to start this first in rural places and maybe in the third world. Then once we figure out how to do this at scale, we can bring it here.”

What are the specific things that can be done to increase reliability?

“There are a lot of octocopters and a lot of quadcopters, but how do you design one that has the right redundancies? Should the vehicle have a parachute so when it has a catastrophic failure, it doesn’t just fall out of the sky? If you have one failure, can you diagnose and get it to a landing spot?”

Some of those problems may be solved by increasing the sophistication of the analytics they have on each drone. “How well can we predict failures? If we’ve flown 2.5 thousand hours and we have this kind of telemetric data, I might know I should retire the vehicle.”

And each environment brings its own challenges.

“You have to worry about specific problems in specific environments. In Haiti, you have to worry about dust. If you want to work in San Francisco, you have to have worry about GPS signals being lost because of the terrain.”

Assuming you can work out the technology, why won’t people just shoot them out of the sky?

“They fly at 400 feet between 45-65 kilometers an hour and they are very small. At that height, you can barely see them. You cannot hear them. It’s like a tiny dot moving in the sky. That’s the practical aspect of the question. It’s not going to be a bunch of kids doing it for fun,” Raptopoulos said, raining on every kid’s parade. 

“The second point is that it’s illegal,” he said. “The reason we’re not shooting other moving things with guns is because it’s not something that’s legal. It is more challenging to rely on that framework in a place like Haiti or Kenya or Mali. The risk there is higher.”

But couldn’t the drones get taken out when they land?

“As you pointed out, the vulnerable part of the mission is when they come down,” he responded. “In our case, they do a vertical descent and then they go out again. And those locations need to be protected.”

Thinking about the developing world contexts where Matternet is working, he continued. “You need to have them owned by people who use the system, and then you tap into the social dynamics. We’re not planning to set up the networks in local places. We’re just providing the technology. So, they have to be owned by people in the developing world that have the right social status,” he said. “It would be people on the ground who understand how their location works. Those people are the experts on the ground. They know how to read the country and protect their assets.”

What do you think of the regulatory hurdles in the U.S.?

“We’ve just had a public statement from a big company they want it to happen. Public acceptance goes hand in hand with regulation. There are many reasons that the public will see these as the wave of the future,” he said. “But we cannot [make that case] that if we cannot guarantee to the public that this is a safe thing to be flying over our heads and our children.”

So, let’s say you can fly a few drone deliveries, does this actually work as a big business, the way Amazon seems to be imagining?

“Scale is a challenge in itself. For Amazon to do this, they don’t get to do 10 or 100 deliveries a day, they get to do thousands or hundreds of thousands of deliveries a day. How you resolve the scale issue is a question,” Raptopoulos said. “But we’re pretty good at solving those challenges as a technical civilization.”




Flying hacker contraption hunts other drones, turns them into zombies

by Press • 4 December 2013

by Dan Goodin


Serial hacker Samy Kamkar has released all the hardware and software specifications that hobbyists need to build an aerial drone that seeks out other drones in the air, hacks them, and turns them into a conscripted army of unmanned vehicles under the attacker’s control.

Dubbed SkyJack, the contraption uses a radio-controlled Parrot AR.Drone quadcopter carrying a Raspberry Pi circuit board, a small battery, and two wireless transmitters. The devices run a combination of custom software and off-the-shelf applications that seek out wireless signals of nearby Parrot drones, hijack the wireless connections used to control them, and commandeer the victims’ flight-control and camera systems. SkyJack will also run on land-based Linux devices and hack drones within radio range. At least 500,000 Parrot drones have been sold since the model was introduced in 2010.

Kamkar is the creator of the infamous Samy worm, a complex piece of JavaScript that knocked MySpace out of commission in 2005 when the exploit added more than one million MySpace friends to Kamkar’s account. Kamkar was later convicted for the stunt. He has since devoted his skills to legal hacks, including development of the “evercookie,” a highly persistent browser cookie with troubling privacy implications. He has also researched location data stored by Android devices.

SkyJack made its debut the same week that Amazon unveiled plans to use drones to deliver packages to customers’ homes or businesses.

“How fun would it be to take over drones, carrying Amazon packages… or take over any other drones and make them my little zombie drones,” Kamkar asked rhetorically in a blog post published Monday. “Awesome.”



Posted on Thu, Dec. 05, 2013

Obama to feds: Boost renewable power 20 percent

Associated Press

Saying the government should lead by example, President Barack Obama is ordering the federal government to nearly triple its use of renewable sources for electricity by 2020.

Obama says the plan to use renewables for 20 percent of electricity needs will help reduce pollution that causes global warming, promote American energy independence and boost domestic energy sources such as solar and wind power that provide thousands of jobs.

Obama announced the plan Thursday as part of a wide-ranging, second-term drive to combat climate change and prepare for its effects. A plan announced in June would put first-time limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, boost renewable energy production on federal lands and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

The directive on renewable energy applies to all federal agencies, civilian and military. The Defense Department had previously set a goal that 25 percent of its energy needs should be supplied by renewable energy by 2025.

Federal agencies have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent since he took office in 2009, Obama said, but the government can do even better.

The federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates 600,000 vehicles and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

The government currently has a goal of using 7.5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, but Obama said recent increases in renewable energy supplies make the new 20 percent goal achievable by 2020.

His order says the government should use renewable sources for 10 percent of its electricity in 2015 and gradually increase that amount to 20 percent by 2020.

The order also requires agencies to install energy meters and water maters where appropriate to monitor efficiency and to publicly disclose energy performance data through the Energy Department.

The White House did not provide an estimate for how much money, if any, the proposal would save over the next decade.

The order on renewable energy is one of several steps the administration is announcing this week on energy efficiency.

On Tuesday, officials announced a plan to cut energy waste at multifamily housing such as apartments and condominiums and released a 2014 fuel economy guide to help motorists choose fuel-efficient vehicles.

As part of the administration’s push to expand renewable energy, the Pentagon last year committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes. 

Read more here:

Posted on Thu, Dec. 05, 2013

Obama to feds: Boost renewable power 20 percent


Associated Press


President Barack Obama speaks about the new health care law during a White House Youth Summit, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.

Saying the government should lead by example, President Barack Obama is ordering the federal government to nearly triple its use of renewable sources for electricity by 2020.

Obama says the plan to use renewables for 20 percent of electricity needs will help reduce pollution that causes global warming, promote American energy independence and boost domestic energy sources such as solar and wind power that provide thousands of jobs.

Obama announced the plan Thursday as part of a wide-ranging, second-term drive to combat climate change and prepare for its effects. A plan announced in June would put first-time limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, boost renewable energy production on federal lands and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

The directive on renewable energy applies to all federal agencies, civilian and military. The Defense Department had previously set a goal that 25 percent of its energy needs should be supplied by renewable energy by 2025.

Federal agencies have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent since he took office in 2009, Obama said, but the government can do even better.

The federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates 600,000 vehicles and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

The government currently has a goal of using 7.5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, but Obama said recent increases in renewable energy supplies make the new 20 percent goal achievable by 2020.

His order says the government should use renewable sources for 10 percent of its electricity in 2015 and gradually increase that amount to 20 percent by 2020.

The order also requires agencies to install energy meters and water maters where appropriate to monitor efficiency and to publicly disclose energy performance data through the Energy Department.

The White House did not provide an estimate for how much money, if any, the proposal would save over the next decade.

The order on renewable energy is one of several steps the administration is announcing this week on energy efficiency.

On Tuesday, officials announced a plan to cut energy waste at multifamily housing such as apartments and condominiums and released a 2014 fuel economy guide to help motorists choose fuel-efficient vehicles.

As part of the administration’s push to expand renewable energy, the Pentagon last year committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025 — enough to power 750,000 homes.




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Government shutdown had remarkably broad impact across U.S., survey finds

Wed, 2013-12-04 04:29 PM


The 16-day shutdown of the U.S. Government in October 2013 had widespread business and personal impacts that reached far beyond the federal sector and well outside the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, according to findings of a survey released today by ORI, a market research and strategic business intelligence firm.

“When the shutdown began, the supposition was that impacts would be localized and concentrated on the federal community,” said Kathleen Benson, president of ORI. “But our survey found that the shutdown hit checkbooks and pocketbooks within and outside the D.C. region equally hard, while damaging the perception that government cares about the interests of the business community.”

Key findings of the ORI survey include the following:


From the inability to work on federal contracts to the lack of access to federal business services, the shutdown affected a large cross-section of the economy. Nearly four in 10 organizations (37%) said they were unable to receive services they needed from the government during the shutdown, which explains, in part, why the shutdown was so widely felt. As a result of the shutdown, nearly one-third (31%) of respondents’ organizations delayed or canceled conferences or events, while one quarter decreased staff hours (24%) and delayed or canceled hiring decisions (23%). These disruptions were significantly higher among federal agencies.

The governing climate that led to the shutdown has severely undermined business optimism. A large majority thinks the gridlock in Washington has become a drag on the economy with three-quarters (74%) believing that the governing climate will make strong national economic growth less likely in the next year.

Government contractors were more optimistic than others about the prospects for their own businesses, but pessimism about the economy prevails. While nearly eight in 10 contractors (79%) said U.S. economy was unlikely to see strong national economic growth in the next year, 44% projected their organization’s revenues to increase in the next year — a significantly higher percentage than any other sector. “This suggests that many contractors continue to see rich opportunity for government spending in the next year, despite the ongoing budget cuts from the sequester,” said John Kagia, ORI’s director of strategy and insight.

Alarm about the shutdown mobilized business leaders into action. Three quarters of business owners and senior executives (75%) contacted a member of Congress during the shutdown. At the same time, fewer than 5% of senior executives were optimistic that the government would address priorities that were important to them. “This underscores the extent to which business leaders feel that Washington’s priorities are not aligned with their interests,” said Kagia.

Finding qualified staff to support strategic initiatives is a key challenge in the federal community, but recruiting the best and brightest could be a challenge. Approximately half of the federal respondents (55%) and government contractors (45%) indicated that finding qualified employees would be important to their organizations’ success in the next six months. However, as a consequence of the shutdown and surrounding governing climate, two-thirds of all respondents (and a striking 75% of federal staff) believe that qualified candidates will be less likely to want to work for the government. Said Kagia, “This indicates that the shutdown and surrounding debate significantly undermined the perceived stability and security that have been hallmarks of working in the public sector.”

The ORI study, with a sample size of 665, was conducted online from October 15 to October 25. The margin of error is ±3.8.



IEEE Spectrum

The Rise and Fall of Australia’s $44 Billion Broadband Project

Why Australia decided to abort an ambitious fiber-to-the-home plan


By Rodney S. Tucker

Posted 26 Nov 2013 | 15:00 GMT


In April 2009, Australia’s then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, dropped a bombshell on the press and the global technology community: His social democrat Labor administration was going to deliver broadband Internet to every single resident of Australia. It was an audacious goal, not least of all because Australia is one of the most sparsely populated countries on Earth.


The National Broadband Network (NBN), as the project is known, would extend high-speed optical fiber directly into the homes, schools, and workplaces of 93 percent of Australians. The remaining 7 percent, living out of fiber’s reach in rural areas and remote pockets of the vast outback in the middle of the continent, would be linked to the Internet via state-of-the-art wireless and satellite technology.

Governments and telecom carriers in other countries, such as Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea, have similarly embarked on endeavors to deploy widespread fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks. But those countries are much smaller and more densely populated than Australia. The country has roughly the landmass of the contiguous United States but only 7 percent as many people—fewer, in fact, than the state of Texas. To lay a nationwide fiber footprint, the government would need armies of workers and unprecedented access to rights-of-way, utility poles, and underground ducts.

And indeed, the NBN’s estimated cost was high: The latest figure was AU $45.6 billion (US $44.1 billion). It would be one of the largest, most pervasive FTTP rollouts any government has ever attempted. But although the price would be great, so would the impact: The network would bring broadband access to underserved areas, but it would also raise standards of living everywhere by driving innovations in telemedicine, remote education, e-commerce, and e-governance. A government-funded report released this year by Deloitte Access Economics concluded that the NBN would provide job opportunities, time savings, and other benefits worth, on average, AU $3800 (US $3600) per household per year by 2020, when construction would be nearly complete. In addition, fiber’s enormous bandwidth capacity means that transmitting and receiving equipment could be upgraded indefinitely at low cost, allowing the NBN to keep pace for decades with the incessant demand for higher data rates.

Yet despite these benefits, some conservative politicians and media outlets vehemently opposed the plan. In the campaign leading up to a national election this September, the fate of the NBN was vigorously debated. Although polls showed that the majority of voters supported the project, they nevertheless rejected the Labor Party and ushered into power an alliance of moderate conservative parties known as the Coalition, whose leader and now prime minister, Tony Abbott, promised to drastically scale back the national network.

So now, after three years of planning and construction, during which workers connected some 210 000 premises (out of an anticipated 13.2 million), Australia’s visionary and trailblazing initiative is at a crossroads. The new government plans to deploy fiber only to the premises of new housing developments. For the remaining homes and businesses—about 71 percent—it will bring fiber only as far as curbside cabinets, called nodes. Existing copper-wire pairs will cover the so-called last mile to individual buildings.

Such issues are not unique to Australia. Enthusiasm for near-universal broadband was once widespread, and it is still being pursued in the countries mentioned above, among others. But the ardor has cooled in recent years as legislators in many parts of the world move to cut government spending. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with technology, the public debate is beset by misunderstanding, misinformation, and a general lack of technical knowledge. A rare opportunity for growth and development is about to be lost, and disappointingly few people fully grasp the implications of that loss.

For example, in Australia, the Coalition is pursuing a fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) strategy because it would be much cheaper in the short term—about two-thirds the price of the original NBN. But that calculus overlooks the longer-term realities. Copper links simply lack the capacity to support the massive growth in data consumption that analysts predict. Eventually, Australians will have no choice but to replace those links with fiber, probably before the end of this decade. At that point, upgrading to an FTTP network will add to the cost of the FTTN rollout, increasing the total investment beyond the price of installing that fiber today.

And in delaying the deployment, Australians will have passed up a unique chance to become leaders in the global digital economy—an opportunity they may not get again.


Australia in the Slow Lane

Global ranking     Average connection speed (Mb/s)

1 South Korea     13.3

2 Japan     12.0

3 Switzerland     11.0

4 Hong Kong     10.8

5 Latvia     10.6

6 Netherlands     10.1

7 Czech Republic     9.8

8 United States     8.7

9 Sweden     8.4

10 United Kingdom     8.4

43 Australia    4.8

Global Average:    3.3 Mb/s

Source: Akamai Technologies

Today in Australia, as in much of Asia, Europe, and North America, commercial carriers own and operate competing landline networks. Such an arrangement normally encourages carriers to stay at the forefront of technology. However, it can have disadvantages as well: In a thinly populated country such as Australia, carriers may cherry-pick customers in the few dense urban centers where they know they can make the most profit. Consequently, progress is slow to reach the vast majority of people living in rural and suburban areas.

It’s not surprising, then, that among developed countries, Australia is notable for its paucity of fiber-optic links. The highest rates are in Japan and South Korea, densely populated countries with small landmasses, where fiber accounts for more than 60 percent of broadband lines. In larger, more sparsely populated countries, such as the United States and Canada, rates are much more modest. In Australia, the rate is less than 2 percent.

Today, more than two in three Australian households have fixed broadband subscriptions. Most of those connections still use digital subscriber line (DSL) technology, which transmits data packets at higher frequencies than do analog voice signals, enabling Internet traffic to travel over telephone lines at relatively high bit rates. In a DSL system, twisted copper pairs, also known as loops, connect each customer to a central switching office. There, a rack of modems known as DSL access multiplexers, or DSLAMs, link the local loop to the backbone networks of various Internet service providers.

The problem with relying on DSL for broadband service is that many modern applications, including ultrahigh-definition videoconferencing and 3-D television, already require faster transmission speeds than these lines can provide. The biggest bottleneck is the copper itself. Due to the electrical properties of the metal, signals distort and weaken considerably with distance and can interfere with signals traveling through neighboring wires. This severely limits the bit rate of connections, particularly long ones. While customers close to a central office can receive rates as high as 24 megabits per second (using a common standard known as ADSL 2+), more distant customers experience much slower speeds. In Australia, where loops can be quite long and where some users opt for low-speed plans, the average Internet connection is just 4.8 Mb/s. And because the upload rate for DSL rarely exceeds more than one-fourth the download rate, the service doesn’t work well for high-bandwidth two-way applications such as videoconferencing.


Broadband Far and Wide: The original conception for Australia’s National Broadband Network would have given all citizens high-speed data connections—93 percent of them fiber. The country’s large landmass and sparse population made this controversial plan unprecedented and hugely ambitious.

The leaders of the Labor Party weren’t the first Australians to recognize the need for a faster, more inclusive network. Telecom carriers and federal advisory groups have been kicking around proposals for a national broadband network since about 2003. But it wasn’t until December 2007, after the Labor Party won majority power, that the government committed to the venture.

At first, Labor representatives thought the new network should use an FTTN architecture, which would require removing DSLAMs from central offices, located kilometers from customers, and installing new ones in nodes as close as a couple of hundred meters. The nodes would connect to the central offices via fiber and relay data to and from each customer’s premises using very-high-bit-rate DSL, or VDSL, the highest-speed DSL standard available at the time. These shorter copper loops would boost average speeds considerably—to as high as 50 Mb/s, depending on the distance between the node and the premises. The resulting FTTN network wouldn’t be nearly as fast as a full-blown FTTP grid, but the anticipated cost seemed more reasonable.

The government also assumed that the best way to build the network was to award the job to a commercial carrier through a bidding process. It would grant the winner a monopoly license and pitch in AU $4.7 billion to subsidize the cost of construction. Six carriers, including the market leader Telstra, submitted proposals by November 2008. To evaluate them, the government appointed an expert panel; I was among its seven members.

After studying the proposals, we agreed on two key points. First, we found that the global economic recession, sparked by the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble in 2006, was preventing Australia’s carriers from raising enough capital to fully fund the construction of a national network. In fact, none of the bidders came up with a viable business model. It was clear that unless the government bankrolled the majority of the cost, a commercial network would not likely succeed.

Our second observation was that an FTTN layout would be a bad idea. Using VDSL, a home connection could theoretically deliver 50 Mb/s, but only if the node sat very close to the house—a mere 100 meters or so away. Since the panel disbanded, a newer standard, VDSL2, has emerged. When combined with a novel interference-reduction technique called vectoring, it can provide download speeds up to about 100 Mb/s over short distances. And now an even faster standard known as is in the works, which promises download rates up to 1 Gb/s, but again, only for very short connections. For customers on longer loops, telecoms would be able to guarantee only about 50 Mb/s.

Market analysts project that data usage from a single family or small business could easily surpass that rate by 2020, and to meet this demand, Australia would need an FTTP network. Laying a cheaper FTTN footprint first would make little sense because it’s not a necessary step toward realizing an all-fiber system. In fact, an FTTN network requires special equipment and infrastructure, including nodes, that would have to be removed and discarded during an FTTP upgrade. An interim FTTN rollout would consequently end up costing Australians more in the long term than simply investing in FTTP technology today.

For these and other reasons, we recommended that the government itself create a national FTTP network. Incredibly, it accepted our advice.

In April 2009, following Prime Minister Rudd’s landmark announcement, the Australian government established NBN Co to build and operate the future National Broadband Network. The governmentowned company would be responsible for connecting every home and business to more than 100 hubs, called points of interconnect, around the nation. These are places where commercial Internet providers and other content-delivery companies, called retail service providers, would hook into the network. To reduce some of the cost of laying fiber lines, NBN Co would pay commercial carriers to access existing underground ducts and pits and decommission copper telephone lines and DSLAM equipment. Telstra currently owns the vast majority of this infrastructure, and the government had agreed to pay AU $11 billion to access it.

As the sole owner of the new national network, NBN Co would run what’s known as a Layer 2 network. It would offer commercial providers a choice of speeds at set prices (from AU $24 per month for 12 Mb/s downloads and 1 Mb/s uploads to AU $150 per month for 1 Gb/s downloads and 400 Mb/s uploads). It would route the data to and from the providers’ customers using Ethernet protocol. The providers would add on the remaining layers, including data packaging, encryption, and error correction, and bill customers directly. Although NBN Co alone would manage the physical infrastructure, including the modems in people’s homes, providers could still compete, based on the type of content they offered and the quality of their service.

To construct the network’s fiber web, engineers opted to use passive optical network (PON) technology, a standard approach for FTTP networks. In NBN Co’s PON system, a single fiber would ferry data from a central office to a small curbside cabinet, where a beam splitter would divide the signal, guiding the light through up to 32 branching fibers, each leading to a separate premises. Unlike active optical networks, which electronically switch data at the cabinet in order to route it to its final destination, PON systems broadcast to all premises on a splitter. They rely on electronic switches at each customer’s terminal to weed out the neighbors’ traffic and encrypt the data to prevent eavesdropping. PON systems also tend to be cheaper, use less power, and are easier to maintain than active ones because they don’t require engineers to install and tend to switching equipment in outdoor cabinets.

When construction began on the NBN in 2010, the fastest equipment available for transmitting data on a PON network relied on an industry standard known as gigabit PON, or GPON, which can send 2.4 gigabits per second to each splitter. This overall capacity would be divided among all of the premises on a splitter. However, if several customers in a neighborhood opted for fast services, NBN Co would simply install more splitters at the cabinet—a quick, 20-minute job. This way, NBN Co could guarantee that every fiber-connected Australian who wanted the maximum 1 Gb/s rate could get it.

Inevitably, though, some people would fall outside this fiber footprint. About 7 percent of Australians live in rural communities or remote outposts where wired broadband access is technically or economically unviable. NBN Co would connect about half this population via fixed wireless towers equipped with standard 4G LTE technologies capable of delivering download speeds up to 25 Mb/s and upload speeds up to 5 Mb/s to each customer. The other half would be served by two new high-bandwidth geostationary satellites due to launch in 2015, which would provide similar data rates.

But no matter the type of access technology—fiber, wireless, or satellite—NBN Co would still charge commercial providers the same wholesale rates to use its pipes, ensuring equal and fair prices to all consumers regardless of location.

Many politicians and industry executives praised the NBN plan. Alan Noble, Google Australia’s head of engineering, called it “the greatest enabler of innovation.” Others said it was “a critical part in the evolution of the Internet” and “too good an opportunity to miss.” Nevertheless, the plan was controversial from the outset. Members of the conservative Coalition, concerned about rising costs and construction delays, have described the NBN as a “dangerous delusion,” a “white elephant on a massive scale,” and a “shockingly misconceived, wasteful exercise in public policy.”

Some of the early criticisms, particularly from media commentators, stemmed from technical misunderstandings. Opponents of the FTTP approach, for instance, often reasoned that the popularity of mobile gadgets is causing wireless technologies to advance so rapidly that they will eventually offer greater speeds than fiber, making the NBN obsolete.

The fallacy of this assumption is immediately apparent to anybody with a basic knowledge of wireless networks. Such connections will always be limited by the bandwidth capacity of a cellular base station, which must be shared among all its users. Even if one station could use all available radio spectrum to serve one customer, the bandwidth of frequencies that can be passed through an optical fiber would still be some 20 000 times as great.

What’s more, mobile systems may not be able to sustain their awesome growth without an extensive fiber network. Already, operators are deploying miniature base stations known as small cells in homes, businesses, and busy urban centers, to help expand capacity and bring services to places where traditional towers may not reach, such as indoors. The glut of data flowing through these cells will need to be hauled to and from an operator’s core network—a job that suits fiber very well.

Other critics of the Labor Party’s plan worried that giving NBN Co sole ownership of Australia’s physical network would stifle infrastructure competition, keeping prices high for consumers and slowing the adoption of new network technologies. This argument might be persuasive in more densely populated countries such as the United States, where high consumer demand usually ensures vigorous competition based largely on technology. Indeed, in the United States, Verizon began offering its FiOS FTTP service in 2005, and plans are now available to more than 18 million homes, 5 million of which have subscriptions, the company says.

But in Australia, providers have already demonstrated that a free market hasn’t produced good access options for most consumers. In the 1990s, for instance, Telstra and its competitor Optus strung separate hybrid fiber-coaxial lines, a faster service than DSL, to the same 2 million premises in some populous suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. Meanwhile, millions more premises missed out on the upgrade.

By far the biggest concern about the FTTP model was, and still is, that the benefits won’t justify its high cost. The Coalition argues that an FTTN network, though less than ideal, would provide more value per dollar. But the numbers just don’t add up.

An FTTP network offering peak speeds of up to 1 Gb/s would have cost Australians about AU $3450 per premises, according to NBN Co’s cost analysis. By contrast, the new Coalition government estimates that each FTTN connection, capable of guaranteeing up to 50 Mb/s, will cost on average around AU $2320—a whopping two-thirds the cost of a vastly superior FTTP link. And if consumer data rates continue to climb as fast as analysts predict, many FTTN customers will probably want to upgrade to FTTP technology before 2020. To accommodate them, the Coalition government plans to offer “fiber-on-demand” service, in which a customer could choose to pay out of pocket for installing fiber from a curbside node to a home or business. These upgrades would likely add another AU $1000 to $5000 to the price of each connection, depending on the length of the fiber and the amount of labor required.

In the meantime, an FTTP network using GPON infrastructure could last well into the future. Upgrading it to the next-generation standard, called XGPON, which will support up to 10 Gb/s, would simply require replacing some of the equipment in central offices and the terminal modem at each customer’s premises—for a likely total bill of no more than AU $300 per connection. In the future, newer standards could provide even faster bit rates for a comparable cost.


It has been painful watching the formation of this “futureproof” network come to an end. I can’t help but think of the United States’ Interstate Highway System, championed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, which paved the way, literally, for a booming transportation-based economy. In Australia, a fiber-based broadband highway could transform the country’s digital economy in much the same way.

Sadly, the new Coalition government seems impervious to these arguments and is determined to downscale the NBN. I am left clinging to the hope that Australians will realize the foolishness of abandoning the FTTP network and insist that their leaders reconsider or devise a new plan that’s not too far removed from the Labor Party’s revolutionary vision.



Microsoft Launches Cybercrime Center

Microsoft expands global role supporting law enforcement, government, and businesses fighting cybercrime.

December 4, 2013

Patience Wait


Microsoft has unveiled its latest effort to combat cyberthreats with the opening of its new Cyber Crime Center. The state-of-the-art operations facility, located on Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus, provides specialists with an array of advanced tools to visualize and identify cyberthreats around the world.

The center is not simply for Microsoft, though. In addition to the technical experts who can track criminal activities, the center is working closely with law enforcement agencies, customers, and academics to develop ways to keep the public safe from cyber criminals. Microsoft is also including legal experts who can advise the best ways to navigate international law.

“The center provides an unprecedented opportunity to bring together people with different expertise — engineers, investigators, lawyers, etc. — and equip them with the best tools and technology available,” Bonnie MacNaughton, assistant general counsel for the Digital Crimes Unit (DCU), told InformationWeek.

The DCU team is made up of nearly 100 lawyers, investigators, forensic analysts, and business professionals all around the world. The company has established a dozen satellite offices or regional labs in major cities, including Beijing, Berlin, Bogota, Dublin, Hong Kong, Sydney, and Washington, D.C. It can provide the latest technology and monitor developments internationally — two aspects that can be challenging for US law enforcement.

Housed within the Cyber Crime Center, the DCU team brings cybercrime experts across the areas of IP, botnets, malware, and child exploitation under one umbrella, “so that when focus areas intersect … we can work better together to eliminate cyber threats to Microsoft’s businesses, customers, and the entire digital ecosystem,” said MacNaughton.

Many federal agencies are working on aspects of cyberthreats: the Department of Homeland Security’s US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), the FBI’s Cyber Crime division, the Secret Service network of Electronic Crimes Task Forces, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to name a few, do everything from tracking threats, to cyber forensics, to taking down internationally wanted criminals.

Almost every country has its own cybercrime program, not to mention Interpol, NATO, and other regional alliances.

Where does Microsoft’s center fit into this veritable galaxy of cyber law enforcement?

“The DCU understands that Congress has traditionally seen fit for private entities to protect themselves, and their customers, through legal action,” MacNaughton said. “Microsoft is very deliberate about pursuing disruptive measures through the civil judicial system, as the U.S. Congress envisioned when it created a civil component to the RICO and Lanham acts. By effectively leveraging these civil causes of action, Microsoft has sought to bring additional pressure against a determined and sophisticated adversary.”

But the company knows that only law enforcement agencies can really crack down on cybercriminals.

“[We work] closely with law enforcement to combat cybercrime, and whenever possible we use the evidence gathered in civil actions to refer cases to law enforcement for criminal prosecution,” MacNaughton said. “For instance, in the Rustock and Zeus botnet cases, after closing our civil cases we made a criminal referral to the FBI.” Those are two of seven botnets tied to criminal organizations committing consumer, financial, and advertising fraud, according to Microsoft briefing materials. The others include Citadel, Bamital, Nitol, Kelihos, and Waledac.

In another worldwide botnet investigation targeting cybercriminals out of Eastern Europe, Microsoft and financial services industry leaders affected by the Citadel botnet investigated and filed their own civil case, MacNaughton said. Then they worked with the FBI and coordinated a worldwide disruption of the Citadel zombie network and shut down nearly 90% of enslaved computers.

“When Microsoft seizes the command and control infrastructure of a botnet, it severs the connection between the cybercriminals running it and the computers they infected with that botnet’s malware,” she said. “These infected computers continue to try to check into the botnet command for instructions until they are cleaned of the malware. Every day, Microsoft’s system receives hundreds of millions of attempted check-ins” from infected computers.

The company shares data gathered by its Azure-based Cyber Threat Intelligence Program (C-TIP) with ISPs and CERTs, giving them better situational awareness of cyber threats.

Microsoft officials also noted that as a result of joint operations with Interpol, the FBI, ICE/HSI, Scotland Yard, and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), more than 20,000 illegal online pharmacies selling dangerous counterfeit drugs were identified through Microsoft’s SitePrint tool and subsequently taken down.


Microsoft lines up critical Windows, Office and IE fixes for next week

Year’s update total will be 28% higher than 2012’s

By Gregg Keizer

December 5, 2013 04:13 PM ET


Computerworld – Microsoft today said it will ship 11 security updates next week to patch critical vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer (IE), Office and Exchange, including one meant to stymie active attacks the company confirmed a month ago.

With the 11 slated for release on Dec. 10, Microsoft’s update tally for the year will reach 106, tying the record from 2010 and representing a 28% increase over 2012.

Five of the updates outlined in today’s Patch Tuesday advance notification will be marked “critical,” the top ranking in Microsoft’s scoring system; the remaining six will be labeled “important,” one step down in severity.

“IE is the ‘of course patch first’ update,” said Andrew Storms, director of DevOps at San Francisco-based security company CloudPassage.

The critical IE update will affect all currently-supported versions of Microsoft’s browser, from the aging IE6 to the just released IE11. The upcoming update means that Microsoft will have patched IE every month of 2013, a feat impossible prior to July 2012, when the Redmond, Wash. company applied fixes only on alternating months.

Microsoft will be forced to support the half-dozen flavors of IE through at least April, when it will finally retire IE6, the oft-derided browser that debuted more than 12 years ago.

“Talk about legacy costs,” said Storms in an instant message interview Thursday. “We think about the operational costs for IT departments to manage and maintain X number of old systems, [but] imagine Microsoft having to do the same for all their customers.”

Another critical update will patch one or more flaws in a combination of Windows and Office editions to shut down ongoing attacks reported to Microsoft by McAfee researchers in early November. Microsoft issued a security advisory on Nov. 5 that described the threat and offered a temporary fix.


Two of the remaining three critical updates will affect Windows, while the third will patch Exchange, the business-critical email server software that most businesses rely on for delivering messages.

Storms recommended that Microsoft’s customers immediately install the critical Windows updates, but hedged on the one for Exchange.

On one hand, the criticality of the Exchange update would seem to demand attention. But Storms pointed out that the decision may be tougher than at first glance, since IT staffs are often short-handed at the end of the year and leery of breaking email at any time.

“Taking the risk of patching and rebooting Exchange at the end of the year will surely create a lot of opinions inside meeting rooms,” said Storms, referring to discussions that will take place next week about whether to patch the email servers.

“If we get lucky, [the Exchange vulnerability] will be in Oracle’s Outside In, and there will be an easy mitigation,” Storms added.

Exchange relies on Outside In libraries to display file attachments in a browser rather than open them in a locally-stored application, like Microsoft Word. Microsoft has patched those libraries repeatedly, twice this year — most recently in August — and also twice in 2012.

Outside In was included in Oracle’s October patch collection, making it almost certain that the Exchange update will address that technology’s latest bugs. “Given Microsoft’s time to test patches, the timing of this does match up,” agreed Storms in a final instant message.

The six updates marked important will patch vulnerabilities in Windows, Office 2010 and Office 2013, SharePoint Server and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2013. If the updates are not deployed, criminals may be able to infect PCs with malware, steal information, acquire additional privileges that would let them run more threatening attacks, or bypass security features.

Microsoft will release next week’s security updates on Dec. 10 around 1 p.m. ET.


DoD begins cutting staff sizes, will reorganize policy office

Dec. 5, 2013 – 01:50PM |

By Marcus Weisgerber

Staff writer

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put into action Wednesday plans to reduce his Defense Department staff by 20 percent, an effort he said will save the Pentagon $1 billion over a five-year period.

The changes involve eliminating civilian and contract workers, while reorganizing the oversight responsibilities of some of DoD’s senior officials. The plans also call for a major overhaul of the Pentagon’s policy directorate, including the elimination of one deputy undersecretary and four deputy assistant secretaries.

“This restructuring will better balance workload across policy’s assistant secretary of defense, sustain our emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, space and cyber capabilities, and better integrate our focus on emerging threats with homeland defense efforts and strengthen our security cooperation efforts, while eliminating some senior executive positions,” Hagel said of the policy reorganization during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.


Hagel has also realigned the Office of Net Assessment, a strategic analysis organization, under the policy directorate. The organization, which is led by long-time strategist Andrew Marshall, was said to be on the chopping block during the review but survived.

Over the summer, Hagel asked former Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to look for places to cut Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), services, Joint Staff and combatant command headquarters staffs by 20 percent.

In 2012, OSD had nearly 2,700 civilian and military staff positions, according to Pentagon documents. There are about 2,400 military and civilian personnel in OSD today, according to a senior defense official. After the downsizing, there will be fewer than 2,200 people remaining, Hagel said.

Other changes ordered by Hagel include trimming DoD’s intelligence division by identifying “non-core functions and programs that may be transferred to the services or defense agencies,” and moving oversight of information technology resources from the Deputy Chief Management Officer to the Chief Information Officer, a fact sheet on the changes states.

Hagel also called for changes to the Deputy Chief Management Officer’s responsibilities “to better coordinate and integrate DoD’s business affairs by creating a leadership focused on management concerns and creating a single management, business oversight, and administrative organization within OSD and across DoD,” the fact sheet states. He also called for realigning oversight of business systems from the deputy chief management officer to the chief information officer.

“[E]very dollar that we save by reducing the size of her headquarters and back-office operations is a dollar that can be invested in war-fighting capabilities and readiness,” Hagel said. “Beyond these fiscal considerations, our goal is to use this opportunity to streamline OSD, making it more agile and responsive.”

More details of the initiative will be included in the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal, which is scheduled for a February release.

“These reductions are only a first step in DoD’s efforts to realign defense spending to meet new fiscal realities and strategic priorities,” Hagel said. “Difficult, but necessary choices remain ahead for the department, choices on compensation reform, force structure, acquisitions and other major parts of DoD.”


What are the top ten civilian uses of drones that don’t impinge privacy?

Jul 01 2013 by Matt Ball


Geospatial vendors in the United States wait rather impatiently as the Federal Aviation Administration works on regulations that will allow the use of drones or unmanned aerial systems for commercial applications. While research and development is ongoing, other countries stand to make a leap ahead where there are fewer regulations, despite the fact that much of the technology development has come about thanks to heavy use of these technologies by the American military.

There are a burgeoning number of aerial drone platforms, including a very active do-it-yourself community ( The machines are becoming more robust, with abilities to accommodate heavier payloads for longer flight times. There are also new sensors and systems that are being tailored for specific applications, taking away technical barriers by automating both the flight and data processing, and returning intelligence that can be acted upon.

Given the growing interest, and the ability for these tools to address new areas of application, it’s fitting to survey the top markets, the advantage, and the sensors that provide new insight in a wide area of application.

  1. Agriculture – The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) reports that the agricultural use of drones could comprise 80% of the market. The reasons include the need to closely monitor crops to improve management and yield, the need to do this more regularly and cheaply, and the environment of private land with little threat to others. Near-infrared sensors can be tuned to detect crop health, letting farmers react and improve conditions locally with inputs of fertilizer or insecticide.
  2. Mines – Mining companies are already deploying drones worldwide with great efficiency and safety gains to accurately measure site conditions, inspect pit walls, calculate quantities, and measure and map in 3D. Photogrammetric techniques are used for 3D modeling to date, however more precise laser LiDAR sensors for UAV platforms will be developed in time.
  3. Construction Sites – The monitoring from above of construction project sites provides a new input during all phases of a project lifecycle. Aerial photography is done now for only the largest projects, however the input would be used more widely and more frequently if more readily accessible. The ability to quickly model from above in 3D with increasing precision will provide a check on projects with as-builts compared to plans, as well as the better coordination of materials on the job site.
  4. Infrastructure Inspection – From pipelines to powerlines, to towers, to processing plants, the inspection of complex infrastructure will benefit from regular aerial monitoring. The ability to sense in three dimensions, take thermal readings, and to detect metal strain will greatly improve infrastructure inspection. Small and unmanned platforms that can hover and get close and surround infrastructure, such as a bridge or plant, will provide a new level of detail to improve performance.
  5. Wildlife Research – Drones are being used internationally to monitor and track wildlife, providing new insight into animal behavior, as well as protection from poachers. With the ability to operate at night, and with thermal camera sensors, drones provide unprecedented protection.
  6. Prospecting – Mineral and oil and gas exploration is a natural fit for drones, with field prospectors extending their toolset with aerial sensors to confirm and expand their insight. Magnetometers on aerial platforms can be used to detect ferrous metals and gravitational fields, with less of a disturbance due to their size.
  7. Storm Tracking/Forecasting – Sending drones into hurricanes and tornadoes provides new insight into their behavior and trajectory. Unmanned systems are the best approach to these dangerous situations, and with specialized sensors to detail weather parameters, new insight becomes possible.
  8. Emergency Response – After a natural or manmade disaster, a drone provides a quick means to gather information, navigate debris with a portable and useful technology that doesn’t drown out cries for help, and that can be deployed by teams that are working a specific area.
  9. Environmental Monitoring – Drones fill a gap between manned aerial inspections and traditional fieldwork, monitoring hard to reach areas, or taking reading in contaminated areas where human health would be at risk. The ability to quickly deploy and capture an area of interest in concert with in-situ measurements, provides an advantage to contamination and reclamation work. Near-infrared sensors provide details of plant health to determine environmental health. The site-specific insight will greatly improve habitat restoration, environmental assessments, monitoring, and remediation.
  10. Search and Rescue – With thermal sensors, drones can quickly discover the location of lost persons, and are particularly useful at night or in challenging terrain. The search and rescue mission is a battle against time, particularly in harsh conditions, and drones become a powerful tool because of the ease of deployment.

Drones provide a paradigm shift for remote sensing, given their portability, low cost of operation, ease of use, and the automation of the analysis. It’s just a matter of time before regulations are lifted, and they are widely used. There are legislative efforts that could dramatically impact their utility, but with a focus on best-use, and with tailored sensor and platforms for these applications, their benefit will be broadly felt without repercussion to privacy.


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AV Week reveals new large flying wing the RQ180

by Press • 6 December 2013

Amy Butler and Bill Sweetman


A large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman is now flying—and it demonstrates a major advance in combining stealth and aerodynamic efficiency. Defense and intelligence officials say the secret unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, is scheduled to enter production for the U.S. Air Force and could be operational by 2015.

Funded through the Air Force’s classified budget, the program to build this new UAS, dubbed the RQ-180, was awarded to Northrop Grumman after a competition that included Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The aircraft will conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed, and under wide debate, since retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1998.

Neither the Air Force nor Northrop Grumman would speak about the classified airplane. When queried about the project, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy said, “The Air Force does not discuss this program.”

The RQ-180 carries radio-frequency sensors such as active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and passive electronic surveillance measures, according to one defense official. It could also be capable of electronic attack missions.

This aircraft’s design is key for the shift of Air Force ISR assets away from “permissive” environments—such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where Northrop Grumman’s non-stealthy Global Hawk and General Atomics’ Reaper operate—and toward operations in “contested” or “denied” airspace. The new UAS underpins the Air Force’s determination to retire a version of the RQ-4B Global Hawk after 2014, despite congressional resistance. The RQ-180 eclipses the smaller, less stealthy and shorter-range RQ-170 Sentinel.


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, December 07, 2013

President Obama got some good late-week news with the drop of the unemployment rate to a five-year low and better-than-projected economic growth in the third quarter. It remains to be seen whether these trends continue and offset the damage done by Obamacare’s disastrous debut.

The president’s total job approval dipped four points to 45% in November. That’s down 11 points from last December’s recent high of 56% and is his lowest monthly approval in two years. In recent weeks, Obama’s daily job approval ratings have been at the lowest levels of his presidency

Positive views of the president’s economic leadership have fallen to their lowest level in 18 months. Just 32% of Likely U.S. Voters now give the president good or excellent marks for his handling of economic issues.

Twenty-five percent (25%) think the country is heading in the right direction. A year ago, 41% felt that way.

Despite assurances from the Obama administration that problems with the federal health insurance exchange website have been fixed, 59% of voters think it’s unlikely the current problems with the new national health care law will be fixed within the next year.

Since October 1, the law has begun forcing millions of Americans to change their health insurance coverage because it does not meet the standards set by the law and to buy more expensive policies in their place. The resulting political uproar has forced the president to delay implementation of that portion of the law. Voters who have health insurance overwhelmingly rate the coverage they have as good or excellent. Fifty-six percent (56%) of all voters now expect the health care system to get worse under the new law.

No wonder then that voters overwhelmingly want to change or repeal the health care law. Fifty percent (50%) want to scrap it completely and start over again.

By a 51% to 38% margin, voters oppose the law’s requirement that employers provide health insurance with free contraceptives for their female employees. But they remain closely divided when asked if a business should be allowed to opt out of such a mandate for religious reasons – the subject of the latest legal challenge of Obamacare now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Voters are almost evenly divided over how much influence the law will have over their upcoming vote. Thirty-eight percent (38%) say they are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports the health care law. Forty percent (40%) are less likely to vote for a supporter of the law. But perhaps surprisingly, 35% are not sure if their representative in Congress voted for it or not.

As the political fallout from the health care law continues, Republicans have jumped to a five-point lead over Democrats – 43% to 38% – on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. This is the biggest lead the GOP has held since June 2012 and the highest level of support it has earned since just before Election Day in early November of last year. 

But the economy may be offering a little more hope these days. The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence jumped five points in November after falling to a low for the year in October. An increase in the Employment Index generally suggests the upcoming government report on job creation will be stronger than the prior month’s report, and indeed it was.

The president on Wednesday declared that growing income inequality in the United States is “the defining challenge of our time.” The number of workers who consider themselves poor (18%) is at its highest point this year, but help may be on the way: The number who expect to be earning more a year from now (43%) matches its highest level in four-and-a-half years

Fewer workers than ever are willing to commit to their current job. Twenty-five percent (25%) of Employed Adults are looking for a job outside of their current company.  Sixty-four percent (64%) are not, but that’s the lowest finding in regular surveying since the spring of 2009. However, just 37% think their next job will be better than their current one.

The Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes aren’t overly optimistic, though. At week’s end, 25% of consumers said economic conditions in the United States are getting better, but twice as many (50%) believe they’re getting worse. Investors share these views by a similar margin.

Speaking of consumers, 48% of Americans have begun their holiday shopping, and 14% are finished already. 

But 75% agree that most Americans need to cut back on credit card use and other borrowing. Nineteen percent (19%) say the bad economy is causing them to use their credit cards more. 

Only 39% think they personally need to cut back on their credit card use and other borrowing 

Most Americans (70%) are fairly comfortable using their credit cards on the Internet, but 24% say they have had credit card information stolen online 

The Obama administration recently changed long-standing military policy to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. Thirty-four percent (34%) think this decision is good for the military, but nearly as many (31%) feel it’s bad for the military. Another 31% say it will have no impact. 

Forty-seven percent (47%) think the growing role of women in the armed services is also good for the military. Fifty-three percent (53%) believe women should be allowed to fight on the front lines and perform all the combat roles that men do, although that’s down six points from 59% in January.

In other surveys last week:

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans held a favorable view of iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela when we asked in February 2011. Mandela died on Thursday at age 95.

– Vice President Joe Biden visited Beijing this week following the latest flare-up of tensions with China. Fifty-two percent (52%) of voters consider China a long-term threat to the United States, but 75% think that threat is economic rather than a military one. 

The United States spends more on defense annually than the next 10 countries combined, but more voters than ever (37%) don’t think that’s enough.  

– Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans say they will decorate their homes this holiday season

– Sixty-six percent (66%) of Americans prefer signs in stores that say “Merry Christmas” rather than ones with “Happy Holidays.”  

November 30 2013





Expect Sequestration to Hit Much Harder in 2014, Report Says

By Eric Katz

November 22, 2013

Less severe cuts, deferred costs and temporary solutions mitigated sequestration’s effect in its inaugural year, but will not help lessen the impact in 2014, according to a new report.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the tactics federal agencies used to reduce furloughs in fiscal 2013 are, in many cases, no longer available. In fact, they will largely accentuate the severity of the cuts this time around.

For example, Congress allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to move funds from an account meant to provide maintenance to airports nationwide to avoid furloughs of air traffic controllers that would have delayed flights. Similar budgetary “gimmicks” were employed at the Agriculture Department to stave off furloughs of meat inspectors and by the Justice Department, which has already announced plans of 10 furlough days for FBI agents in 2014.

Every major federal agency reduced its furlough projections in fiscal 2013, though that will likely be impossible this year, the report found.

“In some cases, agencies minimized their sequester cuts using budget gimmicks, but those gimmicks only work once,” wrote Harry Stein, CAP’s associate director for fiscal policy. “In other cases, agencies drained their reserve and investment accounts to sustain urgent needs, but those accounts need to be replenished later.”

The Defense Department was able to reduce original projections of 22 furlough days for civilians to just six by putting off expenses elsewhere. The Pentagon, however, will soon have to resume training its personnel, hiring more staff, repairing its infrastructure and purchasing new equipment, Stein said.

“Federal agencies have implemented sequestration under the assumption that it is a short-term glitch — one that Congress will soon fix,” he wrote. “Federal agencies have weathered sequestration as best they can, as long as it is just a short-term problem. But if sequestration becomes the new normal, all of these quick fixes will have only made things worse for the American people.”

Additionally, the CAP report found many of the cuts made to meet reduced budget caps last year have not yet gone into effect. That, combined with the fact that sequestration will cut $24 billion more from agency budgets in fiscal 2014 than it did the previous year, will mean much more severe effects.

Finally, CAP noted sequestration’s impact has flown under the radar of the American public because programs like Social Security, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits were exempted from the cuts. Lower profile programs that have more of a residual impact and affect fewer people have already absorbed significant budget reductions, however. Agencies such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have cut research significantly. Additionally, federal investigators and inspectors general — who find savings 35 times their collective budgets — are conducting fewer audits and identifying less waste, the report said.


A House-Senate congressional budget conference committee is attempting to negotiate a deal to fund government past Jan. 15, with Democrats steadfast in their desire to offset sequestration with other cuts and increased revenues and Republicans more reluctant to do away with what they say has worked to reduce the budget.

Stein said it is not too late for the harm to be undone.

“Sequestration was never meant to happen and Congress made a mistake by allowing it to kick in,” he wrote. “As long as that mistake is fixed soon, the damage can be contained.”



Cyber-attack at a major port could cost $1 billion per day

Sun, 2013-11-24 11:44 AM

By: Troy Anderson


At a time when the nation’s infrastructure faces a growing threat from cyber-attacks, maritime and homeland security officials say they are making significant progress in protecting the nation’s ports, which handle more than 2 billion metric tons of cargo annually and are critical to the global economy.

“It’s finally picking up speed,” said Randy Parsons, director of security at the Port of Long Beach, during the Port Security Operations Conference & Expo held Nov. 19-21 at the Hilton Long Beach & Executive Meeting Center. “A lot of time and effort have been put into this by the private sector, as well as the government agencies — the FBI in particular and the U.S. Secret Service. I’ve seen a major shift in just the last 12 months.”

Parsons said cyber-attacks pose a growing threat to the nation’s infrastructure, including its ports.

“All we have to look at is the 6 o’clock news about every night to see some damage hackers have done around the country,” Parsons observed. “I think we’ve seen plenty of evidence that the capability exists and that puts a challenge on all the partners at the port to assess the protections we have, identify our gaps and then come up with mitigation strategies.”

Doug Albrecht, director of information management at the Port of Long Beach, said the port blocks about 9 million attacks monthly on its network. But it only takes one successful intrusion to potentially do damage, he said.

“There is an annual hackers’ convention in Las Vegas called DEF CON to break into real companies and real networks,” Albrecht said. “The best tool they could use is the telephone. They can profile you from LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and when they call you and ask you the question about your bank account or password, they know a lot of information about you and you can be easily tricked.”

To combat this threat, port officials teach workers how to recognize these and other methods hackers use to break into the highly-secure networks of ports and other critical infrastructure in the nation.

A lot is at stake. A cyber-attack that successfully shuts down the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach would cause $1 billion a day in losses to the national economy, Parsons said.

“The cyber risk has not been adequately addressed in the maritime security model,” said Michael O’Brien, the port facilities officer at the Port of Oakland. “That needs to be addressed. I think there is some room to grow with the cyber-security threat and become more systematic about it.”



Pentagon Outlines Stronger Military Presence in the Arctic

By Kevin Baron

November 22, 2013

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — Citing American interests in climate change, energy security and the integrity of northern sea lanes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel introduced a new Pentagon plan for Arctic security on Friday that promises to significantly increase U.S. military resources and attention to the polar region.

The plan is the Defense Department’s follow-on to President Barack Obama’s national Arctic strategy, released in May. The Arctic has gained increased attention in security circles as melting ice caps promise new access to strategic positions and undersea resources for three of the worlds most powerful countries in the U.S., Russia, and China, as well as Canada and NATO.

“In order to realize the full potential of the Arctic, nations must collaborate and build trust and confidence through transparency and engagement,” Hagel said at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada.

The U.S. will not relent in defending Alaska and its northern borders, Hagel said, laying out an 8-point plan to 1) Protect U.S. borders and Alaska, 2) do more to more study the environment, 3) enforce the law of the seas, 4) “evolve” Defense Department capabilities and infrastructure, 5) increase international training, 6) prepare for natural disasters, 7) protect the Arctic environment, and 8) build and enforce international institutions and organizations.

“We are beginning to think about and plan for how our Naval fleet and other capabilities and assets will need to adapt to the evolving shifts and requirements in the region,” Hagel told the audience of international officials, including a congressional delegation led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Hagel is scheduled to return to Washington on Friday evening. The forum continues through Sunday.



Neverquest’ trojan threatens online banking users

Attackers could start to aggressively distribute this malware in the near future, Kaspersky Lab researchers warn

Lucian Constantin


November 26, 2013 (IDG News Service)


A new Trojan program that targets users of online financial services has the potential to spread very quickly over the next few months, security researchers warn.

The malware was first advertised on a private cybercrime forum in July, according to malware researchers from Kaspersky Lab who dubbed it Trojan-Banker.Win32/64.Neverquest.

“By mid-November Kaspersky Lab had recorded several thousand attempted Neverquest infections all around the world,” said Sergey Golovanov, malware researcher at Kaspersky Lab, Tuesday in a blog post. “This threat is relatively new, and cybercriminals still aren’t using it to its full capacity. In light of Neverquest’s self-replication capabilities, the number of users attacked could increase considerably over a short period of time.”

Neverquest has most of the features found in other financial malware. It can modify the content of websites opened inside Internet Explorer or Firefox and inject rogue forms into them, it can steal the username and passwords entered by victims on those websites and allow attackers to control infected computers remotely using VNC (Virtual Network Computing).

However, this Trojan program also has some features that make it stand out.

Its default configuration defines 28 targeted websites that belong to large international banks as well as popular online payment services. However, in addition to these predefined sites, the malware identifies Web pages visited by victims that contain certain keywords such as balance, checking account and account summary, and sends their content back to the attackers.

This helps attackers identify new financial websites to target and build scripts for the malware to interact with them.

Once attackers have the information they need to access a user’s account on a website, they use a proxy server to connect to the user’s computer via VNC and access the account directly. This can bypass certain account protection mechanisms enforced by websites because unauthorized actions like transferring money are done through the victim’s browser.

“Of all of the sites targeted by this particular program, — owned by Fidelity Investments — appears to be the top target,” Golovanov said. “This company is one of the largest mutual investment fund firms in the world. Its website offers clients a long list of ways to manage their finances online. This gives malicious users the chance to not only transfer cash funds to their own accounts, but also to play the stock market, using the accounts and the money of Neverquest victims.”

The methods used to distribute Neverquest are similar to those used to distribute the Bredolab botnet client, which became one of the most widespread malware on the Internet in 2010.

Neverquest steals log-in credentials from FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client applications installed on infected computers. Attackers then use these FTP credentials to infect websites with the Neutrino exploit pack, which then exploits vulnerabilities in browser plug-ins to install the Neverquest malware on the computers of users visiting those sites.

The Trojan program also steals SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and POP (Post Office Protocol) credentials from email clients and sends them back to attackers so they can be used to send spam emails with malicious attachments. “These emails are typically designed to look like official notifications from a variety of services,” Golovanov said.

In addition, Neverquest steals account log-in information for a large number of social networking websites and chat services accessed from infected computers. Those accounts could be used to spread links to infected websites with the intention to further spread Neverquest, even though Kaspersky Lab hasn’t seen this method being used yet.


“As early as November, Kaspersky Lab noted instances where posts were made in hacker forums about buying and selling databases to access bank accounts and other documents used to open and manage the accounts to which stolen funds are sent,” Golovanov said. “We can expect to see mass Neverquest attacks towards the end of the year, which could ultimately lead to more users becoming the victims of online cash theft.”


Hopes fade as budget panel’s work plods along

Nov. 26, 2013 – 04:19PM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — A House-Senate budget conference committee is finding its work on a compromise spending plan tough sledding, and the prospects for a long-term federal spending blueprint appear dead.

During recent conversations with Defense News, senior House and Senate aides have acknowledged talks between the leaders of the bicameral conference committee have been plodding, and have so far yielded few tangible plans.

In public statements, their bosses have sounded even less optimistic.

“These budget negotiations are moving way too slowly,” House Budget Committee Ranking Member Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Tuesday. The chairman of that panel, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., last week said “we are further along than when we started” — but made clear major differences remain between Republicans and Democrats.

Asked during an interview on MSNBC if a House-Senate budget conference committee will meet congressional appropriators’ demands for a final 2014 budget topline figure by Monday, Van Hollen responded: “The short answer is: No — that would be a minor miracle.”

Congressional sources say the parties — as they have since Barack Obama became president and ultra-conservative members joined Congress — remain far apart on taxes, entitlement reforms, and just where to cut the federal budget.


“The idea of a small [budget] deal is on base, I think,” said one Senate source.

The Senate source said the conference committee’s nitty-gritty work is mostly being done by its co-chairs, Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“Murray and Ryan are doing most of the talking, and then they’re kind of just getting back to the rest of us,” said the source, whose boss is a member of the conference committee.

It is increasingly unlikely that the Ryan-Murray committee will agree to the kind of long-term budget and deficit-paring blueprint it was charged with creating. Instead, aides and lawmakers say what’s most likely is a shorter-spanning — likely two years at the most — plan like the “mini-bargain” long pushed by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

So why can’t Democrats and Republicans strike that kind of long-term plan? It depends on which member of which party is answering. Both sides largely blame the other for refusing to negotiate.

“The fundamental issue has been the difference in opinion over some big issues,” Van Hollen said.

“For example, Republicans started the negotiations by taking things off the table,” Van Hollen said. “For example, they said, ‘You can’t replace the sequester, even in part, by eliminating one special-interest tax loophole.’

“When you take that position, it simply makes things harder,” he said. “Essentially, what they’ve said is they’re willing to see dramatic cuts to the budget — including for defense — rather than dealing with some of these special-interest tax breaks.”

A Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department faces a total sequester cut to all non-exempt accounts in 2014 of $52 billion. DoD civilian and uniformed brass have raised dramatic warnings about the ramification of continued across-the-board cuts.

Van Hollen described Republicans as divided on what to do about the remaining nine years of sequestration.

He said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., “came over to the House and said, ‘Let’s just settle for sequester at the end of the day.’ ” But members of the House-Senate budget conference panel, he said, got a letter from some House Appropriations Committee Republicans urging the budget conference to “fix” sequestration.

But Ryan, during an event last week sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, largely blamed Democrats for dismissing the notion of replacing some or all remaining sequester cuts with entitlement program changes.

Ryan said that during closed-door talks, Democrats do not pitch entitlement reform changes “of any significance whatsoever.”

“They’re signaling they aren’t interested in entitlement reform in any shape or form,” Ryan said. “If this becomes about raising taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

“We are willing to trade” some of the sequester cuts for other federal spending cuts, he added.

Ryan made clear House Republicans support keeping the defense and domestic sequestration cuts in place — in full — if Democrats refuse to accept the entitlement and tax reforms they want.

“We know … our debt is about to take off in a few years and never come back down if we don’t do something about it,” Ryan said. “This is our concern. What we get from the president is: Give me more debt … without doing anything to deal with why the debt is rising so fast.”

That’s why Republicans want to lock in “a down payment” on curbing the nation’s massive deficit.

Short of a mostly entitlement-reform deal, Ryan said, “then we’ll stick with what we have.”

William Lynn, a former deputy defense secretary, told Defense News editors and reporters on Monday that the department likely could live with the spending levels set in place by the sequester-creating 2011 Budget Control Act.

But he described the mechanism of sequestration as untenable. Removing that so-called “meat axe,” he said, would allow Pentagon and defense industry officials to have more insight about future defense budget levels.

That move “would have a significant effect on mitigating the damage,” Lynn said. “That is the most important step we could take.”

Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, also predicted there will be no government shutdown when the federal government runs out of funding on Jan. 15.

He believes that either the House-Senate budget conference committee will strike some kind of deal or lawmakers will instead pass another continuing resolution in January.

“One of those two scenarios will prevail, and therefore,” he said, “we will not have a government shutdown.”



Navy weighs options for email services

Nov. 26, 2013 – 04:22PM   |  



It’s no secret that Navy and Marine Corps leaders haven’t been the biggest fans of enterprise email services offered by the Pentagon.

At a Defense Information Systems Agency conference last year, Brig. Gen. Kevin Nally, spoke out against the Marine Corps moving to the DISA-managed email service and using addresses. The reasons were cultural, but at the time the Navy and Marine Corps already had an email system under the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet.

Now, email, along with data storage, video teleconferencing and other enterprise services, is expected to transition to the new Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN), NMCI’s replacement, and provide IT services for some 800,000 users.

Incumbent vendor HP will be providing all services currently offered on NMCI and a subsequent continuity of services contract, said Victor Gavin, the Navy’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems, in June.

But new departmentwide mandates could throw a wrinkle in at least part of the Navy’s plan to roll out enterprise services, particularly email.

DoD CIO Teri Takai is giving defense components until early January to come up with a plan to switch their email service to the DoD enterprise email service, according to a Sept. 5 memo.

Takai directed all components to identify existing email capabilities and begin moving them to the DoD-wide system no later than the first quarter of fiscal 2015. She said sharing a single email service will provide DoD components a common platform to coordinate activities and plan and schedule meetings.

“[Defense Enterprise Email] reduces the cost of operations and maintenance by consolidating hardware, as well as operations and support teams,” Takai said in the memo.

When asked whether DoD enterprise email would replace capabilities offered under NGEN, Department of the Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen said the Navy and Marine Corps require a business case analysis before making investment decisions.

“We will conduct a BCA of available alternatives — including DISA Enterprise Email — to find the most cost-effective means to deliver the department’s email service,” Halvorsen said in a statement to Federal Times. “The business case analysis will consider cost, mission, security and system performance related to the various solutions to determine which offers the necessary security and service at the best price.”

Marine Corps CIO Nally declined to comment.

Email is a service required to be delivered under NGEN, “there’s no question, that is just fact,” said Bill Toti, vice president and executive for Navy and Marine Corps accounts at HP. Toti said the Navy has not said otherwise about transitioning its email services under the NGEN contract.

If the government were to change its requirements, then HP would modify its delivery model, Toti said. But HP was able to offer the winning technically acceptable, lowest price bid for NGEN by integrating enterprise services, he said.

“So, there will be efficiencies lost if we were to sever a service,” he said.

Toti stressed that HP is not a competitor to DISA when it comes to providing enterprise services for the Navy.

“We look at ourselves as the first instantiation of the [Joint Information Environment] in DoD,” he said. “We were doing enterprisewide email before it was cool. Now, is it possible that requirements evolve over time for what enterprise email might be, of course.”

There’s an ongoing push to move to DISA for shared services, said John Slye, a federal analyst with IT market research firm Deltek. First it was enterprise email, and now it’s DISA for cloud services and data center consolidation. The move is part of the large JIE initiative to consolidate and standardize IT and get some consensus on costs.

If the services are going to move to DISA shared services, they have to work out the actual costs, Slye said. Working through cultural barriers is another challenge because there are entrenched processes for things like budget and capital planning.

Slye said the services are warming up to departmentwide approaches like DISA’s cloud offering, but the “Navy has been the one foot dragger among the three compared to Army and Air Force.”


NSA testing how to handle classified data over unsecured networks

Wednesday – 11/27/2013, 3:45am EST

By     Jared Serbu


In the view of the National Security Agency, just because information is classified doesn’t mean authorized users should only be able to view it while they’re tethered to their desks. So NSA is looking for ways to access classified information on tablets and smartphones over transport mechanisms and on devices that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

The agency, which is in charge of ensuring the security of classified-level IT systems for the entire government, just launched a pilot program that it hopes will introduce the ability to use commercial mobile devices for classified data without any hardware modifications. The data those devices consume and transmit would be able to be exchanged over WiFi networks while a government employee is at work, and over the networks of commercial cellular providers when he or she isn’t.

“It’s going to introduce some new complexities for us, and it’s going to test the availability and effectiveness of commercial technology,” said Debora Plunkett, the director of the NSA’s information assurance directorate. “This is a significant demand signal for us, and we really have to deliver on it. This is going to help us update the next iteration of our mobility capability package, and it’s going to provide us with the technical guidance we need to deploy secure enterprise mobility.”

Plunkett said the pilot is part of NSA’s recognition that government employees increasingly demand the ability to use the latest generation of commercial mobile devices in their day to day jobs, and that the agency needs to be able to quickly sign off on ways to use those devices securely.


Rejects the old ways


The project falls under the broader heading of NSA’s Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) program, which aims to use commercial standards and commercial technologies in a layered approach to security. CSfC spurns the traditional approach in which the agency tells government contractors to build government-only solutions, a process that usually took years of development for each product.

“Capability and usability features that are the same or essentially the same, and do not lag behind those available in commercial devices will improve security by discouraging the use of communications methods that are more convenient, but less secure,” she told attendees at a mobility conference hosted by AFCEA DC. “They will reduce training and familiarization curves associated with new functionalities, and they will generally provide users with a host of efficiency tools that recognize the needs of a mobile workforce.”

In February 2012, NSA released its first capability package for mobility, intended to eventually become a guidebook for agencies on how to incorporate commercial technologies into national security systems without having to have the entire system specifically pre-cleared by NSA.

NSA has been adding new criteria to deal with different aspects of mobile technology since then. The latest version, released earlier this month, includes new guidance for agencies and vendors on mobile device management and protecting data at rest.

Plunkett said NSA now needs to do a better job of proactively releasing its security requirements for mobile devices to industry in the hopes that mobile device manufacturers will begin to use that guidance at the foundation of their gadgets’ designs.

“This is not a new message for us,” she said. “Addressing security as an afterthought will degrade the user experience, lead to development inefficiencies and really preclude or delay participation in our CSfC programs. In the past, it has not been unusual for a customer to come to me and say, ‘I’ve got a really great product. Can you make it secure? And, by the way, I’ve already bought 1,000 of them.’ That’s too late. I’m really happy that today, we’ve got more and more government customers coming to us at the front end, at the concept. They say, ‘I’ve got a need and I’ve got a great idea, can you help me?’ That’s when we can get to a win-win. We can make sure we can partner together inside the development cycle, making sure security and the needs of the user are both being addressed.”


MDM still falls short

While NSA wants to move away from government-only solutions, there are some areas in which it believes commercial providers haven’t advanced their products enough to completely meet the government’s security needs. One of them surrounds mobile device management (MDM) technology, something NSA will need if it’s going to scale up its project to use commercial devices on both WiFi and cellular networks.

“MDM has taken a significant step forward in the last year, but today’s products do not provide the full functionality and the robust security we need for the national security mission,” she said. “We need the ability to apply dynamic policy management for our end users. That policy will be enterprise-controlled, and dependent on the device type, on the user and the location, and possibly additional parameters. One big benefit is that the policy can be dynamically changed to accommodate mission conditions, like a [continuity of operations] scenario or a short window where an analyst might not be able to get to a secure facility.”

Plunkett said vendors have some very legitimate complaints about the amount of time and money it usually takes to put their products through the paces of the NSA vetting process before they’re approved for classified use. She says the agency is trying to do better, and it’s working on processes that it hopes will reduce the cycle time to around 90 days.


“We’re working to reduce the complexity of the requirements in the typical six- month evaluation using a new common criteria paradigm, but we need your help,” she said. “We need you to come ready to play, with robust documentation. We find that evaluations take the longest when vendors come and are not prepared without all the right documentation intact.”


Cash Is Dead. Are Credit Cards Next?

By Matt Vasilogambros

National Journal

November 25, 2013


The future of money has arrived, and it’s called Coin.

It looks like a credit card. It’s the size of a credit card. It swipes in credit card machines. But it holds the information of up to eight of your debit, credit, rewards, or gift cards. And you can switch between cards by simply pressing a button.

The new product, launched recently, promises to change the way consumers spend money in a secure and efficient way.

The key technology is a Bluetooth signal. To load information from your different cards, just swipe them on a card reader into your Apple or Android phone and take a picture of the card. If you’re too far from your card—like, say, you leave it at the restaurant—your phone gets a notification. And the Coin’s battery lasts up to two years.

So, what does it cost someone to fundamentally change the way they pay for dinner? $100.Pre-ordering has already started (at the reduced price of $50), and Coin will ship out next summer.

But this San Francisco company is just one of many start-ups across the country that are finding new ways of developing the future of retail.


Cash is dead, haven’t you heard?

In recent years, Americans have used less and less physical money when purchasing items. Several don’t use it in stores, and many more don’t keep bills and coins in their pockets. The “cling” of stray pennies hitting the counter at your local coffee shop may soon become a distant memory.

According to a survey by Walker Sands, a Chicago-based public relations firm, nearly 1-in-5 consumers do not carry any cash on them. In total, more than 60 percent of consumers carry $20 or less in cash. Surprisingly, about 1-in-20 people say they don’t use cash and refuse to go to places that accept only physical currency. (The survey was conducted over the last year among 1,046 consumers across the United States.)

And other surveys show a similar trend: According to a 2012 study by Javelin Strategy and Research, 27 percent of purchases in 2011 were made with cash. By 2017, the group expects that number to drop to 23 percent.

So, yes, we’re headed toward a cashless society. But what about plastic credit cards, as well?


The end of the George Costanza wallet is near.

People use cash less. Receipts are redundant with online banking. And products like Coin allow people to pay digitally, instead of with a physical credit card. Could the George Costanza wallet be a thing of the past?


Christine Pietryla, the senior vice president of public relations for Walker Sands, said she was immediately drawn to Coin. It’s a product that fits into her firm’s research: People want their consumer experience to be simpler, easier, and more efficient.

“It’s definitely a challenge to find an application or a solution that puts everything all in one place,” she said. “This is unique in that it does do that.”

Consumers are starting to prefer digital options in payments: According to the same research from Walker Sands, 28 percent of consumers are more likely to use a digital gift card, rather than a plastic gift card. It only makes sense that services like PayPal, a business that allows people to make payments and money transfers through the Internet, have taken off.

Similarly, Google Wallet, launched in 2011, allows users to store information for their debit cards, credit cards, reward cards, or gift cards on their mobile phone. For participating stores, someone can just tap their phone to a PayPass terminal to pay for a product. Google Wallet users can all send money through Gmail attachments. Additionally, Google announced last week that it was introducing prepaid debt cards that can be used in ATMs.

And in the same survey, 95 percent of people say they’ve purchased something from Amazon in the last year.

PayPal, in fact, last week just made a deal with another digital start-up, Uber—a car service company that uses a mobile application to hail rides.

Other start-ups, like Isis (which allows consumers to pay for items in person through their smartphones) or Dynamics (which created a similar multi-account card like Coin), also have products that offer a different way of paying for goods.

It’s not just how you pay, but how businesses get paid.

The future of retail goes well beyond Coin or PayPal. It’s also about how stores are processing your payments.

Any person who works in Washington, New York, or Los Angeles can attest to the growing number of gourmet food trucks that have popped up on street corners around lunchtime. It’s noon, so why not go to Farragut Square and eat at Far East Taco? And for payment, many of these food trucks use the Square Reader—an easy attachment that allows anyone with an iPhone or iPad to process a credit card payment. Even some big-box stores have checkouts with iPads.

And it’s not just the Square. What about paying for items without actually going to a checkout line? According to the same Walker Sands study, 59 percent of consumers said they would be more likely to shop at stores that offer self-checkout on mobile devices.

Store owners are also turning to digital companies to get around traditional credit card companies that charge too much to process payments. Des Moines, Iowa-based Dwolla is a payment network that allows people to transfer money—either to friends or businesses—more efficiently through a mobile application and its website. And it saves merchants money by charging only 25 cents for transactions over $10—and charging nothing if it’s less. Thousands of companies and consumers have already signed up for the service, which started in 2009. Dwolla has even launched a credit feature, which could compete with credit cards.


This is all well and good, but…

Many of these start-ups are just that: start-ups—small outfits of techies who had a vision of a product that challenges the industry to think differently and move in radical directions.


For one, it costs a lot of money to change the game. That’s why companies like these rely on crowd-funding. Coin is looking to raise $50,000 beyond what some of its investors have put in. It can also cost a lot of money to buy these new products. Coin is $100—not steep, but not cheap. Other modern payment services, like PayPal or Google Wallet, are free.

Additionally, with any new product, there are risks for security breaches. Coin notifies consumers when they might have left it at a restaurant, but their information is still just as much at risk as with a plastic credit card.

And no product is guaranteed to catch on. Most consumers are looking for three major qualities in any product: increased security, a tremendous amount of customer service, and a consistent visual experience. In other words, consumers want to know that when they walk into a store or log in to the product’s website or mobile application, it’s all going to look the same, be easy to use, and be visually appealing.

If these start-ups lack these qualities, consumers won’t buy into the idea. With Coin, consumers will have to replace their card every two years—shorter than with a normal credit card. And lest we forget a simple truth: Credit cards are already easy to use.

Coin is new. It’s unfamiliar. It’s dangerous, to some. But every idea from a start-up company is at least a little risky.

“Start-ups are there to disrupt and be innovative,” Pietryla said. “It’s either going to take off or it’s not.”

Two years ago, people might have thought paying with an iPad was crazy. As the technology catches up, consumers get more confident in it. Coin might be just that.


Aide: Senate To Tee Up NDAA Again – After Two-Week Break

Nov. 26, 2013 – 04:18PM | By JOHN T. BENNETT |


WASHINGTON — The US Senate likely will take a second swipe at passing a Pentagon policy bill as soon as it returns from a two-week Thanksgiving break.

A senior Senate Armed Services Committee aide tells Defense News that panel leaders and aides “are continuing to work through the holiday time to prepare for the NDAA to be back on the Senate floor the week of Dec. 9.”

The Senate plodded along for several days last week on its 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the process broke down on Thursday. The chamber killed a motion that would have ended debate on the must-pass bill and set up a final vote.

SASC Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., pinned blame on Republicans such as Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., saying they submitted nearly 20 amendments late in the week that the two sides never previously discussed.

A spokeswoman for Inhofe declined to comment on Levin’s version of why the process fell apart.

The legislation, when Energy Department funding is factored in, would authorize about $522 billion in base 2014 defense funding. That’s about the same level authorized by a House-passed version of the bill.

The Senate’s bill calls for $80 billion for overseas contingencies operations; the House-passed level is $85 billion. A conference committee would have to find a compromise war-funding amount.

Levin last week said the pre-Thanksgiving breakdown put the bill “in jeopardy,” raising new doubts about whether a 51-year streak of both chambers passing a final NDAA might be broken.



U.S. Sent B-52s Into China Air Zone, Official Says

By David Lerman – Nov 26, 2013 3:00 PM ET


The U.S. flew two unarmed B-52 bombers into a disputed air-defense zone claimed by China, the first test of China’s response amid escalating tensions in the region that have implications for international air travel.

The flight of bombers into China’s newly claimed zone occurred without incident, according to a U.S. defense official. The area includes three islands in the East China Sea that are owned by Japan, a major U.S. ally, and have been at the center of a dispute between Asia’s two biggest economies.

China announced the air-defense identification zone effective Nov. 23 and said its military will take “defensive emergency measures” if aircraft enter the area without reporting flight plans or identifying themselves.

Japan, which denounced the move, told its airlines to stop providing flight plans to China. Within hours of that request, ANA Holdings Inc. (9202) and Japan Airlines Co. (9201), the country’s two biggest carriers, said they would stop reporting flight plans for planes traveling through the zone.

China’s action poses a “direct threat” to the U.S. military in the region and raises the risk of escalation if it isn’t resolved, said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

Wider Contest

“China will not back off, and Japan will not back off, and the United States will support Japan,” Cronin said. “What has been a maritime contest has now become an air and maritime contest.”

China and Japan both are seeking bigger roles in the region at the same time President Barack Obama has a goal of reasserting U.S. military and economic influence there. Major powers are asserting themselves as they hunt for new sources of growth in trade with the emerging economies of southeast Asia.

Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to China and Japan next week and Obama plans to take a postponed trip to Asia in April.

The two U.S. bombers flew from Guam and spent less than an hour in the China-claimed zone as part of an annual training exercise, said the defense official, who asked not to be identified discussing the deployment.

No Chinese aircraft were observed at the time of the U.S. flights, the official said. The flights, part of a long-planned exercise, occurred last night Washington time and took several hours to complete, the official said. The flights were reported earlier today by the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Rejection

The U.S. defense official said there’s no expectation of an armed conflict arising from the air-defense zone dispute.

The Pentagon said yesterday that the U.S. won’t abide by China’s identification rules.

“We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a Nov. 23 statement in response to China’s announcement. “This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”

The main focus of Biden’s trip, which includes South Korea, is negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The vice president’s office said his meetings with China’s leaders will be on “global and regional issues of mutual interest.”

China’s announcement of the air zone, denounced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, marks one of the most serious escalations in tensions since September 2012, when Japan bought three disputed islands in the East China Sea that now lie within the contested zone.

Disputed Islands

China and Japan both claim sovereignty over the islands, which are known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. The surrounding waters are rich in oil, natural gas and fish.

China is “resolute in its will and resolve” to defend its sovereignty over the islands, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing on Nov. 25. The current situation is “totally caused” by Japan’s “erroneous actions,” Qin said.

While the U.S. hasn’t taken sides in the territorial dispute, it recognizes Japan’s administration of islands in the area that are the center of the tensions.

The dispute has already been played out at sea, including confrontations in which Chinese vessels were accused of targeting Japan’s forces with weapons-guiding radar systems.

The flight by U.S. bombers may have been designed in part to discourage Japan from taking any actions that could aggravate tensions further, said Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation, a public policy institute in Washington.

“We are saying to Japan, ‘Do not respond, we are here,'” Slaughter said at a forum today held by the Center for New American Security.

Robert Kaplan, a senior fellow at the center, called the U.S. flights a “show of force in defense of Japan” that underscores how seriously the U.S. is taking China’s action.



Oklahoma Farmers Use Drones To Monitor Crops, Cattle

by Press • 26 November 2013

By Justin Dougherty, News 9


Privacy concerns weigh heavy on the governmental use of UAS. But for farmers in Oklahoma and all around the United States, UAS could be a necessary tool to the future of farming.

“The technology is pretty new to our members but as we go and technology gets stronger I see a huge market for it in the future,” said Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s John Collison.

UAS is already a tool for many Oklahoma Farmers.

“Check their cattle, check their property, use these drone for precision agriculture and make sure we are farming the most efficient and effective way possible,” Collison said.

Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s John Collison still hears concerns from other farmers across the state.

“Farmers want to use these drones in a correct manner and under FAA guidelines and using them correctly,” Collison said.

In an exclusive statement to News 9, the FAA clarified the issue, stating:

“Farmers may operate an unmanned aircraft over their own property for personal use and Guidelines for the operation of model aircraft, such as those published by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, may be used by farmers as reference for safe model UAS operations.”

One priority guideline from the AMA… “(c) Not fly higher than approximately 400 feet above ground level within three (3) miles of an airport without notifying the airport operator.”

“System are much smaller, and has the capability to sense where his crops need to be watered,” said Retired Major General Toney Stricklin.

Retired Major General of the US Army and member of the Oklahoma Unmanned Aircraft Council Toney Stricklin knows the difference between military and commercial drones, and feels farming is just the beginning.

“I Like to say the genie is out of the bottle. This technology will continue to grow in public safety and agriculture,” Stricklin said.

It really is just the beginning. General Stricklin estimates in the next 20 years, UAS will be a multi-billion dollar industry.

Academy of Model Aeronautics National Model Aircraft Safety Code


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, November 30, 2013

No wonder men age so noticeably in the job. Things are pretty rough for President Obama these days.

Negative reviews of his leadership continue to rise and now stand at their highest level in over three years. Forty-four percent (44%) of Likely U.S. Voters consider the president’s leadership poor, while 40% think he’s doing a good or excellent job.  

As problems continue to surround the rollout of the new national health care law, the president’s job approval ratings for over two weeks now have been running at the lowest levels of his entire presidency.

[Some readers wonder how we come up with our job approval ratings for the president since they often don’t show as dramatic a change as some other pollsters do. It depends on how you ask the question and whom you ask.]

Just 36% of voters now have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of the health care law, the lowest finding this year. Sixty-one percent (61%) predict that the cost of health care will go up under the new law. That’s the highest level of pessimism since early March 2011.

Only 43% have a favorable opinion of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the government official in charge of implementing the health care law.  

Democrats lead again by one point on the Generic Congressional Ballot, but they were ahead by seven in early October during the government shutdown. Voters now trust Republicans more than Democrats to handle health care, in addition to the economy which is their number one concern.

On the economic front, 49% of consumers said the country is still in a recession going into the big Black Friday sales period.

Thirty-two percent (32%) of all Americans think now is a good time for someone in their area to sell a house.  That’s up from 16% a year ago but down from 39% in September, the highest level of optimism in regular surveying for over four years.

Homeowner confidence in the short- and long-term future of housing values is down slightly from last month’s highs but remains relatively steady. 

Fifty-eight percent (58%) now believe their home is worth more than the amount they owe on their mortgage.

Looking overseas, the president’s team is negotiating a deal that would end some sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable cutbacks in the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Voters are almost evenly divided over that idea: 41% favor a deal with Iran, while 43% are opposed. Two weeks earlier, 52% favored a deal with Iran.

The United States has proposed a security deal to Afghanistan that would leave some U.S. troops in that country after next year, but 51% of voters want all troops out of Afghanistan by then.

In other surveys last week:

– Forty percent (40%) of Americans say they or someone they know are responsible for the care of at least one parent. Nearly as many (37%) have at least one parent living with them or know someone who does.

– Eighty-five percent (85%) think they have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Most Americans planned to eat their Thanksgiving dinner at home or at a relative’s house again this year. 

– Although an early winter storm threatened much of the East Coast, more Americans planned to travel this Thanksgiving, compared to last year.

November 23 2013

23 November 2013



Pentagon Chief Sounds Alarm Over US Budget Cuts

Nov. 17, 2013 – 03:55PM | By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


SIMI VALLEY, U.S. — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sounded an alarm bell Saturday about budget cuts he said threaten America’s security and global military role, while “gambling” over the risk of an unexpected threat.

The cuts, which amount to nearly $1 trillion for the Department of Defense over a decade, were “too steep, too deep and too abrupt,” Hagel told a defense conference in California.

“This is an irresponsible way to govern, and it forces the department into a very bad set of choices.”

Automatic cuts of $52 billion set to take place in fiscal 2014 represent 10 percent of the Pentagon budget.

The Navy’s global presence is already down 10 percent since sequestration began in March, while the Army has canceled training rotations for 15 percent of its forces and the Air Force 25 percent of its training events.

“The effects will be felt for a long period of time to come. By continuing to cancel training for non-deploying personnel, we will create a backlog of training requirements that could take years to recover from,” Hagel said.

“These cuts are too steep, too deep, too abrupt.”

The defense chief was speaking at the Ronald Reagan Defense Forum, a one-day event hosted at the late US leader’s presidential library northwest of Los Angeles.

The Pentagon has made clear to Congress and the White House “the growing difficulties we face in training, equipping and preparing our forces under a cloud of budget restraints and uncertainty,” Hagel said.

“These challenges are often not visible, but they are very very real, and they will become more visible as they further jeopardize the security of our country as our readiness, capability and capacity continue to deteriorate.”

The budget crisis comes as the US military is drawing back after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks.

But Hagel warned that if a deal is not reached to stave off the deepest cuts, US forces might not be ready if another major conflict erupts unexpectedly.

“If sequester-level cuts persist, we risk fielding a force that is unprepared,” he said.

“In effect, we would be gambling that we will not face a major contingency operation against a capable adversary in the near-term.”

The sequester was devised as a poison-pill austerity program in 2012, with mandatory cuts spread over 10 years aiming to force battling Republicans and Democrats to compromise on a long-term program to reduce the country’s deficit.


But a deal never came and the White House was forced to lop $85 billion from spending between March and the end of the fiscal year on September 30, with nearly half of that from defense programs.

Hagel’s predecessor Leon Panetta also made no bones about the crisis facing the US military, in a panel discussion shortly preceding the current Pentagon chief’s closing speech.

Panetta said the cuts would impact “almost in every area where we have been able to respond, whether it’s military crisis, whether it’s a need to go in and try to rescue people, whether it’s the need to do a bin Laden operation.”

“The reality is, the cuts that are taking place are going to inhibit our ability to respond in every area. We are sending the world a message that the United States is going to be weaker,” he said.

“That’s the wrong message to send to this kind of world where we face the troubles we face today.”



US Air Force CSAR Mission in Jeopardy

No Funding for Rescue Helo in Sequester Budget

Nov. 17, 2013 – 03:52PM | By AARON MEHTA and MARCUS WEISGERBER | Comments


WASHINGTON — If sequester remains in effect, the US Air Force’s combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) mission is in danger of disappearing, according to multiple defense sources.

Funds for new CSAR helicopters are not included in the service’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal that includes sequestration spending cuts, the defense sources said. Moreover, funds to extend the lives of about 90 battle-worn Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters is not part of the sequester budget.

Each US military service is developing at least two budgets for 2015, one that includes sequestration spending cuts and another that builds on the Pentagon’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal, which is $52 billion above the federal spending cap.

Funding for the Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) program, which would purchase more than 100 helicopters for the CSAR mission, fell below the cutting line as the service struggles to find savings under a sequestered budget.

About two-thirds of the Pave Hawk fleet is flown and crewed by active-duty airmen, while the rest come from the Guard and reserve.

For months, the Air Force has been poised to award the contract to a Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin team — the only publicly announced bidders — but has held back the contract due to the budget uncertainty.

Without long-term sustainment funds, the HH-60G fleet will eventually need to be replaced. Without CRH being funded, that replacement will not exist. In other words, if the budget plan remains, the Air Force would have to drop the CSAR mission — or at least, shrink it significantly.


The CRH program is the Defense Department’s second attempt in the past decade to replace its heavily used Pave Hawks, some of which have been performing military and civil rescue operations since 1982. The Air Force wants to buy 112 new helicopters.

In 2006, the Air Force awarded Boeing a contract expected to be worth $15 billion under the Combat Search and Rescue Helicopter program (CSAR-X). But after the Government Accountability Office upheld a protest from competitors Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, over how the contract was handled, the deal was canceled in 2009. It took nearly 3½ years to relaunch CRH following the CSAR-X cancellation.

Service officials planned to award the CRH contract this year, but the program has again seen delays. Despite public statements that the Air Force desired multiple bidders, only one team — United Technologies subsidiary Sikorsky, working with Lockheed Martin — actually submitted a bid. Three other competitors dropped out under the belief they would not be able to meet the program price cap of $6.8 billion.

The service delayed a contract award until the first quarter of fiscal 2014 “due to additional time required to complete the source selection and Milestone B processes, as well as impacts from the DoD furloughs,” according to an Air Force spokesman.

If the service decides not to award a contract before the end of the year, it would likely need to inform Sikorsky by early December.

“We have not gotten any indication,” said David Morgan, Sikorsky’s director of Air Force business development. “We are waiting with great anticipation. I would assume that we will hear something, probably in early December, whether it is progression towards contract award or an extension of source-selection process.

“I don’t think we’ll hear any bad news because I think the budget process is still playing out in Congress, we’re still under a [con­tinuing resolution], so I don’t think anything will be final until the president submits his budget in February,” Morgan added. “Either they will progress or there will be a delay. I don’t think we’ll hear any bad news until we hear all the bad effects of sequestration.”

The company will need to update its pricing for the competition if the source-selection process is extended, but Morgan said that should result in very little change, mostly based on updated inflation figures.

While it sorts out whether to move forward on the CRH contract, the Air Force is facing internal fights about whether the CRH program is even necessary.

Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) spent several months this summer pushing to take over the CSAR mission, under the belief that its Bell-Boeing CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft could perform the mission at a lower cost. That idea has met resistance, both on Capitol Hill and from Air Combat Command, which operates the mission.


Air Force Options

The notion that mission-specific platforms could be in peril from sequestration is not new. Service officials have been very clear that their top modernization programs — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, KC-46 tanker replacement and the new long-range strike bomber — will be protected in the budget. Anything else is potentially on the table.

“We’ve looked at every modernization program in the Air Force,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said last week. “If we go full sequestration, we will have to cut about 50 percent of them just to be able to afford some level of readiness and to modernize the force.


“The fact is, General Welsh is in a really tough spot,” said Mark Gunzinger, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments who served in a number of Pentagon roles. “Various advocates make the argument that their platform of choice is a wonderful system, and it’s usually true. But given a $1.2 trillion cut in defense spending, what do you retire? You have to make tough calls and you have to base force structure cuts on a vision [for what prepares you for the future].

“If the Air Force makes the decision in their [sequester-level budget] to discontinue funding CRH, I assume it has an alternative plan for the combat rescue mission, be it upgrading current platforms or eventually procuring something else,” he said. “I just can’t see walking away from that mission.

“I think it’s too early to start criticizing such a move because nothing is final until the president’s budget is released, and I’m sure there are a lot of options that are in consideration. The fact is that under a sequester the Air Force — all of the services — are not going to be able to support every mission area as they have in the past.”

A major life-extension program for Pave Hawks may be cheaper than buying new platforms in the short term, but Gunzinger warns that such a “short-term strategy” could lead to larger costs.

Taking funds for the new rescue helicopter may be the service “circling the wagons around their top three programs,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis with the Virginia-based Teal Group. “CRH/CSAR is conspicuously absent from that list.”

Like Gunzinger, Aboulafia is skeptical the service could cut the mission entirely. It is more likely the Air Force would try to downsize the force in order to extend the life cycle of the Pave Hawks, he said, which could get them through the lean years intact.

“They can probably buy themselves a few years with this strategy, but longer than that and they’ll need either a return to CRH or a major [service-life extension],” said Aboulafia, adding that using some CV-22 Ospreys for the mission could also prevent wear and tear on the Pave Hawks.

Proponents of the mission argue that it is important to get the CRH upgrade done as soon as possible.

“The people that fly this mission, they have been deployed so much, and they have worn this equipment out so bad that it is a big deal to be able to address this,” retired Gen. T. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, former Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview with Defense News.

Moseley was perhaps the most vocal, high-level advocate for the CSAR mission during his tenure as chief. Now a consultant for Lockheed and others, he said his passion for the mission stems well beyond his business allegiances.

“We need to somehow focus on modernization and recapitalization of that mission area so it is as survivable as we can make it and as capable as we can make it,” Moseley said. “So, this latest inclination of buying new H-60s, that’s fine. That’ll work like a champ.”

If that can’t get done, Moseley said, the next best option is to sustain the current fleet.

“Now we’re at a point where it looks like the most realistic program would be to buy some new Blackhawks and [modify] them with the latest gear, which will be OK,” he said. “It just won’t have the range that the bigger helicopters would have, but we’re where we are.”

As chief, Moseley accelerated CSAR-X by five years and made it the service’s No. 2 acquisition priority, behind purchasing a new tanker.

While at the Pentagon, Moseley proposed buying one helicopter that could meet the missions of CSAR, continuity of government, missile field security and Marine One. Three different types of helicopters perform those missions.

The former chief also dismissed the idea of moving the CSAR mission into AFSOC.

“This is not a special ops mission. I just reject that and find it curious that people keep bringing that up,” he said. “This has nothing to do with special operations. This has everything to do with having to go at high noon off of a scramble alert pad to go pick somebody up right now.”


GPS Backup Plans Still Incomplete


08:00 AM

Elena Malykhina

Agencies tasked with developing backup plans for federally run GPS systems are making insufficient progress.

The federal agencies responsible for developing backup capabilities for GPS — the government-run global positioning system that has become part of daily life — are not making sufficient progress in meeting a presidential directive issued nearly a decade ago, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.

The threat of disruptions in the satellite network and support systems that provide precise positioning and timing data to the public (and to the nation’s 16 critical infrastructure sectors) has been a concern for many years. That’s why a National Security Policy Directive (NSPD-39) tasked the Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security in December 2004 to jointly develop backup capabilities in response to potential natural and manmade GPS disruptions.

The directive instructed the DOT and DHS to create a plan for detecting and mitigating GPS interference. It also required them to coordinate efforts to “develop, acquire, operate, and maintain backup capabilities that can support critical civilian and commercial infrastructure during a GPS disruption,” the GAO report said.

The DHS is responsible for coordinating the government’s national effort to protect critical infrastructure. The DOT is the lead agency for all civilian bodies involved in the development, management, and operation of GPS products and services.

The agencies have launched a number of efforts to fulfill the directive. The DOT has been researching GPS alternatives for aviation, while the DHS has an initiative dedicated to GPS interference detection and mitigation. It is also exploring a potential nationwide backup to GPS timing — a feature widely used in critical infrastructure. However, GAO investigators found many of these tasks remain incomplete.

In 2012, the DHS published the GPS National Risk Estimate after conducting a scenario-based risk assessment for four critical infrastructure sectors: communications, energy, financial services, and transportation systems. However, the GAO found that the risk estimate lacks key characteristics of risk assessments outlined in the DHS risk management guidance. Consequently, it remains unfinished and unsuitable for mitigation planning, setting priorities, and resource allocation.

“A plan to collect and assess additional data and subsequent efforts to ensure that the risk assessment is consistent with DHS guidance would contribute to more effective GPS risk management,” the report said.

Another shortcoming is the lack of collaboration between the agencies; DOT and DHS leaders haven’t clearly defined their roles to meet the directive. The report recommended that they establish a formal, written agreement that explains how the agencies plan to share responsibility, and that they “set forth the agencies’ plans for examining relevant issues.”


The US government has invested more than $5 billion in GPS since 2009 but provides the service free of direct charge to users worldwide, according to the report. The service consists of three segments: the user segment, which depends on receivers to collect and process signals from orbiting satellites; the ground-control segment, a global network of ground facilities that track satellites and monitor their transmissions; and the space segment, which consists of at least 24 satellites. The ground and space segments are operated by the US Air Force.

The GAO said the inability to mitigate GPS disruptions could result in billions of dollars of economic loss. GPS experts associated with the risk estimate and others interviewed by the GAO expressed concern that current strategies may not be sufficient to mitigate GPS disruptions.

In a letter to GAO leaders regarding the report, the DHS did not agree with all the recommendations, and it remains to be seen what actions the department will take in response.


U.S. Military Eyes Cut to Pay, Benefits

Joint Chiefs Grapple With Less to Spend

The Wall Street Journal

By Julian E. Barnes 1 hour ago


SIMI VALLEY, Calif.—The U.S. military’s top commanders, groping for ways to cope with a shrinking Pentagon budget, have agreed to a plan that would curb the growth of pay and benefits for housing, education and health—prized features of military life that for years have been spared from cuts.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a weekend interview that without such changes, the cost of military personnel would soon rise to 60% from about half of the defense budget.

“What we have asked these young men and women to do over the last 10 years, we can’t pay them enough,” Gen. Dempsey said during a conference at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “Having said that, we also have an institution to manage.”

Military officials haven’t revealed details of the plan, which still must be approved by the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and President Barack Obama before it is sent to Congress for approval.

Gen. Dempsey said the chiefs would unveil the changes when the proposed military budget is released in February. He said the new plan wouldn’t immediately cut the benefits received by service members or retirees.

Over the past nine months, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been analyzing military compensation—from pay and health benefits to housing allowances to the discounted prices at base commissaries.

Previous efforts to curb benefits have met stiff opposition from veterans groups and lawmakers. Gen. Dempsey said the military’s previous efforts to change compensation were flawed because they were one-year fixes. The new approach would offer a multiyear plan to slow the growth of military compensation.

The Pentagon will make a persuasive argument to lawmakers that the changes are needed to balance the budget and fair to troops, Gen. Dempsey said.


“We have the analytic tools that potentially we didn’t have before,” he said. “We have a body of knowledge that has convinced us doing it once is the right answer.”

Lawmakers are far from certain about the plan.

“Last year Congress established a compensation review commission to look at this issue, and we have not yet received their feedback,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “I would like to see how much we can get out of institutional reform before we look at cutting benefits for the troops.”

Without curbs on compensation-spending growth, there will be too little money for building new weapons systems or training forces in 10 years, Gen. Dempsey said during the interview Saturday.

Off the table for now are changes in the retirement system. Because the military hopes to allow current service members to keep their existing retirement plans, it will be two decades until any savings from changes in military retirement are realized, making shifts in the program less urgent.

Gen. Dempsey made his comments on the sidelines of the Reagan National Defense Forum.

During the conference, current and former Defense officials, as well as members of Congress, spoke about the need to approve Pentagon budgets and lift the across-the-board government spending cuts known as the sequester.

“You can’t expect this country to maintain a strong military if we aren’t maintaining some kind of common-sense budgeting,” Leon Panetta, the former Defense secretary, said at the forum. “We are sending a message that the United States is going to be weak and that is the wrong message to send.”

If Congress doesn’t agree to lift the sequester, the Pentagon faces $52 billion in cuts in January. About $41 billion was cut this year from military spending.

Mr. Panetta’s successor, Mr. Hagel, said in a speech that the military’s ability to respond to crises was impaired by budget cuts.

“Inevitably, we are shrinking the size of the force that is ready and available to meet new contingencies or respond to crises across the globe,” Mr. Hagel said.

Gen. Dempsey said in the interview that if the sequester stayed in place, a large number of military units wouldn’t be ready for war or other duties. Under the sequester, the military in five years will be without the necessary depth to tap in the event of unforeseen crises, he said.

“You have just what you need,” Gen. Dempsey said. “But my view of the future is, just what you need is not enough.”


How Leap Motion tracks what it can’t see

We’re not at “Minority Report” quite yet, but the latest Leap Motion upgrade and its new Freeform software have brought us one step closer to the dream of next-gen computing.

by Nick Statt

 November 20, 2013 8:00 AM PST

The new software upgrade to Leap Motion, which will be pushed to all devices in the coming months, makes the device’s tracking even more precise to allow for unprecedented movement.

(Credit: Leap Motion)

Leap Motion, makers of the matchbox-sized motion tracker that launched back in July, has gone even further in its efforts to make interacting with computers in open space as accurate and powerful as possible. An upcoming software upgrade announced Wednesday will allow any Leap Motion device to perform far more precise tracking by viewing one’s hand as a whole object without needing to see its every move, allowing for new and more accurate forms of interaction.

The upgrade, which has been in the works for about a year and marks the first substantial overhaul to the device’s software, is going out to all 85,000 developers in Leap’s open-source community shortly and making its way to all Leap devices in the coming months, said CEO Michael Buckwald. “It takes the incredible tracking in our current generation of Leap and takes it the next level by being able to track things even when the device can’t see them,” he said.

“The way our tracking works now is what you see is what you get,” said CTO David Holz. The upgrade, Holz explained, will let Leap track the hand as a general object now, allowing for actions like pinching, crossing fingers, moving one hand over another, and hand-to-hand interactions like brushing and tapping fingers on one another.

While those more precise movements sound arbitrary on the surface, the added accuracy to the Leap Motion tracking opens up an entirely new level of depth to hand movement that developers can utilize for new inputs or increased functionality.

“This makes it easier for developers to build even better physical experiences. It’s about bringing everything closer to that original vision: how to bring the incredible power of hands and fingers to computers and make that interface disappear into the background,” Buckwald added. “It’s about making it as close to reality as possible.”

“A lot of these improvements are important, but you don’t necessarily notice them until you’re used to the first,” Holz said, noting how consumers are now conditioned to smartphone upgrades. “Otherwise they would never release a new phone. They would just wait until they had one that was infinitely fast.”

And much in the same vein, Buckwald said, of Elon Musk’s demo of spacecraft part building with Leap Motion in August, the company is also releasing for free a creation software tool called Freeform that allows users to experiment with geometric creation and manipulation. Like playing with clay on a pottery wheel, the app lets users distort any number of premade objects — as well as import their own — with a slew of tools and variables like object material to create digital sculptures and even 3D-printable objects.

“There are already apps for the very high end, like the SpaceX video using Siemens software with a Leap,” Buckwald said. Freeform is intended to be somewhere between those professional-grade applications and one’s that everyday consumers will find accessible.

The company’s new Freeform application.

(Credit: Leap Motion)

“The holy grail for this sort of this thing is that an 8-year-old could walk up, put their hands out, and then play with this. But someone who is older and has been using this for a while can really build something sophisticated with this,” Buckwald added. “I think we’ve struck that balance.”

Freeform is just one a growing number of applications Leap Motion has urged developers to create around motion tracking, from art and educational tools to musical instruments and video games. Since launching its Airspace app store, the company has seen its application count double and hopes to have 150 by the end of the year. It has also made in-roads in adoption, getting its device in thousands of retail stores in 12 countries, as well as embedding the Leap technology directly within HP’s Envy 17 laptop through a unique partnership, integration Buckwald and his team hope to expand to many other devices and form factors.

“What were about is not just making things simpler for professionals, but also making it so that people who don’t have has much ability with technology now can do more,” said Holz.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s possible or even if it’s reasonable. It has to be easy,” Holz added. “Basically, we’re going towards a point where you can have a indistinguishably real, but still in some way synthetic, digital reality that you can interact with, but is more powerful than the reality we normally have because we define all the rules. That’s really interesting, but it’s a long journey.”



We Haven’t Won Yet on Export Control Reforms

By BILL GREENWALT     on November 21, 2013 at 4:30 AM

The defense industry is hard-pressed for good news these days after budget cuts, sequestration and the government shutdown. But there is one bright spot. The industry received some good news last month when new export control reforms went into effect. The reforms involved transferring authority for key categories of arms exports, including military aircraft parts and engines, from the State Department to the Department of Commerce.

The move from State to Commerce means that companies wishing to sell these parts will face fewer burdensome regulations, helping to sustain exports and providing needed relief for America’s defense industrial base. But, as helpful as this change has been, the most important item on the export control reform agenda will be less about the ability of US defense firms to sell abroad than whether the US military has access to cutting edge technology from commercial firms who are not normally considered a part of the defense industrial base.

Export control reform will continue to be a critical national security issue because of changes in global research and development. In the past, the federal government dominated global R&D spending so strict export controls were created to protect this dominance.

Today, American R&D is predominately funded by the commercial market, one that is increasingly globalized. As commercial products and services become cheaper, more reliable and more advanced than their military equivalents, future military dominance will accrue from leveraging this commercial innovation for national security purposes. However, the commercial firms that control this knowledge will not necessarily support the U.S. government if export controls make it difficult or impossible to sell their products abroad.

Before the latest reforms, anything that fell under the State Department’s jurisdiction acquired an “ITAR taint” because they fell under the jurisdiction of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the US government regulations that control the export and import of defense-related articles and services on the State Department’s US Munitions List.

US commercial companies watched as the “ITAR taint” decimated their role in emerging commercial markets, especially in space and night vision, as European competitors sprang up to grab market share. This lesson has not been lost on the private sector. It remains to be seen whether the new capability-based export control reforms will be enough to quell concerns by dynamic, innovative commercial firms about the risks of the process.

Before recent export control reforms, companies engaged several strategies to try and avoid US ITAR controls.

The first strategy is to never do business with the federal government. The second is to refrain from selling a product to the government until that product has wide distribution in the commercial marketplace. A third strategy is to shift these kinds of technologies and product developments overseas and allow overseas R&D funds to mature both the technology and the product to avoid the reach of U.S. export controls and security requirements. If the lines drawn by the US government between current and future commercial and military technologies continue do not accurately reflect technology and market trends companies will keep using these strategies.

This is easier to do because both the federal government and the United States as a whole account for a declining share of global R&D. As recently as 2002, the US accounted for one-third of global R&D. Today, this has slipped to about 28 percent, with no reason to expect anything other than a further decline. American commercial industry has recognized this trend and has opened R&D facilities around the globe. For their part, foreign companies are increasingly at the forefront of new potential “dual-use” technology development. The products derived from this rise in overseas R&D will be available to all countries, both friend and potential foe.

It is not clear whether the Pentagon has recognized the importance of globalization to its future development of weapon systems, notwithstanding much talk about the subject as far back as the Clinton Administration. With America’s share of global innovation funding shrinking, the Pentagon will be forced to turn to commercial US and international suppliers to buy the latest technology. At the same time, the threat of burdensome export control regulations will provide real disincentives for corporations to do business with the US if arms export control reforms do not continue.

This will mean that many commercial and foreign companies may think twice before bringing their innovative ideas to American shores and to Pentagon laboratories.

In an increasingly interconnected world, commercial and foreign innovation will be a vital component of preserving American military technological supremacy into the future because the U.S. military will be increasingly unable to afford to replicate commercial technology in military unique facilities and defense firms. Yet, this supremacy is at risk if Congress and the federal government believe the problem is now solved and they do not get serious about reforms that address how export controls impact technology cooperation and commercial R&D decisions in a globalized world.

In this context, the current reforms are an important—but incomplete—step. The Obama administration is to be commended for pushing ahead where previous administrations had failed, but much, much more work is yet to be done.


Bill Greenwalt, a former U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial policy, is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies.


Government Turns Bailout Profit Despite GM Loss

November 21, 2013, 5:16 PM


Five years after the U.S. government started injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into auto makers, financial institutions and the housing sector, American taxpayers can expect a small profit from an era of historic federal bailouts.

The U.S. Treasury, which pumped out $421.6 billion for its financial-crisis rescues, will have recouped more than $432 billion from bailout recipients once it unloads its remaining General Motors Co.GM +0.79% stock. The Treasury Department, which announced the final steps Thursday, expects to sell the government’s position in GM by the end of the year.

The GM bailout itself hasn’t been profitable and is currently on track to lose more than $10 billion.

The overall profit of more than $10 billion is far better than many lawmakers expected in the depths the crisis, which pushed insurance giant American International Group Inc.AIG +0.67% to the brink of collapse and led two of America’s three major domestic auto companies to file for bankruptcy. The bailouts, drawn from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, were designed to halt a financial panic and prevent a deeper economic downturn.

The return of little more than 2% after five years fails to keep up with the rate of inflation. The return also doesn’t account for the intangible costs, such as the “moral hazard” effect that could lead some firms and their investors to expect government bailouts down the road.

The Treasury’s largest profit comes from its rescue of major financial institutions. Citigroup Inc.C +0.74%, Bank of AmericaBAC +0.55% and others fully repaid the government and handed over billions more in dividends.

The U.S. invested in a total of 707 financial institutions under TARP. Most were community banks. At the end of last month, Treasury still held stakes in 97 small banks that had failed to repay the government. The department also has sold some positions in other banks at a loss.

The government is on pace to lose more than $15 billion from the rescue of Chrysler Group, GM, and GM’s former finance arm, now known as Ally Financial Inc.


Even with that loss, Treasury officials say the investment paid off because the auto industry has added 340,000 jobs since 2009 and car sales have increased steadily.



OMB Sets Agency Deadlines To Strengthen Cybersecurity

Elena Malykhina

November 21, 2013


The Obama administration issues new guidelines for continuous monitoring programs to bolster information security.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has directed the heads of all federal departments and agencies to implement measures to safeguard federal information systems and the information they process and store.

Among other measures, the OMB has made cybersecurity one of 14 cross-agency performance priority goals that agencies are responsible for achieving. And the memo to federal agencies provides guidelines for managing information security risks through continuous monitoring processes established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

OMB Director Sylvia Burwell said in the memo that all agencies must establish information security continuous monitoring (ISCM) programs that help them manage security risks and address how they authorize information systems (and the environments in which they operate) on an ongoing basis. “All strategies must address the agencies’ plans for transitioning to and maintaining consistency with federal information security policies, standards, and guidelines.”

To firm up the nation’s cybersecurity approach, Burwell also directed agencies to develop plans in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Another critical component of the OMB’s initiative to fully implement ISCM across the government is a push for standardization. Burwell said ISCM must become an “agency-wide solution” for deploying products and services. Under the DHS Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) Program, federal, state, and local governments can deploy a basic set of capabilities for continuous monitoring as part of a blanket purchase agreement (BPA).

In August, the General Services Administration and the DHS awarded a BPA to 17 vendors that supply hardware and software for implementing continuous-monitoring-as-a-service. The contract provides a “consistent, government-wide set of information security continuous monitoring tools to enhance the federal government’s ability to identify and respond, in real-time or near real-time, to the risk of emerging cyber threats,” Burwell said.

The memo set deadlines of Feb. 28, 2014, for agencies to develop their ISCM strategy and April 30, 2014, for naming specific individuals who will manage ISCM programs. Agencies are also required to verify by May 30, 2014, that all information systems are authorized to operate according to federal requirements before deploying their continuous monitoring initiatives. Those initiatives are part of a broader effort to make continuous monitoring central to agency information security controls by fiscal year 2017.


The DHS is tasked with training agency managers on how to implement ISCM. It will also provide contract support to agencies that obtain ISCM services through the CDM Program, the memo said. The initial suite of products available under the BPA covers hardware asset management, software asset management (such as malware management), configuration setting management, and common vulnerability management. The suite will expand to cover additional capabilities.

“By strengthening the underlying information technology infrastructure through the application of state-of-the-art architectural and engineering solutions, agencies can improve the effectiveness of the safeguards and countermeasures protecting federal information,” Burwell said.



DoD seeks plan to shut all U.S. commissaries

Nov. 21, 2013 – 06:00AM |

By Karen Jowers

Defense officials have reportedly asked the Defense Commissary Agency to develop a plan to close all U.S. commissaries — about three-fourths of its stores, according to a resale community source familiar with details of a meeting with representatives of the Joint Staff and Pentagon comptroller’s office.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meeting was held within the last few weeks and was part of preparations for the fiscal 2015 DoD budget request that is due out on February.

That DeCA has been asked to prepare such a draft plan does not mean commissaries would close anytime soon. Even if such a plan was included in the defense budget request for fiscal 2015 — almost a year away — it would have to be approved by Congress, where many lawmakers would oppose it.

The Military Coalition, comprised of more than 30 military and veterans advocacy groups sharing a common agenda, also would fiercely oppose such a plan.

Still, the fact that defense officials want DeCA to draft a plan for how it potentially would carry out such a move is another sign of the heavy budget pressures weighing on the Pentagon as a result of sequestration.

DeCA has 178 commissaries in the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii. Almost 70 stores operate overseas. Operating costs for the overseas stores account for 35 percent of DeCA’s budget and 16 percent of total worldwide sales.

Commissary officials negotiate lower prices for products based on volume. Closing all or most U.S. commissaries would lead to higher prices and a degraded benefit in remaining stores, Tom Gordy, Armed Forces Marketing Council president, said in written testimony to a panel of the House Armed Services Committee on Nov. 20.

The council represents over 330 manufacturers of products sold in commissaries, exchanges and other military venues.

The proposal to close U.S. stores was not discussed at the hearing, but in his written testimony Gordy said closing U.S. stores “would eliminate the benefit for millions of families, breaking a commitment that has been made to every service member.”

That such a proposal would come from within DoD is “very concerning,” said Steve Rossetti, director of government affairs for the American Logistics Association.


Commissaries are “one of the most valued benefits,” he said. “For what this costs the department, they get a huge return,” not only in terms of the benefit itself but in other factors such as jobs for military spouses. About 30 percent of DeCA employees are spouses.

DeCA receives nearly $1.4 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies. It has reduced its annual funding requirement by $700 million over the last 20 years, said DeCA Director Joseph Jeu.

Jeu said DeCA is constantly looking for ways to save money, but added that the agency has no more “low-hanging fruit” to cut.

But Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., an Army reservist, said other proposals under consideration include raising the commissary surcharge to 10 percent from the current 5 percent; raising prices by 2 percent to 3 percent to pay for shipping products to overseas stores; and creating an “enhanced” commissary that would sell other products at higher markups.

Any such changes would have a “great impact” on troops and families, Jeu told lawmakers.

Heck said that if such steps are necessary to maintain the benefit, DoD officials must consider them. “I encourage you to take that kind of perspective,” he told Jeu.



Bill would end pensions for new feds

Nov. 18, 2013 – 06:00AM | By SEAN REILLY | Comments

Newly hired federal employees would not be eligible for traditional pensions under a bill reintroduced last week by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and two colleagues.

The measure, which would also apply to new members of Congress, would end the defined benefit portion of the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) for employees who come on board starting six months after it is signed into law, according to a news release from Burr’s office.

New federal employees could still participate in the Thrift Savings Plan,the federal government’s equivalent of a 401(k)-type program under which agencies match employees’ contributions up to 5 percent of their salaries.

“Right now, federal government workers receive far more generous retirement benefits than private-sector employees,” Burr said in the release. For taxpayers, he added, the cost is “unsustainable.”

Current federal workers and retirees would not be affected.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. A similar measure introduced by Burr in 2011 never got out of a Senate committee.

But pressure on the status quo is coming from other quarters. U.S. Postal Service leaders, for example, would like to end FERS defined benefit pensions for new employees; a Senate bill introduced in August would give the mail carrier the green light to bargain over the issue with its unions.

On a separate track, the Obama administration has proposed phasing in a 1.2 percent increase in workers’ share of contributions to both FERS and the Civil Service Retirement System over three years.

For FERS participants, the proposed change would boost their share of contributions from 0.8 percent of salary to 2 percent, while CSRS employees would pay 8.2 percent, compared to 7 percent today.

The White House has broached the proposal in both its 2013 and 2014 budget requests; lawmakers have not acted on it.


Ohio invests $10M to spur UAS business growth

by Press • 20 November 2013


A $10 million investment by the state of Ohio could help improve investment in local defense industry-related resources, including unmanned aerial systems, during the next two years.

The funds — $5 million each in 2014 and 2015 — were released by the Ohio Controlling Board and goes to the Dayton Development Coalition. The money will go in part toward strategies to attract the UAS industry, as well as other aerospace production capabilities to leverage gains at Department of Defense facilities in Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Development requested the funding specifically mentioning economic development efforts in Dayton, both in attracting more resources as budget constrains force consolidations nationally, and attracting more activity at research sites around Ohio. The money was released to Development Projects Inc., which receives public funds for the DDC.

Dayton is lobbying to be one of six sites approved by Federal Aviation Administration to be a testing site for Unmanned Aerial Systems, a move which could spur development locally from the emerging industry. Word on whether the city is selected is expected around the end of the year.

“Ohio and the Dayton region have a great opportunity to capitalize on existing aerospace industry assets, and to be on the leading edge of new unmanned systems development,” said state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, in a statement.

The nonprofit Wright State Applied Research Consortium will match the Ohio funding with $1.25 million in funds per year, as Wright State University seeks to build research capabilities centered around human performance technologies.

Another $1.25 million is being matched by the Human Performance Consortium.

In addition to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the region’s largest employer, Dayton hosts a number of other UAS assets, including the 187th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard, which operates UAS out of Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, and the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center.

By Sandra I. Erwin 

November 20, 2013


Defense industry leaders are growing uneasy over the number of unfilled senior civilian posts at the Pentagon. Many of the current vacancies have not been filled because the Obama administration has not yet named candidates. Others are positions for which nominees still await Senate confirmation.

At least 30 percent of top civilian Defense Department positions as of mid-November either remain vacant or are being filled by officials in acting capacity, according to estimates by Arnold L. Punaro, retired Marine Corps major general and chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association.

“I was surprised to see that so many positions at the Pentagon are vacant,” Punaro said. He worries about a leadership vacuum at a time when the Defense Department is grappling with massive budget problems and thorny policy issues. This is also problematic for contractors as they cope with fiscal uncertainty and look to the Defense Department for guidance, Punaro said.

If the Senate stalemate over nominees continues, the Pentagon could see more vacancies in its top ranks, he said. If the Senate doesn’t move to confirm nominees soon, by Jan. 1, “We’ll be at 40 percent.”
Senior Civilian Vacancies 
Submitted resignation, no replacement named:
• Deputy Secretary of Defense 
• Deputy Chief Management Officer 
• Undersecretary of Defense for Policy 
• Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs (Nominated for Deputy Director, NNSA) 
• Undersecretary of the Army (Nominated for U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia) 
• Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower & Reserve Affairs 
Vacant (or acting), no replacement named:
• Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy 
• Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense & America’s Security Affairs 
• Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian & Pacific Affairs 
• Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs 
• Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering 
• Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness 
• Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management & Comptroller 
• Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower & Reserve Affairs 
Vacant (or acting), awaiting Senate action:
• Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
• Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation
• Secretary of the Air Force
• Under Secretary of the Navy
• Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition

Source: The Punaro Group



FAA Roadmap Follow up

by Patrick Egan • 22 November 2013


An update to the previous story…


At the end of that story, I attached a copy of the letter that was sent to the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Ms. Peggy Gilligan. The letter highlights some of the arguments for small business representation on the current UAS ARC. The small business stakeholder has no representation on the current ARC thus being disenfranchised from the process.

The roadmap and supporting documentation reference the charge of the new ARC, reviews of the NPRM and a continuation of work from the sUAS ARC that I was a part of and our readers have heard so much about over the years.

All one has to do is peruse that latest iteration of official documentation from the FAA to see that small business, and the end user is several years behind the rest of the group. Catching up with the moneyed herd is going to be difficult for sure. Add all of the damage and lock out barriers to mom and pop and you have a stillborn industry. That is what the disenfranchisement means to the layperson.

Well, there is some light at the end of the tunnel (and this time it’s not the 3:10 to Yuma.) I receive an email back from the Associate Administrator. “We will review your concern again and respond shortly.” This message was cc’d to the head of the UASIO and some other high level folks.


I wouldn’t say its time to don the smoking jacket and cork the bubbly just yet, but I think the message about the small business end-user stakeholder group is being better understood.


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

Rasmussen Reports

Bottom of Form

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Believe it or not, it’s already beginning to look a lot like Christmas – in the minds of many Americans, at least.

Thirty-seven percent (37%) have started their holiday shopping, and nine percent (9%) are finished already.

A lot more stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day next week in hopes of getting a bigger share of the Black Friday sales crowd, but 44% say they are less likely to shop at a store that opens on the holiday. However, 32% are at least somewhat likely to go shopping on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, with 12% who are Very Likely to do so.

Here are some other things America thinks about shopping this holiday season.

Forty-five percent (45%) of Americans have decided to avoid some of the hassle, though, by making arrangements with friends or family not to exchange gifts this year.

Perhaps in part that’s because 36% say they owe less money than they did a year ago, the highest finding since November 2012, and they want to keep it that way.

Consumer confidence is up slightly at week’s end but is still down from the highs it hit in May and June.

Concerns about the potential impact of the new national health care law are on many Americans’ minds this holiday season, too. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of voters now view the health care law unfavorably, including 45% with a Very Unfavorable opinion of it.  Both are highs for the year.

Have the woes of Obamacare trumped the government shutdown? Republicans have rebounded from a seven-point deficit a month ago to take a one-point lead over Democrats – 40% to 39% – on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

Forty-three percent (43%) of voters now trust the GOP more to handle health care. Thirty-nine percent (39%) trust Democrats more. This is the lowest level of trust in Democrats on this issue since January 2011 and the biggest Republican lead since October of last year.

Fallout from the problems associated with the health care law have driven President Obama’s job approval ratings to the lowest levels of his presidency, and those ratings show little sign of improving. 

Twenty-four percent (24%) of voters believe those opposed to the president’s policies are motivated by racism. Sixty percent (60%) think the opposition is primarily because the policies are bad.

Speaking of those policies, the number of voters who believe the federal government bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler were good for the United States has reached an all-time low of 39%, and more than ever (58%) consider those bailouts a failure.

Americans are similarly critical of the government bailouts of the financial sector. Despite those bailouts, just over half (52%) are at least somewhat confident in the stability of the U.S. banking industry today, with 11% who are Very Confident.

Sixty-four percent (64%) of voters still agree with the president that a “world-class education is the single most important factor in determining whether our kids can compete for the best jobs and whether America can out-compete countries around the world.” But only 18% think that public schools in the United States provide a world-class education, down from 26% two years ago.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday ended rules that allowed a minority of senators to prevent a vote on a president’s political nominees, and most voters think the change is a good one. Fifty-five percent (55%) think that, regardless of any ideological or philosophical disagreements, every presidential nominee should be the subject of a simple yes-or-no vote in the Senate.

As the country awaits the likely confirmation of Janet Yellen as the new Federal Reserve Board chairman, just 42% of Americans are at least somewhat confident that the Fed can keep interest rates down and inflation under control.

Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. JFK is still viewed favorably by an overwhelming majority of Americans. The manned space program is considered the most important achievement of Kennedy’s presidency.

But Americans are evenly divided over whether the 35th president of the United States was killed by one man or was the victim of a larger conspiracy.

Voters continue to adamantly defend their constitutional freedoms, and most (55%) still consider the federal government a threat to those rights.

In other surveys last week:

– Just one-in-four Likely U.S. Voters (25%) think the country is heading in the right direction.

– Fifty-seven percent (57%) feel that finding new energy sources is more than important than reducing the amount of energy that Americans now consume.

– Three-out-of-four voters (78%) think America spies on other countries as much or more than they spy on us.

– Fifty-six percent (56%) of Americans believe it is bad for the economy that more grown children are living with their parents.

Only 15% believe that children today get enough exercise, and 89% think it’s up to their parents to do something about it.

November 16 2013




US Postal Service Wins Amazon Sunday Deliveries

NEW YORK November 11, 2013 (AP)

By BARBARA ORTUTAY AP Technology Writer


Amazon is rolling out Sunday package delivery as part of a new deal with the U.S. Postal Service.

Delivery started on Sunday to customers in the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, but Amazon and the Postal Service plan to extend service to “a large portion of the U.S. population” next year, the company said. This includes the cities of Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Phoenix.

Sunday delivery will be available to all Amazon customers for no extra charge but Amazon expects it will be particularly popular with members of its Prime service, which costs $79 a year and comes with free two-day shipping on many items on the site as well as access to Amazon’s TV and movie streaming service.

“For Prime members, it’s free, for non-Prime members, it’s like any other delivery day of the week,” said Dave Clark, vice president of worldwide operations and customer service at Amazon.

Sunday delivery has been on Amazon’s wish list for a long time. The company does not disclose the percentage of its packages that are delivered on weekends, but Clark expects customers “to be delighted that they will get their products on a weekend.”

Financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed, but the deal is likely to give the financially ailing Postal Service a boost. The agency, which lost $16 billion last year and expects to lose $6 billion this year, had tried but failed to end Saturday mail delivery as a cost-saving measure. The Postal Service’s financial quandary stems largely from the fact that fewer people send mail, instead using the Internet to pay bills, send letters or birthday greetings. Adding to its troubles is a 2006 congressional requirement that it make advance payments to cover expected health care costs for future retirees.

The agency has been building up a “flexible workforce” for the past 18 months, so right now it doesn’t need to hire additional carriers to work on Sunday,” said Sue Brennan, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service. If and when this service expands, “we’ll make (the) decision if necessary,” she added in an email.

Sunday delivery isn’t an entirely new territory for the USPS. Priority Mail Express, its fastest service, offers Sunday and holiday delivery for a small fee. And during the holiday shipping rush in December it delivers packages on Sundays in major metropolitan areas.

Shares of Seattle-based Inc. closed up $4.07 at $354.38.



Few bright spots in sad survey of federal employees


November 11 at 1:20 pm


Federal workers have spoken, and they are not happy.

The Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey was released on Friday, and the results are discouraging. The agency’s overall measure for employee satisfaction—what it terms federal workers’ “global satisfaction index”—dropped to 59 percent, down 4 percentage points since 2012. Meanwhile, little more than half of government employees (54 percent) responded positively about their compensation, compared to 59 percent in 2012 and 66 percent in 2010.

Yet, as new OPM director Katherine Archuleta writes in the report, one of the biggest drops in the survey had to do with whether employees felt they had the resources they need to get their jobs done. Just 44 percent said they did, compared with 48 percent last year. “Any employer seeing this meaningful level of decline would be very concerned,” she wrote in the report. All in all, OPM surveyed views on 77 different items, and it turned out that attitudes on 53 of them had declined since 2012. Just two increased.

Both, it’s worth noting, had to do with workers’ individual supervisors. A slightly higher percentage–65 percent in 2013, up from 64 percent last year–agreed that “my supervisor is committed to a workforce representative of all segments of society.” And a few more folks–80 percent, up from 79 percent last year–agreed “my supervisor treats me with respect.”

In the section about team leaders, the trend line was mostly flat. Still, that’s far better than the sections on job satisfaction, agency satisfaction and work experience, where the recent “significant trend” lines were almost universally negative.

Unfortunately, included in those poor results was the section on agency leadership. Just 52 percent of federal workers said they have a high degree of respect for senior leaders, down from previous years. And just 41 percent said leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment at work. Keep in mind these numbers were tallied before the recent government shutdown, meaning they could very well be worse now. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how they couldn’t be worse in the aftermath of being victimized by some members of Congress, not knowing when they’d be back on the job, and handling the stress of digging out after the shutdown.

While the report is unsettling, it’s at least a little reassuring that federal workers feel respected by their individual managers and have some faith in the people who lead them on a day-to-day basis. If research (and conventional wisdom) says people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses, then maybe the reverse will hold true as well. Federal employees may not be very satisfied with their jobs right now, but a good individual manager might help them stay put.



Insurers Press for Way Around


November 11, 2013


Some major health insurers are so worried about the Obama administration’s ability to fix its troubled health care website that they are pushing the government to create a shortcut that would allow them to enroll people entitled to subsidies directly rather than through the federal system.


The idea is only one of several being discussed in a frantic effort to find a way around the technological problems that teams of experts are urgently trying to resolve.

So far, the administration has resisted the idea, partly because of concerns about giving insurance companies access to personal data. People familiar with the matter said no such modifications are planned, and even some insurers are not holding out much hope.

But senior White House officials said the administration was open to ways in which insurers could handle more enrollments and had stepped up efforts to make that possible because of the technical problems with the site.

“It was something we were always doing,” one official said, but it is “of additional value now.”

In a statement, Chris Jennings, a senior health care adviser to President Obama, said the administration was “continuing to pursue additional avenues by which people can enroll, such as direct enrollment through insurance companies, that will help meet pent-up demand.”

In proposing the idea, the insurers said a bypass giving them direct access to the federal platform that determines a consumer’s eligibility for a subsidy would alleviate the traffic on the website,, and provide more breathing room to fix complicated technical problems that threaten to persist beyond a crucial, self-imposed Dec. 1 deadline.

But even if such a shortcut could be designed, federal officials are concerned about protecting personal data, such as confidential financial and tax information and immigration status. The security and privacy issues are likely to overshadow any possible compromise, according to people briefed on the discussions.

A more likely solution is for consumers to be able to work directly with an insurer to estimate their qualifications for a subsidy, leaving federal verification to a later date, some insurers said. Insurance executives declined to speak on the record because of company policies and concerns about alienating political officials.

Time is running out. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has promised to have the website’s technical problems largely solved by the end of the month. But inside the White House, there is increasing anxiety that the troubled rollout of the health care site could imperil the remainder of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Aside from the direct enrollment option, insurers and federal officials are examining other ways in the coming weeks to sign up the millions of Americans looking for health insurance. However, none of the options represent a quick fix. One idea being considered would allow people to enroll before the paperwork is completed. At the extreme, despite strong resistance from the insurance industry, there is even talk of extending the deadline for obtaining insurance on the exchanges by months.

Consumers must now enroll by Dec. 15 for insurance coverage that would begin Jan. 1. The open enrollment period is to end on March 31. The main stumbling block for some consumers is the need to determine their eligibility for subsidies, and the amount. Insurance companies can now only estimate the amount for them. It is up the government to verify eligibility, using personal financial information from tax returns and the like.

“The question is, can they create a separate direct pathway so consumers can get that information on their subsidies?” asked one industry official. “If they don’t have Healthcare?.gov up and running by the end of the month, direct enrollment is critical.”

The other option, allowing consumers to obtain their own estimates, seems more palatable. It is unclear whether that proposal is possible. Insurers are worried that they will have offered coverage to individuals whose actual subsidies are less than they have estimated, potentially leaving the insurers or the people themselves financially exposed.

“I think there are potential work-arounds,” said an executive of a major insurer. “I think we have some leeway here so long as people are not in a situation where individuals have to pay significantly more than expected or plans end up in a position with cash-flow issues.”

Insurers are opposed to the idea of extending the enrollment period. They say it encourages people to wait to sign up, particularly the young and the healthy, an age group that insurers need to balance the cost of insuring people with expensive health conditions. They are also worried about the effect of the delay on their ability to price plans for 2015.

By all accounts, the administration is making an enormous effort to rescue the website. The appointment of Quality Software Services late last month as the project’s general contractor has established a sense of order amid chaos. Henry Chao, the technology official from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, who had managed the project since its infancy, has been sidelined, people involved in the effort said.

Specialists say software engineers now have a clear set of priorities and are steadily crossing items off a three-tier list for repairs. On Friday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the administration’s point man on fixing, said “a couple dozen” high-priority fixes would be made over the weekend. He repeatedly declined to say how many critical fixes had been identified, saying the list continually changes.

“We are making progress across those priority items, and the site is getting better each week, and will be at the standard that we set for the end of the month,” Mr. Zients said.

Specialists said that most of the effort so far had been focused on eliminating the delays and timeouts that have so frustrated consumers trying to shop for and enroll in plans. More challenging, one person said, are the repairs to the more complex, invisible part of the system that draws information from various federal and state databases into a central base to determine eligibility and subsidies and confirms enrollment data.

The technological effort cited by the White House, that person said, is actually a swell of software engineers. Red Hat, which makes Linux operating systems, and the database giant Oracle, already had sent specialists to help out.

Quality Software has assigned one senior engineer, from Google, to edit website software fixes, he said.

Some software engineers on the job have been replaced simply because they were too burned out to continue the late-night schedule. “A lot of the stuff people are doing now is going through the checklists they should have gone through before Oct. 1,” one specialist said.

On the two floors at an office building in suburban Virginia, visible evidence of President Obama’s promised new “tech surge” is slight. About 350 employees are hunkered over their computers — roughly 70 more than last month — trying to repair

Several White House technology fellows, young enough to be mistaken by some as students, have taken over one office. Another change, said one person closely involved in the repair effort: “A lot of suits are walking around.”

The scene at the office building, for one of the two main contractors that built the troubled website, illustrates the bind in which the Obama administration now finds itself. Despite the White House’s suggestions that a cavalry from the Silicon Valley has arrived to save the day, specialists say that the online system cannot be fixed by adding manpower. Some experts argue that an influx of software engineers at this stage would slow down, not speed up, the repair effort.

“If you have got nine women that doesn’t mean you can have a baby in a month,” said Frederick P. Brooks, a computer science professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and one of the world’s leading authorities on software development. Rather, he and others said, fixing the system involves a painstaking slog through line after line of software code.

No one at this point can be certain how many fixes need to be made, specialists said, because some fixes expose new problems.



With BlackBerry’s Future Uncertain, Pentagon Readies a Contingency Plan

By Aliya Sternstein

November 11, 2013


The Defense Department, owner of 470,000 BlackBerrys, is distancing itself from the struggling vendor while moving ahead with construction of a departmentwide app store and a system for securing all mobile devices, including the latest iPhones, iPads, and Samsung smartphones and tablets.

Just two months ago, when BlackBerry announced the company would radically curtail commercial sales, Pentagon officials said their business partnership remained unaffected. At the time, Defense’s technology support agency was readying networks with software to handle tens of thousands of BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 smartphones.

Last week, BlackBerry called off a tentative buyout and fired Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins, heightening uncertainty about the future of the company, which has seen its market share plummet in recent years as consumers embraced more user-friendly devices that run on operating systems built by Apple and Google.

For now, Defense’s mobile security strategy primarily depends on BlackBerry. The Pentagon has granted only BlackBerry 10 phones and Playbook tablets an “authority to operate,” or ATO — not Android, Apple or any other device lines. Consumer smartphones and tablets must have an ATO to hook up to Defense networks.

But there is a contingency plan at the Pentagon, should BlackBerry phones go the way of Betamax VCRs.

A 2012 strategy to transition personnel from PCs to smartphones and tablets did not favor any one device maker, Defense officials noted on Thursday. “This multi-vendor, device-agnostic approach minimizes the impact of [a] single vendor to our current operations,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said.

Implementation of the strategy centers on a “mobile device management” system to track handhelds that touch military networks so that they do not compromise military information or corrupt Defense systems.

“DoD’s mobility strategy and commercial mobile device implementation plan includes reliance on multiple vendors to support its mobile communications needs,” Pickart said.

The mobile security management system is in the early stages of development. It will undergo a limited pilot, or reach “initial operating capacity,” by Dec. 31, Pickart said.

The Pentagon anticipates connecting 300,000 approved government-issued consumer devices by 2016.


Air Force cuts may mean grounding fleets

No furloughs planned for now, Acting Air Force Secretary tells Dayton Daily News.

By Barrie Barber

Staff Writer

Posted: 4:54 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11, 2013

Dayton Daily News



The Air Force will have fewer airmen and civilian employees and entire fleets of aircraft may be pulled out of the air because of sequestration reductions, the service’s top civilian leader said.

“If the sequestered numbers are the new normal, we’re too big of an Air Force,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning. “The military is too big for the budget so we’ll have to reshape, resize.”

In an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News, Fanning said sequestration has impacted “everything” in the service branch. The Air Force may buy fewer fifth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, and pilots may be grounded periodically two to three months in rolling rotations of a tiered-readiness model if the sequester persists, he said. The automatic cuts amount to roughly 10 percent reductions a year for a decade.

Fanning said the “real pernicious effect of sequestration” remains “the lack of flexibility. It’s all across your accounts. And even more so it’s the immediacy. There’s no ramp. It takes a while to get money out of an organization this size unless you’re just lopping off limbs and doing really long-term damage.”

Pentagon leaders haven’t seriously considered a new round of furloughs, Fanning said.

“I think furloughs were the hardest and worst decision that we made last (fiscal) year, and I’ve seen the worst-case planning for all three of the military departments,” he said. “And nobody is talking about furloughs as an option. The word is hardly even mentioned in planning.”

Most of the Defense Department’s civil service workers, including 10,000 Wright-Patterson employees, were forced off the job for six days last summer without pay. A partial federal government shutdown in October sent more than 350,000 Defense Department workers, including 8,700 at Wright-Patterson, home for four days. They were given back pay for time off during the shutdown.

Fanning, a 1986 Centerville High School graduate, said political and military leadership have a “tremendous recognition” furloughs have damaged morale.

“We have some repairing to do,” he said. “We don’t want to do any more damage to it.”

Voluntary departures

Fanning did not offer specific numbers on how deep the personnel cuts will go, but a “broad range of numbers” are under consideration while the Air Force waits to find out how much money Congress will allocate this fiscal year. The military continues to operate under the last fiscal year’s spending caps. The new budget year began Oct. 1.

The Air Force, he said, would use “every voluntary incentive available” to reduce the size of the workforce.

“I don’t suspect that will get us all the way there, but I think it will get us close enough, especially on the civilian side, that anything that’s involuntary will be very targeted and relatively small,” he said.

The Air Force aims to protect as much as possible the top three acquisition priorities: the KC-46 aerial tanker, the F-35 and a new long-range strike bomber, he said. While he declined to talk about specific aircraft or platforms, Fanning said fleets that may be retired operate in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and mobility and refueling tanker communities.”That’s the only way we can achieve those (sequestration) numbers because you have to get the whole tail that goes with it,” he said. “We’re going to have to take out entire fleets.”

The Air Force is in talks with the other services to determine what to cut because they rely on air power in their warfighting plans, he said.

Congress has balked at a Pentagon and Air Force push for a round of base closures in 2015 and 2017 to cut costs. Fanning said the best chance may be 2017.

In the last base realignment and closure round in 2005, the Air Force determined it had 20 percent more bases than it needed “and we’re smaller than that now than we were then,” he said. “It starts based on Congress’ direction with a look at our European footprint, which we’re doing right now. I think we’d start there, but that would just be a small portion of what we need to do (in the) Air Force globally, including the United States.”

Wright-Patterson, home of the Air Force Material Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory, would be well-poised in a base closure process, he said.

“Wright-Patt, I think, is such a critical base to the Air Force and there are so many different, diverse activities that take place on this base, it’d be very hard to… recreate that someplace else,” he said. “I can’t think but of a handful of bases that are as important to the Air Force as Wright-Patt.”

Combating sexual assault

In an annual report released last week, the Department of Defense reported a 46 percent increase in sexual assaults last year. Fanning said combating sexual assault remains a top priority.

“I think what you’re seeing is an increase in reports which is different than an increase in incidents,” he said. “I actually take the increase in reports as a good sign that the changes we’re putting in place are making some people more comfortable coming forward if something happened that shouldn’t. … It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot of work to do to get the incidents down, but the number of reports is not in my view a direct correlation to an increase in incidents.” He said some of those reports include assaults prior to airmen joining the military.

An Air Force special victims counseling program has raised the number of victims who seek unrestricted prosecution by about 50 percent, he said.

Fanning, who is reportedly the highest ranking openly gay official at the Pentagon, said the elimination of the military‘s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to allow gay service members to openly serve has gone much smoother than he expected, but the military needs to recognize and extend benefits to same sex partners faster.

“The military is incredibly professional and when told this is the new rule, this is the new norm, they adapt pretty quickly,” he said.


6,000 Wright-Patt jobs at stake, Turner says

Over a decade, $8.6B could be lost to local economy if sequestration continues.

By Barrie Barber

Posted: 5:31 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013

Dayton Daily News

Staff Writer


Sequestration could cost Wright-Patterson Air Force Base up to 6,000 military and civilian jobs by next year, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said Tuesday.

Moreover, said Turner, the region could lose a total of about 13,000 jobs both in and outside the base in the years ahead, and $8.6 billion to the economy is at risk over the decade sequestration would be in effect.

“This is not the result of a policy shift. This is not a result of a BRAC (base realignment and closure),” Turner said. “This is really the result of the negligence of the work not getting done in Washington. With 6,000 jobs at risk, it is absolutely imperative that our community join together with one voice to ensure these job losses don’t happen.”

Turner, R-Dayton, had a forum Tuesday at Sinclair Community College on the sequestration impact to the Miami Valley. Military and private sector leaders told state and local political leaders of the economic and national security fallout they said would happen because of the automatic federal budget cuts.

The estimate of up to 6,000 job losses was based on a House Armed Services Committee extrapolation of the number of jobs and dollars the Air Force has said it will cut in the years ahead because of the sequester, Turner said. The Republican congressman is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee.

The Dayton Development Coalition and the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce are working to get the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. John Kasich behind a drive to bring more attention to the looming threat of job losses and to prevent the cuts, officials said.

When asked about the potential for job losses at the base, Air Force officials referred to Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh’s remarks to the House Armed Services Committee in September that up to 25,000 airmen and 550 aircraft would need to be cut in the next five years if the sequester continues.


“How that translates for all the different commands across the Air Force is yet to be seen, so I haven’t seen a number yet,” said Col. Cassie B. Barlow, 88th Air Base Wing commander, told the Dayton Daily News at a press briefing afterwards.

“At this point, it’s too soon to determine exactly where those cuts would take place,” Lt. Col. Laurel P. Tingley, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said in an email.

Jeff Hoagland, Dayton Development Coalition president and chief executive officer, estimated sequestration may have already meant a loss of 2,000 base-connected jobs.

The base had around 29,000 employees at last count.

If the cuts happen, the trickle-down effect would mean less tax revenue for local governments and fewer services to taxpayers, officials said.

“I’ve always said if Wright-Patterson gets a cold, Greene County gets pneumonia,” said Greene County Commissioner Bob Glaser. “Well, Wright-Patterson is getting more than a cold.”


Brain drain

The budget sequester has led to “record numbers” of senior and junior employees leaving and a “brain drain” at Wright-Patterson, Barlow said.

“When we have people leave earlier than expected it’s alarming because that means we haven’t had time to pass on that knowledge to the next generation,” she said.

In the first nine months of sequestration, the base temporarily sent home thousands of employees on an unpaid six-day furlough and later an unplanned four-day emergency furlough during the partial government shutdown, she noted. Wright-Patterson faces a growing maintenance backlog without enough money to fix decaying and damaged infrastructure for everything from an underground pipeline to a runway and reduced “quality of life” programs, she said.

Spending caps could dry up money for utilities by June, and logistics readiness contracts by May, she said.

Carl Francis, a Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association vice president, said a Dayton Defense survey of defense contractors in the region showed as much as a 75 percent drop in sales and a loss of $300 million through late August “with billions in revenue at risk.”

Between 20 to 35 percent in staff reductions have hit some companies, he said.

“We’ll feel these effects for years to come,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”


‘Doesn’t bode well’

With all the uncertainty, some contractors have gravitated away from doing business with the government and are focusing instead on commercial sales, according to Francis.

“This doesn’t bode well for the Air Force, it doesn’t bode well for national security, nor does it bode well for our competitive advantage here in this economy,” he said.

A number of area companies have slowed growth because of sequestration and consumers have pared back spending, said Chris Kershner, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce vice president of public policy and economic development.

“The unknown and eleventh hour federal government budget decisions do impact businesses and their investment confidence,” he said.



New York’s One World Trade Center deemed tallest U.S. skyscraper

NEW YORK Tue Nov 12, 2013 4:51pm EST

(Reuters) – The skyscraper at New York’s World Trade Center has been designated the tallest building in the United States by virtue of its spire, surpassing Chicago’s Willis Tower, an international body said on Tuesday.

The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat said its Height Committee ruled the mast atop the building, built on the site of the attacks of September 11, 2001 and formerly called the Freedom Tower, was a spire and therefore a permanent feature.

If the mast were considered an antenna instead, it would be considered functional equipment and subject to change.

With the spire, One World Trade Center reaches 1,776 feet compared with 1,451 feet for the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. Counting its antenna, the Willis Tower reaches 1,729 feet.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public entity that owns the building, changed the name in 2009, saying it would make the office tower more marketable for tenants.

The council’s Height Committee convened a group of 25 architects, engineers and facade consultants from around the world on November 8 to consider the issue, and ultimately decided the mast is a spire, the council said.

Because One World Trade Center is still incomplete, its designation will become official once the building is occupied in 2014, the council said. It is one of four skyscrapers planned at the site alongside a memorial, a museum, a transit center and a performing arts center.

It would then become the third-highest building in the world after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa at 2,717 feet and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at 1,972 feet.

However, four other buildings under construction in China and one in South Korea would be taller than One World Trade Center, according to Emporis, a database for building information.


DISA considers scrapping $450 million commercial cloud contract

Nov. 12, 2013 – 03:40PM | By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON | Comments

The Defense Information Systems Agency is considering canceling its planned $450 million commercial cloud contract, following lower than expected demand for those services.

“Initial indications are the demand will not require a contract with the ceiling estimated in this draft solicitation,” according to a Nov. 8 notice on “We are currently revising our acquisition strategy for satisfying requirements for hosting public non-sensitive data in commercial cloud environments,” DISA said in the notice.

DISA went on to say that its strategy “may result in a solicitation for a new contract at a significantly lowered ceiling,” or the use of existing contracts capable of meeting user demands.

At an industry event in July, a DISA official said the agency expected up to 10 awards under the $450 million contract. A final request for proposal was supposed to be released in August.

Meanwhile, some DoD components have already struck deals with commercial vendors to host public data in the cloud. For example, several websites under the secretary of the Navy are now being hosted in the cloud.

Public websites for the Department of the Navy chief information officer, and the assistant secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment, are among those being hosted by Amazon Web Services. “The initiative standardizes technology used for public website development while reducing costs to the government,” according to an announcement on the CIO website.

The 2012 Defense Authorization Act required DoD to develop a strategy to move its data and services from department-owned and -operated data centers to cloud computing solutions. Cloud solutions “provide a better capability at a lower cost with the same or greater degree of security” and are generally available in the private sector, the law says.

This has prompted DISA to expand cloud offerings beyond its current private clouds, where services are provided exclusively to DoD and hosted in DISA data centers. But some vendors question whether cloud services provided though DISA will be cheaper than customers dealing directly with cloud service providers. DISA customers would be charged a 2 percent fee for using the contract, in addition to the cost of the service.



Local defense contractor plans national layoffs, closures

Updated: 10:41 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013 | Posted: 9:20 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013

By Thomas Gnau

Staff Writer


A defense contractor with a local presence is announcing cuts of 4,000 jobs and the closure of five facilities or clusters of facilities, including its mission systems and training center in Akron.

“At this time there are no changes to our Dayton facility,” Suzanne Smith, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, told the Dayton Daily News. She did not immediately respond to a question about whether changes are planned for a later date.

Lockheed Martin said in a release Thursday that it will reduce its workforce by 4,000 positions “to increase the efficiency of its operations and improve the affordability of its products and services. These actions are in response to continued declines in U.S. government spending.”

By mid-2015, the company plans to close operations in Akron, Newtown, Pa.; Goodyear, Ariz.; and Horizon City, Texas; and four buildings on its Sunnyvale, Calif., campus.

“The facility closures will result in the elimination of 2,000 positions and ongoing operational efficiency initiatives will result in the elimination of an additional 2,000 positions in the corporation’s Information Systems & Global Solutions (IS&GS), Mission System and Training (MST), and Space Systems business areas by the end of 2014,” the company said.

As part of the consolidation, program work and some employees will transition to other Lockheed Martin facilities, the company said. Space Systems and IS&GS will move work to its Denver, Colo. and Valley Forge, Pa. facilities. The company also said it is reviewing potential sites to transition the MST work, including its facilities in Owego, N.Y. and Orlando, Fla., and expects to finalize plans in early 2014.

The company’s Dayton-area offices are not mentioned in a corporate fact sheet or press release on the actions.

The actions come on the heels of recent local warnings about the impact of sequestration on defense spending. In a recent exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News, Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning said recently the federal budgetary sequestration may mean a smaller Air Force. “The military is too big for the budget so we’ll have to reshape, resize,” he said.

And U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, in recent days has also warned that sequestration could cost up to 6,000 military and civilian jobs by next year.

Last year, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $156 million contract to provide new training devices to C-130J aircrews and maintainers, airplanes supported by Wright-Patterson. Another contract, also awarded in 2012 by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson, supports development of a green hybrid small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that runs on renewable energy.

“Reducing our workforce of dedicated employees and closing facilities are among the most difficult decisions we make,” Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin chief executive and president, said in the company’s statement. “In the face of government budget cuts and an increasingly complex global security landscape, these actions are necessary for the future of our business and will position Lockheed Martin to better serve our customers.”

Based in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs about 116,000 people worldwide.


Fanning: Air Force Having Trouble Keeping Pilots, and Pay Isn’t the Problem


Tom Shoop

November 14, 2013


The Air Force is offering big bonuses to keep its pilots in the service, but they’re not taking them because budget constraints are forcing the service to limit both current flying hours and opportunities to fly the next generation of aircraft, acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said Thursday.

Over the summer, the Air Force began offering its pilots payments of $25,000 per year as an incentive to stay on, up to a maximum of $250,000. But “pilots aren’t taking them,” Fanning said at the Defense One Summit in Washington. The main reason is that “we’re going to have flying hour issues for the foreseeable future,” he said, with rolling groundings of two to three months per squadron.

Pilots “want to fly,” Fanning said. And with the airline industry facing a wave of forced retirements of pilots, opportunities for them are opening up in the private sector.

At the same time, the Budget Control Act and sequestration are putting limits not only on Air Force operations, but investments in new aircraft platforms. “That will have a worse effect on morale” than pay and benefits issues, Fanning said. “It’s not just compensation that keeps people in the military. It’s mission.”

In the current budget environment, the Air Force is contemplating fairly steep reductions in compensation costs. Such costs consume 40 percent of the service’s budget, and the numbers are growing faster than the rate of inflation.

“We’re not cutting compensation, we’re just slowing its growth,” Fanning said. In particular, the current path of spending on health care is “unsustainable,” he said. “If we don’t address it, we will have aging platforms. That will have a worse effect on morale.”

Overall, Fanning said, “morale is really as bad as I’ve seen it on the civilian side and the uniformed side. But it is better than you think it is, and better than we deserve it to be, because we’ve got an amazing mission.”


Top Air Force official stresses need for modernization

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

Published November 14, 2013


WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Air Force must modernize to confront the threats of the future, acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said at the Defense One Summit here Nov. 14.

Fanning echoed previous testimony and comments in saying the service will fight to maintain modernization programs. He specifically cited the joint strike fighter, long-range strike bomber and next-generation air-to-air tanker programs. These programs go to the root of Air Force capabilities, he said.

“We need to be able to move quickly (and) strike quickly anywhere in the world, and we need to be able to monitor things anywhere in the world,” Fanning said.

The service has to invest in these next-generation platforms, he said.

“We cannot over the next 10 years just invest in modernizing legacy platforms,” Fanning said. “Even if you modernize … a fourth-generation fleet, when it goes against a Chinese or Russian fifth-generation aircraft, it’s dead before you even know an adversary is in the air.”

Still, Fanning said, he is not concerned about the Air Force losing its dominance, “as long as we keep focusing on the investments, as we are now.”

These capabilities are crucial as the threats are changing and growing geographically, he said, with more nations and even groups– fielding advanced weaponry.

“We need to maintain investments in next-generation platforms so we have that agility, that mobility, that ability to strike,” he added.

Aside from these programs, Fanning said, he believes the Air Force must develop its cyberwar, space, special operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in the future.

The biggest threat to the service today is budget uncertainty, the acting secretary said, adding that Air Force budget planners have no idea what the service budget topline will be for fiscal 2015.

Sequestration spending cuts, as they stand, will take an extra $20 billion from the Defense Department’s budget across all accounts in January. What is even more damaging, Fanning said, is that the law mandating the cuts does not give the services the flexibility needed to make them in a smart manner. Last year, Congress did give the military this flexibility, and DOD officials expect the Congress will probably do that again, but this is not a given, he added.

The immediacy of the cuts also causes problems, Fanning said, noting that the majority of the cuts will have to be from operations and maintenance funds. Budget instability makes this enormously hard on the service to build a budget as detailed and solid as people would like, he said.

“It forces the institution into a shorter and shorter and shorter ‘do loop,'” he said. “The stability of the process is weakening. I keep thinking, … ‘It can’t get any crazier, and we will be able to fix it.’ And somehow, we manage to fix ourselves into more craziness.”

Under sequester, the Air Force will reduce by about 25,000 people and 550 aircraft, Fanning said. “Even before sequestration, Air Force readiness was not vectored in the right direction,” he said. “(Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III) and I think we were not building a sustainable Air Force for 10 years down the road.”

Personnel costs take up 40 percent of the Air Force budget, and this is an area that needs attention, Fanning said, emphasizing that the service is not looking to cut pay and benefits, but rather to slow the growth. The Air Force simply cannot afford to maintain the current growth rate, he said.

“It is unsustainable,” he added. “It will collapse. It won’t be there for people if we don’t do something about it. We just need to rationalize what we’ve done over the last 10 years.

“If we allow it to continue to grow, we’re going to have a force that has aging platforms, and that is going to have an effect on morale more than anything,” he continued. “People don’t join the Air Force to fly old planes or look at old planes on the ramp from the ready room.”



Manage Defense Spending Through ‘Better Buying Power,’ Not Sequestration

Ashton B. Carter

November 13, 2013


It was a little over three years ago that then-Secretary of Defense Bob Gates foresaw correctly that the days of increasing defense budgets were coming to an end. The nation confronted a looming fiscal crisis, and, as he famously put it in a speech at the Eisenhower Library, “The gusher has been turned off and will stay off for a good period of time.”


In acknowledgement of that fiscal reality, Secretary Gates launched a department-wide efficiency initiative to ensure that the department wasn’t forced to sacrifice one ounce more force structure than was absolutely necessary. “Better Buying Power,” introduced in September 2010, was the acquisition system’s contribution to the efficiency initiative. It was directed at the approximately $400 billion that the department spends annually on goods and services. Gates’ efforts have been followed by similar efforts from Secretaries Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel, each of which has dealt with ever deeper budget reductions. Better Buying Power has remained a central tool for helping the Defense Department deal with an increasingly challenging budget environment.

Better Buying Power’s goal was to do more without more — that is, to get more capability for the warfighter and more value for the taxpayer by obtaining greater efficiency and productivity in defense spending, or what economists call productivity growth. It wasn’t intended to be an overnight revolution in the way we did business, but instead a steady, lasting and continuous process of improvement in our performance. It was based on emphasizing acquisition best practices that long ago were identified by predecessors at DOD such as former Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry. And at the same time, it addressed important defense acquisition changes, most importantly the significant increase in the budget share that goes to acquisition of services, rather than goods like planes and ships.

To achieve these objectives, Better Buying Power initially directed 23 principal actions in five major areas. First, target affordability and eliminate cost-growth in our programs. Second, incentivize productivity and innovation in industry by aligning their profits with performance and reinvigorating their partnership with the Defense Department. Third, promote real competition: head-to-head competition where there was more than one supplier, and competition for profit via contract structure where there was a sole supplier. Fourth, improve DOD’s tradecraft in the acquisition of services. And fifth, reduce nonproductive processes and bureaucracy in the government as well as in industry.

In April of this year, we rededicated ourselves to the effort by initiating Better Buying Power 2.0, adding a 6th major area — improving the professionalism of the total acquisition workforce — and taking on several new actions. Over the past three years, we’ve worked hard and with some considerable success to implement these actions. The department experienced steady improvement on performance measures such as cost growth.

For example, by targeting affordability in the Ohio-class submarine replacement program and scrubbing its requirements, the Navy cut over $2 billion from the projected cost. The Air Force is taking the same approach to the long-range strike family of systems. It is prioritizing affordability targets that have eluded past bomber efforts by maximizing the utilization of existing components and subsystems. The Army this year received a Packard Award for using increased competition and participation from small business to lower costs and reduce production time for the purchase of $2.7 billion in ammunition, such as artillery and mortar shells. The Navy, by constructing a well-designed competition on the littoral combat ship program, was able to award contracts for 20 ships at dramatically lower cost, which generated big per-ship savings now but also sustained competition going forward, posturing us to save even more money in the future. More recently, a Navy team received a Packard Award for using competitive pressures to save almost $300 million in the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer program. These are just a handful of hundreds examples of our acquisition executives putting the better buying principles into practice since 2010. Each of these examples show what we can achieve when we rededicate ourselves to acquisition best practices.

A key aspect of Better Buying Power has been renewing the department’s partnership with industry. From the beginning, we recognized that any acquisition initiative that tried to cut costs by simply going after industry profits would be short-sighted and doomed to fail. Industry needs profits and competitive margins, and a healthy defense industry is essential to the department’s short-term and long-term success. While incentivizing cost consciousness is centrally important to our work, our transactions with industry must be successful for both parties. Our focus in Better Buying Power is on aligning industry’s incentives with the department’s objectives. The key to success in this effort is the knowledge and professionalism of the acquisition workforce and that is why this area is further highlighted in Better Buying Power 2.0 under Frank Kendall, my successor as under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics.

Achieving Better Buying Power would of course be an important goal in any budget environment, but its importance has only grown given the strategic and budgetary challenges the Defense Department now faces. Since Better Buying Power was first unveiled, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which required the department to cut $487 billion from our defense plans over 10 years. We developed a plan to do that in accordance with our 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance. At the same time, winding down combat operations in Afghanistan means that our budget for overseas contingency operations also has been decreasing. Taken together, these reductions compare in pace and magnitude to historical cycles in defense spending that the nation has experienced in the past, either after Vietnam or after the Cold War. Earlier this year, however, sequestration was triggered, forcing deep, essentially mindless, additional cuts in the defense budget. Secretary Hagel directed us to perform a Strategic Choices and Management Review to help the department develop options for dealing with these additional budget reductions. But its central finding was that there is no strategically and managerially sound approach to budget cuts that can close the funding gap created by sequestration in the near term.

In other words, if sequestration holds, the department will be driven to make inefficient and unsound near term funding choices that will reduce our buying power, magnifying the effects of what is already a substantial funding cut and further harming our readiness, as well as carefully laid plans to control program costs.

What does this mean for Better Buying Power? The central tenets of Better Buying Power remain not just valid, but more important than ever. However, our ability to follow these tenets will be substantially challenged. It goes without saying that we will continue to have a duty to protect taxpayers by getting the most out of every dollar we spend, and following through with Better Buying Power remains critical to this effort.

Ashton B. Carter is the deputy secretary of defense. He previously served as under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics.


Pentagon’s Hale Still Optimistic About a Budget ‘Micro-Deal’

Charles S. Clark

Government Executive

November 15, 2013


Chopping defense spending at a time of budget uncertainty poses risks to military readiness that might not be obvious to the general public, the Pentagon’s comptroller said on Thursday. “It’s like buying an insurance policy with a greatly raised deductible — if you have to make a claim, there will be great regrets,” Defense Undersecretary Robert Hale said at the inaugural Defense One Summit put on by Atlantic Media in Washington.

“In this crazy period of time, the enormous budget uncertainty is taking its toll,” Hale said. “Planning gets replaced by planning, and we don’t know where we’re headed. We don’t do well under any particular plan.”

The comptroller said he remains “cautiously optimistic” that negotiators in Congress will come up with a “micro-deal” that would lift some of sequestration and perhaps limit defense cuts to $20 billion-$25 billion rather than the $50 billion required under the 2011 Budget Control Act. “The specific number is less important than the certainty,” he said.

Hale described how the cuts will substantially risk force readiness, reduce procurement along with investment in research and development, and threaten recruitment and retention of mid- and junior-level talent.

“At the moment, planners are looking at budget ranges that are pretty wide,” Hale said. Budget planning and long-term strategy are being done “concurrently” and coordinated by the same senior leaders doing the coming installment of the Quadrennial Defense Review, he said. “I don’t remember ever seeing this much uncertainty.”

Last year, the Pentagon held off planning for sequestration on the assumption that the sword of Damocles might never fall. But Hale said this year the planning has to assume the possibility that across-the-board cuts could continue. He said he has no regrets about the way in which his team and the Obama White House sounded the alarm about the harm from sequestration. “Think of the situation a year ago, when sequestration was postponed two months and the amount changed. Almost all of our planning done a year ago would have been wrong.”

Hale also revealed that he lost a bet with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on whether the shutdown would actually occur. (Hale had to buy Dempsey a bottle of scotch.)

Executing the inevitable cuts will involve trimming procurement as well as research, development, testing and evaluation, which will risk a repeat of the 1990s “procurement holiday” that may be tough to recover from, Hale said.

He also said he worried about the “low morale” of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce due to hiring freezes, pay freezes and the recent shutdown. “People were wondering whether they have a job, and whether they want the job,” he said. He added he pictures many — particularly non-senior employees — sitting around the kitchen table with their spouses and wondering “whether we want to go through it again,” especially when the economy is “pepping up” and bringing new recruitment competition from the private sector.

Retirements are evident anecdotally, “but I don’t think there’s an avalanche yet,” he said, “though we could lose some of our best.”

Asked about charges from some in Congress that the Defense Department is “arrogant,” Hale said, “we have a good working relationship. I don’t recall we turned down any meetings. Maybe it’s that we just don’t know some of the information they’d like to have, such as where things are going and what our plans for sequestration are. But frankly,” he added, “we’re feeling our way toward” how to implement the sequester. “They may not like the answers they’re hearing.”


One area where many lawmakers clearly disagree with Pentagon leaders is on President Obama’s proposal for another round of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. “Yes, we need another BRAC because there’s no practical way to close or realign bases outside of BRAC,” Hale said. “I understand it’s a tough political vote, but it’s an important one.”


Hale expressed frustration with the challenges of getting the Pentagon’s books ready for auditability by coming deadlines set by Congress and the Defense secretary, saying officials have good data on obligated funds but not on cost, and adding, “It is harder than I expected.”



F.C.C. Smartphone App Gauges Speed of User’s Network


November 14, 2013


WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday released its first smartphone app, a free program that allows consumers to measure the broadband speed they are getting on their mobile devices and to determine whether it is as fast as wireless companies say.

So far, the app works only on smartphones that run the Android operating system, but the commission is working on an iPhone version, which it expects to be ready by the end of January. The app provides information on upload and download speeds and on how efficiently data is transmitted, a measure known as packet loss.

The app, F.C.C. Speed Test, also will allow the commission to aggregate data about broadband speeds from consumers across the country. It will use the data to create an interactive map, giving consumers a tool to use in comparison shopping rather than relying on wireless companies’ promises.

Tom Wheeler, who was presiding over his first F.C.C. meeting as chairman, said the app was a “public beta” version, meaning that the commission wanted to hear suggestions for improvement from consumers and app developers.

“We know from experience that this type of transparency about broadband speeds is not only helpful to consumers on a day-to-day basis, but also that it can drive improvements in network performance,” Mr. Wheeler said.

The app, available in the Google Play store, will run periodically in the background on a consumer’s phone, automatically performing tests when a user is not otherwise using the phone.

F.C.C. officials stressed that the software would not collect any personal or uniquely identifiable information, and that it would release information only after the data was analyzed. The app uses open-source code, and the agency details its methodologies and privacy policy on its website.

The commission also voted unanimously to consider, on a case-by-case basis, allowing foreign companies to own more than the current limit of 25 percent of a television or radio licensee.

If it approves such a request, however, the F.C.C. might ask the broadcaster to free up some of its airwaves for use in wireless broadband. The commission has been seeking broadcasters that would give up some of their airwaves or move to another part of the broadcast spectrum to free up space that can be auctioned off for more wireless broadband service.



Which of the 11 American nations do you live in?


November 8 at 1:36 pm


Red states and blue states? Flyover country and the coasts? How simplistic. Colin Woodard, a reporter at the Portland Press Herald and author of several books, says North America can be broken neatly into 11 separate nation-states, where dominant cultures explain our voting behaviors and attitudes toward everything from social issues to the role of government.

“The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of maps — including maps showing the distribution of linguistic dialects, the spread of cultural artifacts, the prevalence of different religious denominations, and the county-by-county breakdown of voting in virtually every hotly contested presidential race in our history,” Woodard writes in the Fall 2013 issue of Tufts University’s alumni magazine. “Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities.”

Take a look at his map:

Courtesy Tufts Magazine


Woodard lays out his map in the new book “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.” Here’s how he breaks down the continent:


Yankeedom: Founded by Puritans, residents in Northeastern states and the industrial Midwest tend to be more comfortable with government regulation. They value education and the common good more than other regions.

New Netherland: The Netherlands was the most sophisticated society in the Western world when New York was founded, Woodard writes, so it’s no wonder that the region has been a hub of global commerce. It’s also the region most accepting of historically persecuted populations.

The Midlands: Stretching from Quaker territory west through Iowa and into more populated areas of the Midwest, the Midlands are “pluralistic and organized around the middle class.” Government intrusion is unwelcome, and ethnic and ideological purity isn’t a priority.

Tidewater: The coastal regions in the English colonies of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware tend to respect authority and value tradition. Once the most powerful American nation, it began to decline during Westward expansion.

Greater Appalachia: Extending from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and into Northwest Texas, the descendants of Irish, English and Scottish settlers value individual liberty. Residents are “intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers.”

Deep South: Dixie still traces its roots to the caste system established by masters who tried to duplicate West Indies-style slave society, Woodard writes. The Old South values states’ rights and local control and fights the expansion of federal powers.

El Norte: Southwest Texas and the border region is the oldest, and most linguistically different, nation in the Americas. Hard work and self-sufficiency are prized values.

The Left Coast: A hybrid, Woodard says, of Appalachian independence and Yankee utopianism loosely defined by the Pacific Ocean on one side and coastal mountain ranges like the Cascades and the Sierra Nevadas on the other. The independence and innovation required of early explorers continues to manifest in places like Silicon Valley and the tech companies around Seattle.

The Far West: The Great Plains and the Mountain West were built by industry, made necessary by harsh, sometimes inhospitable climates. Far Westerners are intensely libertarian and deeply distrustful of big institutions, whether they are railroads and monopolies or the federal government.

New France: Former French colonies in and around New Orleans and Quebec tend toward consensus and egalitarian, “among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy,” Woodard writes.

First Nation: The few First Nation peoples left — Native Americans who never gave up their land to white settlers — are mainly in the harshly Arctic north of Canada and Alaska. They have sovereignty over their lands, but their population is only around 300,000.

The clashes between the 11 nations play out in every way, from politics to social values. Woodard notes that states with the highest rates of violent deaths are in the Deep South, Tidewater and Greater Appalachia, regions that value independence and self-sufficiency. States with lower rates of violent deaths are in Yankeedom, New Netherland and the Midlands, where government intervention is viewed with less skepticism.

States in the Deep South are much more likely to have stand-your-ground laws than states in the northern “nations.” And more than 95 percent of executions in the United States since 1976 happened in the Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater and the Far West. States in Yankeedom and New Netherland have executed a collective total of just one person.

That doesn’t bode well for gun control advocates, Woodard concludes: “With such sharp regional differences, the idea that the United States would ever reach consensus on any issue having to do with violence seems far-fetched. The cultural gulf between Appalachia and Yankeedom, Deep South and New Netherland is simply too large. But it’s conceivable that some new alliance could form to tip the balance.”



The Next U.S. Weapon at Sea Could Be Music

By Aliya Sternstein

November 14, 2013


The next Cuban missile crisis could be resolved through the power of music rather than an armed standoff between nuclear powers, military officials and researchers speculate.

It is believed that sound waves can “jump the air gap” — or hack a machine that is not on a network — to paralyze a ship’s control systems. Instead of using a blockade or firing Tomahawk missiles to prevent Russia from delivering weapons to Cuba, the United States could use malicious tones.

“This is where you talk about fleets coming to a stop. Our ships are floating SCADA systems,” retired Capt. Mark Hagerott, deputy director of cybersecurity for the U.S. Naval Academy, said at a summit in Washington organized by Government Executive Media Group. He was referring to supervisory control and data acquisition systems that control industrial operations. “That would disrupt the world balance of power if you could begin to jump the air gap,” Hagerott said.

It’s conceivable sound waves can be transformed into malicious electrical signals. An air disruption causes the diaphragm of a speaker to create an electrical signal made up of ones and zeros. Targeted ones and zeros can override a computer-driven ship.

Taking down a SCADA system “gives you a nonlethal warfare capacity at sea,” Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution national security analyst, said in an interview after speaking at the Defense One Summit. A president could say, for example: “Don’t let this enemy fleet seize these island chains but also don’t let it turn into a shooting war.” It would warn the adversary that if it crosses a certain boundary, the United States will flip the switch. “Now their ship is floating but you haven’t killed anyone,” Singer said.

Even the Stuxnet virus, an alleged U.S.-Israel creation that breached an air-gapped Iranian nuclear production system, required more proximity. Someone inserted an infected jump drive that made the nuclear centrifuges go haywire.

Onboard, “you think you are secure. You didn’t put a flash drive in. There’s no wires,” Hagerott said.


Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Obamacare hasn’t been good for the political health of President Obama and his party this past week.

Just 35% of Likely U.S. Voters now believe the new national health care law is good for America, and 55% favor repealing it.

Fifty-four percent (54%) oppose the law’s individual mandate which requires every American to have health insurance by January 1 or else face financial penalties. Just 34% support it.

And that was before the Obama administration announced Wednesday that only 106,000 Americans signed up for health insurance in October through the new national and state exchanges because of major problems with their websites. That’s well below the projected goal of 500,000 sign-ups in October, and most of the websites are still broken.

That wasn’t the worst political news, though. Despite the president’s oft-repeated promise that Americans could keep their health insurance policies if they liked them, the implementation of Obamacare appears to be forcing millions of Americans to change those policies and pay more for them.

Voters are evenly divided when asked whether the president deliberately lied about the potential impact of the health care law before it was passed by Congress. But 71% think Americans should be allowed to keep their current health insurance policies even if they do not meet the standards set by the new law.

After all, 75% or more have said in surveys all year that Americans should have the right to choose between different types of health insurance plans based on what they cover and how much they cost.

Obama responded to the political outcry on both sides of the aisle by announcing a one-year extension for those policies that don’t satisfy the new law’s requirements, but opponents questioned the legality of the president making such a change in a law passed by Congress. Meanwhile, 39 Democrats jumped ship in the House on Friday and voted for a Republican bill that gives insurers the power to extend plans through 2014 that would otherwise be canceled because of the new law. Insurers also can enroll new customers in these plans.

Fifty-five percent (55%) of voters now give the president poor marks for his handling of issues related to health care, a new high for the year. Democrats continue to be strong supporters of Obama, but even among voters in the president’s party, those giving him good or excellent marks for his handling of health care have tumbled 25 points over the past month, from 78% to 53%.

The president’s daily job approval rating remains at its lowest levels in months, and on Wednesday fell to -25, his worst rating in over two years.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters now consider the president at least somewhat liberal in political terms, including 43% who believe he is Very Liberal.

Bill Clinton was one of several Democrats who urged Obama publicly to keep his promise and allow Americans to stay on their existing health insurance policies if they wanted to. Sixty-two percent (62%) of voters think Clinton was a better president than Obama. Looking ahead, a plurality (41%) believes that the former president is a plus for Hillary Clinton’s hopes for the White House. Only 20% consider Clinton a minus as far as his wife’s presidential ambitions are concerned.

Seventy percent (70%) of Likely Democratic Voters say they would vote for Hillary Clinton if the 2016 Democratic presidential primary were held in their state today. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul lead the 2016 presidential pack among Likely Republican Voters.

If the 2016 presidential election were held today, 43% of all voters would choose Clinton, while 41% would opt for Christie.

Democrats jumped out to a seven-point lead over Republicans on the Generic Congressional Ballot as the battle over the partial government shutdown escalated last month. Now they lead by just two.

Despite the shutdown, 65% of Americans believe government workers have more job security than those in the private sector.

Speaking of government workers, 56% oppose the use of standardized testing to measure school and teacher performance.

Forty-five states have adopted new national education standards known as Common Core, but just 39% of Americans these standards are likely to improve student achievement throughout the country, with 11% who say it’s Very Likely.

House Speaker John Boehner this past week said immigration reform legislation is dead in the current session of Congress. Fifty-four percent (54%) of voters feel the current policies and practices of the federal government encourage illegal immigration.

Fifty-two percent (52%) favor the current negotiations with Iran that would reduce that country’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting some economic sanctions. But 37% believe the United States should get Israel’s approval before making any nuclear deal with Iran.

While the holiday shopping season is rapidly approaching, consumer confidence remains near its lowest levels of the year.

But many Americans still will find a way to bring good cheer to the season.
Two-out-of-three Americans consider themselves regular alcohol drinkers. They’re almost evenly divided between those who drink for social reasons and those who drink because they enjoy it.

Among those who do drink, 40% say wine is their alcohol of choice. Thirty-four percent (34%) reach for a beer first, while 20% prefer hard liquor.

There are a few surprises, too, in what America thinks about drinking.

In other surveys last week:

– For the second week in a row, 24% of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, is the nation’s most influential banker; Janet Yellen, the board’s vice chairman, is about to take over Bernanke’s job. Yet both are unknowns to a sizable number of Americans.

– Following the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines leaving thousands dead and many more displaced, 25% of Americans say they have contributed or will contribute money to the relief effort there.

– Just 28% favor the smoking of electronic cigarettes in public places.

– Forty-seven percent (47%) planned to do something special last Monday to celebrate Veterans Day and honor those who have given their lives for this country.

November 9 2013

9November 2013



Pentagon Toils to Build a Bomber on a Budget

Financial Considerations Vital in Effort to Build Replacement for Aging B-52s and B-1s


Nov. 3, 2013 10:33 p.m. ET


When a military contractor showed Col. Chad Stevenson a design for the Air Force’s top secret plane of the future, he began to worry.

“They were showing this really nice fold out bed, this nice refrigerator and microwave, a kind of lounge-provision area,” Col. Stevenson recalled of the recent design.

The plane of the future, the “Long-Range Strike Bomber,” is the first weapon system to be designed in the new age of military austerity. But flight range and fire power are no longer the only features that matter. Julian Barnes explains. Photo: Getty Images.

The contractor, Lockheed Martin, LMT +0.74% didn’t offer an estimate for such flying comforts. But Col. Stevenson imagined a publicity nightmare in the making: a $300,000 kitchenette as the latter-day symbol of Pentagon excess—the $600 toilet seat for the 21st century.


The kitchenette was killed.

Such financial considerations are vital to the Air Force’s most important project today: building a new long-range bomber to replace the iconic and aging B-52s and B-1s that have come to represent America’s domination of the sky.

It is the job of Col. Stevenson and a small group of Air Force colleagues to guard against improvidence and any untested technologies that could lead the grand project—expected to cost upwards of $55 billion—down the path the Pentagon often travels of cost-overruns and blown deadlines.

The plane of the future, dubbed the “Long-Range Strike Bomber,” is the first weapon system to be designed in the new age of military austerity. Flight range, firepower and technological prowess are no longer the only features that matter. The Pentagon says it now gives equal weight to a far more pedestrian point: cost.

After a decade of rapidly rising defense spending, Congress capped the Pentagon budget, forcing nearly a trillion dollars in cuts by 2023.

Defense officials worry that those cuts could threaten many modernization programs, like the bomber.

The new bomber remains largely classified, with critical elements of range, bomb payload and overall look a closely guarded secret. But over the past six months, the Air Force offered The Wall Street Journal rare access to officers behind the project.

“We are trying to stick to a plan, for once,” Col. Stevenson said. “Adding things means risk: risk of increasing costs, risk the plane won’t be built.”

Col. Stevenson has blocked everything from new cyberdefenses to advanced surveillance sensors, squaring off over upgrades against defense contractors and aides to the Defense secretary.

While his job is mostly budget cop, he also plays the role of a kind of crisis manager, on the lookout for any embellishments that might make the plane appear gold-plated.

In 2011, officials agreed to spend $550 million on each new bomber—a third of the cost of its predecessor, the B-2 bomber, which ended up with a price tag of $1.8 billion a plane.

Air Force leaders believe the new aircraft is critical to America’s ability to project force in far-flung parts of the world, particularly in Asia, where China is investing heavily in its military and long distances between U.S. bases diminish the effectiveness of its short-range fighters.

The Air Force hopes to get the new nuclear-capable bomber airborne in the middle of the next decade—a daunting task considering the history of such ambitions.

Delays, technical glitches and cost overruns have beset nearly every Air Force project in the past three decades.

An F-22 fighter plane scheduled to take flight in 2002, for instance, wasn’t finished until 2011, with fewer planes than planned and each costing hundreds of millions more than expected. None have been used in combat.

The oldest plane in the bomber fleet, the B-52, took flight in 1954, during the Cold War, followed by the B-1 and the latest, the batlike B-2, which hit the battlefield in 1998, after more than 20 years in research and development.

Most recently, the B-2 was deployed in the early days of the Libyan conflict, where it took out air defenses.

Aging and expensive to maintain now, only 16 B-2s are combat ready (at $135,000 per hour of flight), and many of the remaining 138 B-52 and B-1 bombers are heading for retirement.

The military fears being stuck with a small fleet, as many in the service believe future conflicts will require lightning quick responses, with the ability to strike newly identified targets in distant lands within hours while at the same time penetrating a bristling range of air-defenses.

For supporters of the new bomber, only a long-range stealthy aircraft offers that capability.

“In the future, what our president is going to need is options, options to project power anywhere in the world within hours,” said Major Gen. Steve Kwast, who is charged with helping shape the Air Force’s long-term strategy. “This Long-Range Strike Bomber is going to be that option the president can use when there are no other options.”

The project is still at an early design stage, putting it in an especially risky spot during the coming negotiations over government spending.

There are no flying prototypes. Last month, Boeing Co. BA +0.13% and Lockheed Martin announced a joint bid for the new bomber, setting them up against Northrop Grumman Corp. NOC +0.57% , maker of the B-2.

The three firms declined to discuss their work on the bomber.

Some defense analysts and former officials believe the Air Force should put the future bomber resources into developing advanced unmanned drones, which have been used increasingly to strike distant targets in Africa and the Middle East. Others think the Air Force needs to invest more in aircraft that better support ground troops.

“The services are all wedded to tradition,” said Mieke Eoyang, the director of the national security program at Third Way, a centrist think tank. “It is like the Army and its fondness for tanks. If you prioritize things that you don’t use, you have less money for things you do.”


The new bomber rises out of the ashes of an earlier program that struggled to get off the ground over the last decade. That program was canceled in 2009 by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who lamented that such weapons systems were “so complex that they take forever to build.”

The Long-Range Strike Bomber began life in February 2011 when Mr. Gates signed off on the plane’s new requirements, setting its range and payload (both classified) and requiring that it be able to evade radar and penetrate defended air space.

About $600 million has been spent so far to research the new plane and another $8.7 billion is set to be spent over the next five years, according to budget documents.

As Col. Stevenson dug into the new project, he also took on a larger mission: transforming the culture of the Air Force.

“If Ford or GM design a new car, they know how many they want to sell and they know much they want it cost. And they go back from there,” Col. Stevenson said. “But the Air Force has not done that.”

A 48-year old from South Dakota, Col. Stevenson arrives to work at 7 a.m. every morning in a green flight suit, putting in at least 12 hour days as he darts between meetings at the Pentagon and around Washington, D.C.

He was chosen for the job largely because, as a former B-2 pilot, he knows what pilots need—and don’t.

It was with this eye that he looked askance when Lockheed Martin showed him the proposed crew lounge last year.

“This was a very nice crew rest area which would have made a lot of pilots very happy,” he said.

There were debates over the kitchenette. Design contractors and some officers argued mishaps would decline if crews flying around the world for nearly two days could get proper rest, Air Force officials said.

In his 40-hour B-2 runs from Missouri to targets in Afghanistan, Col. Stevenson slept on a cot bought from a sporting-goods store and kept his two sandwiches, a bottle of water and a Mountain Dew in a 10-gallon cooler.

When Col. Stevenson sought approval to jettison the pilot lounge, he went to Gen. Kwast, his boss then at Air Combat Command, who backed his deputy.

“This is a plane to go to war in,” Gen. Kwast told the colonel. “Crew comfort, while important, is not a necessity.”

In an interview, Gen. Kwast said he wanted to “maintain an appetite suppressant” while encouraging smart innovation.

“If they were to bring us fusion power and could power the bomber for 100 hours on a banana peel, I would probably say ‘yes’ to that,” he said.

Air Force officials struck down more than a dozen ideas from the defense industry, including new electronic support measures, the warning systems that detect enemy radar or cyberattacks. Instead, Col. Stevenson said, the Air Force has opted to go with existing systems.

“Technology that has been fielded is the only answer,” the colonel said. “If it hasn’t already been tested, we aren’t interested.”

The bomber will likely resemble the B-2, with its famously sleek black body and sweptback wings, Defense officials said. It will also run on an existing engine design, Air Force officials said.

” Along with flight range, firepower and technological prowess, the Pentagon says it now gives equal weight to a far more pedestrian point: cost. ”

While that means its range is likely to be similar to the 7,500 miles the B-2 can travel without refueling, it will save billions of dollars in development costs.

But Air Force officials note that the new bomber will exceed the B-2 in many ways. Stealth technology has advanced, as has the coordination of real-time targeting intelligence from satellites and other airplanes.

The cost obsession however has its downside, resulting in the elimination of requirements that some officials originally considered essential.

For instance, a concept that would have allowed the plane to be converted into a unmanned drone was shelved for now—too costly for the age of austerity, according to Air Force officials.

Still, some remain doubtful the bomber will remain stripped down. Thomas Christie, the Pentagon’s former Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, predicts the defense industry will eventually convince the Air Force to include various new technologies.

“I have watched over the years as we load a system up with all the latest toys,” said Mr. Christie, a critic of the Air Force’s history of building planes. “The next thing you know, we are in trouble technically and with costs.”

One heavily debated upgrade was a new reconnaissance sensor. A contractor presented the Air Force with the design late last year. On its face, the sensor held great appeal.

One of the military’s new guiding principles is that new weapons shouldn’t be designed for only one task or one style of warfare. The added sensor would essentially create a spy plane on top of a fighting machine.

But it would come at a cost: $25 million or more.

Four months of discussions ensued, with Col. Stevenson shuttling around the Pentagon, with stacks of papers detailing design plans, meeting senior officers and four-star generals.

Some argued that the sensor would save money later and make the plane more useful as a surveillance platform, officials said.

“There was a rich debate,” said Gen. Kwast.

In the end, Col. Stevenson believed that the sensor would take the plane into unknown technological areas, ultimately the death of the last bomber.

The colonel came up with a compromise: no second sensor, but the design would leave enough space for one to be added later.

There were 15 meetings within the Pentagon alone, just to explain the decision and then another with congressional staffers.

The cost-cutting move brings its own complications, of course. To allow for later upgrades, the Air Force will adopt an “open architecture” for the plane’s internal software. That would make adding new capabilities easier and less expensive. It would also add upfront costs and increase the risk of delays.

All the current bombers are used far beyond their original imagining. The B-2, for example, was designed to hit one or two targets in bombing runs, but today can carry 80 500-pound precision-guided bombs.

Building in flexibility, said Air Force officials, will ensure the plane will evolve over its decadeslong time in service.

Col. Stevenson said the new bomber will be very powerful. Still, he said, some people will inevitably be disappointed. “This plane,” he said, “is not going to be all things to all people.”


RPAs then and now Part II: Maintenance makes history possible


Posted 11/1/2013

by Senior Airman A.K.

432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs


11/1/2013 – LAS VEGAS, Nev. — (Editor’s note: This article is part two of a four-part series.)


During the morning of Oct. 22, 2013, the aircraft parking ramps at a deployed location roared to life. Checklists were run, hatches checked, and missions briefed as the crew chiefs, support units and air crew carefully prepared an MQ-1 Predator remotely piloted aircraft for flight, just as they would on any other morning. Except this was not any other morning.

On this morning, the MQ-1 and the Airmen preparing it for flight were getting ready to make history by surpassing 2 million flight hours.

During 18 years of service the Predator and its successor, the MQ-9 Reaper, have played an important support role in operations Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, as well as in humanitarian aid missions. Yet none of the operational support would have been possible were it not for maintenance Airmen keeping the aircraft, ground control stations, satellites, and other components in pristine condition.

“This is an Air Force success story,” said Col. James Cluff, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “This is, as the chief of staff says, ‘Air Power, get you some.’ We have flown the preponderance of the two million hours but, in no way does that diminish the team effort it takes to make this mission happen. It starts with training, continues with maintenance, and it goes into preparing to fly, then actually flying.”

The hard work and dedication of maintenance crews are essential to mission success for hundreds of active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve Airmen, as well as joint and coalition partners involved in everyday RPA operations.

“Our maintainers are vital; they’re the critical backbones to making these RPAs work,” said Maj. Joshua, 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron operations officer. “A lot of our maintainers come from F-16 Fighting Falcons or prior legacy platforms and now they’re part of this cutting edge of technology to bring this capability to the warfighter.”

The men and women of the 432nd AMXS are a mix of active duty Airmen, reservists and guardsmen, who provide aircraft and equipment maintenance in support of worldwide expeditionary operations, formal training, and for operational test and evaluations.

For the Predator and Reaper maintainers, keeping their aircraft operational means more than just having routine maintenance completed, they must also have a reliable communication network to ensure intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data is available.

This is where the Air Force’s one-of-a-kind 432nd Aircraft Communications Maintenance Squadron steps in. Airmen from both cyber-operations and cyber-support must be involved and work together to ensure the aircraft and ground control centers stay linked.

The 432nd ACMS provides 24/7, 365-day maintenance support to the communication infrastructure that supports the wing’s global RPA operations. In this squadron, Airmen monitor the operational readiness of the RPA command and control network infrastructure and provide maintenance for 22 GCSs and 21 satellite communication terminals.

Capt. Zalika, 432nd ACMS operations officer, said what makes the squadron truly unique is the way the two different traditional missions of maintenance and communications partner together for a unified purpose.

“When we generate a line, it’s important that we synchronize efforts because any action on our part can affect aircraft maintenance and generation or vice versa,” she said. “For example, the aircraft cannot take off if a GCS is not ready with the appropriate software to match the aircraft. Similarly, we can’t confirm command and control connectivity for a GCS without an aircraft to link to. For these reasons, we work very closely with AMXS with regard to scheduling, troubleshooting, and daily operations.”

Airman 1st Class Jenner, 432nd ACMS maintainer, and Staff Sgt. Joshua, a full-time Nevada guardsman and 432nd ACMS maintainer, were chosen to perform pre-flight inspections on the GCS that supported the 2 millionth hour flight. Both men feel humbled knowing their actions keep men and women on the ground safe and ensure continued global operations.

“It’s important that we do our job every day to the best of our ability, because if we don’t then we could lose the chance to take out a target or miss out on important information that could help save lives,” Jenner said. “It’s rewarding knowing my actions can keep people safe down range or prevent further harm to our country or our partners. I’m responsible for supporting the RPA community and its area of responsibility.”

In addition to the 432nd AMXS and 432nd ACMS, the 432nd Maintenance Squadron also provides key maintenance support. The squadron provides on- and off-equipment maintenance and maintenance operations, as well as training, analysis and inspections on aircraft, aerospace ground equipment, munitions and other equipment necessary for RPA operations.

The expansive growth of the RPA community in less than two decades would not have been possible without the active duty, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard Airmen who maintain not only the aircraft but also the various systems needed for the planes to function. It is the dedication and professionalism of these men and women that has garnered the attention and recognition of leaders Air Force-wide.

Lieutenant Gen. David Goldfein, Director of the Joint Staff, said of RPA operations, “Remote split operations are nothing short of magic and not easy. Thanks to the [Airmen] who not only make it look easy … they provide the unblinking eye on the enemy with the ability to deliver the goods when the Nation calls.”


RPAs then and now Part III: History in the making

Posted 11/7/2013

by Senior Airman A.K.

432nd Wing, 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs


11/7/2013 – LAS VEGAS, Nev. — (Editor’s note: This article is part three of a four-part series.)


Early days:

How did the remotely piloted aircraft develop into what it is known as today?


The RPA actually got its start as early as 1896. Known as aerodromes at the time, early RPAs were used to test the capabilities of new flying devices and to test if it was even possible for a heavier-than-air craft to achieve sustained flight. In May 1896, Dr. Samuel Langley proved that mechanical flight was possible with his Aerodrome No. 5.

From that point on, the shape, design and technology structure of the unmanned aircraft was manipulated and evolved over the years, improving each time.

In 1918, the U.S. Army became interested in unmanned flight and ordered 25 Liberty Eagle aircraft. The intent was for the aircraft to be used as an aerial torpedo.

Just over two decades later in 1941, the OQ-2 Radioplane became the first mass-produced unmanned aerial vehicle. By 1945, only a few years later, radioplane factories had produced around 15,000 aircraft for use as target drones.

Since achieving the first sustained controlled flight, the idea of unmanned flight has grown to be one of the most useful aircraft technology systems in modern history. Today, RPAs have transformed from a basic tool into high-tech machines, providing assistance during both humanitarian and war time situations.


1990s – 2000:

In January 1994, more than half a century after the advent of the first mass-produced UAV, the Air Force’s modern-day remotely piloted aircraft program was born.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. received an advanced concept technology demonstration contract to produce a medium altitude endurance “unmanned” aerial vehicle. This new system would be called the RQ-1 Predator and would be based off its precursor the GNAT 750, which initially debuted in 1989 and was used for long-endurance tactical surveillance.

A mere six months after the contract was established, the new aircraft achieved its first flight in July 1994. While the flight was a success, the Air Force then had to bring in military pilots, navigator-trained rated officers and non-rated officers to learn to use the new technology.

“I was the first person to receive a permanent change of station and the ninth person to actually enter into the program,” said Lt. Col. Eric, 432nd Wing Director of Staff. “I came in short notice in November of 1995 from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. In May 1996 I went to ground school in San Diego at the General Atomics headquarters. Afterward, I went to flight training at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where the Army had the only system in the states at the time.”

John Box, a retired Air Force pilot, trained to become an RPA pilot in June 1996. He said because the system wasn’t produced by the Air Force, the new equipment did not come with technical orders, making the task of learning how to use the system rather challenging.

“Much of what we learned was by word of mouth from our instructors and not delivered in a military format,” he said. “That took an adjustment and I found it frustrating and challenging but very exciting. I often had to deal with emergency situations that no one had ever before encountered. Every time I flew the system, I learned something new. We were developing books and adding new information to them daily. I wasn’t trained for this type of work. Others may have got us started off on a better foot, but I believed in the concept and was committed to making it happen as best I could. It was a ‘cowboy’ atmosphere and I really enjoyed it.”

By 1995 it was decided that the Predator’s capabilities were needed to aid U.N. and NATO efforts in Europe. The Predator and Air Force personnel were deployed to Taszar, Hungary, to provide support from 1995 until August 1998.

Eric deployed to Hungary in August 1996 after completing training. It was during this deployment that he felt the continued challenges of integrating a new form of air power into the Air Force’s inventory.

“There were two Air Force pilots and a General Atomics instructor pilot with us … only the three of us to accomplish the mission,” he said. “There were no publications, technical orders, regulations or guidance that we hadn’t created ourselves. We had to rewrite the very first technical orders that we were given and put them into Air Force terminology.”

Eric said maintainers were also dealing with some of the same issues as the pilots – learning by observation.

“The General Atomics technician was there saying ‘here’s how we do the 50-hour engine inspection,’ and our guys were watching him do it,” he said. “But there were no publications or technical orders to break down the process of actually doing it. It took almost three years before we actually started getting valid technical orders on the systems, and it was the same the guidance and everything else. Today we are used to having regulations outlining how people do their jobs and laying down boundaries–we didn’t have those.”

In October 1996 Eric found himself testing new waters for the Predator while facing the challenges of learning new technology and not having Air Force publications or technical orders to break down the processes.

“On Oct. 1, 1996, during my deployment, I got the dubious distinction of being the first person in the military to be investigated for a safety investigation board for crashing a remotely piloted airplane,” he said “At the time I was doing everything I could to save the airplane. That was my first and foremost concern, but because we didn’t have any resources to help us, we kind of made it up as we went. We actually had a General Atomics engineer in the ground control station with us. We said, ‘what if we try this?’ and he would reply, ‘well I don’t know we’ve never tested that before.’ We just didn’t have any other choices so we were doing it the best that we could.”

In the end it was determined the crash occurred because the engine had been incorrectly rebuilt. Although the incident resulted in the loss of an aircraft, Eric said it was a learning experience.

“We didn’t have any publications to follow and we lost an airplane because of it,” he said. “But, we learned a lot from it … we were pioneers on the leading edge of this system making Air Force leaders understand what kind of capabilities this thing had, what we could do with it, and how to move forward with it.”

It was during this time when Eric and John were learning to fly the Predator that James Clark, at the time an Air Force colonel assigned to the Pentagon, was chosen by Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force, to examine Predator operations. Clark, who is known as “Snake” by many, was chosen because he had no experience with RPAs. Fogleman wanted someone with an outsider’s perspective.

“What I found [during my study] was remarkable,” he said. “This little drone could fly hundreds of miles away and provide color television and infrared video surveillance of enemy activity, without risking the life of a pilot. In a control van, which was a converted NASCAR transporter trailer, I watched pilots and sensor operations sitting in front of computer screens actually flying this thing – simply remarkable.”

While Snake was studying Predator operations in D.C., and pilots, mechanics and other RPA community members were providing assistance in deployed locations, Creech Air Force Base, Nev., was continuing to be built up in order to become home to the Air Force’s premier RPA wing.

The 11th Reconnaissance Squadron was the first squadron to stand up at Creech AFB. This milestone also marked the point when the Air Force RPA program’s dynamic objectives took on a new strategic focus. After the squadron stood up the 11th RS deployed members to support Detachment 3, which was under Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“While deployed we were Detachment 3 under DARPA,” Eric said. “When the Air Force took over we became the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron deployed; then once the Air Force turned to the expeditionary concept, [the squadron] became the 11th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. I was actually the first formal commander of the 11th ERS when it stood up.

While the 11th ERS was deployed and redefining itself as a combat asset, Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field was continuing to grow back home in preparation to become the home of additional RPA squadrons.

“Indian Springs was a pretty bare base then,” John said. “Most of the existing infrastructure was dilapidated, early Cold War era construction. They converted the small Base Exchange into our Intel vault and they renovated a small building across the street for our squadron operations facility. We ate at a small chow hall that originally supported up-range and transient aircraft operations. There was a recreation center/gym converted from several other old buildings ‘kluged’ together.”

Mardi Wilcox, who was the squadron maintenance officer in 1995, took her new task head on despite having few resources available at the time.

“I was super excited to be selected as the first maintenance officer in the Air Force to be assigned to a UAV unit,” she said. “It was cutting edge technology and the UAVs we had at the time were special in that way. No one else had them, and a lot of people had never heard of them. We were excited because there was no limit to what they could do … we could only dream about what was to come. We had one double-wide trailer and one small hangar. Shelters for the UAVs were canvas structures across the ramp. It was 10 tons of stuff in a 1 ton bag.”

During the late 1990s the program was still in its beginning phases. For some this was exciting but to others it seemed less than promising. However, Wilcox said she had a much different outlook on the subject.

“There were a lot of naysayers [at the time],” she said. “Many thought it was just another ‘thing’ that would just go away … but our major command leadership made it work. I think for the most part my people loved it. It was new, it was on the leading edge and for the majority of my folks, we wanted it to work. We set the foundation for what the program is today.”


2000 – Present:

After Operation Allied Force wrapped up in mid-1999, the Air Force was left to figure out what to do with this still relatively new technology. By early 2000 the RQ-1 Predator, which had just proved its capabilities overseas, was armed and became known as the MQ-1 Predator.

“As part of the ‘lessons learned’ from Operation Allied Force, it was determined that if the Predator had a weapon on it, we could cut the time between identifying a target and then destroying it,” Snake said. “On Feb. 16, 2000, Predator 3034 took its first successful Hellfire shot from the air, and to all of our surprise, it worked.”

This new capability arrived just in time, as events on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, changed many lives and the helped define the future of the Predator.

“We watched the attack on the World Trade Center, until we were shocked by flight 77 as it crashed into the Pentagon,” Snake said. “Late on the evening of Sept. 12, a lone C-17 took off from an airfield on the west coast with its cargo of Predators and Hellfire missiles. Days later, one of America’s first responses to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was in place and ready for combat.”

After 9/11 the MQ-1 Predator proved itself resilient and capable during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The success of RPAs during these operations resulted in an increased desire for RPA capabilities in future operations.

Lt. Col. Russell, who was the RPA assignments officer at Air Force Personnel Center in 2005, remembers trained RPA pilots were a constant need for the Air Force. At the time, there were general officers everywhere who wanted every training spot filled in order to support U.S. and partner nation troops overseas.

Pilots, maintainers and intelligence Airmen were pulled from several different platforms from across the Air Force to meet the demand RPA community’s growing demands.

In 2007, the 432nd Wing was activated at Creech AFB as the Air Force’s first wing comprised entirely of RPAs, which was a sign of the program’s rapid growth.

A year later the demand for RPAs had grown so significantly that the wing expanded and became dual-hatted as the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing, capable of offering full-spectrum support to overseas operations while still supporting the 432nd Wing’s operate, train and equip efforts.

“In 2011 I came out to Creech and was qualified as a MQ-9 pilot,” Russell said. “Having been a part of the assignment process in the past, it’s good to see how the tribe has grown. The Air Force is very tribal; I used to be an F-15 pilot, so I used to be part of that ‘tribe’. Now it’s neat to see the growth of an RPA tribe, made up of people from all different backgrounds.”

As Russell arrived at Creech in 2011, the MQ-1 and its successor, the MQ-9 Reaper reached 1 million total flight hours – just 16 years after the program initially began.

Just over two years later, on Oct. 22, 2013, the Air Force’s MQ-1 and MQ-9 RPAs doubled that by achieving 2 million cumulative flight hours.

Today, the MQ-1 and MQ-9 continue to be flown from 8,000 miles away in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, patrolling the skies and providing critical support and protection to U.S. and coalition forces on the ground.

It is because of the dedication and diligence of the men and women past and present that the RPA community has gotten where it is today. As a testament to the vital role of the RPA community during the past 18 years, Predator 3034, the first RPA to test the Hellfire, and the first to shoot in combat on Oct. 7, 2001, is now displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.





Palm-Size Drones Buzz Over Battlefield


By By Erik Schechter, LiveScience Contributor 23 hours ago


Weighing only 0.56 ounces (16 grams), the Black Hornet looks like a tiny toy helicopter. But it’s really a nano-size piece of military hardware unlike anything on the battlefield today — experimental robot flies and hummingbirds not withstanding.

The PD-100 Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System, unveiled to the American public for the first time last week at the Association of the United States Army Expo in Washington, D.C., is a drone (actually, a pair of them) that a soldier can carry and operate as easily as he or she would a radio.

Since last year, the British infantrymen in Afghanistan have been using the new Black Hornets on a variety of missions — from scouting routes for possible enemy ambushes to peeking over the walls of a nearby compound. [9 Totally Cool Uses for Drones]

The unmanned air vehicle was designed for small units that required a quick, tactical “stealth” camera in the sky, said Ole Aguirre, vice president of sales and marketing for Prox Dynamics AS, the Norwegian company that produces the Black Hornet.

Indeed, troops working with the Black Hornet say it runs silent and is invisible at more than 30 feet (10 meters). A Brigade Reconnaissance Force sergeant quoted in a U.K. Ministry of Defense announcement said the system is “very easy to operate and offers amazing capability to the guys on the ground.”

A complete PD-100 kit comes with two Black Hornets, a docking station for battery recharging, a remote control unit and a mobile device with a 7-inch-wide (18 centimeters) screen to watch the camera feed — all of which is carried in a tough, waterproof case, for a total weight of almost 3 lbs. (1.3 kilograms).

Pulled out of the case and readied for action, the drone follows GPS waypoints to reach its target. Once there, it sends video and still images back to the operator. The Black Hornet can fly for 20 to 25 minutes before needing to recharge, so it’s limited to traveling just three-quarters of a mile (1,200 m) in one shot.

Likewise, the Black Hornet is too small to carry a mid-wave infrared (MWIR) camera, so it’s not able to do any night-spying. “The smallest MWIR sensor available on the market today is the FLIR Quark, weighing almost two times what our helicopter weighs,” Aguirre said.

Still, the U.S. Army examined two Black Hornets in February as part of its Cargo Pocket Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (CPISR) effort. The Army purchased two, but what that means program-wise, they declined to say.

According to Flightglobal, the British military has amassed 324 Black Hornets in its unmanned aerial vehicle arsenal.

Plotting its next development step, Prox Dynamics is seeking to add new sensors and overcome many of the challenges its drone currently faces. “We like keeping our engineers busy,” Aguirre said.



Hagel’s Plan for the Military in the Post-War Era

Kevin Baron 9:58 AM ET


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a major speech outlining the breadth of post-war global security responsibilities the United States faces, called for greater use of civilian “instruments of power,” saying the nation should do more to recognize the limits of military force.


Hagel delivered his vision in perhaps the most significant speech of his term in office so far. The former senator and Vietnam veteran came to office with a reputation as a noninterventionist who advocated against the Iraq war. But quickly Hagel has faced a myriad of security challenges from Syria imploding in the Middle East to terrorism seeping into Northern Africa and massive leaks of classified information from the National Security Agency. On Tuesday, Hagel stepped back from those duties to give a lengthy address warning that while the U.S. has yet to determine the limits of its security responsibilities the application of military force must be “used wisely, precisely and judiciously.”

It’s not a new message from a Pentagon chief. Hagel noted that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican like Hagel, made a similar call to lesser arms in 2008, right after the height of the Iraq war. But with more distance from Iraq and the end of Afghanistan near, Hagel said the world’s security challenges require renewed commitment to fulfill “the promise of that commission” from Secretary Gates.

“While these challenges are not America’s responsibility alone, they will demand America’s continued global leadership and engagement,” Hagel said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “No other nation has the will, the power, the capacity, and the network of alliances to lead the international community. However, sustaining our leadership will increasingly depend not only on the extent of our great power, but an appreciation of its limits and a wise deployment of our influence.”

“We remain the world’s only global leader. However, the insidious disease of hubris can undo America’s great strengths. We also must not fall prey to hubris.”


Hagel said the U.S. is perhaps too close to the war years to understand or prioritize what security challenges it faces at hand, but that the time has come to “adapt and adjust” as the nation moves from a “perpetual war footing.”

“As the United States makes this transition to what comes after the post-9/11 era, we are only beginning to see the dramatic shifts underway that will define our future and shape our interactions in the world,” Hagel said. “Not since the decade after World War II has mankind witnessed such a realignment of interests, influences, and challenges.”

One new characteristic to emerge in the post-war years, Hagel argued, was the common threat of terrorism to all nation-states, requiring greater cooperation among friends and adversaries.

“The challenge of terrorism has evolved as it has metastasized since 9/11. This has required and will continue to demand unprecedented collaboration with partners and allies on counterterrorism efforts. Many share a common threat – regardless of state-to-state differences or political ideologies.”

Hagel is a proponent of alliances and has written extensively on the need to find common threads that can connect even Iran to the United States.

“In the 21st century, the United States must continue to be a force for, and an important symbol of, humanity, freedom, and progress. We must also make a far better effort to understand how the world sees us, and why. We must listen more.”

Hagel lauded the Obama administration’s use of military force to pressure Assad into giving up Syria’s chemical stockpiles, and said a similar nonviolent path still exists for Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

“In both cases our military power has been an important part of the work to possibly find diplomatic resolutions to difficult and interconnected international problems,” Hagel said.

“America’s hard power will always be critical to fashioning enduring solutions to global problems. But our success ultimately depends not on any one instrument of power. It depends on all of our instruments of power.”


Hagel: Six Priorities Shape Future Defense Institutions

By Cheryl Pellerin

American Forces Press Service


WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2013 – In the months since the 2012 defense strategic guidance first reflected a new budget reality, Pentagon officials and military leaders have been working on the department’s longer-term budget and strategy, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said here this morning.

In the keynote address before the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Global Security Forum, Hagel said a needed realignment of missions and resources is being undertaken across the department that will require significant change across every aspect of the enterprise.

“I have identified six areas of focus for our budget and strategic planning efforts going forward,” the secretary said.


“Working closely with the service secretaries, service chiefs, combatant commanders and DOD leaders,” he added, “these six priorities will help determine the shape of our defense institutions for years to come.”

The priorities include institutional reform, force planning, preparing for a prolonged military readiness challenge, protecting investments in emerging capabilities, balancing capacity and capability across the services, and balancing personnel responsibilities with a sustainable compensation policy.

During his first weeks in office, Hagel said, he directed a Strategic Choices and Management Review that over several months identified options for reshaping the force and institutions in the face of difficult budget scenarios.

“That review pointed to the stark choices and tradeoffs in military capabilities that will be required if sequester-level cuts persist, but it also identified opportunities to make changes and reforms,” Hagel said.

“Above all,” he added, “it underscored the reality that DOD still possesses resources and options. We will need to more efficiently match our resources to our most important national security requirements. We can do things better, we must do things better, and we will.”

Addressing the six priorities that will shape future defense efforts, the secretary began with a continued a focus on institutional reform.

Coming out of more than a decade of war and budget growth, he said, there is a clear opportunity and need to reshape the defense enterprise, including paring back the world’s largest back office. This summer, Hagel announced a 20-percent reduction in headquarters budgets across the department, beginning with the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“Our goal is not only to direct more of our resources to real military capabilities and readiness,” Hagel said, “but to make organizations flatter and more responsive to the needs of our men and women in uniform.”

The second priority is to re-evaluate the military force-planning construct — the assumptions and scenarios for which U.S. military forces organize, train and equip themselves.

“I’ve asked our military leaders to take a very close look at these assumptions [and] question these past assumptions, which will also be re-evaluated across the services as part of the [Quadrennial Defense Review],” the secretary explained.

“The goal,” he added, “is to ensure they better reflect our goals and the shifting strategic environment, the evolving capacity of our allies and partners, real-world threats, and the new military capabilities that reside in our force and in the hands of our potential adversaries.”

Hagel said the third priority will be to prepare for a prolonged military readiness challenge. In managing readiness under sequestration, he added, the services have protected the training and equipping of deploying forces to ensure that no one goes unprepared into harm’s way.

This is the department’s highest responsibility to its forces, the secretary said, and yet already, “we have seen the readiness of nondeploying units suffer as training has been curtailed, flying hours reduced, ships not steaming, and exercises canceled.”

The Strategic Choices and Management Review showed that sequester-level cuts could lead to a readiness crisis, and unless something changes, Hagel said, “we have to think urgently and creatively about how to avoid that outcome, because we are consuming our future readiness now.”

The fourth priority will be protecting investments in emerging military capabilities — especially space, cyber, special operations forces, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the secretary said.


“As our potential adversaries invest in more sophisticated capabilities and seek to frustrate our military’s traditional advantages, including our freedom of action and access … around the world,” he said, “it will be important to maintain our decisive technological edge.”

The fifth priority is balance across the services in the mix between capacity and capability, between active and reserve forces, between forward-stationed and home-based forces, and between conventional and unconventional warfighting capabilities, Hagel said.

“In some cases we will make a shift, for example, by prioritizing a smaller, modern and capable military over a larger force with older equipment. We will also favor a globally active and engaged force over a garrison force,” he explained.

The services will look to better leverage the reserve components, with the understanding that part-time units in ground forces can’t expect to perform at the same levels as full-time units, at least in the early stages of a conflict. In other cases, the services will seek to preserve balance, for example, by controlling areas of runaway cost growth, the secretary said.

The sixth priority is personnel and compensation policy, which Hagel said may be the most difficult issue.

“Without serious attempts to achieve significant savings in this area, which consumes roughly now half the DOD budget and increases every year, we risk becoming an unbalanced force, one that is well-compensated but poorly trained and equipped, with limited readiness and capability,” he said.

Going forward, the department must make hard choices in this area to ensure that the defense enterprise is sustainable for the 21st century, the secretary said.

Hagel said Congress must permit meaningful reforms as it reduces the defense budget, and the department needs Congress as a willing partner in making tough choices to bend the cost curve on personnel, while meeting its responsibilities to its people.

“Even as we pursue change across the Department of Defense,” the secretary said, “the greatest responsibility of leadership will always remain the people we represent, our men and women in uniform, their families, and our dedicated civilian workforce.”



Review: Box beats Dropbox — and all the rest — for business


Box trumps Dropbox, Egnyte, Citrix ShareFile, EMC Syncplicity, and OwnCloud with rich mix of file sync, file sharing, user management, deep reporting, and enterprise integration


By Serdar Yegulalp

November 6, 2013 06:06 AM ET

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Infoworld – In the beginning, there was Dropbox, and enterprises far and wide were appalled. How dare corporate and business users make use of a file sync and sharing service that’s meant for consumers? But the convenience and flexibility of Dropbox were hard to ignore, and soon file repository services for businesses of all sizes began to spring up.


As the number of file storage services for businesses and enterprises has mushroomed, so have the options they provide and the third-party services they can leverage. (It’s an app world, after all.) Today, the problem is more of too many choices than too few.


[ Stay on top of the state of the cloud with InfoWorld’s “Cloud Computing Deep Dive” special report. Download it today! | Also check out our “Private Cloud Deep Dive,” our “Cloud Security Deep Dive,” our “Cloud Storage Deep Dive,” and our “Cloud Services Deep Dive.” ]


In this article we’ll look at five enterprise-level file sync and sharing services (Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, Citrix’s ShareFile, and EMC’s Syncplicity), as well as one system you deploy on your own hardware (OwnCloud). What we found is heartening. There really is a storage service for just about every need.


Business-level sync and storage services focus on delivering features that will be valuable to a connected enterprise. Single sign-on capabilities let you use your organization’s existing credentialing system (typically Active Directory) to log in. Activity logging and reporting let you see at a glance who’s doing what, while granular permissions help you make sure people aren’t doing things they shouldn’t. However, not all these solutions deliver the same features in the same ways. Reporting, for instance, varies enormously across the products.


It may come as no surprise that Box is the leading contender in this space. Its feature set and third-party integrations rise above the rest, and it offers some of the most granular reporting, permissions, and user management features of any competing service. Syncplicity and Egnyte aren’t far behind, with Syncplicity leveraging its close integration with EMC storage solutions, while Egnyte provides generous storage allotments and a well-wrought UI.


ShareFile’s biggest drawback is its astonishingly small storage allotments, compared to the other products here, although its management capabilities and app selection are excellent. Dropbox for Business isn’t a bad product — it may well be the easiest solution for those looking to convert a batch of existing users into a working team — but it’s severely hampered by poor reporting. And though OwnCloud is a novel solution, it not only lags the others in features but also requires you to do some heavy lifting. Consider it if you’re planning on hosting or building something around it.


Whether it’s ease, flexibility, transparency, granular control, integrations with existing systems, or rich mobile support, all of these solutions have something to recommend them. Read on for the full reviews.


Dropbox for BusinessBusinesses have long fretted about Dropbox being a potential security hole, but no one can deny that its convenience, utility, and familiarity make for a compelling way to share files among multiple computers and users. Small wonder Dropbox has gone on to offer a business-level tier for its services, with a slew of security, team management, and reporting functions.


Dropbox for Business doesn’t have the breadth or granularity of functions found in competing services, so it’s best for smaller, more intimate teams that don’t need as much top-down control. But using it is a snap to anyone who has a Dropbox account, and storage isn’t metered for a full-blown business account. Whereas Dropbox Pro is $99 per user per year with 100GB of storage, the Business tier is $795 per year for five users (plus $125 for each additional user per year) with no storage limits.


To use Dropbox for Business, you can either go with an existing Dropbox account or create a new one from scratch. The first account on a given team is automatically made an administrative account. Adding team members is functionally similar to the way existing Dropbox users invite each other to share resources: type a name, pick a user. Once a user has been added to the team, the only obvious change in the way Dropbox works is that some behaviors — such as sharing links to nonteam members — may be administratively restricted. A shared folder that appears in all Dropbox accounts for the team can also be automatically created.


Admins for a business account have access to a dashboard where they can survey their Dropbox account by user or activity. Each user’s devices, browser sessions, apps, and activity are shown, and you can download CSVs of team activity reports — who signed on from where, what members were added, and so on. Browser sessions can be closed, devices unlinked, and third-party Dropbox apps can be disabled for all users from this interface.


Organizations who want greater security over their Dropbox setup can elect to turn on a number of different authentication mechanisms, including two-step verification. You can also configure single sign-on via Active Directory or a third-party SSO provider, though you can’t always use two-step verification and single sign-on together. Another useful security feature is a global password reset button, which provides a handy way to lock everything down at once in a matter of seconds.


One of the bigger shortcomings of Dropbox for Business is the lack of auditing tools for files themselves. You can’t, for instance, inspect the contents of an individual user’s account or look up an earlier revision of a file. The only way to do those things is to log in as the user and browse his or her files. Further, the activity reports lack details about uploads and external shares, which also makes auditing difficult.


Another potential gotcha stems from Dropbox’s popularity with consumers. End-users with personal Dropbox accounts will want to create a separate account specifically for team access, lest they accidentally conflate files between the two. For bigger corporate setups, this isn’t likely to be an obstacle, but informal teams with only a few people will need to be cautious. Fortunately the Dropbox folks seem to be aware of this: When you’re invited to a team, you’re given the option to join with your currently logged-in account or to create a whole new one.


Dropbox for Business’s team management features make it easy to corral a slew of existing Dropbox users into a working team. On the downside, the member activity reports lack too much detail to be really useful.


OwnCloudThe big selling point for OwnCloud is doubly inviting in this post-PRISM era. It’s a file storage and sharing service that runs entirely on open source software and the hardware of your choice, which you can deploy within your own four walls. It also comes with an optional at-rest file encryption module — useful if you’re running on shared hosting and want to keep out prying eyes.


I looked at a previous 4.x version of OwnCloud and was impressed, but the product’s been redesigned almost completely from the inside out for its 5.x iteration. Most crucially, the at-rest encryption system used in 4.x has been scrapped entirely and replaced, so users of OwnCloud 4.x will need to take care when migrating their setup.


Installing OwnCloud could hardly be simpler, in theory. Unpack an archive to the desired destination folder on your Web server, navigate to said folder in your Web browser, and create a master user account. You can elect to use MySQL, MariaDB (preferred), SQLite, or PostgreSQL as the database. In practice, setting up OwnCloud can be trickier, in part because your PHP installation needs to be correctly configured for OwnCloud to work right. In my case, it was “strongly recommended” that I add the fileinfo module for proper MIME-type detection, and similar tinkering was needed to get the file-encryption plug-in running.


The functionality of OwnCloud is provided through a range of add-ons or “apps,” several of which are bundled with the system by default: a file manager, a music player and library manager, a CardDAV-driven contacts manager, a CalDAV-compatible calendar, a picture gallery, and add-ons for the likes of OpenID and WebDAV support and in-browser viewing of various document types (ODF, PDF, and so on). Dozens of other apps are available through OwnCloud’s app library. This makes OwnCloud more than just a file depository. It can become, in time, a nexus for many different kinds of collaboration and sharing in an organization.


Files can be uploaded into an OwnCloud instance either via drag-and-drop into the browser, or by using a Windows or Mac client that synchronizes the contents of a folder with an OwnCloud account, A la the desktop clients for Dropbox. The only limits on file sizes or storage are those you set yourself. Incidentally, the desktop app is free, but the mobile apps are $1 each — a smart way for the company to indirectly monetize the free community version of the product.


One of the major add-ons, included but not enabled by default, is the server-side encryption plug-in. Files saved to the server when the plug-in is enabled are encrypted and cannot be read even by the server administrator. Note that file names are not encrypted, just the contents, although I imagine in time this too can be addressed.


The biggest advantage to OwnCloud is also its biggest disadvantage: You have to run it yourself. The total control it gives you over the way files are stored and managed comes at the cost of having to set up and maintain the program. What’s more, OwnCloud requires some expertise with Web servers — Apache, PHP, and MySQL — to use effectively. An instance of OwnCloud I set up on my own local server ran very slowly — probably because it wasn’t properly optimized. When installed on a Web server maintained by a hosting company, it ran much faster. Your mileage will definitely vary.


The folks at Turnkey Linux have created a virtual appliance edition of OwnCloud for fast installation, albeit only the earlier 4.x version. It’s also possible to have OwnCloud hosted by an authorized service provider who can set up and manage an OwnCloud instance for you.


One of OwnCloud’s many built-in apps is a photo gallery. The biggest advantage with OwnCloud is the total control you get over your data; the biggest hurdle is the work involved in setting it up.


Citrix ShareFileCitrix ShareFile does one thing, and it does it very well: It provides an enterprise with a customizable, protected space where files can be uploaded and shared. Other services may be more expandable, but ShareFile is extremely granular and configurable right out of the box.


Among the first decisions you’ll need to make when setting up ShareFile is how to deal with user credentials. You can use ShareFile’s own native user database or set up federation with Active Directory or another SAML-compatible system. The native user database will suit smaller organizations that will be using ShareFile in an ad hoc way, although I would’ve liked to see a slightly better gamut of tools for bulk-uploading users.


ShareFile splits users of the system into three categories: clients (people outside your organization who need access to what you’re sharing), employees (rank-and-file users), and superusers/admins. People can be promoted or demoted between those ranks, and the privileges within them can be granted to users on an extremely granular basis — such as management of remote forms, access to account-wide reporting, and so on. Companies can also apply their own logos and custom branding to the ShareFile interface, and each account comes by default with up to three custom subdomains in the format


The most straightforward way to upload files is through the browser, via a drag-and-drop interface. You can supply descriptions for files in the upload process, too, if a file name isn’t descriptive enough. Fine-grained options for each folder allow you to configure file versioning, define the sort order for files, and set file retention policies on a folder-by-folder basis. ShareFile can also work with Citrix’s StorageZones to incorporate Microsoft SharePoint shares and other on-premises repositories, providing for greater flexibility where the files are stored.


In addition, ShareFile comes with a wide range of client apps. Windows and Mac users can install apps that sync folders on their desktop with a ShareFile account. iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry users can sync from their devices with apps for each of those platforms, too. An Outlook plug-in automatically substitutes a ShareFile link for an attached file, so you don’t end up mistakenly emailing someone a 10MB file. Also included is support for Secure FTP, a handy fallback, and command-line scripting tools for automating file uploads, downloads, and synchronizations.


ShareFile puts strong emphasis on reporting, which ought to gratify those who want or need detailed activity auditing. Reports for each account or folder can be downloaded as Excel files, and users can have their access to reports granted or revoked as a separate privilege.


The biggest problem with ShareFile is the minimal amount of storage. The basic $29.95-per-month tier, for up to two employees, provides a measly 5GB of storage. Even at $99.95 per month for 20 or more employees, you get a mere 20GB. This makes ShareFile most useful only if you’re using it to share a few well-trafficked files. In an age where cloud storage providers are throwing theoretically unlimited amounts of storage at their customers, Citrix seems downright stingy.


ShareFile doesn’t give you a lot of storage to work with, but it does give you a fine user interface, granular controls, and detailed reporting.


Egnyte”Do not defy data gravity” is the motto that appears on Egnyte’s home page. By this the company means it doesn’t always make sense to shove every file up into the cloud, and to that end its services are designed to allow files to live in the right place — cloud or on premise — depending on their size and sensitivity.


Egnyte’s services are split into three tiers: Office, Business, and Enterprise. The lowest tier, for teams of five to 24 users, costs $8 per user per month and offers a batch of basic features along with a whopping 1TB of storage and a 2.5GB maximum file size. Go up a tier to Business (25 to 100 users, $15 per user per month) and those limits are 2TB and 5GB; you also get Outlook integration and custom branding options along with the standard desktop sync and FTP. The Enterprise level requires that you call for a price quote, but it has no limit on the number of users, starts at 3TB of storage, ups max file size to 10GB, and provides auditing and reporting and integration with third-party enterprise apps.


Egnyte’s Web client is so good that you might not even use the local desktop app. Not only files but entire folders can be dragged, dropped, and uploaded into your Egnyte account, and entire folders can even be downloaded as zip archives. One-click sharing lets you provide a public or invite-only link to any object or folder. Shares can be set to expire after a certain period of time or a certain number of downloads.



Army Looks to Integrate Cyber and Electronic Warfare Capabilities


Tuesday, 05 November 2013


As new technologies emerge and new cyber and electronic warfare threats plague soldiers in the field, U.S. Army scientists and engineers continue to define next-generation protocols and system architectures to help develop the technology to combat these threats in an integrated and expedited fashion. As part of the Integrated Cyber and Electronic Warfare (ICE) program, the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Communications- Electronics Center (CERDEC) researches the technologies, standards and architectures to support the use of common mechanisms used for the rapid development and integration of third-party cyber and electronic warfare, or EW, capabilities.

“Currently, within cyber and EW disciplines there are different supporting force structures and users equipped with disparate tools, capabilities and frameworks,” said Paul Robb Jr., chief of CERDEC Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate’s Cyber Technology Branch. “Under the ICE program, we look to define common data contexts and software control mechanisms to allow these existing frameworks to communicate in a manner that would support the concurrent leveraging of available tactical capabilities based on which asset on the battlefield provides the best projected military outcome at a particular point in time.”

The boundaries between traditional cyber threats, such as someone hacking a laptop through the Internet, and traditional EW threats, such as radio- controlled improvised explosive devices that use the electromagnetic spectrum, have blurred, allowing EW systems to access the data stream to combat EW threats, according to Giorgio Bertoli, senior engineer of CERDEC I2WD’s Cyber/Offensive Operations Division. Additionally, significant technological advancements, including a trend towards wireless in commercial applications and military systems, have occurred over the last decade.

“This blending of networks and systems, known as convergence, will continue and with it come significant implications as to how the Army must fight in the cyber environment of today and tomorrow,” said Bertoli. “The concept of technology convergence originated as a means to describe the amalgamation of traditional wired versus wireless commercial services and applications, but has recently evolved to also include global technology trends and U.S. Army operational connotations, specifically in the context of converging cyber and EW operations.”

The Army finds itself in a unique position to help mitigate adverse outcomes due to this convergence trend.

“Post-force deployment, the Army has the vast majority of sensors and EW assets on the tactical battlefield compared to any other service or organization, posing both risks and opportunities. Our military’s reliance on COTS [commercial-of-the-shelf] systems and wireless communications presents a venue for our adversaries to attack. Conversely, the proximity and high density of receivers and transmitters that we deploy can be leveraged to enable both EW and cyber operations,” said Bertoli.

“The ability to leverage both cyber and EW capabilities as an integrated system, acting as a force multiplier increasing the commander’s situational awareness of the cyber electromagnetic environment, will improve the commander’s ability to achieve desired operational effects,” said Robb.

A paradigm shift in how the Army views system and technology development will further enhance CERDEC’s ability to rapidly adapt to new cyber and EW threats.

“The biggest hindrance we have right now is not a technological one, it’s an operational and policy one,” said Bertoli. “The Army traditionally likes to build systems for a specific purpose – build a radio to be a radio, build an EW system to be an EW system, but these hardware systems today have significantly more inherent capabilities.”

To demonstrate the concepts of multi-capability systems, CERDEC chose not to solely focus its science and technology efforts on researching solutions to address specific cyber and EW threats, but also to develop the architecture onto which scientists and engineers can rapidly develop and integrate new, more capable solutions.

“As an example, the World Wide Web has grown into an architecture that is so powerful your tech savvy 10-year-old can build a website – and a pretty powerful one at that,” said Bertoli. “The only reason this is possible is because there is a wealth of common tools, like web browsers and servers, and standards such as HTML or HTTP already in place for them to use. The ICE program is attempting to extend this model to the cyber and EW community by providing mechanisms to enable the leveraging of available tactical assets to support cyberspace operation mission sets. Early focus revolves around the development of augmented situation-awareness capabilities but will evolve to include the enabling of a multitude of cyberspace operations.”

ICE will provide the Army with common tools and standards for developing and integrating cyber and EW capabilities.

“Capabilities can be developed to combat EM (electromagnetic) and cyber threats individually, but this is neither time nor cost effective and simply will not scale in the long term. The domain is just too large and will only continue to expand,” said Bertoli. “In the end, we (CERDEC) believe this is the only way the Army will be able to keep pace with the anticipated technology advancements and rate of change related to cyberspace and the systems that comprise it.”

The Army acquisition community has also seen changes in the relationship between cyber and EW.

“Tactical EW systems and sensors provide for significant points of presence on the battlefield, and can be used for cyber situational awareness and as delivery platforms for precision cyber effects to provide a means of Electronic Counter Measures and Electronic Counter-Counter Measures, for instance,” said Col. Joseph Dupont, program manager for EW under Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors. “There is no doubt in my mind that we must provide for a more integrated approach to cyber warfare, electronic warfare and electromagnetic operations to be successful in the future conduct of unified land operations.”

CERDEC, as the Army’s research and development experts in cyber and EW, works closely with the Program Executive Offices, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command and Army Cyber Command to shape operational concepts and doctrine by providing technical expertise regarding technically achievable solutions in the context of the tactical cyberspace operations and supporting materiel capabilities for the Army. In addition to working with the Army’s strategy and policy makers, CERDEC I2WD has tapped into its facilities and pre- existing expertise to further the ICE program.

CERDEC I2WD maintains state-of-the-art laboratories that support both closed and open-air testing facilities to provide relevant environment conditions to conduct research that provides a seamless cyber-electromagnetic environment with both wired and wireless modern communication infrastructure. The fully- instrumented labs include commercial information assurance products and allow for in-depth experimentation while sustaining automated rapid network re- configuration technology and virtualization technologies to support scalable testing. Additionally, I2WD expands its potential environment by maintaining remote connections with external government sites, which also enables collaborative experiments. The combination of these assets and expertise allows CERDEC to demonstrate achievable capability improvements related to cyber and EW convergence.


Wide use of drones down the road

FAA chief says privacy, safety still huge obstacles.


Posted: 4:47 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013


By Jessica Wehrman

Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON — Ohio is pinning its hopes on becoming one of six test sites for unmanned aircraft, but the Federal Aviation Administration made it clear Thursday that it will be some time before commercial use of such aircraft enters the mainstream.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said currently the FAA approves use of such aircraft — commonly referred to as drones — on a case-by-case basis. They’re used for everything from firefighting to search and rescue to border patrol, he said.

But broader commercial use remains out of reach, in part because of safety and privacy concerns.

“We have to make sure we have the appropriate safeguards in place to understand how they operate and how they interact with the aircraft that exist in the national airspace system today,” he said.

He made the comments on the same day the FAA released a road map charting out the regulatory and other requirements needed for long-term domestic use of drones. The agency expects to continue permitting grants for unmanned aircraft on a case-by-case basis for the immediate future despite a congressional directive to permit their widespread use by Sept. 30, 2015.

“Government and industry face significant challenges as unmanned aircraft move into the aviation mainstream,” acknowledged Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The agency also announced that it would ask test site operators to determine and release privacy plans that would be made available to the public, and stopped far short of creating its own policy to address concerns that drones might collect intrusive information during their flights.

“The FAA does not have any specific authority to regulate (privacy) policy and we’re not seeking that,” Huerta said. “We do feel we have a responsibility to create a forum for the privacy question to be debated, and that is what we’re doing.

“We’re not specifically regulating what potential users would be looking at in a test site, but what we are doing is telling the public what they intend to do.”

There are safety concerns as well, including what would happen if an aircraft lost contact with its operator or whether drones would be able to effectively avoid other aircraft.

Once it overcomes its challenges, Huerta predicted that some 7,500 drones would be flying through U.S. air space within the next five years.

The safety concerns appear to make the six test sites even more vital. The FAA received 25 proposals representing 26 states and plans to announce its six sites at the end of this year. Ohio, in conjunction with Indiana, has lobbied hard for selection, exhibiting at industry conventions and making the case that Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the state’s thriving aerospace industry make them a logical choice.

The two states submitted their 6,000-page application to become an FAA test site in May, two years after a group of Ohio lawmakers pushed for language in an FAA reauthorization bill calling for the establishment of FAA test sites.

The state argues that Ohio is a pioneer in unmanned aircraft thanks to Dayton businessman Charles Kettering, who developed the first armed UAV, the Kettering Bug, in 1917.

If Ohio’s bid is selected, officials here will be among those helping to craft privacy policy for the widespread use of drones. Each test site will also have to follow state and federal privacy laws. Information would “feed into a larger conversation” about the privacy issues inherent in drone use, Huerta said.

“We need to make sure we use these sites to collect the best data that we possibly can,” he said.

Huerta gave few details on the site selection process, saying simply that a range of geographic, technical and climactic issues will be under consideration. But, “we expect to meet our deadline at the end of this year,” he said.


The Kettering “Bug”

Ohio hopes its rich aviation heritage — including the unmanned Kettering Aerial Torpedo, nicknamed the “Bug” that Charles Kettering invented in 1917 — will help propel the Federal Aviation Administration to name Ohio and Indiana as one of six test sites for unmanned aircraft.

The Dayton-Wright Airplane Co. built fewer than 50 Bugs before the war ended, though it was never put into combat use. The scarcity of funds in the 1920s halted development.

Key facts about Kettering’s “Bug”:

Armament: 180 pounds of high explosives

Engine: De Palma 4-cylinder of 40 hp

Maximum speed: 120 mph

Range: 75 miles

Span: 14 ft. 11 1/2 inches

Length: 12 ft. 6 inches

Height: 4 ft. 8 inches

Weight: 530 pounds loaded

Source: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force                   


FAA Releases Road Map and Comprehensive Plan For Unmanned Aircraft


New York (November 07, 2013) — The Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday released a much-anticipated road map for integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national aerospace, projecting an intensive regulatory effort that will not yield a unified system for obtaining operational clearance for at least several years.



UAS Roadmap

The first annual UAS Roadmap addresses current and future policies, regulations, technologies and procedures that will be required as UAS operations increase in the nation’s airspace.

Comprehensive Plan

The Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) has developed a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil UAS into the national airspace system.

Final FAA Privacy Policy

In connection with the UAS Test Site selection, the FAA is sending a final privacy policy to the Federal Register that requires test site operators to comply with federal, state, and other laws on individual privacy protection, and take other measures related to privacy.


FAA cautiously agrees to some use of civilian drones

While still far from giving a thumbs up to unmanned flying vehicles crowding the skies, the government agency recommends that some drones be allowed.


Dara Kerr by Dara Kerr November 7, 2013 7:13 PM PST


The Federal Aviation Administration weighed in on the increasing civilian use of autonomous drones on Thursday. The government agency released a report outlining a roadmap for certain cases in which unmanned drones could be permissible.

In the report, with the lengthy title “Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System Roadmap,” the FAA said that autonomous drones are already being used in disaster response, cargo transport, aerial mapping, and commercial photography. While drones are already buzzing around, the FAA is cautious with allowing wholesale use of the flying machines.

Unmanned drones bring up the sticky issue of privacy. These self-flying vehicles can swoop over vast areas gathering information on unsuspecting people. Even Google’s executive chairman has cautioned legalizing drone use, saying they could infringe on people’s privacy and that they should be regulated.

However, drones can also be very useful for civilians. For instance, farmers can use them to monitor their crops, hunters could use them to stake out deer, and earth scientists could use them for gathering data and research.

In its report, which was created by orders of Congress, the FAA said it would accept some agricultural drones if a person monitors the flying object from the ground.

For now, all unmanned drones bigger than a small shoebox sized apparatus are still prohibited. For those smaller drones that are allowed — they must stay within a person’s view. The FAA wrote that it will prioritize research on the use of self-flying vehicles. Additionally, it will launch six drone test sites by the end of this year.

These test sites are “not intended to predetermine the long-term policy and regulatory framework under which UAS would operate,” the FAA wrote. But they will “help inform the dialogue.”

Most likely, the government won’t take action on legalizing or prohibiting drones further until 2016.



Panel: Merge DoD, VA care

Unified health system would smooth out inefficiences

Nov. 7, 2013 – 04:46PM |


By Patricia Kime

Staff writer


In the Defense Department, a “unified medical command” means a health system combining the assets of the Army, Navy and Air Force medical branches.

But for some members of the Military Retirement and Compensation Modernization Commission, the phrase could describe a unified Veterans Health Administration-Defense Department health system, a behemoth that would erase divisions between the two and care for troops and veterans from boot camp to grave.

That idea was among several floated by commissioners as they listened Nov. 4 to veterans service organizations discuss the concerns of ill and injured troops during one of the commission’s first public hearings at Fort Belvoir, Va.

“If [VA and DoD] can’t work together, put one of them in charge. Pick your poison, I don’t care which one. Create a unified command with DoD or put VA in charge,” said former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Medal of Honor recipient who served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and later the 9/11 Commission.

“If you had one chief information officer in charge of budget and line items for both, this problem and many others would not be an issue,” agreed former Indiana congressman and Army veteran Stephen Buyer, who once sat on the House Armed Services Committee.

The idea surfaced after veterans service organizations discussed the failure of VA and the Pentagon to create a single electronic health record system. The $1 billion program, launched in 2008, largely was abandoned in February in favor of a less expensive system built on existing technology.


The Pentagon has yet to award a contract for its portion of the information technology.

Continued problems with the VA and DoD joint disability system, the transition of care from active duty to veteran status and disconnects when veterans leave active duty are among the issues the organizations pressed commissioners to consider when drafting their recommendations.

Tom Tarantino, a policy associate with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said there is a need to “push for uniformity.”

“We have fixed the cracks in the facade but … we have been just tweaking things. It’s time we do a single unified push all they way through the system to get it right,” Tarantino said.

A health care overhaul also should consider incorporating private-sector care for those who seek it, recommended retired Army Brig. Gen. Jack Hammond, executive director for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program.

Hammond said about a quarter of veterans seeking care at Mass General do not have health insurance.

“They may have been eligible for VA coverage, but it doesn’t mean they’ve applied for it,” he said. “When it comes to mental health, they might not want a public-sector record that they’ve had mental health issues, so they come to us.”

A comprehensive health program should incorporate private-sector care and also make it easier for charities and the private sector to provide services to the government as well as troops, Hammond said.

An overhaul also may require a complete review of the disability ratings system, which Buyer pointed out includes compensation for those diagnosed with service-related conditions who would lose their monthly checks if they are cured.

“It’s almost like this is the rail no one wants to touch because it involves mental health,” Buyer said. “But something is not right within our disability system that we have a financial disincentive to get better.”

Commissioners acknowledged that much of their discussion would receive push-back from VA and the Pentagon, but said there was no room for sacred cows.

“People look at this commission as nine Scrooges who want to take something away from them. I hope this is not the case … we have a pretty broad brush and we’re trying to learn,” said Larry Pressler, a former South Dakota senator and the first Vietnam veteran elected to the Senate.


U.S. may split command of spy and cyber agencies

Nedra Pickler, Associated Press 11:35 a.m. EST November 7, 2013


WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is considering a proposal to split the work of the single military commander who now oversees both the National Security Agency and cybersecurity operations, presenting an opportunity to reshape the spy agency in the wake of harsh criticism of its sweeping surveillance programs.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander is top officer at both the U.S. Cyber Command and the NSA, and he’s retiring next spring.


White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Thursday that no final decision has been made about how to handle the commands after Alexander leaves, but it’s a “natural point” to consider a change.

The consideration of a split, first reported Thursday in The Washington Post, comes in the wake of revelations about the agency’s widespread monitoring of telephone, email and social-media data from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The concentration of power over two such different missions has been controversial, and Alexander’s departure gives President Obama a chance to make changes at both agencies.

“The current arrangement was designed to ensure that both organizations complement each other effectively,” Hayden said. “That said, in consultation with appropriate agencies, we are looking to ensure we are appropriately postured to address current and future security needs.”

Alexander has led the NSA since 2005 and he added the Cyber Command to his duties when that entity was created in 2010 to defend U.S. military networks and conduct cyberwarfare. Both are headquartered at suburban Fort Meade, Md.

The NSA has been one of the most secretive of all U.S. intelligence operations. Alexander has vigorously defended its activities as lawful and necessary to detect and disrupt terrorist plots.

Alexander said secrecy about how the programs work was needed “not to hide it from you, it’s to hide it from those who walk among you and are trying to kill you.”



State Creates ‘Cyber National Guard’

Rapid Response Team Aims to Protect Government, Industry IT


By Eric Chabrow, November 7, 2013. Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity


As Michigan deploys its Cyber Civilian Corps, the state will need to address some of the same challenges the federal government faces in sharing cyberthreat information between the government and the private sector, state CIO David Behen says.

Gov. Rick Snyder last month announced the creation of the Cyber Civilian Corps, which Behen characterizes as a cyber National Guard, a rapid response team that would assist the state and industries across Michigan during a major cybersecurity incident.

The Cyber Civilian Corps, which will include volunteers from government, education and business, will offer training on how best to respond to cyber-attacks.

Governments and the private sector collaborating to defend against cyber-attacks need to share information, some of which businesses contend could include data they want to keep secret. And, as the debate over stalled cyberthreat information sharing legislation in Washington has shown, matters involving liability and privacy protection regarding information sharing need to be resolved.

In an interview with Information Security Media Group, Behen says those issues must be addressed if the Cyber Civilian Corps is to succeed, adding that the government must be sensitive to businesses’ concerns about information sharing.

“What we can’t do, in my opinion, is just stop and wait for that conversation to happen,” Behen says. “We need to run forward on parallel paths. Let’s put together the Cyber Civilian Corps; let’s get them trained; let’s have them take the course work. So, when once something happens, we’re prepared to protect data and to respond to things here in the state of Michigan.”

As the state’s chief information officer, Behen is a member of Snyder’s cabinet. He previously served as CIO and deputy administrator of Washtenaw County, the home of Ann Arbor. Behen cofounded software maker InfoReady and served as a vice president and CIO of its parent corporation, GDI InfoTech. Eastern Michigan University awarded Behen a bachelor of science and master of science in public administration degrees.


CIA-backed Cloud Security Firm Buys Encryption Company to Help Spy-Wary Industry


By Aliya Sternstein

November 7, 2013


At least one U.S. cloud company sees an opportunity to benefit from the backlash against brethren accused of facilitating domestic surveillance.

Cloud services — think Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure — essentially rent out data storage space in big computer rooms clients can access through the Internet or a private network. At times, U.S. spies have infiltrated the networks of American cloud providers, as well as subpoenaed their customer data without their customers’ knowledge, according to the Washington Post.

This has not deterred HyTrust, which is backed by CIA venture capital funding, from marketing anti-surveillance tools to corporations.

The California-based company on Thursday announced the purchase of encryption software firm HighCloud Security, acknowledging industry concerns about storing clear text files in an off-site data center.

Not wanting to bite the hand that feeds them, HyTrust officials say the deal also should benefit intelligence agencies by preventing rogue system administrators, such as ex-federal contractor Edward Snowden, from decoding government data. The company since 2007, has built a business off technology that monitors the activities of cloud system administrators.

With Thursday’s acquisition of HighCloud encryption, “even if somehow that admin was able to get away with that virtual machine, it would be unusable. It’s like a brick. You can’t access the data inside of it. It’s meaningless,” HyTrust co-founder Eric Chiu said in an interview. “You’ve solved, end to end, that potential Snowden-level attack — of that admin and the godlike privileges that they typically have — in safeguarding against them and monitoring that as well as protecting the data itself, in case it does get stolen.”

But the company empathizes with corporations entrusting data to cloud providers that cooperate with the feds.

While some data center providers offer to encode their tenants’ data, “if you’re letting the cloud provider provide not only the encryption, but also manage and store the keys to unlock that encryption, well, you have no idea whether somebody has been granted access to that data because of subpoena,” Chiu said. “If you keep the keys to your data that means that nobody else can unencrypt and potentially access your data without your approval.”


With the European Union expressing outrage over alleged intercepts of its citizens’ communications, HyTrust officials might be worried about losing business from customers such as one unidentified major European development bank and many Fortune 500 companies.

The company is still in startup mode. Intel Capital, VMware and Cisco participated in a $18.5 million round of financing, HyTrust announced in August.

In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital wing, also contributed funding at the time.

“We don’t make any political decisions,” Chiu insisted. But, he also said: “I have to be careful what I say because one of our customers and investors is In-Q-Tel,” and the company’s services “are very much strategic to the efforts of the intelligence community.” In-Q-Tel and HyTrust made public a technology development deal in July.

Chiu said talks between HyTrust and HighCloud started before revelations about NSA domestic surveillance were made public in May through leaks by Snowden.

In an interview this week, he said the new partnership should help put corporate clients’ minds at ease about the risk of U.S. government spying. “I think that is a real, is a legitimate concern. I think being able to have your data encrypted and being able to keep the keys and be the one that determines whether or not you want to give the keys over to give access to that data is important. I think you want to make the decision on what happens to your data,” he said.

HighCloud officials have also touted their software’s ability to protect Web-based data from U.S. surveillance. “Technologies like HighCloud’s encryption, where you control encryption keys, inside your firewall if you prefer, can help ensure that the government must come to you in order to access your data,” said a July note on the company’s blog.” In a statement last month, HighCloud co-founder Steve Pate said, “As cloud service providers become a target for data access, both to thieves and the U.S. government, organizations must take further steps to secure their data in the cloud.”

HyTrust, a private company, did not disclose the terms of the deal.



Groups Fear Federal Pensions Are At Risk in Budget Talks

By Kellie Lunney

November 7, 2013


Lawmakers tasked with reaching a budget deal before mid-January are likely to consider increasing the amount federal workers contribute to their pensions, according to federal employee and retiree advocates.

Similar proposals have come up during previous budget and deficit discussions over the last few years, and this time won’t be any different, say representatives from the Federal-Postal Coalition and the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “Common knowledge would certainly put this on the table,” said Jessica Klement, NARFE legislative director. “I don’t see how something like this isn’t part of the conference unless we have some very, very vocal opponents,” she said, adding, “At this point in time we have no reason to believe that cuts to the federal community are off the table.”

The groups’ fears are well-founded because it’s an area of savings Republicans and the Democratic White House agree on. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in his fiscal 2014 budget plan, wants feds to pay 5.5 percent more of their salaries toward their defined benefit; he would also eliminate an additional benefit — what’s known as the Federal Employees Retirement System Annuity Supplement — for those government workers who retire before the age of 62 and who are not eligible for mandatory retirement. President Obama in his fiscal 2014 budget blueprint recommended that federal employees contribute 1.2 percent more of their pay, phased in at 0.4 percent over the next three years, toward their pensions. The White House estimated that the change would save the government $20 billion during the next decade. Obama also supports eliminating the FERS Annuity Supplement.

However, the Senate budget plan opposes further tinkering with federal employees’ pay and benefits. “Federal workers play a key role in running a smart and efficient government,” said the budget resolution crafted by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash, also a budget conferee. “These workers have borne the brunt of recent deficit reduction efforts, with years of pay freezes and many workers facing furloughs in the coming months caused by the indiscriminate and untargeted sequestration cuts.” The document noted that the Republican budget would “further harm these workers by significantly increasing their contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System, effectively cutting their take-home pay in every paycheck.”

The House and Senate budget conferees, including Ryan, are supposed to reconcile differences in the next month between the House and Senate fiscal 2014 budget plans — currently about $91 billion apart. The lawmakers also are discussing how to deal with the next round of 10-year automatic spending cuts scheduled to take place on Jan. 15, 2014, when the current continuing resolution expires. The government will have to cut $109.3 billion from the budget under sequestration — half from defense and half from non-defense — in fiscal 2014 unless Congress agrees on an alternative. The committee must submit its recommendations by Dec. 13, 2013.

“There’s considerable concern that once again, the federal retirement account continues to be an ATM to solve the nation’s fiscal problems,” said Bruce Moyer, chairman of the Federal-Postal Coalition, a group of 31 national organizations that represents millions of federal and postal employees and retirees. Moyer’s group, along with NARFE and the National Treasury Employees Union, has sent letters to the budget conferees urging them not to include any recommendations that would reduce federal employee or retiree pay and benefits in their final report. NTEU estimates that federal employees already have contributed $114 billion in deficit reduction as a result of the three-year pay freeze and a 2012 law that requires feds hired after 2012 or those with fewer than five years of previous federal service to contribute 3.1 percent toward their pensions – 2.3 percentage points more than the 0.8 percent most feds put in per paycheck for their defined benefit plan.

“In addition to the $141 billion from a three-year pay freeze and increased pension contributions for new hires, federal employees have faced unpaid furloughs due to sequestration, expanded workloads due to little hiring because of sequestration and a 16-day government shutdown, which could be repeated if Congress again does not do its job by Jan. 15,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said.

The conference committee, which held its first public meeting last week, hasn’t delved into budget-cutting specifics yet. But negotiators are under pressure to find common ground, so it makes sense that they will seriously consider proposals that have support on both sides of the aisle. “I think that there are significant motivations on both sides of the aisle to reach a deal that tempers, if not eliminates sequestration in 2014,” Moyer said. “For Republicans, the extra hit that defense will take in 2014 motivates them to reduce sequestration; for Democrats, the compounding problems of sequestration on domestic spending will continue to motivate them to find a solution.”

Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Founding Fathers in their wisdom set up a federal government with three equal branches – the executive, legislative and judicial – to ensure a system of checks and balances that would preserve our democracy. But what happens when most Americans doubt the integrity of all three?

Consider first the Executive BranchMost voters now disapprove of the job President Obama is doing. His daily job approval rating at week’s end ties his low for the year.

This rating is undoubtedly the result of increasingly negative opinions of the new national health care law as millions now appear likely to face major changes in their health insurance coverage – and big cost increases. Most voters opposed the law from the start. Fifty-three percent (53%) now view Obamacare unfavorably, with 42% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion of it.

Seventy-one percent (71%) believe it’s at least somewhat likely that the president or senior officials in his administration were aware long before the law began being implemented that health insurance costs would go up for some Americans, contrary to what they said publicly.

Just over a year ago, most voters didn’t know enough about Obama Cabinet member Kathleen Sebelius to have any kind of opinion of her, even though the secretary of Health and Human Services was in the powerful position of implementing the health care law. Now that Obamacare’s off to a troubled start, a plurality (44%) views Sebelius unfavorably.

Most voters also have consistently said that cutting government spending is the best boost for the economy, but 47% of voters give the president poor marks in this area.

Then there’s the National Security Agency domestic spying scandal. Fifty percent (50%) of Americans – one-out-of-two – now think it is at least somewhat likely that their own government has monitored their Internet activity or the activity of a member of their family, with 27% who believe it’s Very Likely.

Next, consider the Legislative BranchSeventy-five percent (75%) of voters now say Congress is doing a poor job. That’s Congress’ highest negative rating in more than seven years of regular tracking.

Not only that, but 61% believe most members of Congress are willing to sell their vote for cash or campaign contributions. Most (56%) even think it’s likely their own representative in Congress has sold his or her vote.

Voters also remain strongly convinced that most members of Congress get reelected because the election rules are rigged in their favor. So is it any surprise that only 35% now think American elections are fair to voters? That’s the lowest level of confidence in regular surveys since September 2004.

As for the Judicial Branch – Sixty percent (60%) of voters think most U.S. Supreme Court justices have their own political agenda.

Judges are often criticized for legislating from the bench, and just one-in-three voters (33%) now believe most judges follow the letter of the law in their rulings.

Americans are even suspicious of the supposedly independent Federal Reserve. Only 34% have a favorable opinion of the nation’s central bank, and 74% want to audit the Fed and make the results available to the public.

No wonder just 24% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

But then voters have consistently said for the last several years that the economy is number one in importance, and where is the economy five years after the Wall Street meltdown?

At week’s end, one-in-four consumers (24%) said their personal finances are getting better, but 43% think they’re getting worse. 

Friday’s government jobs report found that the unemployment rate has edged up to 7.3 percent in October.

No surprise there since the Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence dropped in October to its lowest level this year. October marked the first month since November of last year that reported hirings did not outnumber reported layoffs.

Only 19% of Americans now believe the job market is better than it was one year ago. Looking ahead, 36% believe the unemployment rate will be higher one year from now, the highest level of pessimism all year.

With lower government spending in mind, however, most Americans still think the federal government should avoid a long-term role in aiding those who can’t find work.

Meanwhile, with a sizable cohort of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, just 41% of voters are at least somewhat confident that they’ll get their full Medicare benefits, with only 12% who are Very Confident.

In other surveys last week:

– Democrats maintain a six-point lead – 43% to 37% – over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

– Fifty-four percent (54%) of voters favor a law just passed by the Senate that outlaws discrimination in the workplace against transgender, gay, lesbian and bisexual people. However, just 39% consider such discrimination to be even a somewhat serious problem.

– Only 26% of voters favor U.S. military action against Syria if its government fails to destroy its chemical weapons capabilities as promised.

Thirty-six percent (36%) favor a stop and frisk law like New York City’s where they live that allows police to stop and frisk anyone on the street whom they consider suspicious.

Thirty-six percent (36%) of Americans believe the federal government should bail out Detroit to make sure the pensions of the city’s retired employees are paid in full.

– Most Americans think even though someone is old enough to vote or die for their country, they’re not mature enough yet to decide whether they want to smoke. So they want to raise the legal age for buying tobacco to 21.

– As the crackdown on tobacco smoking continues, nearly nine-out-of-10 Americans say they’ve either quit the habit or have never smoked at all.  Here’s what America thinks about smoking these days

November 2 2013




Federal workers must pay back jobless benefits

Paul Davidson, USA TODAY 12:04 a.m. EDT October 28, 2013

Labor Department says federal employees can’t get back pay and keep unemployment aid.


The federal government shutdown cost taxpayers billions of dollars but at least a tiny fraction will be recouped: Federal employees will get paid just once—not twice– for not working.

All federal employees who collected unemployment insurance during the 16-day shutdown will have to return the payments because the workers are also receiving back pay, the Labor Department said late last week.

The agency earlier this month said it expected to issue guidance that likely would result in most states requiring workers to repay the jobless benefits. It was expected that the guidance would let some states keep both the benefits and the retroactive pay, depending on laws in each state.

In Oregon, for instance, a law permits employees to keep the benefits even if they receive back pay, as long as they did not perform any services during their furloughs. About 730 federal workers in Oregon made an initial claim for unemployment insurance during the shutdown and received about $390,000 in benefits, the state Employment Department says. The state paid the benefits but said it expected to be reimbursed by the federal government.

But in guidance to states late last week, the Labor Department said that, because they were in “pay status,” all furloughed employees “were not ‘unemployed’ and are thus ineligible for unemployment benefits.”

The Oregon Employment Department said in a news release that it now will tell federal employees the benefits “are an overpayment and must be repaid.” It added that the Labor Department changed the directive it had issued earlier this month which said that federal employees were eligible for unemployment insurance.

Nationally, about 70,000 of the 400,000 federal employees furloughed during the shutdown applied for jobless benefits, but a much smaller number took the steps required to receive them, federal and state labor officials say. They generally collected the payments for just one week because they worked during parts of the shutdown’s first and third weeks.

Even before the Labor Department’s recent guidance, the agency had said it was clear that federal employees in most states would have to repay the benefits


DoD to better protect data on unclassified contractor networks

Oct. 25, 2013 – 06:00AM |

By Marcus Weisgerber

Staff writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is moving to secure unclassified contractor networks in an attempt to better safeguard U.S. intellectual know-how.

The plan — put in place by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Oct. 10 — hits the streets just weeks after Iran hacked an unclassified U.S. Navy computer network.

These actions will ensure that the department provides a cohesive, comprehensive and cost-effective approach to protect priority investments and future defense capabilities while maintaining efficient business operations with our industrial partners, Hagel wrote.

Hagel’s orders include changes that span Pentagon’s acquisition, intelligence and policy directorates, as well as the military services and other DoD entities.

Specifically, Hagel ordered his subordinates to take immediate action to improve the protection of unclassified controlled technical information that resides on or passes through defense contractor systems or networks.

The new guidance issued by Hagel packs more of a punch than prior directives because it will include mandates for unclassified contractor network security. Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall is instructed to propose an amendment to current regulations pertaining to the safeguarding of this technical information.

This shall include necessary policy, guidance, and rulemaking activities, to include expansion of current cybersecurity information-sharing activities and programs, Hagel wrote.

DoD already has strict rules for how contractors handle classified data.

Pentagon officials have long lamented the lack of security for technical data on contractor networks. Smaller contractors lower down in the supply chain with lesser cyber defenses are thought to be soft targets for smart attackers, and both large and small contractors are routinely bombarded by attacks.

Hagel has also ordered the stand up of a joint analysis capability to assess technical information losses and determine consequences of those losses in order to inform requirements, acquisition, programmatic, and strategic courses of action.

The services shall identify critical acquisition and technology programs requiring higher levels of protection. Michael Vickers, undersecretary for intelligence, will oversee this initiative.

Protection of contractor networks has been thrust into the spotlight numerous times in recent months. Earlier this year, the Defense Science Board warned that China has attacked U.S. networks that contained information about dozens of defense weapon programs and technologies, including the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 joint strike fighter.


Timeline: When to Expect a Possible Pay Raise, and Other Key Fiscal Deadlines

By Kellie Lunney

October 25, 2013


In just the past few weeks, the government shut down, reopened and skirted a default on its debts. We could all do without that kind of excitement for a while.

A while, in this case, is less than three months, roughly the amount of time left until the current continuing resolution funding agencies expires. Absent a grand budget bargain between Republicans and Democrats in December, the beginning of 2014 will put us right back where we were in September and October 2013. We’ve got new deadlines for the same old problems. Oh, and remember sequestration? Another round of automatic, governmentwide budget cuts hits in mid-January, unless Congress reverses them. Federal employees, many of whom were furloughed during the summer and again in the fall because of the shutdown, face the prospect of more unpaid leave or even layoffs heading into the new year.

There’s one bright spot for federal workers on the horizon: It’s looking more likely that they will get an across-the-board pay hike in 2014, the first such increase in three years. And the 2013 holiday season is looking relatively hassle-free, at least from a congressional perspective. Lawmakers were careful not to schedule any major upcoming deadlines that could disrupt holiday travel or family time.

Here’s an updated timeline of important dates for federal employees to watch over the next few months:


◾Oct. 30: House and Senate budget conferees hold their first public meeting. The continuing resolution re-opening government included a provision creating the panel to come up with a deficit reduction plan before the end of the year.

◾Nov. 11: Open Season for health, dental, and vision insurance as well as flexible spending accounts begins. Federal employees might want to shop around for a better deal to save money in preparation for any possible future unpaid leave due to sequestration, or another shutdown.

◾Dec. 9: Open Season ends.

◾Dec. 13: The House and Senate budget conference committee presents its fiscal recommendations. A grand bargain is a long shot, considering the failure of the 2011 joint congressional supercommittee to produce a deficit reduction plan and avoid sequestration. The current House and Senate budgets are very different, so the conferees have their work cut out for them in finding common ground. Federal employees should pay attention to the negotiations and the panel’s recommendations. Feds’ pay and benefits have been on the table before in these discussions.

◾Dec. 16: Congress begins its holiday recess through the end of the year. During the past few years, both chambers have worked up to the end of December to debate and vote on important budget legislation. This year should be less chaotic since the next big budget deadline isn’t until Jan. 15. And Congress, as we all know, likes to procrastinate.

◾Dec. 31: Look for news regarding a possible civilian pay increase around this time, or an extension of the pay freeze, now in its third year. President Obama wants to give civilian employees (as well as military personnel) a 1 percent, across-the-board pay boost in 2014. The current continuing resolution does not prohibit one. If lawmakers do not pass a measure prohibiting a raise or extending the pay freeze, which doesn’t look likely at this time, then the president’s recommendation takes effect.



◾Jan. 1: 1 percent across-the-board pay raise for federal civilian and military personnel takes effect unless Congress blocks it.

◾Jan. 15: Mark your calendars. This is an important date. The current continuing resolution funding the government expires and the automatic cuts under sequestration take effect for fiscal 2014 on this date, unless Congress changes the law before then. Agencies likely will start announcing furlough plans soon after, if the sequester remains in place. The FBI has already said it will furlough employees for 10 days if the sequester continues next year, and the Defense Department has said it might have to resort to laying off civilian employees.

◾Feb. 3: President Obama must submit his fiscal 2015 budget proposal to Congress by the first Monday in February. But Obama typically has been late delivering his blueprint, blaming sequestration and delaying his fiscal 2014 proposal until April 2013. It’s likely the fiscal 2015 proposal also will be late for similar reasons.

◾Feb. 7: The government hits its latest debt ceiling on this date. Unless there’s an extension before Feb. 7, the Treasury secretary will use emergency borrowing authority to give the government a few months’ wiggle room to avoid defaulting on its debts. One of the extraordinary measures that the government often has used to avoid a default is tapping into and suspending investments into the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and halting the daily reinvestment of the government securities (G) fund, the most stable offering in the Thrift Savings Plan’s portfolio. The law requires the Treasury secretary to refill the coffers of the G Fund and the Civil Service Retirement Fund once the issue of the debt ceiling is resolved, and in addition, to make up for any interest lost on those investments during the suspension.


Pentagon weighs future of its inscrutable nonagenarian futurist, Andrew W. Marshall

By Craig Whitlock, Published: October 27

From his office deep inside the Pentagon, Yoda has outlasted the Cold War, countless military conflicts and 10 presidential elections. But can he survive the sequester?

Yoda is the reverential nickname for Andrew W. Marshall, a legendary if mysterious figure in national security circles. A bald, enigmatic 92-year-old strategic guru, he resembles the Jedi master of “Star Wars” fame in more ways than one.

Since the Nixon administration, Marshall has directed the Pentagon’s secretive and obliquely named internal think tank, the Office of Net Assessment, which contemplates military strategy decades into the future. Over his long career, he has foretold the economic collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of China and the spread of robotic warfare.

Today, confronting a budget crunch, Pentagon leaders are contemplating whether Marshall and his think tank have outlived their usefulness, or need to be reined in. The Office of Net Assessment costs taxpayers only about $10 million a year — pocket change in the $525 billion annual defense budget, but enough to face fresh scrutiny at a time of cutbacks.

Few places, however, are tougher to scrutinize. Many of Marshall’s studies and reports are classified. And he has to share them with only one man: the secretary of defense. Which reports actually get read, and which ones end up in history’s top-secret dustbin, is everybody else’s guess.

“There’s no real way to weigh it or figure out how much he pays” consultants for the reports, said a former senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the Office of Net Assessment. “You can’t quite tell what the nation is getting out of it.”

Even so, the mere suggestion that the Pentagon might force its nonagenarian futurist to retire has sparked a backlash among Marshall’s heavyweight corps of supporters.

Several members of Congress, from both parties, have dashed off letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in protest. Former Pentagon chief Donald H. Rumsfeld tweeted that it would be a “serious mistake” to close the Office of Net Assessment and praised Marshall for being at the “forefront of strategy & transformation” for 40 years.

Others described Marshall’s intellect in Einsteinian terms. “Mr. Marshall’s brain is highly networked,” said John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who has known him for decades. He praised Marshall’s “mental suppleness” and said advanced age had not slowed him down.

“His mind is as sharp as ever,” Arquilla said. “He’s gotten not just a second wind but a third wind in recent years.”

Marshall has also demonstrated exceptional political acumen, hanging on to his job under 13 defense secretaries. He has nurtured generations of national security thinkers and helped find them jobs on Capitol Hill, in academia, at private think tanks and in other parts of the government. The last time the Pentagon tried to close his office, almost two decades ago, his acolytes saved it with a furious lobbying effort.

A hero to China’s military

Sensitive to Marshall’s iconic status, Pentagon officials are treading carefully this time around; they declined to elaborate publicly on the futurist’s future.

“The Department of Defense is currently assessing our missions, structure and programs in light of an evolving set of strategic challenges, as well as a constrained fiscal environment,” Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “It would be premature to comment on pre-decisional issues.”

Another defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said Hagel thinks that the Office of Net Assessment should be reorganized and that it “can be strengthened potentially by realigning it so that it remains close to him and his senior team.”

Marshall declined an interview request placed through a Pentagon spokesman. He shuns public appearances, doesn’t testify before Congress and permits himself to be quoted only on rare occasions.

Colleagues say he has always projected an inscrutable mystique. He generally keeps his thoughts to himself at conferences and meetings but can command attention just by twitching an eyebrow.

Although he is little known among Americans, Marshall enjoys an outsize reputation in Moscow and Beijing, where Russian and Chinese strategists have long admired his ideas, even if their countries were in the strategic crosshairs.

“Our great hero was Andy Marshall in the Pentagon,” Gen. Chen Zhou of the People’s Liberation Army said in an interview last year with the Economist. “We translated every word he wrote.”

‘Not very happy futures’

Marshall’s national security career began in 1949, the same year that Mao Zedong proclaimed the creation of the People’s Republic of China.

As a 28-year-old economist with a master’s degree, Marshall joined the Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank that had just been created to perform research for the government. He burrowed into analyses of Soviet military programs, nuclear targeting and organizational behavior theory.

After a stint at the White House, Marshall was brought to the Pentagon in 1973 by then-Defense Secretary James Schlesinger to found the Office of Net Assessment. He concentrated on nuclear strategy and specialized in forecasting apocalyptic scenarios, some seemingly lifted from the satirical film “Dr. Strangelove.”

“We tend to look at not very happy futures,” he once told The Post in an interview.

He also became a leading proponent of a theory known as the “revolution in military affairs,” which posits that the history of warfare has been marked by several brief but transformative bursts in technology and organizational strategy, from the chariot to the German blitzkrieg to the atomic bomb.

Such thinking has led Marshall to argue that some foundational weapons of the armed services — the tank, the aircraft carrier and short-range fighter jets — are doomed to obsolescence because of advances in missile technology. That has made him an unbeloved figure among some U.S. generals and admirals, who view him as an unrealistic radical and a threat to conventional military strategy.

Millions to consultants

For the past two decades, Marshall’s office has gamed out scenarios for war with China.

Critics say he has exaggerated that and other threats as justification for fatter defense budgets. But fans say the Pentagon needs more long-range, out-of-the-box thinking, not less.

“We think that office provides incredible value to the country at a time when we need strategy more than ever,” said Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who helped sponsor a $10 million earmark last year for the Office of Net Assessment, nearly doubling its annual budget.

Forbes said that the office needs to be kept insulated from bureaucratic and political pressures and that it would fill an important niche long after Marshall steps down, whenever that might be.

“Obviously, I have enormous respect for Mr. Marshall,” Forbes said. “But this office is not just Andy Marshall. This office has spawned a number of great thinkers and ideas.”

The Office of Net Assessment contracts out much of its research to private think tanks. It recently commissioned a study titled “The Future of Africa” from Booz Allen Hamilton for $105,633, federal contracting records show.

A primary recipient of Marshall’s grant money is the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. The defense think tank, headed by retired Army Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich, a longtime Marshall disciple, generally receives about $2.75 million to $3 million a year.

The former senior defense official said the Office of Net Assessment pursues some worthwhile lines of study but suggested that more oversight and accountability are needed. “How much money should we be dishing out to outside parties to restate [these findings] again and again?” he said.

At the same time, the former official said Marshall is so well entrenched politically that it doesn’t make sense for the Pentagon to try to change his ways or force him out before he is ready to go.

“Everybody is worried about the perception that they would go against this legendary icon who brought down the Soviet Union single-handedly,” the former official said. “It’s not even worth it to challenge that narrative at this point.”


Patent law is so broken that casinos, supermarkets, and realtors are demanding change


October 28 at 8:00 am


In the last few years, patent litigation has become such a widespread problem that industries that traditionally had nothing to do with the patent system are demanding that Congress take action. The latest sign of that is a letter asking Congress to make it easier to invalidate low-quality patents.

The letter is signed by some high-tech lobbying groups that have long been active on patent issues. But, surprisingly, the letter also drew support from distinctly low-tech sectors of the economy, including casinos, supermarkets, chain restaurants, airlines, and the printing industry.

“It’s important to recognize that the problem of patent trolls are no longer limited to technology companies,” says Whit Askew of the American Gaming Association, which represents casinos and the manufacturers of gambling devices. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve unfortunately been bit by the patent troll lawsuit bug, where frivolous lawsuits have been filed against many in our industry.”

These predominantly brick-and-mortar business groups aren’t just demanding patent reform in the abstract. Askew and other letter signers are endorsing expansion of the clumsily-named “covered business method” program, which provides an expedited process for challenging patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). That’s significant because expansion of the CBM program has drawn the ire of some patent-rich software companies, including Microsoft, IBM, and Adobe.

Opponents of expanding the CBM program argue that procedural reforms, such as allowing technology vendors to intervene on behalf of their customers and forcing defeated patent plaintiffs to pay defendants’ legal bills, will be sufficient to bring the patent litigation crisis under control. And they worry that the defendant-friendly provisions of the CBM program will make it too difficult for the owners of legitimate patents to enforce their rights.

But Monday’s letter, whose more than two dozen signers include groups representing advertising agencies, publicly-owned power plants, real estate agents, hotels, and retailers, argues that these process-oriented reforms aren’t sufficient to solve the patent troll problem.

“Companies need an effective alternative for challenging validity [of patents] outside of the courtroom,” the letter argues. The CBM program “gives threatened companies a substantially less expensive way to challenge low quality patents. Other programs for challenging patent validity at the PTO do not allow the PTO to consider whether the patent is abstract, vague, or too broad,” which are common problems with patents used by trolls, the letter argues.

Industry groups that signed the letter say they were motivated to do so by a dramatic increase in the frequency of frivolous patent lawsuits. “We are now seeing [real estate] brokers receive demand letters for use of common technologies like scanner-copiers and website alert technologies,” says Gary Thomas, president of the National Association of Realtors.

“I’m a food lawyer,” says Erik Lieberman of the Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocery wholesalers as well as supermarkets. “Members bring us issues that impact them. A couple years ago they start coming to me saying ‘look this entity we’ve never heard of is sending us a demand letter asking us for $300,000 or $500,000 claiming we’re violating their patent.'”

Lieberman says many of the patents covered common technologies like the store locator function on a grocery store’s website or the use of QR codes in advertisements. Lieberman said that patent threats have now cost some of his larger clients millions of dollars in legal fees and staff time. And the burden can be especially serious for smaller supermarket chains that don’t have anyone on staff with experience handling patent issues.

For both Lieberman and the American Gaming Association’s Askew, low costs are one of the CBM program’s key advantages. The program “gives threatened companies a substantially less expensive way to challenge” low-quality patents, Askew says. It can take years for a court to reach a final ruling on a patent case. In contrast, the CBM program can end a lawsuit — and permanently eliminate a low-quality patent — in a matter of months, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The letter also notes that under the program, “small businesses are able to pool their resources in order to pay to have a [patent troll]’s patent reviewed.” That makes the program a particularly potent weapon against trolls that send letters to a large number of defendants seeking nuisance settlements.

Lieberman says that in the grocery business, “the profit margin is well under 1 percent,” so the costs of patent litigation “get passed down to consumers.”

The industries that signed the letter collectively have significant lobbying muscle. They could provide a counterweight to patent-rich companies who are squeamish about seeing their patent portfolios subjected to the kind of serious scrutiny the CBM program could make possible.


Cryptolocker: How to avoid getting infected and what to do if you are

There’s a new piece of ransomware in town; here’s how to protect your company’s assets


Jonathan Hassell

October 25, 2013 (Computerworld)


There’s a big threat wiling around on the Internet right now: A particularly nasty piece of ransomware called Cryptolocker. Many, many organizations are being infected with this malware, but fortunately, there are surefire ways to avoid it and also ways to mitigate the damage without letting the lowlifes win.

What is Cryptolocker?

Cryptolocker comes in the door through social engineering. Usually the virus payload hides in an attachment to a phishing message, one purporting to be from a business copier like Xerox that is delivering a PDF of a scanned image, from a major delivery service like UPS orFedEx offering tracking information or from a bank letter confirming a wire or money transfer.


Cryptolocker’s ransom note to infected users.

The virus is, of course, an executable attachment, but interestingly the icon representing the executable is a PDF file. With Windows’ hidden extensions feature, the sender simply adds “.pdf” to the end of the file (Windows hides the .exe) and the unwitting user is fooled into thinking the attachment is a harmless PDF file from a trusted sender. It is, of course, anything but harmless.

Once Cryptolocker is in the door, it targets files with the following extensions:

*.odt, *.ods, *.odp, *.odm, *.odc, *.odb, *.doc, *.docx, *.docm, *.wps, *.xls, *.xlsx, *.xlsm, *.xlsb, *.xlk, *.ppt, *.pptx, *.pptm, *.mdb, *.accdb, *.pst, *.dwg, *.dxf, *.dxg, *.wpd, *.rtf, *.wb2, *.mdf, *.dbf, *.psd, *.pdd, *.pdf, *.eps, *.ai, *.indd, *.cdr, *.jpg, *.jpe, img_*.jpg, *.dng, *.3fr, *.arw, *.srf, *.sr2, *.bay, *.crw, *.cr2, *.dcr, *.kdc, *.erf, *.mef, *.mrw, *.nef, *.nrw, *.orf, *.raf, *.raw, *.rwl, *.rw2, *.r3d, *.ptx, *.pef, *.srw, *.x3f, *.der, *.cer, *.crt, *.pem, *.pfx, *.p12, *.p7b, *.p7c

When it finds a file matching that extension, it encrypts the file using a public key and then makes a record of the file in the Windows registry under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\CryptoLocker\Files. It then prompts the user that his or her files have been encrypted and that he or she must use prepaid cards or Bitcoin to send hundreds of dollars to the author of the malware.

Once the payment has been made, the decryption usually begins. There is typically a four-day time limit on the payment option; the malware’s author claims the private key required to decrypt files will be deleted if the ransom is not received in time. If the private key is deleted, your files will essentially never be able to be decrypted — you could attempt to brute force the key, but as a practical matter, that would take on the order or thousands of years. Effectively, your files are gone.

Currently, the only versions of Cryptolocker in existence target files and folders on local drives and mapped drives. The malware does not currently attempt to perform its malfeasance over network-based universal naming convention paths, although one would surmise this would be a relatively simple change for the author of the ransomware to make.

Antivirus and anti-malware programs, either running on endpoints or performing inbound email message hygiene, have a particularly difficult time stopping this infection. Unless you have a blanket email filtering rule stripping out executable attachments, and that tool is intelligent enough to do so without allowing the user to request the item’s return from quarantine, you will see your users getting these phishing messages attempting to introduce Cryptolocker. It is only a matter of time.

Prevention: Software Restriction Policies and AppLocker

As of now, the best tool to use to prevent a Cryptolocker infection in the first place — since your options for remediating the infection involve time, money, data loss or all three — is a software restriction policy. There are two kinds: Regular software restriction policies, and then enhanced AppLocker policies. I’ll cover how to use both to prevent Cryptolocker infections.

Software Restriction Policies

Software Restriction Policies (SRPs) allow you to control or prevent the execution of certain programs through the use of Group Policy. You can use SRPs to block executable files from running in the specific user-space areas that Cryptolocker uses to launch itself in the first place. The best place to do this is through Group Policy, although if you’re a savvy home user or a smaller business without a domain, you can launch the Local Security Policy tool and do the same thing.

One tip: if you’re using Group Policy, create a new GPO for each restriction policy. This makes it easier to disable a policy that might be overly restrictive.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open up Local Security Policy or the Group Policy Object editor and create a new GPO. I’ll show you how to create two here — one for Windows XP machines (which use slightly different paths for the user space) and one for Windows Vista and later machines.
  2. Name the new GPO “SRP for XP to prevent Cryptolocker” or something similar for you to remember easily.
  3. Choose Computer Configuration and then navigate through Policies ‘ Windows Settings ‘ Security Settings ‘ Software Restriction Policies.
  4. Right-click Software Restriction Policies and choose New Software Restriction Policy from the context menu.
  5. Now, create the actual rules that will catch the software on which you want to enforce a restriction. Right-click Additional Rules in the left-hand pane. Choose New Path Rule.
  6. Under Path, enter %AppData%\*.exe.
  7. Under Security level, choose Disallowed.
  8. Enter a friendly description, like “Prevent programs from running in AppData.”
  9. Choose New Path Rule again, and make a new rule like the one just completed. Use the following table to fill out the remainder of this GPO.






Security Level 

Suggested Description 



Prevent Cryptolocker executable from running in AppData* 



Prevent virus payloads from executing in subfolders of AppData 

%UserProfile%\Local Settings\Temp\Rar*\*.exe 


Prevent un-WinRARed executables in email attachments from running in the user space

%UserProfile%\Local Settings\Temp\7z*\*.exe 


Prevent un-7Ziped executables in email attachments from running in the user space 

%UserProfile%\Local Settings\Temp\wz*\*.exe 


Prevent un-WinZIPed executables in email attachments from running in the user space

%UserProfile%\Local Settings\Temp\*.zip\*.exe 


Prevent unarchived executables in email attachments from running in the user space 

*Note this entry was covered in steps 5-8. It is included here for your easy reference later.

WinRAR and 7Zip are the names of compression programs commonly used in the Windows environment.

Close the policy.

To protect Windows Vista and newer machines, create another GPO and call this one “SRP for Windows Vista and up to prevent Cryptolocker.” Repeat the steps above to create the SRP and create path rules based on the following table.



Security Level 

Suggested Description 



Prevent Cryptolocker executable from running in AppData* 



Prevent virus payloads from executing in subfolders of AppData 



Prevent un-WinRARed executables in email attachments from running in the user space



Prevent un-7Ziped executables in email attachments from running in the user space 



Prevent un-WinZIPed executables in email attachments from running in the user space



Prevent unarchived executables in email attachments from running in the user space 

Close the policy.

Once these GPOs get synchronized down to your machines — this can take up to three reboots to happen, so allow some time — when users attempt to open executables from email attachments, they’ll get an error saying their administrator has blocked the program. This will stop the Cryptolocker attachment in its tracks.

Unfortunately, taking this “block it all in those spots” approach means that other programs your users may install from the web, like GoTo Meeting reminders and other small utilities that do have legitimate purposes, will also be blocked. There is a solution, however: You can create ad-hoc allow rules in the software restriction policy GPOs. Windows allows these “whitelisted” apps before it denies anything else, so by defining these exceptions in the SRP GPO, you will instruct Windows to let those apps run while blocking everything else. Simply set the security level to Unrestricted, instead of Disallowed as we did above.


AppLocker is the SRP feature on steroids. However, it only works on Windows 7 Ultimate or Windows 7 Enterprise editions, or Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise edition, so if you’re still on Windows XP for the time being or you have a significant contingent of Windows Vista machines, AppLocker will not do anything for you.

But if you are a larger company with volume licenses that is deploying the enterprise editions of the OS, AppLocker is really helpful in preventing Cryptolocker infections because you can simply block programs from running — except those from specific software publishers that have signed certificates.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Create a new GPO.
  2. Right-click on it to edit, and then navigate through Computer Configuration, Windows Settings, Security Settings, Application Control Policies and AppLocker.
  3. Click Configure Rule Enforcement.
  4. Under Executable Rules, check the Configured box and then make sure Enforce Rules is selected from the drop-down box. Click OK.
  5. In the left pane, click Executable Rules.
  6. Right-click in the right pane and select Create New Rule.
  7. On the Before You Begin screen, click Next.
  8. On the Permissions screen, click Next.
  9. On the Conditions screen, select the Publisher condition and click Next.
  10. Click the Browse button and browse to any executable file on your system. It doesn’t matter which.
  11. Drag the slider up to Any Publisher and then click Next.
  12. Click Next on the Exceptions screen.
  13. Name the policy something like “Only run executables that are signed” and click Create.
  14. If this is your first time creating an AppLocker policy, Windows will prompt you to create default rules — go ahead and click Yes here.

NOTE: Also take this opportunity to review the permissions set on your file server share access control lists, or ACLs. Cryptolocker possesses no special capabilities to override deny permissions, so if the user who gets infected is logged into an account that has very limited permissions, the damage will be minimal. Conversely, if you allow the Everyone group Write access for the NTFS permissions on most of your file shares, and you use mapped drives, one Cryptolocker infection could put you into a world of hurt. Review your permissions now. Tighten where you can. Work with your line of business application vendors to further tighten loose permissions that are “required” for “supportability” — often these specifications are needlessly broad.

Using either an SRP or an AppLocker policy, you can prevent Cryptolocker from ever executing and save yourself a lot of problems.

Mitigation: Previous versions (shadow copies) and ShadowExplorer

If you are unlucky enough to have been infected with Cryptolocker, then there are some mitigation strategies available to you. (Of course, you can always restore from backups as well.) Both strategies involve a tool called Shadow Copies that is an integral part of the System Restore feature in Windows. This is turned on by default in client versions of Windows, and best practices for storage administration have you turning this on manually on Windows Server-based file servers. If you have left this setting alone, you likely have backups right on your computer or file share.

Previous versions

To restore the previous version of a file using the traditional Windows interface, just right-click the file in question and choose Properties. If System Restore is enabled or your administrator has enabled Shadow Copies through Group Policy, you should be able to see the Previous Versions tab in the Properties window. This will list all of the versions on record of the file. Choose a version before the Cryptolocker infection and then click either Copy to export a copy of the file somewhere else, or Restore to pop the backup right where the encrypted file belongs. You can open the files directly from this box too if you are not sure of the exact date and time of infection.


ShadowExplorer is a downloadable free tool that makes it much easier to explore all of the available shadow copies on your system. This is a useful ability when you have a wide range of files infected with Cryptolocker and need to restore a swath of them at once.

When you install and run the tool, you can select the drive and the shadow copy date and time from the drop-down menu at the top of the window. Then, just like in a regular Windows Explorer menu, you can choose the folder and file you want, and then right-click and select Export. Choose the destination on your file system to put the exported shadow copies on, and then you have your backup restored. Of course, this is a previous version, so it may not have the most current updates to your files, but it is much better than having lost them completely or having to pay a ransom for them.

The last word

Cryptolocker sucks. Its creator is a piece of scum. To trick users into downloading something that encrypts their files and then to demand from them hundreds of dollars to give their own data back to them is despicable. Please, take steps now so you don’t have to be the one ponying up your money and enabling this trash to continue.


Brit Charged with Hacking Federal IT

Military, NASA, EPA Systems Breached

By Eric Chabrow, October 29, 2013. Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity

Prosecutors have charged a 28-year-old resident of Great Britain with hacking thousands of U.S. government computers, including those at the U.S. Army and a number of federal agencies, to steal massive amounts of confidential information.

On Oct. 25, British authorities arrested Lauri Love of Stradishall, a village about a 90-minute drive north of London. Love, working with others, illegally accessed U.S. government computers, including those of the U.S. Army, Missile Defense Agency, Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, according to allegations in an indictment from a federal district court grand jury in Newark, N.J.

The indictment, which also includes a charge of conspiracy, says the breaches resulted in millions of dollars in losses, but prosecutors didn’t explain how they calculated those damages. Prosecutors in Virginia also charged Love with attacks on other computers in the United States.

“As part of their alleged scheme, [Love and others] stole military data and personal identifying information belonging to servicemen and women,” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishmansays in a statement. “Such conduct endangers the security of our country and is an affront to those who serve.”

Love faces a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, on each of the two counts. Officials did not provide a specific amount of the loss.

According to reports in the British media, U.K. authorities were holding Love in connection with an investigation by Britain’s National Crime Agency. British authorities charged Love under the Computer Misuse Act, which allows individuals to be arrested for launching cyber-attacks from within the U.K. against computers anywhere in the world. The reports say information accessed by Love included budgeting data and the disposal of military facilities.

Attacks Occurred Over Past Year

The indictment unsealed in Newark federal court says Love and his cohorts hacked thousands of computer systems since last October. Once inside the compromised networks, Love and his conspirators placed back doors within the networks that allowed them to return to the compromised computers to steal confidential data, including the personally identifying information of thousands of individuals, some of whom serve in the U.S. military, as well as other nonpublic material.

Authorities say Love and his conspirators planned the attacks in secure online chat forums, where they identified vulnerable computer networks and decided what type of information to pilfer with the goal to disrupt the operations of the U.S. government.

Citing prosecutors, the Associated Press says the indictment includes parts of instant message conversations that Love allegedly had with his partners, including one boasting about hacking the space agency’s networks: “ahaha, we owning lots of nasa sites.” In another exchange, Love marvels at the information the group has accessed, writing “this … stuff is really sensitive,” according to prosecutors.

Authorities allege the conspirators, who reportedly also include an Australian and a Swede, implemented SQL injection attacks and exploited vulnerabilities in the ColdFusion web application platform, which some of the targeted agencies employed. Once they infiltrated the networks, Love and his conspirators placed malware on the systems, creating back doors and leaving the systems vulnerable for later access.

Authorities say the conspirators used proxy and Tor servers to launch the attacks to mask their IP addresses and frequently changed their nicknames in online chat rooms, using multiple identities to communicate with each other.

AP reports authorities charged Love in New Jersey because he allegedly used a server in Parsippany, N.J.



Echoes of Echelon in Charges of NSA Spying in Europe

Updated July 1, 2013 9:09 p.m. ET

BRUSSELS—It isn’t the first time the U.S. has found itself in the center of a storm about spying on allies. The allegations that the National Security Agency spied on European Union institutions and friendly countries in continental Europe and further afield echo a furor of more than a decade ago.

Then, European politicians were scandalized by disclosures about a U.S. signals intelligence project supposedly called Echelon, said to be able to capture and analyze electronic signals—phone calls, faxes, emails and more—around the world.

Like the Echelon claims, the latest allegations, presumably from the computer of former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, suggest espionage not for national-security reasons but for possible commercial advantage. The EU is the largest trading bloc in the world, and Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, says it “would be naive to think it wouldn’t be subject to interception.”

But there are important differences. The first is the detailed nature of the allegations, far more specific than in the Echelon controversy. The other is the scale of the operations.

Mr. Eyal says the allegations suggest the devotion of U.S. intelligence to so-called big data: vacuuming up details of electronic communications from around the world. But there is a drawback: “Big data mean big leaks.”

The U.S. intelligence services, criticized for “stove-piping” information before 9/11, now seem to be sharing too much.

The fierceness of the reaction is especially evident in Germany, where there is huge sensitivity to invasions of privacy because of the pervasive spying on individuals in East Germany and under the Nazis. However, former intelligence specialists suspect some theater in the shocked condemnations from European politicians.

Former NSA director Michael Hayden told CBS television on Sunday that the U.S. Fourth Amendment that is held to protect the privacy of Americans isn’t an international treaty. He added: “Any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing.”

Indeed, espionage isn’t forbidden under international law and it is more pervasive than ever. Whereas 60 years ago the world had two-dozen intelligence services of any importance, now most countries have some capacity, specialists say.

Intelligence services are constrained by their capabilities—and whether the expected benefits of an operation outweigh the risks. “The reality,” one former spy said, “is that friends do spy on friends,” but it is important not to get caught.

In one high-profile American case, Jonathan Pollard, a former civilian intelligence analyst, was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison for passing classified information to Israel.

The latest allegations throw light on another feature of international intelligence: the very close relationship of the five English-speaking allies, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, particularly in sharing of signals intelligence. This alliance is based on the proposition that its members won’t engage in covert action against one another.

It has long been an irritant in relations between continental Europe and “Anglo-Saxon” countries that flares when there are new disclosures, such as those this week.

There could be consequences.The allegations may sour negotiations over a free-trade accord between the U.S. and EU. The increasingly powerful European Parliament—and national regulators—also have the ability to throw sand in the machine of data sharing with the U.S., for example on air passengers and financial transactions.





Espionage? Moi?

Sure, Paris is a hypocrite when it comes to spying. But it isn’t alone.


If you buy the latest reporting out of Europe, France is outraged, simply outraged, at news that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on the European Union through its mission in New York and embassy in Washington. French political parties are now rumbling about offering asylum to Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor at the center of the leaks. The French government is demanding answers from the United States about its snooping. Monsieur Le Président himself, François Hollande, is calling for an end to the spying.

All of which is pretty hilarious, given France’s penchant for stealing American defense technology, bugging American business executives and generally annoying U.S. counterintelligence officials. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that France is a proficient, notorious and unrepentant economic spy. “In economics, we are competitors, not allies,” Pierre Marion, the former director of France’s equivalent of the CIA, once said. “America has the most technical information of relevance. It is easily accessible. So naturally your country will receive the most attention from the intelligence services.”

It’s thus tempting to toss aside France’s protests as rank and witting hypocrisy over economic espionage, which of course they are. But the leaks about the NSA’s collection of economic information and the difficulty in explaining the differences in how it’s used on opposite sides of the Atlantic spell trouble for American cyberdiplomacy around the world.

Lest you doubt that France has dirty hands in corporate spying, there’s a long, storied and public bill of particulars against La République Française’s intelligence agencies.

France’s espionage against American companies, described as “aggressive and massive,” dates back to the 1960s and is largely born out of a desire to prop up its defense industry, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, which delicately referred to France as “Country B.” France lacks a domestic defense market large enough to support cutting edge development so it opts to steal American military technology in order to save R&D costs and enjoy advanced weaponry for its own military and competitive for exports abroad.

France’s economic espionage hasn’t been confined solely to America’s defense industrial base, though. In the late 1980s, French intelligence reportedly spied on premiere firms such as Texas Instruments and IBM in a bid to help out its domestic computer industry. Reports of hidden microphones in the seats of Air France picking up the indiscreet business chatter of American executives have since become common intelligence lore.

The snooping burst into the public sphere during the 1993 Paris Air Show, the world’s biggest aerospace confab. It’s usually prom for the aviation industry, a chance for countries to show off their latest and greatest fighter jets and commercial airliner. But the show hit a sour note when a CIA document listing dozens of American companies targeted for espionage by France leaked to the public, prompting firms like Pratt & Whitney and Hughes Aircraft to hold back products or withdraw from the show entirely.


The spying continues even today, according a recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The NIE declared France, alongside Russia and Israel, to be in a distant but respectable second place behind China in using cyberespionage for economic gain.


White House backs global spying

By Julian Pecquet and Justin Sink     – 10/28/13 08:35 PM ET

The White House on Monday defended the National Security Agency amid criticism from world leaders over its surveillance efforts.

The Obama administration’s already politically awkward dilemma became more challenging when a top Democratic ally slammed the latest allegations of spying on world leaders.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a staunch NSA supporter, said Monday that she “totally opposed” spying on U.S. allies. She called for a “total review” of intelligence gathering.

Meanwhile, nine European parliamentarians arrived in Washington, D.C., to investigate the latest revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

These include claims that the agency tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone and monitored the communications of tens of millions of French and Spanish citizens.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the NSA’s work “saves lives.”

“If we’re going to keep our citizens and our allies safe, we have to continue to stay ahead of these changes, and that’s what our intelligence community has been doing extraordinarily well,” Carney said.

But there’s evidence the controversy is wearing on the White House both at home and abroad.

Foreign governments that have been subjected to U.S. spying have launched at least three separate efforts aimed at curtailing the practice.

Germany and Brazil have joined hands at the United Nations on a resolution enshrining an international right to privacy. At least 19 other countries have signed on, according to Foreign Policy, including U.S. allies France and Mexico.

Germany and France are leading an effort to craft a new code of conduct between spy agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. The heads of Germany’s intelligence services are expected to travel to Washington, D.C., shortly to meet with administration officials.

Nine European Union (EU) lawmakers met Monday with the chairman of the House Intelligence panel and officials from the departments of Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security as they kicked off a weeklong visit. The legislators are members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties panel, which has been tasked with conducting an in-depth inquiry into the electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens.

“These are concerns we feel have to be taken seriously,” Claude Moraes, the lead author of the committee’s report, told reporters after meeting with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on Capitol Hill.

Rogers said he’d had a “very candid” meeting with the Europeans, “which is important if we’re going to get through some of our differences.” He said the panel would be sending a delegation to Brussels, the de facto EU capital, “soon.”

Moraes praised Rogers’s move to “continue this discussion in Brussels because trust has to be rebuilt.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill slammed the president after The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama was unaware the NSA was targeting Merkel’s cellphone before an internal audit earlier this summer.

“If the executive did not know, it’s a mistake of both the people doing it not informing their superiors, and their superiors not questioning what was going on,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told the paper.

The Arizona lawmaker called for a congressional investigation and hearings examining the nation’s surveillance techniques in light of the revelations.

At the White House, Carney would not confirm whether Obama had been in the dark over the surveillance program.

The administration hopes that by cooperating with European investigators and stressing the security benefits of surveillance programs, it can sooth concerns.

“We understand that German officials plan to travel to Washington in coming weeks, and the U.S. government looks forward to meeting with them,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told The Hill.

Still, EU leaders have warned there will be consequences if the NSA doesn’t back down.

“The NSA scandal was a wake-up call,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said last week after legislators voted to recommend suspending data sharing on terrorism financing. “Now that there is evidence that EU embassies, European parliaments, European heads of government and citizens have been spied on by the USA on a grand scale, the European Parliament has called for the suspension of the TFTP [Terrorist Finance Tracking Program] Agreement.”

The European Parliament warns there could also be “consequences” for the sharing of airline passenger manifests with the Department of Homeland Security as well as “safe harbor” privacy certifications allowing companies to transfer data on European customers to the U.S. Some European lawmakers are also pressing for a delay in a U.S.-EU trade pact that would be the world’s most expansive to date.

Some U.S. intelligence experts think the latest trans-Atlantic row will blow over soon enough, however. They agree with the White House and Congress that U.S. allies are also heavily engaged in spying and are merely responding to public pressure.

“Yes, everybody does it, but not everybody has the same capabilities as the U.S.,” said Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. intelligence service who’s now teaching at Georgetown University. “The officials who are part of the delegation know that full well; they also know that when something like this becomes public, they can’t just say, ‘Everybody does it, so we don’t care.’ They have to express public umbrage.”


Microsoft plans to stop issuing security patches for Windows XP next April, leaving mllions of PCs even more vulnerable to hackers.

Byron Acohido, USA TODAY 12 p.m. EDT October 29, 2013

SEATTLE – Microsoft’s venerable Windows XP operating is six times more likely to be successfully hacked than newer Windows 7 and Windows 8 personal computers.

Microsoft disclosed that metric at the RSA Conference in Amsterdam this morning. The software giant hopes to compel XP users to dump XP and upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8 — before it ends all XP support, including issuing security patches. That will happen come April 8, 2014.

“XP has been a beloved operating system for millions and millions of people around the world, but after 12 years of service it simply can’t mitigate the threats we’re seeing modern-day attackers use,” says Tim Rains, director of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing.

Criminal hackers, as you might imagine, can’t wait until April 8. That’s because most consumers are clueless about the true scope of security risks. And thousands of companies, for economic and operational reasons, appear intent on continuing to use XP machines well after Microsoft officially stops supporting XP, which was launched in October 2001.

But the intense good-guy vs. bad-guy race to find and exploit new holes in Windows 7 and Windows 8 is not going to stop. The key point is this: Microsoft will continue to issue security patches for Windows 7 and 8, but not for XP.

Security experts anticipate that cybercriminals will move to take advantage.Historically, about two thirds of malware developed for Windows 7, for instance, work well on Windows XP, says Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer at vulnerability management firm Qualys.

Every time Microsoft issues new security patches for Windows 7 or 8, which it does on the first Tuesday of each month, hackers will get a list of fresh, never-to-be-patched security holes in most XP machines still in use.

“Attackers can take information about new problems with Windows 7 and say, ‘I wonder if this works also in XP,'” says Kandek. “With no more patches available, XP will make a good target for hackers.”

The sheer number of Windows XP machines still in operation provide ample incentive for the bad guys. Of the estimated 1.3 billion Windows PCs in use globally, some 21% use Window XP, according to StatCounter. And if you count the the PCs accessing the Internet, as does, some 31% are Windows XP machines.

Microsoft has stuck by XP longer than any previous version. It went eight years before cutting support for Windows NT, 11 years before doing the same with Windows 2000 and it will go 13 years before pulling the plug on XP, points out Rob Kraus, research director at security management firm Solutionary.

“Having an operating system in place for 13 years is a testament to the work Microsoft has put into the OS,” Kraus says.

It was with XP Service Pack 2 in 2004 that Microsoft first enabled firewalls for Windows users by default. Subsequently, the software giant endured costly delays in the launch of XP’s successor, Windows Vista, mainly to make major security upgrades. And then it reinforced those security protections in Windows 7 and 8.

“Microsoft fundamentally redesigned the operating system after XP,” says Phil Lieberman, president of security consultancy Lieberman Software. “Trying to patch such an old operating system is akin to doing repairs to an old building that everybody agrees needs to be torn down.”

Even so, it’s highly likely millions of consumer and business XP machines will continue in use after April 8. A French company, Arkoon, has even begun offering a service that will identify vulnerabilities in XP machines after Microsoft stops issuing security patches.

And Microsoft itself is offering a failsafe for companies who can’t , or won’t, sunset XP. They might qualify to purchase “custom support” from Microsoft to receive critical security updates and related technical support.

Companies that face switching large numbers of XP workstations or that risk losing use of old business apps that won’t run well on newer versions of Windows must do the cost vs. benefit calculation.

Pierluigi Stella, Chief Technology Officer of Network Box USA , says for many companies still using XP, the wisest course will be to bite the bullet and upgrade.

“Generally speaking, most of companies typically can be migrated without major issues,” he says. “It’s only a matter of planning, budgeting and executing.”


NSA director Keith Alexander says European spying reports are false


National Security Agency director Gen. Keith Alexander on Tuesday called “completely false” press reports that the NSA had gathered information on millions of telephone calls in countries across Europe.

At a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Alexander said the data in question came from foreign intelligence agencies and was usually gathered outside Europe.

“This is not information we collected on European citizens,” Alexander said, citing reports of snooping in Italy France, and Spain. “It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sought to reassure a worldwide audience Tuesday that the U.S. is not cavalier about the privacy of Americans or foreigners.

“What we do not do is spy unlawfully on Americans or, for that matter, spy indiscriminately on the citizens of any country,” Clapper said during the House hearing. “We do not spy on anyone except for valid foreign intelligence purposes.”

The hearing came as European leaders and citizens are in an uproar about reports of widespread U.S. surveillance of e-mails and telephone communications both of average citizens and of prominent politicians.

Speaking in advance of the House hearing, White House press secretary Jay Carney would not confirm a Wall Street Journal’s story that some snooping attributed to the NSA in other reports was conducted by French and Spanish intelligence services in war zones and then passed to the NSA.

“We have important cooperative relationships with the security agencies and intelligence agencies” of allies around the world, Carney said, but he declined to “get into the specific alleged intelligence activities.”

Citing documents provided by Edward Snowden, newspapers in Italy, France and Spain have reported in recent days that the NSA monitored tens of millions of phone calls in both countries.

During his appearance on Capitol Hill, Clapper also warned Congress not to overreact to the stream of disclosures by passing legislation that undermines important counterterrorism programs.

“We must remain mindful of the potential impact of over-correcting the authorizations of the intelligence community,” Clapper said.

Other players in Congress are already moving ahead with reform legislation. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and House Judiciary Committee member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced legislation Tuesday that would end a National Security Agency program that collects information on virtually all telephone calls made to, from or within the United States.

The House narrowly defeated a similar measure in July, but the prospects for such an aggressive move passing Congress are doubtful. Democrats in the Senate appear divided about the notion of cutting off the domestic call-tracking program.

A member of the European delegation in Washington to discuss surveillance issues suggested that the intelligence sharing might have extended into surveillance of foreign leaders, and that the NSA may not have directly tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

“The truth of a lot of these allegations has still not been actually explored properly,” European Parliament member Timothy Kirkhope told POLITICO on Monday.

“Who it was for instance who was listening to the chancellor’s conversations, if they were? Was it the Americans at all? I’m not convinced myself. I think it may be closer to home,” he said cryptically.

The White House is considering ending U.S. surveillance of friendly foreign leaders, but no final decisions have been made, a senior administration official told POLITICO late Monday. “While we have made some individual changes…we have not made across the board changes in policy like, for example, terminating intelligence collection that might be aimed at all allies,” the official said.

That came after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made a more sweeping claim, saying that the White House had told her that “collection on our allies will not continue.” That assessment, the administration official said, was “not accurate.”


Treasury says taxpayers’ GM bailout loss now $9.7B

Fred Meier, USA TODAY 3:37 p.m. EDT October 29, 2013

The latest quarterly report from the Treasury Department says it has booked a $9.7 billion loss on the $49.5 billion bailout of General Motors.

The report to Congress is from Treasury’s special inspector general overseeing TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program that was the bailout fund for troubled financial and auto companies.

Taxpayers originally held 60.8% of GM in exchange for the bailout loans. Treasury has been selling down that stake and says in the report:

“Through a series of stock sales, Treasury has divested its preferred stock and most of its common stock, reducing its stake to 7.3%. Because the common stock sales have all taken place below Treasury’s break-even price, Treasury has so far booked a loss of $9.7 billion on the sales.”

The 7.3% equates to about 101 million shares of GM common stock, and to break even it now would have to sell those shares for an average of about $150. GM closed Monday at $35.80 making the remaining taxpayer stake worth about $3.6 billion.

The Treasury is conducting a new round of selling and has said it will divest all the shares by the end of the first quarter.


Motorola’s modular smartphone will be the anti-iPhone



October 29 at 10:17 am


Google owns Motorola. So it’s no surprise that Motorola’s latest smartphone idea draws inspiration from Google’s Android operating system — and offers another foil to Apple’s “closed” iOS.

Motorola’s vision of the future smartphone is open source: The device’s hardware will be customizable, and not just when you’re buying it from the store. The company’s Project Ara hopes to turn your phone into a physical platform. As with PCs, the device will be modular, meaning users can swap out components whenever they feel like it. Did you drop your phone and break the screen? Just replace the part that’s damaged all by yourself. Want to take better pictures? Just unplug the camera and slip in a new one. The phone will automatically detect the new component and integrate it into the rest of the system.

In many ways, a completely modular phone would be the antithesis of the iPhone. Those iconic smartphones, by design, are not upgradable — at least, not unless you fork over several hundred dollars for a new one. Consumers can’t easily take an iPhone apart and see what’s inside, let alone install new parts themselves. All that mystery and secrecy makes the iPhone seem kind of magical — and thus impenetrable to the average user.

Motorola’s bet, however, is that consumers will appreciate a more accessible smartphone, one that users can tinker with and repair themselves without having to go to a Genius Bar or another company store for help. (That convenience could also inspire users to hold on to their devices longer, reducing e-waste and countering the trend in the device industry toward shorter and shorter product life-cycles.)

Motorola appears to be so convinced of the modular future that it’s partnered with the Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, whose similar Phonebloks concept has won over nearly 1 million supporters. 



DoD’s top officers lack skills needed to lead tomorrow’s military, report says

Monday – 10/28/2013, 2:00pm EDT

By     Michael O’Connell

Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, senior adviser and fellow, Center for a New American Security

Today’s generals and admirals don’t have the skills to address tomorrow’s military challenges, a new report concludes. Just because you’re a good soldier doesn’t mean you’re a good office manager.

Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, a former top commander in Afghanistan, said that the military’s top leaders have been through 12 years of demanding conflicts in two different theaters of war, but that has not prepared them for the enterprise side of managing in the Department of Defense. He’s the author of a new report released today by the Center for a New American Security addressing this concern.

“Since 2003, we fought a very long, bloody war in Iraq alongside the one in Afghanistan,” he said. “And the general officer corps, and in many cases admirals in the Navy, have been deeply involved in this. For the last decade, it has been in some ways their entire focus. So, their ability to have broadening assignments and even have their normal educational opportunities to grow into their positions and to learn the bigger enterprise of defense has been missing in a lot of ways.”

Barno told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp incoming generals need time to learn how to do their jobs.

These days, it’s rare for a general to have an assignment last four or five years. Typically, tours of duty last only one or two years, which doesn’t allow them the opportunity to really learn their jobs in depth, Barno said.

“One of our recommendations is to make some significant changes to how long we keep successful people in their positions,” Barno.

Looking back over 40 years, Barno said he found shorter tours to be a relatively recent phenomenon. For example, Adm. Hyman Rickover, who many considered the father of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, held his job for more than three decades. More recently, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was commander of the Joint Special Operations Command for five years.

It’s not just how much time officers spend on an assignment, it’s also the lack of scope in the work they’re focused on, Barno said. Officers specialize on combat and combat-related tasks, usually through the first 20 years of their careers. After that, though, as they become flag officers, those same officers are expected to acquire a whole new skill set.

“They’re expected to go from being very, very proficient at a fairly narrow set of skills, in some ways, to being good at everything,” Barno said. “That’s where the term general comes from. They are generalists. But the world that they’re going to inherent looks a lot less like the combat or combat-support environment they grew up in. It looks a lot like corporate business.”

Barno found that two-thirds of what general-rank officers do is “managing the enterprise” of the military, something they have very little experience doing.

“They can sometimes fall short when they’re put in those positions, which are the predominant positions they find as flag officers,” Barno said.

He recommended that at about the selection point for a two-star general, an officer should be put in one of two tracks. The first track would focus on combat, where an officer would continue to receive warfighting training so he or she could continue to lead the military’s warfighting effort.

The second would be an enterprise track, which accounts for more than half of all the general and admiral positions in the military.

Barno said this track would resemble an MBA program that would provide “an education in how to run our corporate enterprise, which the Defense Department is perhaps one of the largest in the world. They need something like that.”

The study also found education for generals and admirals drops significantly when compared to the first 20 years of their careers.

“Once you become a general, you can count your educational opportunities in days or weeks,” Barno said. “For an additional 15 or 20 years of service, that just doesn’t seem to make sense to us.”

Sequestration and budget cuts have impacted the entire military, so it’s not surprising that funding for training senior officers remains tight — not just for general ranks either, but for up and coming majors and lieutenant colonels, who will be the military’s future leaders.

In addition, the report suggests the military expand the opportunities for officers in their first 20 years to learn more about enterprise. Some of that may include training with industry and seeing how non-defense agencies do their work.

DoD should also look at expanding opportunities for graduate-level education and training, according to the report.

“That has diminished by probably 75 percent of what it was when I was a junior officer, just primarily due to budget cuts,” Barno said. “That’s an incredible opportunity for officers to get to know their counterparts out there in the broader population by being in civilian graduate schools, and also just broaden their horizons beyond the very narrow military warfighting focus.”


McKeon Taps Thornberry to Lead Acquisition Reform Effort

Oct 29 2013

Washington, D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon today announced that Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry will lead a long-term effort to reform the Department of Defense including a hard look at acquisition.

At an Armed Services Committee hearing today, Chairman McKeon said:

“While this Committee has led successful efforts to improve the way the Department acquires items and services, there are still significant challenges facing the defense acquisition system. We cannot afford a costly and ineffective acquisition system, particularly when faced with devastating impacts of repeated budget cuts and sequestration. The Congress, together with the Department of Defense and industry, must be willing to do the hard work to find root causes, look past band-aid fixes and parochial interests, and have the courage to implement meaningful, lasting reform. To this end, I have asked our Vice Chairman, Mr. Thornberry, in consultation with our ranking member, to engage in a long-term DOD reform effort that includes a hard look at acquisition.”

Vice Chairman Thornberry wrote an op-ed for Real Clear Defense today outlining his goals for the new acquisition reform effort.

Reforming a Defense Acquisition System That Costs Money, Lives

By Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry

Real Clear Defense

October 29, 2013

A scan of any week’s headlines makes clear that the world is not getting any safer, nor are our security challenges getting any simpler. We face a complex array of threats, known and unknown.Yet, we will have to meet those threats with tight defense budgets for the foreseeable future. Even if Congress and the President can agree to find other savings to replace further defense cuts under sequestration — which we should — the United States will still have to meet essentially unlimited threats with quite limited resources. That means it is more important than ever to get the most value possible out of each dollar spent on our national security.

Too much of the money spent now is not used as efficiently or as effectively as it should be. Upward of 10 percent of the entire federal discretionary budget goes to buying things for our troops, ranging from tanks to toilet paper. Reform of defense acquisition – the goods as well as the services we buy – must be a top priority. There are a lot of good people in and out of government who work hard to see that our military is provided with the best. But they operate in a system that too often works against them. Heavy federal regulations drive up the cost of military hardware.

There are nearly 2000 pages of acquisition regulations on the books, many of which have not been reviewed in years. Too often, Congress and the Pentagon respond to cost overruns by adding another law or an additional oversight office.The situation has gotten so bad that in order to supply our troops in Iraq andAfghanistan, entire new streamlined procurement systems were created in order to circumvent the normal process.To his credit, Secretary Hagel recently announced an effort to cut 20 per cent of headquarters personnel over the next several years.

But cuts alone, whether in people or in programs, will not fix the system. It will take Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, Defense Department and Military Services, industry and trade associations, as well as smart, experienced individuals in and out of government all working together to fix these problems.The cost of the current system is enormous.

Too much money and manpower is poured into processes and systems that do not yield a single bullet or minute of training. The weapons and equipment that are produced are too often late and over budget. But the cost is in more than just dollars. Delays in getting top quality equipment into the hands of our troops can cost lives, and the overall security of our nation can be affected.Later this week, a bust of Sir Winston Churchill will be unveiled for permanent display in the United States Capitol.

Upon his appointment as Minister of Munitions toward the end of World War I, Churchill found decision-making at the Ministry a bureaucratic mess. He once remarked that “Everyone claims his margin at every stage, and the sum of the margins is usually ‘no’.” Churchill reorganized and simplified decision-making at the Ministry, and the results included a doubling or better in the production of tanks, field guns, and aircraft, all of which were crucial to final victory.The volatile security environment, our budget constraints, and changes in the way DOD operates have all come together to make this the time to act on defense reform in our own time. The bottom line is that we can do better – and we must.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) is the Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the HASC Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities.


Retirees to get 1.5 percent inflation increase to benefits


October 30 at 9:16 am

Federal retirees, Social Security recipients, military retirees and beneficiaries of several other government programs will receive an increase of 1.5 percent in their benefits in January.

The cost of living adjustment, or COLA, is based on a figure announced this morning by the Labor Department reflecting inflation over the 12 months ending in September.

Joseph A. Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, called the COLA “welcome news for countless Americans who rely on the increase to keep up with the rising price of food, housing, transportation and medical care.”

As of October 2012, there were 1,933,062 federal retirees, about three-fourths of them drawing benefits from the Civil Service Retirement System, which generally applies to those hired into the government before 1984.

The average monthly CSRS benefit was $3,181 for retirees. For those receiving benefits under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System, the average retiree annuity was $1,175. The figures don’t take into account the 1.7 percent inflation adjustment paid in January of this year.

That means the COLA translates into a monthly increase of about $50 on average under CSRS and $20 under FERS; however, with some exceptions, FERS doesn’t pay COLAs to retirees under age 62.

In addition, there were 576,467 survivor beneficiaries with an average benefit of $1,446 per month under CSRS and $484 under FERS as of last October, the most recent accounting of federal retirement figures.

While civil service retirement benefits on average are lower under FERS, those under that system also pay into Social Security and receive benefits from that program. Social Security is not part of the CSRS system, and while CSRS retirees may be eligible for Social Security through other employment, those benefits may be relatively low and typically are subject to an offset that further reduces their value.

The COLA for retirees is determined separately from the raise for active employees. A 1 percent raise for employees is in the works, although not yet finalized. That raise, which would be the first increase in salary rates since 2010, would take effect in early January, varying somewhat by agency pay cycles; it would not go to members of Congress, however.

Beaudoin said the inflation measure the government uses to set the COLA understates cost increases experienced by retirees, who spend a larger percentage of their incomes on health care than does the general population. The average enrollee premium for the health plan that covers federal employees and retirees will rise by 4.4 percent in 2014.

He urged that Congress reject proposals to switch to the “chained” consumer price index measure designed to take into account changes in buying patterns and that would produce slightly lower annual COLA figures. Instead, an inflation measure that better reflects spending by older persons should be used, he said in a statement.

COLAs on civil service benefits, although not on Social Security payments, are prorated for those on the retirement rolls less than a full year.

The annual COLA announcement was delayed two weeks because of the partial government shutdown this month.


Sharing Data Between Top Secret and Unclassified Security Domains

October 31, 2013

Lockheed Martin has developed a cyber security solution that allows intelligence to be securely shared among personnel working at all security levels – from highly classified intelligence sites to unclassified users in the field. This high assurance information solution, called Trusted Sentinel, allows data to be manually and/or automatically transferred between two or more differing security domains by using a single consolidated configuration of hardware and software.

“In today’s complex cyber threat environment, protecting and securing our data is critical,” said Jim Quinn, vice president of C4ISR Systems for Lockheed Martin Information Systems & Global Solutions. “Trusted Sentinel addresses the difficult challenge of sharing relevant information across security domains and between organizational echelons.”

Trusted Sentinel supports the secure flow of intelligence data between all clearance levels by ensuring that sensitive information does not escape the highest clearance levels. It also ensures that information traveling back up the chain from un-cleared sources does not contain malicious code that could corrupt secure networks. By incorporating a suite of network protection capabilities that ‘guards’ classified data from unauthorized access, Trusted Sentinel controls the release of information commensurate with the security level of the information being processed, including clearance level, formal access approval and user need as determined by assigned confidentiality requirements.

Trusted Sentinel was developed by combining the capabilities of two of Lockheed Martin’s Unified Cross Domain Management Office (UCDMO)-approved Cross Domain Solutions. The UCDMO is a joint Department of Defense and Intelligence Community organization that provides centralized coordination and oversight of cross-domain initiatives across these communities. The solution, which has received design approval from the accrediting organization, is being prepared for placement into an operational environment.


How General Motors Was Really Saved: The Untold True Story Of The Most Important Bankruptcy In U.S. History

Editor’s Note: Lots of people–including President Obama–have trumpeted their role in the success of the government-backed turnaround plan that saved General Motors, the most important industrial company in the history of the United States.

But on the fifth anniversary of the crisis, Forbes presents an exclusive, unprecedented look at what really happened during GM’s darkest days, how a tiny band of corporate outsiders and turnaround experts convened in Detroit and hatched a radical plan that ultimately set the foundation for the salvation of the company.

Author Jay Alix, one of the most respected experts on corporate bankruptcy in America, was the architect of that plan, and now, for the first time, he reveals How General Motors Was Really Saved.

By Jay Alix

For months the news was horrific, a pounding beat of warm-up obituaries for what once had been America’s greatest and most influential corporation: General Motors. At death’s door or already in the graveyard were Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG and Citibank. The mood was apocalyptic.

With car sales in a free fall from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, GM was losing billions and running out of cash. By the time the company closed its books on 2008 it would be in the red by a staggering $30.9 billion. Chief executive Rick Wagoner led the auto delegation in Washington seeking government funding to save the industry and keep GM out of bankruptcy.

Five years later, after an unprecedented government equity investment, GM is thriving and the Treasury plans to sell its remaining stake in the coming months. With countless articles and books now written about the GM restructuring and turnaround–not to mention three years of trumpeting by the Obama Administration taking full credit for the turnaround’s success–the most startling aspect of the prevailing narrative is that the core of how the restructuring really happened, inside GM, is yet to be fully told.

In the popular version of the company’s turnaround story, as GM teetered toward liquidation in 2009, an Obama-appointed SWAT team, led by financier Steven Rattner, swept in and hatched a radical plan: Through a novel use of the bankruptcy code they would save the company by segregating and spinning out its valuable assets, while Washington furnished billions in taxpayer funds to make sure the company was viable.

The real GM turnaround story, significant in saving the auto industry and the economy, is contrary to the one that has been published. In fact, the plan that was developed, implemented and then funded by the government was devised inside GM well before President Obama took office. In what follows, the inside story of this historic chapter in American business unfolds, laying bare the key facts.

GM’s extraordinary turnaround began long before Wagoner went to Washington in search of a massive loan to keep GM alive. My involvement in that story began in GM’s darkest days, five years ago on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, when I visited Wagoner at his home that morning, presenting a novel plan to save General Motors.

As a consultant with expertise in restructurings and turnarounds, I had completed a half-dozen assignments at GM over the years. I had worked with Wagoner in 1992 when he became chief financial officer. I was asked to come in for a two-year stint as CEO of GM’s National Car Rental, the first time GM had recruited an outsider to lead a turnaround in one of its subsidiaries.

By 2008 I had over 20 years of experience with the auto industry and almost 30 years of working on turnarounds. But for the past eight years I had backed away from business and my firm, AlixPartners, to care for my daughters after the death of my wife. I was essentially “retired.” But GM’s enveloping crisis and my friendship with Wagoner would bring me out.

Early on that November Sunday I called Wagoner at his home in a Detroit suburb. I asked to see him right away, explaining that I had a new idea that could help save the company.

Three hours later I walked through his front door and into his family room. I knew Wagoner believed GM could not survive a bankruptcy. Studies showed consumer confidence would crash. No one would buy a car from a company that was bankrupt. However, what I knew about the economic crisis and GM’s rapidly deteriorating liquidity position told me the company had no choice but to prepare for a bankruptcy.

Yet I agreed with Wagoner. For a global company as big and complex as GM, a “normal” bankruptcy would tie up the company’s affairs for years, driving away customers, resulting in a tumultuous liquidation. It had happened to other companies a fraction of GM’s size. It would mean the end of GM.

“I don’t think the company will survive a bankruptcy,” he told me. “And no one has shown me a plan that would allow it to survive a bankruptcy.”


“Filing bankruptcy may be inevitable, Rick. But it doesn’t have to be a company-killing bankruptcy,” I said. “I think we can create a unique strategy that allows GM to survive bankruptcy.”

To be sure, my idea, sketched out on a few pages, was provocative. I knew as I pitched it to Wagoner that it might raise eyebrows, if not outright objection, from others who believed their plans would be safer.

In short, I proposed that GM split into two very separate parts before filing: “NewCo,” a new company with a clean balance sheet, taking on GM’s best brands and operations; and “OldCo,” the leftover GM with most of the liabilities. All of the operational restructuring to make the new company profitable would also occur before a bankruptcy filing so GM could go through bankruptcy in a matter of days–not months or years with creditors and other litigants fighting over the corporate carcass while the revenue line crashes.

Seeking funding from the government, or any source, we would use Bankruptcy Code Section 363, which allows a company to sell assets under a court-approved sale. Typically, 363 is used to sell specific assets, from a chair and desk to a factory or division, but not the entire stand-alone company. Under this strategy GM could postpone filing a plan of reorganization and a disclosure statement, which consume months and fuel a blizzard of litigation while market share and enterprise value bleed away.

Wagoner listened, challenging every assumption. After discussing it with board members, Rick asked me to come to GM and work on the plan, one of several alternatives GM would consider. I volunteered to help GM on a pro bono basis. But what I could never anticipate was how deep and strong the opposition to my plan would ultimately be.


On Tuesday, Dec. 2, I pulled into GM’s Detroit headquarters at 7 a.m. after most of the company’s executives had already arrived for work. I was given a small cubicle and conference room on the 38th floor, a spacious but empty place that held GM’s corporate boardroom and a warren of cubicles reserved for visiting executives and board members.

Each day I would be the sole person who got off the elevator on 38, one floor down from where Wagoner and his team worked. It was eerie and quiet, the main wall lined with large oil paintings of GM’s past chairmen. I’d walk past those gilded frames daily, feeling the full weight of their gaze, reminded of the history and past glory of what had been the most powerful corporation on earth.

Spending 18 hours a day digging through the numbers in GM’s filings, I began working in greater detail on the outlines of the plan and making some assumptions on what assets should be transferred to NewCo and what would stay in OldCo, which I dubbed Motors Liquidation. There were thousands of crucial questions that had to be asked and answered with management: Which brands and factories would survive? Which ones would the company have to give up? What would be the endgame strategy? What would be the enterprise value of NewCo? The liquidation value of OldCo?

Wagoner and COO Fritz Henderson were developing three alternative plans. First, they hoped to avoid bankruptcy altogether, believing the government would provide enough funding to bring GM through the crisis. At least two cabinet members in the Bush Administration and others had provided assurances to Rick and board members that government help would be forthcoming.


Second was a “prepackaged” bankruptcy plan being developed by general counsel Robert Osborne with Harvey R. Miller, the dean of the bankruptcy bar and senior partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Under this plan, GM would prepare a reorganization in cooperation with its bond creditors that would take effect once the company went into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The goal of a so-called prepack is to shorten and simplify the bankruptcy process.

Miller commanded great respect in bankruptcy circles and in the GM boardroom, and for good reason. At the age of 75 Miller was the only attorney in the country who had successfully dealt with as many high-profile bankruptcies. Miller was already in the middle of the largest corporate liquidation ever, at Lehman Brothers.

And third was the NewCo plan, based on years of experience at AlixPartners, where we had a major role in 50 of the 180 largest bankruptcies over $1 billion in the past 15 years. GM had also retained Martin Bienenstock, the restructuring and corporate governance leader from Dewey & LeBoeuf, to help develop the NewCo plan as well.

Inside and outside GM, the pressures mounted. Each day the company lost more money and got closer to running out of cash. In Washington several prominent politicians began calling for Wagoner’s resignation. On Dec. 7 Senator Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat, told Face the Nation’ s Bob Schieffer that Wagoner had to move on.

The next day I went to see Wagoner to offer encouragement and advice. It is not unusual for a CEO to lose his job when his company is forced into bankruptcy and a major restructuring. I’d seen this play out many times before and learned the boss should never volunteer his resignation without first putting in place the things that would help the organization survive. I wanted to help fortify Rick’s resolve and keep us all focused on the endgame.

From my perspective Wagoner had been unfairly treated by many politicians and the media. Since taking over as CEO in 2000, working closely with Fritz and vice chairman Bob Lutz, Rick orchestrated large, dramatic changes at the company. They closed GM’s quality, productivity and fuel-economy gaps with the world’s best automakers, winning numerous car and truck awards. They built a highly profitable business in China, the world’s biggest potential car market. They reduced the company’s workforce by 143,000 employees, to 243,000. They reached a historic agreement with the UAW that cut in half hourly pay for new employees and significantly scaled back the traditional retiree benefit packages that had been crippling the company, while also funding over $100 billion in unfunded retiree obligations. And he was able to accomplish all these changes without causing massive disruptions among GM’s dealers or major strikes with the unions.

Ultimately, those structural changes positioned the company not only to survive but also to bring about the extraordinary turnaround. But now, with the economy and the company in free fall, all of that hard work seemed to be forgotten.

It was late in the day on Dec. 8, around 5:30 p.m., when I walked into Wagoner’s office.

“Rick, do not resign or even offer to resign,” I told him. “Later you may have to fall on your sword to get the funding deal done with the government, but don’t do it until we get the three things we need. If you’re going to be killed on the battlefield, we need to make it worth it.”


“And what is that exactly?” he pressed me.

“We have to get government funding of $40 billion to $50 billion. Plus, we need an agreement with the government and GM’s board to do the NewCo plan. And we must put a qualified successor in place. It must be Fritz and not some government guy. It’s going to be painful for you, but you’ve got to stay on the horse until we get all three.”

Wagoner was already there. He had no intention of resigning and was determined to complete his mission. I gave him a bear hug, letting him know he had my full support.


When we gathered for a telephonic board meeting on Dec. 15, the mood was urgent, the tension high. Only two weeks after arriving at GM I was about to present the plan to the board of directors in a conference room outside Wagoner’s office. Also on the phone were the company’s lawyers and investment bankers.

A Spiderphone was in the middle of the table for what would be a historic meeting of the board. Only three days earlier the Senate had abandoned negotiations to provide funding for the auto industry. Suddenly a free-fall bankruptcy within days loomed large. Consideration of the NewCo plan, now refined with the help of chief financial officer Ray Young and other senior finance staffers, took on greater urgency as we were just two weeks away from running out of cash.

“I know the company has many lawyers and bankers working on other approaches,” I said. “I know many of the people doing the work, and I’ve worked with many of them over the years. But I have an alternative strategy for the board’s consideration. I suspect there might be some controversy over it, but I believe this could be lifesaving for General Motors.”

After carefully laying out the details and time sequence of the NewCo plan, I drew to a close.

Well,” one director asked over the phone system, “I want to hear what Harvey Miller has to say about this. Is there a precedent for this, Mr. Miller?”

Miller’s deep baritone voice filled the room, pointing out that the idea was unorthodox and lacked precedence.

Other attorneys chimed in, claiming the plan oversimplified the situation and there would be major problems with it. Yet another added that this would not be viewed well by the court and doubted any judge would allow it. Collectively, they characterized it as a long shot, discouraging the directors from thinking the plan could ever succeed.

Hearing all the disapproving words amplified from speakers in the ceiling, I felt ambushed by general counsel Osborne, who was strongly advocating for a prepackaged bankruptcy strategy, which he believed was the only way to go. Unbeknownst to me he had previously proposed the idea to GM’s board, naively believing GM could complete a prepack bankruptcy in 30 days.

GM’s most senior leaders had been working with me on the NewCo plan around the clock. I felt strongly this alternative approach could succeed, and I knew that any other type of Chapter 11 strategy would kill vehicle sales and lead to the demise of GM. Now it seemed as if the NewCo plan could be dead on arrival.

“If the attorneys feel this is a waste of time and corporate resources, I don’t know why we would pursue this,” stated another director.

A chilling silence descended upon the room, broken by Kent Kresa, the former CEO of Northrop Grumman and a GM board member since 2003.

“I understand this has some risk attached to it, but we’re in a very risky state right now,” he said. “And I understand it may even be unusual and unprecedented. But it’s certainly creative, and quite frankly, it’s the most innovative idea we’ve heard so far that has real potential in it. I think it deserves further consideration and development.”

Rick then addressed another lawyer on the call, Martin Bienenstock.

“Well, I’ve actually studied the problem, too, and there’s a way for this to work,” said Bienenstock. “Almost all bankruptcies are unique and the Code does allow for the transfer of assets. I can’t imagine a judge taking on this problem and not wanting to solve it. We’ve done a preliminary analysis, and it’s not as crazy as it sounds. It’s unique and compelling.”

“Okay, we’ve heard both sides of it,” Rick said after others spoke, smartly bringing the debate to a reasonable close. “I suggest we continue working to develop both the prepack plan and the NewCo option, while seeking the funding to avoid Chapter 11 if at all possible.”

The meeting adjourned without a vote. I left the room disappointed to hear Osborne’s legal chorus so dead set against NewCo and surprised their remarks had stopped all real discussion of the plan. But I also was relieved the plan was not completely dead, at least not yet.


Over the next weeks I worked closely with Bienenstock, assistant general counsel Mike Millikin, Al Koch of AlixPartners and GM senior vice president John Smith on the NewCo plan. We huddled dozens of times with Wagoner and Henderson to work out which brands GM would ultimately have to give up (Hummer, Saturn, Saab and Pontiac) and which ones it would keep (Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick). Informed debate and deep analysis of structural costs led to decisions about projects, factories, brands and countries.

On Sunday afternoon, Mar. 29, Wagoner called me. It was a call I had hoped would never come–but here it was.

“Jay,” he said, “I wanted to give you a heads-up. The Administration wants me to step aside. The President is going to hold a press conference tomorrow morning.”

Wagoner told me Henderson would be named CEO.

“What about the bankruptcy?” I asked.

“They’re enamored with the 363 NewCo plan. They seem bound and determined to make us file Chapter 11 and do NewCo. … This is really tough,” he said.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, pausing, “but … you got the money. They’re doing the NewCo plan, and Fritz is your successor. … You’ve succeeded. You got the three things.”


Rick responded with resigned acknowledgment, then said, “Please help Fritz in any way you can,” before hanging up.

Rick’s personal sacrifice was not in vain. Months of hard work had paid off. The assets and liabilities had been selected. The NewCo legal entities and $45 billion tax-loss strategy had been developed. The strategy I pitched to Wagoner in his living room four and a half months earlier was the plan chosen by Team Auto in a meeting on Apr. 3, 2009 in Washington. Treasury agreed to fully fund NewCo with equity, and thus it became the chosen path to save the company.

By late April NewCo implementation was well under way. The bankruptcy filing would occur in New York within weeks. My partner, Al Koch of AlixPartners, would become the chief restructuring officer running OldCo, now officially named Motors Liquidation, Inc. In my notes, I jotted: “My work is finished … impact from this day forward will be negligible. … Treasury’s in control. Time to get back to my girls.”

On June 1, 2009 General Motors filed for bankruptcy in New York, with $82 billion in assets and $173 billion in liabilities. It was the largest industrial bankruptcy in history. Harvey Miller and his team masterfully defended and guided the NewCo plan through the bankruptcy court, successfully making it their own. New GM exited bankruptcy protection on July 10, 2009–in a mere 40 days, as designed. Fritz called and thanked me.

There would be many other twists and turns to GM’s narrative, but the company got its fresh start using the NewCo plan, and the industry was saved with government funding from both Presidents Bush and Obama. In March 2009 President Obama cited a “failure of leadership” as his reason for forcing out Wagoner. In fact, it was Wagoner’s exercise of leadership through years of wrenching change and then simultaneously seeking government funding while developing three restructuring plans that put GM in position to survive the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and complete its turnaround, which, ironically, became a key campaign issue in the reelection of Barack Obama in 2012.


Los Angeles to Form Centralized Cyber Command

Mayor: Efficiency Plus Cost Savings Equals More Security

By Eric Chabrow, October 31, 2013.

Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity

Influenced by President Obama’s executive order on cybersecurity, the mayor of Los Angeles on Oct. 30 announced the creation of a Cyber Intrusion Command Center to centralize information security standards across city agencies.

In signing an executive directive, Mayor Eric Garcetti says he’s working to break down silos between city departments. “This makes us more efficient, more cost effective and in this context, more secure,” he says.

Garcetti, in a statement, says the center will provide a single, focused team responsible for implementing enhanced security standards across city departments and serve as a rapid reaction force to cyber-attacks. The new center will be assisted by the FBI and Secret Service, although Garcetti didn’t explain how those agencies will help the new command center.

In the executive directive, Garcetti cites Obama’s executive order that fathered the cybersecurity framework being developed (see Obama, CEOs Meet on Cybersecurity Framework), as well as comments on cyberthreats made by National Intelligence Director James Clapper and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as rationale for creating the center.

Protecting Basic Services

The mayor put the threat in local terms. “Today, our traffic lights, our routing system for trash pick-up and so much more are electronic,” he says. “Cybersecurity means protecting the basic services at the core of city government, and it means protecting our critical infrastructure like our port and airport, which we know are top targets.”

Details on how the center will function, including its leadership, are pending. By mid-November, the mayor will organize a working group of key city departments to propose a detailed organizational structure for the center. The working group will present the proposed structure to the mayor by late November.

The directive calls on the center to:

  • Facilitate the identification and investigation of cyberthreats and intrusions against city assets;
  • Guarantee incidents are quickly and thoroughly investigated by the appropriate law enforcement agency;
  • Promote dissemination of cybersecurity alerts and information;
  • Provide uniform governance structure accountable to city leadership;
  • Coordinate incident response and remediation across the city;
  • Serve as an advisory body to city departments;
  • Sponsor independent security assessments to reduce security risks;
  • Ensure awareness of best practices.

Enhancing Cybersecurity

According to the directive, all departments must contribute personnel, resources and data to the center, report information about significant cyber-related events that occur, identify personnel who require notification about distributed threat information and provide resources for cooperative actions as situations may require.

Besides participating in the center, Garcetti directs each department to enhance its own cybersecurity.

The mayor used the executive directive to reinforce to city departments and employees minimum IT security standards, such as limiting access to data and networks, requiring new passwords every 90 days, requiring updates to anti-virus software, planning for business continuity and disaster recovery and promoting a culture of cybersecurity awareness.

“City employees are our first line of defense in ensuring that city systems are protected from intruders,” Garcetti says. “Employees are in the best position to protect the systems, and are in the best position to report problems at an early stage before the issue impacts the city more broadly.”


Is China Building a Trojan Horse into NATO Through Turkey?

by Aki Peritz and Mieke Eoyang

October 31, 2013

The People’s Republic of China may be building a new Trojan horse in the modern lands of ancient Troy — but this time it seems the mission is to penetrate not a walled city, but NATO’s security architecture.

Turkey currently is negotiating a contract with China’s missile builders, the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation (CPMIEC), which beat competing bids from Raytheon/Lockheed Martin and a few other foreign firms. While it seems Turkey is saving money on the deal — the Chinese bid to sell the FD-2000 surface-to-air missile system came in at $3.44 billion, while the other bids were around $4 billion — Ankara’s behavior suggests it believes it can have its security cake and eat it too.

It’s unclear what is the Turkish word for chutzpah, but Turkey already has a missile defense system defending it in NATO’s Raytheon-built Patriot system, courtesy of Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. Ankara requested it last year. As part of the NATO Air Defense Ground Environment, other countries have already picked up half of the tab of Turkish missile defense needs. This is because Ankara took advantage of the interoperable missile defense systems among NATO’s 28-country alliance. The civil war in neighboring Syria legitimately threatened Turkey and its allies quickly answered the call.

The Turks knows full well that if events ever go south — say, if Syria or Iran devolve into a shooting war that sucks them in– NATO will back them in a military conflict. If Turkey was serious about missile defense, it would have bought the American Patriot system that has a proven track record and avoided wasting money on an inferior Chinese program. It’s like buying a motorcycle when you really need an SUV. Instead, Turkey might be cutting itself off from the alliance if they now try to deploy the Chinese technology. And allowing Beijing spies into NATO’s backyard seems to be a secondary concern for the Turks.

Of course, the Turkish government has been well-informed of the many pitfalls of purchasing this Chinese system. For example, President Barack Obama twice told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that there will be major interoperability issues between the Chinese and NATO systems. Despite a top Turkish Defense Ministry official brushing these problems aside,

China’s system is copied heavily from the Russian model, so its technical architecture is completely different than the Western model. And just as China’s cartridges won’t fit into NATO’s rifles, Turkey will have to perform major technical surgery to synchronize the NATO and Chinese systems, reconfiguring sensors and radars to be able to operate on both systems. This of course, will cost a lot of money and may not work in the end.

Even if it’s technically possible, other NATO countries will balk at having a highly-advanced, potentially adversarial structure integrated into their top-secret missile system. According to one defense analyst, “[NATO] member nations will refuse any cooperation with Turkey for the integration of the Chinese system into the alliance’s assets deployed in Turkey.” As another British defense analyst told the Financial Times, “This type of arrangement, which requires the transfer of design information, is not feasible for American military firms.” And not just Chinese technology, but Chinese cyber, military and missile personnel will theoretically be working next to NATO resources, providing Beijing an intelligence foothold in these critical national security fields.

It remains unclear whether Turkey’s strategy for missile defense buys extends to other parts of the defense acquisition process, for there are ramifications with working with a sanctioned Chinese company that, since 2006, has been banned from working with American firms. U.S. companies now might think twice about selling Turkey fighter aircraft like F-16s or F-35s, or advanced radar systems, because Chinese technology will compromise their systems. It might even be illegal for U.S. corporations to work with Turkish businesses once the deal is complete.

All in all, Turkey might be thinking they worked out a great arrangement because it saved money and forged a deal with a growing economic powerhouse. But this will affect U.S. national security almost as much as Turkey’s because we too have interests in the region and in the cohesiveness of the NATO alliance. Every American and allied policymaker who interacts with his or her Turkish counterparts should underscore this fact.

The contract isn’t signed in stone; Erdoğan hinted that the deal may still be in play. Let’s hope the Turkish president has a change of heart; recall the Trojan War ended rather poorly for King Priam and his people because of a fatal, stupid, self-inflicted wound. Let’s hope Turkey’s modern-day leaders reflect upon the folly of the ancient Anatolians and remember to beware Chinese defense corporations bearing gifts.


FAA changes safety rules so airline passengers can use electronic gadgets from gate-to-gate

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, October 31, 10:31 AM

WASHINGTON — Government safety rules are changing to let airline passengers use most electronic devices from gate-to-gate.

The change will let passengers read, work, play games, watch movies and listen to music — but not make cellphone calls.

The Federal Aviation Administration says airlines can allow passengers to use the devices during takeoffs and landings on planes that meet certain criteria for protecting aircraft systems from electronic interference.

Most new airliners are expected to meet the criteria, but changes won’t happen immediately. Timing will depend upon the airline.

Connections to the Internet to surf, exchange emails, text or download data will still be prohibited below 10,000 feet. Heavier devices like laptops will have to be stowed. Passengers will be told to switch their smartphones, tablets and other devices to airplane mode.

Cellphone calls will still be prohibited.

A travel industry group welcomed the changes, calling them common-sense accommodations for a traveling public now bristling with technology. “We’re pleased the FAA recognizes that an enjoyable passenger experience is not incompatible with safety and security,” said Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

Rapid Prototyping the New Model

Sikorsky’s New Norm Saves Money, Time

Oct. 31, 2013 – 05:20PM | By AARON MEHTA | Comments

Samir Mehta, president of Military Systems at helicopter giant Sikorsky, talks JMR, rapid prototyping and future markets.

WASHINGTON — At last week’s Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference, few programs stood out like the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) demonstrator competition. The winner will be in prime position to eventually replace the Army’s Black Hawk, Apache, Chinook and Kiowa rotorcraft fleet. Defense News sat down with Samir Mehta, president of Military Systems at helicopter giant Sikorsky, to talk JMR, rapid prototyping and future markets.

Q. You have done three “rapid prototyping” projects, the Raider, Matrix and now Defiant. Is this the new model for the company?

A. Yes. I think it is the new model, because at a time when resources are tight, things like time to market, speed of innovation, when the aircraft gets fielded, when we can start performing our customers missions, that’s incredibly important. With long development programs, every year the program goes is another year the budgeting could be messed with. It could be cut, defunded, there are a lot of things that could happen. So every year of development is a year of vulnerability for a budgeting standpoint.

If you can essentially reduce the time it takes to develop, you’re also reducing the resources it takes to develop. Flight test is now a confirmation of the technologies you developed, not experimenting with the technologies you’ve developed.

Q. What tools are you specifically thinking of?

A. System integration laboratories have come a long way. In years past, you had all of these independent systems being developed, and then the first time they’ve come together to work is in the actual test aircraft themselves. You get to work out the kinks and the issues there, not 10 minutes after you roll out first flight, which is a very different risk and cost equation. The advance in simulation also, being able to do much higher fidelity of real-world missions, helps the designers understand what the aircraft capabilities need to be.


Q. How do those tools come into play when developing new technologies?

A. From a business standpoint, you don’t start making investment in technologies or initiatives without fully understanding what the length and size of that investment is going to be. Rapid prototyping allows us, as business people, to make investments. I don’t look at it as an opportunity to reduce R&D. I see it as an opportunity to take your R&D and fund more than one key project.

If you look at our company, between Joint Multi-Role, the work on Matrix, the work on the S-97 Raider, the work that we’re doing on making our core products better, the work we are doing in manufacturing technology — in order to fund those activities now and not have rapid prototyping, we’d either be spending twice as much or we wouldn’t be doing half of it.


Q. Do you expect rapid prototyping to spread?

A. I think it will become an industry standard. That’s not to say everyone will be on an even playing field. We’re an early adaptor of rapid prototyping so I think we’re doing fairly well in this area. I think it just takes a continuous investment, making sure those tools are updated. It’s not without cost or without resources; 40 percent of the engineers we have on the [Army’s Joint Multi-Role program], the future of the company, have less than 10 years of engineering experience. To them, rapid prototyping is obvious. It’s not a leap forward; it’s not something that’s a paradigm shift. It’s the only way they know. For them, things like rapid prototyping are just second nature.

Q. As a company that’s focused on a niche area, is it easier to defend R&D spending?

A. It’s never easy. You have to remember we’re part of a bigger company. Sikorsky is part of a $65 billion industrial powerhouse in United Technologies. When it comes time for us to make significant investments, we’re like everyone else in the company, we have to go and convince the corporate parent that it’s the right level of investment. The fact we’re focused and do one thing well, that’s great. But our parent company does more than one thing, and they’re the ones who have to ultimately bless our larger scale investments.

Q. Do you expect R&D to expand or contract in the short term?

A. I think it will continue to be a significant investment for us. In terms of expansion or contraction, a lot of that depends what happens in the next few years with our customer. Our plan is to stay relatively consistent with our level of development. What has changed is the nature of who we work with, using industry partnerships more effectively, like we’re doing with Boeing on Joint Multi-Role. Now it’s not just about your dollars, talent and expertise. It’s being able to leverage that for the broader industry, forming a partnership and understanding that with that you not only have an efficient use of dollars but you’re not the only one betting on a big technology.

Q. Will that be a trend?

A. Absolutely. I am convinced. Clearly, there’s pressure on RDT&E budgets. I think it starts with that. The days of the government coming and fully funding your program from cradle to grave appears to be over. With that understanding comes the need for industry to step up and make investments, and that’s a tough proposition. It’s always easier to pool your investment, because, from a financial standpoint, it makes sense, and it’s the old one-plus-one equals three equation. We have advancements we’re making every single day that both companies acknowledge we would not be able to do on our own.

Q. Talk about the Boeing partnership on Defiant, your JMR demonstrator.

A. It’s interesting. The scope of the partnership includes not just JMR. It includes future vertical lift, and it includes anything that could replace it. This is not a technology demonstrator partnership. We’re in it for the long haul. This will be a 30-40 year partnership. I can’t think of anything which was so integral to both companies’ core businesses for a period of 30-40 years. It’s game changing.

Q. Analysts expect market dropoff for military rotorcraft in the next decade. How do you position the company to handle that?

A. It’s very easy to take a look at US defense funding in isolation and say that it will be the bellwether of the entire industry, because the US government is the biggest helicopter operator in the world. I’m not saying it’s not important or impactful, but I think you’ll see increased spending on sophisticated equipment in international markets, especially emerging economies with higher growth rates, rapid expansion of their economy and an appetite to be more active in international affairs.

We [also] have an extraordinarily strong commercial business right now. That’s one of the benefits of being diversified. If you took military OEM [original equipment manufacturer] business and that was the key determining factor of the health of our company or industry, you could paint a pretty grim picture. If you take it all in totality and you look at the next three to five years, it starts to become a pretty balanced picture.

Q. Which markets in particular?

A. First and foremost on my mind is Turkey. They’ve been a great customer, there’s 150 Black Hawks in Turkey, and they’re looking to buy 109 more. That’s a program we’ve been very closely involved in and are hopefully looking forward to the last stages of a binding contract here in the next several weeks. Beyond that, there’s a lot of interest in India, certainly the Middle East; we have a solid base of countries in South America from which to grow. It really is broad base, and it’s global.

Q. Is it easier to partner with local firms or to go it alone?

A. We can do both. It really depends on the maturity of the aerospace industry and the desire of the country that is procuring the helicopter. There is a growing sophisticated aerospace industry outside the US. Turkey, for instance, has much more sophistication than they get credit for. So when we do countries like Turkey, industrialization is a key requirement. And it’s not industrialization in the old mode of offsets where you buy 109 helicopters and I promise that my sister division will buy raw material from a copper mine, or something like that. Now it’s about some technology transfer, but more importantly, allowing the countries we sell to to have greater independence in supporting the aircraft after procurement and even designing and building their own aircraft.

Aerospace is one of those very attractive sectors, because it’s a great way to promote your national interests but also indirectly spur growth in STEM. I haven’t talked to an international customer yet who says ‘I don’t have an interest in further developing my country, I just want your helicopters.’

Q. How do you work with a customer like the Pentagon amidst all the uncertainty?

A. The first thing we do is understand that often it’s not the customer that we’re talking to that is the cause of the uncertainty. It’s important for us to articulate that, and it’s important for us to understand that, in many cases, the services we deal with, the program officer we’re dealing with are quite frankly in a tough environment. It’s not that they know there’s a plan and they don’t want to tell us; it’s that they don’t know. That indecision and uncertainty, I think, pervades the entire leadership right now probably all the way up to the leadership of the country.

As an example, we were in the situation with the shutdown that we were going to lose our DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency] quality assurance inspectors. The amount of uncertainty and consternation that causes our company, who are very reliant on DCMA to keep the assembly line moving, is incredible. We can come to a gridlock on our manufacturing floor within 24-48 hours. So the key for us is what the impact of that would likely be and then go communicate that impact to the outside world and the leadership. Our leadership, whether in the Pentagon or with elected officials, need to know the decision they are making, that whatever savings they think they are making by furloughing 45 inspectors, evaporates in 10 minutes by not having three or four thousand people be able to show up and come to work.


In the meantime, while you have the ability to manufacture, it’s about executing. Now, more than ever, it’s important to execute on the programs you have. This is not a good time to be behind schedule and overrun your costs. This is not the time to be a wounded program.

Q. Any long term delays from the shutdown?

A. Quite frankly we’re trying to play catch up right now which is not the most efficient way to do business. Three or four days [without DCMA inspectors], which doesn’t seem like a lot, when you are a manufacturer, three or four days of disruption is significant. It takes you much longer than three to four days to recover from that. We’ll get there, though; we’re not going to miss a delivery.


Rasmussen Reports

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

Zombie nation?  For a sizable number of Americans, it’s a better alternative than the government we’ve got.

Thirty-seven percent (37%) of American Adults believe zombies would do a better job than the federal government running the country today. An equal number (37%) have more confidence in the feds, but another 26% can’t decide between the two.

This should come as no surprise given that 64% of Likely U.S. Voters now view the federal government unfavorably, with 34% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion of it.

Case in point: Obamacare, which is off to such a shambling start that even some Democrats are questioning it.

Voters overwhelmingly want to scrap or change the new health care law, with 43% who want to repeal it entirely and start over and 35% who would prefer Congress go through the law piece by piece to improve it. Just 18% want to leave the law as is. But voters are evenly divided over whether Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should lose her job because of the law’s troubled debut.

Voters remain overwhelmingly positive about the health care they receive, although they are less enthusiastic about the overall U.S. health care system. But 52% continue to predict that health care in this country will get worse under Obamacare

Just 25% of voters believe the United States is heading in the right direction. Still, that’s the first time since just before the government shutdown began on October 1 that over 20% have felt that way.

The president’s total job approval inched up a point to 49% in October, a month that saw both the implementation of the health care law and the partial shutdown. The president’s daily job approval ratings have been worsening this week, though, as more bad news about the health care law emerges. 

As for one of Obama’s possible successors, 43% of voters think the circumstances surrounding the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya will hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances for the presidency in 2016. 

Voters are evenly divided at 42% apiece when asked whether they agree more politically with the president or with the average member of the Tea Party. However, there’s an enormous partisan divide. When it comes to the major issues facing the nation, 77% of Democrats say Obama’s views are closest to their own. Seventy-six percent (76%) of Republicans and 51% of unaffiliated voters identify more closely with the average member of the Tea Party.

Democrats hold a six-point lead over Republicans – 43% to 37% – on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot

The economy doesn’t seem to offer much reassurance about how the federal government’s been doing.

Five years after the Wall Street meltdown, a plurality (48%) of voters still believes the government bailouts of the financial industry were a bad move

Most consumers and investors believe the country is still in a recession. 

Only 33% of Americans believe the U.S. economy will be stronger in a year’s time, while 41% think it will grow weaker by then. 

Just 38% say the economy is fair to people who are willing to work hard, a new low. 

Fewer than half (47%) of Americans believe it’s still possible for anyone in this country looking for work to find a job

Only 24% think the stock market will be higher a year from now

In other surveys last week:

Rasmussen Reports’ final survey of the Virginia gubernatorial race finds Democrat Terry McAuliffe with a seven-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli – 43% to 36%. 

– Sixty-nine percent (69%) of voters favor the use of unmanned drone aircraft to kill al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists overseas, even though 64% believe it’s at least somewhat likely that drone strikes overseas have killed more innocent civilians than the U.S. government is officially reporting

– Just 18% favor the use of unmanned drones by police agencies in the United States. 

– Forty-one percent (41%) of Americans think the U.S. legal system worries too much about the separation of church and state

– When we asked what America thinks about driving, we discovered some interesting things. 

– Most Americans put their family and friends before their pet, but for one-in-10, their pet comes first

– While most adults don’t dress up in a costume or go trick or treating, 61% of Americans think Halloween is children and adults. Even though many schools don’t allow it, 63% believe students should be allowed to wear costumes and bring candy to school for Halloween

Twenty-five percent (25%) of Americans believe in ghosts. 

– Daylight Saving Time ends tonight, but only 36% think there is still a need for DST in America today

October 26 2013




After the Shutdown, Uncertainty Still Plagues Pentagon

By Kevin Baron

October 17, 2013


Now that the shutdown has ended, it’s business as usual again in Washington. At the Pentagon, that’s the problem. In a word: uncertainty.

“I know there are no guarantees in life, but we can’t continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Hagel said that the shutdown harmed everything for the Defense Department from training to the trust of key allies. But instead of waking up Thursday to a normal budget cycle, Pentagon planners instead are right back to where they started before the shutdown — under the budgetary thumb of sequester and continuing resolutions that temporarily fund the government weeks or months at a time.

Hagel said he is now worried about the morale of the military and its civilian workforce.

“Morale is a huge part of this,” Hagel said. “We won’t be able to recruit good people. Good people will leave the government. They’re not going to put up with this. Good people have many options.”

Bob Hale, Pentagon comptroller, was blunter as usual.

“When I read the [White House Office of Management and Budget] message about 2:30 this morning saying government was reopened, I felt like I could stop beating my head against a wall,” he said. “But I’ve got to say it would have felt a lot better never to have started beating my head against a wall.”

The shutdown cost the Pentagon, Hale said, $600 million in “lost productivity” just to start. Additionally, DoD accrued higher interest on outgoing payments not being paid. The department also took on huge costs from ordering thousands personnel to return home from travel duty — including those in schools and training programs – who will now head back out again.

The morning after the shutdown only ends one bad dream for Pentagon leaders. Now they go back to waking up to the same day all over again. “It’s a Groundhog Day approach to budgeting,” said Hale.

The Defense Department is still operating under a continuing resolution that funds the government at last fiscal year’s levels and therefore prevents any new starts of weapons programs, Hagel said. Hale said while no major programs are on hold, it does mean, for example, that because Congress appropriates the purchase of each new naval ship, the Pentagon is required by law to purchase the same numbers of ships this year as last year.

Separate from the continuing resolution, Hagel said that Congress still must address the sequester and the Budget Control Act to give the Pentagon a clue of its “long-term” budgeting. The Pentagon has gone right back to staring down at the Budget Control Act mandated cuts of $50 billion next year. If that budget requirement holds, Hale said, “we’re going to have to get smaller. I can’t tell you exactly how much. Yes, that will mean fewer civilians.”

Those civilians that get to stay in their jobs, however, may not want to. The military and its supporting civilian workforce — roughly 3 million people combined — have been stung by Washington politics.

“We’ve had three years of pay freezes,” added Hale. “We’ve had the sequester furloughs, now the shutdown furloughs. I mean, my own people are kind of looking at me and asking the question — most of them are seniors so they’ll probably stick around, but you wonder what the folks out in the field are saying. ‘I’m not so sure I want to work for this government.'”

Hagel, in his opening remarks, said the effect from the shutdown will linger.

“While all of us across the department welcome the fact that the shutdown is now behind us, I know that its impact will continue to be felt by all of our people. All of them, in different ways, had their lives affected and disrupted during this period of tremendous uncertainty. In particular, I am deeply aware of the harm that this shutdown inflicted on so many of our civilian personnel.”

“You can’t take an institution like this, as you all know because you’ve been around it a long time, and turn these things around in a month, in a week. This is the national security of America that we’re talking about, and so it does take thought and it does take planning.”

Outside of the United States, world leaders also have let Hagel know they’re not so sure about American resolve either, Hagel added. He said he has been to Asia three times this year and noted that Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest planned Asia trip was canceled because of the shut down.

“Our allies are asking questions: Can we rely on our partnership with America? Will America fulfill its commitments and its promises? These are huge issues for all of us and they do impact our national security and our relationships and our standing in the world,” said Hagel.


Will the U.S. ‘Rebalance’ Its Contribution to NATO?

By Jorge Benitez

October 20, 2013


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on his way to Brussels to have a difficult conversation with his fellow defense ministers in NATO. The point of contention is the continued reduction of the military capabilities of our allies and their growing dependence on U.S. support.

Hagel will repeat to European allies the stark message made by Robert Gates on his last trip to Brussels as defense secretary. Gates made international headlines with his warning of “a dim, if not dismal future” for NATO if it continues to be divided “between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership… but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”

Hagel will make many U.S. allies uncomfortable by emphasizing their need to resolve the worsening gap in defense capabilities within NATO. Hagel warned earlier that “as NATO adjusts, it must address the gaps in military expenditures and capabilities of its partners. The tough decisions cannot continue to be deferred.” 

Hagel was even more explicit at the defense ministers meeting in June when he said “over-dependence on any one country for critical capabilities brings with it risks.” One of these risks is that the U.S. will soon tell its allies, if you don’t invest much in your defense, neither will we. The U.S. will “rebalance” its own shrinking defense dollars to allies and partners that share the security burden more equitably. Too many European leaders refuse to realize that this long-festering problem is having a dangerously corrosive effect on the Alliance.

In 2006, the 28 members of NATO agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. According to NATO records, by 2012 only four members met this bare minimum standard; the United States, Great Britain, Greece, and Estonia. During the Cold War, the U.S. accounted for roughly 50% of defense spending by NATO members. Now after years of shrinking defense budgets in Europe, the U.S. share is more than 75%.

It is a priority for both President Obama and Hagel to convince our allies to take specific actions to fulfill their alliance commitments. This point will be communicated to them this week and at every top NATO meeting leading up to the summit next year in London. This is not an issue the Obama administration can walk away from. In fact, criticism of the excessive dependence on U.S. capabilities by NATO allies is one of the few issues that enjoys widespread bipartisan support in Congress. If U.S. allies continue to ignore the gravity of this problem, it is inevitable that the day will come when the United States will stop payment on their security credit card.

The Obama administration began moving in this direction when it chose to “lead from behind” in Libya and limited the use of important U.S. enablers such as unmanned aircraft and A-10 war planes. The administration already crossed the threshold, but changed its mind, when it initially asked the French military to pay for the use of U.S. air transports for the French mission in Mali.

The European members of NATO are geographically closer and arguably more vulnerable than the U.S. to the growing violence and instability across the Mediterranean, the Sahel, and the Middle East. Unless significant progress is made to fairly live up to their defense commitments, Europe will have to deal with these threats with a decreasing amount of U.S. military support. It is only a matter of time before the Obama administration turns down future requests for assistance from allies who ignored the dangers in their neighborhood and chose to starve their defense capabilities.

Unless our European allies change course, Gates’ dire warning will soon come true. “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. … to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”

This can still be avoided if our NATO allies improve their military capabilities and carry their fair share of the defense burden. What cannot be avoided is the end of the status quo. Either our European allies change their defense behavior or the U.S. will, but the current imbalance within the NATO alliance is not sustainable. 


Big data heralds return of the Cray supercomputer

Sun, Oct 20 2013

By Bill Rigby


SEATTLE (Reuters) – “Big data” means big computers, and good news for Cray Inc.

The pioneer of supercomputers in the 1970s stood on the brink of obscurity 20 years ago but is now surging back to prominence. Its shares have almost doubled over the past 12 months.

The explosion of data – measuring weather, traffic, health and countless other areas – coupled with a desire to tease meaning out of it, demands greater computing power than is accessible via standard machines.

“The assumption was that supercomputers were cliche five years ago. People thought, ‘I can run my simulation on my laptop’,” said Barry Bolding, a Cray vice president, at the company’s Seattle headquarters last week. “That may have been true, so long as the data associated wasn’t growing as well. But raw data is being created in exabytes as we sit here. More data means bigger computer, bigger computer means more data.”

Experts estimate that 2.5 exabytes – or 2.5 billion gigabytes – of data are now generated every day, and the world’s capacity to store that data is doubling every 40 months, which all plays to Cray’s strengths.

A basic Cray cabinet costs $500,000 and up and is roughly the size of a refrigerator. Big customers can group 200 or more into massive supercomputers worth hundreds of millions of dollars, such as “Titan” at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Titan, completed by Cray last year, is the world’s third-fastest supercomputer, takes up the size of a basketball court and can perform more than 20,000 trillion calculations a second.

To be sure, most companies will never need that scale, or can process what they need through multiple machines running in tandem on a high-speed network or in the cloud, which for many projects works out cheaper and more power-efficient.

What makes supercomputers different is that they can make a huge number of interconnected calculations at the same time, rather than a consecutive list of unconnected calculations, which makes them good for running complex simulations and mining unrelated data.

For example, weather apps on smartphones are based on vast models run by research agencies on supercomputers. Financial firms can detect online fraud or cybersecurity breaches in seconds rather than days by using supercomputer models, which would take days on standard set-ups.

“Big data is a new term, but arguably the supercomputer market was the original home of big data, and Cray has been dealing with it forever,” said Steve Conway, an analyst at tech research firm IDC.


The Seattle-based company, with just over 900 employees and a market value of around $940 million, has changed ownership several times but was started in 1972 by Seymour Cray, the “father of supercomputing.”

With a recent resurgence in supercomputers, Cray is garnering Wall Street’s attention. This June, it sold one of its new XC30 supercomputers to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts for $65 million, nabbing a contract from a long-time IBM customer.

That sort of deal is piquing investor interest. Wall Street analysts are expecting revenue of $519 million this year, up 23 percent from 2012, with a gross profit margin around 34 percent. Its shares are up 91 percent over the past 12 months while rival Silicon Graphics International Corp’s are up 90 percent. Cray is now richly valued, with a share price 36 times estimated earnings for the next 12 months, compared with 19 times for SGI.

The global market for computers costing more than $500,000 is on a tear, according to IDC, having more than doubled to $5.6 billion in 2012 from $2.7 billion in 2008.

The whole market for high-performance computing (HPC) – essentially any machine bigger than a desktop used for intense computation – is forecast to grow 7 percent a year through 2017, well ahead of the stagnant business server market.

The U.S. government directly or indirectly accounted for two-thirds of Cray’s revenue last year. But the company is reaching out to new customers interested in big data. Last year it set up a new unit called YarcData – Yarc is Cray backwards – to focus on analyzing huge amounts of information and teasing out unseen patterns in a process known as graph analytics.

“Unstructured databases are becoming more prevalent, gathering raw data from everywhere,” said Cray’s Bolding. “Now you start asking very complex questions, and it starts to create links between sets of data.”

The YarcData unit is helping the U.S. government detect fraud patterns in Medicare and Medicaid payments. Private sector customers include medical research group Mayo Clinic and several financial services, life sciences and telecommunications firms, which Cray cannot name for contractual reasons.

New efforts are working and should boost revenue over time, said Sid Parakh, an analyst at fund firm McAdams Wright Ragen.

“This is not a commodity market. It takes years of experience,” said Conway at IDC. “It’s easy to build a big computer, but it’s not easy to build a big computer that works.”

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)


Cybersecure: Supreme Court Justices Only Send Each Other Memos on Paper

By Garance Franke-Ruta

October 18, 2013


Here’s another one to add to the charming Elena Kagan anecdote files providing a wonderful glimpse into how the least transparent of the three branches of government operates.

Speaking during an interview at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night, Supreme Court Associate Justice Kagan elaborated on remarks she’d made in August about how Supreme Court justices don’t use email.

“We don’t to each other. I obviously do to my clerks,” said Kagan about the decades-old communications technology. “But the justices themselves do not communicate by email.”

“So how do you communicate?” senior editor at large Pattie Sellers of Fortuneasked.

“Well, we either talk to each other, which is not a bad thing,” said Kagan, to applause from the well-heeled audience of female CEOs and business leaders.

“Or we write memos to each other,” she continued.

“And you know, you have to remember that the Court is an institution where…we’re not horse trading. We’re not bargaining. We’re reasoning. And we’re trying to persuade people. And often the best way to do that is by putting things down on paper in a kind of careful and deliberate way and saying this is what I think and, and giving people an opportunity to read a memo and to think about it and to reflect on it,” she said.

“And so we do a lot of our communicating by these, it looks, it’s sort of 19th century. It’s very heavy ivory paper—it looks like it came out of the 1800s or something. But it seems to work pretty well,” she added. “And when you think about it, how many emails have you sent that you wished you could take back? So, so we’re careful and deliberative.”

That may be one reason the court works so well. Even though the justices “disagree a lot” and can “express our disagreement in powerful and sharp terms,” they all like and respect each other, Kagan said. That sort of good faith environment of knowing “how to disagree without being disagreeable” keeps the court functioning well as an institution.

And while she didn’t say it, she might as well have: Unlike Congress, which was at that very moment finally signing off on a debt deal and temporary budget plan that today allowed the government to reopen after 16 days.


Cyber Civil Servants Knock on Industry’s Door after Shutdown

By Aliya Sternstein

October 21, 2013


The top executive at Secure Ideas, a cybersecurity firm looking to recruit new talent, broke the ice with a prospective hire at a shooting range the day before the shutdown ended. The applicant, an employed federal information technology engineer, said he is worried about job stability.

He is hardly alone.

There are about 200,000 cyber employees in the federal workforce, according to a recent government survey. Many were exempt, or “excepted,” from the furlough, meaning they had to work but wouldn’t be paid for that work until government reopened and resumed payroll operations. (Congress eventually passed a law authorizing back pay to furloughed federal employees as well.) Between the 16-day shutdown and the possibility of another lapse in funding just three months away, some cyber civil servants are considering jumping ship, according to several industry recruiters, who say they’ve seen an uptick in job inquiries from federal data security specialists.

“Rarely do we receive inbound calls from cybersecurity people who work for the federal government — a lot of times because the job is so secure,” said Mark Aiello, president of Cyber 360 Solutions, a placement firm in Massachusetts. He estimates receiving at least half a dozen such queries since Oct. 1, when the shutdown began.

“The basic motivation for their call is they are concerned over the debt crisis and ongoing furloughs. The vast majority of people were on the job and deemed essential but concerned,” he said. “They recognize they can probably make more money in the private sector [and ask themselves] ‘Why am I going through this if it’s just going to happen every quarter, every election cycle?’ ”

Kevin Johnson, chief executive officer at Secure Ideas, a six-person consultancy, said his new shooting partner contacted him last week about one of two job openings at the company. The IT engineer, who works at a civilian agency, declined to be interviewed.

That applicant “looks at my field and sees that it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Johnson said. Secure Ideas’ so-called penetration testers are paid by government and industry organizations to fake out physical security and IT staff by posing as legitimate employees and hacking systems to identify cyber vulnerabilities.

Johnson, on Oct. 2, two days into the shutdown, said of the impact on federal cyber operations — “I haven’t seen much except a number of headhunters offering services to the out of work people.”

“Out-of-work cyber professional” typically is an oxymoron. This past weekend, there were 16,662 openings involving cyber or information security responsibilities listed on the major job search website and 16,033 on the tech-focused job site

Johnson cautions those testing the waters outside the government that consulting is very different from working for one agency. At a federal department, the professional knows every system inside and out, whereas at an advisory firm, the individual is constantly changing focus to meet the expectations of new clients.


Angst over Job Stability, Not Security

Most government cyber proressionals are very dedicated to their work, Aiello said. “Beyond their sense of duty, they are feeling a real [need] to help their country,” he added, but “they are looking at their own lives and their families — it’s not like [they’re] living at such a high level that [they] can afford to be out of work for two weeks” without any certainty about when or even if they’ll be paid for that time.

U.S. private sector cyber salaries, which average $111,376, appear to be outpacing government salaries, averaging $104,081, likely due to federal budgetary constraints, according to statistics from (ISC)2, an information security trade group representing industry and government employees.

Traditionally, cyber specialists inside the government have found the work more rewarding than higher-paying private sector positions, but that may be changing.

“There is frustration. There is fatigue . . . I think they are feeling overwhelmed at times,” said Kathy Lavinder, executive director of Maryland-based firm Security and Investigative Placement Consultants, who specializes in information and physical security.


The funding uncertainty, combined with constant policy and programmatic changes, makes them feel like they can’t accomplish anything, she said. “I think they all understand that when they leave they can be snapped up pretty quickly,” Lavinder added.

One of the two federal cybersecurity employees who contacted her said he wanted to take advantage of the “interlude,” Lavinder recalled, laughing at the euphemism. Another told her: “I want to get out. I just need more stability.”

The anxiety has trickled down to federal vendors, whose paychecks also depend on congressional appropriations. One contractor, a technology professional at a three-letter agency, said he wanted to be free of the whims of lawmakers. With his program defunded, his supervisors recommended staff look for other employment.

Some essential information security professionals were possibly too exhausted during the furlough to freshen up their resumes, some recruiters speculated. “I probably get at least seven to ten [cyber applicants] a week and I only got three during that period. I’m convinced it was because they were working,” Lavinder said.


Are They All Talk?

Even before the Oct. 1 shutdown, the budget sequester that went into effect last spring had prompted some government workers to explore other opportunities, said Deborah Page, a principal at the Virginia-based McCormick Group who recruits IT, cybersecurity and risk management professionals.

“Now, the question is how serious are they?” she said. The private sector is “indeed seeking good infosec folks but whether [federal employees] will be able to transition well into those environments is another question.”

Some recruiters say they have not noticed a difference in interest from feds, and pointed to the positive aspects of a lull.

“Being furloughed is one thing but knowing that you’ll get paid for your time off doesn’t really instill fear in people — I don’t think,” said Jeff Snyder, president of Colorado-based “Change is something that most people resist like it is a plague. Getting time off and getting back pay seems like a double bonus to me. Then again, I’ve never had a salary in my entire adult life.”

More government workers likely will start hunting as another potential hiatus approaches in January, compared to the number of employees who picked up the phone last time, Page predicts.

“They were still on the payroll and perhaps, for some, enjoyed a bit of relaxation time to do family chores or update their resumes,” she said. “When it hits once, you may not take it so seriously but when it repeats, you now have to look at yourself and [the] situation to not allow it to happen again.”



Public Sentiment on Takes a Nosedive

By Joseph Marks

October 18, 2013


The public’s impression of, the Obama administration’s online health insurance marketplace, remains deeply negative two weeks after its troubled launch, according to an analysis of Twitter sentiment.


That’s a reversal from what was happening in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 1 launch of the online insurance exchange, when more tweeters expressed positive opinions about than negative opinions, according to an analysis by Topsy, an analytics firm that mines Twitter to gauge public sentiment.

The marketplace’s sentiment score shot up a few days before the public launch, spurred mainly by tweets from news organizations urging people to check the site out, according to Topsy’s analysis. That sentiment score dropped precipitously once the online marketplace was online and has remained low ever since. (See the graph below).

Topsy’s “sentiment score” for has hovered between 10 and 15 on a scale of 1 to 100 since Oct. 3. The company uses a keyword analysis of tweets mentioning to determine whether tweets are positive or negative. A score of 50 out of 100 essentially means there are an equal number of positive and negative tweets, a spokeswoman said.

The sentiment score for the president’s overall healthcare reform, popularly known as Obamacare, suffered a similar decline in sentiment after Oct. 1 but has only dropped to a score of about 30 out of 100.

The analyses don’t measure sentiment since the end of the partial government shutdown on Thursday, after which more of the public’s attention may have been freed up to focus on

After the shutdown ended, the Republican National Committee shifted its focus to the online marketplace’s troubled launch, including a Twitter campaign urging the president to fire Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, which is largely responsible for implementing the new law.

Software failures have plagued since its launch, drastically reducing the number of people who were able to enroll in insurance programs through the federal site and frustrating some state exchanges that rely on federal data. The federal site also suffered from insufficient server capacity during its first days, according to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

Less than 1 percent of visitors to have successfully enrolled in insurance programs using the site so far, according to figures from the market research firm Millward Brown Digital.

The largest share of people left because their attempts to register with the site — one of the first phases in the enrollment process — failed, Millward Brown found. IT experts have warned there may be more software troubles that haven’t yet been uncovered because people have been halted at the registration phase.

An early version of came online several months ago, but the components of the site that allow uninsured people to research and enroll in insurance plans launched at the beginning of this month. runs insurance marketplaces for 36 states and provides data for 14 states and the District of Columbia, which are running their own exchanges. 


Budget and Travel Restrictions Force Army Conference Online

By Bob Brewin

October 15, 2013


The Army will live stream nearly every discussion panel from its 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington next week.

The Army decided to use the Web to provide remote access to the Oct. 21-23 conference for those who will not be able to attend in person “due to lack of budget and restrictions on travel.”

The Army views the conference as a professional development opportunity, spokeswoman Alison M. Hamilton said. “Live streaming these forums gives the opportunity to hear senior-leader priorities, learn how they view changes in the force over the next 10 years and hear about important policy decisions and the Ready and Resilient Campaign,” she said.

Conference streams will be available on a microsite at , she said. Soldiers and family members will also be able to ask questions of the speakers at appropriate times through social media, with on-site moderators passing questions from remote viewers to the speakers, Hamilton said.

David Liddle, an AUSA spokesman, said the conference live streams will also be viewable at .

The Army has live-streamed AUSA panels in the past. But last year, for instance, only the “family forums” allowed for interaction. This year, all panels will allow for virtual engagement, Hamilton said.

“This is a cost-effective way to be able to reach a larger sort of total Army audience,” Hamilton said. “We’re trying to increase support to the soldiers who can’t travel, so they still can benefit from professional development.”


The Case for Computer-Based Health Care

By Darius Tahir

October 16, 2013


The victory of Watson, an artificial-intelligence system designed to dominate the quiz show Jeopardy!, over the country’s best nerds in 2011 may not be the equal of John Henry struggling against a steam-powered drill in the annals of man versus machine. But the replacement of Jeopardy!’s human competitors with a computer algorithm may signal a trend that could soon spread through the health care sector as Obamacare is implemented.

That’s the prophecy of venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. The prominent Silicon Valley investor has predicted that computers will replace 80 percent of what doctors do in a couple of decades. The shift could counter another health-sector trend: stagnant productivity, which the Affordable Care Act aims to address with financial incentives for effective, efficient care, and which could encourage a move toward digital doctoring.

Between 1990 and 2010, productivity in the health care sector declined by 0.6 percent annually as employment increased by 2.9 percent, according to Robert Kocher, now a venture capitalist at Venrock, in an October 2011 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. Increasing productivity might bridge this disconnect, and computers could be part of the solution.

Khosla, who supports the move to computer-based health care, notes the human frailties that weaken doctors’ diagnoses and treatment: The brain is biased, forgetful, and limited. As a result, diagnoses are often inconsistent. Khosla cites a study in which psychologists were asked to diagnose patients’ major depressive disorder. On a scale where 0 represented total disagreement and 1 represented total agreement, the psychologists rated 0.3.

Human brains take in less data than their digital counterparts. “It’s a simple fact that most doctors couldn’t possibly read and digest all of the latest 5,000 research articles on heart disease,” Khosla writes. “In fact, most of the average doctor’s medical knowledge is from when they were in medical school, and cognitive limitations prevent them from remembering the 10,000+ diseases humans can get.” As the amount of information increases–there’s more research, and more sensors to collect it–digital support processing the data could be a big help.

Khosla predicts that computers will take over large portions of the medical process, leaving humans to do empathic tasks, such as reassuring and coaching patients. The beginnings of that trend are here already. Several start-ups offload doctors’ tasks onto computers; EyeNetra, which Khosla has invested in, uses software and a device that attaches to a smartphone to determine the strength of prescription lenses a patient requires.

This summer, the National Institutes of Mental Health funded a round of grants to explore using mobile devices to treat mental health problems. Akili Interactive, a video-game maker that received NIMH funding, combines tasks that require fine motor skills and visual attention. The games “actually become a very sensitive measure of cognition,” company cofounder Eddie Martucci said at a May conference. Akili is also hoping to treat major depressives, who tend to struggle with problem solving. Solving problems in a game might condition these patients to better solve problems in real life, without a doctor’s intervention.

Other algorithmic software aims to aid physicians’ decisions rather than replace them. “Clinical decision support software” analyzes data, often from a patient’s electronic health records, and advises doctors as they prescribe a treatment course. The software could note, for example, that two drugs shouldn’t be administered together due to their harmful interactions.

Software can also be used to improve doctors’ adherence to clinical guidelines. The HealthPartners hospital system in Minnesota found limited success with a software tool that showed doctors how well their order of a scan for a patient stacked up to American College of Radiology guidelines. The tool brought only modest increases in the doctors’ ordering of evidence-based scans, according to a study published in theAmerican Journal of Managed Care in 2010, but there were no incentives for the doctors to order more of these appropriate tests. Hospitals could offer more rewards to ensure adherence to best practices.

Health care workers have also started performing empathic tasks based on algorithmic advice. Jeffrey Brenner, executive director of nonprofit Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for his approach to delivering better care at lower cost. Brenner sent social workers to certain “hot spots,” which were identified by software as places where a small minority of patients consumes a disproportionate amount of health care resources. These patients often have chronic diseases that aren’t treated properly, and these patients frequently end up in the hospital. The goal of “hot spotting” is to intervene early before problems flare, making the patient healthier despite using fewer resources. Social workers can assist by forming relationships with patients and helping them manage their illnesses.

Providers are adopting this approach in response to new payment incentives ushered in by the 2010 health reform law, which imposes penalties on hospitals with high readmission rates. Mount Sinai in New York is one institution sending social workers to troubled patients. A 600-patient pilot study cut emergency-room visits in half between September 2010 and May 2012, the hospital says.

So instead of being replaced–what John Henry fought against when he raced the steam drill–health care workers can perhaps work alongside the new computer overlords.


Budget cuts leave US Army with only 2 fully-trained brigades

Published time: October 22, 2013 12:23


Massive budget cuts in the US have forced the Army to cut corners on training, leaving only two brigades prepared for war. Military commanders have warned of a serious backlash if the White House continues to slash budgets.

At an annual conference for the Association of the US Army, military leaders voiced criticism of the spending cuts that are having a detrimental effect on the armed forces.

General Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, attacked the government for the climate of economic instability that has forced the military to cut corners.

“And there’s going to come a time when we just simply don’t have enough money to provide what I believe to be the right amount of ground forces to [carry out]… contingency operations,” Odierno told the media.

He stressed that because of the cuts to the military budget they were forced to cancel six months of military training, leaving the US Army with only two fully-trained brigades. A brigade can contain between 3,500 and 5,000 soldiers.

With the onset of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts the US military grew by about 570,000 personnel over the last decade. As the Obama Administration withdraws forces from these countries, officials are planning to scale down the military, cutting the number of brigades from 45 to 33.

“The worst-case scenario is you ask me to deploy thousands of soldiers somewhere and we have not properly trained them to go because we simply don’t have the dollars and money because of the way sequestration is laid out,” Odierno said, referring to automatic budget cuts.

The next government sequester is set to take place in January of next year and it could potentially see the Defense Department’s budget slashed by $21 billion.


Technology vs. manpower

The Department of Defense is currently carrying out the ‘Quadrennial Defense Review’, a study that assesses Pentagon spending. Odierno said that had been suggested that manpower could be replaced with technology.

“There are lots of different opinions out there. There are people that want to change how the Army fights, and they believe we don’t need ground forces, that we can do everything with technology, stand-off weapons, missiles,” he said.

However, Army Secretary John McHugh, who also spoke at the conference, said that the budget cutbacks had also caused big delays in weapons and military equipment orders, including “high priority projects for a new armored vehicle and new communications networks.”

US finances were put under further strain by the government shutdown that could have a knock-on effect on next year’s military budget.

Last week the US brought an end to the three-week deadlock that did significant damage to the economy. Moody’s Analytics estimate that the shutdown could cost the US up to $50 billion.


With U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, American military gear sold as scrap

By Kevin Sieff, Published: October 20


IN BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The armored trucks, televisions, ice cream scoops and nearly everything else shipped here for America’s war against the Taliban are now part of the world’s biggest garage sale. Every week, as the U.S. troop drawdown accelerates, the United States is selling 12 million to 14 million pounds of its equipment on the Afghan market.

Returning that gear to the United States from a landlocked country halfway around the world would be prohibitively expensive, according to U.S. officials. Instead, they’re leaving behind $7 billion worth of supplies, a would-be boon to the fragile Afghan economy.

But there’s one catch: The equipment is being destroyed before it’s offered to the Afghan people — to ensure that treadmills, air-conditioning units and other rudimentary appliances aren’t used to make roadside bombs.

“Many non-military items have timing equipment or other components in them that can pose a threat. For example, timers can be attached to explosives. Treadmills, stationary bikes, many household appliances and ­devices, et cetera, have timers,” said Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency.

That policy has produced more scrap metal than Afghanistan has ever seen. It has also led to frustration among Afghans, who feel as if they are being robbed of items such as flat-panel televisions and armored vehicles that they could use or sell — no small thing in a country where the average annual income hovers at just over $500.

In Afghanistan, nicknamed the “graveyard of empires,” foreign forces are remembered for what they leave behind. In the 1840s, the British left forts that still stand today. In the 1980s, the Russians left tanks, trucks and aircraft strewn about the country. The United States is leaving heaps of mattresses, barbed wire and shipping containers in scrap yards near its shrinking bases.

“This is America’s dustbin,” said Sufi Khan, a trader standing in the middle of an immense scrap yard outside Bagram air base, the U.S. military’s sprawling headquarters for eastern Afghanistan.

The scrap yard looks like a post-industrial landfill in the middle of the Afghan desert, a surreal outcropping of mangled metal and plastic. There’s a tower of treadmills 50 feet high and an acre of American buses, trucks and vans, stripped of seats and engines. An ambulance is perched unsteadily atop a pile of scrap, as if it fell from the sky. A mountain of air-conditioning units sits next to a mountain of truck axles.

Some of the scrap still shows signs of its previous owners — vehicles spray-painted with American names, mattresses sunken from 12 years of use, bumper stickers from Hawaii or Oklahoma.


A torrent of scrap

The Bagram scrap yard is owned by Feda Mohammad Ulfat, who helped build the neighboring base more than a decade ago, transporting gravel and concrete. Now Ulfat is helping to dismantle the base, taking in thousands of pounds of American scrap metal every day.

“I never imagined we’d be getting this much stuff,” he said.

Not all of the equipment reaching the scrap yard was deliberately damaged: Some was already broken after a decade of use. Ulfat decided several years ago that he would invest in it anyway.

Some of his friends thought he was crazy, but Ulfat had an idea: The expensive American gear could be melted and reconstituted as raw material for an Afghan building boom. He’d gotten rich on dozens of other contracts with the U.S. military, and he assumed that this one would be no different.

When he signed the contract, the scrap metal was only trickling in. But over the past six months, the U.S. drawdown has reached a fever pitch in eastern Afghanistan, with dozens of bases being closed. Suddenly, a torrent of scrap metal was being delivered to Ulfat’s farm. He had to buy more land. Scrap was piled atop scrap. He now spends up to a half-million dollars a month on gear that has been shredded or flattened.

When U.S. officials began planning for their exit, the idea was to ship home the majority of their equipment, especially expensive military gear such as mine-resistant vehicles. That calculus has changed.

The Pentagon has budgeted $5 billion to $7 billion to ship gear back to the United States. But that sum isn’t enough to take everything currently in Afghanistan.

Wanting at least a small return on its investment, the U.S. military decided to sell the leftovers for pennies on the pound. That’s where Ulfat came in.

He has now opened his scrap yard for the public to rummage through. Small groups of men wander around, buying broken air conditioners that can be stripped of their copper wiring or sheets of corrugated iron that can be sold to Pakistani traders. Many of the supplies that the U.S. military used to fight its longest war have begun their second lives in South and Central Asia.


This month, Haji Montazer paced the scrap yard with his son. They were looking for generators that might be repairable or really anything that they could sell in Kabul or Pakistan. One of their customers makes bed frames out of the metal beams that once held up American military structures. Another takes metal pieces — parts of military vehicles and barbed wire — to Lahore, where they are melted and sold as corrugated rooftops for cheap Pakistani homes.


Not like the Russians

Montazer once bought equipment from the Soviet forces, which began their withdrawal in the late 1980s.

“But the Russians didn’t break their things before they sold them to us,” he said.

That bitter sentiment is shared by many who visit Ulfat’s scrap yard. The United States has not publicly explained why its gear is destroyed before being sold. U.S. officials are quick to point out that the Afghan government typically has an opportunity to express interest in American military equipment, which is sometimes handed over intact.

Lately, Ulfat’s dream of getting rich off the U.S. scrap has started to fade. Kabul’s real estate boom is over, he said. All he hears from Afghans are concerns about what will happen to the country after the U.S. withdrawal. His scrap yard tells the story of the drawdown.

“What will we do with all of this? Right now, no one will buy it. And if the future is as bad as people say it will be . . . .” His voice trailed off. “It could be bad.”

Hafizullah, an employee of Ulfat’s who goes by one name, wandered through the scrap yard one day this month, overseeing the latest delivery — a mix of blast walls and carburetors. With Bagram still the most active base in eastern Afghanistan, aircraft flew over his head incessantly.

One helicopter flew particularly close, hovering near the scrap yard. Hafizullah pointed to the Black Hawk and laughed.

“I can’t wait until they start selling those here,” he said.



AFMC 5-center construct reaches full operational capability

Published October 22, 2013

Air Force Materiel Command



The Air Force Materiel Command commander announced the full operational capability of the command’s 5-center construct Oct. 22, 2013, a major milestone in AFMC history.

“The 80,000-plus men and women of AFMC have repeatedly raised their own bar for success,” said Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger. “This world-class workforce continues to display the dedication and innovation that are hallmarks of Air Force professionals. As a result, we leveraged an historic opportunity to more efficiently and effectively equip the Air Force for world-dominant airpower. I am incredibly proud to stand with them today as I declare full operational capability.”

Birthed from former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ 2010 “efficiency” directive in anticipation of substantially reduced resources, this is the largest reorganization within AFMC since its establishment 21 years ago.

Wolfenbarger pointed out that AFMC’s reorganization maximizes mission-effective and cost-effective operations to provide global vigilance, global reach and global power for America through:


Unity of purpose — One center, one mission, one commander across multiple locations;

Standardized processes across all mission areas;

A streamlined organizational structure; and,

A single weapon system face to the warfighter and industry.


Wolfenbarger also said there are several quantifiable successes the reorganized AFMC has realized in the past year since initial operational capability was declared Oct. 1, 2012. They include the following:

Reduced costs and improved readiness, marked by a substantial increase in depot aircraft production, and a reduction in critical parts shortages and depot backorders;

Collaboration across maintenance, repair, overhaul/supply and lifecycle management to reduce depot rates by 5 percent for the first-time ever — driving a fiscal 2015 savings of $515 million;

Implementation of a standard Should Cost process that captured the life cycle of weapon systems for Acquisition Category 1 programs — more than $2 billion savings projected to date, with potential to save more than $5 billion when employed across all ACAT programs, sustainment programs, and services; and,

Creation of the Weapons System Enterprise Review to provide senior leaders comprehensive, integrated, and timely data focused on fielded weapon system support, modernization, and future risk areas.

Prior to the reorganization, AFMC was made up of 12 centers across the command. The reduction to five centers immediately netted an operating efficiency through reduced overhead of more than $109 million per year.

The command’s five centers are the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, both headquartered at Wright-Patterson AFB; Air Force Test Center, headquartered at Edwards AFB, Calif.; Air Force Sustainment Center, headquartered at Tinker, AFB, Okla.; and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, headquartered at Kirtland AFB, N.M.



US government releases draft cybersecurity framework

NIST comes out with its proposed cybersecurity standards, which outlines how private companies can protect themselves against hacks, cyberattacks, and security breaches.

by Dara Kerr

 October 22, 2013 8:09 PM PDT

According to NIST, all levels of an organization should be involved in cybersecurity.

(Credit: The National Institute of Standards and Technology)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology released its draft cybersecurity framework for private companies and infrastructure networks on Tuesday. These standards are part of anexecutive order that President Obama proposed in February.


The aim of NIST’s framework (PDF) is to create guidelines that companies can use to beef up their networks and guard against hackers and cybersecurity threats. Adopting this framework would be voluntary for companies. NIST is a non-regulatory agency within the Department of Commerce.

The framework was written with the involvement of roughly 3,000 industry and academic experts, according to Reuters. It outlines ways that companies could protect their networks and act fast if and when they experience security breaches.

“The framework provides a common language for expressing, understanding, and managing cybersecurity risk, both internally and externally,” reads the draft standards. “The framework can be used to help identify and prioritize actions for reducing cybersecurity risk and is a tool for aligning policy, business, and technological approaches to managing that risk.”

Obama’s executive order in February was part of a government effort to get cybersecurity legislation in place, but the bill was put on hold after the National Security Agency’s surveillance program was revealed.

Some of the components in Obama’s order included: expanding “real time sharing of cyber threat information” to companies that operate critical infrastructure, asking NIST to devise cybersecurity standards, and proposing a “review of existing cybersecurity regulation.”

Critical infrastructure networks, banks, and private companies have increasingly been hit by cyberattacks over the past couple of years. For example, weeks after the former head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, announced that she believed a “cyber 9/11″ could happen “imminently” — crippling the country’s power grid, water infrastructure, and transportation networks — hackers hit the US Department of Energy. While no data was compromised, it did show that hackers were able to breach the computer system.

In May, Congress released a survey that claimed power utilities in the U.S. are under “daily” cyberattacks. Of about 160 utilities interviewed for the survey, more than a dozen reported “daily,” “constant,” or “frequent” attempted cyberattacks on their computer systems. While the data in the survey sounded alarming, none of the utilities reported any damage to their facilities or actual breaches of their systems — but rather attempts to hack their networks.

While companies are well aware that they need to secure their networks, many are wary of signing onto this voluntary framework. According to Reuters, some companies are worried that the standards could turn into requirements.

In an effort to get companies to adopt the framework, the government has been offering a slew of incentives, including cybersecurity insurance, priority consideration for grants, and streamlined regulations. These proposed incentives are a preliminary step for the government’s cybersecurity policy and have not yet been finalized.

NIST will now take public comments for 45 days and plans to issue the final cybersecurity framework in February 2014.


Wireless Electric Buses Developed In Utah

By Chris DeMorro

It’s easy to understand why some people hate public transportation. Most city buses use large diesel engines that are are loud and smelly, but pure-electric buses are too expensive for most cash-strapped cities to afford. Utah-based electric bus company WAVE might have a solution for electric buses, using a clever wireless-charging system that drastically reduces battery size and cost.

Developed in conjunction with the University of Utah and commercialized first in Park City, Utah, WAVE got its start powering buses around the university campus. The technology uses inductive charging to wirelessly transfer energy between the charger and the bus. This is nothing exactly groundbreaking here, with other projects in places like South Korea displaying similar ideas.

The difference is that wave uses very small, limited-range batteries with wireless chargers are regular intervals. This cuts down on battery size, which cuts down on cost, and also reduces charging times as well. The batteries are big enough to last a full 16-hour workday with just a few stops over charging pads. Keep in mind that even though buses are big, electric motors provide full-torque at 0 RPM, and most buses never see speeds higher than 40 mph.

As it stands, WAVE currently has test fleets in several U.S. cities, and is working on the installation of a ten-bus system in Long Beach, California. WAVE is looking to expand offerings in another 10 to 20 U.S. cities in the next year, and it could do that thanks to the most-appealing aspect of the system; the ability to retrofit old city buses. With a gallon-equivalent of electricity selling for 65-cents, compared to almost $4 a gallon for diesel, cities that convert their buses to electric systems could save millions of dollars per year with ease.

Could WAVE’s business model be the breakthrough electric buses have been waiting for?


Obamacare exchange contractors had past security lapses


Hackers exposed data on 123,000 people at one, another put personal data of 6 million Medicare beneficiaries at risk

Jaikumar Vijayan

October 23, 2013 (Computerworld)

Two of the contractors involved in developing the Affordable Care Act healthcare exchanges have had fairly serious data security issues, a Computerworld review of publicly available information has found.

The incidents involving Quality Software Services (QSS) and Serco are not related to the ongoing glitches in, the ACA’s troubled website.

Even so, the information is relevant in light of the ongoing scrutiny of the companies involved with the problem-plagued exchange.

Since going live on October 1, Obamacare’s site has been bedeviled by problems that are keeping people from shopping for and enrolling in ACA health insurance plans. So far, none of the problems appear security related.

However, critics say the exchanges and the underlying data hub connecting health insurers to federal eligibility verification systems could face security problems, given the complexity and the sheer volume of highly sensitive personal information flowing through the systems.

Systems integrator Quality Software Services developed the software code for the ACA data services hub and oversaw development of tools to connect the hub to databases at the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies.

The company is also charged with helping the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) maintain and administer the data hub.

The company in June was the subject of an audit report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General for failing to adhere to federal government security standards in delivering, what appears to be unrelated, IT testing services for the CMS.

The 16-page report noted that the systems QSS used for testing purposes at CMS did not include controls for protecting against misuse of USB ports and devices as required by the CMS.

Specifically, QSS failed to disable USB ports or put other measures in place for preventing unauthorized use of USB devices and ports, the report said. The company had also not listed essential system services or ports in its security plan, it said.

“As a result of QSS’s insufficient controls over USB ports and devices, the [Personally Identifiable Information] of over 6 million Medicare beneficiaries was at greater risk from malware, inappropriate use, access or theft,” the report warned.

QSS officials did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

However, in a response to the Inspector General’s findings, the company said it revised corporate network access control polices to put restrictions on the use of USB ports and devices. It also said it planned to implement “Read Only” restrictions for USB ports in all laptops along with controls to prevent USB devices from automatically executing code.

Testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in September, a QSS executive said the design and development of the ACA Data Services Hub complies with federal security standards.

Services firm Serco in July won a five-year $1.3 billion contract to process and verify paper applications submitted by individuals seeking health insurance via the online exchanges.

A Serco executive told lawmakers earlier this year that the company has taken many steps to ensure that the data it handles meets CMS and Federal Information Security Act security requirements.

Serco had made the news in 2012 whn it disclosed a data breach that exposed sensitive data of more than 123,000 members of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a $313 billion retirement plan, run by the U.S. Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

The exposed data included full names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, financial account information and bank routing information.

The compromise resulted from an intrusion into a single desktop computer used by a Serco employee to support the TSP.

Though the breach occurred in July 2011, Serco did not discover it until April 2012 after being notified about it by the FBI. The incident, and Serco’s subsequent handling of the breach notification process, prompted some lawmakers to demand a clear timeline from the company on the initial intrusion, its subsequent discovery and the steps taken to prevent another breach.

In a lengthy e-mail to Computerworld Tuesday, Serco spokesman Alan Hill downplayed the significance of the breach and maintained that the company has since thoroughly reviewed its security program and infrastructure protection mechanisms. For instance, the company redesigned its network and data management infrastructure and revised security risk management policies, controls and procedures, Hill said.

Serco executives are working with the CMS to ensure that information security controls are built into the ACA paper application processing system, the spokesman said.

“We are committed to applying and enforcing a strong information security program and strict controls across all of our contracts and operations,” Hill said. “Protecting the privacy of consumers through the paper application process is top priority for Serco and CMS.”

Richard Stiennon, principal at security consultant IT-Harvest, predicts a lot of finger pointing at the contractors if there’s a breach into ACA systems.

“That said, often having made mistakes in the past will lead to improved coding and security practices in the future. Here’s hoping that is the case,” he said.

However, bringing in a slew of experts to fix the system “will probably lead to short cuts, which usually lead to bad security hygiene,” he said.


Cramer: N.D. is 2nd or 3rd choice for drone test site

by Press • 22 October 2013

By: Tu-Uyen Tran

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — It’s very likely North Dakota will be one of the six states to host a test site for unmanned aircraft, but it is also very likely not the Federal Aviation Administration’s top candidate, Rep. Kevin Cramer said this past week in Grand Forks.

The top candidate appears to be Alaska, he said.

Next best or third best appear to be North Dakota, home to Grand Forks Air Force Base and its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), he said. “I’m optimistic about North Dakota.”

Cramer, R-N.D., bases his belief on background discussions with analysts working for the FAA, he said.

It’s a privilege he has as vice chairman of a House subcommittee that has held hearings on the test sites with the FAA, he said. “That position has given me a rather good view of the whole program.”

He expects the FAA will announce Alaska as a test site “fairly soon,” and it may be months before North Dakota is added to the list with a test site near Grand Forks.

Local leaders are pushing to get the area selected as a UAS test site because they believe it would bolster the UAS industry here, which has already received a leg up because of the presence of Global Hawk and Predator UAS at the base and a UAS research center at the University of North Dakota.

But there’s a big field candidates to deal with. According to the FAA, it has received 25 applications from 24 states.


Untapped potential

The FAA currently forbids unmanned and manned aircraft to mix for fear of collisions, but that also hampers development of civilian uses for UAS technology, which experts say could benefit fields as far apart as agriculture, telecommunications and law enforcement.


A test site would allow the two kinds of aircraft to mix. UAS boosters in Grand Forks believe having one would attract UAS firms from all over, making the area an industry hub.

The analysts Cramer said he has spoken with are impressed with what the area and the state has to offer the FAA. Basically, he said, they’re saying “Wow, how do you beat what North Dakota has to offer in terms of airspace, climate, not the least of which is the cooperation of the entire state.”

All are talking points for him and many other UAS boosters from North Dakota, but he said it’s coming from “people who don’t have any skin in the game or really care except they’re part of the analysis team.”

By airspace, he means that North Dakota’s is mostly empty which decreases the chance for collisions considerably. It can also be very cold, allowing for testing under cold weather conditions.


But the business climate can be warm.

Cramer cites the example of the UAS tech park Grand Forks County is trying to build at the Air Force base, which recently agreed to let the county lease 217 acres. “I don’t think we can understate the value of this lease, not only local and state cooperation, but now you throw in the United States Air Force.”


Shutdown setback

The FAA had earlier said it would announce the six test sites in December, but Cramer said he doesn’t believe it will happen. The recent government shutdown likely set the agency’s schedule back, he said.

It’s also likely that the FAA will announce one site at a time rather than all six at once, as expected earlier, he said.

UAS boosters here will have to wait in suspense longer than expected.


Future uncertain for Ground Combat Vehicle, Armed Aerial Scout

October 22, 2013

David Vergun

Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, and Gen. Dennis Via, commander, Army Materiel Command, speak Oct. 21, 2013, at a modernization press conference at AUSA’s 2013 Annual Meeting, at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.


WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 22, 2013) — As a result of fiscal “belt tightening, the Ground Combat Vehicle and the Armed Aerial Scout could be delayed, continued or terminated,” said the Army’s top acquisition professional.

“We’re lurching” ahead with deciding which programs stay, are postponed, canceled or not started “because our budget is lurching,” said Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

Shyu, along with Gen. Dennis Via, commander, Army Materiel Command, spoke Oct. 21, at a modernization press conference at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

It’s especially hard on the Army’s industry partners, Shyu acknowledged, but it’s been a “perfect storm of continuing resolutions, sequestration and government shutdown” with no end in sight and the impacts will be even greater next year.

Deciding which capability is most important, what’s good enough and what to sacrifice “is not an easy one. It’s a decision not taken lightly,” she continued. “We’re in a belt-tightening mode.”

The Army is looking closely at every one of its portfolios and is receiving input from U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to determine the future status of each of its programs as sequestration in 2014 and beyond will have a significant impact on all of them, she continued.

Last year, the Army was criticized by Congress for its Program Objective Memorandum, or POM.

“Last year we were blamed for having just one POM,” she said, indicating there was no backup POM. The POM provides the Army with budgetary decisions over several years.

“This year, the Army’s producing two POMs,” based on what the budget might or might not look like. “One is a good POM and the other is a bad POM,” the latter being a worst-case budget scenario or lack of a budget.

It’s not just portfolios that are affected, she said. So are science and technology, research and development and operation and maintenance of equipment. On top of that, “we can’t get the force structure down fast enough” to keep up with cuts to readiness and modernization.

Shyu said the “budget morass” is so significant, she wouldn’t be surprised if the force structure is brought down below the planned 490,000 target.

The budget woes also threaten to disrupt “our efforts to regain expeditionary capability,” said Via.

The Army had large, fixed bases with infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan. Future operations “may not have that luxury and may be austere,” he explained. As forces draw down from Afghanistan and become more U.S.-based, that expeditionary capability becomes critical from “kinetic to disaster-relief” missions.

Besides future threats, the Army still has a war on its hand in Afghanistan, Via reminded the audience. Logistical support is still needed there as well as the need to retrograde equipment from Afghanistan to the U.S. where it needs to be reset and delivered to units so they’re prepared for future contingencies.

To address these growing concerns, Shyu said the Army has four logistical strategies:

First, since the force structure is coming down, the Army will purchase less equipment.

Second, existing legacy equipment not needed and too expensive to maintain will be eliminated.

Third, any new equipment purchases will likely be done using more efficient contracts such as multi-year contracts, since these have the greatest discounts that will drive cost savings.

And fourth, the Army will continue to incrementally improve and modernize its aging systems and platforms like the Apache, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters; Bradley Fighting Vehicles; M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, which will be upgraded to Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles; Paladins; and Abrams tanks.

“We also have to prepare ourselves to fight in a much more contested environment,” she said.

To do this will cost money, but it’s a necessary investment, she continued, giving some examples such as better integrating sensors, missiles and manned and unmanned aviation assets together so they’re networked and visible across the battle space.

Another example would be providing special capabilities to pilots so they can navigate and land in “degraded visual environments such as smoke, fog sandstorms and whiteout conditions.”

Science and technology investments will also continue, she said. For example, if the enemy jams GPS, Soldiers would need a reliable backup system, since its weapons and people are so reliant on satellite positioning.

Another program that will continue through its testing phase is the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System, which is a signals intelligence gathering system used on aircraft.

The Army is also interested in keeping tabs on the underlying sensor technology that drives systems like EMARSS, so it will continue to invest in science and technology, she said, noting that systems become obsolete in just a few years as they keep evolving at a rapid-fire fashion.

On a different topic, Via provided some good news on current equipment retrograde efforts in Afghanistan, which had sometimes bogged down over the long, tortuous road through Pakistan over the last few years.

“Retrograde is proceeding on plan,” he said. “The Pakistan ground lines are open so each week there’s an increasing throughput and velocity in pushing equipment back. We don’t know what the final security agreement will look like or how many forces will remain, so we’re watching that.”

Via added that the Army is using lessons learned in Iraq to do a smarter drawdown in Afghanistan, not just for retrograde procedures, but for disposing of excess gear. For instance, some countries have expressed an interest in acquiring it, he said. And some of it that’s not economically feasible to bring back is being scrapped and dismantled in ways that will make it difficult for anyone who wants to do harm to use.

RPAs Part I: Reaching 2 million hours

Posted 10/23/2013

by Senior Airman A.K.

432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The U.S. Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft accumulated 2 million flight hours Oct. 22, 2013, not only marking a significant milestone, but also demonstrating the evolution of the program.

The RPA program began in the mid-1990s. It took 16 years for the community to reach 1 million hours and a mere two and a half years to double those flight hours.

“There is just no way to describe what an amazing event that was,” said Col. James Cluff, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “The community really had some very humble roots flying out of what used to be Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field here almost 20 years ago.”

Although it was a crew from Creech Air Force Base to actually fly the mission that reached the 2 millionth flight hour marker, it is was a team effort that made the mission possible.

Cluff said it was really an enterprise-wide event for the men and women of the RPA community.

“Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Force Materiel Command, 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, our guard and reserve partners, and many others all contributed to this – not just the 432nd Wing or Air Combat Command,” said Cluff. “The whole team is represented here by this amazing achievement, and we couldn’t be prouder.”

Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, Commander of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Southwest Asia, noted the importance of RPAs and said it’s the men and women of the community who have helped achieve such great success over the years.

“The fact that commanders have had this ISR and precision-strike capability from remotely piloted aircraft when and where they have needed it for so long is a remarkable milestone, and should be noted,” Hesterman said. “But perhaps the bigger story and true achievement has been the unwavering dedication of the men and women who have made this capability available for such a sustained period of time. They have saved lives and made us and our coalition partners safer and more secure.”

Chief Master Sgt. Butch Brien, 432 Wing/432nd AEW command chief, noted the dedication of the Airmen, both past and present, behind the mission is unmatched.

“People are going to be talking about us for years and years to come – it’s great to be part of this elite team,” Brien said. “I think about the 24/7, 365 operations capability that we have working with our partners across the United States and overseas making this happen, and how advanced the technology has become since the beginning … what we’re achieving right now, you can’t touch that.”

The crew chosen to fly the mission was hand-picked directly by their commander for a multitude of reasons.

“The decision was based on several things such as qualifications, merit, and experience,” said Capt. Ben, 18th Reconnaissance Squadron RPA pilot who flew the 2 million hour mission. “We are continuing a legacy of flying of all the RPA pilots and sensors before us. However, it’s a combined ‘one team, one fight’ effort. We depend on our counterparts like communications, maintenance, launch and recovery teams, and other RPA Airmen to be able to conduct and complete our missions.”

Staff Sgt. Tabitha, 18th RS mission intelligence coordinator, said the community has experienced an increase in the number of combat air patrols over the years but the dedication of the team is what makes the difference.

“Even though it’s been hard, we’ve always found a way to meet the increasing demands,” she said.

Senior Airman Travis, 18th RS sensor operator, gave one piece of advice for all the Airmen who play a part in keeping the mission capabilities going.


“Stay flexible,” he said. “At one point I was flying eight hours each day for nearly three months, but the flexibility and dedication of our people makes anything possible.”

Although the aircrew members are the ones flying the planes, there are hundreds of people involved every day in RPA operations.

“There is really nothing ‘unmanned’ about RPAs, other than the fact that there isn’t a pilot in the cockpit,” said Maj. Gen. John Shanahan, Air Force ISR Agency commander. “From the maintenance personnel, to the pilots and sensor operators, to the communications experts, to the ISR professionals who exploited every signal and every second of every video, this is a team business. I am incredibly proud of the Airmen across the Air Force ISR Agency who have been involved in the RPA success story since day one. They take information from the RPAs and turn it into intelligence that allows someone to make a better decision – in peacetime and war.”

Achieving such great heights commemorates more than just a proud moment, it also demonstrates how valuable the program has become in just two decades.

Today, the RPA community continues to aid in missions worldwide while concurrently assessing and improving the capabilities of both the program and aircraft.

“I carried the first Predator to Tazar, Hungary, in 1996 at the direction of Secretary of Defense William Perry,” said retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth Israel. “Dr. Perry’s guidance was ‘if Predators save one soldier’s life, they are worth deploying now.’ No one could have envisioned the unprecedented success these systems have had during the last two decades.”


Defense Cuts Conundrum: Weighing the Hard Choices Ahead

September 29, 2013

By Todd Harrison

The main strategic choice the military now faces is essentially one of timing — that is, when to take risks. Should it protect near-term capacity and accept a higher degree of long-term risk by cutting funding for future capabilities? Or should it focus on developing future capabilities and accept a higher degree of near-term risk by cutting the current capacity and readiness of the force? As budgets come down, the military cannot do both, at least not to the degree it had previously planned. Most likely, policymakers will attempt to protect near-term capacity and readiness as much as possible and sacrifice modernization programs to meet budget targets. This approach is already beginning to play out in response to the 2013 sequester. For example, U.S. President Barack Obama exempted $150 billion in military personnel accounts from sequestration, and the Defense Department sought permission from Congress to transfer some $4.1 billion from modernization accounts to restore funding for near-term readiness activities such as flying hours and training exercises.

The near-term approach is appealing because the current security environment is unpredictable. The military does not know when or where it may be called upon next, and senior leaders, whose tenures are relatively short, are naturally reluctant to risk a readiness crisis occurring on their watch.

Moreover, one could argue that in a few years the budget environment could be less constrained than currently projected.

Adopting a near-term approach, the military would focus cuts disproportionately on modernization programs, since the capabilities these investments produce will not be available for years, if not decades. Even with deep cuts in modernization programs, however, the Defense Department would still be forced to make modest reductions in the size and readiness of the current force. Given the uncertain threat environment, a likely way of doing this would be to make relatively uniform reductions across the military — a so-called haircut approach — to minimize the risk of being too unprepared in any one area.


Just as important as what the military would do with a near-term focus is what it would not do. Taking this approach, the Defense Department and Congress would not have a strong incentive to make internal reforms to how the Defense Department operates and manages its resources. Such changes typically require up-front costs, both financially and politically, in exchange for long-term savings.

Closing excess bases and facilities, for example, would cost billions in the near term before it would begin to yield annual savings. Likewise, both Congress and the military would not have an incentive to pursue serious reforms in the military compensation system or alter the size and structure of the Defense Department’s civilian workforce, because these efforts would carry significant political repercussions.

A likely result of the near-term approach is a military that looks and operates much as it does today. It implicitly assumes that future conflicts will require capabilities similar to those the military already possesses, many of which were designed for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations or for more conventional military conflicts such as the 1991 Gulf War. As threats evolve, however, and more advanced technologies proliferate, current capabilities may increasingly become less effective and less relevant. For example, the Predator and Reaper drones that the military has used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are designed to operate in undefended airspace. These systems would not be effective against an adversary that attempts to keep U.S. aircraft out with even modest air defenses. The development of new or evolved weapons systems, such as stealth drones that can evade air defenses, requires investments of both time and funding. If such investments are not made now, these advanced capabilities may not be available to the U.S. military when needed, no matter how much funding is available in the future.

More important, the near-term approach would avoid politically difficult internal reforms. The growth in personnel and peacetime readiness costs has effectively reduced the buying power of each defense dollar. If these costs continue to grow at the rates experienced over the past decade and the military attempts to maintain a force of 1.4 million on active duty, as currently planned, they could consume the entire defense budget by 2024, leaving no money for research and development or the procurement of new equipment. Alternatively, the Defense Department could reduce the overall size of the military to compensate for internal cost growth, but it would have to continue getting smaller as costs continued to mount. Either way, rising internal costs make the near-term approach unsustainable without significant reforms.


A long-term approach, in contrast, would protect funding for future capabilities and require near-term risks in capacity and readiness to meet budget targets. For those who see the threats to U.S. interests as dangerous now and growing worse over time, it makes sense to take more risks today rather than in the future, when threats will be more challenging. Alternatively, if one views the current situation as relatively safe for the United States, then the future security environment could be worse — meaning it would still be better to take risks sooner than later.

Taking a long-term approach, the military should first identify the capabilities the current force lacks but is likely to need in the future and plan investments accordingly. The idea is to make strategically informed bets on technologies and programs that could lead to significant improvements in future capabilities. New investments could include increasing budgets for existing programs, funding technologies the Defense Department previously abandoned, or starting new development programs.

While many of these investments could fail or end up addressing the wrong threats, the ones that succeed would be prerequisites to developing advanced capabilities down the road. To pay for these new investments, the military would need to capabilities that are likely to be less relevant in the future. While strategists and planners can disagree about what the ideal future force should look like, it will not likely look like the force of today. The nature of warfare is constantly evolving, as evidenced by advances in unmanned systems, guided munitions, and the increasing role of networks and cyber-operations in conventional conflicts. Given these technological advancements, parts of the force structure that have been important for decades may not be as important in the future.

The idea is to begin divesting from lower priority capabilities to make room for higher-priority ones. A long-term approach must also begin the process of making systemic internal reforms in the Pentagon, including slowing the growth of military compensation costs, reshaping and resizing the Defense Department’s civilian workforce, and eliminating excess bases and infrastructure. Despite the upfront costs and political risks involved, the sooner such reforms are implemented, the sooner savings can begin to accrue. Savings from structural reforms, such as reducing the size of U.S. forces, will improve the effective buying power of defense dollars, enabling the United States to afford a larger and more capable military than would otherwise be possible.

The bulk of the required savings under the long-term approach would come from near-term reductions in capacity and preparedness, which, while never ideal, could be mitigated somewhat by adopting tiered readiness within the services or dissimilar readiness levels across the services. Moreover, the long-term effectiveness of U.S. forces could be enhanced by the advanced technologies and weapon systems funded by a near-term reduction in readiness.

Policymakers will understandably be reluctant to pursue the long-term approach because it requires stepping on many of the so-called third rail issues in defense. Reforming military compensation and cutting the Defense Department civilian workforce, for example, would anger the many veterans’ service organizations and federal employee unions whose members could be affected. Supporting another round of base closures would require many members of Congress to vote against their own parochial political interests. Making targeted reductions in acquisition programs and force structure would upset the status quo in the defense industry. More important, the long-term approach would also require policymakers to accept a higher degree of risk that the military may not be adequately prepared for a major war in the next few years. This lack of readiness could constrain U.S. foreign policy if potential adversaries are less deterred by the threat of military force. And if military action becomes necessary in the near future, reduced preparedness could compromise the performance of U.S. forces in battle.


In congressional testimony following the release of the SCMR results, Admiral James Winnefeld, Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that readiness “has no constituency other than the young soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine putting his or her life on the line for our nation’s security interests.” Winnefeld’s statement reveals that readiness does indeed have a constituency. The current force and those who lead it are strong and vocal proponents of preparedness for good reason: If readiness suffers, they are the ones who will bear the consequences. But senior leaders should instead be concerned that the future may not have a strong constituency. The next generation of service members — our children and grandchildren — have no say in the decisions made today, yet they are the ones who will live with the repercussions. Who will speak for their interests, and what type of military will they inherit?

The usefulness of framing the Pentagon’s upcoming strategic choice as a near-term versus long-term dichotomy is that it explicitly acknowledges the trade-offs senior leaders face in the thousands of lower-level decisions they must make over the coming years. These thousands of decisions, at times going in opposite directions and made by scores of senior leaders in the executive and legislative branches, will ultimately coalesce into what in hindsight appears to be a defense strategy, however flawed, disjointed, and ugly it may be. The key question is which way that strategy will lean.

A strategy that is more inclined toward a near-term approach would leave the next generation a military with capabilities similar to those it has today, and with excellent pay and benefits. But that military would be less technologically advanced and also unsustainable due to internal cost growth. A strategy geared more toward a long-term approach would give the subsequent generation a military that is smaller but more modernized and more easily scaled in size if needed, albeit with less generous pay and benefits.

The strategic choices facing the U.S. military today are not easy, but it would be naive to blame this difficulty entirely on fiscal constraints. As the military strategist Bernard Brodie wrote in 1959, “We do not have and probably never will have enough money to buy all the things we could effectively use for our defense. The choices we have to make would be difficult and painful even if our military budget were twice what it is today.” The budget constraints the Defense Department currently faces, no matter how difficult and painful they may seem, should be viewed as more of an opportunity than a burden. The Defense Department should seize this opportunity and the compelling force it provides to reshape the military fundamentally and make internal reforms that are long overdue. Writing nearly a decade after Brodie, the Rolling Stones perhaps summed it up best: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”


Hagel Could Remove One of the NSA’s Key Duties: Running Cyber Command

By Aliya Sternstein

October 25, 2013

Here’s a tough call for any person to make: An Air Force general conducting a drone strike on an Al Qaeda leader abroad overhears communications between the terrorist and his subordinates about a plot to blow up an American subway line. Does the general keep eavesdropping to identify the imperiled subway system or kill the high-value target?

This should not be one person’s call to make, but that’s exactly how it works today at the Defense Department’s National Security Agency.

Since 2010, one individual — the agency’s director – has had to decide whether to destroy adversary computer networks or continue spying on those networks. This is because NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander also leads Cyber Command, a Defense organization that attacks adversary computer systems.

With Alexander expected to depart by April, many former administration officials are urging a division of power.

It wouldn’t require navigating Capitol Hill gridlock. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel need only consult with President Obama to divide the directorship.

“It is a DoD policy decision, not law, that defines and establishes the command structure for Cyber Command and the National Security Agency,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said.

In 2009, then Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended that Obama reassign then NSA Director Alexander to the role of joint NSA-Cyber Command chief, he added.

“The process for selecting his successor is ongoing,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said of what will happen after Alexander leaves next year.

Some former officials say the current dual-hatted role harms U.S. military strategy.

“You’ve got a tension between the intelligence people who want to learn and the war people who want to win,” said Jason Healey, former White House cyber infrastructure protection director. “The intelligence people don’t want you to act on that information, because you’re revealing the fact that you know it,” and “the warfighting commander will say, ‘But by leaving that [communication line] open, it’s helping the enemy.”

Concern about the concentration of decisionmaking power within NSA has become part of a larger debate over surveillance overreach at the agency. This spring, ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden ignited the discourse by revealing classified cyberspying operations on American citizens and allied leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Vines said Alexander’s departure “has nothing to do with media leaks; the decision for his retirement was made prior.”

Former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden told Nextgov he expects the administration will appoint a dedicated Cyber Command chief either after Alexander exits or after his successor exits.

“As the role or cyber in military and intelligence operations grows, it is inevitable that the two jobs – director of NSA and head of Cyber Command — will be split if not now then in the next cycle,” he said.

Cyber Command and NSA both operate in the same military domain, so they have had the advantage of being able to share resources and approaches — but each deserves its own powerful leader, said Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, who researches current and future defense needs.

“They are both crucially important, and dividing one’s time between them is not ideal,” he said. “You’d never propose the head of the Marine Corps also be simultaneously the CIA director. To put it in sports terms, many a good sports team has made the mistake of dual hatting a skilled coach and GM. The same holds here, all the more so, given while it was certainly within the letter of the law, it wasn’t truly in the spirit.”

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will pressure the White House to change the organizational chart.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., recognizing the benefits and drawbacks of the dual-hatted role, directed the Pentagon to study the issue and report back later this fall, a committee aide said.

The 300-day report, called for in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act enacted Jan. 2, must examine, among other things, “the ability of the existing management structure of the command and the agency to identify and adequately address potential conflicts of interest between the roles of the commander of the United States Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency.”

Staff for Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said they are reviewing the issue, but have no other comment. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on her stance, as did her counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee, Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.


Merkel: U.S. spying has shattered allies’ trust

Oct. 24, 2013 – 03:30PM |

By Geir Moulson and John-Thor Dahlburg

The Associated Press

BRUSSELS — European leaders united in anger Thursday as they attended a summit overshadowed by reports of widespread U.S. spying on its allies — allegations German Chancellor Angela Merkel said had shattered trust in the Obama administration and undermined the crucial trans-Atlantic relationship.

The latest revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency swept up more than 70 million phone records in France and may have tapped Merkel’s own cellphone brought denunciations from the French and German governments.

Merkel’s unusually stern remarks as she arrived at the European Union gathering indicated she wasn’t placated by a phone conversation she had Wednesday with President Obama, or his personal assurances that the U.S. is not listening in on her calls now.

“We need trust among allies and partners,” Merkel told reporters in Brussels. “Such trust now has to be built anew. This is what we have to think about.”

“The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies,” the German leader said. “But such an alliance can only be built on trust. That’s why I repeat again: spying among friends, that cannot be.”

Other leaders arriving for the 28-nation meeting echoed Merkel’s displeasure. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called it “completely unacceptable” for a country to eavesdrop on an allied leader.

If reports that Merkel’s cellphone had been tapped are true, “it is exceptionally serious,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told national broadcaster NOS.

“We want the truth,” Italian Premier Enrico Letta told reporters. “It is not in the least bit conceivable that activity of this type could be acceptable.”

Echoing Merkel, Austria’s foreign minister, Micheal Spindelegger, said, “We need to re-establish with the U.S. a relationship of trust, which has certainly suffered from this.”

France, which also vocally objected to allies spying on each other, asked that the issue of reinforcing Europeans’ privacy in the digital age be added to the agenda of the two-day summit. Before official proceedings got underway, Merkel held a brief one-on-one with French President Francois Hollande, and discussed the spying controversy.

The Europeans’ statements and actions indicated that they hadn’t been satisfied with assurances from Washington. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama personally assured Merkel that her phone is not being listened to now and won’t be in the future.

“I think we are all outraged, across party lines,” Wolfgang Bosbach, a prominent German lawmaker from Merkel’s party, told Deutschlandfunk radio. “And that also goes for the response that the chancellor’s cellphone is not being monitored — because this sentence says nothing about whether the chancellor was monitored in the past.”

“This cannot be justified from any point of view by the fight against international terrorism or by averting danger,” Bosbach said.

In the past, much of the official outrage in Europe about revelations of U.S. communications intercepts leaked by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden seemed designed for internal political consumption in countries that readily acknowledge conducting major spying operations themselves. But there has been a new discernible vein of anger in Europe as the scale of the NSA’s reported operations became known, as well as the possible targeting of a prominent leader like Merkel, presumably for inside political or economic information.

“Nobody in Germany will be able to say any longer that NSA surveillance — which is apparently happening worldwide and millions of times — is serving solely intelligence-gathering or defense against Islamic terror or weapons proliferation,” said Hans-Christian Strobele, a member of the German parliamentary oversight committee.

“Because, if you tap the cellphone or the phone connection of the presidents of France or Brazil, or the cellphone of the chancellor, then this is no longer about collecting intelligence about international terrorism, but then that is about competition, about getting advantages in this competition and winning. That’s why today is a watershed moment.”

European Union Commission President Jose Manuel Borroso said for many Europeans, eavesdropping on their phone calls or reading their emails is particularly objectionable because it raises the specter of totalitarian regimes of the recent past.

“At least in Europe, we consider the right to privacy a fundamental right and it is a very serious matter. We cannot, let’s say, pretend it is just something accessory,” Barroso told a presummit news conference.

Referring to the East German Communist secret police, the feared Stasi, Barroso said, “to speak about Chancellor Merkel, in Germany there was a part of Germany where there was a political police that was spying on people’s lives every day. So we know very recently what totalitarianism means. And we know very well what comes, what happens when the state uses powers that intrude in people’s lives. So it is a very important issue, not only for Germany but for Europe in general.”

In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to stress how seriously it takes the reported spying on Merkel. Germany’s defense minister said his country and Europe can’t return “to business as usual” with Washington, given the number of reports that the United States has eavesdropped on allied nations.

“The Americans are and remain our best friends, but this is absolutely not right,” Thomas de Maiziere, who served as Merkel’s chief of staff, told ARD television. “I have reckoned for years with my cellphone being monitored, but I wasn’t reckoning with the Americans.”

A German parliamentary committee that oversees the country’s intelligence service met to discuss the spying allegations. Its head, Thomas Oppermann, recalled previous reports to the panel that U.S. authorities had denied violating German interests, and said, “we were apparently deceived by the American side.”


What makes so complicated?


10/24/13 8:25 AM EDT

Building a website in 2013 should be as easy as U-R-L, so what’s the deal with

The White House billed the Obamacare portal as the of health coverage — only instead of plane rides, it was selling health insurance. It was supposed to be a one-stop click and shop place to compare and buy health plans in the 36 states not running their own insurance exchanges — and for the millions who are eligible, get federal subsidies.

Hundreds of millions of dollars later, it’s fundamentally broken and a frantic fix is underway.

What made it so complicated?

The Obama administration has done little to give outsiders a peek under the hood — although it promises daily briefings from the Department of Health and Human Services starting Thursday.

But it’s way more complicated than tweaking a simple commercial site.

“This is one of the most complex IT projects the federal government has ever undertaken,” said Dan Schuyler, senior technology expert at Leavitt Partners.

With the contractors who built the system preparing for a grilling from House Republicans today, here’s a quick guide to all the things that have to go right for to start humming.

By all accounts, and the programs it’s built upon include tens of millions — if not hundreds of millions — of lines of code. When major portions are rewritten, it usually takes time and testing to ensure that the fixes worked. But in the political pressure-cooker surrounding the health law, time isn’t really an option. Fixes are happening on the fly.

“It’s almost like test riding a 747 while writing a manual from the cockpit seat,” said Bryce Williams, managing director of exchange solutions for Tower Watson.

The code directs all the big parts of the enrollment process — creating online accounts, managing reams of personal and demographic data, determining whether someone get a tax credit, or qualifies for Medicaid.

“If you take a look at the work involved in this particular project, it’s at least five different transactional functions,” said Aneesh Chopra, the Obama administration’s former chief technology officer. “What that really means is it’s performing a series of application functions. Each of those functions has a level of complexity and stitching them together has a level of complexity.”

Not only does everything have to work, it has to work well with thousands — if not millions — of people interacting with the site simultaneously, putting pressure on different aspects of the system. That’s a situation that’s barely come up yet because most visitors to the site can’t get past the early stages. More problems may lurk once the first wave is solved.

The data hub

The hub is what a lot of people worried about, but the early indications are that it actually works quite well. The hub can be thought of as the heart of the system, linking five federal agencies to process information about people who sign up for health insurance through as well as in the states running their own enrollment systems.

When a person seeks coverage through the new Obamacare marketplaces, the hub draws data from the Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security, the Department of Homeland Security, the IRS and the U.S. Treasury to determine eligibility for subsidies.

“The accuracy and the effectiveness and the quality with which it is pulling information from various systems appears to be working,” Chopra said.

More tests will come as more applicants reach this point in the signup process.

The federal-state connection

Not only do federal agencies have to work in concert, the enrollment system has to talk to 50 states with 50 diverse Medicaid programs. Each state has different eligibility rules and years of regulation, so connecting them all to the same system has been a challenge.

The National Association of Medicaid Directors said Monday that states are reporting vastly different experiences. Some have experienced seamless connectivity to the federal system. Others — not so good. “Communication between states and marketplaces continue to contain challenges,” the association said.

“With this many agencies, this many states, there are a whole lot of cooks in the kitchen,” said Williams of Towers Watson.

Talking — and listening — to insurers

The crux of the new enrollment system is the marketplace — getting health plans sold by private insurers. But to complete that process, the system has to be able to transfer massive amounts of data — subsidy calculations, personal information of enrollees and application files.

Some applications have made it to insurers without a hitch. But sometimes the system is spewing out files that are garbled, incorrect or repetitive.

And for people who wish to bypass and purchase plans directly from an insurer, they’re running into the same brick wall. Some insurers are directing people back to because of their own problems calculating subsidies and interacting with the federal system.

The rules

Sites like don’t have to deal with an Obamacare-sized thicket of federal rules and regulations. The health law passed in March 2010, but the final regulatory framework for wasn’t really in place until earlier this year.

“HHS was slow in distributing and promulgating the necessary rules and regulation,” Dan Schuyler of Leavitt Partners said. “Had the federal government initiated the legislation in March 2010 … we wouldn’t be having these problems today. The rules, the regs, the guidance are, in essence the business processes, if you will, of how the exchanges are supposed to function.”

Some allies of the administration point back to the way the law was passed — after Republican Scott Brown was elected to the Senate in early 2010, the Democrats couldn’t merge the House and Senate bills, a process that could have purged some of the kinks. They ended up enacting the Senate bill — and regulators had more work to fill in some gaps.

The threat of the Supreme Court overturning the law and the 2012 election also may have slowed some of the implementation.

But Schuyler has a simpler theory: “Poor design and poor planning. There is no other reason.”


Analyst: Pentagon Budget Could Drop To $415 Billion

By Michael Bruno

Source: Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

October 25, 2013

The Pentagon’s baseline budget could dip to $415 billion in coming years, with as little as $62 billion in annual authorized procurement, while the active military force shrinks to about 1 million uniformed personnel, according to analyst Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Harrison provided Washington reporters an outlook Oct. 24 on the effects of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and its annual threat of automatic, widespread sequestration cuts in fiscal 2014 and beyond. While he did not necessarily see each of the outcomes as probable, when looking at historical trends and accounting for how the 2011 law is written, Harrison said the nadirs in defense spending and capability were nonetheless plausible.

Indeed, one of the unintended consequences of the law and sequestrations is the turnabout that will occur in the ratio of Defense Department procurement to research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E), according to Harrison’s report, “Chaos and Uncertainty: the Fiscal 2014 Defense Budget and Beyond.” Since fiscal 1955 the ratio has averaged 2.1, meaning the Pentagon was spending more than $2 in procurement for every $1 of RDT&E. While the actual figure has vacillated and dropped over the decades, it never got below a fiscal 2006 nadir of 1.1. But under decade-long spending caps mandated by the BCA, that ratio will drop below 1.0.

“For the first time in modern history, [the Pentagon] would be spending more on developing new technologies and systems than procuring equipment,” Harrison says in a report on sequestration in fiscal 2014 and beyond.

The day before, leading generals, admirals and civilian officials were testifying to Congress and in public about the so-called “procurement holiday” on the horizon under the 2011 law.

In a hearing before a House Armed Services subcommittee Oct. 23, top acquisition officials from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy noted how the next round of sequestration, slated to begin Jan. 15, will demand the Air Force cull four or five of 19 planned F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, while the Marines cut an F-35B and the Navy cuts an F-35C.

That came two days after the Army chief of staff spoke at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference of damage to about 485 acquisition programs. “Some we will have to cancel,” said Gen. Raymond Odierno. “Ground Combat Vehicle, name your favorite acquisition developmental program, it’ll probably be affected.”

Harrison said historical trends point to a low in annual authorized defense procurement of just $62 billion. As the years go on and cuts to once-planned procurements mount, it could devastate many programs as they find the new economics of reduced purchases or the subsequent lack of military capability due to smaller numbers — or both — not to be worthwhile. The Joint Chiefs have warned about the risks of having a smaller military with regard to capabilities, especially compared with existing national security strategy and expectations (Aerospace DAILY, Sept. 26).

Pentagon Weapons Buyers Say Cuts May Delay Aircraft Plans

By Tony Capaccio – Oct 23, 2013 4:45 PM ET .

Chief weapons buyers for the U.S. military services outlined the impact of continued defense budget cuts, including a delay of 25 aircraft for the Navy and Marine Corps that would have been purchased this fiscal year.

Written testimony submitted today for a House subcommittee hearing from Sean Stackley, the Navy’s assistant secretary for acquisition, his Army counterpart Heidi Shyu and the Air Force’s William LaPlante represented worst-case estimates of budget cuts facing the Pentagon in the year that began Oct. 1.

While the Pentagon has tried to shelter from cuts its costliest weapons systems, led by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s F-35 fighter, pressure is growing for reductions in weapons accounts because President Barack Obama has for the second year exempted the accounts that pay military personnel. Compensation amounts to about $137.1 billion of the president’s proposed $526.6 billion defense budget, not including war costs.

The first obstacle facing the Pentagon is the impact of a stopgap funding measure that freezes defense spending at current levels and would require a reduction of about $20 billion if continued throughout the fiscal year. The current stopgap measure goes through Jan. 15.

The second obstacle is a full round of automatic cuts, known as sequestration, requiring a reduction of about $52 billion.

Unless Congress and Obama reverse the sequestration cuts, the Navy may have to delay plans to purchase aircraft, Stackley said in testimony submitted to the House Armed Services subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces.

Growler, Osprey

Some of the affected aircraft include four Boeing Co. (BA) EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes, two Boeing P-8 reconnaissance aircraft and as many as three V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft made by Textron Inc. (TXT) and Boeing, Stackley said. Two Navy or Marine Corps F-35s wouldn’t be bought out of the 10 planned, he said.

Shyu said in her statement that sequestration at the current level may require delaying the purchase from Chicago-based Boeing of 12 Apache helicopters in addition to 13 cut last year. The Army wouldn’t pay General Dynamics Corp. (GD) to modify as many as 50 Stryker vehicles into a “Double-V” model that improves their capability to withstand roadside bomb blasts, she said.

LaPlante said in his testimony that the Air Force may have to cut as many as five of 19 F-35s it planned to buy from Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed this year.

“Our modernization forecasts are bleak” if sequestration continues into fiscal 2015, LaPlante said.

“Program disruptions will cost more taxpayers dollars to rectify contract breaches, raise unit costs and delay delivery of critical equipment,” he said.

The biggest U.S. defense contractors are reporting third-quarter earnings this week that showed they have endured federal budget cuts so far with little harm to their profits.

Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Voters have lurched in recent days from a government shutdown to an Obamacare breakdown and aren’t hugely optimistic about putting either behind them.

Following the short-term deal to end the partial government shutdown, voters are more concerned than ever that the federal government will not do enough responding to the weak economy. Sixty-two percent (62%) think the best thing the government can do is cut spending.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of voters want a long-term federal budget deal that cuts spending, but only 30% think Congress is even somewhat likely to reach such a deal and avoid another government shutdown in mid-January

Fifty-one percent (51%) say the government shutdown had some impact on their personal lives, but that includes just 11% who say it had a major one. Forty-six percent (46%) say the shutdown did not personally impact them at all.

Voters are narrowly divided over whether the Obama administration can fix within the next six months the problems plaguing the new government exchange websites set up to provide health insurance. Because of these problems, 51% think the administration should delay the new health care law’s requirement that every American have health insurance by January 1.  But that’s down from the 56% who favored delaying the so-called individual mandate in July.

Perhaps in part that’s because voters are almost evenly divided in their views of the health care law for the first time since the beginning of the year: 46% have a favorable opinion of Obamacare, while 48% view it unfavorably.

Perceptions of the law have improved in recent weeks as the shutdown debate focused on funding for it and despite the glitches experienced by the health insurance exchanges.

Democrats appear to still be benefiting from the shutdown as well. For the second week in a row, they lead Republicans by seven points on the Generic Congressional Ballot. Two weeks before, the parties were tied.

President Obama’s job approval ratings also appear to be unscathed by the shutdown and the health insurance exchange problems.

Just 17% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction, though. Still, that’s up slightly from 13% the week before, the lowest finding in five years. Confidence in the country’s direction fell 15 points during the government shutdown and is still well below its high of 43% the week before Election Day a year ago.

Consumer confidence also seems to have rebounded slightly since the shutdown ended but remains near the lowest levels of the year.

Thirty-five percent (35%) of Americans think now is a good time for someone in their area to sell a house, down from last month’s high of 39%.

The president has turned his attention to the immigration reform plan that passed the Democratic-controlled Senate but is stalled in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Obama wants to move ahead with a pathway to citizenship for the illegal immigrants who are now here, but 62% of voters continue to believe securing the border has to come first. However, fewer voters than ever (25%) believe the federal government is even somewhat likely to secure the border to prevent future illegal immigration if it’s part of legislation that would give legal status to those here illegally. This includes only five percent (5%) who think stricter border control is Very Likely.

Seventy percent (70%) feel that when people move to this country from other parts of the world, they should adopt America’s culture, language and heritage. Only 15% believe new immigrants should maintain the culture, language and heritage of their home country instead.

Not that voters express much confidence in the next generation already here at home. Sixty-six percent (66%) continue to believe most high school graduates in this country lack the necessary skills for college or a job.

Fifty-two percent (52%) of Americans think there’s not enough religion in the public schools. Fifty-seven percent (57%) favor prayer in school.

Only 36% of voters believe the United States and its allies are winning the War on Terror. That belief is down from 40% in July and is the lowest measured since April 2011, just before U.S. Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Voters generally agree that national security is a federal government priority, but just 35% think laws about marriage should be set by the feds. Forty-five percent (45%) see that as a state or local function. Views on gay marriage differ greatly depending on whether voters see marriage laws as a federal or state/local responsibility.

In other surveys last week:

– As the country debates whether every American should be required to have health insurance, 11% say they have health insurance for their pets.

– Democrat Terry McAuliffe has jumped to a 17-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race following the federal government shutdown that hit Northern Virginia hard and Hillary Clinton’s weekend visit to the state.

– Twenty-six percent (26%) think we will find a cure for cancer within the next 10 years.

– Fifty-six percent (56%) think the eligibility age for a driver’s license should be higher than 16. Twenty-six percent (26%) support a complete ban on cell phone use while driving, but that’s down from 38% four years ago. 

 — Consider it a classic example of “do as I say, not as I do.” Only 16% of Americans believe someone who is sick should go to work anyway, but three times as many (47%) say they generally go to work when they are under the weather.

– Twenty-nine percent (29%) are more likely to shop at a consignment store these days due to the weak economy.


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