International Partners Key To DoD’s New R&D Strategy
Jul. 7, 2014 – 06:14AM |
By ZACHARY FRYER-BIGGS |
WASHINGTON — The US Defense Department is set to roll out a new strategy this week that is designed to make sure researchers know about ongoing technological developments around the world, and can take advantage of spending by close allies to fill gaps in capabilities and cut costs.
The document, called the “International S&T Engagement Strategy,” aims to use advances in big data technology to create easily searchable databases for use by the Pentagon’s “communities of interest,” 17 groups of experts from across the services and Pentagon offices focused on specific areas of technology.
Once that data is proliferated, the Pentagon intends to take a look at where it can do a better job of using partner investment to cut the cost of developing some technologies, and where it can take advantage of investments by allies for technologies that might fill US gaps.
Although the document doesn’t mention it, the strategy is focused on joint work with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, according to acting Pentagon research and development (R&D) chief Al Shaffer.
Shaffer said that while the document explores improving awareness of technological developments, it’s less about gathering the intelligence and more about making sure the right parties are aware of it.
“We have complete insight into our partner and allies’ laboratories, and they have pretty good insight into ours, so what I’m really interested in is using some of the tools of our international structure,” Shaffer said. “If you take a look at our footprint already, we already have a network of literally hundreds of people. So this is really a structure of how do we put in place a capability back here in the United States and layer it into our capability road maps.”
To do that requires absorbing volumes of data on developing technologies and distributing that to the communities of interest. Those communities were set up in January as part of an effort to streamline development and avoid redundancy, and the Defense Technical Information Center is being tasked with making the new system work.
“I don’t need every community of interest to look at everything that comes in worldwide,” Shaffer said. “We can have an automation machine take all that information and route the relevant information to the right [communities].”
Shaffer cited that automation as being one of the prime reasons the new effort is being undertaken, as the technical challenges might have been insurmountable previously but can be overcome because of rapid improvements in the commercial big data sphere.
“Three years ago we could not have even begun to think about doing what we’re trying to do now,” he said.
The new IT system should be up and running in the fall, with the database operational Sept. 9 and the search tools ready near Oct. 1. Both are being tested.
But once the systems are in place it will be up to officials to take advantage of the information they’re getting.
“This isn’t three guys and a coffee pot, this is a significant staff,” said James Hasik, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The good news is that two senior Pentagon people are saying that we need to pay attention, this is important.”
But Hasik pointed to the broad strokes with which the strategy is painted as being a potential flaw.
“There’s a remarkable lack of prioritization,” he said.
Shaffer acknowledged that much of the success of the effort will ride on how well the officials work with each other.
“This is not my plan, this is our plan,” he said. “If we have the right senior executives in the right areas, we will not have a stovepipe. If we have the wrong senior executives we will devolve into stove piping and all this will just be more paper. Washington’s great at producing paper that never has any impact.”
That need to coordinate was of concern to one industry source familiar with the plan.
“There’s some kumbaya here, but not much substance,” the source said. “The devil is in the details, and there are no details.”
One of the sources of skepticism that the Pentagon is facing is a lukewarm response to its last major IT effort, the Defense Innovation Marketplace. That was designed to allow contractors to get a handle on where the Pentagon is looking for new technologies.
“The DoD marketplace effort has met with limited success,” the industry source said. “What makes you think extrapolating it to an international level will work?”
Shaffer said his office has learned from the experience, and is focusing on making sure they’re improving the user interface as well as taking an iterative approach to development.
“The other thing that I think we learned was not to go for everything in the first increment,” he said.
Shaffer is also sorting out how the agency will measure success, a difficult task given the stated goal of improving technology partnerships. That’s another area where much work is left to be done, as the strategy is designed to lay the groundwork for improved international efforts by making sure there’s data in place to make decisions, but can’t outline what those changes to partnering might be.
On that front, the bigger shift already underway has been the communities of interest concept, as US partner countries aren’t confronted with officials from each of the services and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in every technology area, but rather a single figure from each community of interest.
“We were overwhelming our closest friends and allies,” Shaffer said. “By bringing it in through the communities of interest we’re still bringing in the best technology but we’re not hitting them up five times.”
Joint development also ensures that the eventual products will work effectively from an interoperability standpoint.
The one major stumbling block that could surface is interoperability within the Pentagon — getting all of the different groups to agree on where to push technologies and who should do it.
“There are many days that I wish I could go back to being a laboratory commander where I was king and I could just go back to snapping my fingers and stuff happens,” Shaffer said. “But at [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] OSD we cannot work it alone. We have to work and bring our partners in the services and agencies with us.”
Defense Forecast: So Many ‘What-Ifs’
By Sandra I. Erwin
Uncertainty remains the operative word in the defense sector. The chances that Congress will pass a defense appropriations bill by Sept. 30 appear to be slim to none. Policy decisions are on hold pending mid-term elections, but gridlock is likely to continue regardless of the outcome.
Also looming is the prospect of automatic budget cuts — starting in 2016 and extending through 2021 — that would be triggered if federal agencies fail to comply with the spending limits set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
For Pentagon contractors, many unanswered questions remain on how the Defense Department will adjust programs as spending declines, and how long a projected “procurement holiday” might last.
In his latest “Defense Scorecard,” Capital Alpha analyst Byron Callan warns industry investors that while Pentagon spending will be stable in the near term, wild cards loom large after 2016.
Despite Congress’ best efforts to return to regular order, the Defense Department is unlikely to see its 2015 budget passed when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. “At least one or more continuing resolutions are likely,” Callan says. “We see this as business as usual so it’s not catalytic for defense stocks, so long as there is an 2015 appropriations act by early spring 2015.”
What happens beyond 2015, however, “may challenge bullish sentiment,” the scorecard cautions. The Obama administration in March proposed a 2016-2019 military budget that exceeds the mandatory caps by $115 billion. The plan got a lukewarm reception on Capitol Hill. And so far lawmakers have shown little inclination to undo the Budget Control Act.
Defense hawks like Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., have called for increases to the Pentagon’s budget but only if they are offset by domestic spending cuts and not by new tax revenue — which makes such proposal a nonstarter. Whether the November election moves the needle is a guessing game.
“The mid-term election will provide a better read on when fiscal year 2015 could be completed and should inform fiscal year 2016’s prospects,” says Callan. “We see the mid-term congressional elections in the U.S. as a gating factor for defense expectations, with investors starting to pay much more attention to election implications in September.”
Defense stocks could perk up if it appears more likely that Republicans take over the Senate, he adds. “The belief only rests on the notion that Republican control could further sharpen foreign policy debates with the White House and suggest potential for more bellicose action.”
Further gridlock in Washington, Callan notes, could jeopardize White House budget plans for 2016 that propose 15 percent growth in defense investments from the 2015 request.
A Republican sweep in November, however, does not guarantee that the Pentagon will be spared from the ax, he says. “Unless there are events that appear far more threatening or disruptive to Americans — another major terrorist attack, or $6 a gallon gasoline — we doubt the Republican gains could be translated into substantially higher levels of U.S. defense spending than is now planned by the administration.” The House budget resolution earlier this year envisioned defense spending about 1 percent more than the 2015-19 plan. For the administration to secure the extra funding for defense, Congress and the White House would have to find some way to compromise on a wider range of spending and revenue issues.
“We could see defense stocks with U.S. exposure generally move higher if investors and analysts believe that the fiscal year 2016 defense plan for procurement and RD&TE (research and development) budget authority could be realized,” says Callan. The plan shows procurement up 20 percent from the 2015 request and RDT&E up 9 percent. Growth projections slow down in 2017 and beyond to mid-low single digits. “We still think that the final outcome will be investment spending levels somewhere between the plan and budget cap levels for fiscal year 2016 and beyond.”
Conflicts and political crises do not appear to spur any moves to increase military budgets. “With the possible exception of Saab Group in Sweden, very few defense stocks appear to have reacted to Russian actions in Ukraine, the war in Syria, the potential fragmentation of Iraq and wider implications of war in the Levant,” Callan says.
Another matter of concern to defense industry is how the Pentagon will choose to spend its investment dollars — specifically whether it will start looking at alternatives to current programs of record, he says. “Right now, we don’t see evidence of disruptive changes. But we still wonder if all the emphasis on innovation, rapidly evolving adversary capabilities, costs of current weapons programs and potential lower-cost alternatives won’t spawn new programs that challenge the current order.” Defense officials have been talking more openly about the erosion of U.S. defense superiority, but have not explained what they will do about it.
In the long term, the outlook is indeed worrisome for the defense sector, according to analysts Clark A. Murdock and Ryan Crotty, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The post 9/11 defense drawdown will be significantly deeper than is generally recognized,” the authors warn in a new study. Because of the “double whammy” of topline cuts and the decreasing purchasing power of defense dollars, a steep downsizing can be expected between now and 2021.
Murdock suggests the Pentagon should immediately start shedding personnel and programs before automatic budget cuts return. “The Defense Department needs to adopt a dramatically different approach to force planning grounded in the acceptance of the BCA caps,” he says.
The military’s base budget (not including war funds) peaked in 2012 at $660 billion. By fiscal year 2021, it will be $520 billion, a decline of 21 percent. During this same period, the defense dollar will have lost 15 percent of its purchasing power, CSIS analysts estimate, because defense expenditures are rising faster than inflation. They predict that the combined impact of growth above inflation of personnel, health care, operations, maintenance and acquisitions will erode procurement spending.
The 2021 fiscal reality is a “harsh one,” Murdock says. The Defense Department will have 21 percent fewer dollars to buy military capabilities and each of those dollars will have lost 15 percent of their purchasing power. The Pentagon has yet to confront this problem, he says. “The correct response is not denial and the continued submission of defense budget requests that do not conform to the BCA.”
Chronic indecision on how to restructure the military for the future is part bureaucratic inertia but also not knowing what threats the nation will face. Retired Marine Corps Gen. Tony Zinni, former chief of U.S. Central Command, says the Pentagon cannot continue to put off tough decisions.
“Today it’s very difficult to determine the kind of military we need,” Zinni states in a new book, titled, “Before the First Shots Are Fired,” that is scheduled for release this fall.
The Pentagon has to determine what capabilities it should fund to keep a “qualitative edge,” he says. “Since we can’t keep all our capabilities at their highest possible levels, which ones can we risk weakening?”
The military also has to carefully rebalance the force between active and reserves, Zinni suggests. “We can’t keep guessing these questions,” he says. “Admittedly, we live in an unpredictable world but we know that the threats to us will be split between low end and high end. … What is the best force structure to meet challenges of transnational threats such as terrorism, instability, insurgencies and international criminal activities?” he asks. The biggest question: “What can we afford?”
Why we stuck with Maliki — and lost Iraq
By Ali Khedery
To understand why Iraq is imploding, you must understand Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and why the United States has supported him since 2006.
I have known Maliki, or Abu Isra, as he is known to people close to him, for more than a decade. I have traveled across three continents with him. I know his family and his inner circle. When Maliki was an obscure member of parliament, I was among the very few Americans in Baghdad who took his phone calls. In 2006, I helped introduce him to the U.S. ambassador, recommending him as a promising option for prime minister. In 2008, I organized his medevac when he fell ill, and I accompanied him for treatment in London, spending 18 hours a day with him at Wellington Hospital. In 2009, I lobbied skeptical regional royals to support Maliki’s government.
By 2010, however, I was urging the vice president of the United States and the White House senior staff to withdraw their support for Maliki. I had come to realize that if he remained in office, he would create a divisive, despotic and sectarian government that would rip the country apart and devastate American interests.
America stuck by Maliki. As a result, we now face strategic defeat in Iraq and perhaps in the broader Middle East.
Finding a leader
Born in Tuwairij, a village outside the Iraqi holy city of Karbala, Abu Isra is the proud grandson of a tribal leader who helped end British colonial rule in the 1920s. Raised in a devout Shiite family, he grew to resent Sunni minority rule in Iraq, especially the secular but repressive Baath Party. Maliki joined the theocratic Dawa party as a young man, believing in its call to create a Shiite state in Iraq by any means necessary. After clashes between the secular Sunni, Shiite and Christian Baathists and Shiite Islamist groups, including Dawa, Saddam Hussein’s government banned the rival movements and made membership a capital offense.
Accused of being extensions of Iranian clerics and intelligence officers, thousands of Dawa party members were arrested, tortured and executed. Many of the mutilated bodies were never returned to their families. Among those killed were some of Maliki’s close relatives, forever shaping the psychology of the future premier.
Over a span of three decades, Maliki moved between Iran and Syria, where he organized covert operations against Hussein’s regime, eventually becoming chief of Iraq’s Dawa branch in Damascus. The party found a patron in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic of Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when Iraq used Western-supplied chemical weapons, Tehran retaliated by using Shiite Islamist proxies such as Dawa to punish Hussein’s supporters. With Iran’s assistance, Dawa operatives bombed the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut in 1981 in one of radical Islam’s first suicide attacks. They also bombed the American and French embassies in Kuwait and schemed to kill the emir. Dozens of assassination plots against senior members of Hussein’s government, including the dictator himself, failed miserably, resulting in mass arrests and executions.
During the tumultuous months following America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, Maliki returned to his home country. He took a job advising future prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari and later, as a member of parliament, chaired the committee supporting the De-Baathification Commission, an organization privately celebrated by Shiite Islamists as a means of retribution and publicly decried by Sunnis as a tool of repression.
I volunteered to serve in Iraq after watching the tragedy of 9/11 from the Texas governor’s conference room. The son of Iraqi immigrants, I was dispatched to Baghdad by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for a three-month assignment that ultimately lasted almost a decade. As special assistant to Ambassador Patrick Kennedy and the Coalition Provisional Authority’s liaison to the Iraqi Governing Council, and as one of the few American officials there who spoke Arabic, I became the Iraqi leaders’ go-to guy for just about everything — U.S.-furnished weapons, cars, houses or the much-coveted Green Zone access passes.
fter the formal U.S. occupation ended in 2004, I stayed in Baghdad to facilitate the transition to a “normalized” American diplomatic presence, and I often shared tea and stale biscuits with my Iraqi friends at the transitional parliament. One of those friends was Maliki. He would quiz me about American designs for the Middle East and cajole me for more Green Zone passes. These early days were exhausting but satisfying as Iraqis and Americans worked together to help the country rise from Hussein’s ashes.
Then disaster struck. During Jafari’s short tenure, ethno-sectarian tensions spiked catastrophically. With Hussein’s criminal excesses still fresh in their minds, Iraq’s new Shiite Islamist leaders concocted retribution schemes against Sunnis, resulting in horrifying episodes of torture, rape and other abuses. Displaced Baath Party members launched a bloody insurgency, while al-Qaeda recruited young men to stage suicide and car bombings, kidnappings, and other terrorist attacks in a bid to foment chaos.
After the February 2006 bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra, a sacred shrine for Shiite Islam’s 200 million adherents, Shiite Islamist leaders launched a ferocious counterattack, sparking a civil war that left tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis dead. Jafari initially refused American overtures to institute a curfew after al-Qaeda bombed Samarra, insisting that citizens needed to vent their frustrations — effectively sanctioning civil war and ethnic cleansing.
Washington decided that change at the top was essential. After the December 2005 parliamentary elections, U.S. Embassy officials combed the Iraqi elite for a leader who could crush the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, battle al-Qaeda, and unite Iraqis under the banner of nationalism and inclusive government. My colleague Jeffrey Beals and I were among the few Arabic-speaking Americans on good terms with the country’s leading figures. The only man we knew with any chance to win support from all Iraqi factions — and who seemed likely to be an effective leader — was Maliki. We argued that he would be acceptable to Iraq’s Shiite Islamists, around 50 percent of the population; that he was hard-working, decisive and largely free of corruption; and that he was politically weak and thus dependent on cooperating with other Iraqi leaders to hold together a coalition. Although Maliki’s history was known to be shadowy and violent, that was hardly unusual in the new Iraq.
With other colleagues, Beals and I hashed over the options with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who in turn encouraged Iraq’s skeptical but desperate national leaders to support Maliki. Leading a bloc with only a handful of parliamentarians, Maliki was initially surprised by the American entreaties, but he seized the opportunity, becoming prime minister on May 20, 2006.
He vowed to lead a strong, united Iraq.
‘There will be no Iraq’
Never having run anything beyond a violent, secretive Shiite Islamist political party, Maliki found his first years leading Iraq enormously challenging. He struggled with violence that killed thousands of Iraqis each month and displaced millions, a collapsing oil industry, and divided and corrupt political partners — as well as delegations from an increasingly impatient U.S. Congress. Maliki was the official ruler of Iraq, but with the surge of U.S. forces in 2007 and the arrival in Baghdad of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, there was little doubt about who was actually keeping the Iraqi state from collapse.
Crocker and Petraeus met with the prime minister several hours a day, virtually every day, for nearly two years. Unlike his rivals, Maliki traveled little outside the country and routinely worked 16-hour days. We coordinated political, economic and military policies, seeking to overcome legislative obstacles and promote economic growth while pursuing al-Qaeda, Baathist spoilers and Shiite Islamist militias. As Crocker’s special assistant, my role was to help prepare him for and accompany him to meetings with Iraqi leaders, and I often served as his proxy when the Iraqis squabbled among themselves. The United States was compelled to mediate among the Iraqis because we felt that the country would become stable only with united and cohesive Iraqi leadership, backed by the use of force against violent extremists.
One of the biggest breakthroughs of this era was the Awakening movement, in which, thanks to long negotiations, Sunni Arab tribal and Baathist insurgents turned their guns away from U.S. troops and pointed them toward al-Qaeda, thereby reintegrating into the Iraqi political process. Initially hostile to the idea of arming and funding Sunni fighters, Maliki eventually relented after intense lobbying from Crocker and Petraeus, but only on the condition that Washington foot the bill. He later agreed to hire and fund some of the tribal fighters, but many of his promises to them went unmet — leaving them unemployed, bitter and again susceptible to radicalization.
Settling into power by 2008, and with the northern half of the nation becoming pacified, Maliki was growing into his job. He had weekly videoconferences with President George W. Bush. During these intimate gatherings, in which a small group of us sat quietly off screen, Maliki often complained of not having enough constitutional powers and of a hostile parliament, while Bush urged patience and remarked that dealing with the U.S. Congress wasn’t easy, either.
Over time, Maliki helped forge compromises with his political rivals and signed multibillion-dollar contracts with multinational companies to help modernize Iraq. Few of us had hope in Iraq’s future during the depths of the civil war, but a year after the surge began, the country seemed to be back on track.
Maliki didn’t always make things easy, however. Prone to conspiracy theories after decades of being hunted by Hussein’s intelligence services, he was convinced that his Shiite Islamist rival Moqtada al-Sadr was seeking to undermine him. So in March 2008, Maliki hopped into his motorcade and led an Iraqi army charge against Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. With no planning, logistics, intelligence, air cover or political support from Iraq’s other leaders, Maliki picked a fight with an Iranian-backed militia that had stymied the U.S. military since 2003.
Locked in the ambassador’s office for several hours, Crocker, Petraeus, the general’s aide and I pored over the political and military options and worked the phones with Maliki and his ministers in Basra. We feared that Maliki’s field headquarters would be overrun and he’d be killed, an Iraqi tradition for seizing power. I dialed up Iraq’s Sunni Arab, Shiite Arab and Kurdish leaders so Crocker could urge them to publicly stand behind Maliki. Petraeus ordered an admiral to Basra to lead U.S. Special Operations forces against the Mahdi Army. For days, I received calls from Maliki’s special assistant, Gatah al-Rikabi, urging American airstrikes to level entire city blocks in Basra; I had to remind him that the U.S. military is not as indiscriminate with force as Maliki’s army is.
Although it was a close call, Maliki’s “Charge of the Knights” succeeded. For the first time in Iraq’s history, a Shiite Islamist premier had defeated an Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist militia. Maliki was welcomed in Baghdad and around the world as a patriotic nationalist, and he was showered with praise as he sought to liberate Baghdad’s Sadr City slum from the Mahdi Army just weeks later. During a meeting of the Iraqi National Security Council, attended by Crocker and Petraeus, Maliki blasted his generals, who wanted to take six months to prepare for the attack. “There will be no Iraq in six months!” I recall him saying.
Buoyed by his win in Basra, and with massive U.S. military assistance, Maliki led the charge to retake Sadr City, directing Iraqi army divisions over his mobile phone. Through an unprecedented fusion of American and Iraqi military and intelligence assets, dozens of Iranian-backed Shiite Islamist militant cells were eliminated within weeks. This was the true surge: a masterful civil-military campaign to allow space for Iraqi politicians to reunite by obliterating the Sunni and Shiite armed groups that had nearly driven the country into the abyss.
By the closing months of 2008, successfully negotiating the terms for America’s continued commitment to Iraq became a top White House imperative. But desperation to seal a deal before Bush left office, along with the collapse of the world economy, weakened our hand.
In an ascendant position, Maliki and his aides demanded everything in exchange for virtually nothing. They cajoled the United States into a bad deal that granted Iraq continued support while giving America little more than the privilege of pouring more resources into a bottomless pit. In retrospect, I imagine the sight of American officials pleading with him only fed Maliki’s ego further. After organizing Bush’s final trip to Iraq — where he was attacked with a pair of shoes at Maliki’s news conference celebrating the signing of the bilateral agreements — I left Baghdad with Crocker on Feb. 13, 2009. After more than 2,000 days of service, I was ill, depleted physically and mentally, but hopeful that America’s enormous sacrifices might have produced a positive outcome.
With the Obama administration vowing to end Bush’s “dumb war,” and the continued distraction of the global economic crisis, Maliki seized an opportunity. He began a systematic campaign to destroy the Iraqi state and replace it with his private office and his political party. He sacked professional generals and replaced them with those personally loyal to him. He coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections in March 2010. After the results were announced and Maliki lost to a moderate, pro-Western coalition encompassing all of Iraq’s major ethno-sectarian groups, the judge issued a ruling that awarded Maliki the first chance to form a government, ushering in more tensions and violence.
This was happening amid a leadership vacuum at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. After two months without an ambassador, Crocker’s replacement had arrived in April 2009 while I settled into a new assignment shuttling across Middle East capitals with Petraeus, the new head of U.S. Central Command. But reports from Iraqi and U.S. officials in Baghdad were worrisome. While American troops bled and the global economic crisis flared, the embassy undertook an expensive campaign to landscape the grounds and commission a bar and a soccer field, complementing the existing Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, basketball court, tennis courts and softball field at our billion-dollar embassy. I routinely received complaints from Iraqi and U.S. officials that morale at the embassy was plummeting and that relations between America’s diplomatic and military leadership — so strong in the Crocker-Petraeus era, and so crucial to curtailing Maliki’s worst tendencies and keeping the Iraqis moving forward — had collapsed. Maliki’s police state grew stronger by the day.
In a meeting in Baghdad with a Petraeus-hosted delegation of Council on Foreign Relations members shortly after the 2010 elections, Maliki insisted that the vote had been rigged by the United States, Britain, the United Nations and Saudi Arabia. As we shuffled out of the prime minister’s suite, one stunned executive, the father of an American Marine, turned to me and asked, “American troops are dying to keep that son of a b—- in power?”
With the political crisis dragging on for months, a new ambassador for whom I had worked previously, James Jeffrey, asked me to return to Baghdad to help mediate among the Iraqi factions. Even then, in August 2010, I was shocked that much of the surge’s success had been squandered by Maliki and other Iraqi leaders. Kurds asked how they could justify remaining part of a dysfunctional Iraq that had killed hundreds of thousands of their people since the 1980s. Sunni Arabs — who had overcome internal divisions to form the secular Iraqiya coalition with like-minded Shiite Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Christians — were outraged at being asked to abdicate the premiership after pummeling al-Qaeda and winning the elections. Even Shiite Islamist leaders privately expressed discomfort with Iraq’s trajectory under Maliki, with Sadr openly calling him a “tyrant.” Worst of all, perhaps, the United States was no longer seen as an honest broker.
After helping to bring him to power in 2006, I argued in 2010 that Maliki had to go. I felt guilty lobbying against my friend Abu Isra, but this was not personal. Vital U.S. interests were on the line. Thousands of American and Iraqi lives had been lost and trillions of dollars had been spent to help advance our national security, not the ambitions of one man or one party. The constitutional process had to be safeguarded, and we needed a sophisticated, unifying, economics-minded leader to rebuild Iraq after the security-focused Maliki crushed the militias and al-Qaeda.
In conversations with visiting White House senior staff members, the ambassador, the generals and other colleagues, I suggested Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi as a successor. A former Baathist, moderate Shiite Islamist and French-educated economist who had served as finance minister, Abdul Mahdi maintained excellent relations with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds as well as with Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
On Sept. 1, 2010, Vice President Biden was in Baghdad for the change-of-command ceremony that would see the departure of Gen. Ray Odierno and the arrival of Gen. Lloyd Austin as commander of U.S. forces. That night, at a dinner at the ambassador’s residence that included Biden, his staff, the generals and senior embassy officials, I made a brief but impassioned argument against Maliki and for the need to respect the constitutional process. But the vice president said Maliki was the only option. Indeed, the following month he would tell top U.S. officials, “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” referring to the status-of-forces agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past 2011.
I was not the only official who made a case against Abu Isra. Even before my return to Baghdad, officials including Deputy U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, Odierno, British Ambassador Sir John Jenkins and Turkish Ambassador Murat Özçelik each lobbied strenuously against Maliki, locking horns with the White House, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Maliki’s most ardent supporter, future deputy assistant secretary of state Brett McGurk. Now, with Austin in the Maliki camp as well, we remained at an impasse, principally because the Iraqi leaders were divided, unable to agree on Maliki or, maddeningly, on an alternative.
Our debates mattered little, however, because the most powerful man in Iraq and the Middle East, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was about to resolve the crisis for us. Within days of Biden’s visit to Baghdad, Soleimani summoned Iraq’s leaders to Tehran. Beholden to him after decades of receiving Iran’s cash and support, the Iraqis recognized that U.S. influence in Iraq was waning as Iranian influence was surging. The Americans will leave you one day, but we will always remain your neighbors, Soleimani said, according to a former Iraqi official briefed on the meeting.
After admonishing the feuding Iraqis to work together, Soleimani dictated the outcome on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader: Maliki would remain premier; Jalal Talabani, a legendary Kurdish guerilla with decades-long ties to Iran, would remain president; and, most important, the American military would be made to leave at the end of 2011. Those Iraqi leaders who cooperated, Soleimani said, would continue to benefit from Iran’s political cover and cash payments, but those who defied the will of the Islamic Republic would suffer the most dire of consequences.
I was determined not to let an Iranian general who had murdered countless American troops dictate the endgame for the United States in Iraq. By October, I was pleading with Ambassador Jeffrey to take steps to avert this outcome. I said that Iran was intent on forcing the United States out of Iraq in humiliation and that a divisive, sectarian government in Baghdad headed by Maliki would almost certainly lead to another civil war and then an all-out regional conflict. This might be averted if we rebuffed Iran by forming a unity government around a nationalist alternative such as Abdul Mahdi. It would be extremely difficult, I acknowledged, but with 50,000 troops still on the ground, the United States remained a powerful player. The alternative was strategic defeat in Iraq and the Middle East writ large. To my surprise, the ambassador shared my concerns with the White House senior staff, asking that they be relayed to the president and vice president, as well as the administration’s top national security officials.
Desperate to avert calamity, I used every bit of my political capital to arrange a meeting for Jeffrey and Antony Blinken, Biden’s national security adviser and senior Iraq aide, with one of Iraq’s top grand ayatollahs. Using uncharacteristically blunt language, the Shiite cleric said he believed that Ayad Allawi, who had served as an interim prime minister in 2004-05, and Abdul Mahdi were the only Shiite leaders capable of uniting Iraq. Maliki, he said, was the prime minister of the Dawa party, not of Iraq, and would drive the country to ruin.
But all the lobbying was for naught. By November, the White House had settled on its disastrous Iraq strategy. The Iraqi constitutional process and election results would be ignored, and America would throw its full support behind Maliki. Washington would try to move Talabani aside and install Allawi as a consolation prize to the Iraqiya coalition.
The next day, I appealed again to Blinken, Jeffrey, Austin, my embassy colleagues and my bosses at Central Command, Gen. Jim Mattis and Gen. John Allen, and warned that we were making a mistake of historic proportions. I argued that Maliki would continue to consolidate power with political purges against his rivals; Talabani would never step aside after fighting Hussein for decades and taking his chair; and the Sunnis would revolt again if they saw that we betrayed our promises to stand by them after the Awakening’s defeat of al-Qaeda.
Mattis and Allen were sympathetic, but the Maliki supporters were unmoved. The ambassador dispatched me to Jordan to meet with a council of Iraq’s top Sunni leaders, with the message that they needed to join Maliki’s government. The response was as I expected. They would join the government in Baghdad, they said, but they would not allow Iraq to be ruled by Iran and its proxies. They would not live under a Shiite theocracy and accept continued marginalization under Maliki. After turning their arms against al-Qaeda during the Awakening, they now wanted their share in the new Iraq, not to be treated as second-class citizens. If that did not happen, they warned, they would take up arms again.
Catastrophe followed. Talabani rebuffed White House appeals to step down and instead turned to Iran for survival. With instructions from Tehran, Maliki began to form a cabinet around some of Iran’s favorite men in Iraq. Hadi al-Amiri, the notorious Badr Brigade commander, became transportation minister, controlling strategically sensitive sea, air and land ports. Khudair Khuzaie became vice president, later serving as acting president. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Dawa party mastermind behind the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait in 1983, became an adviser to Maliki and his neighbor in the Green Zone. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Sadrist detainees were released. And Maliki purged the National Intelligence Service of its Iran division, gutting the Iraqi government’s ability to monitor and check its neighboring foe.
America’s Iraq policy was soon in tatters. Outraged by what it perceived as American betrayal, the Iraqiya bloc fractured along ethno-sectarian lines, with leaders scrambling for government positions, lest they be frozen out of Iraq’s lucrative patronage system. Rather than taking 30 days to try to form a government, per the Iraqi constitution, the Sunni Arab leaders settled for impressive-sounding posts with little authority. Within a short span, Maliki’s police state effectively purged most of them from politics, parking American-supplied M1A1 tanks outside the Sunni leaders’ homes before arresting them. Within hours of the withdrawal of U.S. forces in December 2011, Maliki sought the arrest of his longtime rival Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, eventually sentencing him to death in absentia. The purge of Finance Minister Rafea al-Essawi followed a year later.
Maliki never appointed a permanent, parliament-confirmed interior minister, nor a defense minister, nor an intelligence chief. Instead, he took the positions for himself. He also broke nearly every promise he made to share power with his political rivals after they voted him back into office through parliament in late 2010.
He also abrogated the pledges he made to the United States. Per Iran’s instructions, he did not move forcefully at the end of 2011 to renew the Security Agreement , which would have permitted American combat troops to remain in Iraq. He did not dissolve his Office of the Commander in Chief, the entity he has used to bypass the military chain of command by making all commanders report to him. He did not relinquish control of the U.S.-trained Iraqi counterterrorism and SWAT forces, wielding them as a praetorian guard. He did not dismantle the secret intelligence organizations, prisons and torture facilities with which he has bludgeoned his rivals. He did not abide by a law imposing term limits, again calling upon kangaroo courts to issue a favorable ruling. And he still has not issued a new and comprehensive amnesty that would have helped quell unrest from previously violent Shiite and Sunni Arab factions that were gradually integrating into politics.
In short, Maliki’s one-man, one-Dawa-party Iraq looks a lot like Hussein’s one-man, one-Baath Party Iraq. But at least Hussein helped contain a strategic American enemy: Iran. And Washington didn’t spend $1 trillion propping him up. There is not much “democracy” left if one man and one party with close links to Iran control the judiciary, police, army, intelligence services, oil revenue, treasury and the central bank. Under these circumstances, renewed ethno-sectarian civil war in Iraq was not a possibility. It was a certainty.
I resigned in protest on Dec. 31, 2010. And now, with the United States again becoming entangled in Iraq, I feel a civic and moral obligation to explain how we reached this predicament.
The crisis now gripping Iraq and the Middle East was not only predictable but predicted — and preventable. By looking the other way and unconditionally supporting and arming Maliki, President Obama has only lengthened and expanded the conflict that President Bush unwisely initiated. Iraq is now a failed state, and as countries across the Middle East fracture along ethno-sectarian lines, America is likely to emerge as one of the biggest losers of the new Sunni-Shiite holy war, with allies collapsing and radicals plotting another 9/11.
Maliki’s most ardent American supporters ignored the warning signs and stood by as an Iranian general decided Iraq’s fate in 2010. Ironically, these same officials are now scrambling to save Iraq, yet are refusing to publicly condemn Maliki’s abuses and are providing him with arms that he can use to wage war against his political rivals.
Sinclair forming drone partnership with Ohio State
Jul 7, 2014, 9:20am EDT
Dayton Business Journal
Sinclair Community College and The Ohio State University will team up to work on the booming unmanned aerial systems industry.
The schools called a press conference on Monday morning in Dayton to unveil the partnership. It centers on developing a pathway from existing Sinclair UAS certificate and future UAS associate degree programs into Ohio State’s data analytics and geospatial precision agriculture programs.
Additionally, Ohio State students will have the opportunity to take general education courses and complete UAS technical courses at Sinclair, thereby earning a UAS certificate or degree through Sinclair.
The emerging UAS industry is expected to draw $90 billion in investments during the next decade and this latest partnership should help the Dayton region bolster its position.
Sinclair and Ohio State also plan to expand upon existing UAS resources in airspace by seeking a certificate of authorization to fly over OSU’s Don Scott Airport and the Molly Caren Agricultural Facility to provide new and innovative precision agriculture programming.
A recent report by the Office of the Inspector General puts the active certificates of authorization (COAs) in the nation at about 300. Sinclair has six; three each at Wilmington Air Park and Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, and it’s looking to secure several more, including at the National Center for Medical Readiness in Fairborn.
Sinclair recently received $4 million in state funding to renovate and expand its physical location on the Dayton campus to support the mission of the National Center for UAS Training and Education.
The college has had a significant uptick in unmanned aerial system flights with about 70 flights in May and June of this year, a 90 percent increase from the same time in 2013. Last year, the school completed 100 UAS flights — and it’s close to surpassing that number already this year.
Success! Private Team Fires 36-Year-Old NASA Probe’s Engines
By Elizabeth Howell,
July 03, 2014 02:58pm ET
An old NASA spacecraft under the control of a private team fired its thrusters yesterday (July 2) for the first time in a generation.
NASA’s International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 probe (ISEE-3), which the agency retired in 1997, performed the maneuver in preparation for a larger trajectory correction next week. The spacecraft hadn’t fired its engines since 1987, ISEE-3 Reboot Project team members said.
It took several attempts and days to perform the roll maneuver because ISEE-3 was not responding to test commands. But this time, controllers got in touch. They increased the roll rate from 19.16 revolutions per minute to 19.76 RPM, putting it within mission specifications for trajectory corrections.
“All in all, a very good day,” co-leader Keith Cowing wrote in a blog post on the ISEE-3 Reboot Project’s website.
Cowing and his group are now gathering data from the spacecraft to get ready for its next contact with the Deep Space Network, a collection of NASA dishes the team is renting to get precise information on ISEE-3’s location.
The next step will be to change the spacecraft’s trajectory, which will likely happen next week, Cowing added. That might happen on Tuesday (July 7), the group said in a Twitter post.
With the help of over $150,000 raised via crowdfunding, the team reactivated the hibernating spacecraft a few weeks ago. ISEE-3 ceased operations in 1997 following a 19-year career that saw it perform a variety of missions, such as observing the sun and chasing comets.
The recent maneuvers were commanded using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, through a command center in California. While the group is made up heavily of former NASA employees, the ISEE-3 Reboot Project pointed out that isn’t true of all of its team.
“Some of our team members were not even born yet the last time the engines fired,” the team said via Twitter, giving that date as Feb. 2, 1987.
ISEE-3 needs to be moved to put it in an advantageous position to communicate with Earth. In past interviews with Space.com, Cowing has said the group will focus on what to use the spacecraft for after rescuing it. Another priority will be seeing how well its 13 scientific instruments function.
At least one instrument, the magnetometer, is working well enough to do science. “Recent magnetometer data shows recent solar event,” the team said via Twitter on Wednesday (July 1).
Federal fund goes broke, forcing states to hit brakes on road projects
Jul. 7, 2014 – 06:00AM |
By Adrienne Lu Pew/Stateline |
Instead of shifting into high gear during what is normally the peak of construction season, state transportation departments around the country are easing off the gas pedal as the federal Highway Trust Fund barrels toward insolvency sometime next month.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund, which allocated $37 billion to the states for highway projects in the fiscal year that ends September 30, will run out of money in August unless Congress can come up with a solution before then. (The mass transit account of the fund is in slightly better shape, but not by much.)
In the absence of intervention by Congress, federal officials plan to implement cash management procedures beginning August 1 that would mean reduced payments to states along with delays in reimbursements.
For the states, which rely heavily on the federal funds to maintain, improve and build roads, bridges and rail projects and bicycle and pedestrian facilities, the situation could spell serious trouble in an area that directly impacts both public safety and economic development. Given the uncertainty over the federal funding, a number of states have delayed projects to avoid getting stuck with bills they can’t pay or starting projects they can’t finish.
States received anywhere from 14.9 percent (New York) to 58.9 percent (Montana) of their total highway and transit funding from the federal government in fiscal year 2011, according to an analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew funds Stateline). Nearly half the states (24) received a third or more of their highway and transit funding from federal sources.
Nearly all of that federal money comes from the Highway Trust Fund. Created in 1956 to finance the new interstate highway system, the fund relies on a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon and a diesel tax of 24.4 cents per gallon. The taxes have not been raised since 1993, and inflation has eroded their value. Increased fuel efficiency, decreased driving and the recession have also helped to deplete the trust fund. Since 2008, Congress has funneled $55 billion from the general fund into the Highway Trust Fund to make up the difference between spending and revenues.
Tony Dorsey, a spokesman for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said that if the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money, some states will not be able to move forward with projects they had planned to build this year while others may not be able to pay contractors for work that has already been done.
“For some states, it’s very dire,” Dorsey said.
HOLDING BACK PROJECTS
One of the states that will be hardest hit is Arkansas, which received 45 percent of its highway and transit funding from the federal government in fiscal year 2011.
“We’ve probably got up to $120 million in projects in Arkansas that we could have gone to bid with that we can’t go to bid with now because there’s no guarantee that we’ll be reimbursed,” said Rep. Jonathan Barnett, a Republican from Siloam Springs. Barnett, who chairs the House transportation committee, previously served as chairman of the state highway commission.
Arkansas has the 12th largest highway system in the country but ranks 44th in federal and state revenues to support the system. In 2012, voters there approved a half-cent general sales tax increase for a major highway improvement program, expected to raise $1.8 billion over 10 years. In 2011, voters cleared the way for the state to borrow $1.2 billion for an interstate rehabilitation program.
Arkansas has identified $750 million in already-approved projects that rely on federal money. Now, before contracts are bid, the state highway and transportation department has to determine whether its cash flow will enable it to pay the contractors.
The state wants to complete work on any project that has already begun, make sure it maintains enough cash on hand to pay off debt service, and ensure that any employees who are paid out of federal funds can keep their jobs, said Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. In April, the state decided to hold back 10 projects with a total cost of about $60 million. More projects are likely to be delayed as the year goes on.
In Rhode Island, which relies on about $200 million a year in federal funds to plan, build and maintain the state’s transportation infrastructure, the transportation department has temporarily halted nearly all new highway construction projects to ensure sufficient funds for projects that are already underway, including the Providence Viaduct, which takes I-95 through the city.
But in the long term, the state will need to find some other source of transportation funding if the federal money falls through.
About 60 percent of the state’s roads are rated fair or worse, according to the transportation department. Twenty percent of the state’s bridges are in poor condition. Of the 15 bridges that become deficient each year, only 10 can be repaired at current funding levels. Without any changes, 40 percent of the state’s bridges would be structurally deficient by 2024.
“It cannot be overstated that [Highway Trust Fund] insolvency would be crippling for Rhode Island,” Michael P. Lewis, director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation wrote to the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works in March. Lewis added that the insolvency could put smaller contractors out of business and place stress on the transportation corridor between New York City and Boston.
Missouri, which received 47 percent of its highway and transit dollars from the federal government in fiscal 2011, was among the earliest states to take action in anticipation of the projected Highway Trust Fund shortfall. In January, Missouri’s highways and transportation commission voted not to add any projects this year to the state’s five-year transportation improvement program. In a typical year, the state adds between 300 and 500 projects. The commission is now considering adding 25 projects, most with significant safety components.
“It’s serious because typically transportation projects take a long time to develop, to be designed and constructed,” said Bob Brendel, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation. “Instead of being able to make strategic decisions, sometimes we’re forced to make reactive decisions and that’s not the best way to build infrastructure that lasts for decades.”
It costs the state $485 million annually simply to maintain the current transportation infrastructure, said Brendel. For fiscal year 2015, the state construction budget for transportation stands at $720 million, down from $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2009. By fiscal year 2017, the state anticipates having only $325 million to work with. Meanwhile, aging infrastructure means maintenance costs continue to grow, even as the public clamors for things like bicycle and pedestrian facilities in urban areas and four-lane divided highways and road shoulders in rural areas.
“Our ability to do new projects is almost eliminated,” Brendel said. “We’re going to be in virtually a maintenance-only mode, and even that is short of what we need to maintain our system.”
Missouri is among the states hoping to shore up its own transportation funding. In August, voters will decide whether to add three-fourths of a cent to the 4.225 percent state sales tax to be dedicated to transportation, which would raise about $530 million annually.
Bill McKenna, a former chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, now serves as co-chairman of Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which is advocating for the ballot measure. McKenna said he reminds residents that the state maintains 34,000 roads, and that the state has over 10,000 bridges, about 1,500 of which need repairs.
But around the country, most states are shying away from large transportation projects this year, after a number of significant increases the year before.
A number of proposals – some short-term, some long – have been floated to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, all of which will face political hurdles.
McKenna, from Missouri, said he’s not holding his breath for Congress to come up with a real and lasting solution.
“We’ve kind of given up that anything will happen other than to kick the can down the road longer, so if you want to do anything you’d better do it yourself,” McKenna said.
5 things you need to know about the immigration crisis
By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 9:59 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
Washington (CNN) — Partisan hyperbole has ratcheted up as the Obama administration grapples with thousands of young undocumented immigrants surging the U.S.-Mexico border and facing angry protesters on the way to overcrowded detention centers.
Republicans blame President Barack Obama for exacerbating the problem. They say the policy of temporarily deferring deportations of children sent a signal to thousands of kids fleeing poverty and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that they could stay in America.
Immigrant children tread treacherous political landscape
And even one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose Texas district borders where immigrant children cross the Rio Grande Valley, feels Obama has been “one step behind.”
Obama and many Democrats say House Republicans are to blame for rejecting Senate-passed immigration reform last year without coming up with their own plan.
And in the latest development on Monday, the White House said most children involved probably won’t be allowed to stay in the country.
Beyond the bickering, both sides have valid points, immigration policy and law experts say. Here’s a reality check.
1. Why is this happening? Unaccompanied minors have been trekking to the United States in steadily increasing numbers since 2012, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
Over roughly the past year or so, however, both the numbers and home countries shifted dramatically. Where previously Mexican children made up the bulk of them, a surge more recently from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has been seen.
“In reality, there is no single cause. Instead, a confluence of different pull and push factors has contributed to the upsurge,” the institute’s analysis found. “Recent U.S. policies toward unaccompanied children, faltering economies and rising crime and gang activity in Central American countries, the desire for family reunification, and changing operations of smuggling networks have all converged.”
An administration program that defers the deportation of children brought in illegally by their parents or guardians has also had unintended consequences, immigration policy and law experts say.
Although most children pouring over the border now would not qualify for “amnesty,” drug smugglers have used misperceptions about the program to entice kids with the promise of “permisos,” or a pass to stay in America, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told a congressional committee recently.
Inaction by the House on immigration reform has also exacerbated the problem, experts say.
Such reforms would help stabilize employment prospects for immigrants who left their kids behind. As a result, those children might not feel as compelled to flee, experts say.
2. Should government have seen it coming?: Yes.
Last year, federal agencies noticed an uptick in minors crossing the border — particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, according to a report from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
The same agencies have also realized those “children present unique operational challenges” for Border Patrol and Health and Human Services. The administration was also aware that it couldn’t simply deport them.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law and reauthorized several times during President George W. Bush’s administration set guidelines on how to best handle unaccompanied immigrant children.
In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services was authorized to take over the care of kids, which includes helping meet their health and legal needs, no later than 72 hours after being picked up by the Border Patrol.
At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last month, federal officials said they were having difficulties meeting the 72-hour hand off.
The administration has asked Congress to give the Border Patrol more leeway in deportation decisions but doing so is murky, immigration advocates say, since it involves a young and vulnerable population.
3. What’s being done now? Obama is vowing to act on his own and use his executive authority to sidestep the House, changes some proponents say could help address the problem.
Should Obama use the power of his pen to turn the tide on immigration reform?
Obama has discussed Mexico’s role with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Vice President Joe Biden brainstormed strategies with Central American leaders in Guatemala.
Johnson also will travel to Guatemala this summer and he made a public service announcement in Spanish and English last month aimed at Central American parents.
He stressed sending children to smugglers who sneak them across the border is dangerous and illegal.
Immigration officials also released graphic ads over the weekend with the same message. There is also an effort against drug cartel smuggling rings, and consideration of deploying more Border Patrol agents.
Is immigration reform dead?
White House to spend millions to curb undocumented children crossing border
Obama will request more than $2 billion from Congress to help deal with the problem.
Though now, the administration plans to spend roughly $100 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to help the immigrant children get back home and stay there.
It also setting aside $161.5 million this year for programs designed to help Central American countries respond to “pressing security and governance challenges.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the “law will be enforced.”
This means children who have been apprehended “will go through the immigration court process” and it’s unlikely that most who do so “will qualify” to stay in the country.
4. Would an immigration bill have prevented this? Perhaps, immigration law and policy experts say.
Obama likes to blame the House for not passing a Senate immigration bill that also included a path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million of the more than 11 million undocumented workers in the country.
Those reforms would have helped immigrant families become more economically stable. Those parents, in turn, would have more money to send back home which, as a result, would help eliminate the type of poverty affected kids experience.
5. Will Obama go to the border? He is in Texas for fundraisers and for an economy event this week. However, White House officials say he has no plans to visit the border now.
The White House feels that things are in hand. “The President is very aware of the situation that exists on the southwest border,” Earnest said, noting that other officials have traveled there and what they’ve seen “is troubling.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has loudly called for Obama to visit the border.
Congress has little time to finalize VA, defense bills
Jul. 7, 2014 – 02:33PM |
By Leo Shane III
Congress returns from its July Fourth vacation to a long list of high-profile, unfinished defense business and a short legislative calendar before the November elections.
The new Veterans Affairs Department reform bill, the annual defense appropriation bill, the annual defense authorization bill, and funding for military construction and VA operations for fiscal 2015 are all on lawmakers’ immediate to-do list — in between more briefings on the situation in Iraq and other overseas threats.
But Congress is scheduled to be in session only 28 days before breaking in August, and likely will return for only a week or two in the September/October time frame before the November midterm elections. That 28-day total also includes 10 Mondays and Fridays, days which at best feature a light schedule of work under normal circumstances.
Here’s a look at what might and might not get completed before the late-fall lame-duck session:
Spurred by the ongoing controversies in the department, VA reform legislation has the best chance of any defense or veterans measure to pass quickly in July.
The legislation would expand privatecare options for veterans who face lengthy waits to see VA doctors or live in rural areas, and make it easier to fire underperforming VA executives.
Leaders in the House and Senate have expressed support for the idea, and members of a conference committee met before the July Fourth break to begin finalizing the bill.
Cost appears to be the only major stumbling block left. A Congressional Budget Office estimate in early June said the expanded care could require up to $50 billion a year in new spending, but Senate supporters have called that a ridiculous overestimate.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, has said that representatives on the conference committee will push for spending offsets to prevent the bill from adding to the federal budget deficit. To do that, he said new, more accurate spending estimates are needed, which could slow the process.
But Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, has promised that delay won’t drag on for weeks. He originally predicted the measure would be finished before July 1, and is now vowing to get it to President Obama’s desk in early July.
Defense authorization bill
The House has already approved its version of the annual defense policy bill, and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are hopeful they can bring their draft to the Senate floor in the next few weeks.
Whether that means they can reconcile differences in the two measures before the end of the fiscal year is another issue.
Both versions reject Pentagon plans to overhaul Tricare fees, trim the commissary benefit and reduce housing allowances. The House draft offers moral support — but no hard mandate — for a 1.8 percent basic pay raise next year, while the Senate agrees with the 1 percent pay increase preferred by the White House. Both measures would preserve the Air Force’s A-10 fleet, but differ in how they would pay for it.
Before the chambers can talk about negotiating differences, the full Senate must pass its version. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, still has not scheduled floor debate on the measure, although the Senate Armed Services Committee has been pushing for it since late May.
Committee chairmen Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and his House counterpart, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., have expressed optimism about finishing the legislation before Oct. 1, a rare occurrence even outside an election year. The short time frame remaining will make that nearly impossible.
Still, the defense authorization bill has a better chance of being completed than the accompanying defense appropriations bill.
The House already has approved a $570 billion defense spending plan, but the Senate Appropriations Committee won’t mark up its version until July 17. That will leave just a few legislative days to get the measure to the Senate floor, an unlikely rush for a budget bill.
In addition, the White House on June 26 sent its first draft of the proposed overseas contingency budget for fiscal 2015, totaling nearly $66 billion. Lawmakers have just begun digging into that request, which includes $1.5 billion in aid to Iraq and its neighbors “to promote internal stability” in the region.
Meanwhile, the VA appropriations bills are in the same legislative limbo. The House approved a $158 billion spending plan for the department in April, but a similar budget proposal is stalled in the Senate.
Despite early work on the measures, most Hill staffers assume that finalizing the appropriations bills will be part of the lame-duck session, with an eye toward the new lawmakers coming into office in 2015.
Chinese hackers switched targets to U.S. experts on Iraq
Deep Panda targeted think tank experts as China’s government worried about oil investments in Iraq during Sunni rebellion
By Gregg Keizer | Computerworld US | Published 07:40, 08 July 14
A sophisticated Chinese hacker group that had been stealing information from U.S. policy experts on nearby Southeast Asia suddenly changed targets last month to focus on the Middle East — Iraq, in particular — security researchers said Monday.
The group, called “Deep Panda,” switched from exploiting one area of expertise to another because of the march of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) towards Baghdad, and the collapse of Iraq’s security forces in the north and west of the country.
“The networks [of the think tanks] had been previously compromised, but Deep Panda pivoted to target systems and individuals with ties to the Middle East and Iraq,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and CTO of CrowdStrike, an Irvine, Calif. security company, of the overnight switch. The shift in Deep Panda’s targeting happened on June 18, the day that ISIS began to attack the strategically important oil refinery at Baiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.
China is the largest foreign investor in Iraqi oil fields, and draws about 10% of its oil imports from the country. Most of China’s oil investments, however, are in southern Iraq.
The ISIS’ quick gains and China’s large stake in Iraq were behind the targeting changes, Alperovitch said. Deep Panda’s switch made clear that China’s government wanted to know what policy makers here thought was happening in Iraq and what military moves the U.S. might make to stabilize the situation.
President Barack Obama ended up sending several hundred military advisors to Iraq last month.
CrowdStrike, which has tracked Deep Panda for three years, believes the group either works for or is actually funded by the Chinese government. “It’s an intelligence operation, with a very far and wide collection mission to keep policy makers in China informed,” said Adam Meyers, vice president of intelligence at CrowdStrike.
“This shows how much control [the Chinese government] has over this group,” added Alperovitch, of the sudden targeting shift.
“It was representative of a new priority” of Deep Panda’s controllers or sponsors, echoed Meyers.
Deep Panda has successfully infiltrated technology companies, legal firms, policy think tanks and human rights organizations in part because of its advanced tradecraft, said Meyers. Once inside a network, the gang often uses Windows’ native tools for as much of its work as possible, part of an attempt to keep a low profile and escape detection by security software.
“It’s one of the best groups out of China in tradecraft,” said Alperovitch, “because it’s not using techniques that can be easily viewed.” CrowdStrike currently tracks about 30 hacker groups based in China.
Deep Panda often mines the contacts of policy experts, including those still in government, to craft more convincing emails aimed at those latter officials, in the hope that a click will compromise their PCs, said CrowdStrike.
The company was able to sniff out Deep Panda’s targeting switch because it has provided dozens of think tanks and human rights organizations with its Falcon Host technology free of charge. Falcon Host, said Alperovitch and Meyers, gives network administrators a virtual over-the-shoulder view of hackers’ moves in real time, and provides the kind of forensics information that typically takes weeks or months of painstaking research to collect.
Alperovitch declined to name the think tanks that had been targeted by Deep Panda when it shifted its aim at experts in the Middle East and Iraq.
Report: Chinese hacked into the federal government’s personnel office OPM
By Fred Barbash
July 9 at 11:42 PM
Chinese hackers penetrated the databases of the federal government’s personnel office, which contains files on all federal employees, including thousands who have applied for top-secret clearances, the New York Times reported Wednesday night.
The paper said the attack on the Office of Personnel Management occurred in March before it was detected and blocked. It quoted a “senior Department of Homeland Security official” confirming the attack, and saying that “at this time” the government had not “identified any loss of personally identifiable information.”
The Times also quoted an “unnamed senior American official” saying the attack had been traced to China, though not necessarily to the government of China.
According to the Times:
The intrusion at the Office of Personnel Management was particularly disturbing because it oversees a system called e-QIP, in which federal employees applying for security clearances enter their most personal information, including financial data. Federal employees who have had security clearances for some time are often required to update their personal information through the website.
The agencies and the contractors use the information from e-QIP to investigate the employees and ultimately determine whether they should be granted security clearances, or have them updated.
Homeland Security officials did not immediately return requests for comment from The Washington Post Wednesday night.
Cyber espionage — the United States against China and China against the United States — has become a source of constant tension between the U.S. and Chinese governments. Reports based on documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency penetrated the computer systems of Huawei, the Chinese firm that makes computer network equipment, and operated programs to intercept conversations of Chinese officials.
In May, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the indictments of five Chinese Peoples Liberation Army members on charges of hacking to benefit Chinese industry. They were accused of hacking into computers and stealing valuable trade secrets from leading steel, nuclear plant and solar power firms. It marked the first time that the United States has leveled such criminal charges against a foreign country.
Designs for many of the nation’s most sensitive advanced weapons systems have been compromised by Chinese hackers, according to a report prepared last year for the Pentagon and officials from government and the defense industry.
Among more than two dozen major weapons systems whose designs were breached were programs critical to U.S. missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships, according to the confidential report prepared for Pentagon leaders by the Defense Science Board.
Experts said recently that Chinese cyber-spies have been systematically targeting major Washington institutions, including think tanks and law firms. Middle East experts at major U.S. think tanks were hacked by Chinese cyberspies in recent weeks as events in Iraq began to escalate, according to a cybersecurity firm that works with the institutions.
The hacking goes back years. In 2006, hackers in China broke into the State Department’s computer system in Washington and overseas in search of information, passwords and other data. The bureau that deals with China and North Korea was hit particularly hard, although the system penetrated contained unclassified information, U.S. officials said.
The Times said the attack on OPM was “notable because while hackers try to breach United States government servers nearly every day, they rarely succeed.”
US Navy to Congress: We Can’t Guarantee a Safe Nuclear Fleet
Jul. 9, 2014 – 02:19PM | By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS | Comments
Letter to Congress
July 7, 2014
Dear Mr. Chairman:
We write today to express our strong concern over proposed cuts to Naval Reactors ‘ (NR’s) portion of the FY15 National Nuclear Security Administration budget request.
Our Navy and our national security rely on a nuclear Fleet of 10 aircraft carriers and 73 submarines, including our 14 OHIO-Class ballistic missile submarines — over 40 percent of our major combatants. These warships form the backbone of our Navy, enabled by the 93 reactors that power them — reactors provided, operated, and regulated solely by NR. NR has been doing this for our nation for over 60 years, compiling over 166 million miles safely steamed on nuclear power — it is an unmatched record of safety and effectiveness.
The funding level proposed in H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, proposes reducing NR’s funding below the request by $162 million which places operation of that nuclear Fleet including sustained carrier operations and the nation’s security at risk. If enacted, this would be the fifth consecutive year of significant marks to NR’s requests for funding. To date, these reductions below requested levels have totaled over $450 million; this bill would bring that total to well over $600 million. These shortfalls have resulted in delaying the construction of needed facilities, effectively halting research and development, and deferring procurement of equipment needed to address emergent fleet issues. The persistent cuts have put NR in the position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet, design and test the reactor plant for the OHIO Replacement Program, and safely and responsibly manage aging infrastructure and the facilities for processing naval spent nuclear fuel. This approach is no longer sustainable.
Moreover, the bill includes a number of provisions on the use of funds, continuing a trend that reduces NR’s ability to manage the Program consistent with the priorities of safe and reliable operation of the fleet.
As the Committee moves forward with H.R. 4923, we respectfully ask that you consider full funding for NR at the FY15 budget request and removal of restrictive provisions on the expenditure of funds. This is essential for continued operation of the nation’s nuclear-powered fleet now and into the future.
JOHN M. RICHARDSON
Admiral, U.S. Navy Admiral, U.S. Navy
JONATHAN W. GREENERT
Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Chief of Naval Operations
WASHINGTON — Fighting back at repeated budget cuts to its nuclear power budget requests, two of the US Navy’s top leaders warned Congress on Monday that the cuts can’t go on.
“This approach is no longer sustainable,” wrote Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, and Adm. John Richardson, commander of Naval Reactors (NR), the entity responsible for all aspects of the Navy’s nuclear power program. They sent the letter to chairmen and ranking members of multiple House and Senate committees.
“The persistent cuts have put NR in the position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet, design and test the reactor plant for the Ohio Replacement Program, and safely and responsibly manage aging infrastructure and the facilities for processing naval spent nuclear fuel,” Greenert and Richardson wrote.
At issue are more proposed cuts to NR’s portion of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) 2015 budget request. NNSA’s budget includes naval reactors, nuclear weapons activities and defense nuclear nonproliferation.
Over the past four years, Greenert and Richardson wrote, Congress has funded the account a total of $450 million below the budget requests. Another cut this year of $162 million would bring the total cuts to more than $600 million.
“These shortfalls have resulted in delaying the construction of needed facilities, effectively halting research and development, and deferring procurement of equipment needed to address emergent fleet issues,” Greenert and Richardson wrote.
As reported out June 20 by the House Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015 cuts the total NNSA request by $296 million, to $11.4 billion.
NR’s portion is $1.2 billion, $162 million below the budget request.
While not calling out the 2015 budget request, the House Appropriations Committee, in its June report accompanying the bill, said it “remains concerned about the high year-to-year increases that NR is using for its programmatic planning basis in future years. In order to carry out its plans, NR’s out-year budgets would need to grow dramatically, an unlikely scenario considering the current fiscal environment.”
The committee directs NR to conduct a multi-year review of requirements “to better understand how funding levels below its five-year projections might impact its long-term strategies.”
Attempts to reach spokespersons at Naval Reactors were unsuccessful by Wednesday afternoon.
But Greenert’s spokesman, Capt. Danny Hernandez, noted that, “with further cuts we can’t continue to sustain fleet support and new programs at the same time.”
The submarines and aircraft carriers of the nuclear-powered fleet, he said, continue to be safe despite being funded below stated needs.
“Rest assured, today’s nuclear fleet is operating safely and reliably,” he said.
Copies of the letter were sent to the chairman and ranking members of the House Appropriations and Armed Services committees, the House Energy and Water Appropriations and Defense Appropriations subcommittees, and the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees.
What if Iraqi Military Can’t Defeat ISIL?
Jul. 9, 2014 – 02:24PM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments
WASHINGTON — For the United States, it would be the worst-case scenario: Iraq’s ethnic groups are unable — or unwilling — to form a unity government, and the country’s military is deemed irreparable.
Yet, a senior US senator tells CongressWatch most officials are “excluding” that possible outcome. Experts, however, suggest it could happen.
Senior US military officials have deployed what they are calling “assessment teams” to Iraq to provide President Barack Obama and his top aides with a better picture of the situation.
Administration officials and lawmakers are waiting for those six teams to report back on the state of the largely disbanded Iraqi military, and what it might take to rebuild it.
White House officials, lawmakers and experts say two things are necessary to beat back gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a violent Sunni group that has captured towns and territory in western and northern Iraq in recent weeks.
One is an Iraqi military capable of defeating ISIL’s troops, which are experienced and battle-hardened after years of combat in Iraq against US forces and in Syria’s civil war.
Another is a new political arrangement that tilts less toward embattled Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki and his Shia sect, and encompasses the country’s other major ethnic groups: Sunnis and Kurds.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., was asked Tuesday by reporters if he worries that the US, which already has upped its deployment of combat forces from 300 to nearly 780, is on its way to a much larger military footprint in Iraq.
Levin did not directly address the issue, saying he first wants to review the coming Pentagon assessment of the Iraqi military.
“I think what needs to happen right now is they need to complete that assessment of the capability of the Iraqi Army,” Levin said.
The US military assessment also must measure “whether the Iraqi military is coming together against a common enemy.
“What we do with [ISIL] needs to wait until the assessment is made … of whether or not the Iraqi Army is capable of stopping [ISIL].”
What should happen next if the assessment concludes indigenous forces cannot be rebuilt to a level capable of defeating ISIL or pushing it beyond Iraq’s borders?
“Well, there’s another half: Whether or not the political leaders in Iraq are able to come together to broaden their base, and to do what that government has not yet done: Involve the Sunnis a lot more and unify the country politically,” Levin said.
CongressWatch asked Levin what if the US review concludes the Iraqi military is not up to the job and there is no likelihood of a political arrangement that includes Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.
“I think,” he replied while entering an elevator, “everyone is excluding that possibility.”
Yet, a truly inclusive government in Iraq is no sure thing.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Marwan Muasher warned this week that building that kind of government and society in Iraq “will be painful and slow moving.”
“The situation in Iraq may get worse before it gets better, but in the end, exclusionist policies will never produce a functioning society,” Muasher has written.
Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution and Edward Joseph of Johns Hopkins University have gone so far as to propose breaking Iraq into three autonomous regions, one for each ethnic group. Their proposal suggests an inclusive central government cannot be accomplished.
The duo wrote in a recent op-ed that while it “would be difficult to accomplish, federalism could still be a helpful element.
“The fundamental US and European goal in Iraq now is neither an intact Iraq nor a partitioned one. We can live with either outcome,” O’Hanlon and Joseph wrote. “The important objective is the defeat of [ISIL].”
Then there’s the Iraqi Army, which numerous times during ISIL’s June advance threw down their weapons and went home.
A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report summarized the Iraqi military in less-than-inspiring terms.
“The Iraqi army continues to lack adequate logistical and intelligence capabilities,” according to the report, authored by Anthony Cordesman and Sam Khazai. “It suffers from political interference in command positions, the sale of other positions at every level and other forms of corruption, a failure to maintain the facilities and systems transferred by the US, and a host of other issues.”
The Air Force May Have Already Developed Its New Long-Range Bomber
Bob Brewin Nextgov July 9, 2014
While the Air Force is expected to soon issue a request for proposals for its long-range strike bomber, a July 2 Congressional Research Service report made public Tuesday suggests that the service has already developed the aircraft through its classified budget.
The CRS report, obtained and posted online by Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said the projected Air Force budget for the Long Range Strike Bomber jumps more than tenfold, from $258.7 million in 2013 to $3.5 billion in 2019, indicating the program may already be headed for production.
“Aviation analysts and industry officials confirm CRS’s assessment that this funding stream resembles a production program more than a typical development profile. This may indicate that significant LRS-B development has already been completed, presumably in classified budgets,” the report said.
If that’s the case, CRS said, “the Air Force will be challenged to construct a truly competitive RFP.” Northrop Grumman and a Lockheed Martin-Boeing team both have said they plan to bid on the new aircraft.
The CRS report also indicated the new bomber may not even be a single aircraft, but is perhaps several aircraft working together. “Although long-range strike systems are typically thought of as bomber aircraft, the more general description is used because it is not yet clear whether the proposed Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) is to be a single platform or a group of smaller systems working in concert,” CRS reported.
In June, another CRS report described the current bomber fleet as “increasingly irrelevant” and said that only the B-2 could penetrate enemy air defenses.
The current U.S. bomber fleet consists of 76 B-52 aircraft with an average age of 50 years, 63 30-year old B-1 bombers and 20 25-year-old B-2s. “The B-52s and B-1s are currently projected to remain in service through 2040, which would be consistent with a mid-2020s introduction of the first LRS-Bs,” CRS said.
The Air Force plans to buy between 80 and 100 new bombers at a projected cost of $550 million each, or just over one quarter of the cost of the B-2, with each aircraft carrying a $2 billion price tag. CRS said some analysts speculate that the cost of each new bomber could jump to $810 million, or $81 billion total for a 100-plane fleet.
Germany asks top U.S. spy to leave amid flap
By Stephanie Kirchner July 10 at 11:39 AM
BERLIN — The German government has asked the CIA station chief at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin to leave the country, an unusual action between allies that represents a public expression of anger over reported cases of U.S. spying in Germany.
“The representative of the U.S. intelligence services at the Embassy of the United States of America has been requested to leave Germany,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement Thursday.
A day earlier, federal prosecutors in Germany said police had searched the office and apartment of an individual with ties to the German military who is suspected of working for U.S. intelligence. Those raids followed the arrest of an employee of Germany’s foreign intelligence service who was accused of selling secrets to the CIA.
Seibert said the request for the CIA official’s departure was made “against the backdrop of the ongoing investigations of the Federal Prosecutor General as well as the questions pending for months about the activities of the US intelligence services in Germany, for which the Lower House of Parliament has also established a parliamentary inquiry committee.”
German officials have also been angered by the revelations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of widespread U.S. surveillance in Germany. Among the targets was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, an operation that has since been halted.
“The Federal Government takes these incidents very seriously,” said Seibert. “It remains vital for Germany, in the interest of the security of its citizens and its forces abroad, to cooperate closely and trustfully with western partners, in particular with the USA. To do so, however, mutual trust and openness are necessary. The Federal Government continues to be ready for this and expects the same from its closest partners.”
U.S. officials had no immediate comment on the German government’s action.
“We have seen these reports and have no comment on a purported intelligence matter,” said Catlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “However, our security and intelligence relationship with Germany is a very important one, and it keeps Germans and Americans safe. It is essential that cooperation continue in all areas, and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels.”
For years, Germany has sought to be included in a group of countries with which the United States has a non-espionage pact. Those nations include Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The Obama administration and that of George W. Bush both resisted such entreaties, in part because many U.S. intelligence officials believe that there are too many areas where German and U.S. security interests diverge.
“The Germans do lots and lots of stuff and don’t tell us everything they do,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who worked extensively with Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as the BND. U.S. policymakers turn to the CIA and other agencies for deeper understanding of issues, including whether there are gaps between the two countries in their commitment to efforts to block any nuclear weapons ambitions by Iran, the former official said.
The crackdown may also reflect political dynamics in Germany, where critics of Merkel have taken advantage of the Snowden leaks to cast her as weak for failing to grasp or prevent such extensive U.S. espionage.
The arrest and raids are driven in part by “this business that they want a no-espionage agreement,” said the former U.S. intelligence official. “But it’s also being driven by internal politics” and the perception that the Snowden disclosures “made them look incompetent.”
The arrest and raids in recent days have also generated concern that Germany may not be finished rounding up alleged U.S. spies. After the Snowden leaks, the CIA evaluated operations in Europe and put some on hold because of fears of exposure and ensuing tension with Germany and other allies, a second former U.S. intelligence official said.
The latest developments also exposed an apparent lapse by the CIA in keeping the White House apprised of setbacks in Germany.
A U.S. official acknowledged that when President Obama spoke with Merkel on July 3, he had not been told that a CIA informant had been arrested there the day before, a situation reported by the New York Times. Merkel did not raise the issue during the call.
US Air Force Faces Turbulent Times
Jul. 10, 2014 – 04:35PM | By TOM VANDEN BROOK | Comments
WASHINGTON — Demand for US Air Force spy planes, fighters and bombers from Eastern Europe to the Far East is spiking, and top generals say they’re scrambling to meet commanders’ needs as they struggle with shrinking budgets and keeping old planes flying.
Juggling those tasks comes as Air Force brass seek to move beyond the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and establish their service as the Pentagon’s preeminent player. But some analysts believe the military would be better served if the Air Force focused on helping other services fight.
“Their primary role in the nation’s defense is actually not about air-to-air combat in sexy fighter planes,” Janine Davidson, a military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations and former Air Force pilot and Pentagon official, said in an email. Instead, the Air Force should focus on tasks that help troops fight on the ground: spy planes, drones, medical evacuations, space and cyberwarfare, airlift and refueling.
“So their whole purpose needs to be re-thought,” Davidson said. “It is a cultural thing.”
Top Air Force commanders, however, maintain that adversaries with improving weaponry pose a threat that can’t be ignored, and that air power is the best way to deter them.
“We live in an extremely turbulent world,” Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of Air Force Combat Command, said in a recent interview. “In order to be a player in a turbulent world, you have to be able to step on the world stage. You can’t do that unless you have credibility and capability. We have tremendous credibility but our capability is being eroded away as the budgets continue to do what they do.”
To Hostage, credibility and capability come from high-tech weapons like the F-35 fighter, a new bomber and more spy planes. The F-35 Lightning II is a radar-evading warplane being developed for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied nations. At $400 billion, the jet is the most costly weapon in Pentagon history. It has been beset by cost overruns and was grounded earlier this week after fire broke out on one June 23 in Florida.
For commanders in troubled regions, the top priority is for aircraft that collect intelligence and conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR), Hostage said. “They’re (also) asking for high-end fighter capability and for continuous bomber presence.”
Hostage, and his successor at Combat Command, Gen. Herbert Carlisle, currently in command of the Air Force in the Pacific, see the following hot spots:
■ In Eastern Europe where Russian President Vladimir Putin this spring seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and continues to sow unrest in the eastern part of that country. Air Force F-16s and Army paratroopers were sent for exercises in neighboring countries.
“I’m a student of history,” Hostage said. “If you go back and read Hitler’s playbook in 1939 it looks a lot like what Mr. Putin’s up to in Eastern Europe. I don’t see anything that’s coming along that’s going to cause him to diminish his actions. My expectation is that we’re going to have to continue our requirement to support our friends in Europe and NATO.”
■ The Middle East and southwest Asia have conflicts and unstable countries from Syria to Pakistan. The Air Force is now flying manned and unmanned spy planes on 50 missions a day over Iraq, for example, up from 30 a week ago, and few, if any this spring.
■ In the Pacific, China has jostled with Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines over offshore mineral rights and control of islands in the South China and East China Seas. The Air Force is also fortifying its bases and shifting warplanes among them in the region to withstand and retaliate to Chinese missiles, referred to as anti-access, aerial-denial weapons by the Pentagon, according to Carlisle.
Left unchecked, the Chinese could bully smaller countries into acquiescing, Hostage said.
“We’re not going to stand by and let you bully people into things,” Hostage said. “This is about being a present and credible participant in the challenge for influence in the Pacific.”
The vast territory in the Pacific and foes equipped with advanced missiles to shoot down planes, unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, are pressuring the Air Force to field new planes, said Richard Aboulafia, an expert on military aircraft with the Teal Group, a consulting firm.
“The new strategic environment involves great distances, sophisticated defenses, and a huge need to be aware of what friends and potential adversaries are doing,” Aboulafia said. “Therefore, ISR should be a very high priority. This is particularly true given the service’s aging ISR fleets.”
Baggage from the past
To help replace aging surveillance planes like the Cold War-era U-2 and pay for the F-35, the Pentagon wants to retire its fleet of 1970s-vintage A-10 “Warthog” planes. Scrapping the planes in favor of planes that perform multiple missions would save about $3.5 billion. So far, Congress has balked at the move. Some members, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., argue that there are no viable alternatives to Warthog, whose sole mission is firing at enemies attacking U.S. soldiers and Marines on the ground.
“I’ll be told I have to keep the A-10s, but I won’t be given any money to fly them,” Hostage said.
The money to fly them, Hostage and Carlisle said, will come from accounts that pay for training pilots to fly combat missions, because those funds are the easier to tap into than those already obligated to pay for weapons such as the F-35. Last year’s forced across-the-board budget cuts have further squeezed money for training.
The result: Pilots aren’t properly prepared to fight, and their planes continue to age.
“I am truly, truly concerned about readiness,” Carlisle said. “Back when I was a young pilot growing up in the ’80s and ’90s we used to make fun of the Soviet Union because they only flew 100 to 120 hours a year. That’s what our pilots are flying now. It’s pretty startling. We’d like to fly them twice that — 200 to 220 hours is about the right amount.”
Wild blue yonder
The Pentagon’s preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan — unchallenged skies for the most part — allowed the Air Force to get by with older warplanes. Future foes won’t be as forgiving, says Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute and a consultant to defense contractors.
“Much of the Air Force fleet has grown decrepit with age,” Thompson said. “The fighters, bombers, tankers, trainers and radar planes are all in need of replacement. Modernization of Cold War planes has been delayed by the fact that we fought enemies after 9/11 who lacked air forces and air defenses — so buying better planes was not a high priority.”
The Air Force has pinned much of its future on the F-35. It is expected to dominate enemy fighters and support troops on the ground.
Hostage called the F-35 “spectacular” and will continue to improve as more are built and enhanced.
Davidson, the former Pentagon official and pilot, said the Air Force would be better served emphasizing how it helps other services fight rather than boasting about its troubled, expensive fighter plane.
“They might have been in a better place if people understood the vast array of things everyone relies on them for,” Davidson said. “But they don’t manage to tell that story well.”
Pentagon Launches Contest for New Long-Range Bomber
A Defense Department Decision Is Expected Next Spring
By Doug Cameron
July 10, 2014 1:50 p.m. ET
The Defense Department said on Thursday it had launched a contest to develop a new long-range bomber, which is expected to pit Northrop Grumman Corp. against a team led by Boeing Coand Lockheed Martin Corp. for a contract that analysts value up to $80 billion.
A decision is expected next spring on who will build between 80 and 100 bombers that the Pentagon wants to peg at less than $550 million apiece and enter service in the middle of the next decade.
A win for the Boeing team would help alleviate uncertainty over the Chicago-based company’s future in the combat-aircraft business as slowing orders have raised questions about its role in the sector.
The Pentagon has provided few details on the planned bomber, citing national security issues, though officials have stressed a focus on affordability, using as much existing technology as possible to prevent the cost overruns that have dogged other big weapons programs such as the F-35 fighter.
The Defense Department, which dropped an earlier bomber program in 2009 on cost grounds, has been funding research into a replacement for the aging B-52 and B-2 fleets for several years. This has fueled speculation that prototypes already are flying after unidentified aircraft were spotted flying over Texas earlier this year.
The U.S. Air Force has identified the bomber as one of its top three priorities alongside the Lockheed-built F-35 and a new aerial tanker developed by Boeing, securing funding even as the Pentagon’s budget remains under pressure.
A Boeing-Lockheed win would leave all three Air Force priority projects in the hands of its two largest contractors, though Northrop builds the main fuselage in the F-35 and is also one of the Pentagon’s main unmanned aerial systems suppliers.
Boeing and Lockheed announced plans last October to team up for the planned program. Orlando Carvalho, head of Lockheed’s aerospace unit, said in an interview last month that it was pursuing a “best of breed” approach in contributing to the planned bomber and already had “nailed down” with Boeing the role of each company.
Boeing’s recent successes in military aircraft have been based on derivatives of commercial jets, winning the tanker contest and selling its P-8 reconnaissance plane. The company has said it expects to make a decision over the next 10 months about its combat aircraft facilities in St. Louis, with orders for the F/A-18 due to run out by 2017 and the F-15 line having enough business to last until around 2019.
“It’s a very active ongoing effort, very high priority to Boeing,” said company President Dennis Muilenburg of its investment in the bomber program, at an industry event in May.
Northrop officials have played down the need for the company to find a partner, citing its experience as the last U.S. contractor to develop a new bomber, the bat-winged B-2 that first took flight 25 years ago.
“[It is] clearly a class of technology where we have a great legacy and expertise and experience, and we see that as a very meaningful opportunity as we go forward,” said Chief Executive Wes Bush at the same industry conference as Mr. Muilenburg.
Budget pressures saw the B-2 program, which dates back to the late 1970s, cut to just 21 jets from an initial plan of 132.
The emergence of new threats and potential alternatives such as missiles and drones has derailed previous efforts to start replacing the existing fleet, even though the average age of the B-52—the last bomber built mainly by Boeing— has pushed beyond 50 years.
The Coming War with the Caliphate
by Gary Anderson
SWJ Blog Post | July 10, 2014 – 12:34pm
Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his vision of an Islamic caliphate transcending traditional international borders is becoming a reality in the form of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS has transformed itself from a terror group into a viable proto-state with a civil governance arm and a regular army capable of taking and holding cities and defeating the conventional armies of established nation-states. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has declared ISIS a Caliphate with himself as Caliph. This new proto-nation is every bit as dangerous to United States security as was the original al Qaeda infestation in Afghanistan. It now has a former Iraqi chemical weapons production facility and a number of fighters who have U.S. passports. We will have to fight them eventually. That war will not come under this administration, and if it does, any action taken will likely be some feckless combination of airstrikes and halfhearted aid to the Iraqi government; that would be throwing good money after bad at this point.
When that war comes it should not be a counterinsurgency or a series of pinprick counterterrorist strikes merely designed to take out the leadership of ISIS. The capabilities of the new Caliphate have gone far beyond mere insurgency or terrorism. If the Caliphate is to be defeated, it will require a series of ground actions using large combined arms forces to destroy the conventional military forces in the areas where they have gained control. I am not suggesting a refight of the ground war in Iraq. This is not about helping Maliki who has made his own bed, nor is it about helping either the Syrian rebels or the Assad regime in Syria. Those are other sets of issues. The coming war will be about naked U.S. self- interest and eliminating a threat before it coalesces enough to attack us in our homeland. If we buy the Iraqis time to get their act together or help the Syrian moderate rebels by eliminating extremists in the Syrian anti-Assad ranks, it would be icing on the cake, but destroying ISIS’ conventional military capability would be the primary objective.
Why are ground forces needed? Although the armed forces of the new born Caliphate are experienced regulars, they are largely composed of light infantry that can easily blend into the Sunni population. Al Baghdadi knows that tanks and armored vehicles are easy targets for U.S. airpower and will largely eschew them. Armored vehicles are also hard to maintain; at this stage in its development ISIS forces don’t need them. It will take boots on the ground to root out the foreign fighters from the civilian population; an indiscriminant air bombing campaign would make permanent enemies of the Sunni populations of Iraq and Syria that the Islamist forces of the caliphate have infested.
What would such a campaign look like? Each fight would resemble the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq, but with one major difference. Once the areas where the conventional military power of the Caliphate are eliminated; we leave. The Syrians and Iraqis will have to sort out the aftermath. We tried nation building and it didn’t work. Once the Caliphate’s conventional military capability to project power and governance institutions have been eliminated, the organization formally known as ISIS will revert back to the status of a non-state terrorist organization.
When will such a campaign be feasible? Probably not under this administration unless Baghdadi and his minions do something so egregious that even Barak Obama cannot ignore it; and even then his administration’s response would probably be ineffectual if past performance, or lack thereof, in any indication. It would be better if action is postponed until an administration with some concept of how to effectively employ military strategy comes along. In this, time is on our side for two reasons. First, jihadist movements tend to turn inward on themselves over time and fight over the spoils once there are spoils worth coveting. Al Qaeda central has already disowned al Baghdadi and the nationalist fissures among the fighters who make up the Caliphate’s military arm have agendas of their own will eventually become restless as will the Sunni populations that have welcomed them as liberators from Shiite dominated governments in Damascus and Baghdad.
A second Caliphate vulnerability that can be exploited is now that they have taken territory the Jihadists have to govern. This means fixed governance and security sites that become fixed targets. Time will also sour the subject Sunnis on the strict imposition of Sharia law. Military theorist William Lind has long advocated letting insurgents win and govern for a while. His theory is that, at least we’ll know where they are.
How to Fix the Government’s Security Clearance Mess
Steve Nguyen July 10, 2014
The federal government’s security clearance process has been under intense scrutiny since last year’s Washington Navy Yard shooting by Aaron Alexis, a Marine Corp contractor with secret-level clearance and Edward Snowden’s unprecedented leak of classified information. In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pledged to correct “gaps or inadequacies in the department’s security” that could facilitate these types of incidents. If the federal government applied the same sort of risk analysis tools that insurance companies perform when they take on new clients, we could remove internal threats and maintain the safety of federal employees and government contractors.
The secretary’s announcement came shortly after the Obama administration released recommendations for changing the security clearance process for government employees and contractors following an extensive review by the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB. The administration called for better background investigations and continuous evaluation of the 5.1 million people who hold security clearances, including confidential, secret or top secret.
Under the current system, federal employees granted ‘confidential’ clearance are re-checked every 15 years. Security clearances at the secret level are reviewed only 10 years. A top secret clearance is reviewed only every five years . But major life changes can occur within any 5, 10- or even 1-year timeframe, such as bankruptcy, liens or financial troubles, arrests, criminal activity, undue foreign sympathy or influence, marital status changes and drug abuse that can affect an individual’s stability.
Clearance holders are required by law to self-report these changes, but very rarely does that happen. Because of lengthy periods between reinvestigations, red flags in an employee’s background go unnoticed and troubling gaps in the security clearance process pose serious internal threats. In fact, Hagel’s review found that threats to military and civilian personnel and DOD contractors were increasingly coming from within, including from colleagues with security clearances.
Not only does the government face the monumental task of maintaining accurate and current information on employees, many agencies face a huge backlog of reinvestigations. OMB found about 22 percent of top secret and secret clearance holders were overdue for review. Agencies simply lack the necessary resources required and a solution to continuously monitor all of the clearances manually. Hagel’s proposed changes will require time and technology before it can offer real-time alerts. Until then, agencies will most likely have to focus on reviewing a subset of clearance holders – either by random selection or by targeting individuals – which still leaves gaping holes in our nation’s security and counterintelligence efforts since troubled individuals may be overlooked. This is a serious issue with serious consequences.
The government is being asked to provide solutions by September 1 in the 120-day report. Many agencies, and defense and intelligence contractors, are considering approaches beyond traditional physical security and network system log reviews, focusing on life events for a full picture of the sort of risk an individual may pose.
We need to move from checking clearances every few years to continuous evaluation. To get rid of the backlog the government needs to better automate the security clearance process. They need to understand who they are dealing with, what is going on in their life and their associates, all valuable information in assessing an individual’s risk profile and doing so in closer to real time. Agency officials need to be able to receive an automated alert of certain life changes, such as a marriage, divorce, bankruptcy, or one of the other items noted above, allowing them to make a decision on appropriate next steps. The way to do this is to automatically monitor millions of cleared individuals with data from public records, social media and government data sets.
The government also needs to make greater use of big data through a risk- and analytics-based approach. By looking at personal risk behavior data, agencies can make better and faster decisions on who needs additional scrutiny. In fact, this process is similar to monitoring systems already in use by the insurance and financial industries, which for years have been successfully determining if individuals qualify for insurance and loans and at what rate they should be charged. They determine premium and risk by taking into account an individual’s history and assigning a risk score. These same statistical models can be customized to support the risk modeling of individuals with security clearances.
The idea of continuous workplace monitoring may sound invasive to an increasingly surveillance-wary public. But when a government employee seeks clearance, which often comes with the ability to monitor or analyze sensitive information the public can’t access, that employee voluntarily gives permission for ongoing reviews and has no expectation of privacy.
Our concerns about government eavesdropping don’t apply to this situation. The problem isn’t privacy; it’s that we aren’t monitoring our monitors.
Fixing these glaring problems as quickly and as efficiently as possible before another tragedy occurs should be a top priority for our government. The government needs to be proactive, with the ability to monitor every individual with a clearance for potential risks. There are solutions that can make this an easy process, serving as a key function in maintaining our national security.
Steve Nguyen is vice president of government solutions and LexisNexis Special Services Inc. at LexisNexis
Why We Need to Spy on the Germans
We’re right to spy on a country with close ties to Russia and Iran.
I’ve lived and loved in Germany, count Berlin as one of my favorite cities, and—pending reactions to this article—may even move back there someday. But given its intense business and political ties to Russia and Iran, and Moscow’s decades-long cultivation of intelligence assets and collaborators from the first Cold War up through the current one, American intelligence agencies would be crazy not to conduct intensive espionage operations in Germany.
Ever since its postwar rebirth as the divided city at the geographic and intellectual heart of the Cold War, Berlin has been a nest of spies. The Glienecke bridge, connecting what was then Soviet-controlled territory to the American Sector in West Berlin, served as an exchange point for captured intelligence officers, earning it the nickname “Bridge of Spies.” Berlin is something of a default setting for Cold War spy novels, and for good reason: split between the Soviets and the Western powers, the city was ground zero for espionage.
When the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago and the Soviet Union collapsed shortly thereafter, Germans hoped that the city could transform its reputation from that of a tense, Cold War crossroads to cosmopolitan oasis. To a magnificent extent, they succeeded, and Berlin is without question the most exciting city in Western Europe. But Germany, and Berlin in particular, never lost its attraction as a point of penetration for Russian agents—or, for that matter, American ones trying to keep an eye on them.
Over the past year, leaks from fugitive National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed that the agency had been snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, combined with rising tensions between Russia and the West over the fate of Ukraine, have once again thrust Berlin back onto the frontlines of global spy craft.
The latest news to rock German-American relations are allegations that the CIA paid a low-level employee of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, to hand over files relating to the German parliament’s investigation into the material released by Snowden last year. As The Daily Beast’s Chris Dickey and Nadette de Visser report, the official was “More Austin Powers and Less James Bond,” perhaps even a “charity case,” and the information he handed over was not of particularly high value.
But that has done little to quell German anger, already inflamed by last fall’s revelations of NSA phone tapping.
“If the allegations are true, it would be a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners,” said Merkel, who has continuously sought to downplay fallout from the Snowden mess. As he had been ordered to do last fall when the news about Merkel’s phone hit the press, American Ambassador John Emerson was once again summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a dressing-down.
German outrage at American spying would also be easier to swallow if it weren’t so hypocritical.
The country’s Justice Minister has raised the possibility of launching “criminal proceedings” against the United States, and a poll, conducted before the latest revelations, found 69 percent of Germans saying that their trust in the United States had deteriorated over the past year.
Last month, the German government canceled a contract with Verizon over allegations that it had provided call records to the NSA.
Given the righteous indignation, one would suspect that Germans were fuming about Russia, a country that had perpetrated the first annexation of territory on European soil since World War II. But their muted reaction to Russia’s outrageous behavior, combined with the hysterical response to American spying, neatly illustrates why the United States has felt a need to conduct espionage in Germany: Berlin has been a less than trustworthy ally.
Merkel, who grew up in the former communist East Germany and speaks Russian fluently, understands that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a dangerous thug and rightly spoke out against the Crimean annexation as a return to the “law of the jungle.” But in her clear-eyed understanding of the Russian threat, the Chancellor is an exception among the German political class. And despite her wariness of Putin, she is a conservative leader by temperament who governs by consensus and rarely does anything that is not already supported by most of her constituents. In a country where a majority of citizens sympathize with Putin and believe the West should “accept” his annexation of Crimea, this is a prescription for dithering.
German firms do a great deal of business in Russia and have been strong voices against sanctioning Moscow. Germany imports a third of its oil and gas from Russia, and Russia is its 11th-largest export market.
On the political side, Russia can count upon sympathizers spanning from the center-right business community to the post-communist left. Last year, in a highly publicized trip, Green Party politician (and former lawyer for members of the terrorist Red Army Faction) Hans Christian Stroebele visited Snowden in Moscow, something that could not have taken place without the express permission of Putin. Failing to convince the German government to grant Snowden asylum, Stroebele got the next best thing: a parliamentary investigation into American espionage. Russian espionage, judging by the attention devoted to it by the press and politicians, apparently does not exist in Germany.
In March, several parliamentarians from the German Left Party traveled at the behest of Moscow to Crimea alongside a batch of European right-wing extremists. There they observed Russia’s phony “referendum” authorizing the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. Weeks after leaving office in 2005, former Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined the board of a Russian government-owned energy venture to the tune of a quarter-million Euros a year. In April, as Russian-backed terrorists rampaged their way through eastern Ukraine, he celebrated his 70th birthday in St. Petersburg alongside a bevy of German businessmen and political leaders and received a bear hug from Putin himself.
German outrage at American spying would also be easier to swallow if it weren’t so hypocritical. According to former NSA intelligence and computer systems analyst Ira Winkler, the BND has penetrated the SWIFT financial messaging network, passing on the information to German businesses. In his book Spies Among Us, he writes of “the apparent willingness of German businesses to funnel sensitive information and technology to nations that are hostile to the United States,” including Iran.
Germany remains one of the Islamic Republic’s largest trading partners. American espionage in Germany—home of the Hamburg Cell, the circle of 9/11 hijackers who hung out in the port city, unmolested, for years—is aimed at protecting the national security of both America and its allies, Germany foremost among them. And while the BND cooperates extensively with America’s intelligence services, it also has worked toward giving a leg-up to German businesses, an unwritten no-no in the intelligence world.
Regrettably, rather than keep mum on the disclosures of NSA and CIA spying in Germany, American officials have been apologizing left and right while simultaneously declaiming all responsibility. Obama apparently told Merkel he was unaware of what his own spy services were doing, but had he known, he would have stopped them from monitoring her phone. Senior Obama adviser John Podesta told the magazine that “some of the disclosures as to who had been targeted were probably beyond the knowledge of anybody at a political level in government.”
Though she did deliver the Germans some tough love by telling them, via an interview with Der Spiegel, that “The United States could never enter into a No-Spy agreement with any country—not you, not Britain, not Canada,” likely presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton also said that it was “absolutely wrong” for the NSA to spy on Merkel.
The extent to which the NSA should be able to monitor, if at all, the telephonic metadata of American citizens is one thing, but there are no laws and no regulations when it comes to intelligence gathering overseas—even from allies.
The problem isn’t that the NSA was snooping in on Angela Merkel (who should not have been sharing any information, other than potato salad recipes, on an unsecure cellphone), but that this information was exposed, embarrassing all involved, not least of all Merkel herself.
Americans don’t need to apologize for conducting espionage in Germany. On the contrary, this week’s revelations should lead Germans to undergo a round of soul-searching and ask why Washington felt the need to do it in the first place.
Critical Infrastructure Firms Lag Behind in Cyber-Attack Defenses
By Robert Lemos | Posted 2014-07-10
Utilities, industrial manufacturers and energy companies expect cyber-attacks in the next year, but these organizations continue to react to threats, rather than build up security measures, according to the latest Ponemon survey.
Security teams at critical infrastructure firms have little trouble understanding that their networks are vulnerable. But the companies themselves have failed to make security a priority, according to a survey of nearly 600 security executives by the Ponemon Institute published on July 10.
External attackers and malicious or negligent employees managed to compromise two-thirds of the companies’ networks in the past 12 months, leading to the loss of data or a disruption in operations, according to the report, Critical Infrastructure: Security Preparedness and Maturity, which was funded by technology firm Unisys. About 57 percent of respondents believe that their industrial control systems are at risk from cyber-attacks.
Despite the recognition of cyber-attacks as a threat, most critical-infrastructure firms are not focused on security, according to the survey. Only 28 percent of security practitioners stated that their firms considered security a top-five priority, the study found.
“It paints a picture of organizations that feel like they are at risk, yet they are not doing anything about it,” Dave Frymier, chief information security officer for Unisys, told eWEEK. “They are almost asleep at the switch, [and] they don’t seem to be taking the problem seriously.”
In the survey of 599 information technology and IT security executives, most companies were aware of the dangers of cyber-attacks: Nearly two-thirds of organizations are committed to preventing or detecting the most sophisticated attackers, known as advanced persistent threats or APTs, according to respondents. The same number of respondents agreed that one or more serious cyber-attacks would infiltrate their infrastructure in the next year.
Over the past two years, for example, a group of online hackers, whose actions bear the hallmarks of nation-state operatives, compromised hundreds of energy firms and industrial control system makers, according to the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Readiness Team (ICS-CERT) and security firms. Alternatively called “Dragonfly” and “Energetic Bear” by security firms, the attack campaign installed Remote Access Trojans (RATs) inside the networks of companies, organizations and government agencies located in Spain, the United States, Japan, France, Italy and Germany.
Because control systems and monitoring networks are designed to be reliable and last for decades, dealing with legacy systems that may have significant vulnerabilities has become a major issue for utilities. Yet, most lack confidence that their organization could upgrade such systems without causing problems.
More than half of security professionals interviewed by the Ponemon Institute stated that patching industrial systems with up-to-date security software either would not be cost-effective or would sacrifice mission-critical security, according to the report.
Until a major event shakes critical-infrastructure firms from their malaise, the gap between security professionals understanding the theoretical threat of cyber-attacks and companies focusing on making their networks and infrastructure more secure in practice will likely remain for the foreseeable future, Frymier said.
“We pretty much feel that there will have to be some precipitating event,” he said. “Something will have to happen, and unfortunately, it will probably be a bad thing that has to happen to galvanize people to understand the magnitude of the problem so they do something about it.”
High Stakes Cyber-Ransom Likely to Become the New Norm with Mobile Devices
By: Homeland Security Today Staff
Cybersecurity experts say they expect ransomware threats to rise based on the prior success of this business model used by Russian cyber criminals and enterprises.
But one company, KnowBe4, a firm that provides web-based security awareness training (employee security education and behavior management) to small and medium-sized enterprises, “has responded to the growing concern with an extended offer to cover customers ransomware with Bitcoin if they get hit after doing [KnowBe4] security awareness training,” the firm said this week.
KnowBe4 CEO Stu Sjouwerman said in response to a recent study of IT professionals that his company is extending its offer to pay any customer’s cyber ransom with Bitcoin if they are hit after completing KnowBe4’s security awareness training.
“Our 300+ sample study shows 88 percent of IT professionals expect ransomware to grow the rest of this year,” the company said in a statement, adding, “The proliferation of ransomware attacks include a shift from PCs to mobile devices and can add up to dire consequences for organizations with BYOD.”
“IT staff are telling us their confidence in traditional endpoint security is falling, having decreased from 96 percent down to 59 percentin just six months,” Sjouwerman said. “Between increased use of smartphones for email and legacy systems still running XP, there are a number of opportunities for the Russian cyber mafia to extort users.”
KnowBe4 prepared a revealing infographic that explores existing IT attitudes in this area.
Trend Micro’s Vice President of Technology and Solutions, JD Sherry, said, “Individuals are having a hard time because they’re not using the basic security precautions. They are becoming infected, going to sites that have malicious downloads and getting this payload on their mobile device. This is a big problem not only for consumers, but for organizations that have an open BYOD policy.”
“The study showed that 81 percent of IT professionals depend on backup to bail them out from a ransomware attack but a whopping 88 percent recognize security awareness training as the most effective protection from ransomware,” the firm said.
In the Intronis whitepaper, “State of Cloud Backup: MSPs Missing The Mark,” the company reported that over 34 percent of companies do not test their backups, and of those tested, 77 percent found that tape backups failed to restore. According to Microsoft, 42 percent of attempted recoveries from tape backups in the past year have failed.
“An effective program such as Kevin Mitnick Security Awareness Training can reduce the risk of human error,” Sjouwerman said, noting that, “To be effective, you need to keep KnowBe4 Acts on Security Threat security top of mind in an informative but practical way. So called ‘point of failure training’ (also called embedded training) doesn’t work, according to a joint study done by Dartmouth/MITRE/Vanderbilt. We are so confident our training program is truly effective, we’ll pay your ransom with Bitcoin if you get hit with ransomware while you are a customer.”
Mitnick is an internationally recognized computer security expert with extensive experience in exposing the vulnerabilities of complex operating systems and telecommunications devices. He gained notoriety as a highly skilled hacker who penetrated some of the most resilient computer systems ever developed.
Editor’s Note: Sjouwerman wrote the article, Corporate Cybersecurity Issues Aren’t Impossible to Solve, in the March Homeland Security Today.
Amazon wants an exemption from the FAA’s drone restrictions
By Brian Fung July 11 at 7:11 AM
Remember how Amazon wants to deliver its packages to you by drone in 30 minutes or less? And remember the federal government’s objections to letting those and other commercial drones fly in U.S. airspace?
Well, Amazon is hoping to get around those. So it’s filed a petition with the Federal Aviation Administration asking for an exemption.
In a filing to the agency this week, Amazon says that it’s made tremendous strides with its drone technology. It’s now working on eighth- and ninth-generation copter designs, just three months after the company’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, told shareholders Amazon was drawing up plans for its seventh-gen drone. (Bezos is also the owner of The Washington Post.)
Other details appear in the filing that the company hasn’t disclosed before: Its drones are capable of flying at 50 miles per hour, for instance. And the team working on them contains “world‐renowned roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers, remote sensing experts and a former NASA astronaut.”
But the bulk of the filing is devoted to Amazon’s main purpose, which is two-fold: To get permission from the FAA to put its drones in the air, and to be able to test them at its own research facilities in Washington state rather than having to visit one of the six test sites that the agency approved late last year. Amazon says it’s willing to take extra safety precautions, such as flying no higher than 400 feet above ground level, keeping the drone within visual range and readying a “physical button” that can cut power to the machine if something goes wrong.
“We’re continuing to work with the FAA to meet Congress’s goal of getting drones flying commercially in America safely and soon,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy. “We want to do more R&D close to home.”
Testing the drones right where they’re designed would save the company time — while conveniently shielding the machines from public view.
Amazon’s petition comes a week after the Motion Picture Association of America made its own request to the FAA for a special pass, and a month before the agency is supposed to publish new rules allowing lightweight commercial drones into U.S. airspace. Few expect the FAA to meet the deadline. The agency’s sluggishness to develop regulations has raised questions about whether the United States is lagging behind in the civil and commercial drone industries. Other countries where drone policy isn’t as strict have seen a surge of economic activity surrounding the technology.
Amazon’s filing to the FAA alludes to the international draw.
“Because Amazon is a commercial enterprise we have been limited to conducting R&D flights indoors or in other countries,” the proposal reads. “Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States.”
If the petition is rejected, well… draw your own conclusion
The New Space Race, and Why Nothing Else Matters
By Andrew L. Peek,
The Fiscal Times
July 11, 2014
Forty-five years ago this July 20th, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon. Their mission represented an emphatic American victory in the first space race, which began in earnest in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched a notably unattractive satellite, Sputnik, into orbit.
Since then, however, America’s national space program has essentially foundered. It improved space travel by building and then scrapping the Space Shuttle, without ever accomplishing – or attempting – a mission as bold or impactful as the one in 1969. It’s time for a new one. To win the next space race, the US should announce its support for private property rights in space, and NASA should take a back seat.
To be fair, NASA’s not really at fault here: its business model is just wrong. In the national consciousness, NASA seems like a luxury, in the same low-priority bucket as the F-22A fighter and development aid for Bosnia. And unlike those other items, it’s not really clear what the last thirty years of NASA funding has given us. As America’s government-run space monopoly, NASA is a money hole, no more viable over the long run than is Amtrak.
That’s a shame, because we’re not far off from the next major iteration of space exploration. Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk believes that humans could be travelling to Mars within 10-12 years. And former NASA official and Stanford astronautics professor G. Scott Hubbard sees private space exploration for tourism, residency, or resource extraction as goals for the next iteration of space travel.
That’s the new space race: not tourism, not residency per se, but resource extraction.
According to some estimates, a single half-kilometer asteroid could contain over $20 trillion worth of metals and other resources.
The first nation that can import and tax the raw materials of bodies in our solar system would experience an economic boom unparalleled in generations, if ever.
In addition, the military-technological spillover advantages from a vastly expanded space industry might never be surpassed. Since space is infinite, there’s no limit to how far the mining sector can expand – the bounds of the solar system in the short term, but in the longer term, who knows? It would be a period of international growth and change unseen since the Age of Discovery, when Spain and Portugal broke out of the European system and became superpowers almost overnight. And, like the 1400’s, the first country up there will win.
But only private industry will risk it. Only the private sector has people willing to take losses for years, and often be ruined, for the chance to succeed beyond imagination.
The Obama Administration’s 2010 space strategy, which encouraged commercial firms to develop the capability to fly US astronauts into space, did recognize that private industry will be the driver of space exploration. The problem, however, is that human launch capability is not that intrinsically valuable a service.
True, we need it to put astronauts into the International Space Station, where they produce marginally valuable scientific research and watch the World Cup. But that still falls into the “expensive curiosity” label that killed the Space Shuttle. Even a human visit to Mars or a permanent human presence on the moon would not be much more than a milestone for the human race, which – though laudable – is not the most alluring incentive for government or private cash.
But what if space exploration companies could be offered property rights for the resources they extract as well? Private property rights are a mainstay of economic development theory. This would in one stroke encourage far-seeing corporations to invest in space development projects that are virtually guaranteed to have a long-term (indeed, almost infinite) reward.
One that’s already in the market is Planetary Resources, a new asteroid-mining company supported in part by Google’s CEOs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. Given the right policy support, others would be quick to join it. Then it’s California in 1849, and the gold rush is on.
The US should thus make an explicit promise to space entrepreneurs: if they pay US taxes, follow to-be-created US environmental regulations, and share their technology with the government, the government will defend their claim diplomatically and legally. NASA in this model would play the role of a regulator and information repository, and possibly an R&D lab for US companies.
They’d need it, because other countries would be upset. Operating in the quirky netherworld of never-put-to-the-test space law, the US would be essentially creating customary law on the fly. To smooth the transition, it could also offer a diplomatic incentive: that it would defend the claims of foreign companies whose countries recognize US claims.
That would be a powerful inducement to cooperate in the new space race. Most likely, after initial responses ranging from ridicule to Brazil-level meltdown, the most developed US allies like Japan, Germany, and the Anglosphere would follow suit, either alone or in alliances with companies from the developing world.
Because, if it works, everything else looks like pawn-grabbing. The frontiers of Ukraine, China’s claim to Pacific atolls, even the vast caldron of inchoate sectarian rage in the Middle East: strategically, all would have less of a long-term impact than the economic and technological benefits of space mining. The first countries to do it successfully will be the superpowers of the space age – and the last may disappear.
And if it goes nowhere, then so what? The US has lost nothing except some diplomatic angst.
There’s always more where that came from.
This energy source could solve all of our problems — so why is no one talking about it?
Hint: It’s because it can’t be weaponized
By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | March 4, 2014
Thorium could make nuclear power a safe reality.
Energy is arguably the single most important strategic issue of our time. It literally powers everything we do. The world economy see-saws to the gyrations of oil prices. Most of our geopolitical squabbles are about energy in one way or another. And, of course, above all hovers the threatening Armageddon of global climate change.
But when it comes to energy, you probably don’t know who, or what, to trust. Clean energy! No, wait, that doesn’t work! (And what does that mean, exactly?) Shale gas! No, wait, you will pollute everything.
There’s a band of hipsters within the community of people who think hard about energy who think this is a bunch of hoo-ha. We already have a perfectly useful and clean energy source, they say: nuclear power. In terms of its capacity, nuclear power could provide almost all of our energy needs. In terms of carbon emissions, nuclear power is totally clean. Outside of a handful of countries whose names you probably already know, proliferation isn’t an issue. Of course, there’s the issue of safety. But nuclear power is safe, advocates say. Chernobyl happened because of the insanity of communism, and Fukushima because you probably shouldn’t build reactors on the path of tsunamis, not because of anything inherent to nuclear power. The solution to nuclear waste, they say, is more R&D, so that waste can be recycled. Look at France! It draws almost all of its energy from nuclear power, with no serious incident to note in the past 50 years, and the power is cheap, plentiful, and clean.
Within the energy analysis community, nuclear advocates are one hipster subset. But as always when we’re talking about hipsters, there’s a subset within the subset. And these energy hipsters are pushing a nuclear technology that has all the advantages of traditional nuclear and none of the drawbacks. Its name is thorium.
Thorium is an element, like uranium and plutonium, which you can use as fuel for a nuclear reactor. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium is abundant. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium reactors could have “passive” safety. Traditional nuclear reactors sometimes have the annoying tendency of sometimes exploding and showering the area around them with radioactive waste. This is because plutonium and uranium reactors, when shut down, cannot cool off on their own. They need “active” systems to cool them down. If these systems fail, the reactor starts going into meltdown. Thorium, being a lighter element, doesn’t have that problem. If you have an emergency in a thorium reactor, you shut it off, and it cools down on its own. It can’t melt down. Unlike uranium and plutonium, thorium produces minimal amounts of waste, and even the little waste it does produce is potentially recyclable. And finally, unlike uranium and plutonium, with thorium you can make a reactor, but you can’t make a bomb.
And there you have the problem.
Thorium advocates point out that almost from the beginning, nuclear research has been sponsored by governments — or, more accurately, military-industrial complexes. The nuclear age started in World War II and the Cold War, when researching nuclear technology meant researching military technology. Peaceful nuclear technology was a happy dividend, but it was never the focus. The list of countries with nuclear power industries is also the list of nuclear warhead superpowers (even South Africa’s peaceful nuclear industry is an offshoot of its Apartheid-era nuclear weapons program). And so those who hold the purse strings of nuclear research relegated thorium to the dustbin of history. Not because of any global conspiracy, mind you, but just because they acted rationally given their priorities at the time. And then inertia takes over. Anybody who’s anybody in the nuke-industrial sector has spent their entire career working on uranium and plutonium, which is a bird in the hand, and so they dismiss thorium as a pipe dream.
Is it? I’m no scientist, but what I’ve read suggests thorium energy is very much conceivable. And if it works, it really would be the technology that solves all our energy problems.
Am I saying it will do that? No. Am I saying we should be talking a heck of a lot longer — and louder — about it? Absolutely yes.
IBM spending $3 billion to rethink decades-old computer design
IBM is also looking ahead at a world in which computer chips don’t have silicon
By Agam Shah
July 10, 2014 05:01 AM ET
IDG News Service – IBM will pour US$3 billion into computing and chip materials research over the next five years, as it rethinks computer design and looks to a future that may not involve silicon chips.
The computer design initiative could pave the way for functional quantum and cognitive computers that mimic brain functionality.
“The basic architecture of the computer has remained unchanged since the 1940s. We feel, given the kinds of problems we see today, [that] this is the time to start looking for new forms of computing,” said Supratik Guha, director of physical sciences for IBM Research.
Silicon design has stalled and the ability to shrink chips is reaching its limit. IBM is looking at graphene, carbon nanotubes and other materials to replace silicon in computers, and will try to develop chips that can be scaled down to the atomic level.
The announcement comes a month after Hewlett-Packard disclosed that it too is rethinking the basic design of computers.
IBM’s goal is to provide the building blocks for systems that can intelligently process vast amounts of data while consuming less power, said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president for Systems and Technology Group at IBM.
Such computers could benefit areas such as cancer research, weather modeling and providing more intelligent services over the cloud. Accelerators like graphics processors are improving computer performance in the short term, but shrinking silicon-based processors to boost performance and reduce power is becoming more complex, Rosamilia said.
“We have in other points of history had to make leaps from one technology to another,” Rosamilia said. “If we don’t start inventing them now, we believe nobody will get there.”
IBM is already making quantum computers and brain-like computers, which have been theorized for decades, but proven difficult to create. Those computers are based on different architectures than those used today, which leads to questions about whether one new type of architecture ought to be preferred over another, Rosamilia said.
IBM could mix and match individual technologies to provide the building blocks for new computer systems, Rosamilia said.
“Some combination will be coming true, and we will be riding those technologies for many years,” Rosamilia said. “You have to plan many years in advance for it. We’re very serious about this.”
The first fruits of the research will likely manifest in high-performance computers, but may eventually come to laptops and desktops, although Rosamilia couldn’t provide a time frame for that.
The investment comes as Moore’s Law runs its course. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore posited that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every two years and while that has held steady, it is expected to be outdated within the next decade. Engineers are rethinking chip design to increase performance, especially as chips go into smaller geometries. Intel is preparing to ship PC chips made using the 14-nanometer process and has plans to move to the 10-nanometer process in the coming years.
Chip making was revolutionized when scientists purified silicon in 1950, but it will be harder to etch more features on chips when the 7-nanometer process and beyond, as the industry moves toward the atomic level, Guha said.
“What will replace it at this point is unclear,” Guha said.
Carbon nanotubes, which are cylinders made of carbon atoms, show the most promise as a silicon replacement. IBM researchers are shrinking the size of carbon nanotubes, but challenges remain in cooling them down and there is considerable debate around safety concerns. However, there is consensus that technical problems could be solved, Guha said.
Brain and quantum computers also involve research on computer behavior.
IBM is developing computers that mimic brain-like functionality as part of its Synapse program. The computer makes an approximation of how the brain processes information in parallel via trillions of connections, which are the synapses. IBM in 2011 demonstrated a neural chip with programmable and learning synapses that have navigation and pattern recognition abilities. IBM’s goal is to build a neural chip that mimics the human brain, with 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses but that uses just 1 kilowatt of power.
At the heart of quantum computers are quantum bits (qubits), which hold values of 1 and 0, which are unlike bits in conventional computers that are at a state of 1 or 0 at any given time. By storing and sharing data in more states, the qubits could speed up calculations.
Many issues still have to be resolved, including quantum noise, in which qubits are sent into undesirable states, making it difficult to execute programs normally. The only known quantum computer is sold by D-Wave Systems, but IBM’s researchers earlier this year questioned the computer’s relation to quantum mechanics, which looks at interaction and behavior of matter on atomic and subatomic levels.
What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
Bottom of Form
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Americans are registering a lot of pessimism these days and clearly are wondering what’s going on along the Mexican border.
Fewer voters than ever think the nation’s best days are still to come. How low can you go in nearly eight years of regular surveying?
The number of voters who think the country is heading in the right direction is at a new low for the year.
It doesn’t help that voters have said for years that the economy is the number one issue on their minds but continue to give President Obama low marks when it comes to handling economic issues. Voters believe more government spending is the worst thing for the economy, and criticism of the president’s handling of spending issues is at its highest level in a year-and-a-half.
But then Americans also have said overwhelmingly for years that it’s important to close the border to future illegal immigration, and the federal government still won’t do it. In fact, a surprisingly large number think the Obama administration through its policies and practices has encouraged the flood of illegal immigrant children at the border, and most want those kids sent back home as soon as possible.
As to how to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, Americans have some common sense suggestions, and, surprisingly, building a wall is well down the list.
Despite their support for increasing immigration controls, Americans view their society as fair and decent, but they also feel pretty strongly that those who come here need to adopt our culture, language and heritage.
Given voter unhappiness on the economic and immigration fronts, it’s perhaps no surprise that most voters now think Republicans are likely to win control of Congress in this November’s elections, but will it make any difference?
Picking up a Senate seat in Louisiana is key to GOP hopes, so we took a look this week at how incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is doing against Republican challenger Bill Cassidy in the Pelican State.
Republicans still have the new national health care law in their sights as opposition to the law’s requirement that every American have health insurance remains at its highest level this year. The question, though, is: Is that opposition hurting sign-ups for health insurance through the new exchanges?
Many feel it’s hard to get a straight answer about Obamacare from much of the media, and the same goes for global warming. It’s surprising how many voters don’t believe the debate about global warming is over and don’t think much of the decision by the BBC, the Los Angeles Times and a growing number of news organizations to ban comments from those who deny that global warming is a problem.
Looking overseas, most voters want the United States to stay out of the latest flare-up between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and they worry about the impact of continuing U.S. support for Israel on our relations with other nations.
Democrats are ahead of Republicans again on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.
The real day-to-day bottom line? The president’s daily job approval ratings and the level of confidence consumers and investors are feeling.
In other surveys this week:
— How healthy do Americans feel these days? Are we getting fatter?
— Better yet, what do our doctors think?
— When it comes to the issue of abortion, the number of voters who consider themselves pro-life is at an all-time high.
— Senator Lindsey Graham easily turned back several challengers in South Carolina’s Republican primary last month. How’s his race against Democrat Brad Hutto shaping up?
— Democratic Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown has a double-digit lead over Republican Larry Hogan in the race to be Maryland’s next governor.
‘Corrosive culture,’ weak leadership cripple VA, report says
By Ralph Ellis and John Crawley, CNN
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Fri June 27, 2014
(CNN) — The Veterans Affairs health care system needs to be overhauled because of unresponsive leadership and a “corrosive culture” that affects the delivery of medical care, said a report delivered Friday to President Barack Obama.
“It is clear that there are significant and chronic systemic failures that must be addressed by the leadership at VA,” said the report prepared by Rob Nabors, who is Obama’s deputy chief of staff and who the President dispatched to assess the situation at the troubled agency.
The VA, a massive bureaucracy with more than 300,000 full-time employees, is under fire over allegations of alarming shortcomings at its medical facilities. The controversy, as CNN first reported, involves delayed care with potentially fatal consequences in possibly dozens of cases.
Nabors and acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson met with Obama to discuss the findings.
Excessive waiting periods
At the Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix, for example, a preliminary report made public last month indicated that at least 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled for an appointment and were never placed on a wait list.
CNN has reported that in Phoenix, the VA used fraudulent record-keeping — including an alleged secret list — that covered up excessive waiting periods for veterans, some of whom died in the process.
But the problems go well beyond Phoenix. Dozens of others of VA centers, all around the country, also face a host of allegations like possible abuse of scheduling practices.
Indeed. The report mentioned the Inspector General is now investigating 77 VA facilities, more than were previously reported.
‘Corrosive culture’ hurts morale
The report issued Friday stressed that the vast majority of employees are dedicated and hard-working. Yet, it cited a “corrosive culture” that created personnel problems across the department and hurt morale and, by extension, timeliness of medical care.
When problems occur, they are transferred to other departments minimized or not acknowledged at all, the report said, and the culture “encourages discontent and backlash against employees.”
“The department must take swift and appropriate accountability actions,” the report said. “There must be a recognition of how true accountability works.”
Lack of transparency cited
The report called for an overhaul of leadership at the Veterans Medical Administration.
“It currently acts with little transparency or accountability with regard to its management of the VA medical structure,” the report said.
The VA central office could solve this problem with more transparency and by taking a more hands-on approach with regional leaders, the report said.
Other key findings of the report:
— The 14-day scheduling standard for a medical appointment is “arbitrary, ill-defined, and misunderstood.” The goal was deemed unrealistic and “is a poor indicator of either patient satisfaction or quality of care” and should be replaced.
— The technology behind the basic scheduling system is “cumbersome and outdated.”
— Additional resources, including doctors, nurses, trained support staff and other health professionals, are needed.
— Many of the resource issues facing the VA are similar to what exists in the private sector. But the VA has not clearly articulated its funding needs.
The VA health system is the nation’s largest, with more than 1,700 sites serving 8.76 million people annually.
The scandal has already created political waves.
Eric Shinseki resigned in May as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Obama has requested an appropriation of $163.9 billion for the department in the 2015 budget, a 6.5% increase over the 2014 budget.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said, “It appears the White House has finally come to terms with the serious and systemic VA health care problems we’ve been investigating and documenting for years.”
Experimental project could help detect potato crop threats
Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2014 6:21 pm
By Kendra Evensen firstname.lastname@example.org
POCATELLO — An assistant professor at Idaho State University’s Department of Geosciences is leading an experimental project that could aid in the early detection of potato crop threats.
Donna Delparte is directing the project — funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant — which will use Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to do potato crop surveys at farms in southeast and northern Idaho.
“This is an experimental project to identify different crop threats that may emerge over the growing season,” Delparte said. “Ideally we will be able to provide early detection of any problem or issue that will allow the grower to rapidly respond.”
The UAS platforms will give investigators a birds-eye view of the agricultural crops they fly over, Delparte said, adding that they will be using a multicopter that has been outfitted with a GPS and mulitspectral camera sensor, among others.
“What makes our UAS platforms unique is that they carry advanced GPS sensors that allow us to precisely map and create photo mosaics of the crops below using a multispectral camera,” she said. “The multispectral camera allows us to understand the health of the crop by viewing it beyond what we can see in the visible part of the spectrum by using infrared.”
Delparte is working with three co-investigators: Louise-Marie Dandurand with the University of Idaho, a potato plant agronomist who will be doing greenhouse research; Nancy Glenn with Boise State University, who will serve as an adviser on hyperspectral imaging and advanced remote sensing analysis; and Derek Wadsworth with the Idaho National Laboratory, who will serve as the specialist in unmanned aerial vehicles, electronics and robotics. She’s also working with graduate students Mike Griffel and Ben Nickell on the project, she said, adding that other partners include the J.R. Simplot Company, Steve Edgar with Advanced Aviation Solutions, and various growers in southeast and northern Idaho.
Delparte believes that using UAS platforms to help detect threats could give farmers the timely information they need to ensure the health and sustainability of their crops, she said.
“Our ultimate goal for this project is to work closely with farmers to use these UAS platforms to develop tools, products and information that will be helpful to them in ensuring food security, crop protection and long-term sustainability,” she said.
Delparte said they will use a multicopter to collect weekly multispectral data from potato crops. They will then compare that data with scans they collect from greenhouse plants that have been exposed to pathogens and pests commonly seen in the fields.
“So if we know a sick plant in the greenhouse is showing a spectral scan that indicates some disease or virus, we can compare that spectral scan with field data,” she said. “If there is a match, we can sample the field potatoes to see if they have the same sickness or problem as the plant in the greenhouse.”
Delparte said they are looking forward to working with area growers on the project, and they hope their efforts will not only help those in the agricultural business, but will also lend support to the development of a Center of Excellence in UAS in Idaho.
“The state commerce department has been talking about this idea and it would be an incredible benefit to the state to become a leader in this rapidly growing area,” she said.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) – Aka Drones Legal Issues: Where Are We Headed?
by Press • 2 July 2014
Elaine D. Solomon
There have been almost daily news stories about the advent of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (“UAVs”), also referred to as “drones,” and how commercial usage is expected to explode over the next several years. There have been reports of UAVs being used to deliver everything from pizza, to beer, to dry cleaning, to packages. Entrepreneurs have been hailed for coming up with new ways to use UAVs for many purposes. Interestingly, most of these news stories fail to mention that currently, commercial use of UAVs is illegal. While the FAA is busy attempting to come up with a plan to safely integrate UASs into our navigable airspace over the next few years, it is important to focus on what legal issues may arise once UAS usage increases. There will inevitably be many legal issues: accidents involving personal injury and property damage; IP issues implicated by the technology used to control UAVs; individual privacy rights; as well as criminal laws coming into play such as stalking, harassment, and wiretapping.
Legal concepts will need to be tailored to UASs’ unique capabilities, which allow for much more intrusive invasions (both physically and with respect to privacy issues) than traditional aircraft, and present significant questions as to safety of persons and property. Of particular concern is the use of UASs by government entities. Drones are currently used for or have been proposed for use in domestic surveillance, license plate reading, facial recognition, interception of text messages and cell phone calls, and hacking into Wi-Fi networks. Infrared sensors, high-powered cameras, and facial recognition may also expand UAV capabilities into more controversial realms.
Further, potential and current uses have sparked numerous fears over privacy issues, and have pitted advancing technology against individual rights. Privacy concerns and individual rights will have to be balanced against First Amendment protections of newsgathering. In particular, drone ubiquity raises the concern that the average person on the ground cannot know who is in control of a given UAV, as well as fear about how data will be used and disseminated, and by whom. There are also security concerns about what can be delivered by a drone and whether there is any way to regulate or track such deliveries.
There are also concerns regarding military, human rights, and government transparency issues. In January 2014, federal lawmakers made a move to block President Obama’s plan to shift control of the U.S. drone campaign from the CIA to the Defense Department, inserting a secret provision in a spending bill that would preserve the spy agency’s role in lethal counter-terrorism operations.1 This was viewed as an unusually direct intervention by lawmakers into the way covert operations are run. The operation of UASs by the CIA and special forces is troubling to many because the public at large—and even lawmakers themselves—have very little information about who is doing what, meaning there is little, if any, accountability. This problem will only be exacerbated as technology continues to develop. Future UAS programs may very well include nuclear-fueled UASs that can stay airborne for months and do not require anyone to operate them.
Criminal laws may also come into play, and have to be tailored, as the court and lawmakers decide how to apply stalking, harassment, and other criminal laws to UASs. Current criminal stalking and harassment laws tend to focus on the presence of a threatening message being communicated to the victim; therefore, a UAS whose primary function is simply to communicate information back to an operator may not be implicated by these laws unless they are amended specifically to include UASs.
UASs may also run afoul of wiretapping laws that make it unlawful to intercept an oral communication by one who has an expectation that the communication is private. UAS recordings or interceptions of private conversations by UASs may very well violate these wiretap statutes.
II. The Legal Framework
With the FAA in the midst of integrating UASs into national air space and UAS technology rapidly advancing, a legal framework must be put in place. It is impossible to predict exactly how courts will treat the unique legal issues presented by UAVs; however, some insight can be gleaned from past cases dealing with emerging technological changes.
A.FAA UAV Suit—Administrator v. Pirker
The Pirker case2 is the FAA’s first attempt to regulate small UAVs under existing policies. Raphael Pirker used a small, remote controlled model power glider to take aerial photos for advertising purposes at the University of Virginia campus. The FAA cited Pirker for violating a ban on commercial UAS usage, and for operating the UAV “in a careless and reckless manner,” pursuant to 14 C.F.R. § 91.13, and because Pirker did not have a pilot’s license, putting it under the FAA’s authority to enforce flight safety. Further, the FAA argued that it had authority to regulate the UAV because any device intended for flight is an “aircraft,” including this small UAV. The operator was assessed a civil penalty of $10,000 for violation of a 2007 FAA Policy Statement that requires commercial UAVs to obtain a Certificate of Airworthiness and be subject to the Federal Aviation Regulations.
Pirker filed a motion to dismiss, choosing to challenge the violation on grounds that there is no existing FAA regulation governing the operation of model aircraft, and that the FAA’s Policy Statements concerning the operation of UAVs are not binding or enforceable. Further, Pirker argued that the power glider was not an “aircraft” as contemplated by § 91.13, and that the FAA had no jurisdiction to regulate model aircraft in airspace below 400 feet (i.e., navigable airspace for manned aircraft).
In a decision issued March 7, 2014, the NTSB judge held that the power glider was not an “aircraft”—rather, it was a small UAV that otherwise qualifies as a model aircraft (i.e., an aircraft under 55 pounds, being operated below 400 feet)— even if it was engaged in commercial operations. Further, it was held that the FAA had no authority, absent regulations properly promulgated (as opposed to Advisory Circulars and Policy Statements), to regulate this UAV (whether it was being used for commercial purposes or otherwise), which otherwise qualified as a model airplane. The administrative law judge also pointed out that the FAA had historically treated model aircraft separately from other types of “aircraft,” so its position with respect to Pirker was not consistent with that historical distinction.
The FAA has appealed the decision, thus staying the decision pending review by the full National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”). In the meantime, various groups have expressed concern over the possible implications of this decision. Is this decision going to be viewed as the green light for unregulated commercial usage of small UAVs? Are we going to be in a “Wild Wild West” mode until the FAA puts formal regulations in place for UASs? The Airline Pilots’ Association has expressed concern regarding the impact of commercial UASs on flight safety, as has the general aviation community.
B.”Ownership” of Space Above Property—Fifth Amendment Taking of Property
Under Roman law, whoever owned a piece of land possessed all the space above the land extending upwards into the heavens (a principle known as ad coelum, short for Cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum, “whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to Heaven”). The ad coelum principle was the basis of U.S. common law. However, with the inception of commercial aviation, the Federal Aviation Act centralized aviation within the domain of the federal government.
Airspace conflicts between common law and the states were addressed in United States v. Causby.3 The plaintiff inCausby sued the United States government under the Fifth Amendment, arguing that military planes flying over his property constituted a taking, as the noise of planes just 83 feet above his land caused frequent deaths (from fright) of the plaintiff’s chickens and ultimately the loss of the plaintiff’s chicken farming business. The Supreme Court thus had to decide who owns the airspace above private property. This required a balancing of the needs of commerce and unobstructed air travel against the private property owner rights. The Supreme Court rejected the common-law ad coelumconcept of airspace ownership but reconfirmed that a landowner owns at least as much space above the ground as he can occupy or use and enjoy in connection with the land; above that is public domain.4
The Court outlined three factors that must be met for flights over land to constitute a taking: (1) whether the planes flew directly over the plaintiff’s land; (2) altitude and frequency of the flights; (3) and whether the flights directly and immediately interfere with the enjoyment and use of the land. Notably, the Court declined to establish a bright-line altitude below which planes may not fly over private property.
In the wake of Causby, some courts took exactly such a fixed-height approach, ruling that flights within “navigable airspace” do not constitute a taking, while anything below navigable airspace could be “owned” by the landowner and give rise to property tort or takings claims. This approach was largely rejected by later Supreme Court cases, which noted that flights could be so frequent, etc. as to result in liability, regardless of whether they occur in navigable airspace.5
Other courts have held that there is a rebuttable presumption of non-taking when overhead flights occur in navigable airspace. This presumption can be rebutted with evidence that the flights interfered with the owner’s use and enjoyment of the surface enough to justify compensation. Still, other courts examine the effect of overhead flights on use and enjoyment of the land without regard to whether the aircraft is in navigable airspace or not.
As UAS usage increases, causes of action for interference with one’s use and enjoyment of land may very well come into play.
C.Fourth Amendment “Search and Seizure” Concerns
The use of UASs by public entities presents a danger of unwarranted and undetected UAS searches, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Will a warrant be required for governmental use of a UAS? The U.S. Supreme Court has previously addressed law enforcement observation and surveillance efforts, and those cases may very well be looked to as a guide for future UAS cases.
Katz v. United States is an important case that has been applied to emerging technologies over the years.6 Katz held that a conversation inadvertently taped by law enforcement surveillance in a phone booth without a warrant that captured incriminating evidence was not admissible in court because what a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. What a person seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected. Katz established a two-prong test to determine when Fourth Amendment protection is appropriate: first, a person must have exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and second, the expectation must be one that society is prepared to recognize as “reasonable.”
Katz’s first prong (the subjective expectation of privacy) has been severely weakened by subsequent decisions. It was essentially struck down by Smith v. Maryland, in which the Court held that a pen register that recorded the phone calls of a criminal did not qualify as a warrantless wiretap because he had no expectation of privacy, since the calls could be accessed by the phone company.7 Smith replaced the first Katz prong with an assumption that we are always being watched. Furthermore, in Oliver v. United States, the Court upheld the open field doctrine, stating that that which can be seen in plain sight is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.8 In this day and age, aerial observation by aircraft of other means is not unreasonable, nor unexpected.
More specifically focused on air surveillance, the Supreme Court has held that naked-eye observation or photography from a helicopter to conduct surveillance is permissible without a warrant.9 The Supreme Court held that, because the helicopter was operating within established flight safety guidelines, the defendant’s curtilage was not protected from aerial view.10
Further, the Supreme Court has also held that police can legally view private property from an aircraft without a warrant where police observations take place within public navigable airspace and in a physically nonintrusive manner.11 In Ciraolo, the defendant had built a privacy fence around his property. Police received an anonymous tip that someone was growing marijuana in a backyard and used an airplane to fly over the yard at 1,000 feet. Police observed the defendant’s marijuana plants, which let to a warrant and arrest. The Court held that, in an age where private and commercial flight is routine, it is unreasonable to expect constitutional protection of what can be observed with the naked-eye from an altitude of 1,000 feet.12
Another case that could have an impact on UAS jurisprudence is Dow Chemical Co. v. United States,13 in which the plaintiff challenged the legality of using aerial photography as incriminating evidence. The Supreme Court held that the use of photographic equipment was acceptable as long as the equipment was readily available to the public and the enhanced photographic capabilities did not excessively intrude on privacy rights. If this standard is applied to UASs, it really cannot be said that UASs are “readily available to the public” as they certainly have capabilities far more advanced that photography equipment.
Another case focusing on the question of whether certain equipment is available for general use is Kyllo v. United States.14In Kyllo, police used thermal imaging to measure the temperature of walls and roof of a home where they suspected marijuana growing, and they were found to be abnormally warm. A search warrant issued based upon that information. The search revealed marijuana growing. The Court held that use of a thermal imaging device to detect heat emanating from inside the home required a warrant, reasoning that where the government uses a device that is not in general public use to explore details of a home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a “search” and is presumptively unreasonable.15
GPS tracking cases may also offer some guidance. One case that will no doubt be important is United States v. Jones,wherein the Supreme Court considered a GPS tracker installed by a police task force on a car.16 The tracker registered the vehicle’s location every 10 seconds. The GOA data was used to place a suspect at a house where drug sales allegedly occurred. The Court held that a month of GPS tracking required a warrant. Long-term tracking was not viewed as reasonable; rather, it was unduly invasive. Further, there was a danger of gathering not only relevant, but also irrelevant and private data. As is true of month-long GPS tracking, UASs that make even more invasive long-term monitoring possible carry the danger of gathering not only relevant, but also irrelevant and private data. Indeed, the courts may very well reason that individuals have a reasonable expectation that we will not be secretly, long-term monitored from above, based upon legitimate privacy concerns.
1.Key Concepts to Consider in Future UAS Cases:
•How invasive and intrusive is it?
•Does it violate some expectation of privacy reasonable in this day and age?
•Is it extensive/long-term, thus having danger of capturing relevant and irrelevant personal information?
•Does it invade areas previously inaccessible, so as to violate our privacy expectations?
•Does it involve use of technology not generally available to the public?
1.Trespass and Nuisance
Trespass and nuisance are possible UAS usage causes of action. A trespass is any physical intrusion upon property owned by another. When considering these issues in the context of intrusions into airspace, the courts have used factors set forth in Causby for takings actions: A plaintiff must prove that the interference occurred within the immediate reaches of the land or airspace that the owner can possess, that the intrusion interfered with actual use of the land, and that it detracts from the plaintiff’s use of the property.
Nuisance is based on a property owner’s right to use and enjoy the land (not possessory rights to the property). A nuisance plaintiff must show that the object in airspace interfered with the use and enjoyment of land and that the interference was substantial and unreasonable.
The FAA’s definition of navigable air space may very well dictate what causes of action are implicated by UAS usage. A UAS’s ability to fly low means it is more likely to invade the immediate reaches of the surface property and thus satisfy theCausby requirements for takings or trespass claims.
2.Intrusion upon Seclusion
Intrusion upon seclusion may very well be the most likely privacy claim regarding UASs. The long-term flight capabilities of UAVs mean that they can stay in the air for a long time, making them potentially more invasive. UASs also implicate privacy concerns if used data collections and dissemination; thermal imaging; facial and license plate recognition; computer hacking; and cell phone tapping.
There is an objective person standard for this tort—that is, the question is whether a person of ordinary sensibilities would be offended by the alleged invasion. Furthermore, the intrusion must be highly offensive (i.e., outrageously unreasonable conduct). A single intrusion is usually not sufficient. The invasion of privacy must also be intentional—the defendant must desire that the intrusion would occur or know with substantial certainty that such an invasion would result from his or her actions. Accordingly, accidental intrusion is not actionable. Finally, in some states, the intrusion must cause mental suffering, shame, or humiliation. As an example, in surveillance cases, the location of the surveillance is determinative: in one’s home is an intrusion; on one’s property but in public view is less likely to be an intrusion; and in a public place, the likelihood of success is much less.
3.Restatement (Second) of the Law of Torts
Other possible privacy torts include public disclosure of private facts, publicity that puts the target in a false light, or appropriation of one’s likeness.17
idespread use of UASs will be a reality in the very near future. The safety framework for such usage will be dictated by FAA rules and regulations. However, legal frameworks will also need to be adapted to this new technology, and constitutional and individual rights will need to be balanced with technological advancements.
1 Eric Schmitt, “Congress R estricts Drones Program Shift,” N.Y. Times, January 16, 2014, available athttp://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/us/politics/ congress-restricts-drones-program-shift.html .
2 Administrator v. Pirker, FAA Case No. 2012EA210009, NTSB Docket No. CP-217.
3 328 U.S. 256 (1946).
4 With regard to the plaintiff’s land in particular, the Court found that the military flights diminished the value of the land, as it could not longer be used for its primary purpose—chicken farming. See also Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 159(2) (A property owner owns only as much air space above his property as he can practicably use).
5 See, e.g., Braniff Airways v. Nebraska State Board of Equalization & Assessment (regarding the destruction of usefulness of property); Griggs v. Allegheny County (regarding flights making land “undesirable and unbearable” for residential use).
6 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
7 442 U.S. 735 (1979).
8 466 U.S. 170 (1984).
9 Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 455 (1989) (naked-eye observation from 400 feet through a greenhouse was not an unreasonable search); Dow Chemical v. United States, 476 U.S. 227 (1986) (aerial photograph of industrial complex from 1200 to 12,000 feet not a prohibited search).
10 488 U.S. 445 (1989).
11 California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986).
12 Id. at 213.
13 476 U.S. 227 (1986).
14 533 U.S. 27 (2001).
15 Id. at 40.
16 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012).
17 Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652; see also Alissa M. Dolan and Richard M. Thompson II, “Integration of Drones into Domestic Airspace: Selected Legal Issues,” Congressional Research Service, April 4, 2013, at 14.
FAA takes on city Realtors using drones
by Press • 1 July 2014
By Jennifer Gould Keil and Kate Sheehy
High-end Realtors who use drones to take aerial property photos are being slapped with subpoenas by the FAA, which is demanding to know exactly how the technology is being used, The Post has learned.
The Federal Aviation Administration dragged the courts into its fight against Realtors a week after stating the remote-controlled crafts cannot be used for commercial purposes.
“It has completely blown up. We’re getting [subpoenas] all over the city and the Hamptons, and they’re just going to general counsel,” a source with Halstead Property told The Post on Monday. “It was a total shock.”
In addition to Halstead, city real-estate giants such as Time Equities and Alchemy Property use drones. The stunning views that can be taken of ritzy, towering projects are invaluable as a selling tool, they note.
“You can get [drones] online for 1,500 bucks,” a Corcoran broker said. “It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a photographer and a plane for an aerial shot. As long as [the drones] aren’t used for spying, what’s the problem?”
The FAA argues brokers can’t use the drones because they haven’t been authorized for commercial use.
“We have a mandate to protect the American people in the air and on the ground, and the public expects us to carry out that mission,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a memo issued last week.
An FAA source added that the agents could be fined if they don’t stop using the drones.
But the Realtors gripe that there’s technically no commercial use since they’re not charging their clients for the photos.
Some real-estate agents said it’s safer to steer clear of the gizmos.
“It is a little frightening how invasive they can be,” said Andrew Saunders of Saunders & Associates in the Hamptons.
Leonard Steinberg, president of Urban Compass, said he uses a balloon rigged with a camera instead.
“The city is so dense that the drones are extremely dangerous,” Steinberg said. “I think they are a huge liability. It’s like flying debris. It’s nuts. It scares me.”
SkyPan, a firm that has been hired by city Realtors to take drone photos of projects, said the FAA subpoenaed its records last year involving a Midtown development.
“It appears the FAA is on a fact-finding mission,” said SkyPan owner Mark Segal.
“It concerns me that the FAA is spending time and energy with subpoenas instead of proactively communicating with the . . . builders,” he said in an e-mail.
DHS Raises Alarms over Malware Targeting Power Operations
By Aliya Sternstein
July 1, 2014
The Department of Homeland Security is emphasizing the threat of a hacker operation that already has attacked U.S. and European energy companies and can disrupt power. The group behind the campaign is affiliated with Russia, according to security researchers.
On Tuesday, DHS reposted and updated for the third time since Wednesday an alert to companies that operate “industrial control systems” — machines that run critical commercial services.
Homeland Security “is analyzing malware and artifacts associated with an industrial control system (ICS) focused malware campaign,” DHS officials stated.
The so-called Havex “payload” seems to target machines running outdated versions of a widely used specification for connectivity called Open Platform Communications technology.
“Testing has determined that the Havex payload has caused multiple common OPC platforms to intermittently crash,” DHS stated. “This could cause a denial-of-service effect,” or outage, of “applications reliant on OPC communications.”
Citing research from security companies Symantec and F-Secure, DHS said the Havex malicious software “could have allowed attackers to access the networks of systems that have installed” the malware.
The hacker group is alternatively dubbed Energetic Bear and Dragonfly. It has broken into the websites of three control system vendors and dropped the malware into legitimate software updates that its energy customers download. DHS has identified the three vendors on a secure website restricted to companies in key U.S. industries, officials said.
Security startup CrowdStrike first reported the emergence of Energetic Bear in January, describing the group as “an adversary with a nexus to the Russian Federation,” that was going after “government and research targets, as well as a large number of energy sector targets.”
Symantec, in a paper released Monday, said the prey include companies that operate power grids, electricity generation, and petroleum pipelines, as well as industrial equipment providers.
“Symantec describes the victims as Spain, U.S., France, Italy and Germany, in that order,” the DHS alert states.
DHS officials have examined one malware sample that records sensitive operational data, including the kinds of computers and devices connected to a company’s network. The spyware gathers information including server name, program IDs, vendor information, running state and server bandwidth, officials said. The malware does not appear to affect devices using newer versions of Open Platform Communications.
A Breakthrough in the Checkered History Of Brain Hacking
Patrick Tucker July 1, 2014
cientists funded by the Defense Department have just announced a breakthrough that could allow researchers to create in 220 days an extremely detailed picture of the brain that previously would have taken 80 years of scans to complete.
The military has been looking to build better brain hacks for decades with results that ranged form the frightening to the comical. This latest development could revolutionize the study of the brain but also the national security applications of neuroscience.
Scientists at Stanford University who developed the new way to see the brain in greater detail, outlined in the journal Nature Protocols, said that it could mark a new era of rapid brain imaging, allowing researchers to see in much greater detail not only how parts of the brain interact on a cellular level but also to better understand those interactions across the entire brain.
“I absolutely believe this is going to transform the way that we study the brain and how we perform neuroscience research,” said Justin Sanchez, program manager for the Neuro Function, Activity, Structure, and Technology, or Neuro-FAST, program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which funded the research. “What we’re saying here today is that we can develop new technology that changes how we observe and interact with the circuits of the brain.”
The most common research methods for exploring the brain today involve the sensing of brains’ electrical activity, a technique called EEG, or observing of hemoglobin flow under functional magnetic resonance, called fMRI. Rather than simply listen to the brain’s thought spasms of electro-magnetic activity, the Stanford researchers’ technique instead uses light to reveal causal relationships in the circuits themselves. “It’s all about optical interfaces for the brain, optical techniques to image the brain, optical techniques to record activity from the brain and optical techniques to record neurons and their firing effects form other neurons,” said Sanchez.
This technique is related to the emerging subfield of optogenetics, and while it is considered the cutting edge of neuroscience research, it’s not new. But the technique pioneered by the Stanford researchers allows for three-dimensional visualization that is both granular and wide enough to encompass the entire brain. Said Sanchez, “Traditionally, with the optogenetic technique, you really don’t have the structure to go along with the activation. That’s why the Neuro-FAST program is so exciting.”
Sanchez and DARPA officials were adamant (exceedingly so) that the intent of the Neuro-FAST program is to advance brain science broadly. Officials were reluctant to discuss any other specific applications for that research. But that doesn’t mean those applications don’t exist, or that the military isn’t interested in them.
The Checkered History of Military Brain Tampering
For a quick and historic tour of the Defense Department’s interest in brain hacking, start with this 1973 report, written for DARPA, detailing Soviet research into psychokinesis, the manipulation of matter through thought, and other aspects of “paranormal phenomena.” This report became part of the bases for the book and film The Men Who Stare At Goats, the later of which saw the character of George Clooney, as an army trained “psychic weapon,” successfully killing one of the unlucky hoofed animals entirely through the force of focused will.
Then move on to this 1988 National Academy Press report on issues, theories and techniques for “Enhancing Human Performance,” which eagerly anticipates future super soldier motor skills and concentration states acquired through applied brain science. From there, continue to this 2009 report outlining Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications.
Over the years, the military’s research into brain science has produced some bizarre results, such as the DARPA “roborat” a rat that had electrodes implanted into its motor cortex allowing researchers to manipulate direction and movement.
There have also been some big hits.
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratory showed in 2012 that the human brain’s electrical activity could predict how well an individual was going to perform on a test. According to The Futurist magazine:
The researchers asked 23 people to attempt to memorize a list of words while undergoing brain scanning. The average subject recalled 45% of the words on the list. The EEG data correctly predicted which five of the 23 subjects would beat the competition, remembering 72% of the words on average.
If you had someone learning new material and you were recording the EEG, you might be able to tell them, ‘You’re going to forget this, you should study this again,’ or tell them, ‘OK, you got it and go on to the next thing,'” chief researcher Laura Matzen said in a statement.
A previous program actually did yield some remarkable insight into the potential for better soldier performance through focused brain states. Amy Kraus, a former DARPA program manager, on Monday told a group at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, the work that she presided over succeeded in finding the secret mental secret that preceded good marksmanship. “It turns out the expert marksman has a brain state,” she said, “a state that they enter before they take the perfect shot. Can I teach a novice to create this brain state? The answer was yes.”
She said that by recognizing that state, researchers were able to improve the ability of regular people to improve their marksmanship by 100 percent. “These are recordable, measurable, algortyhmical,” Kraus said.
But according to Sanchez, improved performance through changes in brain state is still not something we truly understand.
“The neuroprocesses associated with those advanced functions – we don’t know what they are yet. We don’t know how all of those advanced circuits can produce those brain functions. That’s why we’re at the more basic level.”
The ability to see the cellular interconnections that actually contribute to mental activity is far more important to an actual understanding of mental states – super and otherwise – than is the ability to measure the electromagnetic rumblings associated with those states. Similarly, a bit of know-how about animal husbandry will tell you something about why a horse is fast or slow but not nearly as much as will genetics.
One of the most significant near-term applications of military-funded neuroscience is not the potential to create super soldiers but rather an understanding the effects of combat and training on service men and women. “As we’re doing more to and with war fighters, how much of a burden can we place on them? How much risk can we expect them to take over a lifetime? How much medication? How many devices? How much change in their behavior, through direct manipulation of their brains?” said Jonathan D. Moreno, University of Pennsylvania professor and author of the book Mind Wars, at the Potomac Institute. “These are people who sign up to defend us. They sign up to take risks. Nonetheless, in the 21st century, we will have to slice that finer than we have in the past because we are asking them to do more for us.”
The National Security Argument for Spending More on Conferences, Travel
July 1, 2014
By Rebecca Carroll
U.S. dominance in science and technology has traditionally fed U.S. military superiority — a dynamic no one relies on anymore. The United States currently pays for less than one-third of global research and development, and that portion is expected to fall to 18 percent by 2050, according to sources cited in a new report from the National Research Council.
One interesting suggested response to the problem: Spend more on overseas conferences.
More broadly, the report argues the Pentagon should develop a departmentwide strategy to keep on top of international research “and to identify opportunities to leverage its research and development investments and collaborate internationally.”
Report authors laid out a continuum of approaches to becoming acquainted with international research projects, from most passive — including data analytics and bibliometric analyses — to more engaged and informative activities such as lab visits, conferences and actually funding projects (the most engaged approach).
The report — which was requested by Army, Navy and Air Force research units — notes that all branches of the military have research programs. “However, researchers at defense laboratories and research centers who wish to engage internationally face funding limitations and restrictions on travel and conference participation.”
Federal spending on conferences has fallen by hundreds of millions of dollars since 2010, with stricter policies following a series of revelations about extravagant conference costs at agencies across government — including the Internal Revenue Service, the General Services Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department.
Scientists have argued for an exemption from tighter federal travel restrictions, but federal conference participation — especially international — is still rare compared with several years ago.
“As technologies become more sophisticated, organization will need to employ increasingly active mechanisms to remain capable of innovating, following quickly on the innovation of others and absorbing the benefits of innovation wherever it happens,” the NRC report said.
“If the DOD does not develop a specific, clearly defined and implementable enterprisewide strategy for fully taking advantage of global science and technology, either by absorbing knowledge and talent from the international research community or collaborating, it runs the risk of losing technological competency with severe implications for economic and national security.”
Obama wins the vote … as worst president since WWII
By Linda Feldmann, Staff writer
July 2, 2014
Washington — President Obama is No. 1, but not in a flattering way.
He’s the top pick for “worst president since World War II,” according to a poll of American voters released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.
Mr. Obama came in first with 33 percent, followed by George W. Bush with 28 percent. Third, with 13 percent, was Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace 40 years ago next month.
“Over the span of 69 years of American history and 12 presidencies, President Barack Obama finds himself with President George W. Bush at the bottom of the popularity barrel,” says Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll.
The top postwar presidents are Ronald Reagan (35 percent), Bill Clinton (18 percent), and John F. Kennedy (15 percent).
Of course, asking voters to rate the current president against his predecessors may not be fair. Sitting presidents face a daily barrage of challenges, and voters can be harsh, even when a president’s ability to fix a problem is limited. Typically, as soon as a president leaves office, his favorability rating gets a boost. And, historians say, one really should wait a few decades before ranking a president for the ages.
“Presidents often look different 20 or 30 years later, because when you wait that period of time you know what was important and what was not,” historian Michael Beschloss said in 2003, PBS notes.
In a head-to-head matchup, Obama and the second President Bush scored nearly evenly: Some 39 percent of voters said Obama has been a better president, while 40 percent say he has been worse.
But when asked about the outcome of the 2012 election, Obama fares worse – and it appears some voters may have buyer’s remorse. Forty-five percent say America would be better off if Republican Mitt Romney had won the race, while 38 percent say the country would be worse off. The poll did not indicate how many of those wishing Mr. Romney had won voted for Obama in 2012. In the election, the president beat Romney 51 percent to 47 percent.
Overall, Obama’s job approval rating remains in the doldrums, at 40 percent. Fifty-three percent disapprove. He also gets low marks for handling of issues: On the economy, 40 percent approve and 55 percent disapprove; on foreign policy, it’s 37 percent versus 57 percent; on health care, 40 percent to 58 percent; and on terrorism, 44 to 51 percent.
Obama’s best issue, among those polled, is the environment. Fifty percent approve of his handling of the environment, and 40 percent disapprove.
U.S. Will Have Something Other Countries Want: A Big Labor Surplus
By Peter Coy July 02, 2014
Over the next 15 years, the U.S. will have a problem that plenty of other countries would love to have: too many workers for the jobs available. That’s according to a report released today by the Boston Consulting Group.
Idle labor isn’t a good thing, especially for the unemployed workers. But you could argue that it beats the alternative, which is having so few workers that jobs go unfilled and economic output falls short of potential. That’s the problem that most other major nations, from Germany to Brazil to South Korea, will face between now and 2030, according to the BCG report.
A relatively high birthrate and liberal immigration policy give the U.S. an advantage in labor supply:
Boston Consulting Group
“While a labor surplus invariably attracts more attention, a shortage is just as problematic,” the report says. Having too few workers impedes growth and ultimately “threatens a country’s competitiveness,” the report says—though the opposite problem, a labor surplus, raises “the risk of social instability.” In an interview on Tuesday, the report’s lead author, Rainer Strack—a senior partner who is Europe and Africa leader of BCG’s people and organization practice—said: “A high [labor] surplus is bad. A high shortfall is also bad.”
The report, called The Global Workforce Crisis, projects the amount of labor a country would need if its gross domestic product and labor productivity continued to grow at the same rates as in the recent past. Then it compares that hypothetical demand for labor to the International Labor Organization’s projections of labor supply, which are based on population growth and labor force participation rates.
The report says what countries would need to do in order to bring labor supply and demand into balance. For Germany, the suggested measures for dealing with its projected labor shortfall are extreme. It would need to increase the share of people aged 65 and over who are in the labor force to 10 percent from 4 percent; increase the labor force participation rate for females 15-64 to 80 percent from 71 percent; increase immigration to 460,000 people a year from 369,000; and increase labor productivity growth to 1.15 percent a year from 0.87 percent.
By contract, the U.S., in order to put more people to work, needs to increase entrepreneurship, “in-source” jobs that have gone overseas, and upgrade workers’ skills, the report says.
NASA finalizes contract to build the most powerful rocket ever
July 2, 2014, 11:58 AM
NASA has reached a milestone in its development of the Space Launch System, or SLS, which is set to be the most powerful rocket ever and may one day take astronauts to Mars. .
After completing a critical design review, Boeing Co. has finalized a $2.8-billion contract with the space agency. The deal allows full production on the rocket to begin.
“Our teams have dedicated themselves to ensuring that the SLS – the largest ever — will be built safely, affordably and on time,” Virginia Barnes, Boeing’s Space Launch System vice president and program manager, said in a statement.
The last time NASA’s completed a critical design review of a deep-space human rocket was 1961, when the space agency assessed the mighty Saturn V, which ultimately took man to the moon.
Work on the 321-foot Space Launch System is spread throughout Southern California, including Boeing’s avionics team in Huntington Beach. The rocket’s core stage will get its power from four RS-25 engines for former space shuttle main engines built by Aerojet Rocketdyne of Canoga Park.
The rocket will carry the Orion spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., which can carry up to four astronauts beyond low Earth orbit on long-duration, deep-space destinations including near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and ultimately Mars.
The rocket, which is designed to carry crew and cargo, is scheduled for its initial test flight from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in 2017.
The first mission will launch an empty Orion spacecraft. The second mission is targeted for 2021 and will launch Orion and a crew of up to four NASA astronauts.
Google finally proves it won’t pursue military contacts, pulls leading robot from DARPA competition
By Graham Templeton on July 1, 2014 at 10:32 am
When it comes to fully functional humanoid robots with versatile real-world dexterity, there are basically only two big games in town: ATLAS, a stompy kill-bot created by Boston Dynamics, and SCHAFT, a more abstract but well-balanced man-bot created by a Japanese company of the same name. If you pay much attention to industrial robotics news (and why wouldn’t you), you’ll know that both of these companies were recently purchased by Google, which has made a rather abrupt overall turn toward robotics research. Though the search giant had nothing to do with actually designing either platform, Schaft’s decisive first place and ATLAS’ strong second-place finish in the first leg of DARPA’s Grand Challenge are now basically Google’s by corporate marriage. That’s a problem for DARPA, since Google has vowed not to pursue any military contracts in the future — and this week, that policy finally came into effect. Google has withdrawn the Schaft robot from DARPA’s competition, robbing the challenge of its strongest competitor.
DARPA and Google have two competing narratives as to why this happened. The story favored by DARPA spokespeople is that Google simply wants to focus on the technology’s consumer applications first and foremost. This does make some sense, since Google definitely got into the robot business to corner the home robot market early, and Schaft’s mastery of domestic challenges like stairs and ladders makes it well-suited to that purpose. DARPA’s statement almost seems to imply that in this case, corporate greed is overriding the fine and noble intentions of the people at DARPA, who of course only want to create life-saving technology in line with their humanitarian mission statement.
On the other hand, Google has been very open about its feelings on military funding: it doesn’t want any. Keeping the Google team working to win the DARPA challenge would have meant receiving indirect funding from the Pentagon and (hopefully) prize money, too. DARPA, of course, hates this analysis, since its whole strategy with the Grand Challenge has been to claim that totally non-violent civilian applications are the one and only aim of this competition. This is supposed to be about building robots that can burst into burning American homes to save American lives; any resemblance these actions may bear to the sorts of military maneuvers that are DARPA’s actual raison d’être are purely coincidental.
This almost insultingly obvious falsehood has been so thoroughly swallowed and regurgitated by the mainstream media that a slew of new international teams are about to be announced as new competitors. Think about that: some of these teams will almost certainly be receiving subsidies or tax-breaks from their own governments to do research that will help American dominance in military future-tech. Whatever you think of their goals or motivations, you have to sit back and admire the sheer audacity it takes to try — let alone pull off — something like that.
Probably the most oft-repeated and annoying mistake made with respect to these robots is that they could be used to help clean up places like Fukushima Daiichi — even though a lack of manual dexterity is in no way what has barred robots from delving deeper into that reactor. Sure, something like Schaft will probably be used to clean up dangerous spots like that in the future (once we have radiation-proof robotics) but the robot in question will come from companies like Toshiba or Google itself — not on loan from the US military.
Bear in mind that existing contracts mean that the ATLAS platform, created by the now Google-owned Boston Dynamics, will still be used by four outside teams in the Challenge finals. Funding freed up by Schaft’s withdrawal should allow several other, smaller teams to come in, but this is still a major blow to the veneer of inoffensiveness that DARPA has created around this project. Schaft was awarded $1 million in extra funding because it won the Challenge’s first round, and now that winner will be absent from the finals.
NASA’s cold fusion tech could put a nuclear reactor in every home, car, and plane
By Sebastian Anthony on February 22, 2013 at 8:39 am
The cold fusion dream lives on: NASA is developing cheap, clean, low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technology that could eventually see cars, planes, and homes powered by small, safe nuclear reactors.
When we think of nuclear power, there are usually just two options: fission and fusion. Fission, which creates huge amounts of heat by splitting larger atoms into smaller atoms, is what currently powers every nuclear reactor on Earth. Fusion is the opposite, creating vast amounts of energy by fusing atoms of hydrogen together, but we’re still many years away from large-scale, commercial fusion reactors. (See: 500MW from half a gram of hydrogen: The hunt for fusion power heats up.)
A nickel lattice soaking up hydrogen ions in a LENR reactorLENR is absolutely nothing like either fission or fusion. Where fission and fusion are underpinned by strong nuclear force, LENR harnesses power from weak nuclear force — but capturing this energy is difficult. So far, NASA’s best effort involves a nickel lattice and hydrogen ions. The hydrogen ions are sucked into the nickel lattice, and then the lattice is oscillated at a very high frequency (between 5 and 30 terahertz). This oscillation excites the nickel’s electrons, which are forced into the hydrogen ions (protons), forming slow-moving neutrons. The nickel immediately absorbs these neutrons, making it unstable. To regain its stability, the nickel strips a neutron of its electron so that it becomes a proton — a reaction that turns the nickel into copper and creates a lot of energy in the process.
The key to LENR’s cleanliness and safety seems to be the slow-moving neutrons. Whereas fission creates fast neutrons (neutrons with energies over 1 megaelectron volt), LENR utilizes neutrons with an energy below 1eV — less than a millionth of the energy of a fast neutron. Whereas fast neutrons create one hell of a mess when they collide with the nuclei of other atoms, LENR’s slow neutrons don’t generate ionizing radiation or radioactive waste. It is because of this sedate gentility that LENR lends itself very well to vehicular and at-home nuclear reactors that provide both heat and electricity.
According to NASA, 1% of the world’s nickel production could meet the world’s energy needs, at a quarter of the cost of coal. NASA also mentions, almost as an aside, that the lattice could be formed of carbon instead of nickel, with the nuclear reaction turning carbon into nitrogen. “You’re not sequestering carbon, you’re totally removing carbon from the system,” says Joseph Zawodny, a NASA scientist involved with the work on LENR.
So why don’t we have LENR reactors yet? Just like fusion, it is proving hard to build a LENR system that produces more energy than the energy required to begin the reaction. In this case, NASA says that the 5-30THz frequency required to oscillate the nickel lattice is hard to efficiently produce. As we’ve reported over the last couple of years, though, strong advances are being made in the generation and control of terahertz radiation. Other labs outside of NASA are working on cold fusion and LENR, too: “Several labs have blown up studying LENR and windows have melted,” says NASA scientist Dennis Bushnell, proving that “when the conditions are ‘right’ prodigious amounts of energy can be produced and released.”
I think it’s still fairly safe to say that the immediate future of power generation, and meeting humanity’s burgeoning energy needs, lies in fission and fusion (See: Nuclear power is our only hope.) But who knows: With LENR, maybe there’s hope for cold fusion yet.
What Do the Experts Fear About the Future of the Internet?
By Anne L. Kim Posted at 10:40 a.m. July 3
Will the way people access and share content on the Internet be significantly worse in 2025 compared to now? And what are the “most serious threats to the most effective accessing and sharing” of content online?
The Pew Research Center and Elon University received more than 1,400 responses to the first question, and fewer responses to the second question. A report they released today found several themes, which basically touch on some of the big tech policy issues out there today.
From the report:
The Net Threats These Experts Fear
1) Actions by nation-states to maintain security and political control will lead to more blocking, filtering, segmentation, and balkanization of the Internet.
2) Trust will evaporate in the wake of revelations about government and corporate surveillance and likely greater surveillance in the future.
3) Commercial pressures affecting everything from Internet architecture to the flow of information will endanger the open structure of online life.
4) Efforts to fix the TMI (too much information) problem might over-compensate and actually thwart content sharing.
On the first question, 65 percent answered no, while another 35 percent responded saying yes. There were some nuances, according to the report: “Yet some who answered ‘no’ wrote in their elaboration on the question that their answer was their ‘hope’ and not necessarily their prediction. Others wrote that they wished they could choose ‘yes and no.’”
Is Planning for Russia, China Conflict the Best Long-Range Defense Budget Option?
By Tim Starks Posted at 8:37 a.m. on July 2, 2014
It’s going to get ugly for the defense budget in the coming years, by the reckoning of a group of Center for Strategic and International Studies experts. So, they asked, why not plan for “the least bad” option that the Pentagon will be able afford in 2021?
The CSIS group has been paying a lot of attention in the past couple years to the subject of defense drawdown, and Wednesday it will release its latest report within the project, which proposes that the Defense Department needs to start acknowledging the 2011 budget caps and plan accordingly. Examining a range of options, it concluded that preparing for ongoing conflict with Russia and China is the best option, not that it’s a great one.
The thinking, starting from the notion that the Pentagon’s base budget will fall 21 percent from its fiscal 2012 peak and that the power of each DOD dollar spent will also drop by 2021:
The “cost-capped” approach accepts this harsh fiscal reality as a given and attempts to maximize the military utility of a force that is affordable with significantly fewer resources. The cost-capped approach is not very satisfying for strategists, who prefer to define a strategy that fits the strategic context and then ask “how much is enough?” In contrast, the cost-capped approach asks first “how much is affordable” and then develops alternative “strategies” for spending capped resources. Whether that is “enough” or sufficient for the strategic realities of 2020 and beyond is neither known nor assumed.
The group looked at four different options — Baseline Force, Asia-Pacific Rebalance, Great Power Conflict and Global Political-Economic-Military Competition — and assessed that the Great Power Conflict option was the one with the best tradeoffs. “We believe that a 2021 Affordable Military that is focused on the growing conflict with China and Russia is the ‘least bad’ option for this punishing fiscal context of fewer and weaker defense dollars,” the report states.
Choosing Option 3 as the recommended 2021 Affordable Military carries the risk of being a self-fulfilling prophecy, as an American foreign policy based on the assumption that China and Russia are competitors, not potential “strategic partners” or “responsible stakeholders,” could cause the Chinese and Russians to act in the manner being assumed by a more assertive and nationalistic United States. In our judgment, the more accurate characterization is the exact opposite, namely, it has been China’s rising assertiveness and Russia’s increasingly anti-Western stance that is leading the United States to abandon its efforts to “shape” Russia’s decline from its Cold War superpower status and the rise of China to great power status. The self-fulfilling prophecy belongs to China and Russia, as it is their behavior that leads us to conclude that the Great Power Conflict option is a prudent choice for the United States. The 2021 Affordable Military that is most likely to secure U.S. interests in an increasingly conflict-prone security environment is one that is optimized (within very rigid cost constraints) for great power conflict.
CSIS is holding a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss the report. (Note: For a critique of a previous phase of the project, read here.)
The Perfect Storm About to Hit the Pentagon
By David Francis,
The Fiscal Times
July 3, 2014
It’s widely acknowledged that the Pentagon is going to feel a lot of pain as its budget shrinks by some $600 billion over the next decade. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), however, says it’s going to be far worse than military planners are acknowledging.
A new CSIS study, entitled Building the 2021 Affordable Military, paints a stark picture of DOD’s budget in the coming years. CSIS determined that the Pentagon’s base budget is projected to drop 21 percent in constant dollars from 2012 to 2021. CSIS also determined that the Pentagon’s purchasing power will be reduced by 15 percent during that same time frame.
“The post-9/11 U.S. defense drawdown will be significantly deeper than is generally recognized,” the report says. “Because of the dual effect, or ‘double whammy,’ of the topline drawdown and the decreasing purchasing power of defense dollars, the military that the Department of Defense (DOD) can afford in 2021 will be smaller across the board, with sharp reductions in capacity in many areas.”
The report describes a perfect storm for DOD’s budget. Defense spending ballooned during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, so a drawdown is necessary. There will also be pressure from other entitlement programs, like Medicaid and Social Security, which will require additional funding in the coming years, particularly as the population ages.
At the same time, the American public has grown tired of war, and polls show that it is disinterested in global crises like the possible collapse of Iraq or Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The White House has repeatedly shown that it believes the use of force hinders American foreign policy as opposed to advancing it.
Complicating all of this is a stubborn refusal from within the Defense Department to change its spending habits. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was brought it last year to instill a new, more frugal culture, but he’s been undermined repeatedly by DOD brass.
Perhaps the biggest offender in this regard is Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno. The shift from the large-war to small-war model impacts the Army the most. It’s set to lose tens of thousands of troops and legacy weapons programs like the A-1 Abrams tank.
This is why Odierno has been on a public campaign to warn lawmakers that the country will no longer be safe if their spending reductions go ahead as planned.
“I’m very concerned that at 420,000 [troops, down from the current 540,000], we cannot meet the … defense strategic guidance,” Odierno told the Armed Services Committee in March. “I doubt that we could even execute one prolonged, multi-phase operation that is extended over a period of time.”
The CSIS report says this kind of thinking and the failure to adequately prepare for the inevitable cuts is putting long-term military readiness at risk.
“To cope with a drawdown of this magnitude, DOD needs to adopt a dramatically different approach to force planning— one that is grounded in the acceptance of budgetary caps,” the report said. If it does so, “DOD can minimize the impact of deep budgetary cuts and provide the military capabilities needed for the strategic realities of 2021 and beyond.”
Obama administration warns states that federal road funds near gone
By By Mark Felsenthal
July 1, 2014 5:40 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration warned states on Tuesday that federal highway funds will be largely depleted in August, limiting the money states can expect to pay for road and bridge projects this summer.
The political stalemate in Congress over transportation spending means drivers will have to endure more potholes and detour around more unsafe bridges, delaying commutes, excursions and the delivery of products to market.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told states the government will slow federal reimbursement for highway repairs in August as the U.S. Highway Trust Fund drops below a critical threshold next month. The fund is replenished by gas tax revenues, which have dried up as Americans have driven less and used more fuel-efficient cars.
Normally, states are given an allotment of funds that they are allowed to draw on throughout the year.
“States will be paid, not as they send their bills in, but every two weeks as money from the gas tax comes in,” Foxx told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Foxx, and later, in a separate speech, President Barack Obama, urged Congress to replenish the fund by ending tax breaks and using the revenues to set aside money to repair the nation’s infrastructure. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated needs for highway repair at $8.1 billion for the rest of the year.
“Soon, states may have to choose which projects to continue and which ones to put the brakes on because they’re running out of money,” Obama said, speaking at the Francis Scott Key Bridge between the District of Columbia and Virginia, a span that has been rated structurally deficient.
Yet even though there is bipartisan support for increased spending on infrastructure, Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to pay for it.
If Congress remains stuck over the issue, the consequences could be huge, halting or slowing work on thousands of projects. This could idle hundreds of thousands of workers at a time when the U.S. economy is finally gaining some traction.
Last week, the Senate Finance Committee began work on an $8 billion, stopgap measure aimed at shoring up the trust fund until the end of the year. Senator Ron Wyden had proposed a grab bag of revenue-raising measures to offset the costs.
But these have met with opposition from Republicans on the panel, who want to add some spending cuts to the mix. Discussions aimed at finding a solution that can pass both the House and the Senate were continuing, a panel spokeswoman said.
However, any temporary fix would require Congress to return in November after the election in the “lame-duck” session to consider a longer-term solution to the highway funding shortfall.
Obama blasted congressional Republicans for dragging their feet in approving funding for highway and bridge repairs.
“The Republican obstruction is not just some abstract political stunt,” he said. “It has real and direct consequences for middle-class families across the country.”
What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
Bottom of Form
Saturday, July 05, 2014
The separation of powers between Congress, the courts and the president is key to the Founding Fathers’ constitutional blueprint for America, but President Obama is chafing at the restraints this separation is putting on his agenda.
Most voters continue to believe, as they have for years, that gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living in this country.
But if Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform plan like the one championed by the president, only 33% think it’s even somewhat likely that the federal government will actually secure the border, with seven percent (7%) who say it’s Very Likely.
This skepticism, compounded by the belief many voters have that the latest crisis on the border involving the dumping of young illegal immigrants has been encouraged by the Obama administration, has killed the chances for immigration reform in Congress this year. After being told that by House Speaker John Boehner, the president announced this past Monday that he was beginning “a new effort to fix as much of our own immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.”
At week’s end, following two U.S. Supreme Court rulings upholding a religious exemption from Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, the president is reportedly considering executive-only action to pay for free contraceptive care for women.
Voters by a 49% to 39% margin agree with the Supreme Court that business owners should be able to opt out of the new health care law’s requirement that they provide health insurance with free contraception if it violates their religious beliefs.
Most voters continue to have an unfavorable opinion of the health care law and strongly believe consumers should have a choice on how much health insurance they want to have and want to pay for.
Critics of the president are already complaining about the extent of his executive orders, so with him now talking about going it alone without the will of Congress and about working around the rulings of the Supreme Court, it’s no surprise that a plurality (44%) of voters think Obama has been less faithful to the U.S. Constitution than most other presidents. Just 35% believe the president should take action alone if Congress does not approve the initiatives he has proposed. Fifty-seven percent (57%) think it is more important to preserve our constitutional system of checks and balances than it is for government to operate efficiently.
Views of the Executive Branch aren’t helped either by the increasing questions about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups opposed to the president. Although the IRS’ activities have been under investigation for over a year now, the agency recently announced that it has destroyed many of the e-mails related to the targeting of these groups as part of its routine procedures. But 71% of voters think it is likely the IRS deliberately destroyed the e-mails to hide evidence of criminal activity, with 53% who consider it Very Likely. Sixty-six percent (66%) now feel the IRS employees involved should be jailed or fired, up from 57% in May of last year when the abuses were first exposed.
Speaking of the Constitution, just eight percent (8%) of Americans believe that the Fourth of July celebrates its ratification. Seventy-eight percent (78%) correctly recognize that Independence Day celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence instead.
Fifty-eight percent (58%) regard the Fourth of July as one of the nation’s most important holidays, making it second again this year only to Christmas.
Eighty-six percent (86%) say they are proud to be American. But just 46% now agree with the closing line of the Pledge of Allegiance that the United States is a nation “with liberty and justice for all.”
Only 26% of voters now think the country is headed in the right direction, tying the lowest finding this year.
The president’s monthly job approval rating fell back a point to 48% in June, down from his year-to-date high of 49% reached in May and in February. Obama’s approval rating hit a two-year low of 45% last November during the troubled rollout period for the new national health care law. Since then, his approval ratings have returned to levels seen for much of his time in the White House.
Democrats continue to lead Republicans, however, on the Generic Congressional Ballot.
The president got an unexpected boost at week’s end with a better-than-anticipated jobs report, but in a survey taken just before that data was released, only 23% of Americans said they expect unemployment to be lower a year from now. That’s the lowest level of optimism since December 2011.
The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence slipped a point in June, but May’s finding was the highest level of confidence in almost six years.
Fifty-two percent (52%) of consumers believe the U.S. economy is still in a recession, while 32% disagree. Among investors, despite the Dow’s record-breaking week, 47% say the economy is in a recession, but 40% disagree.
In other surveys this week:
— Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters believe the United States needs stricter enforcement of existing gun control laws.
— The U.S. Senate race in Colorado between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner remains a near tie.
— Colorado’s governor race is now a dead heat between incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper and Republican nominee Bob Beauprez.
— Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Americans think it’s important for young people to go to a summer camp.
New horsepower for war zones: Special Forces saddle up
Jim Michaels, USA TODAY 7:51 p.m. EDT June 22, 2014
BRIDGEPORT, Calif. — The men emerged over the crest of a ridge and guided their horses along a tree line, skirting a wide meadow. They picked their way along narrow trails, climbing higher into the Sierra until a panorama of snowcapped peaks and a broad green valley unfolded beneath them.
The men, Special Forces soldiers dressed in jeans and other civilian clothes, led their horses into a thick stand of pine trees, where they dismounted and let the horses drink from a clear mountain stream before breaking out their own rations.
At this remote training area high in the Sierra, the U.S. Marine Corps is reviving the horsemanship skills that were once a key part of the nation’s armed forces but were cast aside when tanks and armored vehicles replaced them. The need to bring these skills back was driven home in Afghanistan in 2001, when the first Special Forces soldiers to arrive found themselves fighting on horseback alongside tribesmen in rugged terrain without roads. Many had never ridden a horse before.
“We don’t want to reinvent anything,” said Marine Capt. Seth Miller, the officer in charge of formal schools at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center. “These are skills that were lost.”
Marine instructors are teaching the students, most of them Army Special Forces soldiers, how to control horses, care for them and load packs. The students are taught how to calculate routes and distances for rides and what to look for when purchasing horses from locals. For example, checking teeth is a good way to determine age and avoid getting ripped off by a farmer trying to pass off an ancient mule or horse.
In a throwback to the old Wild West days, instructors are considering training soldiers in how to shoot from a moving horse.
No one is talking about bringing back the cavalry, but horses are an effective way for Special Forces and other small units to move around the battlefield, instructors said. They can travel long distances quietly and don’t require the gasoline and massive logistics trains that encumber motorized forces.
A member of U.S. Special Forces readies his mount. U.S. forces train to be combat-ready on horseback, if necessary, as it was in Afghanistan.(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
For all its advantages in technology, the U.S. military has been dragged into the most primitive of fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving home the point that technology isn’t always the answer.
“We get caught up with what’s new and high-speed,” Miller said.
On a recent morning, 13 students packed their mules and horses shortly after sunrise at base camp, preparing for a 14-mile ride that would take them high into the Sierra, mountains that were familiar to gold prospectors more than a century ago. Students ride a total of about 110 miles during the 16-day course.
“My butt’s going to be sore,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Jeryd Leuck, who specializes in search-and-rescue operations, as he prepared to mount his horse, Chesty. Leuck said that before he started the course, his only equestrian experience was a childhood pony ride.
The students mounted horses and picked their way up a steep, shrub-covered slope that would take them out of the base camp. Six mules were part of the patrol.
The animals are remarkably efficient. Mules can carry several hundred pounds and walk up to 55 miles a day, requiring nothing more than grass and water. If required, they can survive several days without water and longer without food. They have no problem climbing to heights of more than 10,000 feet, at altitudes where some helicopters struggle because of a lack of lift.
“This has been proven to work,” said Marine Maj. Sven Jensen, operations officer for the training center, pointing to a group of men resting by their horses and mules as sunlight streamed through the trees. “This has worked for the last 3,000 years.”
The Marines Corps, which takes an almost perverse pride in a Spartan lifestyle and a fondness for low-technology solutions, has offered a mule-packing course here since the 1980s. It launched the horsemanship training about three years ago after receiving requests from Army Special Forces soldiers.
It’s the only such course in the U.S. military, and demand is high.
USA TODAY was allowed unlimited access to observe training as long as it didn’t identify by name or photograph the faces of the Special Forces soldiers taking the course. Because they sometimes conduct covert missions, Special Forces soldiers typically request they not be identified publicly.
The only requirement for students is that they are part of the special operations community, since they would have the most use for the training.
Tony Parkhurst, director of the horsemanship and mule packing course, built the curriculum by delving into old cavalry manuals and studying American Indian tactics and techniques. The equestrian sports of today, such as dressage or jumping, are too specialized to be of much use to the military. Instead, Parkhurst studied procedures that were popular when horses were used for transportation and plowing fields.
“The Indians were actually better than our cavalry,” Parkhurst said. “They were phenomenal guerrilla fighters.”
Cavalry officers in the 1800s had to calculate things such as how far horses could march, how much food they consumed and how best to pack them with equipment and weapons.
The pack saddle used for mules here would be recognized by Genghis Khan’s army, Parkhurst said.
The Marines have stopped at nothing in an effort to recapture the skills lost when the military turned to mechanized warfare.
The Marines Corps has offered a mule-packing course in California since the 1980s. It launched the horsemanship training about three years ago after receiving requests from Army Special Forces soldiers.(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
Not many people know how to shoot from a moving horse these days, so the Marines turned to Annie Bianco, who goes by the name Outlaw Annie and is a leading practitioner of the small but growing sport of cowboy mounted shooting. She fires a six-shooter at targets from a galloping horse. A couple of instructors from the training center visited her ranch in Arizona.
Bianco knows how to desensitize horses to the sound of gunfire. “Horses are flighty animals,” she said. “Their first response from gunfire is to try and get away from it.”
What instructors have discovered is the horses of today are softer than their ancestors, who plowed fields and carried riders over vast distances.
“We’ve bred them and made them more athletic over time,” Bianco said. “That’s made it more difficult to find the well-rounded horse.”
Most of the horses used at the course are former mustangs, or wild horses, trained by inmates in the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. They are both well-rounded and cheap.
Although the Pentagon is turning back to age-old battlefield techniques, it is hardly giving up on technology. In fact, it’s trying to make a robotic version of the mule. The $62 million program is called the LS3, or legged squad support system, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency describes it as a “highly mobile, semiautonomous legged robot.”
The Pentagon consulted with some of the instructors here to learn more about real mules. The instructors seem skeptical that technology can improve much on the real thing.
Parkhurst said, “I can buy a whole load of mules for $60 million.”
Unmanned Experts and Transport Risk Management train and insure safe sUAS operators.
by Gary Mortimer •
23 June 2014
Accidents happen, BUT the inset photo shows what happens when an uninsured and untrained civil UAS pilot in Australia drops an octo-copter on someone’s head, and nothing about this incident was pretty! To try to prevent this
happening elsewhere Transport Risk Management (http://www.transportrisk.com/uavrcfilm.html), a world-leader in aviation insurance provision, has teamed with Unmanned Experts LLC to provide ‘Initial Qualification Training’ (IQT) to Small UAS operators. The initial courseware is online in an e-learning format and includes the following:
The 8 Module IQT Short Course
(http://www.unmannedexperts.com/initial-qualification-training-iqt1/) has been built from ‘best practices’ in both manned, radio-controlled and UAS/RPAS international communities and is designed to provide essential aeronautical information for serious amateurs and professionals operating Small UAS in National Airspaces.
Topics include all applicable regulations and guidance documents; aeronautical background information such as charts, NOTAMS and Aircraft Circulars; Radio Communications Procedures; Human Factors and Crew Resource Management; Basic Small UAS Aerodynamics; Weather factors; Airmanship and Decision-making and Safe Operating Procedures. No prior knowledge is required for entry onto the course, which is accessed from the UMEX Learning Management System (https://unmannedexperts.talentlms.com/catalog). Contact TRM to discuss a substantial discount (currently a further 50% off sale price)! (course price range $500-$1035)
Individual Course Lectures include
SR1. Small UAS Regulations & Guidance
F5. Basic Aeronautical Data
SF1. Small UAS Aerodynamics
F6. Radio Communications Procedures
SW1. Small UAS Weather
O1. Human Factors & CRM
SO1. Small UAS Operational Art
SO2. Small UAS Safe Operations
SQ1. IQT Qualifying Quiz
Successful completion of the course leads to a Certificate which is qualification for liability and hull flight insurance coverage with Transport Risk Management as well as for professional credits with George Mason University (http://ocpe.gmu.edu/student/ceus.htm
UMEX runs a number of Small UAS flying instruction courses as well, which also qualify for TRM coverage, and come highly recommended for those wishing to improve their flight skills as well as their professional knowledge. More information here http://www.unmannedexperts.com/suas-sf-ap-cse/
Hope to meet on a sUAS shoot somewhere soon!
FAA ban FPV Goggles?
by Gary Mortimer • 24 June 2014
FAA Notice June 18 2014
Causing quite the storm in North America amongst the First Person View (FPV) flight community some further clarification from the FAA of what can and can’t be done with a model aircraft.
A shot across the bows of North Americas only CBO, the AMA it seems their spotter rule does not fit with what the FAA believes to be safe.
“By definition, a model aircraft must be ‘flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.’ Based on the plain language of the statute, the FAA interprets this requirement to mean that: (1) the aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator; (2) that the operator must use his or her own natural vision (which includes vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses) to observe the aircraft; and (3) people other than the operator may not be used in lieu of the operator for maintaining visual line of sight. Under the criteria above, visual line of sight would mean that the operator has an unobstructed view of the model aircraft. To ensure that the operator has the best view of the aircraft, the statutory requirement would preclude the use of vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a ‘first-person view’ from the model … The FAA is aware that at least one community-based organization permits FPV operations during which the hobbyist controls the aircraft while wearing goggles that display images transmitted from a camera mounted in the front of the model aircraft. While the intent of FPV is to provide a simulation of what a pilot would see from the flight deck of a manned aircraft, the goggles may obstruct an operator’s vision, thereby preventing the operator from keeping the model aircraft within his or her visual line of sight at all times.”
This table caught my eye in particular.
It clearly puts to one side the notion, created by a journalist that farmers were permitted to fly an sUAS over there own land for agricultural operations.
The Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft is up for comment. If you are in the USA it might be worth having your say.
Bring on 2021 and maybe rules for sUAS in the USA!
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today published a Federal Register notice on its interpretation of the statutory special rules for model aircraft in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The guidance comes after recent incidents involving the reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and involving large crowds of people.
Compliance with these rules for model aircraft operators has been required since the Act was signed on February 14, 2012, and the explanation provided today does not change that fact. The FAA is issuing the notice to provide clear guidance to model operators on the “do’s and don’ts” of flying safely in accordance with the Act and to answer many of the questions it has received regarding the scope and application of the rules.
“We want people who fly model aircraft for recreation to enjoy their hobby – but to enjoy it safely,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “At DOT, we often say that safety is a shared responsibility, so to help, we are providing additional information today to make sure model aircraft operators know exactly what’s expected of them.”
In the notice, the FAA restates the law’s definition of “model aircraft,” including requirements that they not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The agency also explains that model aircraft operators flying within five miles of an airport must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.
The FAA reaffirms that the Act’s model aircraft provisions apply only to hobby or recreation operations and do not authorize the use of model aircraft for commercial operations. The notice gives examples of hobby or recreation flights, as well as examples of operations that would not meet that definition.
“We have a mandate to protect the American people in the air and on the ground, and the public expects us to carry out that mission,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
The law is clear that the FAA may take enforcement action against model aircraft operators who operate their aircraft in a manner that endangers the safety of the national airspace system. In the notice, the FAA explains that this enforcement authority is designed to protect users of the airspace as well as people and property on the ground.
The FAA will be working with its inspectors and model aircraft operators across the country to ensure they give standard information to the public on how to satisfy these statutory requirements and avoid endangering the safety of the nation’s airspace.
The FAA is also developing a plan to work with the law enforcement community to help them understand the FAA’s rules for unmanned aircraft systems, as well as the special statutory rules for model aircraft operators, so they can more effectively protect public safety.
The agency wants the public to know how and when to contact the FAA regarding safety concerns with UAS operations. You can visit the Agency’s Aviation Safety Hotline website or call 1-866-835-5322, Option 4.
While today’s notice is immediately effective, the agency welcomes comments from the public which may help further inform its analysis. The comment period for the notice will close 30 days from publication in the Federal Register. >View the notice
China Threat: Air-Sea Battle vs. Offshore Control?
Jun. 23, 2014 – 04:08PM | By WENDELL MINNICK | Comments
TAIPEI — There are doubts in Washington that a US president would ever approve the bombing of China. This notion demonstrates that the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle operational concept is seriously flawed, said T.X. Hammes, a senior researcher in strategy and future conflict at the department’s National Defense University.
Hammes told Defense News that no president has ever authorized the bombing of China, including during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Yet one of Air-Sea Battle’s basic tenets is aerial bombing of command-and-control hubs, mobile missile launchers, air bases, and port facilities.
Hammes has written about an alternative strategy, Offshore Control, in several articles and papers since 2012. In his latest article, co-authored with Richard Hooker, National Defense University’s director for research and strategic support in the Institute for National Strategic Studies, they argue that Offshore Control offers a less provocative military option.
“When you bomb China it becomes a passion over politics issue, making it harder to get China to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Bombing makes it so much harder to return to the status quo before the conflict,” Hammes told Defense News. “You are not going to have a decisive win with China without going nuclear, so you need to engage them and walk them back from the edge.”
In their most recent article in the National Interest, they state the Air-Sea Battle concept, as it was conceptualized by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), is both “needlessly provocative” and “ineffective.”
“A weighted air and naval campaign that attacks China’s integrated air-defense and land-based missile systems is flawed from multiple perspectives,” the article said.
First, it is provocative in that China’s Second Artillery Corps controls its land-based ballistic missiles and nuclear arsenal. Attacking these facilities, while China has not or cannot attack comparable US facilities, could escalate the conflict uncontrollably.
Second, Air-Sea Battle is ineffective against China’s dense and capable air defense network. It also casts doubts on whether the US military could locate and destroy China’s mobile missile-launch systems. China has an abundance of man-made caves and hidden facilities. China is also not comparable to Iraq’s flat desert landscape, where the US Air Force had difficulties locating Iraq’s Scud missile launchers.
Third, Air-Sea Battle lacks deterrent value. China will, no doubt, attempt to cripple US space and cyber systems. China has developed and practiced anti-satellite exercises that include lasers and missiles. China’s cyber capabilities are already well established, if not obvious, as well as inexpensive compared to many of the systems Air-Sea Battle would field during a war with China.
Offshore Control, Hammes said, offers an alternative to Air-Sea Battle that is based on affordability with no kinetic operations against mainland China. The dominant phase of fighting would be outside the range of China’s assets. Offshore Control would establish concentric rings that deny China the use of the sea inside the first island chain, defend the sea and air space of the first island chain nations, and dominate the air and maritime space outside the chain.
Offshore Control would take advantage of geography to enforce a naval blockade of China’s key imports and exports. All Chinese military assets outside China’s 12-mile limit would be subject to attack. “This area will be declared a maritime exclusion zone with the warning that ships in the zone will be seized or sunk.” The article further states that the US cannot hope to stop all maritime traffic, but can prevent the passage of large cargo ships and tankers, “severely disrupting China’s economy relatively quickly.”
Those in the Pentagon who are opposed to Offshore Control, Hammes said, include those who argue that it does not provide a role for F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. Nor does it allow for cruise missile strikes on mainland Chinese soil.
CSBA agrees with some, but not all, of Hammes’ arguments. Mark Gunzinger, a CSBA senior fellow and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for force transformation and resources, said CSBA never claimed that Air-Sea Battle was a military strategy, but part of a larger operational concept that could help offset the anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) challenge.
Gunzinger told Defense News that Offshore Control rules out counterattacks on mainland China, as well as surface efforts to defend territory inside China’s A2/AD perimeter, which is defined by the reach of their long-range weapon systems.
“Interestingly, unlike [Air-Sea Battle’s] emphasis on leveraging joint and cross-domain operations, Offshore Control seems to scorn the capabilities of one particular service — the US Air Force,” he said.
If the Pentagon accepts Offshore Control’s recommendation not to invest in systems that can penetrate and persist in contested environments, such as stealth fighters, it may not be capable of conducting effective operations deep into Iran or other states adopting A2/AD strategies, he said.
Gunzinger supports distant blockading, which was added to CSBA’s 2010 Air-Sea Battle concept, but such blockades are only likely to work in combination with other operations conducted inside an enemy’s A2/AD perimeter. Offshore Control signals that the US should write off disputed islets captured by China and avoid counterforce operations to punish China. However, relying on distant blockading to force China to return captured islets is “unlikely to work by itself.”
A protracted blockade of China hurts the global economy and will not be supported by the international community, especially with China on the United Nations Security Council, he said.
Gunzinger said Air-Sea Battle provides future US presidents and commanders multiple options to respond to acts of aggression, rather than limiting them to only one. Air-Sea Battle provides for the development of a future joint force that will be capable of multiple lines of operation to deny and punish, which would include distant blockading.
Bruce Lemkin, a former deputy Air Force undersecretary for international affairs, agrees. The Offshore Control concept has merits and should be complementary to Air-Sea Battle. However, contrary to the concept put forth by Hammes and Hooker, the overall strategic concept and the capabilities that support it must include the capability to effectively attack the landmass of any opponent, even if that is not the first option exercised, he said.
Lemkin is also concerned about international perceptions about US resolve during a crisis. He fears that China might be influenced to be more assertive if the US fails to meet challenges in other parts of the world. “China … is watching what the US does in the Middle East, in North Africa, in Eastern Europe [Russia-Ukraine] and what we are doing/will do [will] directly determine our effectiveness in deterring conflict anywhere in the world in the near term.” ■
Google’s Nest Moves To Become Master Of The Smart Home, By Talking To Other Devices
Nest Labs is taking the next step in its quest to become a hub for the smart home, by letting other gadgets and services access its learning thermostat and smoke detector for the first time.
With the long-awaited developer program Nest is launching today, other apps and devices will be able to access what Nest detects through its sensors, including vague readings on temperature and settings that show if a person is away from their home for long periods. These services will even be able to talk to one another via Nest as the hub.
Nest, founded by former Apple executive Tony Fadell, has long-been seen as one of the leading companies in the smart home revolution. Google bought the company for $3.2 billion in January, and last week Nest bought video monitoring service DropCam for $555 million to (for better or worse) learn how people behave in their homes, for instance by reportedly tracking how doors are open and shut.
Crucially, Nest is not letting third parties get access to the motion sensors on its thermostat and smoke alarm, says co-founder Matt Rogers — though it’s unclear what sort of access Nest might eventually give to DropCam’s video footage. “We’ve been building it for about a year,” he says. “One reason it’s taken us this long to build is we realized we had to be incredibly transparent with our user about data privacy.”
That means plenty of reminders to developers about what data can be used for, and requirements that they get user permission before sharing data with Nest. It will be a private, but very open platform, says Rogers. Apple’s own foray into smart homes with a service called HomeKit will likely have far more restrictions.
“Also,” he points out, “ours is not vaporware.”
Nest is expecting myriad developers to start building integrations into its two main devices, but it’s already done some early integrations with eight other companies, including wearable-fitness tracker firm Jawbone, Mercedes-Benz and Google Now, the digital mobile assistant that learns about a person’s routines and notifies them of important information. The pitch from Nest: “create a more conscious and thoughtful home.”
As of today, the Jawbone UP24 band will have a setting that turns on the Nest thermostat when it senses its wearer has woken up from a night’s sleep. Mercedes-Benz’s cars will be able to tell Nest when a driver is expected home, so it can set the temperature ahead of time. Smart lights made by LIFX can also be programmed to flash red when the Nest Protect detects smoke, or randomly turn off and on to make it look like someone is home when Nest’s thermostat is in “away” mode.
Developers are excited about the program because it means they can learn more about users than they could before. One partner in the program who didn’t want to be named, said that the extra data they could collect from Nest’s devices could help them become more competitive in their own field. “We can’t live with just the information we get naturally,” they said.
Another developer also saw Nest’s program as a “gateway” to learning more about potential customers and interacting with them. “Nest understands where people are in home, who’s in the home, what time they leave the home,” says Grant Wernick, co-founder of local-search and leisure-recommendation service Weotta. “As they open more of this up, companies like us could be able to plug into some of this data that people can opt into. We can make proactive recommendations of things people can do on Friday night.”
Opening up to other services is integral to Nest’s re-invention of the humble thermostat, which some say parallels the way Apple reinvented the mobile phone. “It’s going to be a huge, huge game changer and it’s only the beginning,” Wernick says, adding that the role of the smart thermostat may be gradually morphing “to being a controller for your house and lifestyle.”
Google Now is the key link back to Nest’s parent company Google, but Nest insists Google won’t get greater powers over its platform. Google Now could connect to other appliances through Nest and, for instance, turn off the LIFX lights, a spokesperson said, but that’s up to the individual developers to work out between themselves.
The bigger advantage for Google is what it can learn through Nest and potentially through other devices connected to it. Wernick believes Google Now will eventually be able to use Nest as just another sensor point to learn more about people’s lifestyles, so it can better predict habits. “It’s going to understand your behavior better to help guide you in your life,” he says.
Would Google Now be able to use Nest’s data to serve Google’s all-important advertising ambitions?
“Nope,” says Nest’s Rogers. “We’re clear our data can only be used for what a developer will use it for.” He added that Nest has a small team that will monitor what sort of tie-in services developers build. “We don’t want anyone to make the rob-my-house app,” he says.
Still, there may be reasons to be wary of Nest offering to share its platform with any other service with a web connection.
“Nest is sticking its toe in home automation, which opens them to all the same problems that home automation companies are dealing with,” says Dan Tentler, founder of security company Aten Labs and expert on SHODAN, the search engine for Internet-connected devices.
With the explosion of API connections, could Nest’s platform be hackable? “At this point it’s a wait and see,” says Tentler. “Nest has a lot of user data and that user data could be parenthetically valuable to a variety of different people.”
Tentler points out he has yet to hear of anyone in the InfoSec community trying to openly attack Nest. But, he adds, “when something goes live, the pressure is on.”
3,137-County Analysis: Obamacare Increased 2014 Individual-Market Premiums By Average Of 49%
Avik Roy , Forbes Staff
June 18, 2014
There are hundreds of aspects of Obamacare that people argue over. But there’s one question that matters above all others: does the Affordable Care Act live up to its name? Does it make health insurance less expensive? Last November, our team at the Manhattan Institute published a study indicating that Obamacare had increased the underlying cost of individually-purchased health insurance in the average state by 41 percent in 2014, relative to 2013. We’ve now redone the study on a county-by-county basis, complete with a brand-new interactive map. Depending on where you live, the results may surprise you.
Our new county-by-county analysis was led by Yegeniy Feyman, who compiled the county-based data for 27-year-olds, 40-year-olds, and 64-year-olds, segregated by gender. We were able to obtain data for 3,137 of the United States’ 3,144 counties.
Buchanan County, Mo. sees 271% rate hike for men
Among men, the county with the greatest increase in insurance prices from 2013 to 2014 was Buchanan County, Missouri, about 45 miles north of Kansas City: 271 percent. Among women, the “winner” was Goodhue County, Minnesota, about an hour southwest of Minneapolis: 200 percent. Overall, the counties of Nevada, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Arkansas haven experienced the largest rate hikes under the law.
The best-faring county for both men and women was St. Lawrence County in northern New York, with premium decreases of 70 percent in 2014 relative to 2013. The New York City metropolitan area—the five boroughs, Long Island, and Westchester County—are the clear winners under Obamacare, with decreases in the 63 to 64 percent range.
Obamacare bails out New York’s death spiral
There’s a reason why New York does so well. In 1992, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo (D.) signed a law barring health insurers from charging different rates based on age, gender, health, or smoking status: what wonks call pure community rating. Naturally, older and sicker people thought this was a great deal, while younger and healthier people dropped out. As I detailed last summer, New York quickly became the poster child of the dreaded adverse selection death spiral.
Obamacare’s regulations are similar to Mario Cuomo’s, with two key differences. First, Obamacare has an individual mandate forcing young people to buy costlier insurance than they need. Second, many low-income people qualify for subsidies under Obamacare, encouraging healthy (but poor) people to sign up. Indeed, Cuomo’s successor George Pataki (R.) instituted a subsidized exchange called “Healthy New York” that did somewhat mitigate the Cuomo death spiral for those who were poor enough to qualify.
In addition, Obamacare allows a slightly wider age-rating band than New York; the federal law allows insurers to charge older individuals three times as much as younger ones. Since older people consume around six times as much health care as younger people, this is still a rip-off for the young in most parts of the country, but it doesn’t make a difference in the Empire State, which has deliberately chosen to maintain its requirement that age can play no factor in health premiums.
The Forbes eBook On Obamacare
Inside Obamacare: The Fix For America’s Ailing Health Care System explores the ways the Affordable Care Act will affect your health care and is available for download now.
Women face rate hikes in 82% of U.S. counties; men 91%
Across the country, for men overall, individual-market premiums went up in 91 percent of all counties: 2,844 out of 3,137. For 27-year-old men, the average county faced 91 percent increases; for 40-year-old men, 60 percent; for 64-year-old men, 32 percent.
Women fared slightly better; their premiums “only” went up in 82 percent of all counties: 2,562 out of 3,137. That’s because Obamacare bars insurers from charging different rates to men and women; prior to Obamacare, only 11 states did so. Because women tend to consume more health care than men, the end result of the Obamacare regulation is that men fare somewhat worse.
Relative to men, the average rate increase for women was less extreme: 44 percent for 27-year-olds; 23 percent for 40-year-olds; 42 percent for 64-year-olds.
Methodology consistent with previous studies
To calculate these figures, we used the same methodology we’ve used in the past. We compiled an average of the five least-expensive plans in a particular county pre-Obamacare, adjusted to take into account those with pre-existing conditions and other health problems. We then did the same calculation with the five least-expensive plans in each county under the Obamacare exchanges. We then used these county-based numbers to come up with population-weighted averages pre- and post-Obamacare.
Remember that these figures represent the underlying, unsubsidized health insurance prices. If you’re eligible for a subsidy—if your income is below 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level—taxpayers will help defray a portion of these costs. Those subsidies will disproportionately help those in their late fifties and early sixties, because of the way the Obamacare exchanges interact with the subsidy formula.
A new report from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (ASPE HHS) indicates that among those who signed up for Obamacare exchange plans this year, subsidies covered on average 76 percent of the underlying premium. That is to say, the exchanges attracted the low-hanging fruit of those who had the most to gain from taxpayer-funded subsidies.
If you go to our interactive map, and click on the “Your Decision” tab, you can find out whether subsidies will help you. For example, in Texas, if you’re a 27-year-old man and you make more than $27,991, you’re likely to pay more under Obamacare, even if you qualify for a subsidy. If you’re 30 years old, with an average household size, you’ll need to make less than $36,409 to break even under Obamacare. 64-year-olds in Texas, on average, will see decreased rates, hence the table lists “$0” as the income at which net premiums increase.
Will Obamacare rate shock affect the 2014 election?
Our map only looks at counties, not Congressional districts. But it is certainly conceivable that there are competitive House races where rate shock will be an issue. And we will start to get more information about 2015 premiums starting this summer. Thus far, it’s not clear how 2015 premiums will look relative to 2014; reports from insurers like WellPoint and Aetna have been mixed.
If the polls are any guide, however, most voters haven’t benefited from the law. Remember that President Obama often promised that his plan would “lower premiums by up to $2,500 for a typical family per year…by the end of my first term as President of the United States.” It’s an understatement to say that this has not happened.
Those who face higher premiums, higher taxes, or both, appear to outnumber those whom the law has made better off. That alone isn’t a test of the law’s virtue—but it is a measure of the law’s failed promise
FAA Seeks Public Comment on Movie/TV UAS Exemptions
by Press • 25 June 2014
Recently, seven aerial photo and video production companies asked the FAA for regulatory exemptions that would allow the film and television industry to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with FAA approval for the first time. >See FAA Press Release
Because these requests may set a precedent for future commercial UAS exemptions, the agency is asking the public to weigh in on whether to grant them.
The FAA today published a brief summary of the (PDF) petition from Astraeus Aerial in the Federal Register. The agency opted to ask for comments only on the Astraeus petition because that company’s request came in first, and the petitions from the other six companies ask for identical exemptions.
Interested parties will have 20 days to send in comments. The FAA will consider the comments and respond to them when drafting the final decision on all seven exemption requests.
The agency expects to publish a broad proposed rule for small UAS (under 55 pounds) later this year. But the rulemaking process can be lengthy, so the FAA has been working for several months to implement the provisions of Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and move forward with UAS integration before proposing the small UAS rule.
Other companies have filed for exemptions to perform precision agriculture, aerial surveying and flare stack inspections.
Five Reasons the AUVSI Got Its Drone Market Forecast Wrong
by Press • 26 June 2014
Since its publication in early 2013, AUVSI’s The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States has become the gold standard forecast for the commercial drone market, garnering media attention typically reserved for celebrity weddings and babies born to royalty. Its primary forecast is that the UAS market will reach a whopping $1.14 billion  in the first year after the FAA issues favorable regulations and that the precision agriculture market will “dwarf all others.”
The accuracy of these predictions is enormously important. A lot of people – tens of thousands, if not more – have been relying upon them for big decisions like, “Should I leave my job to start a drone company?” or “Which market should my company pursue?” Commercial drones are not just cocktail party conversation–they are increasingly driving the flow of capital and labor, and impacting many lives in the process.
Inquiring Minds Want To Know
Recently, however, a growing chorus of industry observers has started to ask questions about the reliability of AUVSI’s findings. This post is a good example. These individuals, many of whom are among the true pioneers in commercial UAS usage, can best be characterized as enthusiastic but pragmatic UAS evangelists who don’t want to see unwarranted hyperbole lead to unmet expectations. Many realize that initially overhyped industries never recover because customers, investors, and employees who were burned in the initial wave of unmet expectations are difficult—if not impossible—to ever win back. They are passionately committed to the industry’s success and believe that rational expectations are a key part of it.
With no axe to grind or agenda to advance, I [Mitch Solomon] partnered with Colin Snow@droneanalyst to explore whether the skeptics and pragmatists were on to some something. We felt our combined backgrounds in market intelligence and tech market strategy would give us a reasonable set of expertise to draw upon and would help others form a more balanced opinion of AUVSI’s forecasts. So over the past several weeks, we’ve been carefully reviewing AUVSI’s report, as follows:
•Compared their research methodologies to what we believe to be best practices in market research based upon our own experience.
•Conducted an in-depth interview with the researchers themselves, so that we could directly ask them questions about their methods and results that were not made clear in the report.
•Initiated a follow-up discussion with AUVSI leadership to understand their perspective on the report and its origins.
•Performed intensive primary research with about 20 carefully selected professionals in the field of precision agriculture to understand their UAS adoption plans, since the report’s findings are almost entirely based upon rapid adoption by American farmers.
We then synthesized our findings into the following five conclusions about the report and its reliability.
1.Research Can Be Objective, But Don’t Assume It Is
First and foremost, every reader of AUVSI’s report needs to understand that it is not an objective piece of research. The report was commissioned not to paint an accurate picture of how the commercial UAS market is expected to evolve, but to give the 50 states and their elected officials the data they needed to:
•lobby for funding during the now completed FAA-sponsored competition for UAS test sites, and
•push the FAA to move more quickly on the integration of UASs into the national airspace.
These are certainly worthwhile goals, and AUVSI should be commended for pursuing them. But as a direct result, the implicit (if not explicit) mission for the two researchers who did the work was to come up with the biggest numbers – the largest market, fastest growth rates, and biggest costs of delaying integration – that they could. An objective attempt to size, segment, and forecast the commercial UAS market (all of which the report appears to be), is something it never actually was, and we believe it’s critical that all participants in the UAS industry know this and avoid making decisions based upon it.
2.Methodology – Boring But Oh So Important
A biased agenda is only one part of the story regarding the reliability of AUVSI’s findings. An equally important part is the quality and reliability of the research methods. Generally speaking, strong research methods yield highly defensible results. While presented somewhat differently in the report, the methodology used by the researchers can be summed up as:
•Studying UAS adoption in Japan
•Adjusting the Japanese experience for the US market
•Asking experts how big they think the market is / will be
•Applying research on new technology adoption to the US UAS market
As experienced researchers, it sounded pretty good to us at first. But, unfortunately, it did not hold up very well to careful scrutiny.
3.Japan – When the Best Available Proxy Just Isn’t
We like the idea of searching for analogous markets and scenarios that can serve as the basis for forecasting the US market. The question is: Is Japan an analogous market for the US? We believe that the US and Japan are so different, and the magnitude of the required extrapolations so enormous, that the resulting data is not useful. Most in the industry already know that Japan’s UAS market remains dominated by one product, the Yamaha RMAX(77% market share in Japan), which is used to spray a large percentage of the country’s rice fields. These fields tend to be small (less than five acres), are often in densely populated areas, and are located on steep hard-to-reach hillsides. In contrast, rice represents a tiny percentage of US agricultural output. Our farms are comparatively huge (very often running well into the thousands of acres). No single product, much less a relatively large, unmanned helicopter from Yamaha is likely to dominate the American market. And remote sensing, not pesticide application, is almost certain to be the dominant use of UAS for the major US crops of corn, wheat, and soy.
While we understand that Japan has been the most aggressive adopter of commercial UAS technology as a result of its rice industry, and we appreciate the resulting temptation to use Japan as a proxy for the United States, we see such a large disparity between the agricultural economies of the two countries that we find it impossible to draw any parallels that inform how the UAS market in the US will evolve. And while no other country serves as a better proxy than Japan, the absence of a better alternative cannot justify the use of a bad one.
4.Expert Opinions or Really Just Guesses?
Another method used by the researchers is referred to as “survey results.” In short, the researchers conducted 30 telephone interviews with industry experts and asked many questions, including those regarding two critical matters: the size of the commercial UAS market, and the relative size of key market segments. The responses were then used to develop “reasonable estimates.” On the surface, the approach of asking experts for their opinions seems sensible whenever you’re conducting research. However, many of the experts that were consulted were hand-picked by AUVSI, which immediately introduces the possibility (likelihood?) of bias given its agenda.
Perhaps more important, not every question is one that experts can necessarily answer well. Certainly UAS industry experts would generally be well prepared to share their opinion on whether fixed wing or rotor aircraft will be more useful for particular applications, or what regulations make the most sense for the small UAS market. But the idea that you can ask experts for opinions about the size of a market and obtain meaningful results is, we believe, inherently flawed. Unless these experts were professionals focused on sizing, segmenting, and forecasting the commercial UAS market (and nothing close to 30 such professionals exist), the opinions voiced by the “experts” are nothing more than guesses, akin to asking 30 people how many clouds there are in the sky and expecting to get the right answer. Our experience in sizing markets, and in working with many experts across a wide variety of markets over many years, gives us considerable confidence in stating that very few people have good insights into how big a market is today, much less how big it will be years from now, even if they work directly in it. The lack of insight is only compounded for complex, nascent markets like the one for commercial UAS.
5.A Brief Literature Search Isn’t Really a Research Method
The final method used by the researchers was a “brief search” of “literature…on rates of adoption of new technologies.” The authors explicitly state that they could have gone deeper in investigating how this research might apply to UASs, and that a follow-up study on this subject is recommended. That they simultaneously cite the use of the literature as one of their four methodologies, yet characterize their search of the literature as “brief” and recommend a follow-up study raises serious questions. From our perspective, the brief use of literature on technology adoption trends is far from a true research method. It’s more akin to subject matter expertise and qualitative insight that professional researchers might use to inform or validate a forecast they developed with rigorous quantitative techniques. How it was actually used and what value it added to the research is unclear, other than allowing the authors to make the statement that because UAS are already being used “….we reject the notion that these products will not be adopted,” a statement that even a layperson with little or no knowledge of UAS could likely have made.
In sum, we see a methodology that erroneously uses Japan as an analog; uses experts for answers that are really just guesses; and relies upon a loose, limited, and ambiguous application of prior research on new technology adoption to validate the statement that UAS will, in fact, be used in America. As much as we want to support AUVSI, the authors, their methodology, and the research results, we simply cannot.
Sometimes You Get Lucky
As a final point, we do need to acknowledge (and quickly refute) the possibility that despite the flawed methodology, the research findings are reasonable, by pure chance. Perhaps, as the authors assert, the US commercial UAS market actually will be at least $1.15 billion in the first year after rules are approved. And perhaps 80% of this, or roughly $900 million will be driven by the precision agriculture market. But at the risk of disappointing the reader, and with a view toward keeping this post a reasonable length, suffice it to say that while we have high expectations for the US commercial drone market, we do not see a billion dollar market in year one.
We base our position on the deep understanding we have developed of the precision agriculture market, which is at the heart of AUVSI’s forecast. Indeed, the many in-depth interviews we’ve conducted with farmers, precision agriculture vendors, crop scientists, crop scouts, agriculture equipment dealers, input vendors, academic researchers, manned aircraft operators, satellite imaging providers, UAS-service providers, and many others indicate a building interest in the use of remote sensing in general, and in UASs in particular, but do not support the notion that a mad-dash by farmers and their consultants to use UASs is underway or right around the bend. And after looking at many other vertical and application markets for UAS, we do not see any – not public safety, inspection, photography, mapping or a variety of other possibilities – that can close the resulting multi-hundred million dollar gap in the AUVSI forecast created by the much slower adoption we see in precision agriculture.
Acknowledging the Effort
Of course, it’s easy to critique the work of others, and hard to do the work yourself. In defense of the report’s authors, we need to acknowledge that they did a lot with a little. They had a budget to work within that was much smaller than is typical for an assignment of this complexity, and they invested much more time and effort than the budget allowed. Like virtually almost everyone else in the brand-new (some would say still non-existent) commercial UAS industry, they had limited prior exposure to the commercial UAS market, making their learning curve steep. And they had complex agendas to meet in order to satisfy their client, AUVSI, and its many stakeholders. In light of the foregoing, there is much for which they should be commended. But creating a forecast for the commercial UAS industry that participants can rely upon for critical decisions is not one their accomplishments. Indeed, it’s not what they set out to do in the first place, so they can’t really be faulted for not accomplishing it.
As we look to the future of the commercial UAS market in America, we believe the need for reliable data and insights is more acute than ever. Critical decisions about products, markets, channels, and operational best practices are being made daily, even as we write. UAS technology vendors, service providers, and end-users are relying on intuition, gut feel, or data that is very likely misleading. Some decisions will still turn out to be right, but many others will unnecessarily result in big missed opportunities, significant wasted time and resources, disappointed customers, angry investors, disgruntled employees, and many other negative outcomes that certainly could have been avoided.
 AUVSI’s forecast implies a UAS market that is likely significantly greater than the $1.14 billion in 2015 shown in the report, because it does not address the large part of the market that is currently being satisfied by offshore vendors. The $1.14 billion represents only product supplied by US manufacturers of UAS. It may also fail to include industry profits, though further investigation would be required to confirm this.
Russia Loses Another One of Its Early-Warning Satellites
June 26, 2014
The odds of a nuclear-arms miscalculation by Moscow could increase because another one of its threat-detection satellites has ceased working.
The Russian defense ministry has revealed that its last geostationary satellite, which remains in permanent orbit above the United States, has stopped functioning, according to the science news website io9. Russia has other satellites capable of detecting intercontinental ballistic-missile launches, but they travel in highly elliptical orbits instead of being positioned directly above the United States, as was the case with the now-defunct Cosmos 2479 satellite, the Moscow Times reported on Wednesday.
An anonymous ministry source told the Kommersant newspaper that the Cosmos 2479 was originally supposed to operate until 2017-2019, but that it began showing performance problems not long after it was launched in 2012. The space-based sensor was able to maintain a certain level of performance but that ended in April, the source said.
Russia’s ability to detect ICBM threats has been getting worse over the years as more and more of its constellation of Soviet-era missile-detection satellites have ceased operating. At present, the former Cold War power can only monitor for U.S. missile launches for three hours a day.
Without comprehensive antimissile satellite coverage of the Earth, it becomes more difficult to distinguish a possible ICBM launch from a scientific rocket firing or a naturally occurring phenomenon. An inability to distinguish innocuous events from missile threats raises the likelihood of a strategic nuclear miscalculation, particularly during a time of already high East-West tensions.
White House to Request $60B for Afghanistan in 2015
Jun. 25, 2014 – 03:45AM | By MARCUS WEISGERBER | Comments
WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday will ask Congress for $60 billion to fund military operations in Afghanistan and other global contingencies, Defense News has learned.
The Pentagon would receive about $58.5 billion through the 2015 overseas contingency operations (OCO) request. A separate $1.5 billion budget amendment is being requested for State Department contingency funding, according to a source with knowledge of the spending plan.
Pentagon and White House Office of Management and Budget officials were not immediately available for comment Wednesday evening.
The Defense Department and the State Department will also request $5 billion, part of a new counterterrorism fund, which President Barack Obama said he would include in the OCO budget during his commencement address at West Point in May. Of that, $4 billion would go toward DoD and $1 billion toward State. The spending plan that will go to Capitol Hill Thursday will include very few details about how DoD and State would spend that money, the source said.
The spending request will also include $1 billion to boost US military presence in Europe. The money will likely go toward military exercises and building allies infrastructure, said Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.
“Putting new money, new resources toward some of these important efforts — whether it be further exercises, whether it be an infrastructure project in partner countries, whether it be ways that we continue to augment and keep up the op-tempo of our own presence in Europe — that’s what this $1 billion will be for,” Chollet said during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank Wednesday.
Chollet said DoD would be heading to Congress “in the coming days” with “a more-detailed proposal.” He also said the European Reassurance Initiative is one-year money.
“This is not going to be $1 billion for all of eternity,” Chollet said. “This is just a one-time ask. It’s a contingency fund.”
US officials plan to use September’s NATO summit in Wales to call on allies to boost military spending in Europe.
The overall DoD OCO request is more than $25 billion less than the $85 billion Congress approved in 2014.
In an interview Tuesday, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said the Pentagon’s 2015 OCO request would “be significantly below” the $79 billion placeholder the Pentagon included with its $496 billion base budget.
ISIS Tries to Grab Its Own Air Force
In its march to Baghdad, ISIS seized the heavy weapons of a modern army. Now, the jihadists are attacking Iraq’s biggest air base – and could soon be able to attack from the sky.
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is threatening to take control of Balad Airbase, Iraq’s largest airfield and one of America’s most important military outposts during its occupation of the country.
Today, Balad still has plenty of vehicles and aircraft on the base that any terrorist group would covet, including Russian-made transport helicopters, surveillance planes, and a fleet of pickup trucks fitted with heavy machine guns.
Now, that airbase is coming under fire—and is in danger of falling into the hands of ISIS, according to U.S. intelligence officers, internal reports from Balad, and outside analysts. Reuters reported Wednesday that the base was now surrounded on three sides by insurgents and taking heavy mortar fire.
“We assess the group continues to threaten the air base and Iraqi Security Force control of the air base as it moves south towards Baghdad,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters Tuesday.
Of course, even if ISIS were to gain control of Balad, there is no guarantee its fighters would know how to operate or maintain the aircraft that are stored there. But an ISIS takeover of Balad would be significant nonetheless. As NBC News reported Tuesday, Iraqi officers say without air support they are on an equal footing with ISIS fighters.
Jessica Lewis—the research director for the Institute for the Study of War and a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq—told The Daily Beast, “It would mean that ISIS can beat the best that the Iraqi Army can muster, not just the northern units that have been ignored. It would mean strategic defeat for the Iraqi Army.”
Lewis estimates that Balad and neighboring Taji base are likely some of the next targets of the ISIS campaign. “Both of these bases are critical military sites for the Iraqi Army. Neutralizing one or both would demonstrate that ISIS can beat the Iraqi Army strategically.”
This is in part because a defeat for Iraq’s army at Balad would also deprive Iraq’s military of the air assets it already has—and is set to acquire. In December, Russia began to deliver Mi-35 attack and transport helicopters. The first of 36 American F-16 fighters were scheduled to be delivered to Balad in September 2014.
Some attacks on Balad already began this month. The last American contractors at Balad—many of whom were working to modernize the base to be ready for the F-16s—were flown by the Iraqi Air Force to Baghdad on June 13 in a dramatic airlift operation reminiscent of the fall of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.
A June 11 situation report produced by one of the military contractors at Balad said some ISIS fighters were warning local Iraqis in a nearby district to remain indoors and that the fighters had intended to attack Balad. The report said the fighters were possibly an advance force and warned that intermittent probing attacks—small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades—”should be considered imminent on the base.” One military contractor working at Balad who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity confirmed that there were some probing attacks on the base before the airlift on June 13.
If ISIS were to gain access to Balad, they would be able to acquire a significant arsenal to add to their already impressive stock of vehicles, weapons and equipment. James Codling, who served as a contractor and senior engineer on the base between 2008 and 2012, told The Daily Beast that when the U.S. forces left in 2011, they left at least 1,000 trucks and vehicles, some of them armored, along with 500 to 600 portable power generators. He also said the base housed Russian-made Mi-8 transport helicopters, small surveillance planes, military tactical vehicles, Humvees and a fleet of pickup trucks with machine guns mounted in the truck beds.
“Both of these bases are critical military sites for the Iraqi Army. Neutralizing one or both would demonstrate that ISIS can beat the Iraqi Army strategically.”
“When the United States left Balad, they essentially left everything in place. What I observed, I was pretty upset about this,” he said. Codling did acknowledge that the most sensitive pieces of U.S. equipment, such as surveillance and attack drones, were flown out of Balad before the last U.S. troops left the country.
For ISIS, however, the lower-tech equipment will likely prove most useful—in part, because they are easier to operate and maintain. The group posted photos on its social media accounts this week showing a parade of its fighters in Mosul driving Iraqi Humvees and even a vehicle towing mobile artillery. The senior U.S. intelligence official who briefed reporters Tuesday said the military capabilities for ISIS have “dramatically improved” because of the weapons and equipment it has obtained from the Iraqi and Syrian bases the group has overrun.
Administration officials held a classified briefing for all senators on Iraq late Tuesday afternoon in the Capitol. Briefers included Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin, and Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, director for Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Several senators emerged from the briefing still unclear on what the administration plans to do to address what was described to them as a dire situation inside Iraq that was getting worse.
“The situation in Iraq is a growing counterterrorism emergency. This is not about saving the government of Iraq… this is an urgent counterterrorism situation that our country faces,” said Sen. Marco Rubio. “It grows more dire by the moment. Our options become more limited by the moment. And I hope if receives the attention it deserves over the next few hours… This is a rapidly deteriorating situation.”
Rubio said there was a risk of the violence spreading into Jordan and other neighboring countries. He is arguing the U.S. needs to target ISIS supply lines in Iraq and ISIS command and control facilities inside Syria.
The president has all the authority he needs to strike, Rubio said. He did not indicate whether administration officials said if any decision on strikes had been made.
“Right now we don’t know what the president’s intentions are,” said Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican James Inhofe. As for whether Obama should come to Congress for authorization before striking Iraq, Inhofe said: “Whether or not he has to, he ought to.”
Sen. John McCain told The Daily Beast said if the administration wanted to strike, there are clearly identifiable ISIS targets that could be hit with maximum effectiveness and minimum risk to civilians.
“We know where these columns are, particularly in the desert, where you wouldn’t have to attack them in the cities,” said McCain.
But McCain doubts that President Obama will ultimately decide to use American military force inside Iraq. “I’m absolutely convinced they don’t want to do it.”
Meanwhile, Iran is already working to shore up its Shi’ite allies in Baghdad. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Iran is even flying surveillance drones over Iraq from another air base in Iraq.
Iraqi PM Rejects Forming ‘Salvation’ Government
Last updated on: June 25, 2014 12:46 PM
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has rejected forming an emergency government to help the country counter a surge by Sunni Islamist militants.
In a televised address, Maliki said he considered a “national salvation government,” intended to present a unified front among Iraq’s three main groups, a “coup against the constitution” and going against Iraq’s April 30 parliament election results.
Iraqi leaders said they will meet a July 1 deadline for beginning to form the post-election government.
U.S. officials believe the leadership in Baghdad should seek to draw Sunni support away from the militants from the al-Qaida breakaway group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
ISIL militants have seized areas across northern and western Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been on a week-long tour of the Middle East and Europe to discuss the crisis in Iraq, spoke to reporters at a NATO meeting in Brussels.
Kerry said, “We’ve made it clear to everyone in region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions” already occurring in Iraq.
He also said the U.S. is interested in who leads Iraq but is not going to interfere as Baghdad forms a new government.
“It’s up to Iraqis to make those decisions. We have stated clearly that we have an interest in a government that can unite Iraqis,” Kerry said.
Both Kerry and U.S. President Barack Obama have been urging Iraq to install a government that is inclusive of Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
On Friday, Kerry will visit Saudi Arabia on Friday to meet King Abdullah and discuss the crises in Iraq and Syria, he said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
Kerry last visited the world’s top oil exporter in late March alongside U.S. President Barack Obama. He will most likely meet the Saudi monarch in Jeddah, where the kingdom’s government is based during summer months.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have both been alarmed by the success of ISIL.
However, officials from Saudi Arabia, which has long complained that Iraq’s Sunnis are marginalized by Maliki, said they oppose foreign intervention in Iraq after Baghdad requested U.S. air strikes on ISIL.
Call to unite
Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government has faced criticism of sidelining the minorities and breeding sectarian tensions. He called for unity in his address Wednesday.
“We desperately need to take a comprehensive national stand to defeat terrorism, which is seeking to destroy our gains of democracy and freedom, set our differences aside and join efforts,” Maliki said. “The danger facing Iraq requires all political groups to reconcile on the basis and principles of our constitutional democracy.”
Middle East analyst Nadim Shehadi of Chatham House in London argued many in the West are making too much of the role of ISIL militants in the battle against the Maliki government.
“There is too much concentration on ISIL and the militants. There is a lot more to that than ISIL and the militants,” Shehadi said. “Underneath that is a genuine discontent and marginalization on the part of mainly Sunni constituency and one should not address ISIL as being the main protagonist. It affects the solution. It affects the way you seek a solution.”
Shehadi went on to stress that “underlying discontent” among Sunni tribes is what sparked the revolt against the Maliki government.
“ISIL,” he insisted, “jumped in to take advantage of the rift or discontent.” The “solution” to the conflict, he claimed, “is to address the discontent, not to address ISIL.”
Oil refinery, air base attacked
On Wednesday, militants overran the Ajeel oil site, 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Tikrit, which contains at least three small oil fields that produce 28,000 barrels per day, an engineer working at the field said.
The engineer said local tribes had taken responsibility for protecting the fields after police withdrew but that they also left after the nearby town of al-Alam was seized by militants.
Ajeel is connected to two pipelines, one running to Turkey’s Ceyhan port and the other to the Beiji oil refinery, which remained a frontline early on Wednesday.
State TV showed troop reinforcements flying into the compound by helicopter to fend off the assault on Beiji, a strategic industrial complex 200 kilometers north of Baghdad.
Local tribal leaders said they were negotiating with both the Shi’ite-led government and Sunni fighters to allow the tribes to run the plant if Iraqi forces withdraw.
One government official said Baghdad wanted the tribes to break with ISIL and other Sunni armed factions, and help defend the compound.
The plant has been fought over since last Wednesday, with sudden reversals for both sides and no clear winner so far.
Militants including ISIL and allied Sunni tribes battled Iraqi forces in the town of Yathrib, 90 km north of Baghdad, into the early hours of Wednesday, witnesses and the deputy head of the municipality said. Four militants were killed, they said.
Insurgents have partially surrounded a massive air base nearby Balad, which was known as “Camp Anaconda” under U.S. occupation, and struck it with mortars.
The loss of Balad would be a powerful blow to the Shi’ite-led government of Maliki and could threaten the capital from the air. It could also pave the way for a Sunni insurgent assault on a second major air base at Taji.
US forces arrive
The attack came as the first of up to 300 U.S. military adviser, meant to help Iraq counter the militants, arrived in Baghdad to assess the government’s military position.
More than 100 security personnel arrived earlier this week and more are scheduled to arrive in the next few days.
The United States also is conducting air surveillance over Iraq, with 30 to 35 flights a day to help gain better insight about the security situation on the ground as Iraqi troops battle the fast-moving insurgency.
The United Nations said Tuesday that more than 1,000 people have been killed in Iraq in June, most of them civilians. Iraq is seeing its worst violence since 2008, with U.N. figures showing 4,500 deaths through the end of May.
Air Force generals will face off over difficult budget, job cuts
Internal bickering precedes Andrews meeting on consolidation
A group of top Air Force generals will gather behind closed doors at Andrews Air Force Base on Thursday to hash through ways to cut 3,400 positions from the service as part of a proposal to shave $1.6 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the coming five years, defense officials said this week.
The proposed cuts, which would require congressional approval, have emerged as a source of internal bickering and hand-wringing among Air Force brass in recent weeks — mainly because they involve a plan to consolidate all of the service’s base operations under the umbrella of a single new operations center.
The Washington Times first reported this month that several Air Force generals privately voiced frustration about the plan, which effectively would strip them of their authority to oversee operations, spending and decision-making at individual bases.
Pentagon sources have told The Times that there is still uncertainty over where the central operations center will be, but Joint Base Andrews is among the possibilities. Unease apparently is growing over which aspects of the Air Force are most likely to bear the brunt of the job cuts under the plan.
One Defense Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the “pre-decisional” nature of the plan, said 3,400 jobs will be cut. Although that number may seem like a small portion of the Air Force’s more than 610,000 members, it represents a potentially sticky decision for the service’s top brass.
Internal emails shared with The Times this week show that Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning and Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer are slated to meet at Andrews on Thursday to examine the roles, responsibilities and missions they believe should fall under the proposed base operations center.
Along with several other Air Force generals, they essentially will be narrowing jobs that overlap and may be cut, according to the Defense Department official.
In order for Thursday’s discussions to be effective, according to one of the emails shared with The Times, senior Air Force officials have sought to compile information about “the magnitude of personnel” involved with each of the functions that have been identified for the proposed center.
As a result of the internal disagreements about the center, the Air Force missed a self-imposed deadline for notifying Congress about the proposal.
The Air Force intended to establish the framework for the center by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. It is unclear whether that timeline has changed in light of the internal fighting.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed Tuesday that the date was in flux because the service has “made no decisions yet.”
“The longer you wait on decisions, the more those dates tend to move around,” she said.
Ms. Stefanek noted that various center start dates are circulating in the ongoing base operations consolidation discussion because there are “action officers all over the Air Force proposing dates to leaders.”
Nothing has been set in stone, she said.
What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
Bottom of Form
Saturday, June 28, 2014
Americans continue to worry about the state of the nation’s schools and believe the federal government still doesn’t get it.
Just 17% of voters believe U.S. public schools today provide a world-class education, down nine points from 2011 when President Obama first declared that as a necessary goal.
But support for Common Core among Americans with school-age children has plummeted from 52% to 34%, as more now question whether the new national education standards will actually improve student performance. An increasing number of states are abandoning the standards which many complain force teachers to focus too much on one-size-fits-all standardized testing.
Fifty-four percent (54%) think schools place too much emphasis on standardized testing these days, and just 26% believe student scores on these tests should be the major factor in determining how well a school is doing.
Still, increasing numbers of young Americans are taking on crippling amounts of student loan debt to get college degrees that don’t help them get a job. Only 28% of Americans believe most college graduates have the skills to enter the workforce.
The president is proposing a government rating system that will tie a college’s performance in several areas including the earning power of its graduates to federal student financial aid. Americans like that idea, but they don’t trust the government to do the rating system fairly.
Obama also is expanding his debt forgiveness initiative for student loans despite the opposition of most Americans. Eighty-eight percent (88%) believe lowering college tuition costs would do more to help college students than giving them easier access to college loans.
On the political front this past week, incumbent Republican Senator Thad Cochran narrowly won a messy intraparty runoff in Mississippi by successfully soliciting black Democrats to vote in the GOP primary. In our first post-primary look at the Senate race in Mississippi, Cochran holds a double-digit lead over Democratic challenger Travis Childers.
Fewer voters than ever (25%), however, think their local member of Congress deserves reelection.
Democrats lead Republicans by two points on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.
Both major political parties face the possibility of lengthy presidential primary seasons in 2016, but just 40% of voters think the current primary process is a good way to select a party’s presidential candidate.
Voters still strongly believe that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016. But Clinton was the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, too, only to lose it during the primaries to Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
Clinton earns 45% to 50% of the vote against six leading Republicans in potential 2016 presidential matchups, running best against Texans Rick Perry and Ted Cruz and poorest against Rand Paul and Dr. Ben Carson. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie now makes the weakest showing.
A plurality (44%) of voters, though, continues to believe the circumstances surrounding the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya will hurt Clinton if she runs for president in 2016.
As the situation in Iraq goes from bad to worse, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are pointing fingers at the opposing party’s policies. Voters are evenly divided over whether it was the actions and policies of George W. Bush or Barack Obama that have contributed more to the crisis in Iraq today. But only 31% rate the Obama administration’s handling of the situation in Iraq as good or excellent.
Fifty-six percent (56%) of Americans expect the major oil companies to use the news from Iraq as an excuse to raise gas prices.
The president’s overall job approval ratings began to fall late this past week, but it’s far too soon to know if this marks a trend of any kind.
Voters are more negative than ever about the state of the U.S. health care system, and once again a majority believes the new national health care law will make it worse.
Voters are also concerned about the flood of young illegal immigrants on the southern border. Despite increasing calls for immigration reform, voters have long been clear what needs to be done first: Secure the border to prevent future illegal immigration.
Consumer and investor confidence are up again this week.
In other surveys this week:
— Twenty-seven percent (27%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. The number who say the country is heading in the right direction has now been less than 30% for 15 of the 25 weeks so far this year.
— Fifty-three percent (53%) of Americans believe interest rates will be higher in a year’s time.
— Sixty-one percent (61%) of voters think most Supreme Court justices have their own political agenda, the highest finding in five years.
— Republican Governor Brian Sandoval holds a two-to-one lead over Democratic challenger Robert Goodman in his bid for reelection in Nevada.
— Seventy-five percent (75%) of voters believe, generally speaking, that trials should be held in the places where the crimes were committed, and 54% oppose moving the trial of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect out of Boston.
— Sixty percent (60%) of Americans don’t believe the Washington Redskins football team should change its name despite complaints that the name is offensive to American Indians.
— Despite the current interest in the World Cup, just 19% think that, in five years, soccer will be as popular in the United States as it is around the world.
Clark County looks to lead UAV industry
Plans for hangar, Clark State courses still on, despite loss of drone test site bid.
Updated: 9:03 a.m. Monday, June 16, 2014 | Posted: 11:00 p.m. Saturday, June 14, 2014
By Matt Sanctis
Local businesses and institutions will push ahead with their attempts to make Clark County a leader in the emerging commercial drone industry, despite losing out on a bid to be one of six national test sites.
That includes launching the state’s first precision agriculture program at Clark State Community College and building $500,000 hangars at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport to house unmanned aerial vehicles.
Other assets, like the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex on U.S. 40, put Clark County in a good position to attract businesses in manufacturing and research, even without the Federal Aviation Administration test site designation, said Frank Beafore, executive director of SelectTech Geospatial.
The unmanned aircraft industry could generate as much as $339 million for Ohio’s economy — and $13.6 billion nationwide — in the first three years after drones are integrated into U.S. airspace, experts have said, and precision agriculture is expected to play a significant role.
Just last week, the FAA approved the first commercial use of a drone in the U.S. and at the end of last month, the UAS center in Springfield participated in its first series of test flights.
The Miami Valley already has a strong base in industries like manufacturing, aerospace and data analytics, said Horton Hobbs vice president of economic development at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
That makes the commercial drone market a natural fit for the region and could lead to high-paying jobs in other industries like manufacturing and research as well, he said.
“When you grow jobs in that industry area, the ripple it has on the rest of the economic base is important,” Hobbs said.
Test site selection
At the end of last year, the FAA rejected the Springfield-Dayton region’s bid to be one of six national test sites that would be used to develop rules for how unmanned aircraft can be used in the U.S. It instead chose sites in Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, New York and Virginia.
The designation could have provided clout to the region and encouraged high-tech firms to take a closer look at the Miami Valley, local officials have previously said. But months after the decision, it’s not clear what impact the designation has had on the states selected by the FAA, Hobbs said.
“The verdict’s still out there,” he said. “Any time you’re the test site, there’s a lot of scrutiny put on what you do and how you do it. That can sometimes actually stifle your progress.”
In the meantime, he said local officials are working to build contacts within the industry, and continue to develop the region’s UAV infrastructure.
“It’s just like anything else,” Hobbs said. “It takes time to cultivate those contacts. I think it would be fair to say at this point, the community is still in that cultivation stage.”
The UAS Center in Springfield is expected to provide support for universities and government agencies as they conduct research, as well as promote economic development and commercialization of the technology. Last month, the test center worked with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratories to conduct the first test flights over Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
The research lab, test center and NASA will conduct additional testing throughout the summer, and in September the agencies will conduct the UAS Air Operations Challenge. The event will include eight competitors who will demonstrate sense-and-avoid technology, one of the key technologies identified by the FAA as necessary to integrate UAVs into U.S. airspace.
Officials at the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center didn’t return calls seeking additional comment regarding other projects taking place at the center.
Precision agriculture to ‘break open’
One of the projects moving forward locally is Clark State’s plan to offer a two-year degree in precision agriculture. The program recently received approval by the Ohio Board of Regents and is enrolling students now.
Precision agriculture includes flying UAVs over farm fields with sensors to detect disease in crops, evaluate nutrients in the soil and determine if plants are receiving adequate water. Drones could increase farmers’ yields at a lower cost, Beafore said, without the fuel use and expense of a larger plane.
Last week the college purchased a small UAV manufactured at SelectTech. The program, which will begin classes this fall, is the first of its kind in Ohio and one of only about a dozen nationwide.
SelectTech conducts research and builds UAVs for industrial and agricultural clients.
“Precision agriculture is going to break open here pretty quickly,” Beafore said.
Students in the program won’t fly drones, but will learn to analyze real data collected from Ohio farms, said Jane Cape, dean of business and applied technologies at Clark State.
SelectTech and Clark State are also working together to acquire a certificate of authorization, which grants public entities like cities and universities permission to fly unmanned aircraft under specific conditions. Sinclair Community College already has an authorization to fly drones at the Springfield airport.
Many residents mistakenly think of military aircraft when they think of unmanned aerial vehicles, Beafore said. Instead, the drones used in agriculture and many other commercial uses typically are small devices that fly at lower altitudes.
“We’re talking about a model aircraft with a sensor attached,” he said.
Airport a ‘viable opportunity’
The city of Springfield plans to start construction soon on UAV hangars at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. The state allocated $500,000 in the capital budget for the project.
The city initially requested $2.5 million to build a 20,000-square-foot hangar and a handful of box and T-hangars. Now the city will construct only the smaller hangars because it didn’t receive the full amount it sought, said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development.
That project could be completed by the end of this year or early next year, Franzen said.
Springfield also is finalizing a plan to collaborate with the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center on local drone projects.
Aurea Rivera, owner of Imagineering Results Analysis Corp., said she is in preliminary talks with the city to establish a data center at the municipal airport. The center would evaluate information retrieved from UAVs during testing.
Rivera worked with Clark State as a consultant to start the precision agriculture program, although that contract has since ended. The data center would include office space where area businesses could review data collected from UAVs.
“We want to maintain Springfield-Beckley as a viable opportunity for consideration here as we move forward,” Franzen said. “It’s being used in that respect now but we’d like to enhance the amenities that are out there through hangars and other elements to make it easier to use.”
Attracting companies to the region
The UAV industry is anticipated to create about 104,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2025, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. That’s one of the big reasons why local leaders want to lure the industry to Southwest Ohio.
The city of Springfield, along with the Dayton Development Coalition and other area business leaders, also recently participated in the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International conference in Orlando, Fla. The groups were part of an Ohio exhibit to encourage manufacturers and other industry officials to take a closer look at the state for future UAV projects, said Maurice McDonald, executive vice president for aerospace and defense for the Dayton Development Coalition.
“We wanted to showcase the strength of Ohio to hopefully, at some point, attract companies to this region,” McDonald said.
The state will also host an Ohio UAS conference later this year and plans to show off the region’s resources to industry leaders who attend.
Demand nationwide from the business community to test and use drones for commercial purposes is building rapidly. Commercial use of the aircraft is currently prohibited without FAA approval.
But the administration is taking small steps to allow commercial UAV projects in limited, low-risk civilian operations. Earlier this week, the organization granted approval for BP and AeroVironment to use a drone to collect and analyze information from BP’s Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, said Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA.
It was the first approved commercial use of a UAV in the U.S., approved through a waiver. The FAA plans to release rules later this year to permit use of small UAVs to operate commercially, likely smaller than 55 pounds.
Until the rules are finalized, the administration will consider allowing drones on a case-by-case basis in other industries as well, including agriculture, movie making, power-line inspections, and flare stack monitoring in the oil and gas industries. UAVs that can prove they can safely operate in a controlled, low-risk environment can seek authorization, Dorr said.
“We want to get the small UAS proposed rule out later this year and we want to see if we can … allow some limited commercial use of unmanned aircraft in controlled and low-risk situations,” Dorr said.
Staying with the story
The Springfield News-Sun provides the best coverage of jobs and the economy in Clark County, including digging into the emerging market for unmanned aerial vehicles and efforts to attract manufacturers and researchers to the region.
By the numbers:
104,000 – Estimated number of U.S. jobs created in UAVs by 2025
$82 billion – Estimated economic impact of UAVs in U.S. by 2025
90 percent – Expected market share in UAV industry from precision agriculture and public safety
6 – Number of test sites selected by the Federal Aviation Administration
Source: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades
By MARIA KONNIKOVAJUNE 2, 2014
Does handwriting matter?
Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.
But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.
Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.
“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.
A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.
The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.
By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.
Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.
That variability may itself be a learning tool. “When a kid produces a messy letter,” Dr. James said, “that might help him learn it.”
Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.
“This is one of the first demonstrations of the brain being changed because of that practice,” Dr. James said.
In another study, Dr. James is comparing children who physically form letters with those who only watch others doing it. Her observations suggest that it is only the actual effort that engages the brain’s motor pathways and delivers the learning benefits of handwriting.
The effect goes well beyond letter recognition. In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.
It now appears that there may even be a difference between printing and cursive writing — a distinction of particular importance as the teaching of cursive disappears in curriculum after curriculum. In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, sometimes after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.
In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.
Dr. Berninger goes so far as to suggest that cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia. A 2012 review suggests that cursive may be particularly effective for individuals with developmental dysgraphia — motor-control difficulties in forming letters — and that it may aid in preventing the reversal and inversion of letters.
Cursive or not, the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.
Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.
Not every expert is persuaded that the long-term benefits of handwriting are as significant as all that. Still, one such skeptic, the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, says the new research is, at the very least, thought-provoking.
“With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important,” he said. He added, after pausing to consider, “Maybe it helps you think better.”
Who Will Win in Iraq?
ISIS Will Fail in Iraq, and Iran Will Be the Victor
By STEVEN SIMONJUNE 16, 2014
WASHINGTON — TO go by much of the commentary about Iraq in recent days, the country is already past the breaking point under the lightning campaign by Sunni insurgents. Reinforced by hardened fighters from Syria and sympathetic communities in northern and western Iraq, the insurgents control much of Mosul, the most important city in northern Iraq, and Tikrit, the home of Saddam Hussein’s clan, and they have laid siege to Samarra, the site of one of Shiism’s most storied shrines. It would be no surprise if the next few weeks brought them to the gates of Baghdad.
But an assault on Baghdad, or even its capture, would be an illusory victory. It can only end in defeat — and the strengthening of the insurgents’ sworn Shiite enemies in Baghdad and, especially, Tehran.
First, consider the brute demographic reality. Unlike in Syria, Sunnis are a relatively small part of the Iraqi population, about 25 percent — though they are a majority in some areas of the west and north. And in Baghdad their numbers are minuscule.
The reason for this lies in an earlier Sunni revolt triggered by the second gulf war. Baghdad was the target then, too, and its Sunni population was about 35 percent. As the Sunnis asserted themselves militarily, Shiites struck back; by 2008, when their fury was largely spent, Sunnis were reduced to as little as 12 percent of the city’s population.
If the insurgents of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, enter Baghdad’s residual Sunni neighborhoods, they will likely be welcomed, but they won’t have much to work with, nor will they have the strategic depth they will need in the street fighting that ensues.
Moreover, rather like what happened in Syria, the Sunni offensive is likely to spur a transformation of the Iraqi Army from the sorry mess it is now into a more resilient and operationally effective force.
In Syria, the army reeled in the face of the rebellion in 2011; desertions were rife and large sections of territory were lost to the insurgency. But as incompetent commanders were killed or relieved and a new leadership emerged, the army was able to bring its vastly greater firepower to bear on an increasingly fractionated adversary. Its combat capability was multiplied by the successful integration of civilian militias and the intelligence and tactical advice supplied by Iran. This trajectory is likely to be replicated in Iraq.
The character of the Sunni offensive will mobilize more than just the army. Mass execution has been meshed with the use of religious symbolism by the insurgents, who framed their objective as extirpating “the filth” — Shiite teaching and believers — from Najaf and Karbala, the two holiest Shiite cities. In a minority war on a majority population, this is a suicidal tactic. The Shiites will hit back even harder than last time.
In addition to being hobbled by their paltry numbers, the rebels have chosen to make war on an adversary with powerful friends who have a serious stake in the future of Iraq.
Iran has already pledged assistance to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and reportedly deployed elite units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to Iraq. The United States has sent an aircraft carrier and amphibious assault ship to the Persian Gulf and stepped up intelligence help for the Iraqi government.
Although Washington is unlikely to use force directly against the rebels — in part because insurgents don’t present the kind of targets that American air power is optimized to destroy, and in part because of reluctance to re-engage militarily in Iraq — the kind of advisory help, material assistance and diplomatic support that is on offer will stiffen Iraq’s spine. Perceptions, real or imagined, of American and Iranian collusion will help, too.
At the same time, gulf states that tacitly support the rebels as payback against Iran for its perceived takeover of Iraq will do nothing to support the rebels’ military campaign, for fear of creating an uncontrollable situation, even if their nationals privately fund the rebel army.
And once the fighting is over, the Sunnis will be even more isolated than before. President Obama’s call for a multiethnic governing coalition aside, it is inconceivable that Mr. Maliki will now reverse his policy of excluding Sunnis from governance.
In short, despite the rapid success of the Sunni campaign, it is a kamikaze attack that will make the Shiite hold on the Iraqi state stronger, not weaker.
That said, it’s unlikely that Mr. Maliki will have the stomach to retake the Sunni-majority areas of western Iraq anytime soon. The rump Iraq, like the Assad regime in Syria, will be ever more in thrall to Iran, and committed to domestic policies that make the reconstitution of the country via a political process ever more unlikely.
That’s hardly an optimal outcome for Washington: Among other things, Washington’s support for the Maliki government will put further strain on its ties to the gulf states; it will also complicate any effort to deal aggressively with Iran, with which it will find itself in an odd-couple alliance.
American policy makers might anticipate that the insurgency will burn itself out before it presents a real threat to American interests. But they can’t relax too much, because to the extent that this sectarian brawl produces something resembling a winner, it won’t be in Washington, Mosul or Baghdad — but in Tehran.
Steven Simon, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, was the senior director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council from 2011 to 2012.
Main Iraq Oil Refinery in Flames After Rebel Attack
Militants Attacked a Refinery in Baiji Overnight, as Government Forces Fought to Repel Militants
By Ali A. Nabhan
Updated June 18, 2014 8:01 a.m. ET
Kurdish fighters attacked ISIS in Jalula and the militant group took partial control of an oil refinery in Baiji. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani said Iran will “spare no effort” in protecting Shiite sites in Iraq.
BAGHDAD—Parts of Iraq’s main oil refinery were in flames Wednesday as government forces fought to repel militants who gained partial control of the oil facility, Iraqi security officials said.
Sunni militant fighters behind a week-old offensive that has claimed several major cities and towns in northern Iraq attacked the refinery in the northern city of Baiji overnight and seized part of the installation, an oil ministry official in the country’s north said.
The official said employees fled the refinery as it came under attack, the latest in a weeklong siege of the oil hub.
The fighting over the main source of Iraq’s refined fuel for its domestic market doesn’t affect production or exports from the country’s oil fields and facilities in the south, where militants haven’t reached.
But the fall of the Baiji refinery to rebel control would intensify the turmoil inside Iraq, as well as open to militants another major potential source of income.
The price of crude oil hasn’t reacted specifically to the Baiji news, said Cuneyt Kazokoglu, an analyst at FACTS Global Energy in London, but if the refinery is closed Iraq’s gasoline and diesel imports will likely increase.
In midmorning trading, oil was at $113.50 a barrel and hovering close to 9-month highs touched June 14, just after the crisis in Iraq crisis broke.
Reuters reported mortar strikes and machine-gun fire at the refinery Wednesday morning as government forces and militants battled for control. Officials said some fuel storage centers inside the installation were on fire.
Militants including hundreds of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, are battling to hold captured cities and seize more territory in their offensive against the Shiite Muslim-dominated government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki.
Iraq’s Sunni minority accuses Mr. Maliki’s government of systematic discrimination against Sunnis and other sects and political blocs in Iraq. Some Sunni veterans of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces and Sunni tribal fighters also are participating in the offensive.
Iraq said government security forces were bolstering their numbers around the north Wednesday in a bid to recapture territory.
In Diyala province, directly to the east of Baghdad, an Iraqi government airstrike targeting a meeting of ISIS fighters killed 15 of them overnight, according to Abdul-Amier al Zaidi, the commander of a government command center.
Security forces were preparing a government offensive to reclaim the area of the attack, Udhaim, from ISIS fighters, Mr. Zaidi said.
The Iraqi military was reinforcing its forces in the Diyala provincial capital, Baquba, after fighting near the city Tuesday.
Authorities also reported fighting Wednesday at the northwestern city of Tal Afar, after militants seized much of that town over the weekend, sending tens of thousands of residents fleeing. Iraqi television on Tuesday showed government reinforcements rolling to that battle.
In Washington, President Barack Obama was due to brief Republican and Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday on White House plans for support against the push by extremists in Iraq.
Mr. Obama has decided against immediate airstrikes against the ISIS fighters and their allies, opting instead to provide military intelligence to the Iraqi military and to push Mr. Maliki harder to address what a range of Sunni, Shiite and other factions in Iraq charge are divisions worsened by what they describe as Mr. Maliki’s exclusionary policies.
Costly errors give new hope to al-Qaeda
Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2014, 1:08 AM
By John Nagl
The dissolution of Iraq is the entirely predictable result of a series of bad American decisions compounded by Iraqi government mistakes. The result is a disaster for the Iraqi and American people and a gift to radical Islamists worldwide. Correcting the mistakes will be enormously costly in blood and treasure and will take decades to repair.
The initial and most costly mistake was the decision to invade Iraq in the first place on the misguided belief that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Ignoring the history of deterrence, through which states choose not to use these weapons against other states for fear of reprisal, post-9/11 hysteria drove an illogical and destabilizing decision to upset the balance of power in the Middle East with no plan to police the inevitable chaos that followed the invasion.
Initial errors of providing too few troops to govern Iraq after Saddam was toppled were compounded by disbanding the Iraqi army and forbidding former Ba’ath party members from future government service; together, they inspired a Sunni insurgency against the American occupation. Too-few troops who had never been trained to conduct counterinsurgency fought against an enemy they didn’t understand and could rarely see. Iraq descended into chaos.
When all seemed lost, America made its one good decision of the entire fiasco, installing Robert Gates as secretary of defense and Gen. David Petraeus as Iraq commander to implement a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy for the first time. The surge forces battled insurgents and also partnered with reconstituted Iraq security forces. Violence plummeted, and by 2010 there was a decent chance that, with continued American air power and advisers to support Iraqi forces and compel good decisions by the fledgling Iraqi government, a democratic Iraq would emerge from the shambles of one of the biggest mistakes in American history.
We fumbled the ball at the goal line by failing to negotiate a long-term security relationship with the Iraqi government. Left on its own, the Shia government followed its worst impulses, oppressing the Sunni minority and inspiring a reinvigorated insurgency.
The summer of 2012 saw another unforced American error. We had the opportunity to support moderate Sunni insurgents fighting to depose President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, but chose to let them fight without our assistance. Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters took control of the insurgency, killing many of the moderate fighters and creating an impossible choice for American policy in Syria: We could support al-Qaeda or the tyrant Assad, who regularly uses chemical weapons against his own people. As in Iraq, the window to support the good guys closed, never to be reopened.
Now an unholy alliance of al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian insurgents has combined with native Sunni insurgents and captured much of the country that American forces fought so hard to secure. Without American advisers and the airpower they bring, which would easily decimate the insurgents, the Iraqi forces have simply melted away, surrendering without a fight.
Without American airpower and Special Operations Forces to control it and inspire a will to fight, there is a real chance that Baghdad will fall, just as Saigon did in 1975 when America similarly abandoned its allies without advisers and air support.
Ending wars is easy. Ending them responsibly by leaving a better peace behind is harder and more expensive, requiring the long-term commitment of troops – a tough decision we have made in the wake of every victorious war since World War II. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, we spurned the sacrifices of our own soldiers and our allies by making an expedient but shortsighted decision that, having paid the price to win the war, we would not pay the much smaller price to secure the peace.
Our negligence and dereliction of duty have given new hope to al-Qaeda and may cost us a friendly government in Iraq that many of my friends died to establish. The big question now is whether, as currently planned, we will similarly devalue the work of my friends who died to give the Afghan people a chance at freedom by failing to provide that country with the advisers and airpower that would secure Afghanistan against its inevitable future enemies. We can already see the heavy cost of failing to build a better peace in Iraq.
The Case for Doing Nothing in Iraq
The same people who got us into this mess want America to “do something.” Ignore them.
By BARRY R. POSEN
June 16, 2014
Here we go again. Whenever there’s a crisis anywhere in the world, you can count on America’s pundit class to demand action—usually of the military variety. Don’t just stand there, bomb something! After more than two decades of unchallenged American hegemony, Washington keyboards seem almost programmed to call for intervention halfway around the globe.
So it is with Iraq today, where the government has lost effective control of the Sunni Arab majority areas of the country. ISIS, the feared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has served as a vanguard uniting disaffected Iraqi Sunni Arabs into a fighting force effective enough to defeat larger and better-armed Iraqi government armed forces in certain areas. Chattering-class members from across the political spectrum see U.S. vital interests threatened, and are demanding that President Obama fire up the fighter-bombers.
Eleven years after the invasion that precipitated the present morass, how should we think about all this? Should we listen to the very same people who called for the war in 2003, with disastrous results, and are now insisting on action?
The escalating civil war in Iraq, and the increasingly likely de facto partition of the country, should be assessed from first principles. The United States spent enormous amounts of treasure and considerable blood trying to turn Iraq into a functioning multi-ethnic democracy; this effort failed. The costs are sunk. Our analysis must begin from the present: We are being asked to pay new costs and bear new burdens. For what and with what hope of success?
A small but increasing number of U.S. scholars, policymakers and politicians are beginning to subscribe to a new view of U.S. grand strategy, which in a recent book I have called Restraint. We believe that the United States needs to restore discipline to its foreign policy—set priorities more rigorously and calculate both costs and chances of success with a more skeptical eye.
The term grand strategy gets bandied about in various forms; I define it as protecting U.S. territorial integrity, sovereignty and safety and the power position needed to secure them in an uncertain world.
So where does Iraq fit in? ISIS is full of bad guys—no question. But a divided Iraq at worst might threaten U.S. safety by providing a “safe haven” for terrorists who might plot against the United States. The world is, unfortunately, full of bad guys and safe havens. The United States now watches them in Pakistan, Yemen and across Africa with various intelligence means, and occasionally raids them, solo or in the company of friends. More importantly, the United States has hardened itself against terrorist threats. This combination of defensive measures, surveillance and the occasional raid buys a lot of safety. America need not throw in with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a power-hungry Shiite supremacist bent mainly on serving the interests of his own faction, to keep its people secure. Maliki’s heavy-handed employment of surveillance, incarceration, and violence has driven Sunni Arab fence sitters into the arms of ISIS fanatics; he’s part of the problem, not the solution.
That ought to make us cautious about meddling in Iraq’s internal politics. Restraint strategists are alert to the costs of intervening in the internal politics of other countries and the low odds of success inherent to doing so.
In the first place, though the timing and the causes are murky, identity politics have surged across much of the world, a phenomenon that probably antedates the end of the Cold War. Here’s how it works: Political entrepreneurs organize followers around appeals to national, ethnic and religious identities. This kind of politics makes compromise hard. Politically mobilized identities are deeply mistrustful and fearful of neighboring groups. And they are especially resistant to outsiders who come to visit with guns and explain to them how they should live. The United States has paid a high price for its efforts to reengineer the politics of others, efforts that have usually failed. Still, a little well-timed meddling could be useful. Identity politics does open the door for the United States practice a version of “divide-and-conquer” politics, but this only works if America patiently holds back, avoids making itself the problem and waits for opportunities. Mobilized identities may seem homogeneous, but they often contain deep divisions as well. That’s an opening.
Consider Iraq. Sunnis and Shia may dislike one another, and dislike U.S. tutelage. But left to their own devices, these groups easily fall out even among themselves. Part of the hagiography of the Iraq “surge” is that the United States somehow played a magical tune that caused the Sunni “Awakening,” and brought many Iraqi Sunnis to the U.S. side. Smart diplomats and commanders actually took advantage of extant divisions. Iraqi Sunnis turned on their foreign jihadi allies, who somehow thought that Islam would overcome local loyalties and permit them to run the show. What’s the relevance to today? For those thinking of active participation on the side of the Shiite regime in Baghdad, a smarter strategy is to wait for the Sunni population’s alliance of convenience with the jihadis to fall apart.
Restraint strategists believe that local politicians are strategic actors who intelligently pursue their own interests with the resources they possess. One resource is “the lie.” During and after the surge, the United States argued that the Maliki regime needed to take many steps to reconcile with the Sunni Arabs. Maliki was happy to assure us that these things would happen. If that is what we want to hear, that is what he will tell us. The Pentagon was required by Congress to issue quarterly reports on “progress” in Iraq. The political and economic sections of these reports, which ceased publication with the departure of the last U.S. troops in December 2011, make for dismal reading. They consistently report little if any progress. Why would Maliki, who depends on the Shiite majority for his electoral success, offer anything to the Sunni Arabs? It was entirely rational for him to talk the talk of reconciliation. But given the intense identity politics of Iraq, he wasn’t about to walk the walk: His best strategy was to “cheap ride” on the Americans. Let them fight the Sunnis, reconcile with the Sunnis, build up the Iraqi Army and rebuild infrastructure while he consolidates power in his own base.
Some, including me, believed there was a chance that after the United States left, Maliki would stop cheap riding on U.S. power and throw some bones to the Sunni Arabs in the hopes of consolidating the quiescence U.S. military and political efforts helped to achieve. No such luck. I suspect, but cannot prove, that Maliki believed that if things deteriorated either the Americans or the Iranians would come to the rescue. This is looking like a good bet. Be that as it may, those who presently argue that Maliki must demonstrate a real effort to unify the disparate groups in his country seem hopelessly naive. Maliki will say whatever he has to say to get outside assistance. He won’t deliver. Moreover, given his past pattern of misbehavior, such statements, even if accompanied by some small symbolic concessions, will lack credibility with Sunni Arabs.
Finally, restraint strategists have a certain respect for military power. We admire a drone, a smart weapon or an airplane as much as anyone. Footage of single strikes is strangely comforting—a single weapon is seen to hit a single target, yielding a white flash that one hopes took the right bad guy out of the fight. But taken together, we still think war is war: not a scalpel but a battle axe. And once you start swinging that axe, there may be unintended consequences. If the United States were to go so far as to help the Baghdad forces retake Mosul and other cities by providing air support, the Sunni Arabs who live there are not likely to think more kindly of us. If the United States provides such air support, and intelligence support, the Iraqi military will never grow up. The combination will be deadly to U.S. interests. All Sunni Arabs will know that we are the pillar of Shiite hegemony in Iraq. If one is interested in the safety of American citizens, this is not a particularly smart role to assume.
An ISIS statelet straddling Iraq and Syria might provide haven for Islamic terrorists who ultimately decide that attacks on Western targets are in their interests, though there is little sign presently that this is ISIS’s program. But “ISISstan” will not be a great base, or a safe one. It has no international airport or seaport. Its neighbors—Jordan, the Assad regime’s rump Syria, Turkey, Iran, the Kurdish statelet and the Baghdad-centered Shiite state in the rest of Iraq will be uncooperative, indeed hostile. Transit across them will be difficult. Given the regional ambitions of ISIS, they will further alienate these neighbors, who will have strong interests of their own in vigilance against aggressors and trespassers. Finally, the Sunni Arabs, if left to themselves, will likely have a falling out. As during the “Awakening,” some factions will look for external allies. The United States should avoid getting married to any group, but the price of its support should be intelligence on groups who might be “going global,”—intelligence that can be used against them.
Because the United States has fought and bled for Iraq, there is a strong disposition among those who supported that fight to fight even more for the same unattained and unattainable objectives. These objectives, including the construction of a liberal democratic, non-sectarian Iraq, are congenial to the foreign-policy operatives of both political parties, who seem to share a passion for reform projects abroad. These are, however, not vital interests of the United States, which is to say interests that the United States should be willing to do a lot of killing and dying to achieve. And they are probably not attainable in any case. De facto partition is an acceptable outcome.
Finally, to the extent that we can read the views of the American public, more of them than not wanted out of Iraq when President Obama was elected. He delivered on that promise. Aside from the arguments of restraint advocates that new military efforts in Iraq are neither necessary nor wise, we should also consider whether they would be consistent with the democratically expressed views of the American people. Odd indeed to repudiate the product of democracy at home to pursue a futile quest to achieve it in a divided and violent society abroad.
Barry R. Posen is Ford international professor of political science at MIT and director of the MIT Security Studies Program. His most recent book is Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy.
Part One: War Zones
When drones fall from the sky
Written by Craig Whitlock
Published on June 20, 2014
More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic, according to a year-long Washington Post investigation.
Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to more than 50,000 pages of accident investigation reports and other records obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act.
Crashes around the world
More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.
Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. Drone flights by law enforcement agencies and the military, which already occur on a limited basis, are projected to surge.
The documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.
Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck.
“All I saw were tents, and I was afraid that I had killed someone,” Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman told investigators after an accident in November 2008, when he lost control of a Predator that plowed into a U.S. base in Afghanistan. “I felt numb, and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth.”
Investigators were unable to pinpoint a definitive cause for the accident but said wind and an aggressive turn by the pilot were factors. Wageman did not respond to a request for comment through an Air Force spokeswoman.
Several military drones have simply disappeared while at cruising altitudes, never to be seen again. In September 2009, an armed Reaper drone, with a 66-foot wingspan, flew on the loose across Afghanistan after its handlers lost control of the aircraft. U.S. fighter jets shot it down as it neared Tajikistan.
The documents describe a multitude of costly mistakes by remote-control pilots. A $3.8 million Predator carrying a Hellfire missile cratered near Kandahar in January 2010 because the pilot did not realize she had been flying the aircraft upside-down. Later that year, another armed Predator crashed nearby after the pilot did not notice he had squeezed the wrong red button on his joystick, putting the plane into a spin.
While most of the malfunctioning aircraft have perished in combat zones, dozens have been destroyed in the United States during test and training flights that have gone awry.
In April, a 375-pound Army drone crashed next to an elementary-school playground in Pennsylvania, just a few minutes after students went home for the day. In Upstate New York, the Air Force still cannot find a Reaper that has been missing since November, when it plunged into Lake Ontario. In June 2012, a Navy RQ-4 surveillance drone with a wingspan as wide as a Boeing 757′s nose-dived into Maryland’s Eastern Shore, igniting a wildfire.
Defense Department officials said they are confident in the reliability of their drones. Most of the crashes occurred in war, they emphasized, under harsh conditions unlikely to be replicated in the United States.
Military statistics show the vast majority of flights go smoothly and that mishap rates have steadily declined over the past decade. Officials acknowledge, however, that drones will never be as safe as commercial jetliners.
“Flying is inherently a dangerous activity. You don’t have to look very far, unfortunately, to see examples of that,” said Dyke Weatherington, director of unmanned warfare for the Pentagon. “I can look you square in the eye and say, absolutely, the [Defense Department] has got an exceptional safety record on this and we’re getting better every day.”
The Post’s analysis of accident records, however, shows that the military and drone manufacturers have yet to overcome some fundamental safety hurdles:
•A limited ability to detect and avoid trouble. Cameras and high-tech sensors on a drone cannot fully replace a pilot’s eyes and ears and nose in the cockpit. Most remotely controlled planes are not equipped with radar or anti-collision systems designed to prevent midair disasters.
•Pilot error. Despite popular perceptions, flying a drone is much trickier than playing a video game. The Air Force licenses its drone pilots and trains them constantly, but mistakes are still common, particularly during landings. In four cases over a three-year period, Air Force pilots committed errors so egregious that they were investigated for suspected dereliction of duty.
•Persistent mechanical defects. Some common drone models were designed without backup safety features and rushed to war without the benefit of years of testing. Many accidents were triggered by basic electrical malfunctions; others were caused by bad weather. Military personnel blamed some mishaps on inexplicable problems. The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been “possessed” and plagued by “demons.”
•Unreliable communications links. Drones are dependent on wireless transmissions to relay commands and navigational information, usually via satellite. Those connections can be fragile. Records show that links were disrupted or lost in more than a quarter of the worst crashes.
Among the models that crashed most often is the MQ-1 Predator, the Air Force drone manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, of San Diego. Almost half the Predators bought by the Air Force have been involved in a major accident, according to purchasing and safety data.
Frank W. Pace, president of aircraft systems for General Atomics, the leading producer of large military drones, said the Predator has exceeded expectations for reliability. It was designed to be lightweight and inexpensive, costing less than $4 million apiece. During the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, nobody expected the Predator to last very long.
“It was more of a mind-set that you were going to get shot down or have other losses, so you don’t want to put all this money into a redundant system,” Pace said, referring to backup systems designed to kick in when a failure occurs.
He emphasized that none of the Predator accidents have been fatal.
“We’ve never reported a loss of life,” he said, “so we’re doing pretty good.”
Accidents span globe
Drones have revolutionized warfare. Now they are poised to revolutionize civil aviation. Under the law passed by Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to issue rules by September 2015 that will begin the widespread integration of drones into civilian airspace.
Pent-up demand to buy and fly remotely controlled aircraft is enormous. Law enforcement agencies, which already own a small number of camera-equipped drones, are projected to purchase thousands more; police departments covet them as an inexpensive tool to provide bird’s-eye surveillance for up to 24 hours straight.
Businesses see profitable possibilities for drones, to tend crops, move cargo, inspect real estate or film Hollywood movies. Journalists have applied for drone licenses to cover the news. Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos wants his company to use autonomous drones to deliver small packages to customers’ doorsteps. (Bezos also owns The Post.)
The military owns about 10,000 drones, from one-pound Wasps and four-pound Ravens to one-ton Predators and 15-ton Global Hawks. By 2017, the armed forces plan to fly drones from at least 110 bases in 39 states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico.
The drone industry, which lobbied Congress to pass the new law, predicts $82 billion in economic benefits and 100,000 new jobs by 2025.
Public opposition has centered on civil-liberties concerns, such as the morality and legality of using drones to spy on people in their back yards. There has been scant scrutiny of the safety record of remotely controlled aircraft. A report released June 5 by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there were “serious unanswered questions” about how to safely integrate civilian drones into the national airspace, calling it a “critical, crosscutting challenge.”
Nobody has more experience with drones than the U.S. military, which has logged more than 4 million flight hours. But the Defense Department tightly guards the particulars of its drone operations, including how, when and where most accidents occur.
The Post filed more than two dozen Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Responding intermittently over the course of a year, the military released investigative files and other records that collectively identified 418 major drone crashes around the world between September 2001 and the end of last year.
That figure is almost equivalent to the number of major crashes incurred by the Air Force’s fleet of fighter jets and attack planes during the same period, even though the drones flew far fewer missions and hours, according to Air Force safety statistics.
The military divided the major accidents into two categories of severity, based on the amount of damage inflicted to the aircraft or other property. (There are three other categories for more minor accidents.)
According to the records, 194 drones fell into the first category — Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused, under current standards, at least $2 million in damage.
Slightly more than half of those accidents occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq. Almost a quarter happened in the United States.
More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.More than 400 large U.S. military drones crashed in major accidents worldwide between Sept. 11, 2001, and December 2013. By reviewing military investigative reports and other records, The Washinton Post was able to identify 194 drone crashes that fell into the most severe category: Class A accidents that destroyed the aircraft or caused (under current standards) at least $2 million in damage.
In most instances, military officials convened an accident investigation board to determine the cause. In 18 cases, the drone crashes were so sensitive that the military classified the names of the countries where they occurred and details of what happened.
Two hundred and twenty-four drones crashed in Class B accidents that, under current standards, cost between $500,000 and $2 million. Officials withheld basic details about those mishaps, such as the dates and locations, on the grounds that the lesser damage totals did not warrant a public investigation.
The military documents do not include information about drones operated covertly by the CIA. The spy agency has its own fleet of about 30 armed Predator and Reaper drones overseas, all flown remotely by Air Force pilots assigned to the CIA.
The CIA also flies highly advanced RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drones, including one that U.S. officials have acknowledged went down in Iran in December 2011.
‘Hit by a UAV!’
As the military dispatched drone after drone to Iraq and Afghanistan in the mid-2000s, some Air Force commanders saw the potential for trouble in the increasingly crowded skies.
Air Force leaders circulated briefing materials that quoted an unnamed general as saying, “What I worry about is the day I have a C-130 with a cargo-load of soldiers, and a [drone] comes right through the cockpit window.”
“What I worry about is the day I have a C-130 with a cargo-load of soldiers, and a [drone] comes right through the cockpit window.”
—Unnamed general in Air Force briefing materials
The general’s worries were well founded. On Aug. 15, 2011, a C-130 Hercules weighing about 145,000 pounds was descending toward Forward Operating Base Sharana, in eastern Afghanistan. Suddenly, a quarter-mile above the ground, the huge Air Force plane collided with a 375-pound flying object.
“Holy shit!” yelled the Hercules’s navigator, according to a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder. “We got hit by a UAV! Hit by a UAV!”
It was an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV in military jargon. An RQ-7B Shadow, flown by an Army ground crew, had smashed into the cargo plane’s left wing between two propellers. Jet fuel cascaded out of a gash in the wing.
The Hercules crew shut down one engine and radioed to clear the runway. Within two minutes, the plane landed, smoke pouring from the left side. “There’s a big frickin’ hole in the airplane,” the pilot said, according to the cockpit voice recorder. No one was hurt.
About 50 seconds later, the unwitting drone operator radioed the control tower to confess he had lost track of his aircraft.
“We had a, ah, C-130, um, that hit a UAV,” the air-traffic controller responded. “I’m suspecting that it’s yours.”
The collision pulverized the Shadow. As word spread, it left drone manufacturers and drone advocates in the military on tenterhooks. If investigators determined the drone crew was responsible for a midair disaster, it would undermine plans to fly robotic aircraft not just overseas but back in the United States.
The military has never publicly disclosed the outcome of the investigation. Two Pentagon officials said in interviews that the drone operator was not at fault, but they did not give further details.
In response to a FOIA request from The Post, the Air Force released hundreds of pages of documents from its safety probe. The official finding of what caused the crash was censored, but some of the documents suggest the air-traffic controller was at least partly blamed. The records show the controller, a civilian contractor whose name was redacted, was temporarily demoted and given remedial training.
Military officials said there has been only one other case of a midair drone collision, involving a helicopter and a small, hand-launched drone in Iraq a decade ago.
Close calls on the ground have been more frequent.
“Where the hell is — where is the runway?” screamed Air Force Capt. Matthew Scardaci as his engine conked out and his Predator crashed into Kandahar air base on May 5, 2011, according to a voice-recording transcript. “Oh shit, oh damn, oh my God what is that!? . . . What was all that stuff that I just hit?”
A row of empty shipping containers, it turned out. Nobody was hurt. Scardaci did not respond to a request for comment through an Air Force spokeswoman.
In eastern Afghanistan, Predators armed with Hellfires crashed near residential areas in the city of Jalalabad twice in the space of six months.
In one instance, on Aug. 20, 2011, a drone “began falling out of the sky” after its propeller broke. “I looked below us, and there were houses everywhere,” the camera operator told investigators.
The Predator smashed into two Afghan housing compounds and sparked a fire. No one was hurt. The military compensated the homeowners with an undisclosed amount of money.
‘Oops’ and ‘uh-oh’
Inside ground-control stations, drone pilots sit with binders of checklists that guide them through every conceivable scenario. But costly errors are still easy to make.
One recurring mistake: forgetting to turn on the Stability Augmentation System, which prevents the drone from going wobbly or into a spin. In at least five cases, pilots did not switch it on, or accidentally switched it off, then sat perplexed as the aircraft went into a nose dive.
On Aug. 16, 2010, neither the pilot nor the camera operator noticed the bright red warning lights on the video screens in front of them when their Predator took off from Balad air base in Iraq with the stabilizer turned off.
“That’s freaking us!” the camera operator yelled as the drone crashed, leaving a hole three feet deep near the runway. “What in the hell happened?” Investigators blamed “pilot inattention” for the accident.
In four cases between 2009 and 2012, Air Force officials determined that pilots’ mistakes were willfully negligent, placing them under investigation for suspected dereliction of duty, a criminal charge under military law.
One flew a Predator, unintentionally, into a 17,000-foot Afghan mountain, even after he was warned to watch out for high terrain.
Investigators concluded that the inexperienced pilot was rushing to help troops on the ground and preoccupied with nearby storm clouds, unaware of the mountain looming ahead.
The accident reports do not disclose the outcomes of the dereliction-of-duty cases or identify the pilots. Air Force officials declined to elaborate.
In another dereliction case, voice-recorder transcripts show an irritated camera operator lecturing a habitually nervous pilot right before takeoff at Jalalabad on July 24, 2012.
“Stop saying ‘uh oh’ while you’re flying,” the operator chided. “It’s never good. Like going to the dentist or a doctor . . . oops, what the f— you mean oops?”
Sure enough, a few minutes later — oops. The armed Predator rammed a runway barrier and guardhouse.
“Whoa,” the pilot said. “I don’t know what the hell just happened.”
The original Predator was designed without redundant systems common to larger, manned aircraft. It bore only one engine, one alternator, one propeller. If any of those parts failed, the plane would come down.
Since the drone program began, the Air Force has acquired 269 Predators. Forty percent have crashed in Class A accidents, the most severe category. An additional 8 percent wrecked in Class B accidents.
As the accidents piled up, Air Force crews griped about reliability. Some of the complaints were aimed at General Atomics, the manufacturer.
“I don’t want to be the one that crashes a plane, but I hope that this causes folks, and when I say folks, I mean GA [General Atomics], I hope we hold them accountable for some of this stuff,” Air Force Maj. Elizio Bodden, a Predator instructor pilot, told an accident investigation board after a crash in Iraq on Nov. 29, 2007. “We know we are flying with some defective stuff, but we still do it.”
Pace, the General Atomics executive, blamed most Predator accidents on pilot mistakes during landings. He said that the company has made some safety upgrades to the aircraft but that adding extra engines or duplicate power systems was not practical, because it would require “a big redo.”
He noted that the aircraft has a limited future. General Atomics ceased production of the original Predator model in 2011 and replaced it with the MQ-9 Reaper, a more reliable aircraft that can fly twice as fast and carry more missiles and bombs. The Air Force plans to stop flying Predators by 2018 and has not been “interested in putting their money into upgrades,” Pace said.
The Air Force acknowledged that Predators crash more frequently than regular military aircraft, but officials said the drone’s safety record has improved markedly.
During its first dozen years of existence, the Predator crashed at an extraordinarily high rate — for every 100,000 hours flown, it was involved in 13.7 Class A accidents.
Since 2009, as the Air Force has become more experienced at flying drones, the mishap rate for Predators has fallen to 4.79 Class A accidents for every 100,000 flight hours.
Army crash rates
The Reaper has fared better than the Predator, incurring 3.17 Class A mishaps per 100,000 hours over the past five years.
Air Force officials pointed out that the crash rate for Reapers now approaches the standard set by two fighter jets, the F-16 and F-15, which over the past five years have posted Class A mishap rates of 1.96 and 1.47 respectively, according to statistics from the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
“We’ve learned a lot about flying [drones] because we had to,” said Air Force Col. James Marshall, the safety director for the Air Combat Command. “War is a great motivator when lives are on the line.”
The Reaper has not been immune to deficiencies.
After one crashed during a training mission in California on March 20, 2009, Air Force investigators blamed a faulty temperature control valve in the oil system. A similar incident had occurred one month before.
Further investigation revealed that sliders in the valves had been installed upside-down. Air Force inspectors were even more surprised to learn from General Atomics that the firm had bought the valves from a Houston company that did not design its products for use in airplanes.
The valve “is not of aerospace grade. In other words, the thermostatic valve was designed specifically for industrial applications ONLY,” an Air Force investigator wrote in the accident report. “This thermostatic valve was not intended for aircraft.”
MQ-9A mishap at Creech AFB on March 20, 2009.
Unlike the Air Force, the Army does not make the argument that its drones are nearly as safe as regular planes.
In June 2013, Army safety officials posted a bulletin noting that their drones had crashed at 10 times the rate of manned Army aircraft over the previous nine months.
As bad as that number sounded, the officials said it actually understated the problem. Commanders were not reporting many drone mishaps, as required, to the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.
About 55 percent of the Army’s MQ-5 Hunter drones, which can carry weapons, have been “lost for various reasons” in accidents during training and combat operations, according to Col. Tim Baxter, the Army’s project manager for unmanned aircraft systems.
The RQ-7 Shadow, the smaller reconnaissance model that crashed into the Hercules cargo plane, has also been accident-prone. At least 38 percent of the Army’s fleet has been involved in a major accident, according to a Post analysis of Army safety statistics.
Into mountains, into the sea
The accident investigation reports describe a profusion of emergencies in which drones swerved so far out of control that crews had to resort to extreme measures to prevent catastrophes.
On six occasions between 2006 and 2012, records show, pilots intentionally flew straight into the side of a mountain after their aircraft’s engines began to fail.
Under military guidelines, it was considered safer to ram a remote peak on purpose than to risk a drone falling on someone during a Hail Mary landing attempt at an airfield.
“He smashed it to smithereens,” an Air Force mission supervisor reported approvingly after a pilot struggling with a broken propeller motor commanded his Predator to strike a mountain in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 26, 2012.
In several other cases, drones simply disappeared and were never found.
The nighttime skies were clear, with little wind, on July 10, 2011, when crew members who had been flying an armed Predator at an altitude of 16,500 feet over eastern Afghanistan saw their screens go blank. The satellite links had gone down. Despite hours of searching, nobody could find the plane on radar. An airborne search also proved fruitless.
Large drones are equipped with transponders to broadcast their locations. If they lose all electrical power, the transponders do not work; most models do not carry battery-powered backup systems, because of the extra weight.
Such was the fate of an armed Predator that disappeared 20 minutes after taking off from Kandahar air base on Nov. 20, 2009. Searchers looked for two days but found no trace and declared it lost.
Five weeks later, troops stumbled across the wreckage, crumpled in the dirt seven miles from the base. Investigators determined the crash was a caused by a “catastrophic electrical failure” triggered by a short-circuited alternator cable.
Lightning, high winds and icing can be especially lethal for drones.
On Dec. 13, 2012, a Navy helicopter drone was trying to land on the USS Robert G. Bradley, a guided-missile frigate, off the coast of Libya when the tail rotor shattered just 15 feet above the flight deck.
Witnesses saw a two-foot chunk of ice fall off the tail; investigators concluded that icy conditions were to blame. Luckily for the crew, the drone, an MQ-8B Fire Scout, veered into the sea at the last second, narrowly missing the ship.
Drones depend on wireless links for navigation and control. Pilots and camera operators issue directions to the drone by a command link, usually by satellite. Data about the aircraft’s movements and internal operations returns via a separate link.
Pilots rely on satellites to track drones
From takeoff until it leaves the line of sight, the drone is controlled with a direct data link from a ground-control station.
If the communication link is lost, the drone is programmed to fly autonomously in circles, or return to base, until the link can be reconnected.
When the drone leaves the line of sight, the ground-control station switches to a satellite link to control the aircraft. The drone also uses GPS to relay its position.
The links can be easily interrupted by various forms of interference. Usually, the outages last only a few seconds and are harmless. Just in case, drones are programmed to fly in a circular pattern until the links are restored. In worst-case scenarios, they are supposed to return automatically to their launch base.
Records show that does not always happen. In more than a quarter of the accidents examined by The Post, links were lost around the time of the crash.
Several pilots told investigators that they were so accustomed to lost links that tended not to get nervous unless the disruptions lasted for more than a few minutes.
“I’d say after the three- or five-minute period, you sort of get the feeling that the plane just stopped talking to us and we may not recover this one,” a Predator pilot testified after an April 20, 2009, crash in Afghanistan.
Less than a month later, five hours into a reconnaissance mission over Afghanistan, a Predator lost its links and vanished in midair. Investigators never found the wreckage and were unable to determine a cause; the weather was clear, and there were no signs of mechanical problems or errors by the crew.
Satellite connections can be lost when a drone banks too sharply or drops in altitude too quickly. Electrical problems on the ground can also disrupt links.
On July 21, 2008, chaos erupted inside an Air Force ground-control station where crew members were flying three Predators simultaneously over Afghanistan. The station lost its power supply, and all its screens went black.
After several minutes, power was restored and pilots regained control over two of the Predators that had followed their programmed flight patterns and were flying in circles.
The third disappeared.
What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
Bottom of Form
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Americans are more unhappy about the overall economy despite signs that the housing industry is recovering at last. Is government spending at least partially to blame?
Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Likely Voters now believe that the U.S. economy is unfair to the middle class, and 61% say it’s unfair to all Americans. Both are at their highest levels in a year-and-a-half.
This takes on added significance when you consider that 83% of working Americans consider themselves middle class.
The economy and health care continue to be the top issues on voters’ minds as they head into the upcoming elections, but government spending has now worked its way into the top three on the list of 15 major issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports.
Voters still believe that cutting spending – and taxes – will do more to help the economy than raising them will.
Only 24% think the federal government should increase spending in reacting to the nation’s economic problems. Sixty-three percent (63%) believe the government should cut spending instead.
Fifty-six percent (56%) think thoughtful spending cuts should be considered in every program of the federal government.
But most (55%) also still expect government spending to increase under President Obama, and only nine percent (9%) expect their taxes to go down.
This helps explain why the president’s daily job approval ratings continue to bump along at the negative levels seen for much of his presidency.
Still, while consumer and investor confidence this week fell further from recent highs, they remain well ahead of where they’ve been for the past several years.
There also are increasing signs that the housing bust may be behind us. Forty-four percent (44%) of Americans now say it’s a good time for someone in their area to be selling a house. This is the first time this number has broken the 40% mark in over five years of regular surveying.
Thirty-nine percent (39%) of homeowners expect their home’s value to go up over the next year, the highest level of short-term confidence in five years of regular tracking. Fifty-five percent (55%) expect their home’s value to go up over the next five years.
Americans continue to frown on government help for the housing market, though.
Only 21% believe that if someone cannot afford to make increased mortgage payments, the government should assist them. Most (63%) still think people in that situation should sell their home and find a less expensive one.
Other economic indicators are less reassuring.
Americans remain slow to recover their faith in the nation’s banks since 2008’s financial meltdown. Fifty-two percent (52%) say they are confident in the banking system again this month, but that compares to 68% in July 2008.
Concern about inflation is still very high, and the number who expect their grocery bills to keep going up (74%) is at its highest level in nearly two years.
As for health care, just 24% of voters believe the quality of care in America will get better under Obamacare, and most (56%) still think costs will continue to rise.
Iraq is back in the news as an al-Qaeda-led insurgency threatens to topple the democratically elected government the U.S. military left behind two years ago. Forty-six percent (46%) of voters favor the United States making military airstrikes there to help the government fight back, but 60% oppose returning U.S. troops to Iraq.
With congressional hearings about the Benghazi issue beginning soon, the Obama administration made the surprising announcement this week that it has captured the Islamic militant suspected of masterminding the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya. Voters strongly believe the suspect in the Benghazi killings should be tried in U.S. courts and, if found guilty, 64% think he should be sentenced to death.
Thousands of young illegal immigrants are flooding the border in what appears to be a concerted effort by some of our southern neighbors to dump their economic problems on the United States.
Americans are slightly more supportive of increasing the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States if the federal government can fully secure the border first to prevent future illegal immigration. But 58% still want to decrease legal immigration or keep it about the same.
Thirty-nine percent (39%) believe the United States should welcome all potential immigrants, other than national security threats, who are willing to work hard and able to support their family. But slightly more (43%) disagree.
One problem is that while 71% of voters have a favorable opinion of immigrants who work hard to pursue the American Dream, only 49% now think most immigrants are working hard to support their family and pursue that dream.
Just 26% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction, the lowest weekly finding since early December 2013.
In other surveys this week:
— Democrats lead Republicans by two points on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.
— Fifty-one percent (51%) of Likely New Jersey Voters approve of the job Chris Christie is doing as governor, but 43% believe the budget situation in the state is worse now that it was a year ago.
— Democrat Cory Booker, running for reelection after less than a year in office, holds a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Jeff Bell in New Jersey’s U.S. Senate race.
— Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans believe being a father is the most important role for a man to fill in today’s world.
— Thirty-nine percent (39%) will watch the World Cup soccer championships this year, up from 29% who were following the games in 2010 and 21% four years earlier.
Declassified 2008 directive: Hackers and insiders hit utilities on three continents
Posted: June 6, 2014
Christopher J. Castelli (email@example.com)
Utilities on at least three continents have been “penetrated or shut down” by hackers and insiders, according to a formerly classified 2008 presidential directive on cybersecurity that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and released today by privacy advocates.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center disclosed a redacted 16-page copy of National Security Presidential Directive 54, which former President George W. Bush used to set U.S. “policy, strategy, guidelines, and implementation actions to secure cyberspace” and to launch the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative.
A clear statement on successful major attacks against critical infrastructure worldwide – contained in a paragraph that had been classified secret and not releasable to foreign nationals – is striking and among the few interesting elements of the directive, Jason Healey of the Atlantic Council told Inside Cybersecurity.
“Hackers and insiders have penetrated or shut down utilities in countries on at least three continents,” the directive states. “Some terrorist groups have established sophisticated online presences and may be developing cyber attacks against the United States.”
Healey said the initial decision to classify much of the information in the document – including a definition of computer network exploitation – now appears inane. It also makes no sense, he said, that officials classified that definition while using the less restrictive label “for official use only” on a paragraph about developing offensive cyber capabilities.
Federal officials have in recent years repeatedly underscored the risk that cyber attacks pose to critical infrastructure. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently voiced concerns at the Atlantic Council about the nation’s lack of preparedness for a cyber attack, cited strategic shortcomings and assigned blame to Congress.
“There are some big issues involved with achieving that kind of coherence — issues related to privacy and cost, information sharing and all of the liabilities that come in the absence of legislation to incentivize information sharing,” Dempsey said.
A White House spokeswoman said that current U.S. cyber strategy is coherent. “Given that cyberspace permeates every aspect of the economy and national security, no single document can meaningfully capture our strategic direction. Instead, our efforts are informed by specific strategy and policy documents,” she said. Earlier this year, the administration released a federal framework of cybersecurity standards as directed in President Obama’s cybersecurity executive order.
The Obama administration is “working to close out the 2008 Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative and transition ongoing programs to steady state management,” the White House spokeswoman said, noting officials are “continuing to review existing policy and develop new policy as warranted.”
There is a consensus among the president, the National Security Council staff and Dempsey that certain key powers and resources needed to realize federal cybersecurity goals — including new statutory authorities — can only be bestowed by Congress. Lawmakers acknowledge that time is running out for this Congress to enact comprehensive cybersecurity legislation. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee are working to reach consensus on a bipartisan information-sharing bill for cybersecurity. —
Unmanned intel app could keep small units informed
Jun. 8, 2014 – 06:00AM |
By Kevin Lilley
The Army is testing smartphone technology with Dragon Runner, an unmanned ground vehicle, and the Raven, an unmanned aerial vehicle. Zoom
The Army is testing smartphone technology with Dragon Runner, an unmanned ground vehicle, and the Raven, an unmanned aerial vehicle. (Army)Combat veterans refresh unmanned aircraft skills Zoom The Army is testing smartphone technology with Dragon Runner, an unmanned ground vehicle, and the Raven, an unmanned aerial vehicle. (Army)
Small-unit leaders seeking info from unmanned ground and aerial vehicles have two choices: Attach themselves to their systems operator so they can see what he sees, or bombard him with questions over the radio that could chip away at both soldiers’ concentration.
A new device tested last month at Fort Benning, Georgia’s Maneuver Battle Lab provides a third option. And like many advancements in communication, it soon could come in app form for a smartphone.
The Small Unit Leader Situational Awareness Tool, or SULSAT, gives leaders their own real-time feed from available unmanned sources — tests at Benning included a Dragon Runner ground robot and a Raven UAV. The tech isn’t all that mysterious: A wireless signal from the unit’s tactical robotics controller, or TRC, gets beamed to the team leader, who can monitor the feeds on a smartphone. First Lt. Brandon Slusher, with A Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, used a specially designed Nexus 5, but SULSAT may integrate into the modified Samsung Galaxy models used in the Army’s Nett Warrior program.
The expanded situational awareness impressed Slusher, who served as platoon leader in the exercise.
The current system “definitely limits the leaders, and where they can position themselves,” he said. “Even when I did not have a SULSAT [during one version of the test], I didn’t look at the TRC controller. I relied on what [the operator] was seeing. During the scenario, that was fine. In a real scenario, I wouldn’t be able to ask him questions. I’d be controlling too many other elements at that time.”
Staff Sgt. Vincent Kelly, also of A Company, served as squad leader during the exercise and also praised the system, saying it “allowed me to make a better, conscious decision to maneuver my squad.” But there was a catch: The unit only received a clear signal up to about 10 feet away from the TRC.
Developers want SULSAT to reach 200 to 250 meters.
“One of the recommendations that we’re making is [researching] the type of Wi-Fi extenders you have in your home,” said James Falkenberry, project officer for the Battle Lab’s unmanned systems team.
Other solutions: Devices with external antennas, or changes to the backpack used to carry the router, putting less fabric between the antenna and the air.
Many of the Wi-Fi concerns could prove moot: Plans to integrate SULSAT and the TRC into the Nett Warrior system would put the signal over a secure radio band instead of Wi-Fi — extending range and providing necessary security measures.
“To continue the proof of concept, we have to get a little more range. … Again, the goal is to get it transmitting with FM signals, not Wi-Fi. We’re just looking at what’s possible,” Falkenberry said.
The system’s slated for another exercise in October.
U.S. Shifts On Allowing Defense Data In Cloud
June 9, 2014, 5:10 PM ET
By Joel Schectman
The U.S. is loosening its policy on how companies may store sensitive defense data, allowing use of cloud services like Google Inc.’s Gmail, provided adequate security steps are taken, according to U.S. State Department officials.
The State Department recently told the startup Perspecsys Inc., in an advisory opinion, that it could store defense data in the cloud provided it “take all steps necessary” to make sure only U.S. persons could view the data, according to an official from the agency. Both Perspecsys and the State Department denied Wall Street Journal requests to review the advisory opinion.
To stop rivals from eroding the U.S. military edge, defense contractors are prohibited from bringing both physical arms and information on how to build them out of the U.S., without special permission. The law, known as International Traffic in Arms Regulations, can apply to both the plans for F-16 jets and more innocuous information like the specs for military handsets that are nearly identical to consumer devices.
The defense industry, like most sectors, has begun to look for cheaper computing power by outsourcing storage to cloud providers, like Google Inc. But legal experts say the cloud has been largely forbidden for defense data. Because most cloud providers can store customer data distributed in hubs across the world, few can promise that sensitive information won’t end up residing in another country or managed by foreigners. In the past, heavily encrypting the data before it was stored in the cloud provided no exemption to ITAR, which hasn’t been revised to reflect the growth of the cloud. Even if the information was a garbled series of numbers and letters, it has still been considered an illegal export if it left the U.S, said Josephine Aiello LeBeau, an export attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
But the advisory opinion appeared to be a significant softening of the stance. “What we’ve said is that if a U.S. person takes sufficient means to ensure data is only viewed by authorized U.S. persons we’re fine with them putting it on the cloud,” a State Department official said. “We’re not saying whether those means exist yet.”
The official said the State Department would issue broader guidance on putting ITAR data in the cloud by the end of the year.
A Perspecsys spokesman said in an email the company worked closely with State Department officials as they crafted their advisory opinion and welcomed their decision on cloud computing.
Ms. Aiello LeBeau said the opinion was likely a sign that State Department will now consider various security tools as means of rendering ITAR data non-sensitive. “If this is true it’s very significant,” said Ms. Aiello LeBeau, who emphasized that she hasn’t read the advisory opinion. “No one else has done this before as far I know.”
But companies should be careful about broadly interpreting this exemption. Officials strongly rebuked Perspecys for trumpeting a “‘Groundbreaking’ reinterpretation” to ITAR cloud computing rules in the company’s press release. “They made a bunch of extremely inflated claims and left out the clarifications and caveats,” a State Department official. The company has since revised the press release on its site.
Officials took particular issue with the company characterizing the particular technique it used in scrambling the sensitive data–known as tokenization–as the key to its ITAR exemption. “Tokenization is almost irrelevant to the exemption. We did not in any shape or form endorse tokenization as a means,” a State Department official said.
Still, allowing ITAR data to transit and reside overseas in any form is a big step. “If you say this is how we’re going to [scramble] the data and the State Department says they won’t consider this an export, I understand why the company is excited,” Ms. Aiello LeBeau said. “It is a game changer.”
Congress Told of Possible Gap in Air Force’s Nuclear Strike Capability
June 9, 2014
By Rachel Oswald
Global Security Newswire
A new congressional report highlights the potential for a shortfall to emerge in the Air Force’s ability to mount long-range nuclear bomber attacks.
A Congressional Research Service report published online on Saturday highlights a number of factors that could result in a gap in the country’s ability to conduct long-range nuclear strikes by air, among them foreign nations’ development of sophisticated anti-access and area-denial capabilities and reductions in defense spending imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The Pentagon is planning on building a new long-range stealth bomber, but the first units are not expected to become available until the mid-2020s. In the meantime, the ability of the Air Force’s current fleet of nuclear-capable bombers “to get close enough to targets to employ weapons will likely continue to deteriorate” as potential adversaries acquire more advanced air defenses, according to the report by Congress’ internal think-tank.
“Already, against today’s toughest air defenses, the B-52 and B-1 are largely regulated to standoff roles; only the B-2 is expected to get through,” states the report by analyst Michael Miller. “In the years to come, the Air Force anticipates the B-2’s ability to penetrate will also decline, even though the Air Force plans to upgrade all three bombers with new systems and weapons.”
Not much is publicly known about the envisioned characteristics of the next-generation bomber, including what capabilities it will be given to defeat opponents’ anti-access weaponry. The Air Force wants to buy between 80 and 100 new bombers.
Much has been written in recent months and years about the potential for China’s growing arsenal of cruise and ballistic missiles to inhibit the ability of the U.S. military to project naval power in the Asia-Pacific.
There are approximately 157 long-range B-52s, B-1s and B-2s in the U.S. arsenal. The Defense Department plans to maintain a bomber fleet of roughly 156 aircraft through at least 2022, the report notes. However, the nearly $500 billion in congressionally imposed defense cuts that are to be implemented over the next decade, as well as the potential for further military cutbacks, could impact the size of the Air Force’s legacy dual-capable fleet, according to Miller.
The reduced military budget comes as Pentagon spending on its nuclear bombers is projected to double by fiscal 2020 to over $9 billion annually, thanks to the cost of acquiring the new long-range bomber and installing upgrades to the B-52, B-1 and B-2 at the same time. Current service modernization plans are designed to keep the former two planes “operational” through 2040, and the B-2 deployable through 2058.
The CRS report flags for Congress’ oversight attention the question of whether to continue to pay for “sustainment and modernization efforts” for legacy bombers in the face of potential adversaries’ growing air defense capabilities, or to alternatively allow the bombers to “become increasingly irrelevant.”
“In large part, decisions by Congress will determine just how much longer the B-52, B-1 and B-2 will remain relevant, and ultimately, will likely determine the future of the nation’s long-range strike capabilities,” the document reads.
Even the GAO Can’t Figure Out if There’s a STEM Worker Shortage
By Anne L. Kim
Posted at 9:11 a.m. June 10
In the debate over whether or not there’s a shortage of STEM workers, Congress’ top watchdog office says the answer isn’t clear.
“It is difficult to know if the numbers of STEM graduates are aligned with workforce needs, in part because demand for STEM workers fluctuates,” says a Government Accountability Office report that was published last month and recently publicly released.
The GAO says estimating demand for STEM workers is a “challenge, in part because demand for STEM workers can fluctuate with economic conditions”:
For example, the number of jobs in core STEM occupations declined by about 250,000 between 2008 and 2010 (from 7.74 million jobs in 2008 to 7.49 million in 2010), though it then increased (to 7.89 million jobs in 2012). Subject matter specialists and federal officials we interviewed also noted that employer needs in STEM fields are difficult to predict because they may change with technological or market developments.
Other reasons it’s difficult to know whether there are enough STEM workers to meet demand, according to the report:
•If students are going into STEM fields because of favorable economic conditions in that field, it can take several years for them to get their degrees, meaning that supply can lag behind demand.
•Looking at people with STEM degrees might not be a good way to think about how many STEM workers are out there because “students often pursue careers in fields different from the ones they studied.” Take for example, the percent of people in 2012 with STEM bachelor’s degrees who worked in a STEM job – only 38 percent according to GAO. Sixty-two percent worked in non-STEM jobs.
“The survey data cannot tell us how many of these STEM -educated workers are in a non-STEM occupation by choice and how many would prefer to work in a STEM occupation but cannot find a position suitable to them,” the report says, but notes that they have relatively low unemployment rate, indicating that there’s generally demand for them both in STEM and non-STEM jobs.
FAA Gives Approval to BP to Use Commercial Drones Over Land
AeroVironment Will Capture, Analyze Data at Prudhoe Bay Operations
By Jack Nicas
June 10, 2014 9:00 a.m. ET
BP PLC signed a five-year contract to use drones for its oil operations in Alaska, the first large-scale, government-approved commercial use of unmanned aircraft in the U.S.
BP said it has hired AeroVironment Inc. to use the California drone maker’s 13.5-pound aircraft to capture and analyze data about BP’s operations at its Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska, one of the largest oil fields in North America, including 3-D maps of its roads, pipelines and well pads there.
The operation, which began on Sunday, marks the first routine commercial drone flights in the U.S. approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and comes amid growing excitement about the commercial market for unmanned aircraft.
The FAA has approved one other drone for commercial use, the 40-pound ScanEagle made by Boeing Co. BA -0.93% subsidiary Insitu Inc., but that device has only been used in trial flights off the coast of Alaska by ConocoPhillips. COP +0.72%
The FAA prohibits the commercial use of drones in the U.S. without its approval. The agency aims to propose a long-delayed rule later this year that would make it easier to operate small drones commercially. Until then, drone makers and users must complete a lengthy certification process, similar to that of manned aircraft, if they want FAA approval for commercial uses.
AeroVironment spokesman Steve Gitlin said it took about a year and considerable monetary investment to get FAA approval. “If that’s what it takes to prove the commercial viability, then it’s something we’re committed to doing,” he said.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who oversees the FAA, said in a news release that BP’s use of drones is “another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft.”
Curt Smith, a director in BP’s technology office, said that manned aircraft are sometimes less expensive for each flight than the AeroVironment devices, but that the drones will gather far more data, enabling BP to operate “more effectively, more safely and at a lower cost.”
For instance, he said, BP relies heavily on gravel roads that it must constantly maintain. AeroVironment’s Puma drones, which are hand-launched and have a 9-foot wingspan, use laser-based sensors that can pinpoint problems on the roads, identify how they should be repaired and calculate how much gravel is needed, the companies said.
The drones also can create 3-D models of gravel pits, calculate how much gravel remains and identify areas that are vulnerable to flooding. After the drones’ first 3-D model of a pit there, officials overseeing it said, “That’s more data in 45 minutes than we’ve gotten in the last 30 years,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s revolutionary.”
The companies said they could also use the drones to monitor wildlife, ice floes and BP’s infrastructure and to respond to oil spills or search-and-rescue missions.
Despite the FAA’s effective ban on commercial drones, many U.S. entrepreneurs in recent months have employed the devices to make maps, film movies, inspect infrastructure and monitor crops. But BP is one of the first major companies to invest in the technology for its operations.
“We went through and thought about all the applications that we could use these for. We’ve got a whole list of things,” said Mr. Smith of BP. Once the company vets the technology further and the regulatory landscape becomes clearer, he said, “we’ll be taking [drones] to other onshore fields around the world.”
First overland UAS flight takes off
Posted by GCN Staff on Jun 11, 2014 at 12:10 PM
The FAA has begun to clear the way for domestic drones to operate lawfully across the United States.
Earlier this week it gave a green light to the first commercial operation of a unmanned aircraft system over land, and also granted Nevada a certificate of authority to begin operating a UAS test site in the United States.
Energy giant PB and UAS maker AeroVironment June 8 were granted permission to use the Puma AE drone to conduct a survey of BP pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the largest oilfield in the United States.
AeroVironment made the first flight for BP June 8, the FAA announced.
“These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing.”
AeroVironment’s Puma AE is a small, hand-launched UAS that is about 4 1/2 feet long with a wingspan of 9 feet. Using data generated by the Puma’s sensors, BP wants to target maintenance work on specific roads and infrastructure. BP said the application will save time and support safety and operational reliability goals.
Meanwhile the FAA granted the state of Nevada a certificate of authority to operate a UAS test site.
The state is one of six sites across the country that the FAA tapped to host one of the facilities. The others are at the University of Alaska; Griffiss International Airport in Rome, N.Y.; the North Dakota Department of Commerce; Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi campus; and Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg. The University of Alaska received its COA in early May and North Dakota received the first one in April.
The FAA said June 6 that it granted Nevada a two-year certificate of waiver or authorization to use an Insitu ScanEagle at the Desert Rock Airport in Mercury.
The facility, according to the FAA, is owned and operated by the Department of Energy and is not for general use. The ScanEagle will fly at or below 3,000 feet, monitored by a visual observer and mission commander. Initial flights will verify that a UAS can operate safely at the airport, said FAA.
The Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development said in a June 6 statement that the unmanned aerial vehicle will be used for a first responder exercise in which the vehicle “will be ‘eyes on scene’ during a mock emergency exercise.”
Hidden volcanoes melt Antarctic glaciers from below, study finds
By Stephanie Pappas
Published June 09, 2014
The edge of the Thwaites glacier, shown here in an image taken during Operation Icebridge, a NASA-led study of Antarctic and Greenland glaciers. The blue along the glacier front is dense, compressed ice.NASA photograph by Jim Yungel
Antarctica is a land of ice. But dive below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and you’ll find fire as well, in the form of subglacial volcanoes.
Now, a new study finds that these subglacial volcanoes and other geothermal “hotspots” are contributing to the melting of Thwaites Glacier, a major river of ice that flows into Antarctica’s Pine Island Bay. Areas of the glacier that sit near geologic features thought to be volcanic are melting faster than regions farther away from hotspots, said Dustin Schroeder, the study’s lead author and a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin.
This melting could significantly affect ice loss in the West Antarctic, an area that is losing ice quickly.
“It’s not just the fact that there is melting water, and that water is coming out,” Schroeder told Live Science. “It’s how that affects the flow and stability of the ice.”
Researchers have long known that volcanoes lurk under the ice of West Antarctica. This is a seismically active region, where East and West Antarctica are rifting apart. In 2013, a team of scientists even found a new volcano beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
West Antarctica is also hemorrhaging ice due to climate change, and recent studies have suggested there is no way to reverse the retreat of West Antarctic glaciers. However, the timing of this retreat is still in question, Schroeder said it could take hundreds of years, or thousands. It’s important to understand which, given that meltwater from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet contributes directly to sea level rise.
Scientists use computer models to try to predict the future of the ice sheet, but their lack of understanding of subglacial geothermal energy has been a glaring gap in these models. Measuring geothermal activity under the ice sheet is so difficult that researchers usually just enter one, uniform estimate for the contributions of geothermal heat to melting, Schroeder said.
Of course, volcanism isn’t uniform. Geothermal hotspots no doubt influence melting more in some areas than in others.
“It’s the most complex thermal environment you might imagine,” study co-author Don Blankenship, a geophysicist at UT Austin, said in a statement. “And then, you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible.”
To unravel the complexity, the researchers built on a previous study they published in 2013 that mapped out the system of channels that flows beneath the Thwaites Glacier, a fast-flowing glacier that scientists say is vulnerable to global warming.
Using radar data from satellites in orbit, the researchers were able to figure out where these subglacial streams were too full to be explained by flow from upstream. The swollen streams revealed spots of unusually high melt, Schroeder said. Next, the researchers checked out the subglacial geology in the region and found that fast-melting spots were disproportionately clustered near confirmed West Antarctic volcanoes, suspected volcanoes or other presumed hotspots.
“There’s a pattern of hotspots,” Schroeder said. “One of them is next to Mount Takahe, which is a volcano that actually sticks out of the ice sheet.”
The minimum average heat flow beneath Thwaites Glacier is 114 milliwatts per square meter (or per about 10 square feet) with some areas giving off 200 milliwatts per square meter or more, the researchers report Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (A milliwatt is one-thousandth of a watt.) In comparison, Schroeder said, the average heat flow of the rest of the continents is 65 milliwatts per square meter.
“It’s pretty hot by continental standards,” he said.
The extra melt caused by subglacial volcanoes could lubricate the ice sheet from beneath, hastening its flow toward the sea, Schroeder said. To understand how much the volcanic melt contributes to this flow and what that means for the future of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet glaciologists and climate scientists will have to include the new, finer-grained findings in their models. Schroeder and his colleagues also plan to expand their study to other glaciers in the region.
“Anywhere in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is going to be a candidate for high melt areas,” he said. “And we have radar data covering much of it.”
CEO: Companies Need To Use More Commercial Tech in Weapons
Jun. 11, 2014 – 01:55PM | By MARCUS WEISGERBER | Comments
WASHINGTON — Global defense companies need to import and adapt more commercial technology into military weapons and systems of the future, a former US deputy defense secretary turned industry CEO said Wednesday.
The Pentagon is more often using these types of technologies, such as 3-D printing and IT systems, allowing troops to use smartphones to view real-time reconnaissance information.
“The model was to develop things internally and then put them out [commercially],” said Bill Lynn, CEO of Finmeccanica North America and a former deputy defense secretary under Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.
“We still need to do that in some cases, but in many more cases we’re going to have to pull commercial technologies in and militarize them and operationalize them,” he said Wednesday at a Center for a New American Security (CNAS) conference.
Lynn and retired Adm. James Stavridis, now dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, presented a just-completed CNAS report on the future of the global defense industry.
There is more commercial technology in defense than there has been in past decades, Lynn said. In the past five years, the commercial content in defense acquisitions has risen from about 10 percent to about 30 percent, he said.
“To maintain our technological edge, what you’re going to have to see is the defense sector is going to have to become more an importer [of commercial technology] than we have in the past,” Lynn said. “The balance has been more toward export.”
Those exports have included GPS and the Internet. Some capabilities that will shape the future include cyber, unmanned, biology and nano technologies, Lynn said.
But, the Defense Department needs to lower the barriers of entry to allow more commercial technology into defense acquisitions, Lynn said.
That said, the defense industry is moving too slowly to adjust to trends in technology and security, Lynn and Stavridis said in the CNAS report.
Many defense companies have been investing less in research-and-development programs, instead executing a short-term strategy of moving cash back to shareholders, Lynn said. That puts the industry at risk, he said.
Some companies are starting to raise research-and-development investment levels, Lynn noted.
Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin’s chairman, CEO and president, said Monday that her firm plans to boost its internal research-and-development spending by more than $30 million this year.
But despite the increase, the company’s investment in these types of projects is still tens of millions of dollars less than it was 15 years ago. ■
NSA Chief: Military Not Organized for Cyber Warfare
By Sandra I. Erwin
The U.S. military’s hidebound culture and outdated procurement system are slowing down efforts to improve cyber defenses against increasingly sophisticated network attacks, said Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command.
The Pentagon created the cyber command four years ago to prepare to wage war against hackers and foreign spies. It has a $500 million annual budget and a sprawling campus on Fort Meade, Maryland. Its ability to protect Defense Department networks is limited, however, by the military’s disjointed organization and outdated attitudes about information technology, Rogers said June 12.
“Our greater challenge is not technology but organization,” he told a conference of the Association of the U.S. Army, in Arlington, Virginia.
The Pentagon by some estimates operates 15,000 networks across the Defense Department and the military services. Each branch of the military buys and manages its own systems. Of most concern to Rogers is that cyber security tends to be put on the back burner.
“Military commanders must ‘own’ cyber,” said Rogers. “Networks and cyber [should be] the commanders’ business.”
In his previous job as head of the Navy’s cyber fleet, Rogers was frustrated by a culture where information networks are relegated to the technical support staff, rather than viewed as a command priority. As cyber attacks become more pervasive and intractable, “our ability to integrate cyber into a broader operational concept is going to be key,” he said. Now, “we treat cyber as something so specialized, so different, so unique, that resides outside the operational framework.”
Commanders operate under the “flawed” notion that they can turn over network responsibilities to the unit’s information technology experts, said Rogers. “Commanders have to own this mission and integrate it into operations.” Senior officers ought to be as knowledgeable about a unit’s network capabilities and potential vulnerabilities as they would be about its fuel and ammunition supplies, he added. “The challenge to that is as much cultural as it is technical.”
The military, indeed, needs advanced technologies to build stronger cyber defenses, said Rogers. But a disjointed procurement system makes that difficult. The Defense Department today, he said, cannot “synchronize our capabilities as a team.”
The Pentagon must build a “joint network backbone,” he said. “I never understood why the services each spend money creating, maintaining, building and operating a global communications backbone. We do it independently. It makes no sense to me. It is inefficient. It does not lead to an integrated approach to problem solving,” he added. “We need a joint framework.” Each service could still address its own needs for the “last tactical mile.”
The Defense Department last year launched a network integration effort, called “joint information environment,” to help protect systems from cyber attacks. Rogers does not see any easy fixes to this problem other than a “fundamental change in how we do acquisitions.” Networks are not viewed as “war fighting platforms,” he said. “We generally turn to our CIO and tell them to go build a network. … We don’t entwine acquisition and operations.”
Rogers also called on the military services to beef up their in-house talent. “We need to create a workforce that understands the vision, has the tools and capabilities to execute the vision,” he said. “We, the Defense Department, are not on the cutting edge when it comes to networks, and information technology. … We need to build a trained and ready operational cyber force.”
Cyber Command wants to “partner” with the services because it cannot do its job without their cooperation, he said. “It makes no sense to develop some joint vision and jam it down the throats of our services. I tell the services that we are doing this as one team.”
Future networks, said Rogers, not only must be joint, but also “defensible … with an architecture in which defensibility, resiliency and redundancy are core design characteristics. … I can’t say that about current networks.”
For Cyber Command, it can be daunting to have to defend networks that it cannot “see,” said Rogers. “We have got to create shared situational awareness. It is awfully hard to operate — whether on the offensive or defensive side — in an environment where you cannot see the environment where you operate.” Military commanders have “tactical operations centers” where they can follow events in real time. “We don’t have that in the cyber world. We have to create that. It’s hard to be agile when you can’t visualize what you’re doing.”
Rogers’ criticism of military culture echoes the argument made by his predecessor, now retired Army Gen. Keith Alexander. In one of his first public speeches as incoming Cyber Command chief in June 2010, Alexander complained that the command lacked visibility into the Defense Department’s networks, which limited its capacity to prevent attacks. He said Cyber Command only becomes aware of intrusions after they happen, and then reacts to the events, because it has little “situational awareness.” He suggested the command could not do its job without a “common operating picture.” In maneuver warfare, military commanders on the battlefield need situational awareness so they can pinpoint the location of the enemy and try to anticipate what it might do. In cyberspace, the military has no such capability.
Rogers said Cyber Command is preparing for cyber warfare as it also deals with thorny policy issues. His dual-hat role as chief of the NSA and Cyber Command puts Rogers at the center of a growing firestorm over domestic spying and privacy rights. “We need to be mindful of policy and administrative changes to apply these capabilities,” he said. “What legal frameworks do we need to execute this mission? Technology has moved much faster than our policy.”
NORAD Scrambles Fighters Against Russian Bombers
By Richard Sisk Thursday, June 12th, 2014 5:55 pm
Northern Command scrambled two F-22 Raptor and two F-15 Eagle fighters on Monday against a fleet of Russian bombers off the Alaska and northern California coasts, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
The Russian planes included four long-range Tu-95 Bear bombers and a refueling aircraft that briefly entered the U.S. Air Defense Identification Zone off Alaska at about 4:30 p.m. Pacific time.
Two of the bombers turned back when the F-22s made visual contact but the other two turned south and again briefly entered the ADIZ at about 9:30 p.m. Pacific time off northern California, where they were met by two F-15s, said Maj. Beth Smith, a spokeswoman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
The ADIZ extends about 200 miles off the coast while “sovereign airspace” extends 12 nautical miles from land. A NORAD statement said the Russian planes never came near U.S. sovereign airspace.
The Russian fly-bys were not unusual, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. There have been about 50 such incidents over the last five years, Warren said.
What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
Bottom of Form
Saturday, June 14, 2014
Fortunately for us, the Founding Fathers weren’t worried about offending the British, and we still enjoy the resulting freedoms to this day. Or do we? A surprising number of Americans aren’t so sure.
Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich’s recent forced resignation over a political contribution he made three years ago in support of traditional marriage prompted even leading gay columnist Andrew Sullivan to say political correctness has gone too far. Only 22% of Americans think we have true freedom of speech today. Seventy-four percent (74%) think instead that Americans have to be careful not to say something politically incorrect to avoid getting in trouble.
Sixty-two percent (62%) worry, too, that school textbooks today are more concerned with presenting information in a politically correct manner than accurately providing information to students.
While most Americans are concerned about so-called hate speech, just 29% think a ban on such speech is a good idea. Eighty-two percent (82%) think it is more important to give people the right to free speech than it is to make sure no one is offended by what others say.
But 54% of voters now consider the federal government a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector.
Forty-two percent (42%) of Americans think most people who get involved in politics do so to protect themselves from what the government might do. Slightly fewer (39%) think most turn to politics to make the country a better place. Eighteen percent (18%) are not sure.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is pressing forward on its own with new restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, mostly ones fuelled by coal. Yet while most voters (57%) approve of the EPA’s new regulations, just 30% think the agency should be able to move ahead on energy controls like this without Congress’ approval.
Most voters also continue to have an unfavorable opinion of the new national health care law. Only 16% say they personally have been helped by the law, while 31% say they have hurt by it instead.
More voters than ever (63%) think it is unlikely that most of the current problems with the law will be fixed within the next year. But voters remain closely divided over how the health care law will influence their vote in the November congressional election.
Republicans are counting on both these issues to help them pick up the six seats they need to take control of the U.S. Senate. The new coal restrictions are already at play in the Senate races in Kentucky and West Virginia. The health care law is front and center in the races in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, but add Montana and South Dakota to that list, too. Opposition to Obamacare is higher in all those states than it is nationally. Other than Kentucky, all these Senate seats are now held by Democrats.
In this week’s polling, we find that Republican Congressman Steve Daines has moved to an 18-point lead over interim Senator John Walsh in the U.S. Senate race in Montana. Former Governor Mike Rounds still leads his Democratic opponent Rick Weiland by double digits in South Dakota’s U.S. Senate race, but Republican-turned-Independent Larry Pressler has made the race a bit closer.
At the same time, incumbent Democrat Mark Warner has opened up a slightly larger lead over Republican challenger Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race.
Democrats lead Republicans again on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.
The biggest political news of the week, though, was challenger Dave Brat’s win over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Virginia. Cantor’s loss, depending on whom you listen to, was due to Cantor’s poor constituent services, his shifting stance on immigration reform or the influence of the Tea Party movement. Or all of the above.
In a survey conducted just prior to Cantor’s defeat, Republicans show slightly less enthusiasm for the Tea Party and its potential impact on this year’s elections. Thirty-three percent (33%) of GOP voters still think the Tea Party will help their party in the November elections, while 37% say it will hurt the party’s candidates instead. But 75% continue to believe it’s important for Republicans in Congress to work with the Tea Party.
In other news this week, public opinion is shifting away from support for the prisoner swap that brought U.S. POW Bowe Bergdahl home from Afghanistan.
At mid-week, the Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes which measure daily confidence in both groups hit their highest levels in seven years. They remain near their highs for this year and well ahead of findings since the Wall Street meltdown in the fall of 2008.
Forty-eight percent (48%) of Working Americans believe they will be earning more money a year from today. That’s the highest level of optimism in nearly five years.
No major changes in President Obama’s daily job approval rating, however. He’s still tracking at levels we’ve seen for much of his presidency.
Our first look at three gubernatorial races, following the party primaries in those states, shows three potential routs, but there’s a lot of time until Election Day.
Republican Governor Robert Bentley is far ahead of Democratic challenger Parker Griffith in his bid for reelection in Alabama. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has an equally impressive lead over Republican challenger Neel Kashkari in California. Republican incumbent Dennis Daugaard posts a 20-point lead over Democratic challenger Susan Wismer in South Dakota’s race for governor.
In other surveys this week:
— Thirty percent (30%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. Sixty-two percent (62%) think it is headed down the wrong track.
— But 84% consider themselves patriotic Americans. Among this group, 94% claim to know the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and 80% oppose replacing it with an easier-to-sing anthem.
— Sixty percent (60%) of all Americans say they or someone in their family displays the flag on most national holidays, and even more think children should honor the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school every morning.
— Eighty-five percent (85%) of Americans think wearable computers like Google Glass are likely to violate the privacy of others, and a sizable number would be more likely to patronize a bar or restaurant that bans Google Glass.
— Virgin Galactic has announced that it will begin commercial passenger space flights as early as the end of this year, and 39% of Americans are ready to go if they can afford it.
USAF ISR Head: Changes Needed to Prepare For Future
May. 30, 2014 – 04:25PM | By AARON MEHTA | Comments
With no sign that the sequestration-imposed budget cuts are going away, the Air Force is going to have to change how it handles its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) architecture, the services top ISR official said Friday.
“We need to change direction in how we approach the architecture, and we’re looking for ideas,” Gen. Robert Otto told an audience of industry executives at an event hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. “So we’re concentrating on that right now. The notion is we get away from a propriety, very hierarchical type of system to something that is government owned, open architecture with competitions for the various applications.”
Otto highlighted the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) program, which aims to collect information from various ISR sources and give it a central clearinghouse, as a platform that works very well but needs to be altered to fit the new fiscal realities.
“It’s a tremendous architecture which can do incredibly powerful things that has delivered unbelievable success on the battlefield,” Otto said of the system. “It’ also completely unaffordable, and if we don’t change the way we do business we will fail.”
The movement towards an open architecture is hardly confined to the ISR world – the service’s simulation community has also expressed a desire to move in that direction – but Otto indicated a desire to move in that direction sooner rather than later.
In order to change how it operates, the Air Force needs flexibility for planning from the men and women who control the purse strings.
“What [sequestration] really means is we need to reform,” Otto said. “We need the help of Congress in order to be able to reform the way that we do things going forward.”
That includes being given the flexibility to retire either the U-2 spy plane or Global Hawk unmanned system, something that has been blocked on the Hill so far.
“Our plan right now is to divest the U-2,” Otto said. “We supported the department’s position on that this year. The Air Force was going to divest the global hawk before. Our point is we can’t afford both, and so far we have been unable to make the case to retire either one.”
He highlighted how the cuts last year directly impacted two key ISR assets, the U-2 and the Rivet Joint manned aircraft.
“Last year for the U-2 we had about a $210 million budget and we had to cut about $55 million from that, about one fourth….what that really meant was our aircraft availability decreased by 15-20 percent,” Otto said. “Or you can look at the Rivet Joint which had a bout a $270 million budget for the year and we cut about $90 million of that. What happened was, we had to ground two of the airplanes. It’s a 17 airplane fleet, so if you ground two you’re going to have impact on what we can present going forward.”
Otto, who spoke with Defense News in January about the future of the service’s ISR strategy, said he is still a firm believer in the role of drones – he joked about the service’s “unsuccessful” campaign to get people to refer to them as “remotely piloted aircraft” – for the future, noting that he expects an “explosion” of those systems by the early part of the next decade.
Spending money on unmanned systems is probably “a good investment,” he told the crowd. ■
The Pros and Cons of Obama’s New Carbon Rule
By Eric Pianin,
The Fiscal Times
June 2, 2014
President Obama on Monday is unveiling a controversial environmental and energy initiative: an executive order to force coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030—the boldest move yet in the administration’s efforts to fight climate change.
Coal-fired power plants account for some 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say are the main cause of global warming. At 39 percent in 2013, they are also the largest supplier of fuel powering electricity in the U.S. “I refuse to condemn our children to a planet beyond fixing,” the president said Saturday during his weekly radio and Internet address. “In America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children.”
Drafted by the EPA, the new rule puts a national limit on carbon pollution from coal plants, as The New York Times and others have reported. It also gives the states flexibility to devise their own approaches, such as creating energy-efficiency technology, using more wind and solar power, and starting or joining “cap-and-trade” programs, which allow utility companies to buy and sell government-issued pollution permits.
Obama Prepares To Push For New Power Plant Rules
President Barack Obama is planning a public show of support for new climate change rules that his administration will unveil Monday. The White House says Obama will spotlight the…
Obama tried previously to push “cap and trade” through Congress as part of an effort to control carbon emissions, but it died in 2010 in the Senate. The GOP, Tea Party groups and the coal industry attacked Democrats who supported it, warning the legislation would raise energy prices and cost jobs.
Now the president is invoking executive authority instead, and Republicans and energy insiders are complaining that Obama is circumventing lawmakers on a critical policy that could raise energy costs and shutter many coal-fired power plants.
In drafting the executive order, the EPA turned to a little-used provision of the Clean Air Act (CAA), since carbon dioxide isn’t regulated under government air pollution programs. States and industry groups are preparing to wage legal challenges to the rule, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Last September, the administration announced new regulations setting strict limits on the amount of carbon pollution that can be generated by new U.S. power plants. The proposal sparked a backlash from supporters of the coal industry and is certain to face legal challenges.
The president’s latest targeting of existing power plants is pitting major environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), against industry and business organizations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Long a booster of “cap and trade,” the NRDC says the executive order would stem carbon emissions while encouraging economic development and job creation – while the Chamber of Commerce warns of $50 billion in economic costs per year.
Both groups have issued dueling assessments of the plan’s likely impact. Here are 6 major arguments in favor of, and 6 against, Obama’s executive order, based on a summary the NRDC provided to The Fiscal Times and on excerpts from a Chamber of Commerce study.
6 Reasons to Support Obama’s Carbon Rule, from the NRDC:
•Carbon pollution fuels climate change, which triggers more asthma attacks and respiratory disease, worsens air quality, and contributes to destructive, costly and deadly extreme-weather events.
•In 2012 alone, extreme weather cost the U.S. more than $130B, and taxpayers picked up nearly $100B of the cleanup’s cost, according to an NRDC analysis.
•Setting federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants is essential: Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution, the single largest source. Right now, we limit mercury, arsenic, lead, soot and other dangerous pollutants from power plants, but not carbon pollution.
•While many states and communities have taken action, the new federal safeguard will set commonsense limits on carbon pollution, inspire investment in infrastructure to protect communities, and spur innovation to power America with clean energy in the 21st century.
•States have flexibility to implement plans to increase efficiency, improve resiliency and remove carbon pollution. Carbon standards can create hundreds of thousands of jobs and save American households and businesses billions on electricity bills, NRDC claims, as energy efficiency is ramped up.
•New clean energy technologies that produce less carbon pollution will create a new generation of clean energy jobs. Carbon pollution limits will spur investment and innovation in clean energy technologies to modernize and clean up power plants. Since 1970, every dollar invested in compliance with Clean Air Act standards has yielded $4-8 in economic benefits.
6 Reasons to Oppose Obama’s Carbon Rule, from the Chamber of Commerce:
•It will negatively affect national GDP, employment, and real income per household. A Chamber of Commerce study predicts a peak decline in GDP of $104B in 2025, with an average of $51B per year from 2014 to 2030. It also predicts the loss of up to 442,000 jobs.
•It will have a very small impact on global CO2 emissions, which are set to rise rapidly. The Chamber’s analysis finds the proposal would address “a mere 1.8 percent of global CO2 emissions.” Regardless of national emissions reduction policies and adverse economic impacts, global CO2 emissions will grow rapidly.
•It will be extremely costly. Regulating CO2 emissions will generate adverse economic impacts in the U.S. in exchange for reductions overshadowed by rapidly rising emissions elsewhere. The plan would shave $51B off GDP annually and increase electricity costs by $289B.
•The law governing mercury and other toxins is a huge economic drain; the new plan would be even worse. To date, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) is the most expensive power sector rule issued by the EPA, at a projected total cost of $9.6B per year… The average compliance cost of the EPA’s CO2 regulations is nearly triple that, at $28.1B, over a 17-year time frame.
•The plan will force the energy industry to deal with the cost of decommissioning or retrofitting existing, functional power-delivery infrastructure and replacing it. The total cost for incremental generating capacity, supporting infrastructure (electric transmission, natural gas pipelines, CO2 pipelines), decommissioning, stranded asset costs, and offsetting savings from lower fuel use and operation and maintenance is nearly $480B.
•The proposal places unrealistic demands on states, resulting in more burden on individuals and businesses, says the Chamber: “In regulating CO2 emissions, it appears the EPA will attempt to mandate a level of CO2 emissions reductions that is unachievable at the source (power plants).”
The Real Threat to the Electric Power Grid Is Not Terrorism
By Rob Garver,
The Fiscal Times
May 28, 2014
The combination of declining costs for solar panels and dramatic improvements in both price and capacity of lithium ion batteries is bad news for the giant electrical utilities that currently supply the majority of power to homes and businesses in the United States.
In a research note released last week, analysts in the credit research division of Barclays investment bank warned that the day when cost-effective solar power will be available to the individual consumer is closer than many expect, and will create huge disruptions for existing electrical utilities.
“In the 100+ year history of the electric utility industry, there has never before been a truly cost-competitive substitute available for grid power,” said a note authored by a team of analysts led by Yung Chuan Koh. “We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade.”
In fact, the authors note, solar power has already become cost-competitive with traditional grid power in Hawaii, where prices per kilowatt hour of solar-generated power are less than half of grid power. The Barclays team believes that solar will reach parity with grid power in California by 2017 and in New York and Arizona by 2018. In the years following, multiple states join the group until, by 2024, electrical utilities in all but a handful of states will face major competition from solar power.
The reason for solar’s sudden surge in competitiveness, the authors say, is two-fold: photovoltaic (solar) panels are becoming cheaper, and the lithium ion batteries, like those used to power electric cars, have become both cheaper and more efficient.
This combination has solved two of solar power’s biggest problems: upfront cost and continuity of power. In the past, many who would have liked to use solar power were put off by the cost, which in some cases would take many years to recoup through reduced electric bills. Others were troubled by the unreliability of the power source – without the availability of copious storage, solar could only be counted on during the limited time in which direct sunlight was available.
With both of those constraints going away, Koh and his co-authors note, there is virtually no way the electricity business won’t see major disruption in the coming years, and they warn that “the market can turn very quickly.”
Google Invests in Satellites to Spread Internet Access
Company Projects Spending More Than $1 Billion to Connect Unwired Reaches of the Globe
By Alistair Barr and Andy Pasztor
June 1, 2014 7:48 p.m. ET
Google plans to spend $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the world. Associated Press
Google Inc. GOOGL -1.59% plans to spend more than $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the globe, people familiar with the project said, hoping to overcome financial and technical problems that thwarted previous efforts.
Details remain in flux, the people said, but the project will start with 180 small, high-capacity satellites orbiting the earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, and then could expand.
Google’s satellite venture is led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite-communications startup O3b Networks Ltd., who recently joined Google with O3b’s former chief technology officer, the people said. Google has also been hiring engineers from satellite company Space Systems/Loral LLC to work on the project, according to another person familiar with the hiring initiative.
Mr. Wyler has between 10 and 20 people working for him at Google and reports to Craig Barratt, who reports to Chief Executive Larry Page, one of the people said. Mr. Wyler couldn’t be reached.
The projected price ranges from about $1 billon to more than $3 billion, the people familiar with the project said, depending on the network’s final design and a later phase that could double the number of satellites. Based on past satellite ventures, costs could rise.
Google’s project is the latest effort by a Silicon Valley company to extend Internet coverage from the sky to help its business on the ground. Google and Facebook Inc. FB -0.30% are counting on new Internet users in underserved regions to boost revenue, and ultimately, earnings.
Google’s Project Loon is designing high-altitude balloons to provide broadband service to remote parts of the world. In April, Google acquired Titan Aerospace, which is building solar-powered drones to provide similar connectivity. Facebook has its own drone effort.
“Google and Facebook are trying to figure out ways of reaching populations that thus far have been unreachable,” said Susan Irwin, president of Irwin Communications Inc., a satellite-communications research firm. “Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access.”
Google’s efforts to deliver Internet service to unserved regions—through balloons, drones and satellites—are consistent with its approaches to other new markets. Even if one or more projects don’t succeed, Google can often use what it learned in other areas.
A Google spokeswoman said the company is focused on bringing hundreds of millions of additional people online. “Internet connectivity significantly improves people’s lives. Yet two thirds of the world have no access at all,” she said. She declined further comment.
Tim Farrar, head of satellite-consulting firm TMF Associates, expects Project Loon’s balloons eventually to be replaced by Titan’s drones. Drones and satellites complement each other, he said, with drones offering better high-capacity service in smaller areas, and satellites offering broader coverage in areas with less demand.
Mr. Farrar worked as a consultant for Teledesic LLC, which tried to build a constellation of low-earth-orbit satellites to deliver Internet service in the 1990s. Teledesic, backed by Microsoft Corp. MSFT -0.16% and telecommunications entrepreneur Craig McCaw, considered using drones to provide additional capacity for the satellite system in some areas, he said. The more than $9 billion project halted satellite assembly in 2002 amid technical hurdles and cost overruns.
Earlier, Iridium Satellite LLC went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization less than a year after starting voice and data services in 1998.
History is replete with ambitious satellite plans that failed, according to Roger Rusch, who runs TelAstra Inc., a satellite-industry consulting firm. Google’s project will end up “costing far more than they can imagine today,” he said, perhaps as much as $20 billion. “This is exactly the kind of pipe dream we have seen before.”
Google also will have to overcome regulatory hurdles, including coordinating with other satellite operators so its fleet doesn’t interfere with others.
O3b, in which Google was an early investor, has been working on providing broadband Internet connectivity from satellites weighing about 1,500 pounds each. O3b has been planning to launch about a dozen satellites, aiming to serve large areas on either side of the equator.
Google hopes to cover the entire globe with more, but smaller, satellites weighing less than 250 pounds, the people familiar with the project said.
Jamie Goldstein, an O3b director and a partner at North Bridge Venture Partners, which backs the company, said he couldn’t comment on what Mr. Wyler is working on, citing a nondisclosure agreement with Google. An O3b spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for comment.
During a conference in March, Google CEO Mr. Page mused about spanning the globe with Internet access delivered by Project Loon. “I think we can build a world-wide mesh of these balloons that can cover the whole planet,” he said, noting that they are cheaper and faster to launch than satellites.
But satellites are more flexible and provide greater capacity. In recent years, costs to build and launch satellites have dropped sharply, according to Neil Mackay, CEO of Mile Marker 101, an advisory firm.
Consultant Mr. Farrar estimated that 180 small satellites could be launched for as little as about $600 million.
If Google succeeds, it “could amount to a sea change in the way people will get access to the Internet, from the Third World to even some suburban areas of the U.S.,” said Jeremy Rose of Comsys, a London-based satellite consulting firm.
Google also is hoping to take advantage of advances in antennas that can track multiple satellites as they move across the sky. Antennas developed by companies including Kymeta Corp. have no moving parts and are controlled by software, which reduces manufacturing and maintenance costs.
Kymeta hopes to sell its ground-antenna systems for hundreds of dollars, said CEO Vern Fotheringham. They would substitute for phased-array antennas which cost roughly $1 million a decade ago, he said.
Kymeta supplies antenna technology for O3b and worked closely with Brian Holz, a former O3b chief technology officer. Mr. Holz recently joined Google’s satellite project, along with Mr. Wyler and David Bettinger, technology chief of satellite-communications company VT iDirect Inc., Mr. Fotheringham said.
Technology news website the Information reported on May 27 that Google had hired Messrs. Holz and Bettinger for a satellite project.
“Google certainly has the resources to do something exciting in this area,” Mr. Fotheringham said. “We and everyone else in the industry are keen to hear more about what they’re working on.”
China’s Strategy Has Completely Eluded Washington
By Patrick Smith,
The Fiscal Times
June 2, 2014
The Chinese dragon, awake and alert for some time, is suddenly stretching its arms and embracing what it thinks with conviction is its destiny as a Pacific power. Will the American protectorate in place for 70 years hold, they ask in Tokyo, in Seoul, in Manila, and now even in Hanoi.
The short but unqualified answer is, “No.”
China’s emergence is a matter of history, of geography, and, since Deng opened the reform period in 1978, of accumulated economic power. Behind the rise we witness now lie Beijing’s view that the post 1945 order in the western Pacific must be corrected and a fulsome measure of Middle Kingdom determination. In one of the world’s wounded civilizations, the recovery of lost greatness has been the national dream since Mao took Beijing in 1949.
Does the Obama administration grasp any of this? This has not been clear for some time and grows more questionable now.
Last Saturday, Reuters reported the U.S. issued one of its strongest warnings to China when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told an Asia-Pacific conference that the U.S. “will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.”
Hagel said the United States took no position on the merits of rival territorial claims in the region, but added, “We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims.”
The posture here is not right. The primary lesson to be grasped in Washington and the Asian capitals is that the less time spent with fingers in the dike the better. The task now is to devise sensible, imaginative, sustainable policy responses that protect the interests of the U.S. and its allies while altering the climate in Asia from the poisonous antagonism we have to accommodation and on to cooperation.
This can be done, providing the wit and guts are there.
Recommendation No. 1 for Washington: Cut out the political appointees game in the foreign service. Restore the State Department’s institutional memory with good brains versed in history, the languages, and culture as opposed to rational choice theory.
Recommendation No. 2: Take control of the policy process away from Defense and the military and give it back to State, thus correcting an error that has for decades been detrimental to U.S. interests and the American profile in Asia.
The moment to rebuild strategy, ground up, is upon us for a simple reason: China has chosen it. Beijing has for many years waited for the right occasion to assert itself with concrete actions. As our jargon has it, China is “calling us out.”
There is not much ambiguity on this point. China has been increasingly aggressive in asserting its position in an islands dispute with Japan since last year. Six months ago came its declaration of an air defense zone that intersects with those Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have had in place, courtesy of American cartographers, since the early Cold War years.
More recently Beijing has advanced maritime claims in the South China Sea that place its rights within a few dozen miles of the Philippines shoreline and 300 miles from the mainland. In its boldest moves to date, it recently towed an oilrig into waters claimed by Vietnam, prompting protests in Hanoi that resulted in four deaths.
These are not separate questions. They are better understood as the start of China’s campaign to renovate the power balance in the western Pacific. David Pilling, Asia editor at the Financial Times, sees savvy tactical design as a unifying theme across the region. “China’s probing the edge of what it can do,” Pilling said the other day. “These are issues Beijing knows America will not react to other than rhetorically.”
Pilling, who is among the most astute Asia analysts now in the field, takes a very long view of Chinese thinking. China turned inward after the 1949 revolution, he says, finding Washington’s Pax Pacifica objectionable but expedient. So did Deng, who said in effect, “Let’s proceed with our reforms and choose our moment carefully.”
“Some people took acquiescence in the post-1945 order to be permanent policy, but it’s a misreading,” Pilling said. “If one is to take one’s time, the only question left is, “When?” And it now starts to look as if the answer is, “Now.”
O.K., Pilling, but why now?
The 2008 financial crisis was a tripwire, in Pilling’s view. America no longer appeared infallible; China, as America’s biggest banker, a WTO member, and ahead of Japan as the No. 2 economic power, gained confidence. “There’s a prestige factor here, too,” Pilling added.
Equally, the Law of the Sea had long been on the U.N.’s docket, but only recently have nations marked out formal territorial claims. When Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, asserted America’s role in protecting Asian sea lanes on a visit to Hanoi in 2010, Beijing’s back stiffened. “Critical point,” Pilling thinks. “China saw no role for America in Asian disputes. What if relations with the referee turned hostile?”
At the security conference in Singapore at the end of last week, the shared concern among Hagel and his counterparts was the pressure Beijing now intentionally exerts to weaken Washington’s network of alliances with regional capitals. This is almost certainly an accurate perception.
Yet, it would be a mistake to assume China intends to replace Pax Americana with a Pax Sinica. It is too busy at home, cannot afford any such an ambition, and has proven from Mao to Deng and since that pragmatic self-interest figures high in its calculations. This is the door to renovated relations Washington must not fail to step through.
Hagel’s criticism of Beijing’s recent moves in the region—”intimidation and coercion,” he said—was a mistake on numerous counts. First, it was Hagel’s remark. The defense secretary should do less traveling in Asia and Secretary Kerry more. Second, Hagel betrayed anxiety, and one must avoid that with the Chinese. Third, he signaled that Washington remains determined to fight the forlorn fight against the incoming tide.
Finally, Hagel elicited two reactions in the region, neither desirable. Beijing denounced the conference point blank. Elsewhere, Hagel’s talk will merely confirm the widely shared impression that talk is all Washington finally has on offer.
Asia Sentinel, an authoritative online journal published in Hong Kong, said it this way in a recent edition: “For a nation that is supposedly paying more attention to Asia and building relationships with old and new friends, the U.S. response to recent Chinese moves against Vietnam and the Philippines has been mealy-mouthed.”
Not the desired effect, to put the point mildly.
Sen. Durbin: Early July Is ‘Goal’ for Defense Spending Bill
Jun. 3, 2014 – 03:45AM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments
WASHINGTON — US Senate appropriators are aiming to take up their 2015 Pentagon spending measure just after Independence Day, says Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
“First week of July,” the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee chairman said as he ducked into an elevator near the Senate chamber. “That’s the goal.”
The coming markup will be Durbin’s second since his surprising ascension to subcommittee chairman. Since, defense firms have upped their campaign contributions to the Senate majority whip.
The House’s full Appropriations Committee likely will take up its version of the 2015 defense appropriations bill next week, an aide says. Its defense subpanel last week approved a version that would give the Defense Department $570.4 billion.
The House version adds monies for fighter jets, electronic-attack planes and maintains 11 aircraft carriers.
The House Appropriations Defense subcommittee proposes a $491 billion base Pentagon budget and a $79.4 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO), or war funding, section.
That $491 billion figure is $5 billion lower than the Pentagon’s $496 billion base budget request. When factoring in another $5 billion in military construction, which the panel does not oversee, the HAC-D’s portion of the base budget roughly matches the Pentagon’s request.
Lawmakers: Sequestration, End of Arms Buys Could Weaken US Industrial Base
Jun. 3, 2014 – 02:56PM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments
WASHINGTON — US House members are worried about the impact of sequestration cuts and the scheduled end of some major weapon buys, warning the dual hit could damage the defense industrial base.
The lower chamber’s version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed May 22, contains a provision that raises concerns that the across-the-board defense budget cuts “will reduce procurement spending over the next several years, leaving some sectors of the national technical and industrial base with a limited number of viable suppliers,” states a report accompanying the legislation.
The House report says the scheduled end of some major weapon programs coupled with sequestration, “could result in continued financial losses to several high-risk sectors, which could force consolidations, decisions to forgo defense contracts, and facility closures.”
Lawmakers are worried about each issue because major Pentagon programs typically spread work across many facilities in many states, meaning a long list of lawmakers could have a stake in any given weapon system or company.
The legislation “directs” the defense secretary to “examine the impacts of such budget reductions as part of the department’s sector-by-sector, tier-by-tier review of the defense industrial base,” states the House report.
If the provision is included in the final version of the NDAA, it would require Pentagon officials to brief the four congressional defense committees with an “analysis of sectors and tiers of the private industrial base found to be at highest risk and how the risk assessment has changed since enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.”
The former created sequestration and the latter initially softened the effect of the cuts for two years but also extended the spending caps two years into the next decade.
The proposed briefing also would have to cover which other sectors and tiers of the industrial base “might be considered high risk as a result of those [laws]; and steps necessary to protect those high risk sectors and tiers.”
The hawkish House Armed Services Committee, which crafted the bill and the report, is concerned that cuts of around $45 billion annually to an annual budget expected to again approach $550 billion in a few years will erode the military’s readiness and lethality, while also weakening the industrial base.
But some experts shoot back that US defense spending is historically high, and that there is ample work for arms makers.
For instance, a recent report released by Third Way, a Washington think tank, states the Obama administration’s 2015 defense request “provides a robust level of military spending — less than wartime peaks but still more than President Reagan’s highest defense budget in real terms.”
Space Architecture Changes to Boost US Intelligence Gathering
Jun. 3, 2014 – 01:20PM | By MARCUS WEISGERBER | Comments
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is changing the way it uses its space intelligence-gathering assets, which would give the Defense Department the ability to watch over areas for long periods of time, a senior DoD official said on Tuesday.
While his comments were fairly vague, Michael Vickers, DoD undersecretary for intelligence, said changes in “overhead space architecture” will be “some of the biggest changes … that we’ve seen in several decades.”
“It will be possible … through techniques — such as activity-based intelligence and associated architecture capabilities to go with it — to have persistence we’ve never had before to where we can look at things for long periods of time,” he said during a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “You can imagine the benefits that will give us.”
Another “revolutionary” change is integration, Vickers said.
“Rather than having an overhead architecture … that is a set of individual systems with supporting systems, we will have for the first time going forward a really integrated architecture that can tip and cue — and there’s tremendous benefits that can come from that,” he said.
Tip-and-cue refers to autonomously triggering a response to an action. For example, a satellite fixed on a house could give a “tip” to a second satellite or intelligence aircraft if someone enters or exits the house. If someone exits, it could order a satellite or unmanned or manned aircraft to track the person.
While Vickers comments were vague, they could mean one of a only few things, said Marco Caceres, senior analyst and director of space studies at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based consulting firm.
One is that National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite sensors are getting more powerful. The other is an increasing call to put these top-secret sensors — used only on government spacecraft — on commercial satellites, a concept called hosted payloads.
“The only new wave, new trend that I see that’s going to potentially have a huge impact is going to be hosted payloads,” Caceres said. “We could put up a lot more stuff, a lot more sensors [and] a lot more listening devices.”
As military satellites get increasingly more expensive to build and launch, the hosted payload options would dramatically lower the cost of launching dedicated satellites and widely expand the number of space-borne sensors orbiting the Earth. It would make it tough for an adversary to tell where the NRO sensors are located.
“We’re not going to know where NRO is putting its sensors,” Caceres said.
A disadvantage to using this method is DoD would not have full control of the satellite, Caceres said. But the advantage is DoD could pay a fee to place sensors on any US satellite scheduled for launch, assuming the company that owns the spacecraft allows it.
“Wherein the past you might put up a handful of new sensors every year, now there’s really no limitation because there’s dozens of satellites available out there going up all the time,” he said.
DoD is also looking to take some of the lessons it has learned for more than a decade of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and adapt them to what the Pentagon perceives as future threats, Vickers said.
“We’re focused as a strategy on adapting some of the techniques we’ve learned in counterterrorism where we have gotten incredibly precise, and apply that to these higher-end environments,” he said.
FAA Weighs Letting Film, TV Industry Use Drones
Regulators Consider Approving Drone Use for Some Companies, Signaling End of Legal Logjam
By Andy Pasztor
Updated June 2, 2014 4:12 p.m. ET
Federal regulators are considering exempting seven companies working for the film and television industry from current prohibitions against commercial uses of drone aircraft in U.S. skies.
Monday’s announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t immediately end those restrictions. But it signals that the agency, after months of controversy and pressure from drone proponents to allow some limited commercial flights, is looking to end the legal logjam by authorizing some independent cinematography companies and individuals to use drones.
If the administrative exemptions are granted, such photo and video applications would have for the first time explicit FAA approval under specific conditions. The decision could open the door to other industry-by-industry exemptions—something drone manufacturers and users have been advocating for some time.
The FAA’s move is likely to be welcomed by companies itching to start flying commercial drones for a wide range of business applications.
Some drone operators and others say they have been flying drones for various video and photo uses despite the FAA’s ban, and that the FAA’s stretched enforcement arm hasn’t tried to shut them down. Drones also have been used for a number of other applications, including agriculture, because agency officials generally haven’t initiated enforcement actions.
The exemptions presumably would go into effect before the FAA finishes its current effort to formulate comprehensive rules for such small drones, or unmanned aerial systems, operating at low altitudes and weighing less than 55 pounds.
Proposed rules for small drones are expected to be issued by the end of the year, though they aren’t likely to become final until 2015 or later.
At the same time, the FAA continues work on drafting rules to integrate larger drones into U.S. airspace. Those proposals, however, are bound to be more complex and won’t be issued until later.
In its announcement, the FAA cited the “tangible economic benefits as the agency begins to address the demand for commercial [drone] operations.” But the agency said all “associated safety issues must be carefully considered to make sure any hazards are appropriately mitigated” before the FAA gives the green light.
The FAA said the Motion Picture Association of America “facilitated the exemption requests on behalf of their membership.”
The firms want exemptions for operational rules, pilot-training requirements and maintenance mandates. They also want to be exempted from federal design requirements covering the unmanned vehicles.
Seven companies, which aren’t generally known outside the motion picture industry, filed identical requests prepared by the same law firm and lawyer. They envision using “small, unmanned and relatively inexpensive” drones “under controlled conditions” in limited airspace off-limits to others. The filings also indicate anticipated safeguards including use of a pilot and an observer; flights remaining under 200 feet altitude and lasting for less than 30 minutes; and onboard backup systems to ensure that drones can land safely if they lose communication or navigation signals.
The Motion Picture Association released a statement praising the FAA for considering approval of unmanned systems that offer “an innovative and safer option for filming” than manned aircraft.
In addition to companies engaged in film production, the FAA said three other industries are considering asking for exemptions. They include some agricultural uses; aerial inspections of power lines and pipelines; and inspections of certain stacks at oil and gas facilities.
Law-enforcement agencies and other public users of drones already can rely on procedures to obtain FAA approval to fly some of the largest models in designated airspace.
Chinese Military Shows New Capabilities, Pentagon Says
By Tony Capaccio Jun 6, 2014 5:09 AM ET
China’s military is improving its military doctrine, training, weapons and surveillance to be able to conduct more sophisticated attacks against the U.S. and other adversaries, according to the Pentagon.
After jamming communications and mounting other forms of electronic and cyberwarfare, stealthy Chinese aircraft, drones and missiles could attack U.S. warships, aircraft and supply craft, the Defense Department said yesterday in its annual report on China.
The report, which is required by Congress, doesn’t suggest that such attacks are likely, only that the Chinese military last year continued to demonstrate new capabilities similar to those the U.S. began embracing at least 20 years ago, with mixed success. The buildup is occurring as China increasingly asserts itself in territorial disputes with its neighbors.
“Although the Pentagon was overstating the Chinese military threat to avoid more cuts in its budget, the speed of the People’s Liberation Army’s modernization has indeed exceeded western countries’ expectation,” said Ni Lexiong, director of national defense policy research at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
“The gap is between 20 and 30 years,” he said. “At the current pace, China may catch up with the U.S. in 40 years, and may start to get ahead in 60 years,” he said.
China’s military build up is appropriate and solely for defending its own sovereignty, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today at a briefing in Beijing.
“We hope the U.S. gets rid of its biases, objectively and rationally regards China’s defensive capacity, and stops releasing these reports, and makes concrete contribution to China and U.S. military cooperation,” he said.
China views the Pentagon’s annual report as a relic of the Cold War, when the U.S. prepared similar studies on the Soviet military threat, said Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military commentator for state television CCTV.
Beijing’s anger is over “the fact that the U.S., whose military expenditure accounts for more than 4 percent of GDP and still runs the world’s biggest defense budget even with the proposed cutbacks, is accusing China of splashing out on the armed forces,” he said in an interview. “In Beijing’s mind, it’s like you can eat five pieces of bread but not allow me to eat even half a piece.”
China is using its growing military muscle to aggressively assert its territorial claims in neighboring seas. In November, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone in November over a stretch of sea that overlaps with Japanese and South Korean zones. China also is embroiled in disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea that have led to confrontations.
The Chinese Navy last year commissioned nine new Jiangdao-class corvettes armed with anti-ship cruise missiles for operations close to shore, “especially in the South China Sea and East China Sea,” the Pentagon said. The Pentagon’s test office and internal Navy reviews have warned that the U.S.’s new Littoral Combat Ships are vulnerable to such weapons.
The report may provide new fodder for U.S. congressional advocates of more defense spending who argue for improving naval capabilities to blunt Chinese advances through systems such as Boeing Co. (BA)’s EA-18G Growler electronic-warfare plane and Raytheon Co. (RTN)’s new Air and Missile Defense Radar and Next Generation Jammer.
China “now has incredible economic clout and has become adept at applying pressure below the threshold that would trigger a strong military response from the U.S. or its allies,” said John Blaxland, a senior fellow at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra. “China may well be critical of this report but they’re probably secretly happy that that’s the perception.”
Last year, the Chinese military “emphasized training under realistic combat scenarios” and the ability to execute long-range mobility operations, such as maritime exercises that involved all three Chinese Navy fleets, the report found.
The report doesn’t add new details to the U.S. contention that China is increasing its cyberattacks on the Pentagon, instead repeating paragraphs it published last year about China’s activities in 2012 in a section entitled “Cyber Activities Directed Against the U.S. Department of Defense.”
Last month, the Justice Department escalated its effort to curb China’s technology theft from U.S. companies by charging five Chinese military officials with stealing trade secrets, casting the hacker attacks as a direct economic threat.
The Pentagon said China’s most significant military developments last year included air-defense upgrades to destroyers and frigates; testing of its Y-20 transport to fly ground forces quickly across great distances; at least eight launches to expand its intelligence and surveillance from space; and a “probable” Chinese drone conducting reconnaissance in the East China Sea.
China’s also starting to integrate anti-radar missiles into its fighter-bomber fleet, the report said.
The Chinese Navy continues to develop long-range, over-the-horizon radar that, in coordination with satellites, is intended to “locate targets at great distances from China” for targeting by its DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, according to the Pentagon. The report said China continues to field a “limited but growing number” of the missiles.
It also continues to develop the stealthy J-20 fighter and J-31 that are “similar in size to a U.S. F-35 fighter,” the report said, without comparing capabilities.
Administration Overhauls Federal Health-Care Website
Federal Officials Seek to Avoid Problems That Plagued Launch of HealthCare.gov
Updated June 5, 2014 7:59 p.m. ET
The Obama administration is revamping HealthCare.gov and scrapping significant parts of the federal health-insurance marketplace in an effort to avoid the problems that plagued the site’s launch last fall, according to presentations to health insurers and interviews with government officials and contractors.
But the makeover—and the tight timeline to accomplish it—are raising concerns that consumers could face another rocky rollout this fall when they return to the site to choose health plans. Some key back-end functions, including a system to automate payments to insurers, are running behind schedule, according to a presentation federal officials made to health insurers.
Adding to the pressure, HealthCare.gov is still in the midst of transitioning to new government contractors to manage basic functions.
Four Million to Face Penalties for Lacking Health Coverage, CBO Says
Among the changes in the new version of HealthCare.gov: a revamp of the site’s consumer-facing portion including the application for coverage most people will use, as well as the comparison tool that lets them shop for plans, according to slides from a May 20 meeting for insurers held by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees HealthCare.gov.
The government is turning to cloud computing from Amazon.com Inc. AMZN +5.47% ‘s Web Services unit to host many of these functions.
Officials are also replacing separate software that people use to create accounts and log in to HealthCare.gov. Glitches in that system, known as EIDM, locked many users out of the site altogether last fall.
Federal officials told health plans the new versions of some of these functions will need to be tested with insurers before open enrollment begins Nov. 15.
“We’re all going to be nervous until November 15,” said Shaun Greene, chief operating officer of Utah-based Arches Health Plan. “There is no wiggle room. They’re on a very tight time frame.” He and other industry executives said they were concerned about how HealthCare.gov will handle consumers who are renewing coverage. “The re-enrollment process is what scares me,” he said.
CMS officials said changes were adjustments built on the existing system, rather than a reinvention. They said they expected to begin testing some of the changes over the summer, but that other tests would likely take place closer to the start of the new enrollment season. Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman, also said the agency knew the identity-management component was a particular source of problems.
Improvements had already been made to HealthCare.gov, including increasing capacity, which helped the site function more smoothly by the end of the first enrollment period. Some 5.4 million people picked plans for 2014 via the site, which serves 36 states, and 2.6 million did so through state-run exchanges.
Some insurers also said the process of filing their 2015 plans with the federal government appears to be proceeding with far fewer hiccups than in 2014, a possible sign that this year’s enrollment will go more smoothly than last year’s, they said.
But officials are still grappling with problems from the first enrollments. Contractors are working through a backlog of 2 million consumers whose applications have discrepancies, CMS officials confirmed this week. Those consumers are getting tax credits toward the cost of coverage, but made income projections or statements about their immigration status that didn’t match federal data.
Such snarls are drawing fire from Republicans. “This system was unworkable from the start,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “As we’ve said all along, this is much more than a website problem.”
For consumers looking to sign up for 2015, the site will have a new home page, visual design and tools to help them learn about the program, window-shop without registering and find local assistance. It will be optimized for mobile devices and run on Amazon.com Inc.’s cloud computing service.
It will also include a new screening tool that directs households with complex situations, such as multiple families living in one house, to a different part of the website. The majority of users will be directed to the new streamlined application, according to the slides from the meeting last month.
Bringing in Amazon marks the latest in a series of new contractors. Last year, federal officials hired Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ +0.33% to replace Verizon Communications Inc. VZ +0.26% subsidiary Terremark as the site’s web-hosting provider.
A spokeswoman for Amazon declined to comment on its role.
The presentation also says the health law’s exchange for small businesses, delayed by technical problems last year, is on course to go live Nov. 15, with a pilot launch in October; it will launch without some functions, including the option for employers to contribute different amounts for part- and full-time employees.
At the back end, federal officials are also offering Amazon.com cloud services to insurers that participate in the program. They would be used as part of the system that will generate payments that blunt the costs associated with enrolling sicker consumers, a key aspect of the law.
The riskiest part of the overhaul, say contractors, is a replacement of the EIDM—the system that allows people to create an account.
Officials have been grappling with the system’s limitations for months. After the system locked out most users in the early days of HealthCare.gov, officials asked the contractor then responsible for the site, CGI Federal, to build a replacement “to improve access,” according to an Oct. 4 amendment to the company’s contract reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. But officials later decided replacing the system in the middle of enrollment was too risky and focused on improving the flawed component, people familiar with the matter said.
A spokeswoman for CGI declined to comment.
Replacing EIDM “is a major change,” said one senior official of a government contractor. “My opinion, no way they can do that before next open enrollment. Tune and tweak? Yes. Replace? No way.” But he said the changes planned by CMS broadly made sense as a response to last fall’s troubles.
Insurers are also focused on timelines that are slipping further on key behind-the-scenesfunctions, such as the system to funnel subsidy payments to plans. The system, originally supposed to be ready for the launch in October,then later slated for completion by mid-March, is now scheduled to be fully operational in 2015, according to a slide laying out the timeline.
Currently, health plans are getting paid via a setup that requires them to send spreadsheets to the the government. Switching to the new system will require reconciliation of data and likely settling-up of over- or under-payments.
“The farther back it’s pushed, the more confusing it will be to insurance companies and to members,” said Cliff Gold, chief operating officer of CoOportunity Health, an insurer offering plans in Iowa and Nebraska.
What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
Bottom of Form
Saturday, June 07, 2014
Voters have made it clear for years that the economy is their number one concern, and if President Obama’s approval ratings are any indication, money appears to be talking louder that the numerous controversies the administration finds itself in.
Investor confidence at week’s end remains higher than it has been since 2007. Consumer confidence is near highs for the year.
The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence jumped five points in May to its highest level in over six years of monthly tracking.
Thirty percent (30%) of Employed Adults are looking for a job outside of their current company, up four points from April and the highest finding since March 2011. Forty-two percent (42%) believe their next job will be better than their current one, the highest level of confidence in two years.
Just as many Americans will be taking a summer vacation this year, but fewer will be cutting back on how much they spend.
The president’s monthly job approval rating climbed to 49% in May, up two points from April and matching his previous high for the year reached in February. Obama’s approval rating hit a two-year low of 45% in November during the troubled rollout period for the new health care law, but it has generally remained at 47% or 48% for much of his presidency.
The headlines tell a different story. The president, for example, recently announced plans to withdraw all but 9,800 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and fully withdraw troops by the end of 2016. Forty-eight percent (48%) of voters believe some U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan through 2016, but nearly as many (44%) think the United States should withdraw all troops by the end of this year.
Voters are also almost evenly divided over the prisoner swap proudly announced by the president that freed the only known U.S. military POW in Afghanistan in exchange for five Taliban leaders held at the Guantanamo prison camp for terrorists. Most voters don’t approve of negotiating with terrorists.
The exchange is seen as part of the president’s effort to close the prison at Guantanamo, but most voters think that’s a bad idea.
Opposition to Obamacare’s requirement that every American have health insurance has risen to 51%, its highest level this year.
The president has authorized new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that critics claim will drive up energy costs. Fewer voters than ever (21%) believe the actions of the EPA help the economy. Twice as many (41%) believe the agency’s actions hurt the economy instead.
Obama also continues to call for new government spending as an economic stimulus, but most voters (56%) continue to think thoughtful spending cuts should be considered instead in every program of the federal government.
Other recent surveys have found that 62% think it’s likely the president or his top aides were aware of the serious problems with veterans’ care before they came to light in recent weeks. Most voters also think the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and his administration’s handling of the Benghazi matter deserve further investigation.
Yet Obama’s daily job approval rating appears even better so far this month, despite new and continuing controversies of his own making.
By contrast, House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is now the overall most unpopular leader in Congress, surpassing even House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi who has long held that title.
Democrats lead Republicans again on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot when voters are asked which party’s congressional candidate they would vote for if the election were held right now.
Still, many pundits think the GOP has a good chance of taking six seats away from Democrats this November to win majority control of the U.S. Senate. One possible Republican pickup is in Iowa where longtime Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is retiring. The Senate race there between Joni Ernst, the winner of Tuesday’s crowded GOP primary, and Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley is a dead heat.
To gain control of the Senate, Republicans need to hold onto the seats they currently have, and they appear very unlikely to lose the one in Idaho now held by Jim Risch. The GOP incumbent has a nearly two-to-one lead over Democratic challenger Nels Mitchell.
Republican incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter holds a 14-point lead over his Democratic opponent in Idaho’s 2014 gubernatorial race.
Republican Governor Terry Branstad leads his Democratic opponent Jack Hatch by nine points in his bid for reelection in Iowa.
Republican Governor Tom Corbett trails his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by 20 points in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race.
Check out all the Senate and gubernatorial races nationwide on our new Election 2014 pages here.
In other surveys this week:
— Thirty percent (30%) of voters say the United States is heading in the right direction. Sixty-three percent (63%) think the country is headed down the wrong track.
— Edward Snowden made public the federal government’s spying on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails, and he says he’s a patriot. Sixty-three percent (63%) of voters think it’s good for the country that he revealed the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, but 42% still believe Snowden should be treated as a spy.
— Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans believe a free society like ours can never be made completely safe from a mass murder like the recent one in southern California.
— Forty-five percent (45%) think the media coverage of mass murders inspires other people to commit violent acts.
— School districts around the country have been pushing to opt out of the school food guidelines championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Just 25% of Americans think the federal government should set nutritional standards for schools.
Doing Less With Less
Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked about how best to use the military in the modern world.
By Michael P. Noonan
May 26, 2014
Last week Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a speech at The Atlantic Council and Defense One released an interview that he had conducted with James Kitfield. Both items further articulated the general’s views on the current strategic picture confronting the United States and his ideas about the use of force and the military profession – I have covered some of the general’s views on these topics here before (see here and here).
On the current strategic picture, he stated both to Kitfield and at the Atlantic Council that he sees the current strategic environment in terms of a “2+2+2+1” construct. Under this construct there are two strategic heavyweights competitors (China and Russia), two middleweight threats (Iran and North Korea), two networks that must be dealt with (al-Qaida and affiliates and transnational organized crime), and the “1” representing the cyber domain. He argued that the transnational organized criminal network deserves more attention because “it’s extraordinarily capable. It’s extraordinarily wealthy. And it can move anything. It’ll go to the highest bidder.”
In the cyber- domain the chief concerns for him are about a lack of preparedness for a cyberattack and the corruption of data. The latter concern is particularly critical to the military because it “is actually more alarming than the denial of data, because denial of data, you work around, but corruption of data causes you to lose confidence in your systems.”
(Even from a broader perspective the threat of corruption of data is troubling; I was at an event in Washington last week where one speaker noted that in the year 2000 75 percent of the information in the United States was recorded on paper while 25 percent was stored digitally. In 2014, however, the digital storage of records number had reached 98 percent.)
When the chairman was asked at the Atlantic Council about whether the construct should rather be the “2+2+2+1+25” model due to the number of things competing for our attention in the world he responded that,
I’m not suggesting that we should be content that we don’t know everything. But I will suggest to you quite clearly that when we do know everything, we immediately feel some obligation to do something about it. And so I’m not asking you to do less; here’s what I’m – let me put it this way. I’m not asking you to do more with less. I think you’ll have to do less with less, but not less well, and that’s going to take some serious thinking about where to prioritize.
He also noted that this made things difficult because it is hard to articulate eroding readiness and risk because, “it’s a little different in each service, and it’s very different depending on whether you’re talking about a heavyweight, a middleweight, a network or a domain.”
On the use of force and the military instrument of power he told Kitfield that,
…when you look at what the military instrument of power can accomplish, it is actually more effective in dealing with strength-on-strength situations than it is in dealing with strength-on-weakness scenarios. And we’re finding that a weakening of structures and central authority is pervasive in today’s world. The Middle East is a poster child for that dynamic. But if you look at almost any sector of civilization– from international organizations, to big corporations to places of worship – their authority has diminished over the past decade. That has to do with the spread of technology that has made information so ubiquitous in today’s world. But the result has been a weakened international order. And frankly, it’s harder to articulate the proper use of military power in that environment as opposed to a world with stronger centers of authority.
He noted that there were three ways the United States can influence the global security environment militarily. These are through “direct military action, building partnership capacity and enabling other actors.” The first option is “the most costly, disruptive and controversial use of American power.” He was more sanguine about the other two options stating he would like to double or triple our efforts to “build credible partners around the globe” and that he is an advocated for “enabling others who have the will, but perhaps not the capability to act.” But he also stated during Q&A that it was more difficult to practice deterrence against the middleweight actors and that he wasn’t sure if networks could be deterred at all.
Dempsey’s views are quite understandable. The U.S. faces a difficult strategic picture today where a declining defense budget is further hamstrung by the nonallowance of cuts to unneeded systems, infrastructure and ballooning personnel costs, where the military profession must come to grips with the limitations of what military power can reasonably accomplish after a decade-plus of war amongst the people in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the world teems with state and nonstate actors who both wish serious revisions to regional distributions of power. Still, we can expect to receive no breaks from either competitors or threats. We can’t be everywhere, but we must stay engaged. We should be cautious about the use of our military power, but we also must pick our shots to know when too much caution will be counterproductive. This is a delicate balance.
Tech Giants Spend Billions More Than Defense Firms on R&D
May. 26, 2014 – 02:55PM | By MARCUS WEISGERBER | Comments
WASHINGTON — Tech giants Microsoft, Google and Apple invested more than five times the amount spent by five of the largest US defense companies on research-and-development (R&D) projects in 2013, according to data compiled by a noted defense analyst.
But the five defense companies — Boeing Defense, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, all of which were in the top 10 of the 2013 Defense News Top 100 defense companies list — collectively spent about $800 million more on internal R&D in 2013 than they did in 2012, according to the data.
In all, the three big tech companies spent $18.8 billion more than the defense companies on these R&D projects in 2013, according to data compiled by Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners. Over the same time frame the five defense companies spent a total of $4.1 billion on R&D projects, while Google spent $8 billion, Apple $4.5 billion and Microsoft $10.4 billion.
“Those numbers kind of just stagger me that some of the tech giants are spending more than the five major primes combined,” Callan said.
“I just find it very intriguing that there’s such a misalignment between what these big guys are spending in absolute terms and what the US sector is spending,” he said.
One reason for the disparity in R&D investment could be that the Defense Department has relatively few cutting-edge, major programs starting in the coming years, Callan said.
In some cases, the Pentagon has opted to slow or cancel new programs, due to shrinking defense spending. Congress has also signaled it will not allow DoD to cancel certain programs, thus preventing the Pentagon from freeing up funds that could have been invested in R&D projects, Callan said.
“If you keep money in these older, legacy programs or you haven’t freed up money for some of these newer things that would see a promise of a payoff if someone takes some risk, then this a dog chasing its tail,” Callan said.
Company R&D spending has been closely monitored by DoD in recent years, particularly as the Pentagon sees its own development coffers come under pressure as defense budgets tighten.
Last year, Frank Kendall, DoD undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, challenged the defense industry to spend more money on R&D projects. The reaction from primes has been mixed.
For smaller companies, the reaction to the R&D challenge has also been mixed. Some medium-sized companies argue that having less cash on hand than larger companies could limit the pace at which they conduct R&D.
Callan said the size of the company does not necessarily determine how much the firm will invest in R&D.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a small-to-mid-sized company phenomena,” he said. “It’s kind of a sector phenomena.”
William Lynn, the CEO of Finmeccanica North America and DRS Technologies, said his company saw its revenue fall as the US decreased its war spending. Still, it has protected its R&D spending.
“You can’t spend too much, but we try to balance protecting our margins and protecting our future, and we try not to stray too far in one direction or the other,” he said. “We’re willing to take some short-term decline in margins, modest, to protect our longer-term competitiveness.”
For a company like DRS, which builds sensors and other types of high-tech electronic equipment used by the larger prime contractors, being on the cutting edge is key, Lynn said.
“If we don’t stay up with the technology, the government or the primes won’t come to us,” he said. “It’s a death spiral for us and so we do have to protect that [but] you can’t go to zero margins either; you’ve got to balance it.”
Callan argues there is a misalignment between DoD and what it wants industry to do. “There is a need for a better path of programs or prototypes where we could recover some of the money invested,” he said.
“They’re not creating the lanes to encourage firms to take more risk and put more of their own skin in the game,” he said. “I think it’s fruitless in some ways to ask for industry to spend more money without at the same time pushing much harder to make sure that there’s some competitive programs that that investment might have some promise of return.”
One way to help the small companies could be for DoD to align more toward DARPA R&D programs or prototyping projects, Callan said. DARPA’s 2015 budget request of $2.9 billion is $136 million, or roughly 5 percent higher than fiscal 2014 enacted levels.
White House staff, Obama’s top military adviser disagree on cyber strategy
Thursday, May 29, 2014
White House officials and President Obama’s top military adviser disagree about whether the United States has a coherent national strategy to address cyber threats.
The rift surfaced when Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently voiced concerns at the Atlantic Council about the nation’s lack of preparedness for a cyber attack, cited strategic shortcomings and assigned blame to Congress.
“We have sectors within our nation that are more ready than others, but we don’t have a coherent cyber strategy as a nation,” Dempsey said. “And I understand why. . . . There are some big issues involved with achieving that kind of coherence — issues related to privacy and cost, information sharing and all of the liabilities that come in the absence of legislation to incentivize information sharing.”
Dempsey has previously defined strategy not merely as the issuance of high-profile guidance but as the process of balancing ends, ways and means.
Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman for White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel, disputed Dempsey’s critique.
“Current U.S. cyber strategy is coherent and consistent with U.S. values that support an open, interoperable, secure and reliable Internet,” she told Inside Cybersecurity. “Given that cyberspace permeates every aspect of the economy and national security, no single document can meaningfully capture our strategic direction. Instead, our efforts are informed by specific strategy and policy documents.”
She said the Obama administration has produced a series of “targeted, coordinated strategies and policies to address specific cybersecurity topics,” including the International Strategy for Cybersecurity; the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace; the National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding; Executive Order 13286 “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions”; Executive Order 13587 “Structural Reforms to Improve the Security of Classified Networks and the Responsible Sharing and Safeguarding of Classified Information”; the Strategic Plan for the Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development Program; and the Cross Agency Priority Goal for Cybersecurity.
“Rather than developing yet another strategy on top of existing strategies, we need to remain flexible and focus on achieving measurable improvements in our cybersecurity,” Magnuson said. “The administration’s current approach fits the rapidly changing environment of cyberspace and the swiftly evolving government capabilities and understanding in cybersecurity.”
But Dempsey is standing by his remarks and pointing the finger at Congress. He “remains extremely concerned at how vulnerable our nation’s critical infrastructure is to a debilitating cyber attack,” his spokesman, Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, told Inside Cybersecurity.
“To close this national vulnerability, which constitutes a grave threat to our security, he continues to urge the passage of legislation that improves information sharing, encourages companies to adopt voluntary cybersecurity best practices and standards, and supports the establishment of international norms in cyberspace,” Thomas said.
The Defense Department has pushed for a more comprehensive national strategy to address cyber threats for years, said a former defense official, who concurred with Dempsey that more must be done — particularly by lawmakers — to address cyber threats.
In a broad sense, the source continued, Pentagon officials remain concerned that the U.S. government is in a tail chase when it comes to cyber threats, mainly due to Congress’ failure to pass legislation that identifies critical infrastructure and enables information sharing. Officials have also been frustrated that the administration has taken so long to publicly address policy questions about offensive cyber operations, the source said.
Echoing the White House’s emphasis on encouraging industry to voluntarily boost cybersecurity, the former official said incentives are preferable to a regulatory regime. For instance, Congress could pass legislation mandating active red-teaming of critical infrastructure, the source said, noting that private sector experts or potentially the National Security Agency could play the role of attackers during the tests and the infrastructure companies would be accountable for the results. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission could oversee such testing for nuclear power plants, the source said.
Daniel’s predecessor, Howard Schmidt, said in an interview he was a bit surprised by Dempsey’s remarks. Schmidt, now teamed with former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in the Ridge-Schmidt cybersecurity consultancy, said the general’s comments reflect a tendency in Washington to forget accomplishments and needlessly reinvent things. Schmidt said in his opinion the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace — which he helped develop for former President George W. Bush — still stands.
But the White House spokeswoman said the 2003 strategy does not represent the policy of the Obama administration. The former defense official said the 2003 strategy featured good words, but the Bush administration did too little to implement it. And Mark Weatherford, a former DHS deputy under secretary for cybersecurity, said that although the 2003 strategy was “very comprehensive,” it would now need refreshing.
“I can’t help but agree with Gen. Dempsey, though,” said Weatherford, a principal with The Chertoff Group, a consultancy formed by former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. Noting that cybersecurity is a dynamic discipline, Weatherford said DHS has struggled with the questions about the role of government in cybersecurity — and how the government ought to respond when someone attacks one of the United States’ 16 critical infrastructure sectors.
Weatherford also said it must be determined what role industry has in protecting itself. The federal framework of cybersecurity standards, which the White House released earlier this year in a bid to voluntarily encourage better cybersecurity in industry, has raised the level of conversation on the subject in an astonishingly good way, he said.
Weatherford also praised the recent indictment of five Chinese military hackers for economic espionage against U.S. companies. Industry has been waiting for the U.S. government to step up in this way, he said.
Jason Healey of the Atlantic Council said he agrees completely with Dempsey about the lack of a coherent national cyber strategy. Most of the current crop of strategy documents, he said, are either overly focused on military issues, too old, or too limited to only one area of cyber. The lack of deadlines for completing actions is also problematic, he said.
“None of these ‘strategies’ actually give much advice on how to balance between competing priorities, such as where additional [signals intelligence] collection might trample on American companies to the ultimate detriment of American security (such as happened with Microsoft and Flame),” he said via email. Citing the Cold War, he said, “The best strategy ever was ‘containment’ which summed up the entire idea in just a single word.”
James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said via email the United States has “done pretty well in assembling a set of strategies,” which collectively “add up to a coherent strategy (with a lot of extraneous pieces).” But Lewis also sees room for improvement.
“If you were going to look for two areas for work, it would be in critical infrastructure protection and in responding to cyber attack — that’s why Dempsey is saying we are unprepared,” he said.
Ben FitzGerald of the Center for a New American Security questioned whether a coherent strategy is attainable. “The U.S. does not and likely cannot have a singular, coherent cyber strategy,” he said. “There are too many stakeholders with competing perspectives and interests to fit under one umbrella approach. The most that can be hoped for is a minimum acceptable standard of security and particular strategies for vital networks and assets.”
Healey, Lewis and FitzGerald doubted the administration’s upcoming National Security Strategy would say much on cybersecurity.
And Jane Holl Lute, the president and chief executive officer of the Council on Cybersecurity, urged a greater focus on promoting cybersecurity hygiene. The federal framework of cybersecurity standards is the foundation of the Obama administration’s legacy on cybersecurity, she said. Lute questioned the utility of writing cybersecurity strategies.
“I don’t think it’s a particularly important issue,” said Lute, a former DHS deputy secretary. “We won’t achieve cybersecurity simply by writing such a strategy, and the lack of one is not preventing us from making meaningful progress. Moreover, a strategy without practical means of implementation offers no benefit. We know what to do as a nation; we are just not yet doing it.” – Christopher J. Castelli (firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Sandra I. Erwin
May 28, 2014
Aerospace and defense firms have cheered the Obama administration’s five-year effort to overhaul the U.S. export licensing system at a time when American manufacturers seek international growth.
But industry groups of late are voicing displeasure with the pace and substance of the reforms. They also fear that the administration is weighing new export controls over increasingly sought-after technologies such as cloud computing, cyber security and encryption.
Over the past 18 months, the administration has acted to remove civilian, or “dual use” technologies like aircraft components and communications satellites from the U.S. munitions list — managed by the State Department — to the less restrictive controls of the Commerce Department.
While these changes have been welcome by the private sector, they do not go far enough, a coalition of 18 industry groups argued in an April letter sent to President Obama.
Exporters are frustrated by the heavy administrative burden and by a lack of transparency in the export licensing process, said The Coalition for Security and Competitiveness. Defense and aerospace firms contend the latest round of reforms has done nothing to ease the sale of U.S. technology to allied militaries. Information technology suppliers also worry that their products could soon come under stricter export controls as the administration shifts into the final phase of the reforms. “Many of the other issues your officials have indicated they plan to examine in the future, such as cloud computing, record keeping, cyber security, and possibly encryption, are subjects that industry fears will lead to more controls and more complex compliance requirements,” the letter said.
The coalition also asked for greater transparency in the licensing process. This has been a long-standing gripe of defense contractors because they deal with multiple decision makers within the government who do no always agree on the exportability of a product. The coalition asked for the Defense Department to consolidate its “technology review boards and revise their mission for clarity, consistency, transparency and timeliness.”
Export control reforms have overlooked the defense sector, said Remy Nathan, vice president of international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association, one of the coalition members. “There is a need for a more coherent approach to defense exports,” he said during a recent meeting with reporters. “It’s going to be helpful for industry to have an understanding of where the government will allow us to fish.”
After U.S. companies eye potential deals, they have run the “‘Mother, may I’ gauntlet,” said Nathan. “You run the gauntlet sometimes with uncoordinated offices and departments saying different things. Anybody can say ‘no,'” he said. “We have to get away from that.”
Different agencies might have conflicting views of what technologies fall under the control of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. “Review boards are not transparent or predictable,” he said. Under the Obama reform, the Pentagon agreed to consolidate a portion of its 13 boards. Oversight is important, said Nathan, but the industry needs “more rational results out of these review boards to help planning.” Exporters want to be able to know where they can pursue business, he said. In high-stakes fighter aircraft competitions, licensing issues create undue chaos, said Nathan. “What capabilities are acceptable? The amount of resources and confusion is significant. It impedes our ability to compete.”
Nathan insisted that the industry is mindful of national security concerns in selling technology to foreign buyers. “We should have technologies on the U.S. munitions list, but we should be able to transfer more easily to friends and allies.” Industry groups have sought an exemption from licenses for the export of spare parts that are used by allied forces. When the U.S. military or a foreign ally send parts back to United States for repairs, they are subject to export licensing before they go back to the customer. “The administration understands that it doesn’t make sense,” said Nathan. “The bad news is that they have not acted to implement that exemption.”
Prime contractors also should be able to obtain a single export license per program, rather than individual ones for each component, he said. Program licenses are offered today, but they require the prime contractor to assume liability for every transaction underneath it. That is not acceptable to most exporters, he said. “No company on the planet is going to absorb the liability of noncompliance by other companies. The program licensing that exists on paper is not functional.”
The international arms market looms larger than ever for U.S. companies, said Nathan. “We cannot afford to have the status quo approach to defense exports. We need more and better coordination in the interagency, evaluating opportunities. Once decisions are made, we need to make sure transactions happen in a timely manner.”
Pentagon acquisitions chief Frank Kendall has been a proponent of designing U.S. weapon systems with “exportability” in mind. A cautionary tale in this case is the Air Force F-22 fighter, which contains top-secret technology and was designed to never be exported. As the production line was winding down in recent years, some countries expressed interest in buying it, but that was out of the question because it would have had to be torn apart and rebuilt with less sensitive components, Nathan noted. “Even if the government had allowed the export of F-22, it became cost prohibitive because of the amount of reengineering work that it would take to make an exportable version.”
Designing systems that can be more easily exported is a “great concept,” said Nathan. But the industry has little confidence that what is exportable today will be exportable tomorrow under a different administration. “If we commit to working with this system and following the parameters upfront, what’s going to happen five or 15 years from now if the decisions shift?” he asked. “The only way this works is if you have a process to harness cooperation at a high level to look at defense exports writ large … and you have coordination within and between departments.”
Companies in the information-technology sector, meanwhile, are fretting over comments made earlier this year by Caroline Atkinson, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economics. She suggested that as part of the third and final phase of the administration’s export control reforms, officials will be “working on the definitions of what is and not in the scope of export controls.” As part of that effort, they would study the exportability of cyber security, encryption and cloud computing technologies.
Atkinson’s remarks rippled through the industry, said Nathan. “There is a danger of over-control,” he said. “We’ve seen that with satellites. It’s of concern to us that they’re exploring some difficult new areas. We see that as export controls, not as reforms.”
Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said he was “struck” by Atkinson’s comments. After further inquiries with the White House, the industry became alarmed by the possibility of new restrictions. “What concerned us was that while we support what they are doing, the initiative on new areas implies new controls, more controls. That wasn’t what we thought was the right direction.”
An area like cloud computing is unchartered territory for export regulators, said Reinsch. “Where is the cloud? Who controls the cloud? The cloud moves around, it’s in multiple locations. Does it matter where it is? When is something exported? If you put your data into the cloud, is that an export? Does it depend on where the cloud is physically?” he asked. “Today your data might be stored in Texas but tomorrow the information might move to Singapore. Who has access?”
Reinsch predicts an uphill battle for industry. The tired argument that if U.S. companies don’t sell something, other countries will, usually falls on deaf ears, he said. “It’s not politically salable. We’ve learned over 30 years that making that argument does not move the needle on Capitol Hill or in the Executive Branch.”
Nathan agreed. “Business is not going to win against the national security argument,” he said. Administration officials have acknowledged that, too.
On the heels of record-high U.S. arms sales, defense industry pleading a case for less controls is unlikely to draw sympathy. “Current controls haven’t prevented the U.S. from dominating arms exports,” observed Pro Publica, an investigative news organization. In 2011, the United States scored $66 billion in arms sales agreements, or nearly 80 percent of the global market, Pro Publica reported. It noted that Obama’s reforms “could increase the flow of American-made military parts to the world’s conflicts and make it harder to enforce arms sanctions.”
Since the administration launched its export control review in 2009, experts have cautioned that the reforms were never intended to liberalize the arms trade. Brandt Pasco, an attorney at Kaye Scholer, in Washington, D.C., who specializes in export controls, said military exports will remain tightly controlled. The intent of the administration, Pasco told National Defense last year, is to ensure that commercially available goods and services do not have to undergo the same licensing process as sensitive military technology.
Some exporters insist, however, that the problem is that there is no clear definition of what is “commercially available” versus what is “military sensitive.” That leaves a huge grey area of technologies whose exportability is a matter of subjective judgment.
One industry executive from a large high-tech firm said there is no objective standard to decide what products fall under ITAR. “I know ITAR when I see it,” is the response he has received from government officials, said the executive, who asked that his name and company not be mentioned because of fear of retribution. “How can you work with that?” he asked. “It’s cavalier the way the government handles ITAR. I have no faith in what they call reforms, because I don’t think it will reform the core problem.”
Manufacturers of advanced technology expect to continue to face these hurdles, he said. Export controls have actually deterred companies from participating in Pentagon-funded research programs. “We don’t do government R&D unless it’s to keep some of our people employed and it is something that has no commercial value,” said the executive. “It’s not worth our time. It’s sad that we’ve come to this.” Any program that receives government R&D dollars automatically becomes ITAR-controlled, he said. For a diversified company, “that could contaminate a whole line of products.” Many technologies for which the U.S. government denies export licenses, he added, are commercially sold in other countries. “They still turn it down,” he said of the export license. “They are not interested in hearing about the product being available from other countries.”
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Civilian pilots still straying into restricted airspace
Jim Michaels, USA TODAY 8:37 p.m. EDT May 28, 2014
WASHINGTON — Thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks, military aircraft are scrambling more than once a week, on average, to intercept civilian planes that stray into restricted airspace, military statistics show.
The cost to taxpayers for protecting restricted airspace and the 75 annual diversions runs into the million of dollars.
The number of incidents has decreased in recent years as the military has spread the word to recreational pilots about restricted airspace, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the military agency responsible for protecting American airspace.
The agency anticipates that the frequency of intercepts will remain at this level in the future because no amount of outreach will prevent all pilots from straying.
Many recreational pilots fly from small airstrips without a control tower and aren’t required to file flight plans. Often they are not aware when a temporary restriction is established.
“They just take off and do what they want,” said Steven Armstrong, a NORAD official.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the military boosted its alert facilities around the country, where fighter pilots maintained a round-the-clock state of readiness.
The government has restricted airspace around Washington, D.C., and other sensitive areas, such as some military bases and critical infrastructure. It also frequently sets up temporary restrictions on airspace to protect the president when he flies domestically or during special events, such as the Superbowl.
At its post 9/11 peak, NORAD maintained some 26 alert facilities around the country. The number has shrunk since then, but the agency declined to release the precise number for security reasons.
“We think we’re at the minimum to be able to protect the major metropolitan areas and the critical infrastructure,” Armstrong said.
It’s an expensive enterprise. It costs from $10,000 to $20,000 per flight hour to operate fighters. Alert facilities cost about $7 million a year to operate. The intercept missions in the continental United States are performed by the Air National Guard.
The military uses fighter planes, and, in some locations, helicopters to intercept an aircraft straying into restricted areas.
The pilots have a protocol for engaging with civilian pilots, who are often flying small, propeller-driven aircraft, to divert them out of restricted space.
If NORAD notices an aircraft flying toward restricted space, it will try to contact the pilot by radio before launching an aircraft. NORAD said it follows about 1,800 “tracks of interest” per year. Most of the recreational pilots are diverted before jets have to be scrambled.
If officials are unable to contact a pilot whose plane is heading toward restricted space, NORAD will launch military aircraft that will fly alongside the plane and rock its wings, a signal for the civilian pilot to follow the fighter.
If that doesn’t work, fighter planes will often pull in front of the aircraft in a maneuver known as a “head butt” and drop flares to get their attention.
That doesn’t always work either. “Sometimes they say that they don’t see us,” Armstrong said. “Other times, they are just so scared to have a fighter aircraft in that close proximity to them that they kind of panic.”
Once they land, pilots are usually met by local law enforcement officials and Secret Service agents, said Craig Spence, an official with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
“Unfortunately, there is very little sympathy on the part of the local law enforcement and the federal (officials),” Spence said.
The pilots rarely face criminal charges, but the Federal Aviation Administration often suspends a pilot’s license for such infractions.
“None of incidents have been threats,” Spence said. “The majority of the folks who violate do so not knowing a (temporary restricted area) has been put in place.”
Agricultural uses for drones is endless
By Linda Geist, University of Missouri Extension
For centuries, farmers have braved the elements to walk their land to check for problems ranging from wind damage and calving cows to pests and predators.
Unmanned aerial vehicles may save farmers time and money with bird’s-eye views of farmland, says Bill Wiebold, University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist. It opens up endless possibilities for precision agriculture, he said.
Wiebold’s recent talks on drones during MU Extension crop conferences have drawn attention from producers anxious to learn how to use them.
Wiebold and other MU researchers have been studying how farmers can use the new technology.
Drones suited for farm applications vary widely in cost and size.
Entry-level aircraft cost $500-$1,500 and can fly for 10-20 minutes without recharging batteries. Most weigh less than 5 pounds, have a wingspan of less than 3 feet and travel under 30 mph. For about $300, farmers can install cameras in drones that can send clear still or video images to a smartphone.
Drones can provide information to answer questions like “How bad was last night’s hail storm? Are all of my cows on the north 40? Does my corn need more nitrogen?”
Entry-level systems can be guided by a handheld remote control. More sophisticated vehicles can be programmed to fly designated routes using GPS and GIS technology, but only skilled flyers should try this type of aircraft, Wiebold said.
The uses are as varied as Missouri farmland, Wiebold said.
Entomologists may find the devices especially helpful for directed scouting of pests. Drones can collect information on plants that have grown to heights that make it difficult to walk through narrow rows.
Additionally, farmers can use the unmanned devices to document conditions when applying for government programs such as crop insurance.
While much of the recent media attention has centered on unmanned aircraft as a way to deliver packages, commercial agriculture likely will be the largest beneficiary of drone technology, Wiebold said.
Drone technology has raised concerns about privacy issues, but drones used in agriculture likely are less controversial than those used for commercial applications. Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not allow drone use for commercial purposes. Farmers must follow FAA guidelines for hobbyists.
Unmanned aircraft are restricted to airspace no higher than 400 feet. If flights occur within 3 miles of an airport, airport officials must be notified. Recent information suggests that producers are permitted to fly over areas they farm, Wiebold said. However, regulations may be updated, so farmers should follow FAA announcements.
Flying near spectators is not recommended until operators become skilled. Populated areas should be avoided. Wiebold suggests that until a farmer gains confidence and skill, drones should be kept within line of sight. Winds of 20 mph or greater may present problems with stability and image quality, he said.
Farmers in Japan and Brazil have used drone technology for decades. As much as 30 percent of Japan’s rice fields were sprayed by unmanned vehicles in 2010, according to the nonprofit Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
In 2012, Congress directed the FAA to grant unmanned aircraft access to U.S. skies by 2015. The FAA has released a “road map” for potential drone use and six federally designated test sites have been approved.
A study by the AUVSI estimates that drone use could create 70,000 new jobs in the U.S. in five years after FAA approval. The group also estimates that 90 percent of the economic activity will come from precision agriculture and public safety applications.
Future of Soil Sensing Technology
Sensors that measure a variety of essential soil properties on the go are being developed.
By Viacheslav I. Adamchuk, Precision Agriculture Engineer, and Paul J. Jasa, Extension Engineer University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Sensors that measure a variety of essential soil properties on the go are being developed. These sensors can be used either to control variable rate application equipment in real-time or in conjunction with a Global Positioning System (GPS) to generate field maps of particular soil properties. Depending on the spacing between passes, travel speed, and sampling and/or measurement frequency, the number of measurement points per acre varies; however, in most cases, it is much greater than the density of manual grid sampling. The cost of mapping usually is reduced as well.
Measuring Soil Properties
When thinking about an ideal precision agriculture system, producers visualize a sensor located in direct contact with, or close to, the ground and connected to a “black box” which analyzes sensor response, processes the data, and changes the application rate instantaneously. They also hope that the real-time information detected by the sensor and used to prescribe the application rate would optimize the overall economic or agronomic effect of the production input. This approach, however, does not take into account several difficulties met in the “real world”:
1. Most sensors and applicator controllers need a certain time for measurement, integration, and/or adjustment, which decreases the allowable operation speed or measurement density.
2. Variable rate fertilizer and pesticide applicators may need additional information (like yield potential) to develop prescription algorithms (sets of equations).
3. Currently, there is no site-specific management prescription algorithm proven to be the most favorable for all variables involved in crop production.
Rather than using real-time, on-the-go sensors with controllers, a map-based approach may be more desirable because of the ability to collect and analyze data, make the prescription, and conduct the variable rate application in two or more steps. In this case, multiple layers of information including yield maps, a digital elevation model (DEM), and various types of imagery could be pooled together using a geographic information system (GIS) software package designed to manage and process spatial data. Prescription maps can be developed using algorithms that involve several data sources as well as personal experience.
Sensors for Automated Measurements
Scientists and equipment manufacturers are trying to modify existing laboratory methods or develop indirect measurement techniques that could allow on-the-go soil mapping. To date, only a few types of sensors have been investigated, including:
Electromagnetic sensors use electric circuits to measure the capability for soil particles to conduct or accumulate electrical charge. When using these sensors, the soil becomes part of an electromagnetic circuit, and changing local conditions immediately affect the signal recorded by a data logger. Several such sensors are commercially available:
•Mapping electrical conductivity (Veris® 3100, Veris Technologies, Salina, Kansas)
•Mapping transient electromagnetic response (EM-38,Geonics Limited, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada)
•Using electrical response to adjust variable rate application in real-time (Soil Doctor® System, Crop Technology, Inc., Bandera, Texas)
Electromagnetic soil properties, for the most part, are influenced by soil texture, salinity, organic matter, and moisture content. In some cases, other soil properties such as residual nitrates or soil pH can be predicted using these sensors. Several approaches for applying electromagnetic sensors have been observed in recent years.
Optical sensors use light reflectance to characterize soil. These sensors can simulate the human eye when looking at soil as well as measure near-infrared, mid-infrared, or polarized light reflectance. Vehicle-based optical sensors use the same principle technique as remote sensing. To date, various commercial vendors provide remote sensing services that allow measurement of bare soil reflectance using a satellite or airplane platform. Cost, timing, clouds, and heavy plant residue cover are major issues limiting the use of bare soil imagery from these platforms.
Close-range, subsurface, vehicle-based optical sensors have the potential to be used on the go, in a way similar to electromagnetic sensors, and can provide more information about single data points since reflectance can be easily measured in more than one portion of the spectrum at a time. Several researchers have developed optical sensors to predict clay, organic matter, and moisture content.
Mechanical sensors can be used to estimate soil mechanical resistance (often related to compaction).These sensors use a mechanism that penetrates or cuts through the soil and records the force measured by strain gauges or load cells. Several researchers have developed prototypes that show the feasibility of continuous mapping of soil resistance; however, none of these devices is commercially available. The draft sensors or “traction control” system on tractors uses a similar technology to control the three-point hitch on the go.
Electrochemical sensors could provide the most important type of information needed for precision agriculture — soil nutrient levels and pH. When soil samples are sent to a soil-testing laboratory, a set of standardized laboratory procedures is performed. These procedures involve sample preparation and measurement. Some measurements (especially determination of pH) are performed using an ion-selective electrode (with glass or polymer membrane or ion sensitive field effect transistor). These electrodes detect the activity of specific ions (nitrate, potassium, or hydrogen in case of pH). Several researchers are trying to adapt existing soil preparation and measurement procedures to essentially conduct a laboratory test on the go. The values obtained may not be as accurate as a laboratory test, but the high sampling density may increase the overall accuracy of the resulting soil nutrient or pH maps.
Airflow sensors were used to measure soil air permeability on the go. The pressure required to squeeze a given volume of air into the soil at fixed depth was compared to several soil properties. Experiments showed potential for distinguishing between various soil types, moisture levels, and soil structure/compaction.
Acoustic sensors have been investigated to determine soil texture by measuring the change in noise level due to the interaction of a tool with soil particles. A low signal-to-noise ratio did not allow this technology to develop.
Sensor Data Usage
Although various vehicle-based soil sensors are under development, only electromagnetic sensors are commercially available and widely used. Ideally, producers would like to operate sensors that provide inputs for existing prescription algorithms. Instead, commercially available sensors provide measurements such as electrical conductivity (EC) that cannot be used directly since the absolute value depends on a number of physical and chemical soil properties such as: texture, organic matter, salinity, moisture content, etc. Alternatively, electromagnetic sensors give valuable information about soil differences and similarities, which makes it possible to divide the field into smaller and relatively consistent areas referred to as management zones.
For example, such zones could be defined according to various soil types in a field. In fact, electrical conductivity maps usually can better reveal boundaries of certain soil types than soil survey maps (used for rural property tax assessment). Different anomalies such as eroded hillsides or ponding also can be easily identified on an electrical conductivity map. The following figure compares a soil survey and an electrical conductivity map for the same field showing some differences in boundaries.
Soil Survey vs. Electrical Conductivity
Yield maps also frequently correlate to electrical conductivity maps, as shown below. In many instances, such similarities can be explained through differences in soil. In general, the electrical conductivity maps may indicate areas where further exploration is needed to explain yield differences. Both yield potential and nutrient availability maps may have a similar pattern as soil texture and/or organic matter content maps. Often these patterns also can be revealed through an electrical conductivity map.
Therefore, it seems reasonable to use on-the-go mapping of electromagnetic soil properties as one layer of data to discover the heterogeneity (differences) of soil within a field (similar to using bare soil imagery). Zones with similar electrical conductivity and a relatively stable yield may receive a uniform treatment that can be prescribed based on fewer soil samples in the zones on the electrical conductivity map.
As new on-the-go soil sensors are developed, different real-time and map-based variable rate soil treatments may be economically applied to much smaller field areas, reducing the effect of soil variability within each management zone.
More accurate soil property maps are needed to successfully implement site-specific management decisions. Inadequate sampling density and the high cost of conventional soil sampling and analysis have been limiting factors. On-the-go, vehicle-based soil sensors represent an alternative that could both improve the quality and reduce the cost of soil maps. When further developed, on-the-go soil sensors may be used for either real-time or map-based control of agricultural inputs. To date, only systems that map electromagnetic soil properties are available commercially. These maps can be used to define management zones reflecting obvious trends in soil properties. Each zone can be sampled and treated independently. Smaller management zones will be feasible when new on-the-go soil sensors are developed and commercialized.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska continue work on vehicle-based soil sensors, which could be used for research and commercial applications. The sensors can improve the quality and decrease the cost of soil maps and will facilitate the decision-making process.
Many businesses are working to develop solutions to help farmers
make better decisions based on the mountains of data they’ve aggregated. Here are some of those businesses.
by Top Producer Editors
Bayer CropScience has launched its new e3 sustainable cotton program, which for farmers who grow Certified FiberMax or authentic Stoneville cotton, makes it possible for buyers to identify where their cotton was grown using a certification database maintained by the company. Bayer says the e3 program also helps farmers make a commitment to continuous improvement in productivity, environmental quality, and personal well-being, Bayer says. Farm performance is self-evaluated though the Fieldprint Calculator, an online tool designed by Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, and verified with in-season and post-harvest third-party audits.
Launched by the Climate Corporation, Climate.com provides up-to-the-minute data for field-level monitoring, yield forecasting, crop insights and decision support for daily and seasonal production decisions. With climate.com growers can get snapshot views of recent and forecasted precipitation and other weather conditions on their fields to manage their daily work. Simply select fields through an interactive map, save those fields, and check them at any time from a computer, tablet or smartphone.
John Deere is unlocking environmental data for farmers to better understand real-time field conditions. Expanding on the John Deere Field Connect soil moisture monitoring system introduced in 2012, John Deere has added environmental sensors and features that allow farmers to document more information directly from the tractor.
Detailed site-specific information allows producers to more efficiently use water resources, as well as schedule and perform other agronomic practices dependent on soil and environmental conditions. From the sensors, field-specific soil moisture and environmental data is transmitted to a secure website for viewing, and John Deere Field Connect customers can program the system to receive alerts based on set parameters. Field Connect then charts the data from the readings over time, allowing producers to identify trends. The system can be customized to each field depending on the objectives of each customer.
DuPont Pioneer, has expanded its support for a wide variety of farming decisions, including seed selection, in-season crop management and water and fertility. The first wave of services, branded as Pioneer Field360, can help farmers use data to increase productivity with timely and actionable information. The suite of apps and digital management tools includes:
•Pioneer Field360 Notes app, which streamlines and organizes field-by-field agronomic information that can be shared among DuPont Pioneer agronomists, sales professionals and farmers.
•Pioneer Field 360 Plantability app, which allows farmers to scan a seed tag and indicate their planter type to improve planter performance and seed-drop accuracy.
•Pioneer Field360 Select, which is a mobile subscription service that runs on any computer or tablet with Internet access. The web-based software allows farmers to monitor their fields by “management layers” in real-time for precipitation, growing degree units and corn growth stage development.
Some farm data ventures, such as the Monsanto Integrated Farming Systems program, are developing highly farm-specific field prescriptions that help deliver localized hybrid and planting rate recommendations. The initial offering, called FieldScripts, will double its testing efforts through Monsanto’s Ground Breakers research program with DeKalb corn hybrids this year and will be commercially available in 2014. With FieldScripts, the prescription is delivered as a complete product to the farmer.
Why Innovation Should Drive Farmers’ 40 Chances
Indiana farmer Kip Tom challenges farmers to do more with less.
By Boyce Thompson
Building on the theme of Howard G. Buffett’s book, “40 Chances”, Kip Tom told a Farm Journal Forum 2013 audience that the typical farmer doesn’t take full advantage of the 40 growing seasons he may experience in a lifetime to improve productivity.
“We have a real problem in agriculture—we fail to innovate,” said Tom, managing partner of Tom Farms, based in Leesburg, Ind. “We’ve heard discussions today about some innovations, but we aren’t doing it at the pace we need to. We need to dig deeper, reach further and all participate together to try to find the means to innovate further on our farms.”
“I actually concluded my 40th crop at the end of Thanksgiving,” Tom added, “and at the end of the day my kids came up to me and said, ‘Is this it, are you gone now?'” Although the comment drew a big laugh, it’s clear that Tom isn’t done farming and innovating.
Farmers, he said, have their work cut out for them. Agricultural productivity grows by 1.4% a year, based on yield improvements, while global demand for food increases by 1.75%. “That’s a gap that’s going to continue to grow unless we bring innovation to the farm gate and produce value to the consumer,” Tom said.
Tom took the audience through some tactics his farm employed to achieve a corn yield of 228 bu. per acre this season. He attributed an additional 2 bu. to 18 bu. per acre to applying advanced algorithms to seed and fertilizer rates.
“We’re grabbing soil samples to figure out how much fertilizer to apply, on every one hectare of land,” he said. “We can vary the population of corn per row” based on soil conditions. “Soon we’ll be able to vary by type of seed.”
To assist in conservation, Tom’s irrigation system monitors how much water it pumps per minute and how many kilowatts of electricity it uses. The farm adjusts how much water is applied to each field, based on how much water the soil can hold, soil type and organic content. The data is used to improve productivity and reduce runoff.
Tom employed drones for the first time this summer to provide real-time analysis. The small aircraft used infra-red technology to shoot biomass maps and stream the information back to the farm office, where it was used to build a prescription for improving productivity.
During harvest season, he said, combines went through the fields, transmitted data into the data cloud, “and we knew instantly when a field was completed, how many bushels came off it, and what the productivity was. We can run hundreds of tests across an 80-acre field to find the best means to increase productivity.”
Tom is pleased with the productivity tools—better seeds, precision farming equipment—that he receives from suppliers. “I can tell you it’s working,” he said. The missing piece is an industry-wide, back-office Enterprise Resource Planning computer system to aggregate and analyze data from various sources, he said. In the meantime, farmers have so much data at their disposal that some might need to invest in someone to manage and analyze it.
Innovation, Tom said, is the key to feeding the world’s growing population. As farmers improve their yields, the country will need to invest in its infrastructure to move more goods around. In the meantime, farmers will need to step out of their comfort zone.
“We’ve been fearful to take that risk because we knew we only have 40 chances to get it right,” Tom said. “We hope now with the profitability that’s been in the ag sector, and with our knowledge of the tools available to us, that we can invest back in and innovate in agriculture.”
House Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Bill
Legislation will fund military operations, national security efforts, and programs for the health and safety of U.S. troops
Washington, May 29 –
The House Appropriations Committee today released the subcommittee draft of the fiscal year 2015 Defense Appropriations bill, which will be considered in subcommittee tomorrow. The legislation funds critical national security needs, military operations abroad, and health and quality-of-life programs for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families.
In total, the bill provides $491 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $4.1 billion above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $200 million above the President’s request. In addition, the bill includes $79.4 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for the ongoing war efforts abroad, the same level assumed in the President’s budget request and in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act.
“Our first priority as a nation must be our national security and the protection of American interests at home and abroad. This bill provides critical funding for the security of all Americans, the success of our military missions and the fight against terrorism around the globe, and the safety and well-being of our troops who are bravely serving this country,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said. “At the same time, we must remain mindful of our very real budgetary constraints. The bill reflects this reality, and helps to ensure that each and every defense dollar is responsibly spent to further our national security goals.”
“This Subcommittee has worked in a bipartisan fashion to provide the Department and intelligence community with the resources needed to maintain and modernize the best equipped and most capable military in the world today and in the future,” said Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen. “In addition, we have established priorities that will enhance readiness for our military so they remain prepared to protect America in an increasingly dangerous world. I am proud that we have kept faith with the brave men and women, and their families, who selflessly serve our country.”
Military Personnel and Pay – The legislation includes $128.1 billion to provide for 1,308,600 active-duty troops and 820,800 Guard and reserve troops. This funding level is $669 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level, but is sufficient to meet all needs due to reductions in force structure and large unexpended balances. The bill fully funds the authorized 1.8% pay raise for the military, instead of 1% as requested by the President, and provides funding to maintain 100% of troop housing costs through the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).
Operation and Maintenance – Included in the legislation is $165 billion for operation and maintenance – $1.4 billion below the request and $4.8 billion above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. This will support key readiness programs to prepare our troops for combat and peacetime missions, flight time and battle training, equipment and facility maintenance, and base operations.
Within this funding, the bill includes an additional $1.2 billion to fill readiness shortfalls, $721 million to restore unrealistic reductions in the President’s request to facility sustainment and modernization, and full funding for the Tuition Assistance program at $475 million. Additionally, the bill fully funds Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs at $275 million, an increase of $50 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.
Research and Development – The bill contains $63.4 billion – $368 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $171 million below the President’s request – for research, development, testing, and evaluation of new defense technologies. These activities will help to advance the safety and success of current and future military operations, and will help prepare our nation to meet a broad range of future security threats.
Specifically, this funding will support research and development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46A tanker program, the P8-A Poseidon, the new Air Force bomber program, a next generation JSTARS aircraft, the RQ-4 Triton Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, the Navy’s Future Unmanned Carrier-based Strike System, the Ohio-class submarine replacement, the Army and Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Army Ground Combat Vehicle, the Israeli Cooperative Programs, and other important development programs.
Equipment Procurement – The legislation provides a total of $91.2 billion – $1.6 billion below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $1.6 billion above the President’s request – for equipment and upgrades. This funding will help ensure our nation’s military readiness by providing the necessary platforms, weapons, and other equipment our forces need to train, maintain our force, and conduct successful operations.
For example, the bill includes $14.3 billion to procure six Navy ships, including $789 million for the USS George Washington carrier refueling project; $5.8 billion for 38 F-35 aircraft; $1.6 billion for 7 KC-46A tankers; $975 million for 12 EA-18G Growlers; $2.4 billion for 87 UH-60 Blackhawk and 37 MH-60S/R helicopters; and $351 million for the Israeli Cooperative Program – Iron Dome.
Defense Health and Military Family Programs – The bill contains $31.6 billion – $1.1 billion below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $360 million below the request – for the Defense Health Program to provide care for our troops, military families, and retirees. This level is sufficient to meet all estimated needs and requirements in the next fiscal year.
In addition, within the total $246 million is provided for cancer research, $150 million for medical facility upgrades, $125 million for traumatic brain injury and psychological health research, and an additional $39 million above the request for suicide prevention outreach programs. All of these funding levels represent increases above the President’s request for these programs. The bill also restores $100 million to the Defense Commissary Agency to provide reduced-price food and household goods for service-members and their families.
Ongoing Military Operations – The bill contains $79.4 billion for ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. Despite a recent announcement from the Administration regarding plans for an enduring U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, no Overseas Contingency Operations budget has been submitted to Congress, therefore this level is subject to change.
This funding will provide the needed resources for our troops in the field, including funding for personnel requirements, operational needs, the purchase of new aircraft to replace combat losses, combat vehicle safety modifications, and maintenance of facilities and equipment.
Guantanamo Bay – The legislation prohibits funding for transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. or its territories and denies funding to modify any facility in the U.S. to house detainees. These provisions are identical to language contained in the House-passed fiscal year 2015 Defense Authorization legislation.
Savings and Reductions to President’s Request – The bill reflects common-sense decisions to save taxpayer dollars where possible in areas that will not affect the safety or success of our troops and missions. Some of these savings include: $547 million for favorable foreign currency fluctuations, $592 million for overestimation of civilian personnel costs, and $965 million in savings from rescissions of unused prior-year funding.
For text of the legislation, please visit: http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/BILLS-113HR-SC-AP-FY2015-Defense-SubcommitteeDraft.pdf
The Gap Between Supply and Demand for Spy Planes Just Got Bigger
May 29, 2014
President Barack Obama’s West Point speech created a nearly impossible problem for the Pentagon’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) planners by asking them to do much more with dwindling resources. The president correctly argued that the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist threat has reached a new phase and spread globally, necessitating a new U.S. approach of assistance to partners to take the initiative in fighting it locally across an expansive geography from South Asia to the Sahel.
Decisions already made in the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget request will cut available ISR. In particular, the Air Force justified decisions to reduce its medium-altitude long-endurance ISR (MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers) in order to prepare for future wars (namely, the growing threat of anti-access environments). Should budget pressures continue, the Air Force has threatened deeper cuts in these systems, along with reductions in high-altitude long-endurance RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40—the very aircraft that is supposed to fill the shoes of the U-2, which the Air Force also decided to retire in this budget.
The Air Force argued it was overinvested in capabilities for “uncontested” environments—precisely the environments Obama just ordered the United States to surge ISR into — in which the U.S. and its partners will have air dominance but will need all the help they can get from the skies to understand what’s happening on the ground. But under budget pressures of the past several years, something had to give, and the Air Force decided it would have to be the kind of ISR that worked well in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates trumpeted the growth in ISR under his leadership as one of his signature accomplishments and warned that “overall, the kinds of capabilities we will most likely need in the years ahead will often resemble the kinds of capabilities we need today.” Even before the president’s announcement this week of a shift in strategy to combat al-Qaeda, justifying a reduction in current ISR force structure was a questionable proposition. A huge gap between ISR supply and demand was apparent around the globe. Take Gen. David Rodriguez at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), who in March told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had only 11 percent of his ISR needs met. Whether Mali, Somalia, the regional hunt for Joseph Kony, or missing schoolgirls in Nigeria, the need for ISR to find “needles in the haystack” is significant on the continent. In AFRICOM’s area of responsibility, ISR has been a key part of U.S. counterterrorism support efforts Obama cited as models in this next phase of the war, such as support to French-led efforts in the trans-Sahel. When the president announced in his West Point speech the need to combat “decentralized al-Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in the countries where they operate,” he was indeed talking about the exact challenges AFRICOM faces.
Other geographic combatant commanders from U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Southern Command will similarly be clamoring for more of the ISR that they have claimed critical shortfalls in for years. These commanders have been all-in on supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they have waited patiently to have their requirements met; but now they want their fair share of ISR for the many security challenges in their areas of responsibility. They will grow increasingly frustrated as they find that the windfall they may have fantasized about simply will not materialize. In fact, fewer troops in Afghanistan could mean even more requirements for ISR to keep an eye on things.
The ISR deficit extends far beyond the core issue of fighting al-Qaeda or even the Pentagon’s needs. The list of commitments in which ISR has become a symbol of U.S. global reach and influence is long and growing every day. ISR is increasingly used to “show the flag” for high-priority pop-up crises, like the Fukushima nuclear disaster or the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Moreover, unmanned ISR uniquely fits the mood of a United States that does not want to give up global responsibility, but also does not want to put its men and women in uniform in harm’s way except for the most vital of U.S. interests.
Other countries simply expect that the United States will show up with these capabilities when they need them. The U.S. has chosen to greatly restrict its sales of the most capable ISR aircraft, and that has reduced its ability to share this burden. (It also has led allies and partners to seek third-party sellers of the equipment or develop their own, at the cost of interoperability.) And to be clear, ISR does not necessarily mean “drone strikes.” While Predators and Reapers can be armed, the role that they are used in most is simply ISR—battlefield situational awareness. These aircraft have flown millions of hours doing just that. Intelligence sharing—of which ISR is a critical part—can be the glue in U.S. relations with other countries.
This is where Congress comes in. The president’s West Point speech laid out a necessary evolution in the long-term U.S. strategy to fight terrorism and keep it from American shores by increasing training and assistance to partners. With defense authorizations coming out of committee over the past two weeks, and appropriations being developed now, this is the time for Congress to enable our military to support the president’s vision by realistically resourcing priority requirements. The $5 billion “Counterterrorism Partnership Fund” that Obama wants could be a good start, but it won’t cover defense budget shortfalls, including in ISR.
The House Armed Services Committee markup of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a new requirement for an annual report on satisfaction of combatant command ISR requirements and strategy to meet shortfalls. The Pentagon should embrace this review to address the growing gap between ISR supply and demand, and Congress should find a way to fund those shortfalls.
Unfortunately, this year’s NDAA also includes a number of provisions that directly impact the Pentagon’s ISR plans, and add back in requirements for which there is no budget. With ISR still sitting square on the chopping block, the gap between strategy and budget constitutes a dangerous situation that could grow worse, not only for the president’s counterterrorism plan, but for our nation’s overall security.
OPM promises phased retirement to start this year
May. 29, 2014 – 03:14PM |
By ANDY MEDICI |
The Office of Personnel Management is pushing to issue a final set of regulations for phased retirement by the end of September, but for federal employees and advocacy groups it has already taken too long.
The agency is working hard on the final rule, according to an OPM spokeswoman.
Under OPM’s draft plan released in 2013, employees who are eligible for retirement and meet other requirements could work half-time while getting half of their pension. As they continue to work, phased retirees also will keep accruing additional service credit toward their final pensions.
While on the job, they will have to spend 20 percent of their time in “mentoring activities,” ideally with the employees who will take over for them when they leave for good.
For Gwendolyn Ross, phased retirement could not come soon enough. If she doesn’t hear of any progress in finalizing the rules and implementing it at the agency level by the end of the year, she said, she will fully retire.
Ross, a manager at the Coast Guard, said phased retirement would have given her the flexibility to continue working while taking care of medical issues and gradually transitioning out of the federal workforce.
She said the mentoring time would allow agencies across the government to capture the knowledge and information of long-serving federal employees instead of losing it all at once.
“The federal government is doing itself a disservice by not implementing phased retirement, because you are going to have a whole bunch of people leaving, and there are no plans to replace them or learn what they know,” Ross said.
Within her office, Ross said, perhaps half of the civilian employees are eligible to retire or will be soon. Phased retirement would be a win-win way for the agency to smoothly transition to a younger workforce and for federal workers to keep contributing to their final pension in uncertain financial times, she said.
Jessica Klement, the legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said the association receives frequent calls from federal employees inquiring about the status of a final rule.
“There are people who say they are really excited about it, but they keep telling me [that] if it’s not done by a certain time [they are] going,” Klement said.
Congress approved the law for phased retirement on June 29, 2012, which means federal employees and agencies have been waiting almost two years for a rule. Klement said NARFE hopes the final rule contains greater details on phased retirement and encourages agencies to use it.
“We hope that the final regulations are stronger, but overall I think this can be an excellent tool for agencies particular in this time of austerity and hiring freezes to retain top talent,” Klement said.
Carl Gerhold, a NASA researcher said phased retirement would allow him to continue working on two projects while training others to take over when he leaves the agency.
But if he doesn’t hear anything about phased retirement he will choose to fully retire within the next few months even though he would rather work part time to make sure everything is set to go without him.
“If I thought that it was going to happen by the end of this calendar year I would stay on. When I talk to people about the possibility of phased retirement they say that sounds great,” Gerhold said.
Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, said the group is encouraging OPM to finalize its regulations on phased retirement so employees can start using it.
“As agencies continue to struggle with budget pressures and are not backfilling positions, agencies need flexibilities such as phased retirement to ensure a qualified workforce is in place to perform mission-critical duties,” Bonosaro said.
Hagel Says ‘Indispensable’ U.S. Still Not the World’s Police
Kevin Baron 2:25 AM ET
Hours after President Barack Obama’s major global security speech at West Point outlining his vision for restrained but near constant worldwide United States military intervention in a “new world” of terrorism, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel embarked on a 12-day tour where he will assure key Asian and European allies that the administration will sustain America’s “indispensable” role in protecting its interests and theirs.
The new security question that Obama and his senior military leaders are asking themselves is: When should the U.S. use military power? The president’s answer seems to be: It depends.
“I think, and I know the president believes this and said it, and anyone who’s been in this business understands – we are going to be living with terrorism for many years,” said Hagel, speaking to reporters hours after Obama’s speech on Wednesday.
“You don’t lead with your military in foreign policy. The military is an instrument of power; it’s an important instrument of power. But our foreign policy is based on our interests around the world. It’s based on who we are, international law. It’s based on our standards, our values.”
Obama said in his West Point speech that “the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.”
Defense One asked Hagel, who has advised Obama’s foreign policy thinking since the president was a junior senator a decade ago, if that indispensability — backed by more special operations units being deployed than ever – is the same as being the world’s police?
“No, I don’t think it’s the same and let me explain why,” Hagel said on Thursday en route to Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue. “In the president’s reference to an indispensable nation, an indispensable nation means a world leader. It means a leader of alliances that bring people together for and with common interests that deal with common challenges. It means what we are continuing to do: capacity building with partners, using all our instruments of power with our partners, building alliances, strengthening alliances – no other nation in the world can do it or has done it.
“I think the president’s reference to the United States as the hub of global alliances like no nation ever in history is exactly the point. The United States of America is the hub of more alliances than any nation on earth. And no other nation can do that, can play that role. I think that’s a lot different than being the sheriff or policeman of the world.”
Leaving aside how one can focus on every corner of the world, Hagel’s trip exemplifies the enormity of what an administration accused of being gun-shy is promising: global vigilance, with a heavy dose of pragmatism. But pragmatism is a hard sell in Washington national security circles, where the deluge of post-West Point punditry has insisted this American president must show himself to be more hawk, less dove. It is an easy sell to many top brass who came up through Iraq, like Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who as Obama’s senior military advisor has shown himself to be a military-as-last-resort general with no eagerness to charge a hill without damn good reason. And it’s long been a mantra of Hagel’s as he seeks military partners that can share the burdens of blood and budget from Australia to Afghanistan.
Hagel’s stops show the complexity of what U.S. military forces already do. In Alaska on Wednesday, while U.S. troops continue tracking stolen schoolchildren via drones in Nigeria, Hagel was briefed on Americans patrolling the northern skies with the F-22 Raptor, the world’s most advanced fighter, where Russian jets remain engaged in cat-and-mouse play over the Bering Strait. He visited troops that watch for Russian nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles and are waiting for the day North Korea has them, too.
On Thursday, Hagel departed to Singapore to facilitate old continental alliances against Russia and foster new 21st Century multilateral ones facing China. There he will meet one of his Chinese counterparts in the People’s Liberation Army, six Asian defense ministers, and at least two prime ministers gathered for the Shangri-La Dialogue, a forum where Obama’s three previous defense secretaries have tried to coalesce Asian militaries into something resembling more of an Asian version of NATO and less of the 20th-century hub-and-spoke network of bilateral relationships that Washington manages.
Next week, Hagel will attend a NATO defense minister’s meeting in Brussels, hat in hand, hoping allies commit troops to Obama’s 2-year extension of the Afghanistan war as a limited counterterrorism fight, and re-evaluate NATO’s existence as a counterweight to Russia. Hagel later will make a deliberately calculated visit to a U.S. warship in a Romanian Black Sea port. Finally, he will play classic state-against-state geopolitics in Paris and join Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, as France and the U.S. argue whether the best way to influence Putin is to keep him in isolation or bring him to breast.
Along the way, Hagel will stop in Afghanistan, which once commanded U.S. security attention but has long been in the rearview mirror for those looking ahead to the “new world” Obama described this week.
In American politics, it is a tired but effective campaign smear to pound a podium and say that the United States will not be the world’s global police. It’s an empty attack phrase that attempts to paint a political opponent – usually the incumbent leader of the free world – as being too distracted with overseas events and not attentive enough to problems in America.
As Obama said in his West Point speech, there is little threat of another nation directly attacking the U.S., but terrorism knows no borders, shows no retreat and is not going away. The U.S. could send troops wherever the commander-in-chief deems America and her security interests are threatened. For Obama, that does not include Syria, yet. It does include chasing al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan and into Africa, patrolling the skies with billion-dollar fighter jets, asking Japan and South Korea to hold hands for their own good, cajoling Europeans to pay up for their own defense, keeping the seas open from China to the Arctic Ocean, and sending elite American troops across oceans to search for kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Indispensable, to the farthest corners of the earth.
What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls
Bottom of Form
Saturday, May 31, 2014
President Obama this week spoke of the diminished role of the military in his foreign policy and at week’s end dumped the former general in charge of veterans’ retirement benefits.
The president in a graduation speech Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point outlined his belief in a foreign policy that relies more on diplomacy and less on military force. Given voter unhappiness with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s no surprise that 60% continue to believe America’s political leaders send U.S. soldiers into harm’s way too often.
Americans consistently express high regards for the nation’s military, but as more and more stories emerge about health care problems at the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, just 21% give the federal government good or excellent marks for its administration of benefits to military veterans.
Forty-two percent (42%) of voters said early this week that Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, should resign from Obama’s Cabinet because of the problems that have been exposed in his department. On Friday, he did resign after a closed-door meeting with the president.
Obama’s daily job approval ratings appear to be unaffected by the growing VA scandal and remain as they have been for most of his presidency in the negative mid- to high teens.
Democrats can expect to hear about the VA’s failures on the campaign trail, though. To gain full control of Congress, Republicans need a net gain of six Senate seats this November, but Democrats are hoping to take one in Kentucky from the GOP column to blunt this takeover effort. However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell now has a seven-point lead over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race following the state’s May 20 party primaries.
Republican Congressman Tom Cotton still holds a narrow lead over incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race.
Pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby was the winner of Oregon’s May 20 GOP primary. She trails Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley by 10 points in our first look at the Senate race in Oregon.
Obamacare is expected to be a major debating point in all three of these races, as it will be in most Senate and House contests nationwide. Most voters continue to view the new health care law unfavorably, but they are slightly more supportive of its required levels of health insurance coverage.
Voters overwhelmingly believe wealthy donors and special interest groups pull the strings in Washington, but a plurality (48%) still thinks media bias is a bigger problem than big campaign contributions in politics today. Nearly as many (44%) say big campaign contributions are the bigger problem.
Congress routinely earns low job approval ratings, and yet most incumbents get reelected. What does America think about this perpetual Congress?
Democrats continue to lead Republicans by four points on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.
Incumbent Republican Nathan Deal trails Democratic challenger Jason Carter by seven points in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the Georgia gubernatorial race.
In a gubernatorial race between two former U.S. congressmen, Republican Asa Hutchinson has pulled ahead of Democrat Mike Ross in Arkansas.
Of more immediate importance to many Americans is the coming close of the school year. Americans overwhelmingly believe in the importance of young people having a summer job, but 75% believe it will be difficult for them to find one in the current economy.
As high school graduation nears for many, fewer voters than ever (19%) think most high schoolers have the skills necessary to get a job, and they’re no more confident in their readiness for college.
Consumer and investor confidence in the overall economy, though, remains higher than it was at the first of the year and than it has been for most of the time since the Wall Street meltdown in 2008.
Still, just over half (52%) of all Americans remain confident in the stability of the U.S. banking system. By comparison, 68% were confident in the banking system in July 2008, prior to the meltdown.
Most continue to be concerned about inflation and lack confidence in the Federal Reserve to keep inflation under control and interest rates down. This helps explain why 73% expect grocery prices to keep going up. More Americans (31%) say they owe more money this month, but most (58%) say their interest rates haven’t changed.
In other surveys this week:
— Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction, consistent with surveys since mid-December.
— Voters are more optimistic than ever that the United States can completely end its dependence on oil imports, but just 25% think this country does enough to develop its own gas and oil resources.
— Most voters still oppose closing the Guantanamo terrorist prison camp. Nearly half (47%) think the United States is safer because suspected terrorists have been imprisoned there.
— Fifty-five percent (55%) of Americans say they have read a book or poem by author and activist Maya Angelou, who died this week.
— More Americans now rank Memorial Day among the nation’s most important holidays, and 45% planned to do something special last Monday to celebrate and honor those who have given their life for our country.
— Reality TV star Kim Kardashian and hip-hop superstar Kanye West were married last weekend in Paris. The news of their wedding was nearly inescapable, but that doesn’t mean most Americans like the newlyweds very much.