Sunday, September 30, 2012

VA: Military absentee ballots going AWOL in 2012

FREDERICKSBURG — A 92 percent drop in absentee-ballot requests by military personnel in Virginia is raising concerns that the Pentagon is failing to carry out a federal voting law.

With only 1,746 military voters in Virginia requesting absentee ballots so far this year — out of 126,251 service members in the state —the Military Voter Protection Project says the system has broken down.

And it’s not just in the Old Dominion. MVPP Executive Director Eric Eversole reports significant declines in absentee-ballot requests by service members across the nation.

Compiling data from Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada, Eversole’s organization found that military families have requested 55,510 absentee ballots so far this year. That’s a sharp decline from the 166,252 sought in those states in 2008.
The fix is in

Iran swipe at Web brings angry reply

TEHRAN (AP) - Iran's cyber monitors often tout their fight against the West's "soft war" of influence through the Web, but trying to block Google's popular Gmail appeared to be a swipe too far.

Complaints piled up - even from email-starved parliament members - and forced authorities Sunday to double down on their promises to create a parallel Web universe with Tehran as its center.

The strong backlash and the unspecific pledges for an Iran-centric Internet alternative to the Silicon Valley powers and others highlight the two sides of the Islamic Republic's ongoing battles with the Web. It's spurred another technological mobilization that fits neatly into Iran's self-crafted image as the Muslim world's showcase for science, including sending satellites into orbit, claiming advances in cloning and stem cell research and facing down the West over its nuclear program.

But there also are the hard realities of trying to reinvent the Web. Iran's highly educated and widely tech-savvy population is unlikely to warm quickly to potential clunky homegrown browsers or email services. And then there's the potential political and economic fallout of trying to close the tap on familiar sites such as Gmail.

"Some problems have emerged through the blocking of Gmail," Hussein Garrousi, a member of a parliamentary committee on industry, was quoted Sunday by the independent Aftab-e Yazd daily. What he apparently meant was that many lawmakers were angry and missing their emails.

He said that parliament would summon the minister of telecommunications for questioning if the ministry did not lift the Gmail ban, which was imposed last week in respond to clips on Google-owned YouTube of a film mocking the Prophet Muhammad that set off deadly protests across the Islamic world.

Even many newspapers close to the government complained over the email disruptions. On Saturday, the Asr-e Ertebat weekly reported that Iranians had paid a total of $4.5 million to purchase proxy services to reach blocked sites, including Facebook and YouTube, over the past month.

Iranian authorities - perhaps recognizing the risks at hand - decided against taking a symbolic twin shot at Google and cut access to the Web browser in a country with 32 million Internet users among a population of 75 million, according to official statistics.

That would rank online Iran among the world's top 20 in terms of sheer numbers of users, and equivalent to some European countries in per capita Web use at more than 40 percent, according to the private monitoring group Internet World Stats. The World Bank, however, puts Iran's Internet link rate at just 21 percent last year.

The U.S. is among the world's highest at more than 75 percent.

Iran's deputy telecoms minister, Ali Hakim Javadi, told reporters that Iranian authorities were considering lifting the Gmail ban. But he also used the opportunity to again promise development of Iran's domestic alternatives: the Fakhr ("Pride") search engine and the Fajr ("Dawn") email, Aftab-e Yazd reported.

When reporters noted the quality of Gmail services, Javadi quipped: "If there is Mercedes Benz on the street, that doesn't mean everyone drives a Mercedes."

Iran's clerical establishment has long signaled its intent to get citizens off of the international Internet - which they say promotes Western values - and onto a "national" and "clean" domestic network. Earlier this year, Iran's police chief, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, called Google an "instrument of espionage" rather than a search engine.

But it is unclear whether Iran has the technical capacity to follow through on its ambitious plans, or is willing to risk the economic damage and the social shock waves.

The Internet has steadily become part of Iran's fabric since the first Farsi-language sites developed a decade ago by Canadian-Iranian blogger Hossein Derakshan, who is considered one of the founders of Iran's social media community. Derakshan, however, was detained in 2008 and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison two years later as the battles heated up between liberals seeking open access to the Web and authorities trying to erect their own version of China's "Great Firewall," the name given to Beijing's extensive filtering and censorship of the Internet.

Sites such as Twitter and Facebook were pillars of the street revolts after the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The powerful Revolutionary Guard responded by recruiting and training its own cyber force to patrol the Web and, later, try to defend against virus attacks on nuclear and other sites that Iran has blamed on the West and its allies.

Some Web security experts also have raised the possibility of Iranian hackers being behind some recent high-profile computer attacks, such as disruptions at Saudi Arabia's state oil giant Saudi Aramco and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas earlier this month. Iran has denied any links.
In a video message for Iranian new year in March, President Barack Obama denounced what he called the "electronic curtain" that keeps ordinary Iranians from reaching out to Americans and the West.

A few weeks later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the creation of an Internet oversight agency that included top military, security and political figures in the country's boldest attempt yet to control the Internet. The panel is headed by Ahmadinejad and includes powerful figures in the security establishment such as the intelligence chief and the commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

It's not Iran's first attempt to hold off what hardliners call a Western "cultural invasion." The so-called Barbie wars have gone on for more than a decade with periodic raids to confiscate the iconic American dolls from toy stores. Iran also introduced its own dolls - twins Dara and Sara - designed to promote traditional values with modest clothing and pro-family values, but it hasn't significantly dented the demand for Barbie dolls.

White House Moves To Head Off Sequester Layoffs

The White House moved to prevent defense and other government contractors from issuing mass layoff notices in anticipation of sequestration, even going so far to say that the contracting agencies would cover any potential litigation costs or employee compensation costs that could follow.

Some defense companies—including Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and EADS North America—have said they expect to send notices to their employees 60 days before sequestration takes effect to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies to give advance warning to workers deemed reasonably likely to lose their jobs. Companies appeared undeterred by a July 30 guidance from the Labor Department, which said issuing such notices would be inappropriate, due to the possibility that sequestration may be averted. The Labor Department also said companies do not have enough information about how the cuts might be implemented to determine which workers or specific programs could be affected should Congress fail to reach a compromise to reduce the deficit, triggering $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, half from defense, half non-defense. For 2013, that would amount to $109 billion in spending cuts.

So the Office of Management and Budget went a step further in guidance issued late Friday afternoon. If an agency terminates or modifies a contract, and the contractor must close a plant or lay off workers en masse, the company could treat employee compensation costs for WARN Act liability, attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs as allowable costs to be covered by the contracting agency—so long as the contractor has followed a course of action consistent with the Labor Department’s guidance. The legal fees would be covered regardless of the outcome of the litigation, according to the OMB guidance issued by Daniel Werfel, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management, and Joseph Jordan, the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy.

"This guidance does not alter existing rights, responsibilities, obligations, or limitations under individual contract provisions or the governing cost principles set forth in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and other applicable law," said the guidance addressed to the chief financial officers and senior procurement executives of departments and agencies. "Thus, agencies may treat as allowable other costs potentially associated with sequestration, including WARN Act-related costs arising under circumstances not specified in this guidance, based on the usual cost principles of allocability, allowability, and reasonableness as set forth in the FAR."

Democrats, including House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, have also said there is no reason to needlessly alarm hundreds of thousands of workers—but many Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have said that they hoped constituent concern resulting from the notices would spur compromise on Capitol Hill.
National journal

Dispatches From The War That Nobody Wants

As everybody knows, there is no such thing as a global war on terror anymore. Instead we live in a harmonious world of interfaith comity with only the occasional criminal act that is quickly and competently handled by law enforcement officials. As a result we can cut our defense budgets and get on with the real business of life, which is to say watching TV, going to the mall and voting to re-elect the strategic geniuses whose wise decisions and firm but thoughtful leadership gave us this tranquil world order.

As we celebrate this new age of peace, understanding and joy, here are a few stories that might matter if we didn’t have such a wise and level-headed government in Washington that was bent on soothing and quieting what might otherwise be an aroused and worried public opinion.

The office of the Director of National Intelligence is both confirming that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was deliberately planned in advance and excusing the White House for getting the story wrong. Officials are trying to determine if a mysterious, little known organization called “Al-Qaeda” had something to do with the attack. This doesn’t seem likely, as Al-Qaeda was reported dead or at least in what former Vice President Cheney would have called its “death throes” in Pakistan last spring, but you never know.

In a completely unrelated development in Somalia, African Union troops have driven an armed group of mysterious criminals from the city of Kismayo. The criminals have also been linked to Al-Qaeda, but it is obvious to a child that their organization and motives are entirely due to local grievances and their claims to represent a wing of some sort of global movement are delusional and not worth thinking about. Widespread reports that Al Shabab, as these fighters call themselves, merged with the little-known Al-Qaeda last February are understood by all seasoned observers of international politics to be meaningless and not worth discussing. In any case, Al-Shabab is reported to be retreating, so who cares?

Meanwhile from Nigeria comes word that Boko Haram, the fanatical terror group (sorry, organized criminal conspiracy) that is trying to launch a widespread religious (sorry, socio-economic) war (sorry again, state of continuing and kinetic tension) in Nigeria by bombing churches during worship services, murdering Christians and attacking moderate Muslims, has penetrated the Nigerian government. As the BBC reports, an immigration official has confessed to participation in the movement and has provided information that led to a number of other arrests. Reports that this chimerical Al-Qaeda group sent operatives to work with Boko Haram and enabled it to operate at a higher level of effectiveness should be ignored by all serious people.

The President of Yemen, meanwhile, is thanking the United States for its support for his efforts in his country’s ongoing anti-crime effort against randomly motivated groups of violent criminals in developments that have nothing in common with superficially similar movements anywhere in the world. In what was obviously a slip of the tongue he linked the criminals with “Al-Qaeda” and implied that some sort of international network was engaged in the violence in his country but such crazy talk by a man under a great deal of stress is best ignored. Only rampant paranoia with perhaps a touch of Islamophobia could link events in Yemen to anything warlike or global.

In another completely unrelated and random development, the governments of the United Kingdom and Australia are advising their citizens to avoid travel to certain parts of the Philippines. Apparently there are “clashes” between the armed forces and certain mysterious criminal elements whose motives cannot be discerned but which appear to be entirely related to local grievances of some sort. Land tenure issues? Revenue sharing, perhaps?

In yet another inexplicable event that does not, repeat not point to anything so unthinkable as some sort of global war on terror, the New York Times reported this week that a Turk and an Iraqi were killed by a United States drone strike in Waziristan, one of many unsettled regions in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Again, the Turk and the Iraqi were said to be linked to this mysterious Al-Qaeda group, obviously a criminal conspiracy of some sort like the Mafia or the Libor rate-setting committee and one which can be countered by alert police actions here and there.

And of course there is northern Mali, where Al-Qaeda linked criminals have mysteriously seized power and begun to turn the area into an armed training and supply came for their confederates across the region. Both the EU and the African Union are mulling ways to drive them from power, and the United States is also considering ways of defeating them. The EU has almost 30 member states and the AU has 50; that international organizations with a membership of 80 countries are contemplating coordinated military action against something isn’t anything for anybody to worry about. Bin Laden is dead, what few remnant grouplets survive are on the run, and the unlamented “global war on terror” is as dead as the Bush administration.

There are other interesting dispatches from this non-global, non-war. “Hundreds” of Al-Qaeda operatives have escaped from a prison in Iraq. A somewhat doubtful report from the crack Onion-citing Iranian news agency FARS says that Al-Qaeda is recruiting criminals (which it foolishly calls “terrorists”) for activities in Syria. For those who don’t find FARS a reliable source, CNN also carries a story on the rising profile of Al-Qaeda in the war against Assad.

An Associated Press story filed in Peshawar noted that Al-Qaeda continues to globalize, with non-Arabs now significantly outnumbering Arabs in the organization’s ranks. Citing retired Pakistani general Mahmoud Shah as a source, the AP tells us that:

While there are no exact numbers, Shah said intelligence sources in the tribal regions put the number of Arab and African jihadists at about 1,500, compared with 3,500 to 4,000 ranging from Chinese Uighurs and Uzbeks to recruits from Turkey, the Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan as well as native and immigrant Germans.

We may be tired of the war on terror, but the terrorists aren’t tired of waging war on us. Far from it. They are just warming up.

No doubt all the respectable and enlightened people who are working so hard in the government and the media to prevent public opinion from connecting these dots and drawing the conclusion that the war on terror is still real, still global and still going on have good reasons for doing so. They fear that talking too much about the threat would hand propaganda victories to those we would call our enemies if we were calling spades spades. They also fear that whether they speak of a global war on terror, a global war on radical Islamist terror, or even a global war against fanatical religious terror groups without specifying the religion they will polarize the world and make the whatever-it-is that much worse. Islamophobia would sweep the west, and westophobia (misdusism? hatred of the west) would sweep the Muslim world, and the clash of civilizations that our enemies want and that we hope to avoid would become that much more likely.

These are not bad motives, and even the slightly less noble motive of hoping to gain some partisan advantage by claiming to have dealt more decisively with the terror threat than is in fact the case is hardly an unprecedented violation of the norms of American political discourse in an election year.

But roads paved with good intentions don’t always take you where you want to go, and denial does not look like an effective or sustainable strategy in the current state of what is and remains a multi-theater war against a set of armed religious fanatics and bigoted zealots with a crazed world view and the capacity to make a lot of trouble in a lot of places at the same time.

When, after months and years of denial, events suddenly pop up (like a pre-planned 9/11 attack on an American diplomatic outpost) that look very much as if the war on terror was still happening, millions of Americans begin to ask whether their leaders are just stupid or if something else is going on. If you want to stoke McCarthyism, deny that domestic Communism is a problem after domestic spies have sold our nuclear secrets to Stalin. If you want to stoke Islamophobia, don’t level with the people about the nature of the problems we face.

The Obama administration has pursued a complex and not wholly misguided strategy in the war it claims not to be fighting. It has bombed the bejeezus out of people it doesn’t like, and a very serious and focused set of multinational counter terrorism operations are, thank goodness, constantly going on. These operations include vigorous domestic operations as well as international ones, and the Obama administration has pretty consistently worried more about cracking down on potential threats than on pleasing the ACLU. The White House has also sought, mostly unsuccessfully, to win over public opinion in the Islamic world by bombarding the region not only with drones but also with kind words about Islam and it has offered intermittent and inconsistent support for political change. And, though it may not like to admit this to itself, it is exploiting the sectarian divide in the Islamic world to keep the Sunni and Shiite crazies focused on killing each other rather than being free to devote all their energy to the more difficult task of killing us. Meanwhile, it is hoping that moderate Islamism as we see it in places like Turkey and Egypt can tame Islam into a political force with which we can coexist.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats will admit this in the heat of an election campaign, but there aren’t many substantive differences between this general approach and the policy of the Bush administration in its second term. The biggest difference, and perhaps the only remaining substantial one, is the effort to downplay the existence of a violent global struggle against the terrorists and their perverted ideas. It may be that one reason the administration clings so hard to this approach is the need of its officials even at the most senior levels to avoid recognizing the degree to which they are following in the despicable footsteps of the man they so deeply loathe—and to do what they can to disguise that reality from their supporters. Many Democrats deeply want their party to be anti-war; we have an ‘ain’t-no-war’ President instead of an anti-war one and with that the left of the Democratic Party must make do.

But sometimes truth needs to be told. We are killing people in acts of war across Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa and expect to kill quite a few more. We are fighting a battle first to contain and then to defeat a vicious ideology of murder and hate that masks itself as religious zeal. We are fighting this war both at home and abroad, and there is not an inhabited continent anywhere on Planet Earth where this threat is not a serious concern. All Muslims are not our enemies — far from it, and many of our most important allies and associates are decent, pious, enlightened Muslims who loathe the hate-spewing murderers as much as anybody else — but all of our enemies claim to be fighting in the name of Islam.

Basing war policy on the denial of facts is never smart, and the blow back can be severe. It’s quite possible that President Obama will be more frank about this conflict in his second term; whatever happens in November the threat will be too real and our efforts to deal with it will be too far-reaching for the United States government to pretend that we don’t face a global security challenge as serious as a war.
The American Intrest

White House Hack Attack

Hackers linked to China’s government broke into one of the U.S. government’s most sensitive computer networks, breaching a system used by the White House Military Office for nuclear commands, according to defense and intelligence officials familiar with the incident.

One official said the cyber breach was one of Beijing’s most brazen cyber attacks against the United States and highlights a failure of the Obama administration to press China on its persistent cyber attacks.

Disclosure of the cyber attack also comes amid heightened tensions in Asia, as the Pentagon moved two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups and Marine amphibious units near waters by Japan’s Senkaku islands.

China and Japan—the United States’ closest ally in Asia and a defense treaty partner—are locked in a heated maritime dispute over the Senkakus, which China claims as its territory.

U.S. officials familiar with reports of the White House hacking incident said it took place earlier this month and involved unidentified hackers, believed to have used computer servers in China, who accessed the computer network used by the White House Military Office (WHMO), the president’s military office in charge of some of the government’s most sensitive communications, including strategic nuclear commands. The office also arranges presidential communications and travel, and inter-government teleconferences involving senior policy and intelligence officials.

“This is the most sensitive office in the U.S. government,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the work of the office. “A compromise there would cause grave strategic damage to the United States.”

Security officials are investigating the breach and have not yet determined the damage that may have been caused by the hacking incident, the officials said.

One defense official said there is fairly solid intelligence linking the penetration of the WHMO network to China, and there are indications that the attackers were able to breach the classified network.

Details of the cyber attack and the potential damage it may have caused remain closely held within the U.S. government.

However, because the military office handles strategic nuclear and presidential communications, officials said the attack was likely the work of Chinese military cyber warfare specialists under the direction of a unit called the 4th Department of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, or 4PLA.

It is not clear how such a high-security network could be penetrated. Such classified computer systems are protected by multiple levels of security and are among the most “hardened” systems against digital attack.

However, classified computer systems were compromised in the past using several methods. They include the insertion of malicious code through a contaminated compact flash drive; a breach by a trusted insider, as in the case of the thousands of classified documents leaked to the anti-secrecy web site Wikileaks; and through compromised security encryption used for remote access to secured networks, as occurred with the recent compromise involving the security firm RSA and several major defense contractors.

According to the former official, the secrets held within the WHMO include data on the so-called “nuclear football,” the nuclear command and control suitcase used by the president to be in constant communication with strategic nuclear forces commanders for launching nuclear missiles or bombers.

The office also is in charge of sensitive continuity-of-government operations in wartime or crises.

The former official said if China were to obtain details of this sensitive information, it could use it during a future conflict to intercept presidential communications, locate the president for targeting purposes, or disrupt strategic command and control by the president to U.S. forces in both the United States and abroad.

White House spokesmen had no immediate comment on the cyber attack, or on whether President Obama was notified of the incident.

Former McAffee cyber threat researcher Dmitri Alperovitch said he was unaware of the incident, but noted: “I can tell you that the Chinese have an aggressive goal to infiltrate all levels of U.S. government and private sector networks.”

“The White House network would be the crown jewel of that campaign so it is hardly surprising that they would try their hardest to compromise it,” said Alperovictch, now with the firm Crowdstrike.

Last week the senior intelligence officer for the U.S. Cyber Command said Chinese cyber attacks and cyber-espionage against Pentagon computers are a constant security problem.

“Their level of effort against the Department of Defense is constant” and efforts to steal economic secrets are increasing, Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, Cyber Command director of intelligence, told Reuters after a security conference.

“It’s continuing apace,” Cox said of Chinese cyber-espionage. “In fact, I’d say it’s still accelerating.”

Asked if classified networks were penetrated by the Chinese cyber warriors, Cox told the news agency: “I can’t really get into that.”

The WHMO arranges the president’s travel and also provides medical support and emergency medical services, according to the White House’s website.

“The office oversees policy related to WHMO functions and Department of Defense assets and ensures that White House requirements are met with the highest standards of quality,” the website states. “The WHMO director oversees all military operations aboard Air Force One on presidential missions worldwide. The deputy director of the White House Military Office focuses primarily on the day-to-day support of the WHMO.”

The office is also in charge of the White House Communications Agency, which handles all presidential telephone, radio, and digital communications, as well as airlift operations through both fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft.

It also operates the presidential retreat at Camp David and the White House Transportation Agency.

“To assure proper coordination and integration, the WHMO also includes support elements such as operations; policy, plans, and requirements; administration, information resource management; financial management and comptroller; WHMO counsel; and security,” the website states.

“Together, WHMO entities provide essential service to the president and help maintain the continuity of the presidency.”

Asked for comment on the White House military office cyber attack, a Cyber Command spokesman referred questions to the White House.

Regarding U.S. naval deployments near China, the carrier strike groups led by the USS George Washington and the USS Stennis, along with a Marine Corps air-ground task force, are now operating in the western Pacific near the Senkakus, according to Navy officials.

China recently moved maritime patrol boats into waters near the Senkakus, prompting calls by Japanese coast guard ships for the vessels to leave.

Chinese officials have issued threatening pronouncements to Japan that Tokyo must back down from the recent government purchase of three of the islands from private Japanese owners.

Tokyo officials have said Japan is adamant the islands are Japanese territory.

Officials said the Washington is deployed in the East China Sea and the Stennis is in the South China Sea.

About 2,200 Marines are deployed in the Philippine Sea on the USS Bonhomme Richard and two escorts.

The U.S. Pacific Command said the deployments are for training missions and carriers are not necessarily related to the Senkaku tensions.

“These operations are not tied to any specific event,” said Capt. Darryn James, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu, according to Time magazine. “As part of the U.S. commitment to regional security, two of the Navy’s 11 global force carrier strike groups are operating in the Western Pacific to help safeguard stability and peace.”

As a measure of the tensions, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Chinese military leaders during his recent visit to China that the U.S. military will abide by its defense commitments to Japan despite remaining publicly neutral in the maritime dispute.

“It’s well known that the United States and Japan have a mutual defense treaty,” a defense official said of Panetta’s exchange in Beijing. “Panetta noted the treaty but strongly emphasized that the United States takes no position on this territorial dispute and encouraged the parties to resolve the dispute peacefully. This shouldn’t have to get to the point where people start invoking treaties.”

A report by the defense contractor Northrop Grumman made public by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in March stated that China’s military has made targeting of U.S. command and control networks in cyber warfare a priority.

“Chinese capabilities in computer network operations have advanced sufficiently to pose genuine risk to U.S. military operations in the event of a conflict,” the report said.

“PLA analysts consistently identify logistics and C4ISR infrastructure as U.S. strategic centers of gravity suggesting that PLA commanders will almost certainly attempt to target these system with both electronic countermeasures weapons and network attack and exploitation tools, likely in advance of actual combat to delay U.S. entry or degrade capabilities in a conflict,” the report said.

C4ISR is military jargon for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Little is known within the U.S. intelligence community about Chinese strategic cyber warfare programs.

However, recent military writings have disclosed some aspects of the program, which is believed to be one of Beijing’s most closely guarded military secrets, along with satellite weapons, laser arms, and other high-technology military capabilities, such as the DF-21 ballistic missile modified to attack aircraft carriers at sea.

A Chinese military paper from March stated that China is seeking “cyber dominance” as part of its efforts to build up revolutionary military capabilities.

“In peacetime, the cyber combat elements may remain in a ‘dormant’ state; in wartime, they may be activated to harass and attack the network command, management, communications, and intelligence systems of the other countries’ armed forces,” wrote Liu Wangxin in the official newspaper of the Chinese military on March 6.

“While great importance is attached continuously to wartime actions, it is also necessary to pay special attention to non-wartime actions,” he said. “For example, demonstrate the presence of the cyber military power through cyber reconnaissance, cyber deployment, and cyber protection activities.”
Free Beacon

Video: Preview of Univision’s “bombshell” report on Fast & Furious

The Obama administration clearly hoped that the Department of Justice’s Inspector General report on Operation Fast and Furious would be the last word on the scandal. which has been tied to hundreds of deaths in Mexico and the murders of two American law-enforcement officials. However, a new report from Univision to be broadcast tomorrow, previewed here by ABC News, may put the issue back on the front pages. One source called Univision’s findings the “holy grail” that Congressional investigators have been seeking:
"O’Reilly, then a White House National Security staffer, had phone and email exchanges about Fast and Furious from July 2010 to Feb. 2011 with the lead ATF official on the case: ATF Special Agent in Charge Bill Newell. Just days after Newell testified to Congress on July 26, 2011 that he’d shared information with O’Reilly, whom he described as a long time friend, O’Reilly was transferred to Iraq and not available for questioning. Thereafter, he declined interviews with congressional investigators and the IG. In a letter sent to O’Reilly’s attorney Thursday, Issa and Grassley state that O’Reilly’s “sudden transfer” to Iraq took him out of pocket in their investigation, and placed him in a position that had already been given to somebody else, raising “serious questions about O’Reilly’s assignment in Baghdad (and) the motivation for his transfer there.” …"
Hot Air

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dead Men Share No Secrets

THOSE who naïvely believed that Osama bin Laden’s death and America’s forthcoming departure from Afghanistan would usher in a new era free of threats from Al Qaeda have been proved wrong.

After Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb issued a statement praising the murder and calling for further attacks against American diplomats in the region. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula made similar calls for violence.

Then, last week, new evidence emerged suggesting that the attack had been planned by Al Qaeda — and was linked to Sufian bin Qumu, a Libyan who had been detained at the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In 2007, Mr. Qumu was transferred to Libyan custody and held in a Libyan prison; he was later freed by the Qaddafi government and rejoined terrorist groups.

The ongoing fight against Al Qaeda is not limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Qaeda affiliates and supporters operate actively in North Africa Yemen, and beyond. And if Mr. Qumu was indeed involved with the mission attack, it raises serious questions about what other countries do with captured terrorists who remain a threat. It also reminds us that America’s ability to effectively hold and interrogate those it captures in this fight is crucial.

At the moment, the United States has nowhere to hold and interrogate newly captured terrorists. America just handed over control of its detention facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, a significant step toward transferring security operations to Afghans. And while Guantánamo Bay remains home to nearly 170 men that the United States believes are still a threat, no captured terrorist has been transferred there since August 2008. Yet in the past four years, drone strikes and airstrikes targeting Al Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have increased dramatically.

Since 2010, there have been about 2,000 such strikes in Pakistan alone, with hundreds more in Yemen and North Africa. Meanwhile, only one alleged terrorist outside of Afghanistan — a Somali named Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame — was captured, held and interrogated. He was later flown to New York to stand trial.

It’s true that drone strikes and other tactics that aim to kill, rather than capture, terrorists are an effective tool for combating serious threats. They increase America’s ability to quickly attack targets in remote regions where American troops cannot easily operate. Such strikes allow the United States to respond quickly to time-sensitive intelligence about a known terrorist’s location or plans. They avoid the political risks and the costs, in money and lives, of supporting a large-scale military operation on foreign soil. And they help the White House avoid controversial issues of long-term detention and interrogation, which remain a political liability at home and abroad.

But this one-sided approach — always opting to kill instead of capture — is a major weakness of America’s current approach to counterterrorism. It deprives us of significant amounts of intelligence about what Al Qaeda is thinking and planning, and information that could help find other senior terrorists. After all, it was intelligence from a detainee that helped American forces track down Bin Laden.

America’s heavy reliance on drones also creates more sympathy for Al Qaeda in some countries and, ultimately, may radicalize more people and encourage them to join forces with terrorists — creating more enemies for America, not fewer. One young Yemeni told me this summer that he and his friends “are like mobiles with two SIM cards,” his way of saying that American drone attacks make them shift allegiances, just as they easily switch their cellphone service providers and they become sympathetic with local Al Qaeda groups.

The fact that the United States now has nowhere to hold a terrorist — and no policy to deal with him once captured — means that a dangerous suspect might very well be let go. At present, there is no standard course of action approved by the president and relevant government agencies for what to do in the days and months following capture.

This situation creates disturbing incentives for troops on the battlefield. It encourages soldiers and policy makers in Washington to opt for the “five-cent solution” — a bullet. Rather than shooting people, we should be exercising due process, and bringing transnational terrorists to justice. That’s an approach that would help America maintain the moral high ground in the ongoing fight against Al Qaeda.

The United States has had numerous counterterrorism successes in the past few years, but this month’s events prove that we are still fighting a serious battle against terrorists in North Africa, Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere. It is a battle that requires multiple weapons — not just airstrikes and drone attacks — and one that requires detention facilities where transnational terrorists can be safely held after they are captured.

As the election approaches, we need to start asking both candidates how they would handle high-profile terrorists. “Kill them” should not be the only answer.

Who they trying to kid, "those" would be them and other O supporters.

New Justice Department Documents Show Huge Increase in Warrantless Electronic Surveillance

Justice Department documents released today by the ACLU reveal that federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.

The documents, handed over by the government only after months of litigation, are the attorney general’s 2010 and 2011 reports on the use of “pen register” and “trap and trace” surveillance powers. The reports show a dramatic increase in the use of these surveillance tools, which are used to gather information about telephone, email, and other Internet communications. The revelations underscore the importance of regulating and overseeing the government’s surveillance power. (Our original Freedom of Information Act request and our legal complaint are online.)

Pen register and trap and trace devices are powerfully invasive surveillance tools that were, twenty years ago, physical devices that attached to telephone lines in order to covertly record the incoming and outgoing numbers dialed. Today, no special equipment is required to record this information, as interception capabilities are built into phone companies’ call-routing hardware.

Pen register and trap and trace devices now generally refer to the surveillance of information about—rather than the contents of—communications. Pen registers capture outgoing data, while trap and trace devices capture incoming data. This still includes the phone numbers of incoming and outgoing telephone calls and the time, date, and length of those calls. But the government now also uses this authority to intercept the “to” and “from” addresses of email messages, records about instant message conversations, non-content data associated with social networking identities, and at least some information about the websites that you visit (it isn't entirely clear where the government draws the line between the content of a communication and information about a communication when it comes to the addresses of websites).

Electronic Surveillance Is Sharply on the Rise

The reports that we received document an enormous increase in the Justice Department’s use of pen register and trap and trace surveillance. As the chart below shows, between 2009 and 2011 the combined number of original orders for pen registers and trap and trace devices used to spy on phones increased by 60%, from 23,535 in 2009 to 37,616 in 2011.

Friday, September 28, 2012

U.S. Troops Deployed in Iraq Again

A unit of U.S. Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq and more U.S. soldiers may soon be on their way, according to a New York Times report on the impact the civil war in neighboring Syria is having on Iraq's "fragile society and fledgling democracy."

Buried in the 15th paragraph of the report in Tuesday's Times was the news that "Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions" and that a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers has already been deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

Nearly a decade after U.S. and coalition forces invaded Iraq and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein and just nine months after withdrawal of the last of the American combat units, the Shia government in Iraq is fighting for its survival against Sunni insurgents in its own country, while struggling to cope with the "spillover" of the fighting and the influx of refugees from the war next door in Syria. Meanwhile, the Times reported, the Baghdad government "leans closer" to the Shia regime in Iran and is looking to buy arms from Russia, while continuing to rely on military support from the United States. Aerial attacks by Turkey on Kurdish enclaves in the mountains of northern Iraq have added to the woes of a government trying to assert its sovereignty both in the air and on the ground.

"Iraq recognizes they don't control their airspace, and they are very sensitive to that," said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., whom the Times identified as the U.S. commander leading an effort to accelerate American arms sales to Iraq. Whenever Turkish fighter jets enter Iraq's air space to bomb Kurdish targets, Iraqi officials "see it, they know it and they resent it," Caslen said. Iskander Witwit, a former Iraqi Air Force officer and current member of the Parliament's security committee, expressed his government's determination to put some force behind that resentment.

"God willing, we will be arming Iraq with weapons to be able to shoot down those planes," said Witwit, perhaps foreshadowing an all-out war between Iraq and Turkey, a war that would likely draw the United States into the conflict, since Turkey is a NATO ally. The potential for the United States to be caught in a web of conflicting alliances was noted by long-time leftwing dissident and antiwar activist Tom Hayden. Writing for, Hayden noted the U.S. support of the insurgency in Syria, where the Obama administration has shipped weapons to Sunni rebels, and President Obama's repeated calls for the removal of the government of Bashar al-Assad, a demand the President repeated in his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday.

"The irony is that the U.S. is protecting a pro-Iran Shiite regime in Baghdad against a Sunni-based insurgency while at the same time supporting a Sunni-led movement against the Iran-backed dictatorship in Syria," Hayden wrote. "The U.S. is caught in the contradictions of proxy wars, favoring Iran's ally in Iraq while trying to displace Iran's proxy in Syria."

While the United States is providing Iraq with refurbished antiaircraft guns, free of charge, those weapons are not scheduled for arrival before June of next year. Meanwhile, the Times reported, Iraqis are trying to get in working order "cold war-era missiles found in a junkyard on an air base north of Baghdad." Iraq is also negotiating with Russia to buy air defense systems that can be delivered more quickly than those bought from the United States. The U.S., meanwhile, is continuing with a $19 billion program of weapons sales to Iraq.

At the same time, the United States has been pressuring Iraq, thus far unsuccessfully, to deny the use of its air space to Iran for flights of weapons and fighters to aid the Syrian government in its war against insurgents in that country. While some Congressional leaders are threatening a cutoff of aid to Iraq unless Baghdad moves to stop the flights, the ongoing sale of U.S. arms to the beleaguered nation is an effort by U.S. officials to secure Iraq as an ally.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has sent guards at the border with Syria to stop the flow of refugees from Syria's civil war. Some of those trying to escape the violence in Syria fled there from Iraq during the height Iraq War and are now trying to return. An estimated 2 million Iraqis were made homeless by the sectarian wars and the fighting between insurgents and coalition forces during the nine-year military occupation of Iraq by the United States and its allies. One refugee, having returned to Iraq after enduring round the clock shelling in Damascus, told the Times he was robbed as he fled.

"It's the same situation as it used to be in Iraq," he said of his experience in Syria "Everyone is afraid of one another."
New American

US Soldier's Helmet Cam Shows Him Drawing Taliban Fire To Protect His Unit

The U.S. Army Soldier in this video believed his unit was trapped by enemy fire, so the only solution was to draw the fire away from them. The kicker is that he had to become the target.

When buddies—brothers—fellow soldiers in your unit are in danger, no action is too much, nothing goes without consideration, and in a flash you move.

The description of the video, allegedly from the soldier himself, says he "got hit four times" as he made his way down the mountain.


Clearly seen are the rounds rebounding off the turf around him as he makes his way down the mountain. The signature "pops" of rounds passing around him are just as clear. And even more telling is the increased accuracy as he closes distance with the enemy.

If drawing their fire was his goal, then he got what he bargained for: The end of the video is him trying to catch the attention of his squad, presumably freed up and moving.

He says he was hit four times, each time is easily identifiable, but it looks like just about every one was a ricochet (not that they're any less deadly, but usually there's not as much oomph on the round).
Business Insider

Thursday, September 27, 2012

US soldier’s death reveals how Taliban-linked Afghan soldiers plan attacks

In the weeks before his death, 21-year-old Mabry Anders had grown increasingly worried that he might not come home from Afghanistan. The army specialist was battling insomnia and would send brief, worried messages back to his family.

“He talked to me in the day, which would be in the middle of his night,” his father, Dan Anders, said. “He didn’t sleep. He was just worried.”

There were good reasons for concern. During his six-month tour, the Taliban staged a major attack at his base, a suicide bomber had killed one of his brigade’s most revered leaders, and an Afghan villager threw a fire-bomb at a vehicle he was traveling in.

But what Anders may not have expected is that his killer would be an Afghan army soldier, one of those the US military is supposed to be training to take over security of the country ahead of the withdrawal of most US troops by the end of 2014.

A surge in insider attacks (also known as green on blue attacks) has prompted Nato to temporarily curtail some joint operations. The move casts doubt on what exactly international forces can accomplish in those places where they cannot work alongside their Afghan allies.

Interviews in Afghanistan and the United States have uncovered new details about the attack on August 27, which also took the life of another US soldier, Sergeant Christopher Birdwell. These include Taliban claims that the insurgents prepared the Afghan soldier for the killings.

“After the shooting incident a group of Taliban came to my house and said that Welayat Khan was their man,” said Nazar Khan, the brother of the Afghan soldier who was killed by US forces after he opened fire on the Americans.

“‘We have trained him for this mission and you must be proud of his martyrdom,’” the brother quoted a local Taliban commander as saying.

Interviews with Afghan officials suggest that Welayat Khan was not properly vetted. He was admitted to the force seven months before the attack, despite presenting a fake birth certificate and having gotten a flimsy recommendation from a commander who vouched for him simply because the two men were ethnic Pashtuns, according to Afghan sources speaking on condition of anonymity.

Insider attacks now account for one in every five combat deaths suffered by Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, and 16 per cent of all American combat casualties, according to 2012 data. The rising death toll has alarmed Americans and raised new, troubling questions about the unpopular war’s direction.

The Pentagon is promising better vetting of Afghan recruits like Welayat Khan, and Nato last week announced it was scaling back cooperation with Afghans to reduce risk to Western troops.

That includes Anders’ unit, stationed at Combat Outpost Xio Haq in Laghman province, in eastern Afghanistan, which, for the moment, has halted joint operations.

But it’s unclear whether the United States or Nato or the Afghan government forces they’re training will be able to stop the next Welayat Khan before he strikes.

“Save us from the infidels”
Khan was raised in a deeply religious family in the mountain village of Shor Khil, a collection of about 100 mud-built houses near the Tora Bora mountains not far from the Pakistan border.

Relatives said they were taken by surprise when he joined the Afghan army. His cousin Rahman recounted that Welayat had lambasted Western military forces.

“Welayat had a small radio and liked to listen to news about Afghanistan. He became very upset and angry when there were reports about civilians being killed by air strikes,” Rahman said. “‘May Allah save us from the hands of these infidels,’” he quoted Welayat as saying.

According to family members, Welayat had shown signs of mental instability since an accident at work when he slipped on a mountain while breaking rocks for construction. Nazar Khan, Welayat’s older brother, said he would suffer mental breakdowns and “get angry at minor things.”

In Welayat’s pictures, provided by his brother Nazar Khan, he appears clean-shaven, young, stern looking, with a mass of thick black hair. He has a long face and slender build. In one picture he is gently holding his green beret in his right hand, with his left hand resting on the barrel of a machine gun.

Work with the Afghan army meant steady paychecks of about $240 a month, helping his 15-member family. Still, his relatives asked him to quit out of fear of reprisals by the Taliban, who have warned villagers not to join the Afghan security forces.

“We have all warned him to leave the army and find another job,” Rahman said.

Reprisals from the Taliban, it turns out, wouldn’t be a problem.

In cold blood
Although the Taliban claim to have trained Khan for his mission, there is nothing to suggest at this point that he knew where, when or even if he would strike on the morning of August 27. By all accounts, he did not know the two US soldiers he shot.

Anders, an Army mechanic from a small town in Oregon, and Birdwell, from Windsor, Colorado, were part of an early morning clearance mission near the Afghan town of Kalagush when the lead vehicle in their convoy hit a bomb.

Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, are hardly a novelty and, after 11 years of war, troops know how to respond. Soldiers in the convoy quickly secured the area and Anders went to help load the damaged vehicle for transport.

The American patrol had the road blocked to ensure security. But the Afghan soldiers approaching in another convoy were not seen as a potential threat, and were allowed to pass. On board that convoy was Welayat Khan.

“They are trained to trust the Afghan soldiers,” Anders’ mother, Genevieve Woydziak, said.

Welayat Khan was sitting at the gun turret mounted on a vehicle in the Afghan convoy. At 8:10 in the morning, as his vehicle passed Anders and Birdwell, Welayat Khan took aim at the Americans and fired.

“The rest of the Afghan soldiers at that point laid their weapons down” to avoid being shot, Woydziak said.

Welayat Khan then jumped out of the Afghan vehicle and started to run. But he didn’t get very far.

An American helicopter arrived in minutes and shot Khan dead less than a kilometer away, according to a US Army spokesman.

Khan’s older brother said the body was so riddled with bullets that it was unrecognizable.

“The coffin was sealed,” Nazar said, adding that the government declined to provide any money for the funeral because of Khan’s links to the Taliban.

In hunting for an explanation, Reuters learned of an alternative narrative. Khan’s brother heard from Afghan forces and an Afghan eyewitness that there was a dispute at the American roadblock, involving a pregnant women who needed to pass. In this scenario, an American at the scene told her to wait and Khan retaliated.

“My brother is a martyr and the whole family is proud of his martyrdom but we blame the Americans for inciting him to shoot,” Nazar Khan said.

But a US Army spokesman said there was no indication so far that Khan had any interaction with the American soldiers he killed, or with any of the other American forces, for that matter. The Army investigation is ongoing.

The Taliban appears to be claiming they were in on the attack from the start, before Welayat Khan even joined the army.

“Mullah Abdul Samad and his men came to my house a day after I buried my brother and they were saying that Welayat joined them before enrolling in the army,” Nazar Khan said, referring to the village Taliban commander.

It’s unclear what, beyond perhaps Welayat Khan’s fake birth certificate, Nato might have caught with its newly enhanced steps to weed out dangerous Afghan soldiers, announced in the weeks after the shooting.

Many of the attacks are chalked up to personal grudges, in a country where disputes are frequently settled at gunpoint and where asking after a wife’s health could be seen as offensive.

Brigadier General Roger Noble of Australia, deputy chief of staff of operations in Afghanistan, said Nato was working on creating “shooter profiles” from past cases to see if it is possible to identify worrying traits or characteristics.

Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to Afghanistan until July, warned that “the Taliban have found a niche.”

“I think they’re finding that … relatively easy to do,” he said at an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “And our own vetting in the US military is not that great, let’s face it.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, told Reuters that “a large number” of fighters have infiltrated the Afghan security forces.

“A hero comes home”
Anders’ mother was at her office on August 27 when she got a call from workers at her house in Baker City, Oregon. They told her that two Army soldiers had arrived at her doorstep.

“I served in the Army myself. We knew why they were there,” she said.

It was a long, 15-mile drive back to her home, where she would learn with certainty about her son Mabry’s death earlier that day on the other side of the world. She has learned more details about it since then.

The parents are still wrestling with agonizing questions.

Dan Anders, Mabry’s father, who lives in Wyoming, is concerned about the US rules of engagement – saying, for example, that he had learned the helicopter that shot Welayat Khan as he attempted to flee had to request authorization to fire, even though Khan had just killed his son and Birdwell.

His mother is deeply concerned about the insider threat itself, saying that her son’s Army friends in Afghanistan are afraid of some of the Afghans they serve with.

“They’re training with these Afghan people and they’re doing their thing and they know it’s wrong,” she said. “They know who they can trust. They know who they can’t trust. They are in fear. Every day.”

Some analysts see Nato’s decision last week to scale back some joint operations as a worrying sign.

Nora Bensahel at the Center for a New American Security think tank said it raised serious questions about the US strategy in Afghanistan. “This will create a vicious cycle, where an emboldened Taliban increases its threats against any future joint patrols in order to make this temporary suspension permanent,” Bensahel wrote.

Other critics of the war, including in Congress, have seized upon the insider attacks as an additional reason to accelerate the American withdrawal from the country.

Still, the Afghan conflict is not a top issue in the US presidential election campaign and the insider attacks have not yet sparked widespread national outrage.

Mabry Anders’ home town of Baker City, Oregon appears to have been largely untouched by the war until his death. His hometown newspaper noted in an editorial that Anders’ killing had “erased our collective complacency” about the 11-year-old Afghan war.

The newspaper, the Baker City Herald, estimated that some 2,000 people turned out on the streets for Anders’ funeral procession. Hundreds held tiny flags.

Anders was just 10 years old at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and he enlisted in the Army shortly after graduating from high school. He posted lots of photos on Facebook – many showing his sense of humour, even in Afghanistan.

On the day of his service, the Herald wrote a touching article called “A Hero Comes Home,” noting the different ways people in the community paid tribute to Anders. Among them was a story about a man who went to a bar after the procession and bought a shot for Anders. He left it untouched, along with a handwritten note.

“It said: ‘Mabry Anders, thank you, all gave some and some gave all,’” bartender Sarah Heiner told Reuters. She kept the shot until it evaporated, days later.

Durable goods drop worst since recession

(Reuters) - New orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods in August fell by the most in 3-1/2 years, pointing to a sharp slowdown in factory activity even as a gauge of planned business spending rebounded.

The Commerce Department said on Thursday durable goods orders dived 13.2 percent, the largest drop since January 2009, when the economy was in the throes of a recession. Orders for July were revised down to show a 3.3 percent increase instead of the previously reported 4.1 percent gain.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected orders for durable goods -- items from toasters to aircraft that are meant to last at least three years -- to fall 5 percent.

Last month, the drop in orders reflected weak aircraft and automobiles demand. Boeing received only one aircraft order in August, down from 260 in July, according to information posted on the plane maker's website.

Transportation equipment tumbled 34.9 percent after racing ahead 13.1 percent in July. Excluding transportation, orders fell 1.6 percent after dropping 1.3 percent the prior month. Economists had expected this category to rise 0.3 percent after a previously reported 0.6 percent fall.

Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, rose 1.1 percent, halting two straight months of hefty declines. That was above economists' expectations for 0.5 percent gain.

But shipments of these goods, which are used to calculate equipment and software spending in the gross domestic product report, fell 0.9 percent after declining 1.1 percent in July. The weakness suggested third-quarter economic growth would probably not improve much from the April-June's 1.3 percent annual pace.

Manufacturing, which has been the main driver of the recovery from the 2007-09 recession, has been hit by turbulence from sluggish domestic and global demand.
Fears that the U.S. Congress could fail to avert a "fiscal cliff" -- the $500 billion or so in expiring tax cuts and government spending reductions set to take hold in 2013 -- have also left businesses with little incentive to boost production.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Record Arctic Snow Loss May Be Prolonging North American Drought

Melting Arctic snow isn’t as dramatic as melting sea ice, but the snow may be vanishing just as rapidly, with potentially profound consequences for weather in the United States.

Across the Arctic, snow melted earlier and more completely this year than any in recorded history. In the same way ice loss exposes dark water to the sun’s radiant heat, melting snow causes exposed ground to heat up, adding to the Arctic’s already super-sized warming.

This extra heat retention appears to alter the polar jet stream, slowing it down and causing mid-latitude weather patterns to linger. It’s even possible that the ongoing North American drought, the worst since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, was fueled in part by climate change in the Arctic, making it a preview of this new weather pattern’s ripple effects.

“In the past, whatever happened in the Arctic stayed in the Arctic. But now it seems to be reaching down from time to time in the mid-latitudes,” said climatologist James Overland of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. “When you combine the new influence of the Arctic with other effects, such as El Niño, we’re seeing the more extreme weather events.”

Over the last several weeks, public attention has been seized by the disappearance of ice in the Arctic Ocean, which in September covered a smaller area than at any other time in the climate record, a fitting exclamation point to its 50 percent decline since the late 1970s.

In June, Arctic snow cover also reached historic minimums. At the time, the news received little attention. Though the snow has retreated for several decades, and has even declined as precipitously as the sea ice, freshly exposed ground simply lacks the visual impact of open water.

It’s also harder to put the decline into context: Scientifically useful Arctic snow records only date back to the beginning of satellite photography in the 1960s, a relatively short period of time. The role of snowmelt has received less research attention than sea ice, and scientists are just starting to understand the interactions between climate patterns in the Arctic and lower North America.

“This is cutting-edge science,” said climatologist David Robinson, who runs the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University. The research is maturing, however, and the implications are troubling.

To understand what snow loss could do, it’s instructive to study what happens when sea ice melts, a process described in a Geophysical Research Letters paper published in March by climatologists Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As the sea, now deprived of its reflective cover, absorbs heat, surface temperatures rise. That heat returns to the atmosphere during fall and winter, reducing the difference in temperature between the Arctic and latitudes below. This difference is what propels the northern hemisphere’s polar jet stream, the globe-spanning atmospheric current that pushes vast amounts of cold air south and warm air north.

“Think of it like a hill. Normally the Arctic is much colder than areas to the south. Because warm air takes up more space than cold air, the atmosphere to the south is thicker. If you’re sitting on top of one of these layers, you’ll slide down the hill to the Arctic. Earth’s spin turns you towards the right, and that’s what generates the jet stream,” explained Francis. “If you’re warming the Arctic more, the hill is less steep, and you won’t roll as fast.”

The jet stream loses speed. As this happens, say Francis and Vavrus, its path also changes, dipping far to the south and reaching to the north. This is what happens in fall and winter after Arctic sea ice melts in the summer. In the summer, after snow melts in spring, “we think a similar mechanism is going on with the snow,” Francis said. “If you lose all the snow earlier on high latitude land in the spring, when the sun is strongest, you’ve got dark soil exposed earlier, warming up earlier. It’s another way to make the Arctic warm faster than the rest of the hemisphere.”

For now, Francis says, this is still a hypothesis, albeit supported by North American climate patterns in recent years and similar observations from Siberia. “There’s just basic physics behind it. We’re dealing with a very different energy budget up in polar regions than previously, because we’re exposing the land earlier in the season to the warming rays of the sun,” Robinson said. “The physics are indisputable.”

Indeed, it’s reasonable to speculate about the effects of the jet stream’s new patterns — and that’s where things get really interesting. In another Geophysical Research Letters paper now in press, Francis and Overland describe how atmospheric pressure patterns generated by extreme spring snowmelts in the last several years seem to have channeled warm air across the central Arctic Ocean.

The winds accelerate the sea ice’s melt and push it into the Atlantic Ocean. They also seem to have hastened Greenland’s ice sheet melt, which reached unprecedented rates this July. “The winds used to be light,” said Overland. “Now we have more steady winds that blow from the Bering Strait across the north pole and out into Atlantic.”

The connection between snowmelt and the new winds hasn’t been directly proven, Overland said, but the pieces fit. “In the last three years, we’ve had a real major loss in snow cover. That’s why we think there may be a tie between the loss of snow, higher atmospheric pressure and the changes in the winds,” he said.

As the polar jet stream slows and meanders, the regional weather patterns it influences could end up persisting longer than usual, rather than being carried away by the stream. Whether this would extend to temperate latitudes during the summer isn’t certain, said Francis, since the polar jet stream tends to be weaker in summer than in winter, but it’s plausible.

“It’s harder to show in summer, because the waves are more amorphous, but the same mechanisms should happen,” Francis said. If so, that could at least partly explain why the North American drought, which started in the spring, is so severe. In a year without such an extreme Arctic snowmelt, it might have been a dry spell dispelled by the jet stream. Instead it stuck around.

More research is needed to be certain this hypothesized cascade of snowmelt, jet stream changes and drought lockdown in fact happened — Overland cautioned that “it’s very, very difficult to say” — but it raises the possibility that the Arctic climate is even more intertwined with lower-latitude weather than most researchers thought.

If so, extreme lower-latitude weather events will become more likely. “As the waves work more slowly, the weather wherever you happen to be will tend to change more slowly,” Francis said. “If that goes on long enough, you have extreme weather. If you have a cold snap for a day or two, it’s not a big deal. If it goes on for weeks, it’s an event. Same with drought.”

The next question is whether the extreme Arctic snowmelt is a result of human-caused warming. According to Francis, that’s likely the case. “There’s nothing else that can explain it. It’s so dramatic. It’s almost certainly mostly anthropogenic,” she said.

Robinson said climate scientists generally agree that some Arctic warming is human-forced, but would disagree as to precisely how much. As for himself, “I believe we see the fingerprint of man in it,” he said, saying there is a “preponderance of evidence” that greenhouse gases are to blame. “We see multiple changes going on there. These things are happening just as the models suggest they should happen.”

Even a small amount of unnatural Arctic warming is a problem. “That little bit of warming starts all these physical processes, like loss of snow and ice, so you start absorbing more solar energy rather than reflecting it to space. That amplifies the signal,” said Overland, who says people are responsible for an Arctic uptick of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s not just the initial warming. It’s the cascade of events.”

Some researchers have also linked the drought to an intersection of human-caused warming in the Indian Ocean, where warmer temperatures are historically associated with mid-latitude droughts, and natural La Niña cooling in the central Pacific, which generates dry spells in southern North America. Add this “perfect ocean for drought” to the Arctic snowmelt, and the combination may have been catastrophic.

That, of course, remains a hypothesis. “I wish we had years more data. I wish we had models that could give us order-of-magnitude improvements in temporal and spatial resolution. But that’s science. You put the pieces together, and you conduct your investigation,” Robinson said.

In a few years, scientists may have a better idea. In the meantime, the Arctic will continue to melt. “We are seeing changes that most of us never imagined we would see in our careers,” Robinson continued. “People talk about the new normal. There’s nothing normal about this. It’s going to continue to change.”

Fed Virtually Funding the Entire US Deficit: Lindsey

The latest round of extraordinary Federal Reserve stimulus is risky and leaves little room to maneuver should another crisis hit, economist Lawrence Lindsey told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday.

Lindsey said that with the Fed purchasing at least $40 billion a month in mortgage debt through QE3, “they are buying the entire deficit.” (Read more: Fed Pulls Trigger, to Buy Mortgages in Effort to Lower Rates.)

“I have no problem doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times,” said Lindsey, a former White House economic advisor under former president George W. Bush who now runs his own consulting firm.

Lindsay said he agreed with the Fed’s first two rounds of quantitative easing. Now, with the economy now growing closer to its trend rate, “doing something that’s really out of the ordinary is risking things.”

He added, “If this becomes the new ordinary, it’s hard to imagine the Fed’s maneuvering room” should another crisis hit. (Read More: Why Fed Policy Just Like the NFL Refs: El-Erian.)

The central bank's recently announced bid to stimulate the economy has also taken the pressure off politicians to deal with the U.S. fiscal cliff, Lindsay argued, which could result in destabilizing tax hikes and spending cuts automatically taking effect early next year.

“The Fed, maybe because it can't do otherwise, has told the Congress: 'We're going to buy your bonds no matter what,'” Lindsey said. “I think that's keeping the pressure off the president, off the Congress.”

The effective of QE3 on interest rates may also keep Congress from reining in borrowing.

“If the (Fed) chairman’s estimates of the effectiveness of QE3 on interest rates come true, we’re going to be down to an average cost of borrowing for the government of 0.6 of a percentage point,” Lindsey said. “Why would any Congress not borrow and spend if they could borrow at 60 basis points?”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hubble Goes to the eXtreme to Assemble Farthest Ever View of the Universe

September 25, 2012: Like photographers assembling a portfolio of best shots, astronomers have assembled a new, improved portrait of mankind's deepest-ever view of the universe. Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. The XDF is a small fraction of the angular diameter of the full Moon. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is an image of a small area of space in the constellation Fornax, created using Hubble Space Telescope data from 2003 and 2004. By collecting faint light over many hours of observation, it revealed thousands of galaxies, both nearby and very distant, making it the deepest image of the universe ever taken at that time. The new full-color XDF image reaches much fainter galaxies and includes very deep exposures in red light from Hubble's new infrared camera, enabling new studies of the earliest galaxies in the universe. The XDF contains about 5,500 galaxies even within its smaller field of view. The faintest galaxies are one ten-billionth the brightness of what the human eye can see.

The public is invited to participate in a "Meet the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field Observing Team" webinar, where three key astronomers of the XDF observing team will describe how they assembled the landmark image and explain what it tells us about the evolving universe. Participants will be able to send in questions for the panel of experts to discuss. The webinar will be broadcast at 1:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, September 27, 2012. To participate in the webinar, please visit: .

To think the world is on fire over some silly fake movie clip

China says first aircraft carrier entering service

BEIJING (AP) - China formally entered its first aircraft carrier into service on Tuesday, underscoring its ambitions to be a leading Asian naval power, although the ship is not expected to carry a full complement of planes or be ready for combat for some time.
The Defense Ministry's announcement had been long expected and was not directly linked to current tensions with Japan over a disputed group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
In a brief notice on its website, the ministry said the carrier's commissioning significantly boosted the navy's combat capabilities and its ability to cooperate in responding to natural disasters and other non-traditional threats.
"It has important significance in effectively safeguarding national sovereignty, security, and development benefits, and advancing world peace and common development," the statement said.
China had partly justified the launching of a carrier by pointing out that it alone among the five permanent United Nations Security Council members had no such craft. That had been particularly glaring given the constant presence in Asia of carriers operated by the U.S. Navy, which maintains 11 worldwide.
President Hu Jintao, also chairman of the commission that controls the military, presided over a ceremony Tuesday morning at the ship's home port of Dalian, along with Premier Wen Jiabao and top generals. Hu "fully affirmed" the efforts of those working on the ship and called on them to complete all remaining tasks according to the highest standard, the Defense Ministry said.
The carrier is the former Soviet navy's unfinished Varyag, which was towed from Ukraine in 1998 minus its engines, weaponry and navigation systems. Christened the Liaoning after the northeastern province surrounding Dalian, the ship began sea trials in August 2011 following years of refurbishment.
So far the trial runs of the aircraft carrier have been to test the ship's propulsion, communications and navigation systems. But launching and recovering fixed-wing aircraft at sea is a much trickier proposition. It will take years to build the proper aircraft, to train pilots to land in adverse weather on a moving deck, and to develop a proper carrier battle group.
China is developing a carrier-based fighter-bomber, the J-15, derived from Russia's Sukhoi Su-33, along with a prototype stealth carrier fighter, the J-31.
Beijing hasn't said what role it intends the carrier to fill other than helping safeguard China's coastline and sea links. The Liaoning has also been portrayed as a kind of test platform for the future development of up to five domestically built Chinese carriers.
Writing in Tuesday's China Daily newspaper, retired Rear Adm. Yang Yi said the carrier will be used to master the technology for more advanced carriers. He said it also will be used to train in how to operate such a craft in a battle group and with vessels from other nation's navies.
Without specifically mentioning China's territorial disputes, Yang acknowledged other countries' concerns about its growing military might, but said Beijing wouldn't shy from flexing its muscles.
"When China has a more balanced and powerful navy, the regional situation will be more stable as various forces that threaten regional peace will no longer dare to act rashly," Yang wrote.
Whatever its practical effects on China's global status, the carrier embodies huge symbolism for China's political and military leaders as a totem of their country's rise from weakness to strength, according to Andrew S. Erickson, a China naval specialist at the U.S. Naval War College.
"While (Chinese navy) acceptance of this 'starter carrier' is the first step in a long journey, it is a journey that will take place in full view of the world, and one that will ultimately take Beijing to a new place as a great sea power," Erickson wrote on his blog.
The carrier's political importance was highlighted in Wen's remarks to the ceremony, in which he said it would "arouse national pride and patriotic passion."
"This has mighty and deep significance for the opening of a new facet in our enterprise of socialism with Chinese characteristics," he said.

British soldier unexpectedly gives birth in Afghanistan

Hours after a British soldier in Afghanistan told medics she was suffering from stomach pains, the Royal Artillery gunner unexpectedly gave birth to a boy -- the first child ever born in combat to a member of Britain's armed forces.

Britain's defense ministry said Thursday the solder told authorities she had not been aware she was pregnant and only consulted doctors on the day that she went into labor.

The soldier, who arrived in Afghanistan in March, delivered the child Tuesday at Camp Bastion, the vast desert camp in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province where Prince Harry is deployed and a Taliban attack last week killed two U.S. Marines.

"Mother and baby are both in a stable condition in the hospital and are receiving the best possible care," the ministry said in a statement. It said a team of doctors would fly out to Afghanistan in the coming days to help the solider and her son return safely to Britain.

The U.K. does not allow female soldiers to deploy on operation if they are pregnant. Although the soldier's child was conceived before her tour of duty began in March, she is not likely to face censure.

Britain has previously sent female soldiers home from wars after they have fallen pregnant -- including about 60 from Afghanistan, but hasn't previously had a servicewoman go into labor in a war zone.

The soldier, a citizen of Fiji, is one of about 500 British military women serving in Afghanistan. She is also among around 2,000 Fijians who serve in the British military, even though the country became independent from Britain in 1970.

Camp Bastion, which hosts the U.S. Camp Leatherneck, is home to most of Britain's 9,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, including Prince Harry -- who arrived there earlier this month to serve as an attack helicopter gunner. Last Friday, a Taliban assault on the base ended up with two U.S. marines killed and six American fighter jets destroyed.

Maj. Charles Heyman, a retired officer and author of "`The British Army Guide" said the unexpected birth would cause some concern at the base.

"This sort of thing makes life difficult for everyone else, but the important thing is the welfare of the female soldier. This could have gone wrong and we don't know if the attack on Camp Bastion might have forced the birth," said Maj. Charles Heyman, a retired officer and author of "`The British Army Guide."

Heyman said it may have been "that the excitement of the tour masked the symptoms of the pregnancy."

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, a British parenting charity, also suggested the soldier's demanding work could explain why she either didn't know she was pregnant, or had attempted to ignore the signs.

"It could be that she was so very focused on other things, and because she was in a life-or-death scenario, that she simply didn't recognize that she was pregnant," Phipps said.

Phipps said the pregnancy may not have been obvious to the soldier's colleagues. "Not everyone has a very big baby bump, some women carry their baby far inside," she said.

Patrick O'Brien, a consultant obstetrician at University College London Hospital, said cases of unnoticed pregnancies were unusual, but that he encountered at least one each year.

"There are some women who have very irregular periods, often women who are very fit and exercise a lot. There are women who don't have sickness during pregnancy. Some women -- particularly those who are overweight -- don't recognize they have put on weight, or feel the baby moving," O'Brien said.

Many cases involved women who refused to accept that they were pregnant and attempted to disguise it, particularly young women living at home.

"It's not just that they hide the pregnancy from their parents, they often become in denial of the pregnancy," he said.

"If you have a combination of any or all of those things, a pregnancy can go undetected, or the woman can be in denial of it if the implications to their life are so great," said O'Brien, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist.

A study published in 2011 by Glasgow's Victoria Infirmary said that denial of pregnancy was more common than expected, suggesting it occurred in around 1 in 2,500 births.

In a 2002 German survey of Berlin obstetric hospitals, researchers found that 40 percent of women who didn't realize they were pregnant had seen doctors who also failed to spot the signs.

Pentagon issues rules on how to discuss SEAL’s book

The Pentagon's top intelligence official has issued guidance on how to read and discuss "No Easy Day," a former Navy SEAL's unauthorized account of the raid that killed terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Pentagon employees may buy "No Easy Day," but have to be guarded with whom they discuss the book’s contents.

"On 04 September 2012, the assistant secretary defense for public affairs noted that the Department believes the recently published book 'No Easy Day' (NED) contains classified and sensitive unclassified information," begins the guidance, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Times. "As has been reported in the press, the author did not submit this book for pre-publication review that is required by non-disclosure agreements he signed."

The Sept. 20 memo is titled "Official DoD Guidance Concerning the Book, 'No Easy Day.'"

It is signed by Timothy A. Davis, director of security for the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Michael Vickers.

The Pentagon has accused author Matt Bissonnette, one of the leaders of the May 2011 SEAL mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan, of divulging classified information. Some officials have threatened him with criminal prosecution. His lawyer denies the charge.

The security memo sets out five guidelines.

Employees may buy the book and do not have to store it in special containers for classified information.

Workers "shall not discuss potentially classified and sensitive unclassified information with persons who do not have an official need to know and an appropriate security clearance."

People with first-hand knowledge of the raid "shall not publicly speculate or discuss potentially classified or sensitive unclassified information outside official U.S. Government channels."

And, finally, employees "are prohibited from using unclassified government computer systems to discuss potentially classified or sensitive contents of NED, and must not engage in online discussions via social networking or media sites regarding potentially classified or sensitive unclassified information that may be contained in NED."

Supporters of Mr. Bissonnette say that, well before the book was published earlier this month, the Obama administration leaked rich details of the mission to reporters, book authors and at least one filmmaker.

Mr. Obama has made bin Laden's killing a focal point of his re-election campaign.

In other matters, the Pentagon announced Tuesday new initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of sexual assault within the ranks.

The Pentagon directed the services to improve sexual assault prevention training for commanders and senior enlisted members, report progress to the defense secretary by Dec. 20, and implement changes by March 30.
The services also were directed to review basic training practices, including how instructors are selected and trained, instructor-to-student ratios and the addition of more female instructors.

The Pentagon also ordered the services to review oversight of sexual assault prevention measures and report to the defense secretary by Feb. 8 recommendations and findings in that area and in basic training.

"While we have put many new policies in place to address sexual assault and its impact on the victim, recent events at Lackland Air Force Base make clear that we still have more work to do," Defense secretary Leon E. Panetta said Tuesday in a memo to the military services, referring to the revelation in June that training instructors at Lackland had sexually harassed and assaulted trainees.

The Defense Department’s move is based on a nine-month review of sexual assault prevention training in the military. According to a Pentagon briefing in April, there were 3,192 reports of sexual assaults in the ranks in 2011.
Washington Times