Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Turk official says Jamal Khashoggo was dismembered in Saudi Consulate.

high-level Turkish official says police have found "certain evidence" during their search of the Saudi Consulate showing that Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi was killed there.
The official did not provide details on the evidence that was recovered during the hours-long search at the diplomatic mission that ended early Tuesday.
The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Turkish officials say Saudi agents killed and dismembered the writer at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Saudi Arabia previously called the allegation "baseless," but U.S. media reports suggest the Saudis may soon acknowledge Khashoggi was killed there, perhaps as part of a botched interrogation.
Cleaning staff workers appeared to enter the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul Monday morning, ahead of a joint “inspection” of the building by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, following the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The New York Times, citing a person familiar with the Saudi government's plans, reported the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved interrogating or even forcing Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government, it said, would shield the prince by blaming an intelligence official for the bungled operation.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he had seen the report, but that "nobody knows" if this was an official report.

Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet King Salman over the case that has strained the Americans' relationship with the Saudis, carefully cultivated by the U.S. president.

Members of Khashoggi's family called for an investigation, in a statement released on Monday.

"We are sadly and anxiously following the conflicting news regarding the fate of our father after losing contact with him two weeks ago," they said.

"The strong moral and legal responsibility which our father instilled in us obliges us to call for the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death."

A crime scene investigation team of around 10 people left the consulate after completing a search early on Tuesday, the witness said. The Turkish prosecutor assigned to the case has also left the consulate.

Four forensic vehicles arrived outside the consulate and took away soil samples as well as a metal door from the garden, the Reuters witness said. A police dog was part of the search team.

The team entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier on Monday for what Turkish officials called a joint inspection of the building where Khashoggi disappeared nearly two weeks ago.

The team arrived by unmarked police cars at the consulate and said nothing to journalists waiting outside as they entered the building. Police then pushed back journalists from the front of the consulate, where they've been stationed for days, setting up a new cordon to keep them away.

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team that flew into and out of Turkey on October 2 killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who had written Washington Post columns critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations "baseless" but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

Such a search would be an extraordinary development, as embassies and consulates under the Vienna Convention are technically foreign soil. Saudi Arabia may have agreed to the search in order to appease its Western allies and the international community.

Friday, October 5, 2018

US Army Launches Prototype Competition For Future Attack Recon Aircraft

By Dan Parsons |

The Army has officially kicked off a competition for industry to design its next armed scout aircraft, called the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA.

Details of the program were published Oct. 3 in a solicitation on the government’s contracting website. The Army lays out a four-phase competitive prototyping effort that should yield operational, experimental aircraft flying by November 2022.
The Army describes the desired platform as a “knife fighter” of future battlefield capabilities in a “small form factor … with maximized performance.”

In phase one, industry hopefuls will have nine months to develop preliminary designs and provide the Army with data and insight required for a down-select to two — maybe more based on funding available — designs that will move on to phase two, according to Army documents.

Each phase one contender will receive about $15 million between fiscal years 2019 and 2020 to complete the work. While the Government anticipates 4 to 6 participants in phase 1, the decision is contingent on the technical merit of the proposed approaches, the solicitation says.

The second phase is broken in two, with the designs selected moving into detail design and build with a final design and risk review scheduled for November 2020.

“Upon assessment of technical progress and risk, the Government will make the determination to approve continue or terminate the effort,” the solicitation reads.

Teams will then have about two years to build prototype aircraft, including subsystem testing with an anticipated first flight in November 2022.

In the second half of phase two, operational prototypes will be delivered to the Army for performance testing and evaluation of maneuverability. In phase three, the Army will evaluate if the Performers have successfully completed the competitive prototype project and may select a design for entry into a subsequent full-system integration, qualification and production phase.

The two Industry Performers selected for phase two in fiscal 2020 will receive a fixed funding level of approximately $735 million between through fiscal 2023.

Two rotorcraft industry giants already are stalking the FARA award. Sikorsky’s S-97 Raider has been flying a test regime for several years and recently exceeded 200 knots in forward flight. Raider uses coaxial rigid rotors for lift and an aft pusher propulsor for forward thrust. Sikorsky, now owned by Lockheed Martin, has formally announced Raider as a contender for FARA.

Sikorsky is teamed with Boeing in developing the SB-1 Defiant to satisfy another Army requirement for a long-range assault aircraft to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk. The first operational prototype is nearing completion and is scheduled for first flight by the end of the year.

Bell, which has put more than 60 hours on its prototype V-280 Valor advanced tiltrotor, also will compete. CEO Mitch Snyder on Oct. 2 said the company has already worked up a prototype design, but is not ready to make it public.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sunspot Observatory incident shrouded in mystery

David LynchSeptember 16, 2018 03:49 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – After mysterious circumstances closed the Sunspot Solar Observatory in southeast New Mexico on Sept. 6 – prompting conspiracy theories of close encounters and men in black suits – it was announced over the weekend that the facility will "transition back to regular operations" on Monday.

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy announced the reopening on Sunday, saying it had been cooperating with local authorities on the "investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak," where the observatory is located. The developments come after over a week of minimal details from law enforcement, leading to theories of all kinds from New Mexicans and others across the country.

"We became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents," AURA wrote on its website Sunday. "In light of recent developments…we have determined there is no risk to staff."

Last week, officials with the Otero County Sheriff's Office told KOB they had "no information" on what exactly federal authorities were looking into at the facility, only confirming the FBI was involved.

AURA says that, given the high-profile nature that has surrounded the observatory's closure, security will be present at the facility's reopening.

The group added that remaining tight-lipped about the closure was necessary to protect their investigation's integrity, saying it recognized the frustration that strategy caused.

"Our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation," AURA said. "That was a risk we could not take."

AURA is a collaboration of mostly U.S. institutions, and some international entities, which promotes astronomical research, according to its website. They operate several observatories, including Sunspot.




ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The mysteriously shut down Sunspot Observatory is reopening Monday after more than a week of shadowy investigations by the FBI and tight-lipped officials.

KOB spoke exclusively with an employee at the observatory who said he believes the FBI investigation could revolve around the theft of some expensive equipment.

"It really didn't surprise me that FBI might be showing up someday, due to the things that have been going on at the site prior to the evacuation,” said the Sunspot employee, who KOB is not naming on the basis of anonymity. "I have noticed that Sunspot is basically, what I would call, a breeding ground for crime."

He said loose security management at the site has led to criminal trespassing, vandalism and theft.

"We discovered what appears to be, it's still under investigation, the theft of $15,000 of electronic test equipment,” he said, adding most people wouldn’t even know what the equipment comprises. “The only type of person that would need it is someone working on a communications system."

KOB reached out to the FBI and asked if there was any stolen property. They directed us to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the group running the facility.

AURA issued a statement attributing the shutdown to a security risk and said a suspect in a criminal investigation posed a potential threat to staff.

AURA said recent developments have determined there is no risk to staff, and operations will resume. The group said it has temporarily hired a security company amid an unusual number of recent visitors.

Still, this employee has concerns about lack of security going forward.

"The operating authorities are either unaware of the extent of the problem, or unwilling to deal with it,” he said.

AURA said the reason they stayed silent during the shutdown was to prevent potentially alerting the suspect and impeding law enforcement’s efforts.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Will attacks by killer drones become the new terrorist threat?

THE ATLANTIC: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was intoning something about economic renewal, flanked by his wife and a handful of high officials, in a country gripped by poverty, starvation, and shortages. Then, in a moment broadcast live on television that has since gone viral, his wife’s face changed. For an instant she seemed to duck as she reached for the official next to her; Maduro glanced up with apparent concern. The camera panned to the National Guardsmen in formation on the street before him as dozens suddenly started running. According to the government and witnesses, they had seen explosions in the sky.

By the government’s account, those explosions were part of an attempted assassination by drone—which if correct would be the first instance of such an attack targeting a head of state, and a possible portent of things to come.

The United States pioneered military drones for surveillance and then missile strikes in Afghanistan nearly two decades ago; only a handful of states now have those capabilities. But small, commercially available drones of the kind Venezuela says were used in the attempt have proliferated widely among private actors in recent years. They do not require billions of dollars to procure or runways to take off. They can be used for filming or for delivering commercial products or humanitarian aid. They can just as easily carry explosives.

This technological evolution is typical of terrorist groups’ tactical innovations, which often involve devising low-cost ways to inflict disproportionate damage on a stronger enemy. It’s easier and cheaper, for example, to rig and hide a simple explosive device along a roadside, as various insurgent groups did to devastating effect in Iraq, than it is to find and disarm them, or protect personnel against them. Similarly, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and others have turned everyday technologies—from pressure cookers, to vans, to airplanes—into weapons of war. Commercial drones are just the latest example of a longstanding pattern.

While ISIS’s drone activity has declined with its loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, the problem is not limited to them, nor to the world’s battlefields. In 2015, Reuters reported that a protester flew “a drone carrying radioactive sand from the Fukushima nuclear disaster onto the prime minister’s office, though the amount of radiation was minimal.” Mexican cartels have used drones to smuggle drugs and, in one instance, to land disabled grenades on a local police chief’s property. Last summer, a drone delivered an active grenade to an ammunition dump in Ukraine, which Kyle Mizokami of Popular Mechanicsreported caused a billion dollars’ worth of damage.

That attack was atypical of the damage small commercial drones can cause, as Ulrike Esther Franke, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who has studied the use of drones, noted in 2016. A U.S. military Reaper drone, she noted, can hover for much of a day carrying 500-pound bombs; the Venezuelan interior minister said that the two drones used in the alleged attack were carrying about two pounds’ worth of plastic explosives. Those explosives caused injuries but no fatalities; still, the stampede that resulted shows the drones’ efficacy in another terror tactic of causing panic disproportionate to the actual damage inflicted. And it doesn’t take much to cause more serious damage; last summer, a commercial drone briefly knocked out power for more than a thousand people when it crashed into an electricity wire in California.

Top U.S. officials, including FBI director Christopher Wray, have warned that America is vulnerable. Washington, D.C., for example, has what Department of Homeland Security officials have called “the most tightly controlled airspace in the country;” it’s illegal to fly drones anywhere in the District. And yet: In 2015, an off-duty government employee managed to crash a drone onto the White House lawn. Last November, a man was able to fly a drone over one football stadium and near another in California, with the aim of dropping political leaflets, despite legal prohibitions against flying drones near such events. (He was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.) Cathy Lanier, the senior vice president and chief security officer for the National Football League, who also served as Washington, D.C.’s chief of police from 2007 to 2017, said that the ability to curb the threat of commercial drones “is very limited right now. The problem is that the popularity is growing exponentially. … How do you identify the nefarious actor from the hobbyist?”

Jaz Banga, the CEO and cofounder of Airspace, a firm that works on air security to counter rogue drones, said “there’s really no comprehensive protection right now across the U.S.” Drones have to be registered to fly—and attach identifiers akin to a license plate—but it can be difficult to discern them in the air. Like the drone that crashed on the White House lawn, they can be too small or too low to spot with radar. And though the technology now exists to identify who is operating a commercial drone, drone operators are not yet required to use it. In the event that a rogue drone is detected, it’s generally illegal to shoot it down; ditto with jamming the radio or WiFi signal controlling it, as the Venezuelans apparently did. And if law enforcement did so anyway, it could pose risks to civilians on the ground. The Federal Aviation Administration is working on rules to require identification; other defense measures would require changes to the law.


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