Wednesday, January 29, 2014

US concerned about China's new hypersonic strike vehicle.

China’s recent test of a new ultra-high speed strike vehicle highlights growing concerns that Chinese military advances will overtake those of the United States in as few as five years, a senior Pentagon official told Congress Tuesday.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing that he is concerned by large-scale cuts in U.S. defense spending that are undermining efforts to maintain U.S. military superiority.
“On hypersonics, this is a good example of an area of technology that is going to move forward whether we invest in it or not,” Kendall told a hearing on the United States shift toward Asia. “China is doing work in this area.”
The Pentagon is investing some resources in two forms of hypersonic arms: a ballistic missile boost glide vehicle and a jet powered, atmospheric cruise missile, he said.
Kendall said the threat of such hypersonic vehicles to the United States is that they are difficult for missile defenses to counter. The vehicles travel and maneuver while flying at speeds of up to Mach 10 or 7,680 miles an hour.
“The high speed of these systems makes it much more difficult for air defenses to engage,” he said.
Kendall, in testimony on the Obama administration’s so-called “pivot” to Asia, said the Chinese development of hypersonic strike weapons is an area of technology that is likely to outpace U.S. efforts in the future.
“When I spoke earlier about feeling reasonably comfortable where we are today [with arms technology] but not necessarily so comfortable five or 10 years from not, this is one of the technologies that would be on that list of things that in five or 10 years we might have a much bigger problem with then,” Kendall said.
The comments followed questioning from Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.), who said he shares the concerns about the Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle development and testing.
“My purpose here is to try to elevate that concern because I think it is a significant one, especially since given time, it will manifest,” Franks said.
The Washington Free Beacon first disclosed China’s Jan. 9 flight test of a hypersonic glide vehicle that the Pentagon has called the WU-14.
The experimental weapon is a new strategic strike capability China’s military is developing that is designed to defeat U.S. missile defenses. China could use the vehicle for both nuclear and conventional precision strikes on targets, including aircraft carriers at sea.
U.S. officials said that, while the glide vehicle test was not an intelligence surprise, it showed China is moving much more rapidly than in the past in efforts to research, develop, and test advanced weaponry.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, noted that the hypersonic test demonstrated China’s ability to move quicker than the United States in developing some advanced arms.
“The Chinese, as other nations are, are pursuing hypersonic technologies,” Locklear said last week at the Pentagon. “This is just one of many, you know, highly technical militarized systems that whether the Chinese are developing them, or we’re developing them, or Europeans are developing, that will continue to complicate the security environment with high-technology systems.”
“We will have to figure them into the calculation of how we’re going to maintain a peaceful security environment in the future,” he added.
Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R., Calif.), along with subcommittee chairmen Reps. Randy Forbes (R., Va.) and Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), described the hypersonic test in a statement as the Chinese military “leaping ahead of us” in arms development.
“The Asia Pacific is fast becoming a powder keg,” the lawmakers said. “Allowing nations that do not share our respect for free and open avenues of commerce to gain a strategic advantage over the United States and her allies only brings us closer to lighting the fuse.”
Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff, said during the hearing that he would only discuss the Chinese hypersonic test in a closed-door hearing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Remembering Challenger

click to enlarge 

There's a framed patch on the wall in my monitoring post that I treasure. It was given to me a few years ago by a friend who worked at NASA - just one of the network of space and aviation contacts I had made over the years.

I rarely glance at it and sometimes forget it's there - until the sad anniversaries come along and reminds me exactly where I was and what I was doing at the moment of the Apollo One fire, Challenger explosion and (of course) the loss of Columbia along with Amarillo's astronaut Rick Husband and Lubbock's Willie McCool.

Today is one of those days - and as always I think about where I was when Challenger exploded killing all onboard.

Back in 1986 I was working at the Amarillo Globe News as a photographer, and even way back then I was deep into radio monitoring.

We had personal darkrooms back then and in mine (no surprise here) I had a scanner for listening to the local police and such.

One day I made a discovery (quite by accident and as it would turn out fortuitously) that hidden in the false ceiling of my darkroom was a coiled up run of antenna coax that led to the abandoned radio transmitter tower on top of the AGN.

Back in the day - the antenna (which I think is still there) was used as a AM radio transmission cable for KGNC AM - which (if you didn't know) used to be owned by the Amarillo Globe News - in fact the call letters GNC (in KGNC) stood for the Globe News Company.

Having discovered the cable (and being the radiohead I am) I decided to tap into it and see if it still worked.

One night I smuggled in my huge Panasonic RF-4900 shortwave receiver (a multi-band monster) into my darkroom when the newsroom was rather empty.

RF 4900 

I hooked it up to the coax and was surprised to see it not only worked but worked amazingly well. That established, I kept the radio in my locking closet normally used as a photographic paper safe that only I had the key too.

For some reason, I didn't want the editors to know that in my downtime I was back in my darkroom with headphones on scanning the shortwave bands, listening to ship-to-shore telephone calls, international aeronautical transmissions and military HF stations.

January, 28, 1986 was a slow news day - and I knew a space shuttle launch was scheduled so I turned on the red safelight - locked my darkroom door, hooked up the shortwave and donned a pair of Koss headphones.

I tuned to 10.780 MHz USB also known as "CAPE RADIO" a shortwave link used to communicate with SRB (rocket booster) recovery ships off the coast of Florida.

The atmospherics were just right and the communications came in loud and booming as if they were local. NASA rebroadcast the UHF shuttle communications and countdown on that channel so recovery teams could listen in.

And then there was this long silence - and garbled communications and the words "We've obviously had a major malfunction" which (at the time) I hadn't realized what that truly meant. I knew something went wrong but there was nobody saying "Challenger had blown up."

Then after what seemed an eternity of silence, the recovery ships began talking to each other - panicked warnings went out that debris was falling from the skies and the ships and helicopters in the recovery area needed to evacuate the area as soon as possible.

And then that's when it hit me what had happened. A sinking feeling went through my entire body.

I flew out my darkroom and into the newsroom and shouted, "the Space Shuttle has just blown up."

Everyone looked at me strange as if I had finally inhaled too many darkroom fumes or I was joking. One reporter even laughed.

I then went over to the TV in the newsroom and turned it on. I flipped through the channels and there were no bulletins - no special reports just game shows and commercials.

And then it happened: "We interrupt this program for a Special Bulletin."

I also remember at that same moment the urgent bulletin bell began ringing wildly on the AP teletype machine.

A video replay of Challenger coming apart filled the screen.

And then the newsroom went crazy.

Later on, I had to to explain how I knew before anyone else and I had to reveal the secret of what I was really doing in my darkroom.

After that the radio became a permanent (open) fixture and a part of my job - Steve Douglass - photographer/radio monitor.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Uniden releases details about new super scanner BCD536HP

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Terrorist Hunt: Suicide bombers threatening Olympics

SOCHI, Russia — Russian security officials are hunting down three potential female suicide bombers, one of whom is believed to be in Sochi, where the Winter Olympics will begin next month.

Police leaflets seen by an Associated Press reporter at a central Sochi hotel on Tuesday contain warnings about three potential suicide bombers. A police letter said that one of them, Ruzanna Ibragimova, a 22-year-old widow of an Islamic militant, was at large in Sochi.

A U.S. congressman who was in Sochi on Tuesday to assess the situation said he was impressed by the work of Russian security forces but troubled that potential suicide bombers had gotten into the city, despite all of the extraordinary security measures.

“We know some of them got through the perimeter,” Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, told The Associated Press. “She’s for real. What we don’t know is how many more black widows are out there.”

Russian authorities have blamed the so-called “black widows” of slain insurgents for previous suicide attacks in the country.

The Black Sea resort town will host the games amid concerns about security and potential terrorist attacks.

POTUS NSA reforms will change little.

RT: We were all looking at the president’s speech the wrong way.

It was billed as a major speech on reform to the nation’s intelligence programs. But although some genuine reforms were introduced, the speech really wasn’t about reform. It was about saving the NSA’s most controversial tactic, as revealed by Edward Snowden, which is to “collect it all.” Build the haystack, and then find the needle.

Of all the Snowden disclosures thus far, it’s the very first one that’s still most significant: the NSA is running a domestic spying program based on the collection and storage of virtually all Americans' telephone metadata.

The White House and spy chiefs deny it is a domestic spy program – a denial the President reiterated in his ‘reform’ speech. But their denials are belied by former CIA Director Michael Morrell, a member of the president’s own NSA review panel, who admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee a few days before the speech, "There is quite a bit of content in metadata. When you have the records of the phone calls that a particular individual made, you can learn an awful lot about that person."

But here’s the thing about that program: it has an expiration date – something the White House was keenly aware of heading into the ‘reform’ speech.

Just as the telephone spying program is the most jaw-dropping NSA disclosure; it’s also the program most in peril. Already one federal court has ruled it likely unconstitutional. Back in July, the House of Representatives came within a handful of votes of killing the program – and that was before an entire autumn and now winter of more disclosures.

A prominent coalition of powerful Senators on both sides of the aisle is pushing to end the program, too. So there are a lot of pitchforks pointed at it.

Then there’s June 1, 2015, when Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which underpins the NSA’s telephone spying program, expires. Congress may not have the votes today to kill the telephone spying program. But, thanks to Edward Snowden, Congress almost certainly doesn’t have the votes next year to renew it either.

So that’s what President Obama, a fierce defender of the telephone spying program and Commander in Chief of the nation’s intelligence operations, was facing when he stepped to the podium in the Department of Justice’s Great Hall. And it’s why his ‘reform’ speech that followed was actually a Trojan horse containing a last-ditch effort to save the NSA’s “collect it all” telephone spying program.

Yes, the president said he is, “ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists.” But he didn’t do that. Instead he took the primary concern of NSA critics, which is the collection and storage of Americans telephone data, and severed it in two, by focusing strictly on the storage of that data – not the collection of it.

He pushed for a tinkering of the program that would retain the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone (meta)data, but, “without the government holding this bulk metadata.” Instead, private telecoms or some sort of “third party” would retain the databases. It’s up to the attorney general, the intelligence community, and Congress ultimately to figure out how to make it work, which could be difficult since the telecoms don’t want this responsibility and it’s hard to imagine a trustworthy “third party” capable of retaining these databases, short of the ACLU or Electronic Frontier Foundation.

However, the important thing to remember is, no matter who’s holding the databases, those databases are still being filled with nearly every single American’s phone data. The government may have to deal with more restricted access to these databases in the short-term, and lose ownership of them altogether in the long-term, but indiscriminate bulk collection will continue indefinitely.

This convenient distinction wasn’t lost on those who know the NSA best and have blown the whistle on it. Speaking at the National Press Club within an hour of the President’s ‘reform’ speech, NSA whistleblower Kirk Wiebe called it a “ruse,” adding, “It’s not where the data is. It’s a red-herring to say if the NSA doesn’t have it, it’s safe. Not true.”

Another NSA whistleblower, Bill Binney, criticized the speech saying that any approach that “still maintains bulk collection is the wrong way to do it.” Yet that’s exactly the approach President Obama took – with good reason.

Friday, January 17, 2014

SAVANNAH, GA. – A military spokesman says one member of an elite Army helicopter unit is dead and two crew members suffered injuries when their aircraft slammed into the ground while trying to land at a Savannah, Ga., airfield.

Maj. Allen Hill said Thursday that the MH-60 Black Hawk was returning from a routine training flight to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah when it made a "hard landing" late Wednesday on or near the airstrip. The names of the dead and injured soldiers were not immediately released.

The crew belongs to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which trains to fly helicopters behind enemy lines under cover of darkness. Also called the Night Stalkers, the unit has a battalion based in Savannah.

On Jan. 8, a Navy helicopter crashed about 18 miles off Virginia Beach, killing three aboard.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Another U.S. nuclear scandal - officers cheated on proficiency tests

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a stunning setback for a nuclear missile force already beset by missteps and leadership lapses, the Air Force disclosed on Wednesday that 34 officers entrusted with the world's deadliest weapons have been removed from launch duty for allegedly cheating — or tolerating cheating by others — on routine proficiency tests.

The cheating scandal is the latest in a series of Air Force nuclear stumbles documented in recent months by The Associated Press, including deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections, breakdowns in training, and evidence that the men and women who operate the missiles from underground command posts are suffering burnout. In October the commander of the nuclear missile force was fired for engaging in embarrassing behavior, including drunkenness, while leading a U.S. delegation to a nuclear exercise in Russia.

A "profoundly disappointed" Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, the service's top civilian official, told a hurriedly arranged Pentagon news conference that the alleged cheating at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., was discovered during a previously announced probe of drug possession by 11 officers at several Air Force bases, including two who also are in the nuclear force and suspected of participating in the cheating ring.

"This is absolutely unacceptable behavior," James said of the cheating, which Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said could be the biggest such scandal in the history of the missile force.

FA-18E crashes of Virginia coast - pilot ejects.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - A single-seat Navy FA-18E super hornet crashed 45 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard confirms.

Commander Mike Kafka with Naval Air Atlantic said the jet is part of VFA-143, assigned to Carrier Air Wing 7, and is currently assigned to USS Eisenhower. The flight originated from Oceana Naval Air Station and was conducting routine training exercises when the jet crashed at approximately 2:30 p.m.

Spokesman Petty Officer David Weydert confirmed the pilot ejected and was rescued by a fishing vessel in the area. The pilot was conscious when he was picked up. A Navy MH-60 Sea Hawk responded to the scene and transported the pilot to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where he is currently listed in critical condition, according to Commander Mike Kafka.

WAVY News 10's Lauren Compton observed a person being taken off a Navy helicopter at the hospital around 4 p.m. She reports the person was lying flat on a stretcher, covered with a blanket.

Friday, January 10, 2014

MC-12 crashes in Afghanistan - 6 killed.

A U.S. military plane has crashed in eastern Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of three Americans. There are no indications that the aircraft was brought down by enemy fire, said a defense official.

“International Security Assistance Force service members and one ISAF civilian died following an aircraft mishap in eastern Afghanistan today,” said a statement released by NATO in Afghanistan.

A defense official told ABC News that the incident involved an MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft flying a nighttime mission over eastern Afghanistan.

MC-12′s are Beechcraft propeller aircraft that carry multiple surveillance systems that enable the monitoring of different areas at the same time. The feeds are monitored by technicians who fly in the rear of the small aircraft.

The crash comes on the same day that an ISAF spokesperson confirmed that a Blackhawk helicopter crash in mid-December that killed six soldiers was the result of “enemy action.”

The spokesperson said that the families of the six soldiers were notified Thursday that “enemy action caused the crash and loss of life.”

At the time of the crash, on December 17, defense officials said there had been no indications that enemy fire had brought down the helicopter.

The investigation into the crash continues, so no other details were provided.

A defense official would not go into what kind of “enemy action” brought down the helicopter, but said the investigation had determined there was no firefight on the ground after the crash.

USAF Nuke Officers under investigation for possessing illegal drugs

BUSINESS INSIDER: Two US Air Force officers in charge of launching nuclear missiles are under investigation for possessing illegal drugs, officials said Thursday, in the latest setback for the country's nuclear force.
The two officers, assigned to Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, "are being investigated by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations for illegal drug possession," spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told AFP.
The military offered no further details of the case but the news came as US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel paid a rare visit to an ICBM base in Wyoming.
Hagel's trip follows a series of embarrassing incidents and revelations for the Air Force's nuclear team, including internal reviews signalling morale problems among missile units and the sacking of a number of senior officers.
Speaking at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Hagel made no mention of the criminal case but sought to reassure service members that their work was valued, while reminding them of the high stakes at hand.
"In what you do every day, there is no room for error, none. You know that. The American people expect that," Hagel said.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Der Spiegel: NSA intercepting and bugging laptops?

According to a new report from Der Spiegel based on internal NSA documents, the signals intelligence agency's elite hacking unit (TAO) is able to conduct sophisticated wiretaps in ways that make Hollywood fantasy look more like reality. The report indicates that the NSA, in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, routinely and secretly intercepts shipping deliveries for laptops or other computer accessories in order to implant bugs before they reach their destinations. According to Der Spiegel, the NSA's TAO group is able to divert shipping deliveries to its own "secret workshops" in a method called interdiction, where agents load malware onto the electronics or install malicious hardware that can give US intelligence agencies remote access.

While the report does not indicate the scope of the program, or who the NSA is targeting with such wiretaps, it's a unique look at the agency's collaborative efforts with the broader intelligence community to gain hard access to communications equipment. One of the products the NSA appears to use to compromise target electronics is codenamed COTTONMOUTH, and has been available since 2009; it's a USB "hardware implant" that secretly provides the NSA with remote access to the compromised machine.

This tool, among others, is available to NSA agents through what Der Spiegel describes as a mail-order spy catalog. The report indicates that the catalog offers backdoors into the hardware and software of the most prominent technology makers, including Cisco, Juniper Networks, Dell, Seagate, Western Digital, Maxtor, Samsung, and Huawei. Many of the targets are American companies. The report indicates that the NSA can even exploit error reports from Microsoft's Windows operating system; by intercepting the error reports and determining what's wrong with a target's computer, the NSA can then attack it with Trojans or other malware.

In response to Der Spiegel's report, Cisco senior vice president John Stewart wrote that "we are deeply concerned with anything that may impact the integrity of our products or our customers' networks," and that the company does "not work with any government to weaken our products for exploitation." Other US companies have fired back against reports of NSA tampering in recent months, including Microsoft, which labeled the agency an "advanced persistent threat" over its efforts to secretly collect private user data within the internal networks of Google and Yahoo.

The Der Spiegel report, which gives a broad look at TAO operations, also highlights the NSA's cooperation with other intelligence agencies to conduct Hollywood-style raids. Unlike most of the NSA's operations which allow for remote access to targets, Der Spiegel notes that the TAO's programs often require physical access to targets. To gain physical access, the NSA reportedly works with the CIA and FBI on sensitive missions that sometimes include flying NSA agents on FBI jets to plant wiretaps. "This gets them to their destination at the right time and can help them to disappear again undetected after even as little as a half hour's work," the report notes.

The NSA currently faces pressure from the public, Congress, federal courts, and privacy advocates over its expansive spying programs. Those programs, which include bulk telephone surveillance of American citizens, are said by critics to violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches, and were uncovered earlier this year by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Beyond the programs that scoop up data on American citizens, Snowden's documents have also given a much closer look at how the spy agency conducts other surveillance operations, including tapping the phones of high-level foreign leaders.


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