2012 in review

January 1, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, editor and labor rights advocate, has been held without bail since his arrest April 30, 2011. Somyot’s next court appearance will be on December 19, 2012; the court is expected to announce Somyot’s verdict so your support is most important. We welcome all observers.

Briefing Note_SomyotPrueksakasemsuk 15102012

somyot

Based on discussion with Somyot’s defence team, it has proven a deterrent to legal excesses and improper judicial practice for individuals and organizations attending to send an official letter to Thawee Prachuaplarb, Director-General of Criminal Court Judges, notifying the Court of your participation requesting. It would be helpful if your letter, if in English, should be accompanied by a copy of a Thai translation, if possible. The letter should be addressed to Criminal Court Building, Rachadapisek Road, Jompon District, Chatuchak Sub-district, Bangkok 10900 (Calling/Faxing in Thailand: Tel. 02-541-2284-90, Fax 02-541-2142 and 02-541-2141, Calling/Faxing outside Thailand: Tel. (662) 541 – 2284 to 2290, Fax (662) 541 – 2142, 541 – 2141) (in Thai: นายทวี ประจวบลาภ อธิบดีผูพิพากษาศาลอาญา อาคารศาลอาญา ถนนรัชดาภิเษก แขงวงจอมพล เขต จตุจักร กรุงเทพฯ 10900).

Your letter should address the concerns of freedom of expression and fair trial in international communities. The letter should not address directly that you are concerned with the lack of impartiality in the Thai court as this could forbid you from participating in the trial observation, as the court is extremely sensitive on criticism.

Next week, the Criminal Court will resume its schedule on Somyot’s case on 19 December 2012 after it has been delayed for three months without informed explanation. Prior to this, the Constitutional Court also ruled that Article 112 is not against the constitutionality. Both information made the lawyer as well as the family grave concerns about the negative development of the case. According to the lawyer, if the Criminal Court decided on penalty, Somyot may face a sentence of maximum 10-year imprisonment.

While there are neither confirmation nor details about the next court schedule informed by writing, fear of prolonged detention as well as sudden verdict announcement has been worsen among family members.

In this regard, the 112 Family Network would like to draw your attention as well as ask for your participation on the trial observation on 19 December 2012. Due to experience of other freedom of expression cases, we learnt that both Thai and international observers play a very important role to ensure fair trials.

Somyot’s verdict is held Wednesday, December 19, at Bangkok’s Criminal Court (San Aya), on Ratchadapisek Road opposite Soi 32, Lat Phrao MTR station at 9am. 

Volunteer interpretation is provided upon request: 112familynetwork@gmail.com.

WE URGE ALL READERS  ATTEND COURT IN SUPPORT OF SOMYOT AND TO STAND UP FOR FREE SPEECH.

free-somyot1

Thank you so much. We’ll see you in court.

 

Best Regards,

112FamilyNetwork

[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: We have all been wildly conditioned to live in fear of criminals and subversives and radicals. That fear prevents us from seeing the bigger picture. The gaoling of one man or woman rips apart marriages, families and communities and no good at all for the wider society. On the eve of Somyot’s verdict, we ask you to put yourself in wiofe Sukunya’s or son Panitan’s shoes.]

Political Prisoners in Thailand: October 29, 2012

http://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/letters-from-sukunya-prueksakasemsuk-i/

 

sukunya

tai

Sukunya Prueksakasemsuk, wife of lese majeste political prisoner Somyos, has released a letter she has written to her husband. There are versions available in English and in ไทย. Despite Sukunya’s tireless efforts on behalf of her husband, Somyos remains imprisoned. Her letter is released to coincide with the 18-month anniversary of her husband’s imprisonment.

Somyos has been imprisoned for this very lengthy period but has still not had a verdict delivered. As PPT recently noted, the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued an Opinion, stating that:

The deprivation of liberty of Mr Prueksakasemsuk, being in contravention of Articles 19 of the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and 19 (2) of the ICCPR [International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights], is arbitrary, and falls in categories II of the categories applicable to the cases submitted to the Working Group.

As a result of the Opinion rendered, the Working Group requests the Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr Prueksaksemsuk and bring it into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the ICCPR.

The Working Group believes that, taking into account all circumstances of the case, the adequate remedy would be to release Mr Prueksakasemsuk and accord him and enforceable right to compensation pursuant to Article 9(5) of the ICCPR.

Political Prisoners in Thailand: November 4, 2012

http://thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/letters-from-sukunya-prueksakasemsuk-ii/

In an earlier post, PPT drew attention to the first letter from Sukunya Prueksakasemsuk to her husband, the imprisoned lese majeste political prisoner Somyos. Somyos has been jailed for more than 18 months as he awaits a verdict on this political charge.

The second letter has been released (in ไทย) and begins with comments about visiting “hours” – actually just a few minutes – at the Bangkok Remand Prison and ends with the delight at Surapak Puchaisaeng‘s acquittal on lese majeste and computer crimes charges. The English version follows:

3 Nov 2012

Week 73 of the prolonged detention.

Dear P’Yot,

There are many things happened in this week after I visited you at the prison last Tuesday. Fist of all, I must say that no one visited the 112 prisoners except Jane and me on that day. So I had a good chance to talk to you, Pee Surachai and Noom all together in one. It seemed that the 20 minutes flied so fast and we talked over time limit until the officer warned us to separate and asked you to go back inside. A period of 20 minutes is very short and always not enough to be with the one that I love and wait for the whole week.

The prison allows us to meet once a day from 11.10 to 11.30 at weekdays only. As I am busy and don’t have lot of free time, I could only meet you once a week. I have to spend that little time that they allow as good and most valuable as I can. One thing that I have seen and am happy is that you still maintain your courage and strength. You don’t lose heart and have a good spirit even it has been a very long time since you have been detained. Your faith remains unchanged. So I hope someday your dream will come true.

From my conversation with Pee Surachai which was the first time that I talked to him in an official manner. Before that I only had some greetings and small talks with him. He told me that the Thai people must have a clear picture of democracy. Supporting a political party must be based on a clear understanding of the rights to have the different opinions and the roles and responsibilities of ourselves. When the party became the government and ruler, they might not do things that they promised but we as the citizen must not lose the sight & sense of equality and democracy. We will have to push them to complete actions as promised.

For Noom, we have talked and lent mental support to each other. Noom said that if he is released, he will dedicate to our 112 Family Network which I am very glad to hear that he has realised the importance of our Network and intended to share his painful experience and opinion on the impact of the article 112. Many people still think that this law is not relevant to them at all which is not correct. Anyone can be sued from the article 112.  I hope to hear a good news about Noom from his recent seeking for royal pardon.

Finally the great news for this week is the acquit of Surapak (Tum)’s trial on Wednesday this week. I am very happy for Tum, Pa Tam and his family to have him back home. I wish that when it come to your verdict, we will receive a fair trial and end the long process with full of justice.

Love you as always,

Joop

Prachatai: December 12, 2012

http://www.prachatai3.info/english/node/3454

 

Sukanya Prueksakasemsuk’s letter to her husband Somyot in prison, and the 112 Family Network’s invitation to Somyot’s court appearance on 19 Dec.

000

Week 78 of prolonged detention

9 December 2012

Dear P’Yot,

I was happier this week but still very busy from the year-end appraisal of my direct reports and other urgent matters which were unplanned and deadlines set this week. Anyway I managed to take a break with Tian to see the lights on Uttayan Road while I drove her to the dormitory. This road has another name of Axis (pronounced Ax-xa in Thai) located on Bhuddamonthon 4 and it was the most expensive road. It was constructed at the time of Field Marshal Por in 2498 (Buddhist Era) and was put on hold for a long time after the coup by Field Marshal Sarit. It was just finished in 2542. This road is 4 kilometers long and is decorated with lamp all the way down the road. When the lamps are turned on at night, it is so beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful road in Thailand!  When I thought about it, if we didn’t have so many coups, this road would have been finished earlier. When someone said coups would help stop corruption and ensure national development, I wouldn’t agree. If so, how come we took 44 years to construct this road? And this road was the most expensive ever; just 4 kilometers cost almost THB 1,100 million. Roughly divided by 4, it cost THB 500 million per kilometer.

Yesterday I attended the launch of a new book “Rak Auy” (Love) written by Pa Ueh (Ah Kong’s wife) which was organized by the Read Publishing House. The event began in the morning but I just joined them in the afternoon when Ajarn Somsak spoke about the root cause of tragedy of Ah Kong. I was invited to talk about this book but hadn’t yet read it before this event. So I had to prepare myself and read it. Before that I was afraid of crying and depression; you know it’s hard to control myself when I have to face other’s people sad stories. Anyway, when I read it, it didn’t shake my heart as I expected. Pa Ueh described her romantic married life with Ah Kong. There was a beautiful moment when I read that Ah Kong found a pleated skirt which he thought suited Pa Ueh perfectly. He bought it immediately without hesitation but then thought that a green skirt might not go well with Pa Ueh’s skin tone. These small things that expressed the love of Ah Kong and Pa Ueh were the natural expression of an older generation like our parents. It is regrettable that Pa Ueh has no opportunity to live together with her loved one, and did not even have a chance to say good bye before his last breath. Oh! The unlawful article 112 put our lives in danger and in trouble.

It is late and time to go to bed now. I wish you courage to continue fighting against the unlawful law. Sooner or later we will see the light of fairness. We believe in a universal fairness i.e. the right to bail, freedom of speech, freedom of writing and publishing as well as democracy where everyone, whether rich or poor, will have equality. That day will come soon.

Love you as always.

Joop

[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: Popular vote referenda in specific jurisdictions for exact purposes are today the only honest form of voting. Politicians are all the same so why bother? A great example of the power of referenda is the fact that the US states of Washington and Colorado became the first jurisdictions in the world to legalise marijuana for wholly recreational use, in direct confrontation with the US Federal govt. America going down the tubes? Pass that bong over here...]

Eric W. Dolan

Raw Story: November 7, 2012

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/11/07/washington-state-votes-to-legalize-marijuana/

 

Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 502, a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana.

As of 10:00 p.m. PST, the ballot initiative was up 55.45 percent to 44.55 percent.

Initiative 502 legalized the production and sale of marijuana in Washington state through state-licensed stores. Under the law, the Washington State Liquor Control Board will regulate marijuana-shops, and possessing up to an ounce of marijuana will be legal.

The Washington State Democratic Central Committee, the state-wide umbrella organization for the Democratic Party, had endorsed Initiative 502. In a resolution passed last year, the Democrats stated that “marijuana is Washington’s second biggest cash crop and could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenues” and that outlawing the drug was “wasting millions of dollars.” The initiative was also supported by the NAACP, ACLU and a number of other organizations.

Initiative 502 also amends Washington’s DUI laws by making driving under the influence of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood of THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, illegal. The 5 nanogram limit would not apply to the non-psychoactive marijuana metabolite carboxy-THC, which can appear in blood or urine tests for weeks.

Colorado voters also approved a ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana use Tuesday night.

Andy Borowitz

The Borowitz Report: October 9, 2012

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport/2012/10/canada-tightens-border.html

 

[Robert Nickelsberg/Getty]

OTTAWA: Canada announced today that it was tightening security along its border with the United States amid concerns that there could be a mass migration of illegal Americans after Tuesday, November 6th.

According to Randolph McTavish, Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, border patrols are on alert due to an “increase in chatter” indicating that a threat to Canada’s border might be imminent.

“We’ve been intercepting troubling comments from some very freaked-out people,” he said. “Most of it has been on NPR call-in shows.”

Stating that the R.C.M.P. is patrolling every kilometre of the Canadian border, he issued this warning to Americans who might try to cross into Canada illegally: “If you drive a Prius, you will be stopped.”

He also warned Americans against trying to slip across the border in the hopes of passing as Canadians: “It is very difficult, if not impossible, to pretend to like hockey.”

Mr. McTavish said that he was sympathetic with those who might flee across the border in search of a new life and socialized medicine, but added, “At the end of the day, forty-seven per cent of Americans is more than Canada can handle.”

Get the Borowitz Report delivered to your inbox.

Andy Borowitz is doing a show to benefit public radio.

[FACT comments: Yes, stupid, I’m talking to you… Let's spend our money on something righteous foer a change!]

Steven Ross Pomeroy

Scientific American: October 8, 2012

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/10/08/stop-building-bombs-and-start-building-starships/

 

In 1969, a great shadow was cast over the United States. That shadow, however, was not one of gloom. Instead of evoking the absence of light, this shadow caused us to look up in wonder at the brightness that created it. When the Saturn V Rocket propelling Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins dashed across the blue, cloud-splotched sky, we did not see a dark present. We glimpsed a bright future.

Elsewhere, however, truly ominous shadows were cast by rockets which never saw the sun. Nestled in silos and buried beneath barren landscapes, “Minuteman” missiles meant not to uplift man, but to deliver the end of man, shrouded much of our world in trepidation.

These two rockets, with two very distinct purposes, bring into focus a problem that has long plagued our nation. We spend far too much money on war, and not enough on science.

Considering that we are nearing the ominously titled “fiscal cliff” — a series of government spending cuts and tax increases that will automatically take effect if Congress and the President do not act to stop it — we have a unique opportunity to review Federal spending and ensure that we are investing our time and wealth to their most productive ends.

I argue that such a review – if guided by reason – would reveal that defense spending should be reduced in order to make way for a world-changing commitment to science and technology, a bold move that will put both the United States and the world on a path to a bright future.

As it stands today, the United States is clearly over militarized. Defense spending in 2011 was estimated at $711 Billion. That’s equal to the combined budgets of the next fourteen top-spending countries, over half of whom are strong U.S. allies. Moreover, a 2011 Government Accountability Office audit of defense spending found that a combined $70 billion was wasted in 2010 and 2009.

This over-the-top spending is indicative of a military-industrial-complex run amok, precisely the scenario that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, perhaps the most revered military commander of the 20th century, warned against in his farewell address. “Together, we must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose,” he avowed.

I can think of no better way to fulfill Eisenhower’s vision than through the pursuit of science.

  Colossus

By intelligently, purposefully, and gradually drawing down the defense budget from 4.7% to 3.0% of GDP (from $709 to $453 billion), and diverting some of those funds to meaningful science projects of both national and global significance, the United States can accomplish the essential goal of protecting its citizens, while simultaneously making the world a safer, healthier place and reinvigorating our economy.

We can begin the funding transition at home by re-committing ourselves to NASA. If we double the space agency’s budget (currently at $17.8 billion), our space accomplishments in ten years will dwarf even the monumental success of this summer, when the Curiosity rover landed on Mars.

We can complete the James Webb Space Telescope, allowing us to peer farther into the Universe than ever before. We can go to Mars by the end of the decade, a mission which astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson insists “would reboot America’s capacity to innovate as no other force in society can.” And with the recent news that warp drive may be more feasible than originally thought, we can focus on researching and eventually engineering interstellar starships that could one day take humans to Gliese 581 g — a potentially habitable Earth-like planet — in a mere two years. Along the way we could solve a myriad of other problems, writes Space.com’s Clara Moskowitz:

“…if human beings can solve the challenges of interstellar spaceflight, in the process they will have solved many of the problems plaguing Earth today, experts said. For example, building a starship will require figuring out how to conserve and recycle resources, how to structure societies for the common well-being, and how to harness and use energy sustainably.”

In addition to funding NASA, we can make fusion energy research a top national priority. Fusion power – an unparalleled energy source that generates electricity by effectively creating a miniature star – has eluded scientists for decades, but researchers now believe that successful fusion is within mankind’s grasp. Before the year is out, scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California hope to fire the world’s most powerful laser into a small test chamber with pea-sized fuel pellets of deuterium and tritium inside. The two isotopes of hydrogen will fuse together and potentially create up to one hundred times more energy than was used to ignite the fuel.

This breakthrough could serve as our “Sputnik Moment” for energy production. If we can put a man on the Moon a mere eight years after deciding to do so, then surely we can master “star power” if we pledge ourselves to the task. Fusion produces no carbon emissions, could provide power for thousands of years, is estimated to be cost-competitive with coal, and is unquestionably the energy source of the future. Yet despite the impressive resumé, fusion energy research is only allotted a relatively paltry $474.6 million. Why wait for the future to happen later? With additional spending freedom by making cuts in defense, we can fund fusion and make that future happen now.

Abroad, armed with science, the United States could make an even bigger difference. Instead of paying $1 billion for a new B-2 bomber or $2 billion for a Virgina Class Submarine – tools designed to forcefully combat the symptoms of the world’s problems — we could pay less and actually work to solve those problems. We live in a new age where people can collaborate as never before, working cooperatively across previously insurmountable barriers of distance and language. In this modern age, we don’t need an army of soldiers; we need an army of scientists.

The United States should spearhead a global public-private coalition with the aim of using science and technology to solve the pressing problems of the present and the surfacing challenges of the future. Partner countries will join and lend funding as well. Such a program could recruit scientists from around the world and form them into separate divisions, each tasked with an individual goal, such as curing disease, solving the emerging water crisis, or spreading modern agriculture practices.

Effective communication and outreach on an unprecedented scale will be paramount to the project’s success. This must involve on-the-ground collaboration with local governments, scientists, and stakeholders, especially in the Global South and the Third World. Solving global problems will need to be reconciled with local priorities.

Such an initiative would be a boon, both foreign and domestic. It would create jobs, spur innovation, foster global goodwill, and boost the world economy. It may also result in revolutionary discoveries that would eliminate many of the primary causes of conflict and war. In a world fortified by scientific discovery, there would simply be no need for exorbitant defense spending.

After reading this proposal, it’s natural to be somewhat incredulous. The undertaking that I have outlined is bold and would require the type of political consensus that we haven’t seen in well over a decade. But it is not wistful, nor is it too costly or overly naive. It can be done.

Setting our defense spending at 3.0% of GDP is far from unprecedented; it’s the same level we had during President Clinton’s second term. And the notion of aiding the developing world through a massive, coordinated scientific endeavor was also previously conceived. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy entertained a proposal to undertake a large-scale irrigation project to benefit the Third World. Instead, he chose an equally worthwhile enterprise: going to the Moon.

That courageous expedition – conducted in the midst of a Cold War with the Soviet Union and a hot war in Vietnam — proved that Science can be mightier than the Sword. In the decades that followed, we have forgotten this. It is time to remember it.

About the Author: Steven Ross Pomeroy is the assistant editor for Real Clear Science, a science news aggregator. He regularly contributes to RCS’ Newton Blog. As a writer, Steven believes that his greatest assets are his insatiable curiosity and his ceaseless love for learning. Follow on Twitter @SteRoPo.

November 8, 2012

 

What Americans just voted against…

[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: Americans just gave the sitting President their permission and mandate that endless wars, increased military spending, murders of both foreigners and Americans and complete surveillance of everyone on the planet is the right thing to do.]

Wired: November 6, 2012

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/11/president-hunt-you/?pid=1620&viewall=true

 

Murder, Inc. [François Proulx/Flickr]

 Robotic assassination campaigns directed from the Oval Office. Cyber espionage programs launched at the president’s behest. Surveillance on an industrial scale. The White House already has an incredible amount of power to monitor and take out individuals around the globe. But a new wave of technologies, just coming online, could give those powers a substantial upgrade. No matter who wins the election on Tuesday, the next president could have an unprecedented ability to monitor and end lives from the Oval Office.

The current crop of sensors, munitions, control algorithms, and data storage facilities have helped make the targeted killing of American adversaries an almost routine affair. Nearly 3,000 people have been slain in the past decade by American drones, for instance. The process will only get easier, as these tools of war become more compact, more powerful, and more precise. And they will: Moore’s Law applies in the military and intelligence realms almost as much as it does in the commercial sphere.

For decades, political scientists have wrung their hands about an “Imperial Presidency,” an executive branch with powers far beyond its original, Constitutional limits. This new hardware and software could make the old concerns look more outdated than horses and bayonets, to coin a phrase. Here are seven examples.

– Noah Shachtman

 

 [Jared Soares/Wired]

 Drone Autonomy

There’s a standard response to skeptics of the killer flying robots known as drones that goes something like this: Every time a drone fires its weapon, a human being within a chain of command (of other human beings) made that call. The robot never decides for itself who lives and who dies. All of that is true. It’s just that some technical advances, both current and on the horizon, are going to make it less true.

On one end of the spectrum is the Switchblade, AeroVironment’s mashup of drone and missile. Weighing under 6 pounds and transportable in a soldier’s backpack, the drone carries a function whereby an operator can pre-program its trajectory using GPS; When it reaches the target, it explodes, without its operator commanding it to. On the other end is the Navy’s experimental UCLASS, which by 2019 ought to yield an armed drone with a 62-foot wingspan that can take off and land from an aircraft carrier at the click of a mouse, its flight path selected earlier while Naval aviators go get a snack. The Navy has no plans to let the UCLASS release its weapons except at a human’s direction, but its autonomy goes beyond anything the military currently possesses.

All of this stands to change drone warfare — ironically, by changing human behavior. As humans get used to incremental expansions in drone autonomy, they’ll expect more functionality to come pre-baked. That might erode the currently-rigid edict that people must conduct the strikes; at a minimum, it will free human operators to focus more of their attention on conducting attacks. The first phase of that challenge has arrived: the Army confirmed this week that a unit in eastern Afghanistan is now using the Switchblade.

— Spencer Ackerman

 

 [Darpa]

‘City-Sized’ Surveillance

Predator-class drones are today’s spy tools of choice; the military and CIA have hundreds of them keeping watch over Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Mexico, and elsewhere. But the Predators and the larger Reapers are imperfect eyes in the sky. They rely on cameras that offer, as the military cliche goes, a “soda straw” view of the battlefield — maybe a square kilometer, depending on how high the drone flies.

Tomorrow’s sensors, on the other hand, will be able to monitor an area 10 times larger with twice the resolution. The Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (“Argus, for short) is a collection of 92 five-megapixel cameras. In a single day, it collects six petabytes of video — the equivalent of 79.8 years’ worth of HD video.

Argus and other “Wide Area Airborne Surveillance” systems have their limitations. Right now, the military doesn’t have the bandwidth to pull all that video off a drone in real time. Nor it does it have the analysts to watch all the footage; they’re barely keeping up with the soda straws. Plus, the camera bundles have had some problems sharing data with some of the military’s other spy systems.

But interest in the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance systems is growing — and not just among those looking to spy overseas. The Department of Homeland Security recently put out a call for a camera array that could keep tabs on 10 square kilometers at once, and tested out another WAAS sensor along the border. Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada Corporation, a well-traveled intelligence contractor, is marketing its so-called “Vigilant Stare” sensor (.pdf), which it says will watch “city-sized fields of regard” for domestic “counter-narcotics” and “civil unrest” missions. Keep your eyes peeled.

— Noah Shachtman

 

[Peter McCollough/Wired]

Massive Data Storage

The idea of the government watching your every move is frightening. But not as frightening as the government recording your every move in digital database that never gets full.

This nightmare data storage scenario is closer than you think. A study from the Brookings Institute says that it will soon be within the reach of the government — and other organizations — to keep a digital record everything that everyone in the country says or does, and the NSA is clearly on the cutting edge of large-scale data storage.

The agency is building a massive $2 billion data center in Utah — due to go live in September of next year — and taking a cue from Google, agency engineers have built a massive database platform specifically designed to juggle massive amounts of information.

According to a senior intelligence official cited in Wired’s recent feature story on the Utah data center, it will play an important role in new efforts within the agency to break the encryption used by governments, businesses, and individuals to mask their communications.

“This is more than just a data center,” said the official, who once worked on the Utah project. Another official cited in the story said that several years ago, the agency made an enormous breakthrough in its ability to crack modern encryption methods.

But equally important is the agency’s ability to rapidly process all the information collected in this and other data centers. In recent years, Google has developed new ways of overseeing petabytes of data — aka millions of gigabytes — using tens of thousands of ordinary computer servers. A platform called BigTable, for instance, underpins the index that lets you instantly search the entire web, which now more than 644 million active sites. WIth Accumulo, the NSA has mimicked BigTable’s ability to instantly make sense of such enormous amounts of data. The good news is that the NSA’s platform is also designed to provide separate security controls from each individual piece of data, but those controls aren’t in your hands. They’re in the hands of the NSA.

— Cade Metz

 

[Raytheon]

Tiny Bombs and Missiles

Unless you’re super strong or don’t mind back pain, you can’t carry a Hellfire missile. The weapon of choice for drone attacks weighs over 100 pounds, and that’s why it takes a 27-foot-long Predator to pack one. But that’s all about to change. Raytheon’s experimental Small Tactical Munition weighs nearly a tenth of a Hellfire. In May, rival Textron debuted a weapon that loiters in mid-air, BattleHawk, that weighs a mere 5 pounds.

Normally, a smaller bomb or missile just means a smaller smoking crater. But as the weapons get smaller, the number of robots that can carry them increases. The U.S. military has under 200 armed Predators and Reapers. It has thousands of smaller, unarmed spy drones like Pumas and Ravens. Those smaller drones get used by smaller units down on the military’s food chain, like battalions and companies; if they get armed, then drone strikes can become as routine as artillery barrages. That’s heavy.

— Spencer Ackerman

 

[Lockheed Martin]

‘Tagging and Tracking’ Tech

Right before the Taliban executed him for allegedly spying for the Americans in April 2009, 19-year-old Pakistani Habibur Rehman said in a videotaped “confession” that he had been paid to plant tracking devices wrapped in cigarette paper inside Taliban and Al-Qaida safehouses. The devices emitted barely detectable radio signals that allegedly guided U.S. drone strikes.

The CIA has never copped to using such trackers, but U.S. Special Operations Command openly touts its relationship with manufacturers of “tagging, tracking and locating devices.” One of these firms, Herndon, Virginia-based Blackbird Technologies, has supplied tens of thousands of these trackers as part of a $450 million contract. The company’s 2-inch-wide devices hop between satellite, radio frequencies, CDMA and GSM cellular networks to report the locations of whatever they’re attached to.

If SOCOM has its way, these trackers will only be the start. The command has spent millions developing networks of tiny “unattended ground sensors” that can be scattered across a battlefield and spot targets for decades, if its makers are to be believed. SOCOM is also on the hunt for tiny, plantable audio and video recorders and optical and chemical “taggants” that can mark a person without him knowing it. The idea is for spies like Rehman (if that’s what he was) to more accurately track militants … and get away with it.

— David Axe and Noah Shachtman

 

Cute name for death from the skies: Waverider [US Air Force]

Global Strike

Take the military’s current inventory of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can scream toward their targets at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour. Not too shabby. But also positively slow compared to a new generation of experimental hypersonic weapons that may soon travel many times that speed — and which the Pentagon and the Obama administration dreams about one day lobbing at their enemies anywhere on the globe in less than an hour. And don’t count on the current president, or perhaps even the next one, on abandoning the project any time soon.

It’s called “Prompt Global Strike,” and the Defense Department has worked for a decade on how to field such radical weapons with a mix of trial and error. Among them include the shorter-range X-51A Waverider, a scramjet-powered cruise missile hurtled at up to six times the speed of sound. Even more radical is Darpa’s pizza-shaped glider named the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, and the Army’s pointy-shaped Advanced Hypersonic Weapon — designed to travel at Mach 20 and Mach 8, respectively. If any of these weapons or a variant is ever fielded, they could be used to assassinate a terrorist while on the move or blast a nuclear silo in the opening minutes of a war. Or inadvertently start World War III.

While the Waverider is launched from a plane and resembles a cruise missile (albeit one traveling intensely fast), the HTV-2 is launched using an intercontinental ballistic missile before separating and crashing back down to Earth. But as far as Russian and Chinese radars are concerned, the HTV-2 could very well be an ICBM potentially armed with a nuke and headed for Beijing or Moscow. The Pentagon has apparently considered this doomsday scenario, and has walked back the non-nuke ICBM plan — sort of — while touting a potential future strike weapon launched at the intermediate range from a submarine. But there’s also still plenty of testing to do, and a spotty record of failures for the Waverider and the HTV-2. Meanwhile, the Russians are freaked out enough to have started work on a hypersonic weapon of their own.

— Robert Beckhusen

 

 Blue Devil [David Axe]

Sensor Fusion

The military can listen in on your phone calls, and can watch you from above. But it doesn’t have one thing — one intelligence-collection platform, as the jargon goes — that can do both at once. Instead, the various “ints” are collected and processed separately — and only brought together at the final moment by a team of analysts. It’s a gangly, bureaucratic process that often allows prey to slip through the nets of military hunters.

The exception to this is the Blue Devil program. It outfits a single Beechcraft King Air A90 turboprop plane with a wide area sensor, a traditional camera, and eavesdropping gear — all passing information from one to the other. The electronic ear might pick up a phone call, and tell the camera where to point. Or the wide area sensor might see a truck moving, and ask the eavesdropper to take a listen. Flying in Afghanistan since late 2010, the system has been “instrumental in identifying a number of high-value individuals and improvised explosive device emplacements,” according to the Air Force, which just handed out another $85 million contract to operate and upgrade the fleet of four Blue Devil planes.

There’s a second, more ambitious phase of the Blue Devil program, one that involved putting a lot more sensors onto an airship the size of a football field. But that mega-blimp upgrade never made it to the flight-testing phase, owing to a series of bureaucratic, financial and technical hurdles. But the idea of sensor fusion is not going anywhere. And, let’s be honest: If one of these surveillance arrays catches you in their web, neither are you.

-Noah Shachtman

Noah Shachtman is a contributing editor at Wired magazine, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and the editor of this little blog right here. Follow him on Facebook and Google+.

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