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  • War Evolves With Bug-Sized Drones

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-13 14:51:03
    'WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Two miles from the cow pasture where the Wright Brothers learned to fly the first airplanes, military researchers are at work on another revolution in the air: shrinking unmanned drones, the kind that fire missiles into Pakistan and spy on insurgents in Afghanistan, to the size of insects and birds.

    The base’s indoor flight lab is called the “microaviary,” and for good reason. The drones in development here are designed to replicate the flight mechanics of moths, hawks and other inhabitants of the natural world. “We’re looking at how you hide in plain sight,” said Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer, as he held up a prototype of a mechanical hawk that in the future might carry out espionage or kill.

    Half a world away in Afghanistan, Marines marvel at one of the new blimplike spy balloons that float from a tether 15,000 feet above one of the bloodiest outposts of the war, Sangin in Helmand Province. The balloon, called an aerostat, can transmit live video — from as far as 20 miles away — of insurgents planting homemade bombs. “It’s been a game-changer for me,” Capt. Nickoli Johnson said in Sangin this spring. “I want a bunch more put in.”

    From blimps to bugs, an explosion in aerial drones is transforming the way America fights and thinks about its wars. Predator drones, the Cessna-sized workhorses that have dominated unmanned flight since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are by now a brand name, known and feared around the world. But far less known is the sheer size, variety and audaciousness of a rapidly expanding drone universe, along with the dilemmas that come with it.

    The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago. Within the next decade the Air Force anticipates a decrease in manned aircraft but expects its number of “multirole” aerial drones like the Reaper — the ones that spy as well as strike — to nearly quadruple, to 536. Already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined.

    “It’s a growth market,” said Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer.

    The Pentagon has asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones next year, and by 2030 envisions ever more stuff of science fiction: “spy flies” equipped with sensors and microcameras to detect enemies, nuclear weapons or victims in rubble. Peter W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of “Wired for War,” a book about military robotics, calls them “bugs with bugs.”

    In recent months drones have been more crucial than ever in fighting wars and terrorism. The Central Intelligence Agency spied on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan by video transmitted from a new bat-winged stealth drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, otherwise known as the “Beast of Kandahar,” named after it was first spotted on a runway in Afghanistan. One of Pakistan’s most wanted militants, Ilyas Kashmiri, was reported dead this month in a C.I.A. drone strike, part of an aggressive drone campaign that administration officials say has helped paralyze Al Qaeda in the region — and has become a possible rationale for an accelerated withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. More than 1,900 insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal areas have been killed by American drones since 2006, according to the Web site www.longwarjournal.com.

    In April the United States began using armed Predator drones against Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces in Libya. Last month a C.I.A.-armed Predator aimed a missile at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in Yemen. The Predator missed, but American drones continue to patrol Yemen’s skies.

    Large or small, drones raise questions about the growing disconnect between the American public and its wars. Military ethicists concede that drones can turn war into a videogame, inflict civilian casualties and, with no Americans directly at risk, more easily draw the United States into conflicts. Drones have also created a crisis of information for analysts on the end of a daily video deluge. Not least, the Federal Aviation Administration has qualms about expanding their test flights at home, as the Pentagon would like. Last summer, fighter jets were almost scrambled after a rogue Fire Scout drone, the size of a small helicopter, wandered into Washington’s restricted airspace.

    Within the military, no one disputes that drones save American lives. Many see them as advanced versions of “stand-off weapons systems,” like tanks or bombs dropped from aircraft, that the United States has used for decades. “There’s a kind of nostalgia for the way wars used to be,” said Deane-Peter Baker, an ethics professor at the United States Naval Academy, referring to noble notions of knight-on-knight conflict. Drones are part of a post-heroic age, he said, and in his view it is not a always a problem if they lower the threshold for war. “It is a bad thing if we didn’t have a just cause in the first place,” Mr. Baker said. “But if we did have a just cause, we should celebrate anything that allows us to pursue that just cause.”

    To Mr. Singer of Brookings, the debate over drones is like debating the merits of computers in 1979: They are they here to stay, and the boom has barely begun. “We are at the Wright Brothers Flier stage of this,” he said.

    -- Mimicking Insect Flight

    A tiny helicopter is buzzing menacingly as it prepares to lift off in the Wright-Patterson aviary, a warehouse-like room lined with 60 motion-capture cameras to track the little drone’s every move. The helicopter, a footlong hobbyists’ model, has been programmed by a computer to fly itself. Soon it is up in the air making purposeful figure eights.

    “What it’s doing out here is nothing special,” said Dr. Parker, the aerospace engineer. The researchers are using the helicopter to test technology that would make it possible for a computer to fly, say, a drone that looks like a dragonfly. “To have a computer do it 100 per cent of the time, and to do it with winds, and to do it when it doesn’t really know where the vehicle is, those are the kinds of technologies that we’re trying to develop,” Dr. Parker said.

    The push right now is developing “flapping wing” technology, or recreating the physics of natural flight, but with a focus on insects rather than birds. Birds have complex muscles that move their wings, making it difficult to copy their aerodynamics. Designing a an insect is hard, too, but their wing motions are simpler. “It’s a lot easier problem,” Dr. Parker said.”

    In February, researchers unveiled a hummingbird drone, built by the firm AeroVironment for the secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which can fly at 11 miles per hour and perch on a windowsill. But it is still a prototype. One of the smallest drones in use on the battlefield is the three-foot-long Raven, which troops in Afghanistan toss by hand like a model airplane to peer over the next hill.

    There are some 4,800 Ravens in operation in the Army, although plenty get lost. One American service member in Germany recalled how five soldiers and officers spent six hours tramping through a dark Bavarian forest — and then sent a helicopter — on a fruitless search for a Raven that failed to return home from a training exercise. The next month a Raven went AWOL again, this time because of a programming error that sent it south. “The initial call I got was that the Raven was going to Africa,” said the service member, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss drone glitches.

    In the midsize range: The Predator, the larger Reaper and the smaller Shadow, all flown by remote pilots using joysticks and computer screens, many from military bases in the United States. A Navy entry is the X-47B, a prototype designed to take off and land from aircraft carriers automatically and, when commanded, drop bombs. The X-47B had a maiden 29-minute flight over land in February. A larger drone is the Global Hawk, which is used for keeping an eye on North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities. In March, the Pentagon sent a Global Hawk over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan to assess the damage.

    -- A Tsunami of Data

    The future world of drones is here inside the Air Force headquarters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., where hundreds of flat-screen TVs hang from industrial metal skeletons in a cavernous room, a scene vaguely reminiscent of a rave club. In fact this is one of the most sensitive installations for processing, exploiting and disseminating a tsunami of information from a global network of flying sensors.

    The numbers are overwhelming: Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the hours the Air Force devotes to flying missions for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have gone up 3,100 percent, most of that from increased operations of drones. Every day, the Air Force must process almost 1,500 hours of full-motion video and another 1,500 still images, much of it from Predators and Reapers on around-the-clock combat air patrols.

    The pressures on humans will only increase as the military moves from the limited “soda straw” views of today’s sensors to new “Gorgon Stare” technology that can capture live video of an entire city — but requires 2,000 analysts to process the data feeds from a single drone, compared with 19 analysts per drone today.

    At Wright-Patterson, Maj. Michael L. Anderson, a doctoral student at the base’s advanced navigation technology center, is focused on another part of the future: building wings for a drone that might replicate the flight of the hawk moth, known for its hovering skills. "It’s impressive what they can do,” Major Anderson said, “compared to what our clumsy aircraft can do.”'

    https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/20/world/20drones.html?_r=2&pagewanted=2
  • That’s No Phone. That’s My Tracker.

    posted by Keito
    2012-07-27 20:47:35
    Via Slashdot: "An article in the NY Times argues that the devices we call 'cell phones' should instead be called 'trackers.' It would help remind the average user that whole industries have sprung up around the mining and selling of their personal data — not to mention the huge amount of data requested by governments. Law professor Eben Moglen goes a step further, saying our cell phones are effectively robots that use us for mobility. 'They see everything, they're aware of our position, our relationship to other human beings and other robots, they mediate an information stream around us.' It's interesting to see such a mainstream publication focus on privacy like this; the authors say that since an objects name influences how people think about the object, renaming 'cell phones' could be an simple way to raise privacy awareness."

    Richard Stallman has been saying this for years... "I refuse to have a cell phone because they are tracking and surveillance devices. They all enable the phone system to record where the user goes, and many (perhaps all) can be remotely converted into listening devices."

    https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/sunday-review/thats-not-my-phone-its-my-tracker.html?_r=1
  • Microsoft Makes Skype Easier To Monitor

    posted by Keito
    2012-07-27 19:51:49
    "New surveillance laws being proposed in countries from the United States to Australia would force makers of online chat software to build in backdoors for wiretapping. For years, the popular video chat service Skype has resisted taking part in online surveillance—but that may have changed. And if it has, Skype’s not telling.

    Historically, Skype has been a major barrier to law enforcement agencies. Using strong encryption and complex peer-to-peer network connections, Skype was considered by most to be virtually impossible to intercept. Police forces in Germany complained in 2007 that they couldn’t spy on Skype calls and even hired a company to develop covert Trojans to record suspects’ chats. At around the same time, Skype happily went on record saying that it could not conduct wiretaps because of its “peer-to-peer architecture and encryption techniques.”

    Recently, however, hackers alleged that Skype made a change to its architecture this spring that could possibly make it easier to enable “lawful interception” of calls. Skype rejected the charge in a comment issued to the website Extremetech, saying the restructure was an upgrade and had nothing to do with surveillance. But when I repeatedly questioned the company on Wednesday whether it could currently facilitate wiretap requests, a clear answer was not forthcoming. Citing “company policy,” Skype PR man Chaim Haas wouldn’t confirm or deny, telling me only that the chat service “co-operates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally and technically possible.”
    "

    As reported on Slashdot: "Skype has gone under a number of updates and upgrades since it was bought by Microsoft last year, mostly in a bid to improve reliability. But according to a report by the Washington Post, Skype has also changed its system to make chat transcripts, as well as users' addresses and credit card numbers, more easily shared with authorities."

    ***

    'Hacker groups and privacy experts have been speculating for months that Skype had changed its architecture to make it easier for governments to monitor, and many blamed Microsoft, which has an elaborate operation for complying with legal government requests in countries around the world.

    “The issue is, to what extent are our communications being purpose-built to make surveillance easy?” said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a digital privacy group. “When you make it easy to do, law enforcement is going to want to use it more and more. If you build it, they will come.’’'

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/skype-makes-chats-and-user-data-more-available-to-police/2012/07/25/gJQAobI39W_story.html?hpid=z1

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/07/20/skype_won_t_comment_on_whether_it_can_now_eavesdrop_on_conversations_.html
  • An Open Letter to Defcon Hackers: Don’t Sell Out to the NSA (2011)

    posted by Keito
    2012-07-26 21:32:59
    Dear Hackers,

    Word on the internet is that the National Security Agency (NSA)—of which I’m sure you’re well aware—has very publicly stated it’s setting up shop at Defcon alongside corporations to recruit hackers to the dark side.

    As reported by Reuters, Richard “Dickie” George, technical director of the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate (cyber defense wing)–we’ll henceforth call him Simply Dick—is looking to recruit you to work on the “hardest problems on Earth.” They’re appealing to your ego, your vanity. Simply Dick is looking for hackers only in it for the game; those willing to become pro-state, or at least ideologically neutral.

    In short, they are looking for those willing to sell out. The deal? No threat of prison and a steady paycheck doing the power’s bidding.

    Let’s briefly consider some of the hard problems you’ll be working on. You’ll be part of an immense bureaucratic apparatus that operates in the United States, spying on its own citizens through warrantless wiretaps, except you won’t be wiretapping phones, you’ll be tapping American citizens’ emails, search results and other communications. And there are domestic projects that the NSA keep secret and thus beyond our current awareness.

    Maybe some of you already hack average American citizens and you’ll have no problem doing such work for a government spy agency or a corporation. Then the NSA or Bank of America is probably where you belong. Good luck.

    You’ll be disrupting state and individual sovereignty daily in foreign countries, all to ensure political, economic and military hegemony; though you will be told that it’s simply to combat terrorism. Maybe you’ll have some fun going after Chinese hackers, but couldn’t you just as easily do this from the comfort of your own home without a suit telling you what to do?

    But none of this concerns me as much as the idea that people with the talent to hold government to account would so willingly join its ranks.

    In the future, hackers will be integral to dissent—in a sense, you already are in light of WikiLeaks, Anonymous and LulzSec.

    Those of us without hacking expertise do expect that some of you will work for the state, whether it’s because you’re ideologically neutral or you’re a patriot and want to smoke the evildoers out of their caves. But, we also hope far more of you won’t sell out—that you will maintain the counter-culture and grow it.

    Indeed, we hope that most of you stay out of the NSA’s monolithic spy palace to keep the assholes in our government honest.

    Simply Dick knows that you have the capabilities to check power or even threaten its very existence. Simply Dick is counting on the NSA’s power of persuasion.

    Don’t let him whisper sweet nothings in your ears.

    Best,

    D. J. Pangburn
  • US drone industry:

    posted by Keito
    2012-07-26 22:46:36
    A staple of America's wars abroad, unmanned drones might soon be used to spy on the country's own citizens. By 2015, the computer-controlled jets will have access to airspace usually reserved for piloted planes. A director from a US drone training company supporting their increased use says that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

    Trevor Timm, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that argument no longer holds water.