Defense Supplier Accused of Price Gouging is Hit with Shareholder Lawsuit

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Parts Supplier Law Suit

Case: 1:17-cv-01677 Doc #: 1 Filed: 08/10/17 1 of 27. PageID #: 1 https://www.saxenawhite.com/pdfs/00116102.PDF

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT”

“Lawsuits can be just as effective as IG investigations. Collective efforts such as investor class-actions can be a powerful deterrent to contractor misconduct.

Last week, an Ohio firefighters’ pension fund filed a securities class-action lawsuitagainst TransDigm Group, an aircraft parts supplier in the news recently for allegedly ripping off one of its largest customers, the Department of Defense (DoD).

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of investors who bought TransDigm stock between May 2016 and January 2017, accuses the company and its top executives of engaging in a “fraudulent and illegal scheme…to artificially inflate TransDigm’s growth and profitability by price gouging the U.S. Government.” The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages for the decline in the value of their shares caused by TransDigm’s alleged failure to disclose adverse facts about its operations and prospects.

TransDigm produces and distributes components used on nearly every military and commercial aircraft in service today. The company operates as a virtual monopoly in the industry. It has acquired dozens of US and European aerospace manufacturers and is the exclusive owner and sole supplier of much of its diverse product line.

TransDigm’s stock value declined nearly 10 percent in January this year after financial analysts exposed the company’s history of drastically raising the price of parts after buying up the part manufacturer. Investors took another hit in March when House Armed Services Committee member Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) asked the DoD Inspector General (IG) to investigate TransDigm for possible anti-competitive and fraudulent conduct. In addition to his concerns about the pricing practices, Khanna also had concerns that TransDigm is actively deceiving the DoD by using an elaborate web of subsidiaries and exclusive distributors to falsely create the appearance of a competitive bidding process. Khanna noted that 12 subsidiaries failed to disclose TransDigm as their corporate parent in the federal contractor registration database, an omission that carries potential criminal, civil, and/or administrative penalties. According to Khanna, those omissions were later corrected.

Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have also joined the call for an IG probe.

It is certainly long overdue. TransDigm briefly landed on the DoD IG’s radar in 2006 when the IG found the military overpaid by about $5.3 million for 77 TransDigm parts. Rather than blame TransDigm, however, the IG report focused on the government, faulting DoD for policies and practices that prevent it from effectively negotiating prices.

Since then, TransDigm has kept clear of the Pentagon watchdog’s scrutiny. This could soon change with the company’s sudden notoriety, the growing call in Congress for an investigation, and a new president who shows little patience for wasteful defense spending.

In the meantime, we will closely follow the shareholder lawsuit. ”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/08/defense-supplier-accused-of-price-gouging.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNITED STATES WARFARE REALITIES TODAY

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ROSE COVERED GLASSES

Who sells Arms PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

In the last 14 years the US has reacted to the 911 tragedy by creating a behemoth machine that:

Knows Only Killing

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This outrageous explosion of watch listing—of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers… assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield—it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source of the documents told the Intercept. “We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”

She Kills People From 7,850 Miles Away

Has Little Understanding of Foreign Cultural Factors in Nation Building

oocities.org

Our government has not considered the risks, the indigenous cultural impact, the expense and the sacrifices required to sustain the nation building that must occur after we invade countries in pursuit of perceived enemies and…

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Two Government Contractors Lose ACLU Lawsuit for Developing CIA Harsh Interrogation Techniques

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CIA Interrogations Lawsuit

James Mitchell, left, and John Jessen, Defendants in landmark lawsuit.  They were paid $81 million for their work.  (Trial Evidence/ACLU via AP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“[It] marked the first time the agency or its private contractors have been held accountable for the program, legal experts said Thursday.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but it avoided a civil trial set for Sept. 5 in federal court in Spokane.

The deal in the lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union also makes it unlikely the CIA will again pursue the tactics, which included beatings and waterboarding, slamming the three men into walls, stuffing them inside coffin-like boxes, exposing them to extreme temperatures, starving them and keeping them awake for days, the ACLU said.

James T. Smith, lead defense attorney, said the psychologists were public servants whose interrogation methods were authorized by the government.

“The facts would have borne out that while the plaintiffs suffered mistreatment by some of their captors, none of that mistreatment was conducted, condoned or caused by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen,” Smith said.

Jessen said in a statement that he and Mitchell “served our country at a time when freedom and safety hung in the balance.”

Mitchell also defended their work, saying, “I am confident that our efforts were necessary, legal and helped save countless lives.”

But the group Physicians for Human Rights said the case shows that health professionals who participate in torture will be held accountable.

“These two psychologists had a fundamental ethical obligation to do no harm, which they perverted to inflict severe pain and suffering on human beings in captivity,” said Donna McKay, executive director of the group.

The group’s anti-torture expert, Sarah Dougherty, said she hopes the case opens the door for additional lawsuits and more.

“What needs to happen next is criminal accountability,” Dougherty said.

The lawsuit sought unspecified monetary damages from the psychologists on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman.

This undated still photo provided by the American Civil Liberties Union shows Mohamed Ben Soud, a plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit that the ACLU filed against the creators of the CIA's harsh interrogation program used in the war on terror. A settlement was reached Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (ACLU via AP)
Plaintiff Mohamed Ben Soud (ACLU via AP)

Rahman, an Afghan, was taken from his home in Pakistan in 2002 to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. He died of hypothermia several weeks later after being shackled to a floor in near-freezing conditions.

According to the lawsuit, Salim and Ben Soud both were subjected to waterboarding, daily beatings and sleep deprivation in secret CIA sites. Salim, a Tanzanian, and Ben Soud, a Libyan, were later released after officials determined they posed no threat.

A U.S. Senate investigation in 2014 found that Mitchell and Jessen’s techniques produced no useful intelligence. President Barack Obama terminated the contract in 2009.

This undated still photo provided by the American Civil Liberties Union shows Suleiman Abdullah, a plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit that the ACLU filed against the creators of the CIA's harsh interrogation program used in the war on terror. (ACLU via AP)
Plaintiff Suleiman Abdullah  (ACLU via AP)

Mitchell and Jessen previously worked at the Air Force survival school at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, where they trained pilots to avoid capture and resist interrogation and torture. The CIA hired them to reverse-engineer their methods to break terrorism suspects.

The ACLU said it was the first civil lawsuit involving the CIA’s torture program that was not dismissed at the initial stages. The Justice Department got involved to keep classified information secret but did not try to block it.

Though there was no trial, the psychologists and several CIA officials underwent lengthy questioning in video depositions. Some documents that had been secret were declassified.

The ACLU issued a joint statement from the surviving plaintiffs, who said they achieved their goals.

“We were able to tell the world about horrific torture, the CIA had to release secret records, and the psychologists and high-level CIA officials were forced to answer our lawyer’s questions,” the statement said.

The lawsuit was brought under a law allowing foreign citizens to have access to U.S. courts to seek justice for violations of their rights.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2017/08/18/legal-deal-over-harsh-cia-interrogations-marks-a-milestone/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Logistics Support is on the Rise – Air Force Awards Nearly $1B to Upgrade Landing Gear on Older Aircraft

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910th Airlift Wing maintainers install a new C-130 main landing gear tire in 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jim Brock).

“DOD BUZZ”

“The Air Force plans to drop some serious cash to upgrade the landing gear on some of its oldest aircraft.

The service has awarded a contract to AAR to overhaul the landing gear on its C-130 HerculesKC-135 Stratotanker; and E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, fleets, according to an announcement.

AAR, an Illinois-based aviation services company, recently landed a $909.4 million fixed-price contract from the service for landing gear performance-based logistics, the company said in a release.

AAR will provide “total supply chain management,” including “purchasing, remanufacturing, distribution and inventory control to support all Air Force depot and field-level, foreign military sales, other services, and contractor requisitions received for all C-130, KC-135 and E-3 landing gear parts,” the release states.

“We are excited to get started on this important contract for the Air Force,” said Nicholas Gross, senior vice president of AAR’s government supply chain solutions, in a statement. “Serving as the prime contractor, AAR will support these three fleets utilizing our Landing Gear Repair and Overhaul center in Miami [Florida], as well as our supply chain network across the country.”

AAR also has offices and warehouses in Wood Dale, Illinois, and Ogden, Utah.

The work comes at a time when landing gear malfunctions have become more common, especially in older aircraft such as the Hercules.

A maintenance team with the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, based in Southwest Asia, recently worked to fix a C-130’s landing gear after a tire blew out on landing at a forward operating base — days before this reporter took a flight in a sister C-130 over Iraq.

The team’s combat metals airmen ended up creating and installing the damaged Hercules’ landing gear door to salvage the wheels’ cover.

The repair cost the Air Force “229 man-hours, $400 in material, and 264 rivets for an engineer-approved air battle damage repair procedure,” the service said.

In total, it saved $107,000 in replacement cost for the Air Force, according to a release.”

https://www.dodbuzz.com/2017/08/16/air-force-awards-nearly-1b-update-landing-gear-older-aircraft/

 

 

 

“Forever GI Bill” Is Now Law – Things You Should Know

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“MILITARY TIMES”

“A new law that will bring significant changes to education benefits for service members, veterans and their families.

The legislation known as the “Forever GI Bill” garnered strong bipartisan support in Congress, passing unanimously in both the House and Senate.  Here are things you should know about the new GI Bill benefits.

1. There’s no longer an expiration date.

Previously, veterans had to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill within 15 years of their last 90-day period of active-duty service. That requirement is going away.

This portion of the law will apply to anyone who left the military after January 1, 2013. It will also apply to spouses who are receiving education benefits through the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship for family members of service members who have been killed in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001.

2. Purple Heart recipients will get more benefits.

The new GI Bill allows anyone who has received a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001 to receive 100 percent of the benefits offered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes coverage of tuition costs at a public school’s in-state rate for 36 months and stipends for textbooks and housing.

Previously, Purple Heart recipients were beholden to the same time-in-service qualifications for the GI Bill as other service members. This meant that Purple Heart recipients without a service-connected disability who did not reach 36 months of service were only eligible for a percentage of the benefits and not the full amount.

Aleks Morosky, national legislative director for Military Order of the Purple Heart, said there have been 52,598 Purple Heart recipients who were wounded in action during post-9/11 conflicts, though it’s unclear how many would immediately benefit from this provision. An estimated 660 Purple Heart recipients each year over the next 10 years will be able to take advantage of the increased benefits.

“We think that anybody who has shed blood for this country has met the service requirement by virtue of that fact,” Morosky said. “Everybody sacrifices, everybody puts themselves in harm’s way, but Purple Heart recipients are certainly among the service members who have sacrificed the most.”

This provision will go into effect in August 2018.

3. More people are eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary agreement between schools and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to split school costs not covered by the GI Bill, reducing or eliminating the amount students must pay themselves.

The Forever GI Bill will expand eligibility for this program to surviving spouses or children of service members in August 2018 and active-duty service members in August 2022.

Previously, only veterans eligible for GI Bill benefits at the 100 percent level or their dependents using transferred benefits were eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

4. There’s some extra money — and time — for STEM degrees.

Some college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields take longer than four years to complete, which is why the new law authorizes an additional school year of GI Bill funds on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Scholarships of up to $30,000 will be available for eligible GI Bill users starting in August 2018. Only veterans or surviving family members of deceased service members are eligible for this scholarship — not dependents using transferred benefits.

5. Vets hurt by school shutdowns will get benefits back.

A provision in the new GI Bill that will restore benefits to victims of school closures has been a long-time coming for the staff at Student Veterans of America.

“We’ve been getting calls for several years now, beginning with the collapse of Corinthian (Colleges), from student veterans whose lives were put on hold,” said Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for the nonprofit, which has more than 500,000 student members. “Every day we wasted until it passed was another day that they had to wait.”

This provision will retroactively apply to GI Bill users whose schools have abruptly closed since January 2015, for credits earned at the shuttered institutions that did not transfer to new schools. This will include the thousands of veteran students who were attending the national for-profit chains Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute when they closed in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It would also provide a semester’s worth of reimbursement for GI Bill users affected by future school closures, as well as up to four months of a housing stipend.

6. The VA will measure eligibility for benefits differently.

Starting August 2018, this bill changes the way the VA uses time in service to calculate eligibility.

Previously, service members with at least 90 days but less than six months of active-duty service would be eligible for up to 40 percent of the full GI Bill benefits. Under new regulations, the same 90-days-to-six-month window is equal to 50 percent of benefits. Service members with at least six months and less than 18 months of service will be eligible for 60 percent of benefits.

This change will tend to benefit reservists more due to the nature of their service, according to a spokeswoman for the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

7. Reservists can count more of their service toward eligibility.

Starting next August, members of the National Guard and Reserve will be able to count time spent receiving medical care or recovering from injuries received while on active duty toward their GI Bill eligibility. This will apply to all who have been activated since 9/11.

The Forever GI Bill also allows individuals who lost their Reserve Educational Assistance Program when the program ended in 2015 to credit their previous service toward their eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

8. Housing stipends will decrease slightly.

The government will pay for the expansions represented in the Forever GI Bill through a 1 percent decrease in housing stipends over the next five years. This will bring veterans’ housing stipends on par with what active-duty service members receive at the E-5 with dependents rate. (Veterans on the GI Bill currently receive a slightly higher housing allowance rate than active-duty E-5s with dependents.) This change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018 and will only apply to service members who enroll in GI Bill benefits after that date. No one currently receiving a housing stipend from the VA will see a reduction in benefits.

“On a month-to-month basis, they would never see less money,” said SVA’s Hubbard, explaining that the 1 percent reduction will come off of the total the VA would have spent over five years.

Starting in August 2018, housing stipends previously calculated based on the ZIP code of a student’s school will be based on where a student takes the most classes.

Also in August 2018, reservists will continue to receive their monthly housing allowance under the GI Bill on a prorated rate for any month during which they are activated, preventing them from losing a whole month’s worth of funds.

9. Benefits can get transferred after death.

A provision of the new GI Bill offers more flexibility with the transfer and distribution of benefits in case of death.

If a dependent who received transferred benefits dies before using all of the benefits, this provision gives the service member or veteran the ability to transfer remaining benefits to another dependent. This will go into effect August 2018 and apply to all deaths since 2009.

This provision also gives dependents of deceased service members the ability to make changes to their deceased loved one’s transferred benefits.

Ashlynne Haycock, senior coordinator of education support services for the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, explains that currently, only a service member has the authority to make changes to the benefits they’d like to transfer. So, if a service member dies after transferring 35 months of benefits to one child and one month of benefits to another, for example, the family would not be able to make future changes to the GI Bill’s distribution among that service member’s dependents.

10. Surviving family members will get more money, but less time.

Besides access to Yellow Ribbon, spouses and children of service members who died in the line of duty on or after 9/11 will also see their monthly education stipend from the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program increase by $200.

There’s a downside, however. Though the same program has previously provided 45 months of education benefits, that will decrease to 36 months in August 2018 to bring it in line with the provisions of the GI Bill.

11. School certifying officials must be trained.

Individuals who certify veteran student enrollment at schools with more than 20 veteran students will be required to undergo training. Previously, training was not mandatory.”

 

https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/education/2017/08/16/trump-signed-the-forever-gi-bill-here-are-11-things-you-should-know/

 

 

 

 

 

How to Destroy Afghanistan: Establish a Private Contractor Army

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Desertpeace.wordpress.com

Image: Desertpeace.wordpress.com

“THE NATIONAL INTEREST” By Molly Dunigan

” The Department of Defense already has a relatively large number of operational contractors working in Afghanistan (23,525 in total as of July 2017).

In recent weeks, two major players in the private security industry proposed that Trump administration officials privatize U.S. military operations in Afghanistan to an unprecedented degree.

Erik Prince, former owner of the now-defunct firm Blackwater Worldwide, proposed a scheme that would entail the appointment of a viceroy to oversee operations in Afghanistan, and the use of “private military units” to fill in gaps left by departing U.S. troops. Meanwhile, Stephen Feinberg—owner of DynCorp International, which holds numerous major U.S. government security contracts at present—similarly proposed that the Trump administration privatize the military force in Afghanistan, though his conceptualization of such a force calls for it to be placed under CIA control.

Luckily, Defense Secretary Mattis reportedly has so far declined both offers. Research overwhelmingly indicates that replacing U.S. military personnel with contractors is not likely to be a militarily effective solution for the Afghanistan problem.

First, research has shown that security contractors tend to decrease military effectiveness when working alongside regular military units in large numbers, primarily due to coordination issues fed by convoluted command-and-control systems and resentment and misperception between the two types of forces. Coordination problems between the military and contractor forces lead contractors to have a negative impact on the military’s integration, responsiveness, and skill when the two groups are co-deployed in the field.

Second, while security contractors operating on their own—free from any alliance with an extensive force of friendly military troops—have been shown in some instances to increase operational effectiveness and achieve tactical and strategic goals, this has primarily occurred when they have been sent into an area without clear state support. In such cases, they can operate covertly and with “plausible deniability” for the state actor supporting them, which may allow for looser interpretations of the norms of international humanitarian law. In other words, contractors can be effective, but it may not always be pretty. Notably, current Department of Defense policy mandates compliance with standards of behavior may preclude such activities—but may also explicitly preclude some of what Prince is proposing.

Perhaps more relevant in this case is the fact that the tactical and strategic effectiveness of contractors who are operating without longer-term military support typically lasts only as long as the contract is in place. In Sierra Leone, in the late 1990s, paramilitary firm Executive Outcomes was successful in securing enough of the country to hold the first free elections in thirty years, but the peacefully-elected president was then ousted in a coup within eighty-nine days of the contract expiration.

Third, in a counterinsurgency effort such as Afghanistan, U.S. military policy focuses on establishing legitimacy with local civilians. The use of armed contractors has been shown to be risky in this regard: a survey of 152 U.S. troops showed in 2007 that 20 percent of them had at times witnessed armed contractors performing unnecessarily threatening, arrogant or belligerent actions in Iraq. Similarly, nearly 50 percent of a sample of 782 surveyed State Department personnel who had experience working alongside armed contractors in Iraq showed in 2008 that armed contractors did not display an understanding of—or sensitivity to—Iraqi people and their culture.

Both recruitment and retention are critical here. At key points during the contracting surge in the early years of the Iraq War, private security company vetting and hiring standards varied and were at times relaxed in order to hire a large number of contractors quickly. A company’s recruitment policy could therefore affect the quality of the force.

Moreover, the labor pool for highly skilled contractors is limited, and both retention of such skilled personnel and their overall effectiveness could be hindered by deployment-related health effects: a 2013 study indicated that 25 percent of a large, multinational sample of contractors screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a rate higher than among civilians (6 percent have PTSD) or even U.S. service members (8–20 percent). Even more troubling, 23 percent of those who were deployed overseas at the time of the 2013 survey had probable PTSD, and most were not being treated for it. In contrast to the numerous mental-health resources available to members of the U.S. military, very few (if any) resources are available to help private contractors struggling with deployment-related mental health problems, and seeking help is highly stigmatized across this population. Research has found that untreated mental-health problems reduce productivity and attentiveness—setting the stage for decreased effectiveness and even the potential for harm in an operational environment if left untreated.

None of these research findings bode well for the long-term stability and security of Afghanistan if contractors are used to replace U.S. troops in the country. While operational contractors are now an entrenched part of the Department of Defense’s “total force” and are here to stay, large-scale privatization of the U.S. force in Afghanistan is unlikely to be effective.”

Molly Dunigan is a senior political scientist and associate director of the Defense and Political Sciences Department at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a lecturer in Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy.

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-destroy-afghanistan-establish-private-contractor-army-21886

 

 

Estonia Lesson Learned: “Every Country Should Have a Cyber War”

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“DEFENSE ONE”

” Estonia’s biggest turning point was 10 years ago, when the country came under sustained cyberattack.

The shock of a cyberwar united the community to take action.  Estonians don’t see cybersecurity as a phenomenon,  it’s about being empowered by technology, not controlled by it.”


“Estonia’s steps have certainly been radical, and other countries can learn lessons from them about how to defend themselves.

In 1991, Estonia was part of the dying communist empire. Its economy was run by central planners in Moscow, less than half of all households had a phone line, and goods were so scarce that people had to line up for food.

Skip ahead 26 years, and Estonians don’t even have to queue to vote. They do that online.

In just over two decades, Estonia has become one of the world’s most digitally innovative and efficient countries. In fact, Estonians conduct all their civic responsibilities online. Offices and paper forms have become obsolete as state-issued digital identities allow all citizens to carry out any financial or government transaction from their laptops or cellphones. And that gives them an edge when it comes to cybersecurity.

Estonia’s journey down the digital road has been astonishingly fast. When it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it had almost no money and few natural resources. But it did have one advantage: It was the designated center for software and computer production for the USSR. After achieving independence, the country had a pool of tech expertise for them to build on.

During these early years of independence, Estonia needed to create the means for a new economy. And it wasn’t going to be easy. The country’s tiny population of just 1.3 million is spread over a relatively vast countryside. Outside the capital Tallinn, there’s an average of just four people per square kilometer. The new government didn’t have the resources to extend government offices or banking facilities to small towns and villages, so it decided to encourage self-service, and spread internet access across the country in order to do so.

To achieve this, the government set up an investment group to build computer networking and infrastructure. By 1997, almost every school was connected to the internet, and by 2004, 300 wifi access points had been established, bringing the internet even to small villages—and mostly for free.

In 2007, Estonia was in the middle of a political fight with Moscow over plans to remove a Soviet war memorial from a park in Tallinn. Suddenly, it was hit with three weeks of D-DoS (designated denial of service) attacks. When this happens, multiple sources send multiple online requests, flooding a service or system and making it unable to function. It’s the digital equivalent of crowding an entrance to a building so that no one can come in or out.

As a result, the internet shut down as websites were bombarded with traffic. Russia denied any involvement, but Estonia didn’t believe it.

“War is the continuation of policy by other means,” Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid told a NATO cyber-conference in Tallinn in June 2017. “Ten years on, it is clear that the decision made by Estonia not to withdraw but stay and fight for the security of our cyberspace was indeed the right one.”

The attacks made Estonia more determined than ever to develop its digital economy and make it safe from future attacks. “I think every country should have a cyber war,” says Taavi Kotka, the government’s former chief information officer. “Citizens get knowledge about what an attack means, about how phishing works, how D-DoS works, and they start to understand and live with that. People aren’t afraid if they know they can survive something. It’s the same thing as electricity going off: Okay, it’s an inconvenience, but you know how to deal with it.”

In Estonia, people are not afraid of cyber warfare, nor are they afraid of sharing personal data across public and private institutions. Go to a hospital, and the nurse or doctor can call up your entire health records from any doctor you ever visited without the need to call their offices and asking them to send files.

Full marks for convenience, simplicity, and efficiency. But what about the dangers of nameless bureaucrats accessing your personal data? Isn’t there a risk of future governments abusing the system and using your intimate details against you? Isn’t this inviting an Orwellian nightmare?

Estonia says no. Unlike an authoritarian state like the old Soviet Union, government transparency is built into the system. While all your private data is online, only you can give permission for any data to be accessed. And you can check who has accessed what. If a doctor you don’t know has viewed your records, it will be traceable, and you can have them sacked. As one software developer Quartz spoke to said, “You become your own Big Brother.”

Data is protected through a framework known as X-road, which helps exchange decentralized data between big government databases. X-road has built-in security measures that encrypt traffic and time-stamps so that the data cannot be manipulated. Taimar Peterkop, from Estonia’s Information System Authority, says that the security measures built into E-identity databases are all but impenetrable by outsiders. “Estonia takes data integrity very seriously because our society is so digitized,” he says. “If someone manipulates citizens’ data, that’s a challenge for us. We use blockchain-based technology to ensure the data is as it should be.”

When it comes to security, Peterkop says humans are usually the weak link. “Cybersecurity starts with us. If you have weak cyber hygiene, that’s a problem. We need to raise awareness and educate people about using strong authentication methods,” he says. For example, Estonia has public-education campaigns about how to use your smart devices wisely.

It seems like glaringly obvious advice, but a look at the recent USelection shows that basic cyber hygiene has been an after-thought, even for the powerful. When Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta’s Gmail account was hacked, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claimed Podesta’s password was simply the word “password.” The campaign denied this claim and said they fell victim to a phishing scam. Whatever the case, it was an avoidable security breach that should never have occurred.

Peterkop also says that consumers need to ask more questions about the Internet of Things, especially when it comes to everyday household products and devices. “There is so much pressure to come up with new products in a hurry, so security measures are an after-thought,” he says. “As consumers, it’s essential that we start paying attention to it. We don’t do enough risk mitigation. Basically every TV is a computer now.” These issues are present already: A recent document dump from Wikileaks points to hacking tools that directly relate to Samsung televisions.

Estonia’s steps have certainly been radical, and other countries can learn lessons from them about how to defend themselves. As well as creating a paperless public service, Estonia is now backing up government data on secure servers offsite in Luxembourg. It has also prioritized tougher international action for cyber-crime and encouraged private companies to review security measures and have stronger agreements with server providers.”

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2017/08/every-country-should-have-cyber-war-what-estonia-learned-russian-hacking/140217/?oref=d-mostread

 

New Mexico VA Albuquerque Office Denies 90 Percent of Gulf War Claims

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“MILITARY TIMES”

“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Albuquerque office denied 592 of 640 Gulf War illness claims in 2015, which is the latest yearly data available, The Albuquerque Journal reported earlier this week.

Currently, a 90-minute training course on Gulf War illness is voluntary. Only about 10 percent of the VA’s 4,000 medical examiners had completed it as of February, according to the report.”


“The report released in June from the Government Accountability Office found approval rates for Gulf War illness claims are one-third as high as for other disabling conditions. The Gulf War illness claims also took an average of four months longer to process.

Gulf War illness was first identified in troops returning home from Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield in the early 1990s. But it has been found to afflict troops who have served in other parts of the Middle East since then as well.

The illness includes a wide variety of symptoms and conditions, from fatigue and skin problems to insomnia and indigestion. It is believed the conditions may be the result of exposure to burn pits, oil well fires or depleted uranium weapons during service.

The report concluded that instituting required training for medical examiners, clarifying claim decision letters sent to veterans and developing a single definition for the illness would increase consistency in approval rates and reduce confusion among staff and veterans.

Sonja Brown, acting associate director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System, did not say how many of the Albuquerque medical examiners have completed the course.

“The Gulf War Examination training is currently on the curriculum for our medical examiners with a due date of 8/10/2017 to complete,” Brown wrote in an email. “While I don’t have a percentage of those completed, I can tell you that the training is being taken.”

The VA plans to make training mandatory, with all medical examiners expected to complete the program by October.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2017/08/13/report-new-mexico-va-office-denies-90-percent-of-gulf-war-claims/

DIU(X) Pentagon Outreach Program To Tech Startups Is Here to Stay

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DIU(X) Web Site:   https://www.diux.mil/portfolio

“BREAKING DEFENSE”

“DIU(X) has spent $100 million on projects from 45 companies. These are not traditional defense contractors but commercial tech companies, mostly small ones, backed by about $1.8 billion in venture capital.

The whole idea is to reach beyond the often stodgy military-industrial complex to the thriving, innovative tech sector, especially to start-ups that lack the time, connections, or specialized manpower to penetrate the defense procurement labyrinth.


How does Trump’s Defense Secretary feel about one of the Obama Pentagon’s more controversial aus, the outreach to tech start-ups known as DIU(X)?

“I don’t embrace it,” Jim Mattis told reporters en route to Silicon Valley yesterday. “I enthusiastically embrace it, and I’m grateful that Secretary Carter (Ash Carter, Obama’s last SecDef) had the foresight to put something in place to anchor the Department of Defense out there.”

“I want to see results. I want to see what they’re doing with their location and the ideas that they’re bringing, they’re harvesting — what are we getting out of it?” Mattis continued when pressed by a skeptical press. “Absolutely, I want to see them in their mission. I’m not coming out here questioning the mission.” (Emphasis ours).

Mattis’s embrace of this Obama-era idea is just the latest sign that there’s a lot more continuity at the Pentagon in some policy areas than President Trump’s Twitter barrages would suggest. Trump blasted the F-35 stealth fighterMattis committed to continued production. Trump called NATO “obsolete” and said South Korea should pay for US missile defenses; Mattis reached out to allies. Trump campaigned on pledges of a Reaganesque defense buildup; his actual budget proposal has been modest. Trump promised new Navy ships and Army units; Mattis has prioritized better training and maintenance for the forces we already have. Trump said he’d made US nuclear forces stronger but they’re actually still shrinking under Obama-era arms control treaties. All modernization to nuclear delivery systems was started under Obama.

In this context, Mattis keeping his predecessor’s Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental) isn’t so surprising. Congressional Republicans have been ambivalent about DIU(X), which has offices in three strongholds of Democrat-leaning techies: Palo AltoAustin and Boston. (Note the persistent attacks by the far right on Google and other tech companies.) House Armed Services chairman Mac Thornberry has worried aloud that DIU(X) duplicates longstanding high-tech efforts such as DARPA.

One of Work’s last acts, on July 14, was to give DIU(X) new legal authorities. One of the most significant is rapid hiring authorities that let DIU(X) bypass cumbersome federal regulations and bring tech expert onboard in as little as a day. (Similar authorities have been proposed in Congress) Another expanded the unit’s ability to set up Cooperative Research & Development Agreements (CRADAs) with private companies. Still other authorities gave DIU(X) new abilities to advertise, run prize competitions, host conferences, all methods of getting geniuses’ attention for its projects.”

http://breakingdefense.com/2017/08/diux-is-here-to-stay-mattis-embraces-obama-tech-outreach/

What has DIU(X) done to deserve more money and power? The unit’s signature achievement so far is new planning software for Air Force flight operations previously run with Microsoft Excel and markers on whiteboards. The new software cost $1.5 million, but by scheduling sorties more efficiently, it will save an estimated $131 million year in fuel and maintenance for tanker aircraft, DIU(X) says. The DIU(X) project also delivered in 120 days what a multi-year, $745 million dollar Air Force program could not.

Other DIU(X) contracts range from robotic sailboats (“saildrones”) to collect data on the ocean – vital for naval planning – to military simulations derived from commercial games.

All told, after a rough start which prompted Carter to reboot the unit, DIU(X) has spent $100 million on projects from 45 companies. These are not traditional defense contractors but commercial tech companies, mostly small ones, backed by about $1.8 billion in venture capital. The whole idea is to reach beyond the often stodgy military-industrial complex to the thriving, innovative tech sector, especially to start-ups that lack the time, connections, or specialized manpower to penetrate the defense procurement labyrinth. [UPDATE: Mattis also visited Google on Friday, but the tech giant has been leery of military contracts.] This strategy lets the military ride a train whose locomotive is massive private investment the Pentagon doesn’t have to pay for.

Now Mattis is publicly embracing this approach. In the words of a press release the Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental) put out to celebrate the secretary’s visit, it looks like “DIU(X) is here to stay.”

http://breakingdefense.com/2017/08/diux-is-here-to-stay-mattis-embraces-obama-tech-outreach/

 

 

 

 

How Large Government Agencies Twist Accountability In Whistle Blowing

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VA Pretzl

THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) removed the former director of the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center [ Brian Hawkins] for allegedly “failing to exercise effective oversight, follow instructions, follow policy, and for lack of candor.”

Hawkins [had] initiated an administrative investigation to look into identified deficiencies within the VA Medical Center’s Logistics Department. Mr. Hawkins then informed the agency’s OIG of his concerns.”


“Yesterday, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) issued a stay in the case of an alleged whistleblower, Brian Hawkins.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the office charged with protecting federal employees from prohibited personnel practices, found “reasonable grounds to believe that the personnel action was taken, or is to be taken, as a result of a prohibited personnel practice” and successfully petitioned the MSPB to intervene in the removal while OSC conducts a full investigation.

In response to the MSPB’s stay, the VA put out a troubling press release titled “MSPB forces VA to take back fired official, VA exploring all options under new accountability authorities.”

These “new accountability authorities” referred to in the press release were included in the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act signed into law in July by the President. POGO supported necessary provisions of the bill, while pointing out language that could be used to retaliate against whistleblowers and innocent employees. POGO has been watching with caution as the law is implemented, and while we applaud the hiring of former VA whistleblower Brandon Coleman to the VA’s new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, we remain concerned that the VA may use language meant to protect whistleblowers to instead retaliate against them.

The VA returned Hawkins to the payroll, but to an administrative position at the VA headquarters in Washington rather than to a patient-care position at the VA Medical Center.

“No judge who has never run a hospital and never cared for our nation’s veterans will force me to put an employee back in a position,” VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin defiantly announced.

Hawkins’ case will provide a litmus test for the new accountability office and how the VA interprets its authority and mission under the new legislation. POGO will continue to follow this case.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/08/veterans-affairs-response-to-alleged-whistleblowers-still-worrying.html