DOD Competes Less Than 1/2 Total Contract Dollars


Pentagon Competition


“The Defense Department continues to spend more than half its contracting dollars without legitimate competition between vendors, according to its Office of Procurement and Acquisition Policy.

The score card for 3rd Quarter shows that of $205 billion awarded only $101 billion was competed.

That compete percentage, about 49.7 percent of total contract spending, falls short of DOD’s stated 57 percent goal for fiscal 2016, and indicates a continuation of almost a decade of declining competition across the military space for everything including IT systems, professional services and weapons systems.

DOD’s first- and second- quarter competition scorecards showed DOD competed 43.3 percent and 46.5 percent of its awarded contracting dollars, respectively, worse than the first- and second-quarter scorecards in 2015.

It seems general policies designed to improve competition in DOD have yet to see results, including a 2014 memo drafted by Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, to increase competition and push military contractors away from sole-source contracts.

The military’s big spenders—especially the Air Force and Navy—weigh down DOD’s overall scores, competing 31 percent and 39 percent of their contracts, respectively. They are the antithesis to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization and Uniformed Services University of the Health Services, which compete more than 98 percent of their contracted dollars.”

Baltimore Police and Contractor Run 30 Mile Wide Aerial Surveillance


Philip Montgomery for Bloomberg Businessweek

Image:  Philip Montgomery for “Bloomberg Businessweek”


“Since January police have been testing an aerial surveillance system adapted from the surge in Iraq.

Funding came from a private donor. No public disclosure of the program had ever been made.

The plane’s wide-angle cameras captured an area of roughly 30 square miles and continuously transmitted real-time images to analysts on the ground. The footage from the plane was instantly archived and stored on massive hard drives, allowing analysts to review it weeks later if necessary.

Since the beginning of the year, the Baltimore Police Department had been using the plane to investigate all sorts of crimes, from property thefts to shootings. The Cessna sometimes flew above the city for as many as 10 hours a day, and the public had no idea it was there.

A company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, based in Dayton, Ohio, provided the service to the police, and the funding came from a private donor. No public disclosure of the program had ever been made.

A half block from the city’s central police station, in a spare office suite above a parking garage, Ross McNutt, the founder of Persistent Surveillance Systems, monitored the city’s reaction to the Goodson verdict by staring at a bank of computer monitors. “It’s pretty quiet out there,” he said. The riots that convulsed the city after Gray was killed wouldn’t be repeated. “A few protesters on the corner, and not much else. The police want us to keep flying, but the clouds are getting in the way.”

McNutt said something about not being able to control the weather, pretending to shrug it off, but he was frustrated. He wanted to please the cops. Since this discreet arrangement began in January, it had felt like a make-or-break opportunity for McNutt. His company had been trying for years to snag a long-term contract with an American metropolitan police department. Baltimore seemed like his best shot to date, one that could lead to more work. He’s told police departments that his system might help them reduce crime by as much as 20 percent in their cities, and he was hoping this Baltimore job would allow him to back up the claim. “I don’t have good statistical data yet, but that’s part of the reason we’re here,” he said. McNutt believes the technology would be most effective if used in a transparent, publicly acknowledged manner; part of the system’s effectiveness, he said, rests in its potential to deter criminal activity.

McNutt is an Air Force Academy graduate, physicist, and MIT-trained astronautical engineer who in 2004 founded the Air Force’s Center for Rapid Product Development. The Pentagon asked him if he could develop something to figure out who was planting the roadside bombs that were killing and maiming American soldiers in Iraq. In 2006 he gave the military Angel Fire, a wide-area, live-feed surveillance system that could cast an unblinking eye on an entire city.

The system was built around an assembly of four to six commercially available industrial imaging cameras, synchronized and positioned at different angles, then attached to the bottom of a plane. As the plane flew, computers stabilized the images from the cameras, stitched them together and transmitted them to the ground at a rate of one per second. This produced a searchable, constantly updating photographic map that was stored on hard drives. His elevator pitch was irresistible: “Imagine Google Earth with TiVo capability.”

The images weren’t perfect. Analysts on the ground could see individual cars moving through the streets, but they couldn’t tell what make or model they might be. Pedestrians were just pixelated dots; you couldn’t distinguish a man from a woman, or an Iraqi civilian from an American soldier. Individual recognition, however, wasn’t the point; any dot could be followed backward or forward in time, which opened up all sorts of investigative possibilities.

If a roadside bomb exploded while the camera was in the air, analysts could zoom in to the exact location of the explosion and rewind to the moment of detonation. Keeping their eyes on that spot, they could further rewind the footage to see a vehicle, for example, that had stopped at that location to plant the bomb. Then they could backtrack to see where the vehicle had come from, marking all of the addresses it had visited. They also could fast-forward to see where the driver went after planting the bomb—perhaps a residence, or a rebel hideout, or a stash house of explosives. More than merely identifying an enemy, the technology could identify an enemy network.

McNutt demonstrated the prototype to a group of Marines at a California base in 2006. “They called up their general,” McNutt recalls, “and when he saw it, he said, ‘I need this, and I need it right now—in Fallujah.’ ”

Eventually another military unit took control of the project and completed the development of Angel Fire at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In 2007 the technology was deployed to Iraq. Angel Fire was eventually upgraded with all-weather and nighttime capabilities and then used as the basis for another system, called Blue Devil, which coupled wide-area cameras with narrow-focus zoom lenses in the same package.

McNutt retired from the military in 2007 and modified the technology for commercial development, increasing the number of cameras in the assembly to 12 and making the apparatus lighter and cheaper. He began attending security trade shows to fish for clients. His first real customer approached him at a security expo in Miami. His name was José Reyes Ferriz, and he was the mayor of Ciudad Juárez, in northern Mexico. In 2009 a war between the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels had turned his border town into the most deadly city on earth.

Reyes Ferriz offered enough money for a couple months’ worth of surveillance, and McNutt, who’s married with four children, left Ohio to temporarily set up shop at the border. Within the first hour of operations, his cameras witnessed two murders. “A 9-millimeter casing was all the evidence they’d had,” McNutt says. By tracking the assailants’ vehicles, McNutt’s small team of analysts helped police identify the headquarters of a cartel kill squad and pinpoint a separate cartel building where the murderers got paid for the hit.

The technology led to dozens of arrests and confessions, McNutt says, but within a few months the city ran out of money to continue paying for the service. Reyes Ferriz left office to mount an unsuccessful campaign for state governor.

For the next couple of years, Persistent Surveillance survived by providing services such as traffic-flow analysis for municipal planners, wildlife monitoring and border surveillance for federal agencies, and security monitoring for single events ranging from the Brickyard 400 Nascar race to Ohio State University football games. The company also did short-term projects in six countries, including in Central America and Africa, but the nature of that work is confidential, protected by nondisclosure agreements. The combination of those projects earned Persistent Surveillance about $3 million to $4 million a year in revenue, according to McNutt.

A single, long-term contract with an American police department would be worth about $2 million a year, he says. By 2012, McNutt was approaching the police departments of the 20 most crime-ridden jurisdictions in the country, marketing his services. He floated several of them an offer: Let us fly over your city to show you what we can do, and then you can decide if you want to hire us.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department quietly took him up on the offer, allowing him to conduct a nine-day trial run over Compton, a largely minority city south of L.A., in 2012. According to Patrick Bearse, operations lieutenant for the Aero Bureau of the sheriff’s department, the county recognized the potential of Persistent Surveillance’s service, but it didn’t sign a contract with the company because the technology, particularly the quality of the images, didn’t meet the department’s expectations. The city’s residents didn’t find out about the flights until a year later. Angry protesters demanded a new “citizen privacy protection policy” from local leaders, but even those leaders—from the mayor on down—hadn’t been told about the test program. “There is nothing worse than believing you are being observed by a third party unnecessarily,” Compton Mayor Aja Brown told the Los Angeles Times.
The next city to try McNutt’s technology was his home base of Dayton. After the L.A. County trial, he improved the system by more than doubling the resolution, to 192 megapixels, increased the archive’s storage capacity, and sped up the image processing to allow analysts to conduct multiple investigations simultaneously. The Dayton police department and the city council were sold on it, and they aired the idea for a contract at a series of public hearings. Joel Pruce, who teaches human rights studies at the University of Dayton, helped organize the opposition. To the objecting residents, it seemed as if it hadn’t occurred to city leaders that the surveillance program might be interpreted as a violation of some vital, unspoken trust. “At the hearings, nobody spoke in favor of it except for the people working for the city,” Pruce recalls. “The black community, in particular, said, ‘We’ve seen this type of thing before. This will target us, and you didn’t even come to us beforehand to see how we’d feel about it.’ ” Dayton’s city leaders dropped their attempts to hire the company after those hearings.

Last year the public radio program Radiolab featured Persistent Surveillance in a segment about the tricky balance between security and privacy. Shortly after that, McNutt got an e-mail on behalf of Texas-based philanthropists Laura and John Arnold. John is a former Enron trader whose hedge fund, Centaurus Advisors, made billions before he retired in 2012. Since then, the Arnolds have funded a variety of hot-button causes, including advocating for public pension rollbacks and charter schools. The Arnolds told McNutt that if he could find a city that would allow the company to fly for several months, they would donate the money to keep the plane in the air. McNutt had met the lieutenant in charge of Baltimore’s ground-based camera system on the trade-show circuit, and they’d become friendly. “We settled in on Baltimore because it was ready, it was willing, and it was just post-Freddie Gray,” McNutt says. The Arnolds donated the money to the Baltimore Community Foundation, a nonprofit that administers donations to a wide range of local civic causes.

In January, McNutt opened the office above the parking garage. The only sign greeting visitors is a piece of copy paper taped to the door that reads “Community Support Program.”

Almost everything about the surveillance program feels hush-hush; the city hasn’t yet acknowledged its existence, and the police department declined requests for interviews about the program. On Aug. 10 the U.S. Department of Justice released a 163-page report that detailed systemic abuses within the Baltimore Police Department, including unlawful stops and the use of excessive force, that disproportionately targeted poor and minority communities and led to “unnecessary, adversarial interactions with community members.” Within a week, civil rights groups filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission claiming that the department’s warrantless use of cell phone tower simulators known by the trade name StingRay—an activity the police acknowledged last year in court—violated federal law and targeted minorities. “The problem of radicalized surveillance is particularly pronounced in Baltimore,” the complaint stated. The city was already on the defensive, even as the aerial surveillance program was shielded from the public eye.

Around 11 o’clock each morning, a printout is delivered to the Persistent Surveillance office listing all the crimes logged the previous day by Baltimore’s computer-aided dispatch—or CAD—system. The company has hired a former Baltimore cop to act as a liaison between the company and the police force, and he scans the list for cases Persistent Surveillance’s analysts might help solve, highlighting them with an orange marker.

On a Friday in late June, not long after the Goodson decision, six analysts sat at separate workstations inside the office suite. The analysts ranged from their early 20s to their late 50s. McNutt brought four full-timers with him from Dayton, and he’s hired several more from a local temp agency, paying $10 to $15 per hour for entry-level trainees.

Terrence Rice, a 25-year-old from Baltimore County, was one of the local hires. It was his third day on the job, and he was still getting the hang of the software. For practice, he worked on a weeks-old case involving the illegal dumping of wood. He stared at an aerial image on the twin large-screen monitors on his desk. He struggled to track a pickup as it proceeded north, squinting to differentiate between the target vehicle and others it passed on a busy roadway. He kept his cursor over the truck as it advanced frame-by-frame. “It reminds me of playing a video game,” he said, his eyes rarely leaving the screen, his back bent as he leaned in close. “And that’s what they told me over the phone. They said that if I was into video games, I might like this work.”

The highlights of the previous day’s CAD list included 13 burglaries and 11 hit-and-runs, and all of the analysts were reviewing archived images instead of tracking the live feed. They were prepared to instantly drop their individual investigations and collaborate, however, if the police called with a report of a high-profile crime, like a homicide or violent assault.

One afternoon in February, every analyst in the office had pitched in when the police responded to the shooting of a 90-year-old woman and her 82-year-old brother, who’d been hit while walking in front of a bus stop on Clifton Avenue in the Western District. In a city where gun violence had lost much of its power to shock, the crime struck a local nerve. TV crews descended on the scene, sensing a big story.

McNutt’s analysts called up the aerial images and began tracking vehicles leaving a busy shopping center across the street from the bus stop, where witnesses had placed the shooter. For about two hours, they mapped the routes of several cars leaving the parking lot, until a detective informed McNutt that the shooter probably had left the area on foot. Rewinding to the moment of the shooting, they quickly pinpointed a person who appeared to scramble away from the scene just after the gunshots.

He was little more than a faint, grainy dot with no identifying characteristics. After he crossed the parking lot, he walked past a Subway sandwich shop and proceeded down a hill behind the shopping center. He cut a corner to cross a vacant lot and ducked between two houses on a quiet residential street. Then he approached what seemed to be a stationary object sitting in the backyard of one of the houses. The analysts toggled their screens to pull up Google Earth’s Street View, and the image—taken months earlier—revealed that the object in the backyard was a car, abandoned on the grass. The suspect stopped briefly at the car before walking a few doors down and into a house.

While he was inside, a vehicle pulled up to the front of the house; a person exited the house, got in the car, and traveled about three miles to Bons Secours Hospital. The analysts tracked him into the emergency room entrance.

Because the analysts had lost so much time while tracking the cars leaving the parking lot, all of the movements they were watching were a few hours old. When the police went to the emergency room, the hospital wouldn’t release any patient information. With no identifying information at hand, the trail seemed cold.

It wasn’t. The police later that day determined that the house the suspect may have entered before he went to the hospital belonged to the girlfriend of Carl Anthony Cooper, a man with a long criminal record. Additionally, they discovered that when the suspect walked away from the shopping center, he’d passed in front of a ground-based security camera. Accessing that footage and reviewing Cooper’s mug shots on file, they found a possible match. The police couldn’t immediately figure out why he went to the hospital; some speculated that his gun might have accidentally gone off when he tucked it into his pants and the bullet grazed his leg.

Two days after the shooting, the Baltimore Police Department posted an archived picture of Cooper on its Facebook page, labeling him the city’s “Public Enemy #1.” It also posted the footage captured by the ground-based security camera, which showed him calmly carrying what appeared to be a bag of food in one hand and his cell phone in the other.

The footage baffled Facebook users, who couldn’t figure out how it implicated Cooper. In the comments section, one wrote that if the man on camera really was the shooter, he surely would have dropped his food and run. Another commenter typed: “Not saying this isn’t the suspect but what is being seen that we, the public, isn’t seeing???” Finally someone posted, “Can a detective chime in and let us know what additional information leads you to believe that he is the suspect?”

No one from the department responded. But Cooper was eventually apprehended by federal marshals in North Carolina and sent to Baltimore, where he remains in custody. The police held a press conference to announce Cooper’s capture, saying he’d face charges for the shootings, including attempted murder and assault. Nothing was said about the surveillance plane.

Even six months after the flights began, some Baltimore police officers still didn’t know exactly how the surveillance program worked. But word was spreading.

One morning in June, three plainclothes officers showed up to see McNutt. They were members of a special unit charged with investigating dirt bike crews—groups of primarily young men who recklessly drive illegal off-road motorcycles through the city. In Baltimore the crews are infamous for aggressively disrupting traffic, ignoring stoplights, and occasionally injuring and killing bystanders. Should a car accidentally collide with group members, other riders have been known to assault the driver before speeding away. City policy prevents police from chasing the bikers, because high-speed pursuits are deemed too risky.

The officers wanted to learn more about the surveillance system, and McNutt led them to a conference room to give them a demonstration. Using two large projection screens, he delivered the sales pitch he’d honed for trade shows. He called up old images from a murder in Juárez and walked the detectives through the tracking process that had led him to a cartel safe house. The spiel lasted about 20 minutes. When it was over, the sergeant in charge of the unit sat in silence for a moment, his arms crossed on his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But oh my God—this is just overwhelming right here. This is amazing.”

One of the other officers slapped the tabletop. “Let’s go get some dirt bikes, Sarge!”

The sergeant said he expected the dirt bikes to be out in force that Sunday, and some might be entering the city from out of town on Saturday. When one of the officers asked if the plane might be flying that weekend over the west side of the city, where police suspected several of the bikes would be stored, McNutt said he would make sure of it.

That Saturday morning, the Cessna rolled out of a hangar at the Martin State Airport, about 10 miles east of downtown Baltimore. The plane was scheduled to make two flights of about five hours each, with a break to refuel. The pilot for the first flight was a man who declined to identify himself but said he was a local firefighter who’d flown for the U.S. Army. David Trexler, Persistent Surveillance’s director for operations, rode along in the back of the plane in case there were glitches with the cameras’ data link to the analysts. Trexler met McNutt when both were in the Air Force, and he’d worked on Angel Fire in Iraq.

The plane took off, and as it rose over the buildings of East Baltimore, the cockpit was noisy. The camera array was bolted onto the floor rails where seats normally would be, and it hung out of a broad opening in the fuselage, where the wind rushed through.

The Cessna leveled out at 8,500 feet, an altitudinal sweet spot between the planes approaching for landing at BWI Airport and those flying higher en route to the Washington airports. Occasionally, the Cessna has had to share airspace with an FBI airplane. Last year, two days after the Freddie Gray riots began, the FBI flew over Baltimore for five days—actions that were discovered when local aviation enthusiasts noticed a plane’s strange flight orbits on a public website that tracks radar data. According to information and footage released this summer by the FBI, its plane wasn’t doing the sort of wide-area motion imaging that Persistent Surveillance does but instead was zooming in on specific targets. McNutt says the FBI doesn’t coordinate its flights with him, and he doesn’t know what the agency is investigating; however, when his plane is in the air at the same time as the FBI’s, air traffic controllers insist that McNutt’s plane remain at a lower altitude than the federal craft.

From 8,500 feet, some of the landmarks below were easy to pick out. Pimlico Race Course to the north. The bold diagonal line of Pennsylvania Avenue. Paddleboats dotting the Inner Harbor close to the shore and sailboats scattered farther out. The just-detectable baseball players taking the field at Camden Yards. The Orioles were playing a doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays that afternoon; Trexler commented that the police were concerned Black Lives Matter demonstrators might try to disrupt the games. (Those concerns proved to be unfounded.)

Trexler was able to look at the cameras’ integrated aerial image on the computer on the plane, and he could chat with the analysts on the ground via instant message. About two hours into the flight, while he and the pilot were trading war stories about their respective tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, a message popped up. “Here we go,” Trexler said. The police had called in a shooting on the west side. “They’re probably following a bad guy through the city right now,” he guessed.

The analysts were, in fact, tracking a black SUV that had left the crime scene, and they saw that it had passed in front of three different ground-based police cameras. Those images gave them a clear picture of the suspect’s vehicle. Eventually, however, the vehicle drove beyond the range of the plane’s cameras, out of the city. They lost its trail.

Minutes later, Trexler announced, “Looks like we’ve got a new priority!” An off-duty Baltimore police detective had collided with a dirt bike rider in West Baltimore. When the detective got out of her unmarked car, other riders assaulted her. The crew probably had no idea that the officer was Dawnyell Taylor, the lead homicide detective in the case of Gray.

It was exactly the sort of crime McNutt and the analysts on the ground had been primed to follow. They tracked the motorcycle involved in the accident and followed it for an hour and a half. It passed several ground-based cameras, and the police got good images of the rider and the passenger sitting behind him. Police eventually found the motorcycle, confiscated it, and arrested the man they found sitting on it.

McNutt prides himself on being a student of efficiencies. In the airport residence hotel where he’s been living since January, he keeps a closet of cargo pants and identical black polos—a uniform that saves him the trouble of choosing what to wear each day. His goatee is a recent experiment to see if he can cut grooming time by limiting the surface area he shaves (results are pending; tending to the edge work, he’s discovered, takes time). And last year, when he was strategizing how he might best silence the sort of criticism he’d attracted in Compton and Dayton, McNutt attempted to save time and trouble by directly approaching the ACLU, the organization he figured would be most likely to challenge his system on privacy grounds.

He visited the ACLU’s headquarters in Washington, and in the office of Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst and privacy expert, McNutt explained why his cameras weren’t a threat. The aerial images couldn’t identify specific people, because the target resolution would be limited to one pixel per person. The analysts zoomed in on specific areas only in response to specific crimes reported to the police. To further ensure that his employees weren’t spying on random people or addresses, everything they did was logged and saved—every keystroke and every address they zoomed in to for a closer look. Vehicles would be tracked only over public roads in areas where people have no expectation of privacy.

McNutt cited a couple of U.S. Supreme Court cases to show Persistent Surveillance wasn’t in the business of wanton intrusion. In 1986 a case from California hinged on whether police had the right to fly over a man’s property to see inside a fence in his backyard and then bust him for growing marijuana. The court backed the police, saying that “any member of the public flying in this airspace who glanced down could have seen everything that these officers observed.” Three years later, the court similarly upheld the arrest of a man busted for growing marijuana in a greenhouse after police in a helicopter spotted the plants through the roof, which was missing two panels.

Stanley heard McNutt out and thanked him for taking the initiative to seek the ACLU’s feedback. But McNutt’s presentation shocked him to the core. As he listened to his visitor describe the type of surveillance the company was capable of doing, Stanley felt as if he were witnessing America’s privacy-vs.-security debate move into uncharted territory.

“My reaction was ‘OK, this is it,’ ” Stanley recalls. “I said to myself, ‘This is where the rubber hits the road. The technology has finally arrived, and Big Brother, which everyone has always talked about, is finally here.’ ”

The meeting took place before McNutt’s work with Baltimore was arranged, and Stanley knew other companies were beginning to work in the same general field. For example, the creators of Constant Hawk, a system that had competed for military adoption with McNutt’s Angel Fire, started a company called Logos Technologies, which provides wide-area motion cameras to organizations that can mount them to aircraft and analyze the images. (“We sell the diamond, and someone else has to mount it in the ring,” company spokesman Erik Schechter says.) This year, Logos landed its first nonmilitary contract, partnering with a Brazilian company called Altave to provide aerial monitoring of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, via blimplike aerostats floating above the city. As the sector continues to mature, Stanley predicts that more companies will enter the marketplace, and each will try to one-up the other to please law enforcement agencies, creating more flexible—and more intrusive—camera and tracking systems. The Supreme Court decisions that McNutt cited, he says, might not apply. The previous court rulings didn’t take into consideration the constancy of these systems: It’s true that anyone might be able to see into someone’s fenced-in backyard from a passing plane, but was it reasonable to argue that anyone could follow a person’s movements across a city for hours at a time? To Stanley, these are open questions.

One afternoon in June, McNutt watched his analysts dig through archived images of traffic accidents. “I’m tired of these little hit-and-runs,” he said. “Let’s have some shootings!” If it sounded crass, it wasn’t intentional; he meant the statement as a declaration of confidence in his system’s ability to solve the worst crimes, the ones that most gravely endanger public safety. He’s convinced his system can be used to examine police behavior, too, in an objective, dispassionate, and nondiscriminatory way.

McNutt often says that when he stares into the computer monitors, the dots moving along the sidewalks and streets are mere pixels to him. Nothing more. If anyone else wants to project identifying features onto them—sex, race, whatever—that’s their doing, not his. Even as the technology advances and the camera lenses continue to get more powerful, he says, his company will choose to widen its viewing area beyond the current 30 square miles rather than sharpen the image resolution. He’s exasperated when his system is criticized not for what it does, but for its potential. Yet for critics like Stanley, the two can’t be separated. When told that Persistent Surveillance Systems had been operating over a major city for months, Stanley predicts, “I would expect fierce controversy over this.”

McNutt says he’s sure his system can withstand a public unveiling and that the more people know about what his cameras can—and can’t—do, the fewer worries they’ll have. But the police ultimately decide who and what should be tracked. In a city that’s struggled to convince residents that its police can be trusted, the arguments are now Baltimore’s to make.”






NSA Unlimited Network Access Exposes Americans To Danger

Hackers truthuncensored dot net

Image:  “Truthuncensored.Net”

“THE WEEK”  by Ryan Cooper

[At NSA] “National Security” really refers to the ability of government spooks to root around in as many computer networks as possible.

NSA’s desire for unlimited access to computer networks exposes Americans to hacking.

A group calling themselves the “Shadow Brokers” — possibly Russian hackers — leaked a large suite of NSA hacking tools, causing enormous embarrassment and fury at the agency. It’s a serious breach — but also a stark demonstration of how the NSA’s desire for unlimited access to computer networks exposes American companies and citizens to hacking by spies and criminals.

The leaked materials probably came from the “Equation Group,” the mysterious NSA-linked hacking team that has previously been found behind cutting-edge computer malware. The trove contains various hacks, exploits, and even a few “zero-day” vulnerabilities in widely-used firewall software. The Intercept‘s Sam Biddle found confirmation in the Snowden documents that these are definitely NSA programs. Edward Snowden himself chimed in with informed speculation about how it might have happened as part of the cat-and-mouse game between competing spy agencies.

Cisco Systems, whose firewall was a direct target of some of the leaked tools, told Ars Technica they are scrambling to patch the vulnerability. AsMarcy Wheeler writes, the “NSA has been exploiting vulnerabilities in America’s top firewall companies for years.”

And that brings me to the basic problem with the NSA and national security. Cisco is a U.S. company whose security products are used by millions of U.S. businesses and individuals. The largest manufacturer of networking equipment in the world, it probably built your router or cable modem. So when it comes to security holes in their products, a pretty literal interpretation of “protecting national security” might be to tell the company about them immediately so that they can patch the holes. After all, if the NSA can find them, then chances are decent that some other hacker can too — or find it out from the NSA itself, as was the case in this instance. What’s more, it’s a safe bet that the Shadow Brokers leveraged their knowledge of the exploits before leaking them — or only released a portion of what they have.

An NSA partisan might respond that espionage can also defend American interests, and leaving U.S. citizens open to attack from online criminals is merely the price that has to be paid.

The problem with this line of reasoning is there is little evidence NSA surveillance and hacking is all that useful for ordinary Americans. So far as anyone can tell, their dragnet programs have never stopped a major terrorist attack. The Stuxnet worm — a hugely sophisticated piece of malware probably developed in part by the Equation Group — was a success of sorts in slightly delaying the Iranian nuclear program, but it’s small beer compared to the guarantees contained in the Iranian nuclear deal. Other malware might have disrupted some computers in the Middle East, but as with the drone program, it’s highly unclear whether this is paying off overall.

But more to the point, the whole security apparatus gives no sign whatsoever of having carefully weighed the pros and cons of espionage versus stronger firewalls and encryption. Instead they just loudly insist that there is no tradeoff while demanding security-crippling access to every American system — as when the FBI tried to force Apple to write a program they could use to crack any iPhone, thereby drastically weakening the phone’s encryption.

This isn’t the only way the defenders of “national security” can harm Americans, of course. I’ve written previously about how NSA hacking poses a threat to Silicon Valley tech companies, because the perception that American technology products are a periscope for U.S. government surveillance is a powerful argument in favor of banning those imports.

But when it comes to NSA-engineered malware, the distinction is even clearer. Here “national security” really refers to the ability of government spooks to root around in as many computer networks as possible, whenever they feel like it. Keeping ordinary citizens secure from corporate espionage, data or identity theft, fraud, hacking, and the like doesn’t enter into the equation.”



The Danger of War without Sacrifice


Iraq Casualties - Copy


“The movement to the all-volunteer force (AVF) has enhanced the training and professionalism of the United States’ military.

But it has also insulated policymakers from criticism they would no doubt face for starting and maintaining two wars of choice in the Middle East while going after militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere.

When the United States eliminated the draft in 1973, it did so in response to the deeply unpopular war in Southeast Asia and to criticism that the draft was unfair: young men who could afford to attend college, for example, were able to obtain deferments that allowed them to avoid military service.

It is simply unimaginable that the United States would still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and that a former Senator who voted for the Iraq War would be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee if the United States still drafted young Americans into military service.

The AVF has not been a perfect solution to the United States’ military-manpower problems. When the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stretched the AVF to the breaking point, the United States turned to short-term military contractors because it could not attract enough individuals to volunteer for military service at the going rate of compensation.

Reservists and National Guard units were called up repeatedly, with little advance notice or training, to be recycled through these war zones so that Presidents Bush and Obama did not have to make the tough decision to call up draftees. The brave individuals who have served in the United States’ armed services since 2001 have sacrificed greatly (and so have their families), but they constitute a stoic minority among a vast public that has little or no direct experience of the toll these conflicts have taken on America’s men and women in uniform.

During the Second World War, everyone knew someone who was serving in the military; now, the active forces and veterans are a seldom-acknowledged minority who—in the eyes of many members of the elite—get what they deserve by volunteering for service. This is no “greatest generation” bonded together by common ideals of service and sacrifice.

Although Americans no longer face the possibility of conscription for themselves or their children, they remain remarkably intolerant of casualties resulting from American military operations. Knowing this, policymakers are choosing to use force in ways that minimize risks to those who are part of the AVF. For example, the United States is increasingly opting for military campaigns conducted entirely from the air and made possible by the rise of precision-targeting technologies, beginning with the 1999 NATO campaign over Kosovo and seen more recently with the 2011 operation to oust Muammar el-Qaddafi (at the start of the operation, President Obama explicitly pledged not to send U.S. ground troops).

Similarly, the drone campaign allows the United State to use force without placing American troops at risk and in places where the United States is not formally at war. As the “War on Terror” drags on, the growing reliance on small groups of special operations forces and military “advisers” constitutes another variant of this trend toward low-footprint and tightly limited operations that seek to inflict targeted damage while minimizing exposure for both soldiers in the field and policymakers in Washington.

All of these strategies for the use of limited force from a distance—what we might call “standoff strike warfare”—are politically attractive for policymakers who know that the American public is leery of additional long-term commitments overseas, but these strategies are not fostering and will not generate the long-term political outcomes (stability in Libya, for example) in which the United States is interested.

“Hold on,” you say—“doesn’t the United States spend a huge amount of money on defense every year? How can we say that Americans don’t have to pay anything to use force overseas? Aren’t cruise missiles expensive?” It is true that the American defense establishment costs a lot. In 2015, the United States spent about $600 billion on defense, which was more than the next seven biggest spenders combined. Relative to the size of the American economy, however (nearly $18 trillion in 2015), this is not a large figure—a little more than 3% of annual GDP. In the early Cold War period, the United States routinely spent nearly 10% of GDP on defense annually. By contrast, the United States spent about 16.4% of its GDP on healthcare last year. In other words, the baseline cost of the U.S. defense establishment might seem high in absolute terms but is quite modest compared with historical trends.

Most importantly, the operating costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have generally circumvented normal budgeting procedures: much of the operating expenses for these wars came from special supplementary budget requests. Americans did not have to shoulder these additional costs through tax increases, however; instead, at the height of these wars Congress passed major tax cuts at a cost of at least $1.5 trillion (or $2.8 trillion if we include the extensions passed in 2011). To put this in perspective, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to have cost about $1.26 trillion through 2011. Instead of paying for America’s wars of choice with current revenues, policymakers in Washington turned to deficit spending to finance these two wars while handing out tax cuts and passed the bill for these foolish conflicts on to our children and grandchildren.

Why does this matter? These changes in the manner in which the United States conducts its military operations have paralleled the expansion of executive authority over foreign policy. The Obama administration asserted in 2011 that it did not need Congressional approval for the Libya intervention because of the “limited” nature of the operation. Similarly, we have been told that the most recent bombings of Libya in August 2016 are permitted under the authorization for the use of military force passed by Congress in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. In other words: no oversight is necessary or possible.

It is no accident that the United States has evolved a model for the use of military force that shields Americans from the costs of U.S. action overseas. If the public does not have to pay, why would they bother to protest? This does not imply that there has been a long-running conspiracy to eliminate checks and balances from America’s foreign-policy apparatus. Instead, pressure from an American public unhappy about wars in the Middle East combined with advances in technology and commitment to a liberal interventionist foreign policy pushed successive administrations to develop this standoff strike model of warfare, while the fear of international terrorism allowed Americans to tolerate an overreaching executive branch. When we combine the standoff strike model of warfare with these recent expansions in the scope of executive power, we have a truly frightening foreign-policy machine: a model for the use of force that costs the vast majority of Americans nothing (at least in the short term) and an executive who thinks (s)he is entitled to use force without congressional approval. This is not a recipe for making prudent policy in a democracy, nor does it promise to be an effective long-term strategy for securing the United States’ interests.

Donald Trump may not have sacrificed much, but the vast majority of Americans have not had to make any sacrifices in service of the United States’ wars, either. Ask yourself: what have YOU sacrificed for the war effort? Unless you or someone in your immediate family served in the military in the last fifteen years, the answer is probably “nothing.” The standoff strike model of warfare reflects a desire to shield a war-weary American public from the true costs of the United States’ interventionist foreign policy in exchange for a diminished capacity to coerce target states and a steadily expanding interpretation of the president’s powers. Until and unless something happens to supplant the standoff strike model, the United States is likely to continue to blunder along using cheap force in limited and ineffective ways for the foreseeable future.”




New Army Rapid Capabilities Office

Defense dot Gov

Image: “Defense.Gov”


” An Army rapid capabilities office will aim to quickly field technology and put it in the hands of soldiers.

Katrina McFarland, acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said the office would bring together professionals from around the service including requirements officers, logisticians and engineers.

The office will have a focus on speed, she said. “We’re going to have a discussion about process and how that process can help or not in terms of speed,” she said. “You’ll see when the rapid capability office comes out how that was taken into account.”

Meanwhile, Army leaders emphasized the need for more collaboration between the service, industry and academia.

“At the Army Materiel Command we’re committed to fostering a culture of innovation,” said Gen. Dennis Via, commander of AMC. “This year we initiated the innovation campaign on behalf of the U.S. Army to facilitate evaluation, feedback and … collaboration across the material enterprise because that’s what we need to ensure that our soldiers … continue to be the best equipped fighting force the world has ever known.”

Innovation cannot be achieved all at one, but is an evolving process that will require the military to work alongside industry and academia, he said.

Gen. David Perkins, TRADOC commander, said innovation requires collaboration. “Generally speaking, the number one characteristic of an organization that has a high rate of innovation is that they have a high rate of collaboration,” he said. “The people that innovate the most aren’t necessarily the people that put in the most money and R&D and all.”

While there may be many innovative ideas in the Army, the harder part is executing it, he noted. That requires that priorities be set, he said. “There are not endless resources,” he said. “At the end you have to set priorities. … If you take a look at organizations that have innovation there are priorities.”
Repeating an often-used catchphrase, Murphy said the Army would have to do more with less as budgets are tightened.

“There are some fiscal realities,” he said. “Five and a half years ago the Army’s budget was about $100 billion more a year. We’ve taken about a 39 percent cut. Of the three departments in the Pentagon, we’re the largest … but as far as our innovation budgets, it’s basically about $36 billion less than the closest department.”

AIS3 — a two-day summit that kicked off Aug. 16 and taking place at the College of William & Mary’s School of Education — is the third iteration of a series of innovation meetings the Army has hosted over the past year. AIS3 is focusing on collaboration between the Army, the Defense Department, industry and academia.”

Genetically Modifying Bacteria for Tinier Computers




“A microbe so common it’s found everywhere could one day be wiring the military’s nanotechnology.

The biosynthetic microbe could wire future nanoelectronics after Navy-funded researchers supercharged its conductivity.

The bacteria, called Geobacter, thrive where organic life normally couldn’t in an “unprecedented” way, said Derek Lovley, a microbiology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst working with the U.S. Navy.

Here’s how it works. Rather than expelling electrons through oxygen-based respiration, Geobacter grow hair-like protein filaments that transfer electrons out of the cell onto surrounding iron minerals. Over the past year, Lovley and a team of researchers genetically modified those protein filaments to supercharge their conductivity, as part of an ongoing collaboration with the Office of Naval Research. The researchers tweaked two of the protein’s amino acids, halving their size and increasing their conductivity 2,000-fold, ONR officials announced Tuesday:

Research like Dr. Lovley’s could lead to the development of new electronic materials to meet the increasing demand for smaller, more powerful computing devices,” said Linda Chrisey, a program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department, which sponsors the research. “Being able to produce extremely thin wires with sustainable materials has enormous potential application as components of electronic devices such as sensors, transistors and capacitors.”

The filaments conduct electricity the same way copper does, making them promising alternatives for wiring in the military’s future nanoelectronics. Although this first test comes nowhere near copper’s conductivity, the modified Geobacter pili already are as effective as man-made alternatives like carbon nanotubes, Lovley said. Better yet, they have none of the issues associated with manufacturing large quantities of the carbon nanotubes, which has proved difficult to scale up due to resource constraints and laborious purification processes.

“We usually grow [Geobacter] on acetate, or acetic acid, which is basically what’s in vinegar—those kind of cheap and renewable resources,” he said. “And it’s very stable for a protein … so for example, they’re stable in boiling water. Stable at a very basic or very high pH. For a protein for they’re remarkably robust and stable.”

The bacteria could pair with other synthetic biological innovations the military is pursuing, including transmitting electricity to other bioengineered microbes producing butanol as an alternative fuel for the military’s remote outposts.

Beyond wiring and transistor applications, Lovley said he envisions a future with “the wire itself being a sensor.” If there’s a chemical the military wants to detect without exposing troops to—say, one found in explosives or toxic pollutants—researchers could further modify Geobacter so the nanowire itself binds with that chemical whenever the two come into contact, Lovley said. The altered bacteria could then be added to a silicon chip on an unmanned vehicle.

Though Lovley and his team discovered Geobacter’s conductive nanowires a decade ago, it was only last year that they started brainstorming in earnest with colleagues in polymer science about modifying the bacteria’s properties.

“The idea that there was a microbe that would make a wire to conduct electricity out of the cell was pretty revolutionary, and there was a lot of controversy,” he said. “So we really spent like nine of those 10 years studying the biological role.”

ONR’s Rear Adm. Mat Winter said the Navy has been sponsoring the Geobacter research for many years among the three-to-four thousand grants it awards to academic partners annually.

“It’s important to keep that volume focused” on basic research, said Winter,, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last month. That creates “solution space so that ideas that can be knitted together for capabilities to emerge.”

In Geobacter’s case, this has paid off. Before genetically engineering the microbe’s filaments, Lovley’s team had already discovered its ability to serve as microbial fuel cells. The Navy is exploring applications of that now, including sustainably powering sensors embedded on the ocean floor.

“We continue to focus on advanced materials in our laboratories and understanding how we can do microbial energy, where we’re taking the positive electrons that are made on the microbes on the seabed, and we’re capturing those, and we’re hooking up some red and black connectors, and we’re gathering the electricity,” Winter said at CSIS. “So we’re not there yet, but … machines at the nano-level are going to be an incredible game-changer.”

After $1.3 Billion Overrun Boeing Receives New $2.8 Billion Contract




“Boeing got the most recent contract for a replacement tanker back in 2011 after a decade of failed deals, illegal actions by the company, bumbling by the Air Force and perhaps the most vigorous public fight over a weapons system’s contract in at least 20 years.

Will Boeing be able to produce it at the rate the Air Force expects and will it perform as well as the service hopes? We’ll see.

Believe it or not, Boeing really has made progress on the KC-46 tanker, after incurring at least $1.3 billion in cost overruns. Today, it got the only kind of proof that really matters to a corporation: they got the government’s promise of $2.8 billion for doing their job.

The contract award of $2.5 billion is for the first two LRIP production lots of seven and 12 planes. Including options, Boeing plans to build 179 of the 767-based airborne tankers for the Air Force to replace the ancient KC-135 fleet.

The tanker uses a boom to refuel Air Force planes and hoses that extend from the wings and center body to refuel Navy, Marine Corps and allied aircraft.”

Boeing Wins $2.8B For KC-46 Tanker Low Rate Production



Army Struggles To Open Up To Industry


Army Bureaucracy


“The service wants industry, academia and its own internal fiefdoms to work together better and earlier.

The goal is to explore the art of the possible on weapons programs before the Army locks in official requirements that have — far too often — proven too ambitious, too expensive or too inimical to innovation.

The next time the Army holds a conference on how to improve its relations with industry, it should actually let industry into the most important session, Maj. Gen. Bo Dyess told his four-star superiors at the Army Innovation Summit here. It just has to get around its own lawyers.

But the largest service keeps finding its biggest enemy is itself. “I frankly have concerns about the Army,” Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall told the conference, especially because it has less in-house engineering expertise than the Air Force and Navy have to manage complex programs. While the entire Defense Department has procurement problems, Kendall continued, “the Army, I think, has a particular problem with this because they have so many different communities” — from tankers and helicopter pilotsto logisticians and cyberwarriors — “and they’re all competing for resources.” It takes a bureaucratic tour de force just to get all the Army’s different tribes working with each other, let alone with outsiders, which is why the first two Innovation Summits focused on coordination within the massive Army Materiel Command.

With high-powered participants like Kendall, Army Undersecretary Patrick Murphy, Army Materiel Command chief Gen. Dennis Via, and Training & Doctrine Command chief Gen. David Perkins, this third Army Innovation Summit showcased commitment to reform from the service’s top leaders. “We have to act with a sense of urgency at those earliest stages,” Murphy told me. “The more you collaborate, the more you innovate.”

But with a last-minute decision by Army lawyers to bar industry attendees from helping to write recommendations, the summit also made crystal clear how many devils remain in the details.

Conference organizers planned to have industry representatives in the working groups writing recommendations, Dyess told four-stars Via and Perkins in the final session of the summit. But then, said Dyess, “about ten days ago we got the calls: ‘hey, the lawyers at AMC have talked to the lawyers at TRADOC, and their interpretation of the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) says that we should not let them in.’” Fortunately for next time, Dyess added, Army acquisition executive Katrina McFarland may have a work-around.

“I’ve got great lawyers at TRADOC, I’m sure Dennis (Via) has great lawyers,” Gen. Perkins said, “but Army policy should be very clear so it doesn’t take a lawyer to figure it out….We just can’t do this event by event by event.” Perkins has been pushing requirements reformsince 2014. (Nor is he exactly a lover of process and rules: He took his brigade into downtown Baghdad in 2003 without waiting for his superiors to approve.) Staying true to form, Perkins turned to the rest of the room and told everyone: “If we could actually hear any input from the folks in industry and academia that the lawyers barred from the meeting, that would be helpful.”

“We really want academia and industry to participate,” agreed Gen. Via. “We’ll find how we can do that.”

Industry’s Laments

In the open sessions where they could participate, industry representatives certainly weren’t shy. They say they want dialogue with the Army from the earliest stages of a project — before the service sets requirements or appoints a program manager. They want to talk about engineering, not just generalities, so they can understand what the Army really wants and so the Army can understand what industry can really do. They want the Army to tell them what problem to solve, on what schedule and at what price — but not to prescribe the specific solution.

“The biggest issue is restrictive requirements that are so narrow and so focused, that they’re not focused on the what that the Army wants, but on the how,” said Dan Zanini, a retired Army officer now at SAIC. “Then you really limit where you can go” with innovative alternatives.

“We look at RFIs (Requests For Information). We look at RFPs (Requests for Proposal). We look at requirements; they’re tightly refined and there’s no room… to innovate, to make this better,” said Jesse Nunn, president of Future Research Corporation.

“This first part of breaking down barriers is having this summit,” Nunn continued. “That offered me the opportunity to come here as a small business and participate.”

In the commercial world, “we have many organizations and events like this that bring people together (to) talk about the issues,” said David Bem, chief technology officer of PPG. In the defense world, however, events like the Army Innovation Summit are rare and precious. “Today we find (what the Army wants) through our contacts at the laboratories, or we look for solicitations, and I would argue that’s a fairly inefficient process,” he said.

The Army can collaborate and communicate with them, industry participants said. The summit is testimony to that — despite the legal snafu over who could help write recommendations. On a larger scale, BAE System’s Mark Signorelli praised the “constant” and “daily” communication that developed the lifesaving MRAP (Mine Resistant Armor Protected) vehicles to replace vulnerable Humvees in Iraq. More recently, just this month the Mobile Protected Firepower program (MPF) shared draft requirements documents with industry at an unprecedentedly early stage, long before they’re fixed.

“We have to be sharing ICDs (Initial Capabilities Documents), CPDs (Capabilities Production Documents), CDDs (Capability Development Documents), so you can drive industry’s investment (towards) what the Army wants,” said Boeing VP Bill Phillipps, a retired three-star general. “Sharing that information with us is critical.”

That communication also has to keep going. Currently, it tends to shut down at crucial stages because the Army fears legal repercussions if one competitor seems to be getting more information than another. So the easiest way to be fair is to stop talking to everyone. It’s this same fear, incidentally, that led Army lawyers to exclude all industry participants from the Army Innovation Summit’s recommendation-writing sessions.

“In some programs, pre-CDD, there’s a lot of exchange of information and ideas,” said BAE’s Signorelli. “The problem is that at the point when the door closes, it’s closed until the RFP comes out.”

At the same time, ironically, companies complain of information overload because there are too many uncoordinated Defense Department initiatives urging “innovation.” Secretary Ash Carter created both the Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental) and the Strategic Capabilities Office, on top of the existing Pentagon office for Emerging Capabilities & Prototyping. The Army is following the Air Force and Navy in creating a Rapid Capabilities Office. Army TRADOC has its “mad scientist” conferences.  There are other funding sources such as DARPA, the Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF), the Rapid Equipping Force (REF), and the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

“You’ve got to have a central point… where the Army is putting their issues and their problems” for industry to read, said Nunn.

Army Recommendations

While industry and academia weren’t allowed inside the working groups, the Army officers and civilians writing up the recommendations tried to include their ideas, Maj. Gen. Dyess said.

Communication is so poor that “industry and academia do not know what the government wants,” said Dyess. While there are many voices speaking for the military, they’re not consistent or coordinated, he said: “There’s no synchronization across different forums.”

The No. 1 recommendation for immediate action out of Dyess’s group: reinstate the annual Army science conference that was shut down after 2013’s budget sequester and conference scandals involving the GSA and VA. That will reopen a crucial venue for communication.

On a larger scale, said Dyess, the Army needs to catalog and publish for all to see all its upcoming industry days. TRADOC should compile the list of industry days held by all its requirements developers, while the Assistant Army Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics & Technology should do so for events hosted by program managers and program executive officers. Army University should index and summarize Army-sponsored research publications. Technology roadmaps and requirements should also go in a central library, added Maj. Gen. Kirk Vollmecke.

Gathering all this information takes time and money. So will restoring specialist positions that assisted requirements developers by analyzing missions and threats, as will reviving personnel exchanges between different parts of the Army. But it’s necessary, Dyess said.

It’s a big agenda. But it’s a significant step forward just to hold the summit, bringing together as it does industry, Army Materiel Command, and Training & Doctrine Command. “The Army is extraordinarily busy supporting every combatant command, so you can become consumed just in day-to-day business that you have,” General Via told me. “The ability to pause and just have a conversation is the first step.”

Army Struggles To Open Up To Industry




The Hidden Costs of America’s Addiction to Mercenaries

apfin dot org



“Washington’s reliance on unheralded private military contractors to fight its wars has mutated into a strategic vulnerability.

Since 2009, the ratio of contractors to troops in war zones has increased from 1 to 1 to about 3 to 1.

Private military contractors perform tasks once thought to be inherently governmental, such as raising foreign armies, conducting intelligence analysis and trigger-pulling. During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they constituted about 15 percent of all contractors. But don’t let the numbers fool you. Their failures have an outsized impact on U.S. strategy. When a squad of Blackwater contractors killed 17 civilians at a Bagdad traffic circle in 2007, it provoked a firestorm in Iraq and at home, marking one of the nadirs of that war.

Contractors also encourage mission creep, because contractors don’t count as “boots on the ground.” Congress does not consider them to be troops, and therefore contractors do not count again troop-level caps in places like Iraq. The U.S. government does not track contractor numbers in war zones. As a result, the government can put more people on the ground than it reports to the American people, encouraging mission creep and rendering contractors virtually invisible.

For decades now, the centrality of contracting in American warfare—both on the battlefield and in support of those on the battlefield—has been growing. During World War II, about 10 percent of America’s armed forces were contracted. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that proportion leapt to 50 percent. This big number signals a disturbing trend: the United States has developed a dependency on the private sector to wage war, a strategic vulnerability. Today, America can no longer go to war without the private sector.

Why did this happen? During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, policymakers assumed a quick and easy victory. As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in 2002, the Iraq War would take “five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.” When these wars did not end in mere months, the all-volunteer force found it could not recruit enough volunteers to sustain two long wars. That left policymakers with three terrible options. First, withdraw and concede the fight to the terrorists (unthinkable). Second, institute a Vietnam-like draft to fill the ranks (political suicide). Third, bring in contractors to fill the ranks. Not surprisingly, both the Bush and Obama administrations opted for contractors.

Today, 75 percent of U.S. forces in Afghanistan are contracted. Only about 10 percent of these contractors are armed, but this matters not. The greater point is that America is waging a war largely via contractors, and U.S. combat forces would be impotent without them. If this trend continues, we might see 80 or 90 percent of the force contracted in future wars.

Contracting is big business, too. In the 2014 fiscal year, the Pentagon obligated $285 billion to federal contracts—more money than all other government agencies received, combined. That’s equal to 8 percent of federal spending, and three and a half times Britain’s entire defense budget. About 45 percent of those contracts were for services, including private military contractors.

This means that contractors are making the ultimate sacrifice. Today, more contractors are killed in combat than soldiers—a stunning turnaround from the start of the wars Iraq and Afghanistan, when fewer than 10 percent of casualties were contractors. By 2010, more contractors were dying than troops. However, the real number of contractor deaths —versus the “official” tally—remains unknown.

Even more troubling: Most of those fighting for the United States abroad aren’t even Americans. Private military companies are multinational corporations that recruit globally. When I worked in the industry, my colleagues came from almost every continent. According to a recent Pentagon report, just over 33 percent of private military contractors in Afghanistan are U.S. citizens.

Many of the larger private military companies also hire local “subs” or sub-contractors, often invisible to U.S. government officials and reporters. In 2010, during the height of the wars, a Senate investigation found evidence that these “subs” were linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery, and anti-Coalition activities. Similarly, in a 2010 report titled “Warlord, Inc.,” the House of Representatives found that the Department of Defense had hired warlords for security services. What happens to these subs when the big contractor goes home? In some notable, alarming cases, they go into business for themselves, breeding  mercenary markets in the wake of a U.S. intervention.

For example, a U.S. Senate investigation in 2010 found that the British private military company  ArmorGroup sub-contracted two Afghan military companies that it called “Mr. White” and “Mr. Pink” to provide a guard force. The investigation found evidence that they were linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery, and anti-coalition activities.

Giving birth to such markets is just one of the many ways that contractors encourage dangerous policymaking. Unlike the Pentagon or CIA, private military companies do not report to Congress, circumventing democratic accountability of the armed forces. Worse, they shield themselves from inquiry by invoking the need to protect proprietary information and are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, unlike the military or intelligence community. This makes them ideal for dangerous missions requiring plausible deniability. Sometimes, even Congress can’t find out what these firms do.

This effectively lowers the barriers of entry into conflict, inviting moral hazard. Take, for example, Obama’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State, essentially a “light footprint” campaign that (theoretically) involves few ground troops. It eschews the Bush administration’s big and costly military presence overseas, and shuns the quagmire of “nation-building.” Instead, in theaters ranging from the Middle East to South Asia, it relies on precision strikes from U.S. aircraft, clandestine ground units, and local allies. However, you cannot hold ground with airplanes, special-forces raids, and unreliable partners. Terrorists will return onceU.S. forces leave. This means you can never achieve victory, when your victory conditions are “deter” and “defeat” ISIS.

In response, the Obama administration has quietly accelerated deployments. From an initial 274 troops sent to Iraq in 2014, the White House has crept up to 4,647 troops, the maximum allowed under the current troop cap. But these troops are only half the story. The U.S. government has surged another 4,970 contractors onto the ground. And a footprint of nearly 10,000 doesn’t look so light.

Contractors, then, allow policymakers to wage war outside of the public eye. Their deaths rarely attract headlines the way those of fallen American soldiers do. And yet the consequences are no less far-reaching for being hidden. America’s reliance on contractors to fight its wars has launched a new breed of mercenary around the world. 2015 saw major mercenary activity in YemenNigeria,UkraineSyria, and possibly Iraq. Mercenaries in these places are not new; what is new is the increased size and expanded scope of their work. For example, in Nigeria, they pushed out Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group, in a few months. The Nigerian military could not achieve this in six years.

No international laws exist to regulate the mercenary industry. What we’re left with: If anyone with enough money can wage war for any reason they want to, then new superpowers will emerge: the ultra-rich and multinational corporations. Oil companies and oligarchs should not have armies.”


Using & Protecting the “Internet of Things” (IOT)




“Like most technological advancements, the internet of things (IoT) brings with it issues and opportunities when it comes to cyber.

IoT is going to be a huge challenge when it comes to cyber defense.

The Defense Department likely will leverage all emerging IoT assets to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of operations and to meet or exceed their operating principles.

All of the new IoT sensors create new information sources and new opportunities for automation that facilitate quicker response.

This has not escaped the attention of DoD. In fact, one report by Govini determined that the entire federal IoT market had a 20 percent year-over-year growth in fiscal year 2015. That trend is likely to continue as DoD applications increase, according to the report.

You can be sure that our adversaries have been busy examining emerging IoT devices and systems and determining how they can use them, as well as how they can target these digital assets.

For example, look at the challenges that are beginning to pop up with cellular IoT sensors. As the name suggests, these are sensors that use cellular communications to transmit the data they collect to the system or systems that use that data. That communication is often unencrypted, so the theft and use of that data is entirely possible.

Now consider that most IoT devices do not have firewalls or antivirus so the device itself is exposed. Similar concerns were echoed by Marine Corps Maj. Scott Cuomo, who spoke at the IoT summit hosted by the AFCEA DC Chapter. Some worry that the data could be intercepted, changed and rebroadcast to its intended recipient.

The remote IoT devices will be difficult to protest as it stands now. Why have we not learned lessons from the past? We should have already mandated all IoT devices used in mission critical system applications or critical infrastructure applications have some level of cybersecurity built in. We need a new recipe that integrates cybersecurity before the solution is fully baked.”