Daily Archives: December 4, 2007

Marines Seek ‘Psychological’ Edge by Roasting Foes with Laser

Marines Request ‘Long-Range Blow Torch’ for Iraq;

Seek ‘Psychological’ Edge by Roasting Foes with Laser

Wired | Dec 3, 2007

By Sharon Weinberger

Exactly one year ago today, the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq signed off on an “urgent operational need” for an airborne tactical laser that could, in the words of the formal request, create “instantaneous burst-combustion of insurgent clothing, a rapid death through violent trauma, and more probably a morbid combination of both.”

Although the request is based on the technology of the Advanced Tactical Laser, a chemical laser integrated on an AC-130 gunship, the request suggests that a laser weapon could eventually be put on other aircraft, such as drones or, as the picture shows, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor craft. (Photoshop can quickly solve all engineering challenges.)

According to the Marines’ laser request, obtained by DANGER ROOM, this so-called Precision Airborne Standoff Directed Energy Weapon (PASDEW) wouldn’t just be an improved killed machine.  It would also have particularly devastating psychological effects.  Such weapons, when used against people, “can be compared to long range blow torches or precision flame throwers, with corresponding psychological advantages for [Coalition Forces] CF.”

In other words, the lasers don’t just kill people, but they kill people in really gruesome, frightening ways — particularly because the beam from such weapons, like the Advanced Tactical Laser, is invisible to the human eye. That means you could have three guys standing around, and one of them suddenly burst into flames.

For context, this is one of a multitude of requests for high-tech (and sometimes sci-fi tech) that came out of 1 MEF. Other requests included exoskeletons, self-aware robots, and, of course, the now popular Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Marines don’t yet have this incredible capability.

If the Marines could have such a weapon, however, what would be the big deal? In other words, why not just use an old-fashioned gunship to take them out? Well, for one, lasers are more precise. And as this request notes, the sort of sudden, nasty death that a laser would cause has certain advantages for the U.S. military:

A precision engagement of a PID insurgent by a DEW will be a highly surgical and impressively violent event. Target effects will include instantaneous burst-combustion of insurgent clothing, a rapid death through violent trauma, and more probably a morbid combination of both. It is estimated that the aftermath of a sub-second engagement by PASDEW will also be an observable event leaving an impression of  of terrifyingly precise CF attribution in the minds of all witnesses.The PASDEW capability will give CF an asymmetric psychological edge over the insurgency. It is a lethal capability they cannot readily counter and will not fully comprehend, particularly as the DEW is invisible to the unaided eye and the aircraft can engage from significant stand off. For all witnesses, it will be perceived that overt insurgency participation in the MNF-W AOR is less attractive due to the terrifying potential consequences.

Sounds nasty, right? But, I doubt there’s going to be videos of laser-induced exploding insurgents anytime soon. The Advanced Tactical laser, on which this request is based, hadn’t even reached battlefield-strength threshold of 100 kilowatts as of this summer (the exact number is considered classified). As one senior Air Force official told me earlier this year: “The laser’s not powerful enough to do very much. It’s not powerful enough to deliver the effects you need.”

Right now, the service regards it as a testbed. A good testbed, but still just a testbed.

When I interviewed a Boeing official earlier this year, I was told that the company wasn’t going to have the actual chemical laser integrated on the plane till the end of the year (they had been using a low-power proxy laser during beam control tests). Moreover, Boeing at the time noted that the military was concerned about forward basing a chemical laser. In other words, sending the laser to Iraq integrated on a C-130 (let alone the V-22 pictured above) is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Rise of India and China will lead to a New World Order

Vancouver Sun | Dec 3, 2007

by Jonathan Manthorpe

In the deal between Washington and New Delhi under which India is forgiven for having ignored every treaty in the book on nuclear power we have been given a glimpse into the future.

And the future is going to be a difficult place for countries like Canada.

The rule-based international system that we and like-minded countries have spent so much effort putting in place for the last century or so is not going to survive the rise to superpower status of India and China.

They will make their own rules and impose their own values.

In an unusual moment of realism, the administration of president George W. Bush recognized this when it decided it was better to be India’s nuclear partner than to continue berating New Delhi for having shot the carefully constructed nuclear management regime full of holes.

Canada, still smoldering with resentment that it was a Candu reactor that India used in the early 1970s to provide the makings for its first nuclear weapon, has yet to make the same leap.

But, as C. Raja Mohan, a former member of India’s National Security Advisory Board, said here last week, Canada and similar small but wealthy western countries should take a cool, hard-nosed look into the future and decide where their best interests lie.

Speaking in a lecture series sponsored by the BMO Financial Group and the Canadian Institute for International Affairs, Mohan said he does not think the western world has grasped the full implications of the rise of Asia, especially India and China.

Both, he said, will match or overtake the superpower status of the United States within 30 years. And with combined populations of about 2.5 billion people the demands India and China are going to make on world resources once they begin to achieve real prosperity is almost beyond imagination.

A major challenge for both countries will be to avoid their contest to control resources leading to military confrontations.

But Mohan said he expects both countries to continue the already evident contest for access to resources, especially energy.

Neither country fully accepts the Western belief that they should trust the marketplace to provide the resources they need to develop. They want control.

So it would be a big mistake for western countries, Mohan said, to imagine that China and India as superpowers will slot into the template for international behaviour that has been created by the nations of the North Atlantic basin.

It is in the nature of superpowers throughout history that they fashion the international system to meet their own interests, and China and India will be no different, he said.

Mohan pointed out that although India is the world’s largest democracy, it does not automatically support other democratic countries rather than authoritarian regimes. In its support for the regimes in Sudan and Burma (Myanmar), for example, New Delhi has made a classic trade-off between its values and its national interest in securing access to the resources of those two countries.

Despite that, Mohan said, India’s political and social attitudes stem from the West. Indeed, “India is the most important place outside the West that is built on the values of the Enlightenment. We may well become the leader of the West in the future.”

Full Story

RFID wristbands to help Texas track evacuees

Plans to use the technology to track people have proven to be controversial

Network World | Dec 3, 2007

by Paul McNamara

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, locating loved ones can be a nightmare for families in part because public safety officials have such difficulty keeping track of evacuees.

The state of Texas and AT&T are attempting to lessen that anxiety and smooth the recovery process with today’s announcement that the latter will oversee the Texas Special Needs Evacuation Tracking System (SNETS), described as the nation’s first to provide such emergency services statewide.

From the press release:

    In the event of an emergency evacuation, evacuees will be registered on-site and issued a bar-coded RFID wristband. An evacuee’s wristband will be scanned by the GDEM with a wireless device as the evacuee boards a state-contracted vehicle, and the information will be added to the bus boarding log. Evacuee intake information and location will then be sent wirelessly to The University of Texas Center for Space Research data center. The vehicles will be equipped with GPS systems to track the location along the evacuation route. Upon reaching the destination, the system will update evacuee profiles and provide real-time information. This will enable state employees to respond to inquiries from the public about the safety of evacuated family members and to reunite families that have been separated during a large-scale disaster.

Rugged hand-held computers from Motorola will be used for the enrollment and tracking of evacuees throughout the process. In addition, Motorola bar-code scanners and RFID readers will be used in the registration and final destination check-in process for evacuees.

Among the other technology vendors working with AT&T are: Radiant RFID, which will provide wristbands and portals; WebTech Wireless will equip state vehicles with GPS systems; and Retriever Software, whose software allows for real-time information sharing.

AT&T is also offering RFID-enabled services for the healthcare industry.

Plans to use the technology to track people have also proven to be controversial, as with border control, for example. Other applications have resisted RFID for more practical reasons, witness the airline industry’s cool reception.

Will be interesting to see how many evacuees refuse their wristbands on conscientious-objector grounds and what will happen to them if they do.

U.S. Finds Iran Halted Its Nuclear Arms Effort in 2003

New York Times | Dec 4, 2007

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — A new assessment by American intelligence agencies released Monday concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting a judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.

The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely to keep its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is intended for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that the enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.

But the new report essentially disavows a judgment that the intelligence agencies issued in 2005, which concluded that Iran had an active secret arms program intended to transform the raw material into a nuclear weapon. The new estimate declares instead with “high confidence” that the military-run program was shut in 2003, and it concludes with “moderate confidence” that the program remains frozen. The report judges that the halt was imposed by Iran “primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure.”

It was not clear what prompted the reversal. Administration officials said the new estimate reflected conclusions that the intelligence agencies had agreed on only in the past several weeks. The report’s agnosticism about Iran’s nuclear intentions represents a very different tone than had been struck by President Bush, and by Vice President Dick Cheney, who warned in a speech in October that if Iran “stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.”

The estimate does not say when intelligence agencies learned that the arms program had been halted, but officials said new information obtained from covert sources over the summer had led to a reassessment of the state of Iran’s nuclear program and a decision to delay preparation of the estimate, which had been scheduled to be delivered to Congress in the spring.

The new report came out just over five years after a 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraq concluded that it possessed chemical and biological weapons programs and was determined to restart its nuclear program. That estimate was instrumental in winning the Congressional authorization for a military invasion of Iraq, but it proved to be deeply flawed, and most of its conclusions turned out to be wrong.

Intelligence officials said the specter of the 2002 estimate on Iraq hung over their deliberations on Iran even more than it had in 2005, when the lessons from the intelligence failure on Iraq were just beginning to prompt spy agencies to adapt a more rigorous approach to their findings.

The 2007 report on Iran had been requested by members of Congress, underscoring that any conclusions could affect American policy toward Iran at a delicate time. The new estimate brought American assessments more in line with the judgments of international arms inspectors.

Last month, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that Iran was operating 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges capable of producing fissile material for nuclear weapons, but he said inspectors had been unable to determine whether the Iranian program sought only to generate electricity or to also to build weapons.

Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the Senate majority leader, portrayed the assessment as “directly challenging some of this administration’s alarming rhetoric about the threat posed by Iran” and called for enhanced diplomatic efforts toward Tehran. Democratic presidential candidates mostly echoed Senator Reid, but also emphasized that Iran’s long-term ambitions were still a great concern to the United States.

In interviews on Monday, some administration officials expressed skepticism about the conclusions reached in the new report, saying they doubted that American intelligence agencies had a firm grasp of the Iranian government’s intentions.

The administration officials also said the intelligence findings would not lessen the White House’s concern about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. The fact that Iran continues to refine its abilities to enrich uranium, they said, means that any decision in the future to restart a nuclear weapons program could lead Iran to a bomb in relatively short order. While the new report does not contrast sharply with earlier assessments about Iran’s capabilities, it does make new judgments about the intentions of its government.

Full Story

Honey Found to be More Effective Than Cough Medicine

The point isn’t that “hey we found this great new way to treat coughs.” The point is to reiterate the fact again and again that the multi-billion dollar pharma industry is a huge scam. Simple natural methods are always, with very few exceptions, the best way through a health issue.


. . .

Cleveland Leader | Dec 3, 2007

Got a cough? Instead of reaching for a bottle of that over-the-counter medication, why not have a spoonful of honey instead? According to the results of a new clinical trial, honey is more effective at soothing a sore throat than a common ingredient in children’s cough medicine.

Using honey to treat a sore or scratchy throat isn’t a new phenomenon. Rather, it’s been used now for centuries, and scientists believe that it may be effective because it has constituents that kill microbes and acts as an antioxidant. This means that honey may prevent damage inside cells from chemical byproducts of their activity.

In the study, they compared buckwheat honey with dextromethophan, a common active ingredient found in over-the-counter cough medicines in the US. It’s found less commonly in UK medicines.

The researchers used 105 children with nighttime cough, and then split them into three groups. The first group got a syringe full of honey, the next a syringe containing medicine, and the third group got an empty syringe.

The honey was found to be more effective than dextromethorphan at relieving the severity, frequency, and bothersome nature of the cough. Surprisingly, the medicine was only slightly more effective than no treatment at all.

The report of the study was issued today in the Archives of Paediatric and Adolescent Medicine by researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

Intimidation and dirty tricks help Putin to massive landslide

Guardian | Dec 3, 2007

by Tom Parfitt and Luke Harding in Moscow

President Vladimir Putin appeared to be heading for a landslide victory in Russia’s parliamentary elections last night amid widespread reports that millions of citizens were coerced into voting for his party, United Russia.

Early results from the Central Election Commission indicated the party was leading with 63% of votes, with the Communist party trailing a distant second on 11.5%. Two other partners looked set to scrape into the State Duma: the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, with 10.6%, and Fair Russia, another Kremlin-linked party, with 7.1%. Exit polls indicated similar figures.

Turnout was expected to be high at over 60%, compared with 56% in the last Duma election in 2003.

Observers said the poll and run-up campaign were the least fair in the entire post-Soviet period. Thousands of public sector workers have complained they were threatened with losing jobs or bonuses if they did not cast their ballot for the pro-Kremlin United Russia.

While it has a genuinely large public following based on Putin’s high personal ratings, monitors said the result had been inflated by up to 20% through a campaign of intimidation and negative PR.

Liliya Shibanova, director of Golos, a monitoring organisation with 2,000 observers across the country, told the Guardian: “We have seen an unprecedented attempt to manipulate the vote. There has been mass forced voting and a raft of other violations.”

Kremlin aides were known to be desperate to orchestrate a crushing win for United Russia as an endorsement for Putin to stay on as de facto leader of the country despite having to give up the presidency next spring. The president headed the party’s list in yesterday’s vote to elect 450 members of the lower house.

The run-up to polling day was marred by claims of widespread dirty tricks. Shibanova said many state workers and students were obliged to take absentee ballots and vote at their place of work or study. Bosses and teaching staff then hinted or told voters that they would lose jobs, fail exams or be kicked out of dormitories if they did not vote for United Russia. In some regions up to 54 times more absentee ballots were issued than during the last Duma elections in 2003, she said.

Opposition groups reported that police had arrested dozens of their activists. Those detained included leading members of The Other Russia, the anti-Kremlin coalition headed by the former chess champion Garry Kasparov.

Dmitry Krayukhin, a human rights activist and independent election monitor from the town of Oryol, said police arrested him on Saturday. “I was walking down the street when a young man pushed into me and started yelling,” he said. “I immediately realised it was a provocation. Suddenly two or three militia guys came out from a car and surrounded me. I was then taken down the station and charged with stealing a mobile phone.”

The police released him only when Amnesty International and other human rights group intervened, Krayukhin said. But the local head of The Other Russia, Georgy Sarkisyan, was still in prison and unable to vote after police had arrested him for hooliganism, he added.

Opposition leaders also questioned the size of the turnout and said the huge voting figures were the result of administrative fraud. Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent MP, said the number of absentee ballots from his Siberian constituency had shot up from 1,500 in 2003 to 20,000.

Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist party leader, said the election had been “the most irresponsible and dirty” since the Soviet breakup in 1991.

One independent exit poll in the far eastern port of Vladivostok suggested that United Russia had done worse than expected, polling only 40%.

The Communist party also complained that election officials were touring flats and houses with a mobile ballot box to boost the United Russia vote. “They didn’t make any effort to tick people off the list or stop them voting twice,” said Artyom Skatov, a party spokesman in Novosibirsk.

Last night Grigory Golosov, a professor in the faculty of political sciences and sociology at St Petersburg’s European University, described the vote as “fair but not free”.

. . .


Russian poll rigged, say Europeans

Tasers: the next generation

Consisting of stackable arrays of six “darts,” Taser’s Shockwave technology — which will likely go to market next year — will be used for military applications, says a company spokesperson, “not for a riot in Toronto.” [not yet anyway]

Alarmed by recent incidents? Wait’ll you see what the company is planning for 2008

Toronto Star | Dec 02, 2007

by Andrew Chung

The Taser is going wireless.

Until now, the electric-shock gun consisted of two barbed darts attached to wires that shoot out and strike the victim, immobilizing the person with 50,000 volts of electricity, causing severe pain and intense muscle contraction.

But the wires could only extend a few metres. With the new “extended range electronic projectile,” or XREP, the Taser has been turned into a kind of self-contained shotgun shell and can be fired, wire-free, from a standard shotgun, which police typically have in their arsenal already.

The first electrode hooks on to the target, the second electrode falls and makes contact elsewhere on the body, completing the circuit and activating the shock. It can blast someone as far as 30 metres away, and, unlike the current stun guns, whose shock lasts five seconds, the XREP lasts 20 seconds, enough time to “take the offender into custody without risking injury to officers.”

Taser International spokesperson Steve Tuttle says the XREP would be perfect in a standoff. “Here’s someone you just don’t want to get anywhere near,” he says.

The XREP is one of two major new applications the Scottsdale, Ariz., company is preparing to field test, a prospect that makes Taser’s critics anxious. They say more study is needed of the old products, let alone the new.

Tasers are sparking all sorts of questions and concerns these days.

Like death after Tasing. Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died after the RCMP Tased him when he’d become agitated after spending 10 hours inside the secure area at the Vancouver airport.

Or questionable Tasing. University of Florida student Andrew Meyer was Tased even though a handful of officers had already piled on top of him after he refused to stop asking former presidential candidate John Kerry questions at the microphone. (He’s the one who uttered that now infamous plea that has spawned bumper stickers and T-shirts: “Don’t Tase me, bro!”)

Tasers are now used by more than 11,000 law enforcement agencies in 44 countries. There are more than 428,000 Tasers in the field, not to mention the tens of thousands of Tasers that have been sold to civilians.

And the innovations keep coming.

Besides the XREP, the company has developed a device meant to keep someone from approaching a certain area – a tactic called “area denial.” “What if you could drop everyone in a given area to the ground with the simple push of a button?” asks a dramatic promotional video for the “Shockwave.”

Taser has turned its weapon into a connected series of six darts arranged in an arc. The company says the device can be extended in a chain or stacked “like Lego,” depending on the needs of the user.

So an army platoon, for instance, could use it to prevent unwanted people from approaching their camp, and not have to risk getting close to their targets.

Amnesty International, which has raised concerns for years, says the Shockwave poses serious risks of inappropriate use. When you target an entire area, or a crowd, you can’t distinguish between the individuals you’re trying to restrain, says Hilary Homes, a security and human rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada.

“It targets everybody to the same intensity or effect,” Homes says. “With materials like that, you worry about …arbitrary and indiscriminate use.”

Tuttle says the technology will be used for military applications, “not for a riot in Toronto.”

Amnesty says that between 2001 and Sept. 30, 2007, there were more than 290 deaths of individuals struck by police Tasers in North America, including 16 in Canada. It reports that only 25 of those electroshocked were armed, and none with firearms. It’s calling for a moratorium on their use by police until a full, independent inquiry is held.

Homes says the new shotgun-style Taser doesn’t pose any risks that aren’t already there with the older weapon, except that “this allows more things to be done from a greater distance.”

Mostly, it’s the concern over the expansion of this technology even as there is heated debate over the devices’ safety. “We’d prefer there weren’t new variations until a study of the central technology was done,” she says.

The safety concerns revolve around the growing number of deaths following Tasering and the increasing use of the term “excited delirium” by the company and other experts to explain the deaths, while denying the weapon any culpability.

Excited delirium is a catchall phrase to describe symptoms of extreme stress, such as disorientation, profuse sweating, paranoia, and superhuman strength.

When someone is in such a condition – heart racing, blood pressure bursting, fight-or-flight hormones like adrenalin coursing through their body – wouldn’t a giant electrical jolt just make things worse?

“Show me the medical and mechanical reasons why it would make it worse when doctors are telling us, when someone is in that situation you should treat it as a medical emergency and get that person to a medical trauma centre in the quickest way,” Tuttle says. “With no Taser, he’s impervious to pain, agitated, slippery with sweat – you won’t get control in five seconds. Maybe you’ll use batons, which won’t work, pepper spray, which is much more stressful, a bean-bag round, maybe deadly force because the situation spins out of control?”

Dr. David Evans, the Toronto regional supervising coroner for investigations, says that while there’s no proof to say the shock could make things worse, “I agree potentially it could.” But, he adds, “why aren’t they dropping dead immediately?”

Evans says that it doesn’t seem to make sense that the Taser is at fault in the deaths, because the deaths have not been instantaneous. “Normally you’d expect that if someone was going to die from electrocution related to electrical discharge, they’d die right there and then, within a few seconds,” he says.

Tasering doesn’t cause changes in the heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, which leads to death, he says.

It’s a view that Ontario’s deputy coroner, Dr. Jim Cairns, has used to help shape the Toronto Police Services Board policy toward allowing Toronto police to use Tasers. Cairns also spoke at a Taser tactical conference in Chicago last July about excited delirium.

Taser points out that the weapon has not been implicated in any of the deaths in Canada. “We’re just repeating what the medical examiners are saying,” says Tuttle. “The vast majority of those cases have been excited delirium or (drug) overdose.”

Even though “excited delirium” isn’t an accepted medical diagnosis, it may be listed as a “contributory factor” in police-custody deaths, Evans says, but not as the primary cause.

Taser isn’t the only company developing electrical stun weapons. Indiana-based Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems has, in a prototype phase, a futuristic weapon that sends out a streak of lightning, apparently by projecting an ionized gas or ionizing the air itself with a laser, which conducts the electricity forward. The technology could potentially also be used to disable vehicles and, in the future, to help militaries neutralize incoming rocket propelled grenades.

Taser expects its new products to be available by mid-2008.