Monthly Archives: June 2009

Inside the Military’s Secret Terror-Tagging Tech


Wired | Jun 3, 2009

 By David Hambling

The story that the CIA uses tiny homing beacons to guide their drone strikes in Pakistan may sound like an urban myth. But this sort of technology does exist, and might well be used for exactly this purpose. It might even have been the “secret weapon” that Bob Woodward said helped the American military pacify Iraq.

The military has spent hundreds of millions of dollars researching, developing, and purchasing a slew of “Tagging tracking and locating” (TTL) gear — gizmos designed to keep covertly tabs from far away. Most of these technologies are highly classified. But there’s enough information in the open literature to get a sense of what the government is pursuing: laser-based reflectors, super-strength RFID tags, and homing beacons so tiny, they can be woven into fabric or into paper.

Some of the gadgets are already commercially available; if you’re carrying around a phone or some other mobile gadget, you can be tracked – either through the GPS chip embedded in the gizmo, or by triangulating the cell signal. Defense contractor EWA Government Systems, Inc. makes a radio frequency-based “Bigfoot Remote Tagging System” that’s the size of a couple of AA batteries. But the government has been working to make these terrorist tracking tags even smaller.

Sandia National Laboratories have carried out development on “Radar Responsive” tags, which are like a long-range version of the ubiquitous stick-on RFID tags used to mark items in shops. The Radar Responsive tag stays asleep until it is woken up by a radar pulse. The tags in Wal-mart have a range of a couple of meters, Sandia’s tags can light up and locate themselves from twelve miles away.

This document from 2004 describes the tags as being credit-card sized and with a “geolocation accuracy” of three feet. The radio waves penetrate buildings. Suggested application include “search and rescue, precision targeting, special operations.” The selection of aircraft used to illustrate the system includes a Predator drone.

The reports from Pakistan suggest that the CIA knew which village to strike, they just needed to locate the exact building (descriptions like “third house on the left” can be dangerously ambiguous, especially when viewing from the air). A Radar Responsive tag would be very handy for guiding a strike from a drone a few miles away.

Nor is this the only technology out there. A 2002 Defense Science Board report on counter-terrorism mentioned, among other things, the possibility of using invisible chemical dye to mark terrorists, so they could be spotted using a suitable viewer.

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review — the Pentagon’s once-every-four-years grand strategy document — included a section on defeating terrorist networks, which mentioned the importance of tagging and tracking both terrorists and their gear. Two methods suggested are tinier-than-tiny radar tags, and dynamic optical tags. Darpa, the Pentagon’s way-out research arm, spent years developing these “small, environmentally robust, retro reflector-based tags that can be read by both handheld and airborne sensors at significant ranges.” They rely on small silicon reflectors which return a laser signal — as long as that signal can be seen from the air. “Each Dynamic Optical Tag or DOT is an inch across and based on a ‘quantum well modulator,’” the agency explains. “They are read using a laser interrogator, which can be mounted on an aircraft; the laser ‘wakes up’ the tag, which sends a return signal at over 100 kbps. This can be simply the ID of the tag, or it can be data that it has recorded – for example, details of where it has traveled since last interrogated, or recorded video or audio.”

Covert radar tags were descried in a 2004 report by the National materials Advisory Board. Inkode, a company that also provides cheap RFID tags for supermarkets, has developed a means of embedding aluminum fibers in paper and other materials. The fibers are described as 6.5 millimeters long and 1.5 micrometers in diameter.

When illuminated with radar, the backscattered fields interact to create a unique interference pattern that enables one tagged object to be identified and differentiated from other tagged objects,” the company says. “For nonmilitary applications, the reader is less than 1 meter from the tag. For military applications, the reader and tag could theoretically be separated by a kilometer or more.”

The fibers can be embedded in “paper, airline baggage tags, book bindings, clothing and other fabrics, and plastic sheet.” Eight thousand fibres can be embedded in a typical 8½ by 11 inch piece of paper, which could be seen by radar at a similar distance to a meter-square target. So even something as small as a cigarette paper could be detected through walls, uniquely identified and precisely located from a tactically-useful distance in order to direct a missile strike.

This 2007 briefing from U.S. Special Operations Command hints at research into even more exotic ways to keep tabs on a target. Technology goals include spotting a “human thermal fingerprint at long distance,” “augmentation of natural signatures: e.g. ‘perfumes’ and ’stains.’” The presentation also mentions a “bioreactive taggant” that is a “current capability.” Next to the words in a picture of a bruised arm.

We do not know if any or all of these technologies are actually in use. After all, mobile phones are also a good way of locating an individual from long range, and there are numerous other sensors that can be used to direct a strike. But technologically speaking, the miniature homing beacon calling in CIA drone strikes is not just another urban myth.

Tony Blair knew of secret policy on terror interrogations


Letter reveals former PM was aware of guidance to UK agents

Guardian | Jun 18, 2009

Tony Blair was aware of the existence of a secret interrogation policy which effectively led to British citizens, and others, being tortured during counter-terrorism investigations, the Guardian can reveal.

The policy, devised in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, offered guidance to MI5 and MI6 officers questioning detainees in Afghanistan whom they knew were being mistreated by the US military.

British intelligence officers were given written instructions that they could not “be seen to condone” torture and that they must not “engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners”.

But they were also told they were not under any obligation to intervene to prevent detainees from being mistreated.

“Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this,” the policy said.

The policy almost certainly breaches international human rights law, according to Philippe Sands QC, one of the world’s leading experts in the field, because it takes no account of Britain’s obligations to avoid complicity in torture under the UN convention against torture. Despite this, the secret policy went on to underpin British intelligence’s relationships with a number of foreign intelligence agencies which had become the UK’s allies in the “war against terror”.

The policy was set out in written instructions sent to MI5 and MI6 officers in January 2002, which told them they might consider complaining to US officials about the mistreatment of detainees “if circumstances allow”.

Blair indicated his awareness of the existence of the policy in the middle of 2004, a few weeks after publication of photographs depicting the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

It was around this time, David Miliband, the foreign secretary, told MPs on Tuesday, that the policy was changed, becoming more “comprehensive and formal”.

In a letter to the intelligence and security committee (ISC), the group of MPs and peers that provides political oversight of the UK’s security and intelligence services, on May 24 2004, Blair said that rather than considering making a complaint, “UK intelligence personnel interviewing or witnessing the interviews of detainees are instructed to report if they believe detainees are being treated in an inhumane or degrading way”.

The Guardian has learned from a reliable source that MI5 officers are now instructed that if a detainee tells them that he or she is being tortured they should never return to question that person.

It remains unclear what Blair knew of the policy’s consequences. The Guardian has repeatedly asked him what role he played in approving the policy, whether he was aware that it had led to people being tortured, and whether he made any attempt to change it.

His spokesman said: “It is completely untrue that Mr Blair has ever authorised the use of torture. He is opposed to it in all circumstances. Neither has he ever been complicit in the use of torture.

“For the record, also, Mr Blair believes that our security services do a superb job of protecting our country in difficult circumstances and that it is not surprising following the attacks of September 11 2001 that there was a heightened sense of the dangers the country faced from terrorism. None of this amounts to condoning the use of torture.”

When the Guardian pointed out to Blair that it had not suggested he had authorised the use of torture, but had asked whether he had played any role in the approval of a policy that led to people being tortured, his spokesman replied: “Tony Blair does not condone torture, has never authorised it nor colluded in it at any time.” But there is growing evidence of MI5’s collusion in the torture of British terrorism suspects in Pakistan, where officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), an agency whose routine use of torture has been widely documented, were asked by MI5 to detain British citizens and put questions to them prior to an interrogation by MI5 officers.

Two high court judges say they have seen “powerful evidence” of the torture of Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who returned from Guantánamo Bay in February, before he was questioned by an MI5 officer in May 2002.

In a separate case, a court has heard that MI5 and Greater Manchester police drew up a list of questions to be put to another man, Rangzieb Ahmed, who was detained by the ISI in August 2006, despite having reason to believe that he was in danger of being tortured.

By the time Ahmed was deported to the UK after a lengthy period of unlawful detention three of his fingernails were missing.

Several other men have come forward to say they were questioned by British intelligence officers after suffering brutal torture at the hands of Pakistani agents, and there have been similar allegations of British collusion in the torture of British citizens in Egypt, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates.

While a small number of the victims were subsequently tried and convicted in the UK, most were released without charge.

International concern about Britain’s involvement in torture has been mounting for some time. In February Martin Scheinin, a UN special rapporteur on human rights, reported that British intelligence personnel had “interviewed detainees who were held incommunicado by the Pakistani ISI in so-called safe houses, where they were being tortured”.

Scheinin added that this “can be reasonably understood as implicitly condoning torture.”

In March, after the Guardian disclosed the existence of the interrogation policy, and reported on the growing number of allegations of British collusion in torture, Gordon Brown announced that the policy was to be rewritten by the ISC.

In what was seen at Westminster as an acknowledgement that the secret policy had been open to abuse, Brown also pledged that the rewritten policy would be made public and that a former appeal court judge would monitor the intelligence agencies’ compliance with it, and report to the prime minister each year.

On Tuesday Miliband said the existing policy, as amended in 2004, would not be published.

But the discovery that Blair was aware of the secret interrogation policy appears certain to fuel the growing demand for an independent inquiry into aspects of the UK’s role in torture and rendition.

So far, those who have called for such an inquiry include the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg; Ken Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions; Lord Carlile of Berriew, the government’s independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation; Lord Howe, who was foreign secretary between 1983 and 1989 in the Thatcher government; and Lord Guthrie, a former chief of defence staff.

CIA and Pentagon Deploy RFID “Death Chips.” Coming Soon to a Product Near You!


First it was cattle. Then it was pets. Then Mexicans. Now the tribal areas of Pakistan where the CIA is equipping Pakistani tribesmen with secret transmitters to call in airstrikes targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants. A drone, guided by the signal from the chip, destroys the building with a salvo of missiles scattering body parts everywhere. Will Americans and the rest of the “free world” be next? Long perceived as a crazy conspiracy theory, radio-frequency identification chips (RFID) have surreptitiously penetrated every aspect of society and may soon literally get under our skin for ubiquitous surveillance. Back to Orwell … “The future is now” as Burghardt admonishes!

VoltaireNet | Jun 16, 2006

by Tom Burghardt

What Pentagon theorists describe as a “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA) leverages information technology to facilitate (so they allege) command decision-making processes and mission effectiveness, i.e. the waging of aggressive wars of conquest.

It is assumed that U.S. technological preeminence, referred to euphemistically by Airforce Magazine as “compressing the kill chain,” will assure American military hegemony well into the 21st century. Indeed a 2001 study, [1], brought together analysts from a host of Pentagon agencies as well as defense contractors Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton and the MITRE Corporation and consultants from ThoughtLink, Toffler Associates and the RAND Corporation who proposed to do just.

As a result of this and other Pentagon-sponsored research, military operations from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond aim for “defined effects” through “kinetic” and “non-kinetic” means: leadership decapitation through preemptive strikes combined with psychological operations designed to pacify (terrorize) insurgent populations. This deadly combination of high- and low tech tactics is the dark heart of the Pentagon’s Unconventional Warfare doctrine.

In this respect, “network-centric warfare” advocates believe U.S. forces can now dominate entire societies through ubiquitous surveillance, an always-on “situational awareness” maintained by cutting edge sensor arrays as well as by devastating aerial attacks by armed drones, warplanes and Special Forces robosoldiers.

Meanwhile on the home front, urbanized RMA in the form of ubiquitous CCTV systems deployed on city streets, driftnet electronic surveillance of private communications and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in commodities are all aspects of a control system within securitized societies such as ours.

As Antifascist Calling has written on more than one occasion, contemporary U.S. military operations are conceived as a branch of capitalist management theory, one that shares more than a passing resemblance to the organization of corporate entities such as Wal-Mart.

Similar to RMA, commodity flows are mediated by an ubiquitous surveillance of products–and consumers–electronically. Indeed, Pentagon theorists conceive of “postmodern” warfare as just another manageable network enterprise.

The RFID (Counter) Revolution

Radio-frequency identification tags are small computer chips connected to miniature antennae that can be fixed to or implanted within physical objects, including human beings. The chip itself contains an Electronic Product Code that can be read each time a reader emits a radio signal.

The chips are subdivided into two distinct categories, passive or active. A passive tag doesn’t contain a battery and its read range is variable, from less than an inch to twenty or thirty feet. An active tag on the other hand, is self-powered and has a much longer range. The data from an active tag can be sent directly to a computer system involved in inventory control–or weapons targeting.

It is hardly surprising then, that the Pentagon and the CIA have spent “hundreds of millions of dollars researching, developing, and purchasing a slew of ‘Tagging tracking and locating’ (TTL) gear,” Wired reports.

Long regarded as an urban myth, the military’s deployment of juiced-up RFID technology along the AfPak border in the form of “tiny homing beacons to guide their drone strikes in Pakistan,” has apparently moved out of the laboratory. “Most of these technologies are highly classified” Wired reveals,

“But there’s enough information in the open literature to get a sense of what the government is pursuing: laser-based reflectors, super-strength RFID tags, and homing beacons so tiny, they can be woven into fabric or into paper.

Some of the gadgets are already commercially available; if you’re carrying around a phone or some other mobile gadget, you can be tracked–either through the GPS chip embedded in the gizmo, or by triangulating the cell signal. Defense contractor EWA Government Systems, Inc. makes a radio frequency-based “Bigfoot Remote Tagging System” that’s the size of a couple of AA batteries. But the government has been working to make these terrorist tracking tags even smaller. (David Hambling and Noah Shachtman, “Inside the Military’s Secret Terror-Tagging Tech,” Wired, June 3, 2009)

Electronic Warfare Associates, Inc. (EWA) is a little-known Herndon, Virginia-based niche company comprised of nine separate operating entities “each with varying areas of expertise,” according to the firm’s website. Small by industry standards, EWA has annual revenue of some $20 million, Business First reports. According to Washington Technology, the firm provides “information technology, threat analysis, and test and evaluation applications” for the Department of Defense.

The majority of the company’s products are designed for signals intelligence and surveillance operations, including the interception of wireless communications. According to EWA, its Bigfoot Remote Tagging System is “ideal” for “high-value target” missions and intelligence operations.

EWA however, isn’t the only player in this deadly game. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s geek-squad, has been developing “small, environmentally robust, retro reflector-based tags that can be read by both handheld and airborne sensors at significant ranges,” according to a presentation produced by the agency’s Strategic Technology Office (STO).

Known as “DOTS,” Dynamic Optical Tags, DARPA claims that the system is comprised of a series of “small active retroreflecting optical tags for 2-way data exchange.” The tags are small, 25×25×25 mm with a range of some 10 km and a two month shelf-life; far greater than even the most sophisticated RFID tags commercially available today. Sold as a system possessing a “low probability of detection,” the devices can be covertly planted around alleged terrorist safehouses–or the home of a political rival or innocent citizen–which can then be targeted at will by Predator or Reaper drones.

Full Story

Prince William dons ceremonial robes as he renews oath of allegiance to Order of the Garter


Prince William (L) with Prince Andrew (C) and Prince Charles (R) wearing ceremonial robes during the procession to St George’s Chapel in Windsor as part of the annual Order of the Garter service

Daily Mail | Jun 15, 2009

By Rebecca English

Prince William swapped his flying helmet for an extravagantly plumed hat at today’s Most Noble Order of the Garter Service.

The future king, who was created a knight of Britain’s oldest order of chivalry last year, took part in the annual procession alongside his father, grandmother and grandfather in the precincts of Windsor Castle.

Founded by Edward 111 in 1348, there is a maximum of 24 companion knights at any one time and their number is usually made up of senior politicians, members of the Royal Family and eminent public figures.
Knights of the order are required to display a banner of arms at the chapel, together with a helmet, crest and sword and an enamelled stallplate. They also carry the letters KG after their name for life.

Unusually, the honour is in the Queen’s personal gift without advice from Government ministers and William’s inclusion is the first of several offices he will hold as his royal duties increase.

Dressed in a blue velvet cloak and black hat complete with ostrich plume, the 26-year-old prince, who is currently training to become an RAF Search and Rescue helicopter pilot, towered over his father and other family members, which included the Duke of York, the Princess Royal and Earl of Wessex.

A spokesman said he had been given the day off from training at RAF Shawbury to attend the event but would be back in the cockpit the following day.

He smiled shyly and gave the occasional wave to cheering members of the public allowed inside to watch the knights walk from the castle, where they had enjoyed lunch with the Queen, to St George’s Chapel for the traditional service of thanksgiving.

One notable absence from the event was Baroness Thatcher, who remains in hospital after breaking her arm last week in a fall at her London home.

The 83-year-old former Prime Minister – who was made a member of the ancient order in April 1995 a few years after her time in office had ended – was always doubtful for the event after the accident.

Plans had been put in place, however, to have her pre-seated in St George’s Chapel for the service instead of walking through the grounds of the castle just in case.

However a spokesman said that Lady Thatcher will be kept in for several more days at London’s Chelsea and Westminster Hospital as a precaution.

Experts Claim Dome Over Entire City of Houston May Help Environment


The science of mega engineering says we can save Houston with a Dome. Imagine building a huge Dome that covers the entire city, that is higher than Houston’s skyscrapers.  (Image: Discovery)

One solution to counter the almost overwhelming environmental challenges facing Houston is to cover it with a giant geodesic dome. You can watch the video at the Discovery channel and explore how a giant geodesic dome may save the city from a grim environmental future.

Huliq | Jun 16, 2009

Houston is in peril. The country’s fourth most populous city faces heat, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Houston has always been vulnerable to hurricanes and severe weather.

Houston city center shut down for nearly a week from last year’s hurricane. It caused the city a 10 billion dollar damage. It’s not only the hurricanes, but also heat and humidity that keep oppressing this great city. On nearly 100 days each year the temperature climbs above 90 degrees.

Air conditioning helps, but it comes at a very high cost. Houston is using more electricity than Los Angeles.

This is why some scientists think the only way to save the city is to move it indoors, in other words to build a huge dome for Houston. Houston dome area will stretch over 21 Million square feet, making it the biggest structure with the largest roof in the world.


Houston: The First Domed City?

Explore The Houston Dome

Houston Dome’s broadest panels will be 15 feet across. It will take 147,000 panels to cover the city of Houston. Glass will not work for Houston Dome. It will be so heavy that it can’t hold. Houston Dome will require a much lighter material. It may come from the German city of Bremen, from a factory of Vector Foil Company.

Vector Foiltec invented the use of Texlon® ETFE, the climatic envelope, over twenty five years ago and has successfully developed and promoted the use of this innovative technology worldwide. This is light polymer and is the future of glass.

This material, called ETFE is the only material that will make a fuller city-size dome possible, even for a city like Houston. At just one percent of glass, ETFE is described as 99 percent nothing. Without ETF the Houston dome can never become reality. It is so light that 99 percent lighter than glass is tremendous change.

Since it’s not possible to stop the life in Houston to build the Dome and army of dirigibles will be used to complete the construction.

Houston Dome will take years of construction and billions of dollars. The Dome is designed to protect a city from a category-5 hurricane. The ETFEpanels and the space-frame steel structure that supports them are the key. ETFE can withstand winds of 180 miles per hour. This is higher velocity than the strongest category 5 hurricane.

Houston Dome idea is very intriguing. But I am just left with one idea. Will Houston ever see rain? If no, is it possible to sustain an ecosystem of such a size without rain?

EU security proposals are ‘dangerously authoritarian’

The European Union is stepping up efforts to build an enhanced pan-European system of security and surveillance which critics have described as “dangerously authoritarian”.

Telgraph | Jun 15, 2009

By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels

Civil liberties groups say the proposals would create an EU ID card register, internet surveillance systems, satellite surveillance, automated exit-entry border systems operated by machines reading biometrics and risk profiling systems.

Europe’s justice ministers will hold talks on the “domestic security policy” and surveillance network proposals, known in Brussels circles as the “Stockholm programme”, on July 15 with the aim of finishing work on the EU’s first ever internal security policy by the end of 2009.

Jacques Barrot, the European justice and security commissioner, yesterday publicly declared that the aim was to “develop a domestic security strategy for the EU”, once regarded as a strictly national “home affairs” area of policy.

“National frontiers should no longer restrict our activities,” he said.

Mark Francois, Conservative spokesman on Europe, has demanded “immediate clarity on where the government stands on this”.

“These are potentially dangerous proposals which could interfere in Britain’s internal security,” he said.

“The chaos and division in Gordon Brown’s government is crippling Britain’s ability to make its voice heard in Europe.”

Critics of the plans have claimed that moves to create a new “information system architecture” of Europe-wide police and security databases will create a “surveillance state”.

Tony Bunyan, of the European Civil Liberties Network (ECLN), has warned that EU security officials are seeking to harness a “digital tsunami” of new information technology without asking “political and moral questions first”.

“An increasingly sophisticated internal and external security apparatus is developing under the auspices of the EU,” he said.

Mr Bunyan has suggested that existing and new proposals will create an EU ID card register, internet surveillance systems, satellite surveillance, automated exit-entry border systems operated by machines reading biometrics and risk profiling systems.

“In five or 10 years time when we have the surveillance and database state people will look back and ask, ‘what were you doing in 2009 to stop this happening?’,” he said.

Civil liberties groups are particularly concerned over “convergence” proposals to herald standardise European police surveillance techniques and to create “tool-pools” of common data gathering systems to be operated at the EU level.

Under the plans the scope of information available to law enforcement agencies and “public security organisations” would be extended from the sharing of existing DNA and fingerprint databases, kept and stored for new digital generation ID cards, to include CCTV video footage and material gathered from internet surveillance.

The Lisbon Treaty, currently stalled after Ireland’s referendum rejection last year, creates a secretive new Standing Committee for Internal Security, known as COSI, to co-ordinate policy between national forces and EU organisations such as Europol, the Frontex borders agency, the European Gendarmerie Force and the Brussels intelligence sharing Joint Situation Centre or Sitcen.

EU officials have told The Daily Telegraph that the radical plans will be controversial and will need powers contained within the Lisbon Treaty, currently awaiting a second Irish vote this autumn.

“The British and some others will not like it as it moves policy to the EU,” said an official. “Some of things we want to do will only be realistic with the Lisbon Treaty in place, so we need that too.”

Reality shows ‘eroding children’s sense of reality’

Big Brother ‘eroding children’s sense of reality’

Children’s sense of reality is being eroded by soap operas, game shows and computer games, according to a leading headmaster.

Telegraph | Jun 15, 2009

By Graeme Paton

The influence of programmes such as Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity… are leading to young people losing awareness of the challenges facing them as they grow up, it is claimed.

Robert Holroyd, head of Repton School, in Derbyshire, said teachers should encourage pupils to watch the news and read quality papers including The Daily Telegraph to provide a “reality check”.

The comments follow a survey of 800 teachers that found that the vast majority believed TV programmes had a negative effect on the behaviour of pupils.

Mr Holroyd said: “An increasing number of young people think that celebrity status is available to everyone, usually through television. Many also have the impression – generated by reality TV, computer games and soap operas – that the world beyond a small area or community has no impact on people’s lives.

“They need to understand that ‘reality television’ often shows a modified and highly influenced form of reality.”

He added: “Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity are the biggest concerns here. In a sense I want to draw a distinction between that sort of programme and some of the talent shows like Britain’s Got Talent which has at least got an element of rewarding hard work.

“At least that may make children look at their own performance and think ‘what would Amanda Holden or Simon Cowell say about me?'”

He was speaking ahead of a conference at the school, which charges up to £25,000 per year for boarders. The Global Perspective event on Thursday to Saturday for sixth-formers will feature speeches and workshops on the environment, wealth distribution and use of natural resources.

The school has already opened a second campus in Dubai for up to 1,500 international pupils.

Mr Holroyd said schools had a duty to promote awareness of global issues. This includes ensuring children are “regularly reading a good quality newspaper and listening to or watching the news or factual documentaries”.

The school encourages pupils to subscribe to broadsheet newspapers instead of magazines and limits access to the internet amid concerns over its effect on young people.

“The first thing a child often goes for when they walk into a newsagent is a corrosive magazine, particularly those marketed towards teenage girls which are packed with premature relationship issues,” he said. “What they are missing out on is the every day exposure to real life that reading a quality daily like The Daily Telegraph can give them. That’s why we encourage our pupils to read the newspapers.”

The comments follow research from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers which warned access to inappropriate TV was turning young children into “Vicky Pollards” – the rude Little Britain character known for her “Yeah-but, no-but” catchphrase.

Two thirds of those questioned said Big Brother was a bad influence on children’s behaviour with 61 per cent naming Little Britain and 43 per cent picking out EastEnders as responsible for changes in how they act.

March of the killer robots


Killing machine: one of America’s unmanned Reaper hunter-killer aircraft Photo: PHILIP COBURN

The development of mechanical soldiers and remote-controlled tanks and planes is changing war for ever – but the moral consequences have often been overlooked.

Telegraph | Jun 15, 2009

By Noel Sharkey

It’s the most realistic shoot-’em-up game ever. The player has a choice of two planes: a Predator with two Hellfire missiles, or a Reaper with 14. The action takes place in the Middle East, where you can attack villages and kill the inhabitants with impunity. But don’t bother looking for it in the shops: to play this deadly game, you’ll have to travel to Creech Air Force base in the Nevada desert. That’s because the planes are real, and so are the casualties.

The first time a Predator made a kill was in Yemen, in 2002, when the CIA used it to destroy a vehicle carrying an al-Qaeda leader and five of his associates. The fleet now stands at around 200 craft, which have flown more than 400,000 combat hours. The company that makes them, General Atomics, can’t keep up with the demand. The bigger, badder version – the Reaper hunter-killer – is also flying off the shelves. There are now around 30 in active service, with the first kill taking place in the mountains of Afghanistan in October 2007.

In every field of warfare, mechanical soldiers are fighting alongside – or instead of – human beings. Apart from unmanned combat air vehicles such as Predators, the skies above Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are filled with drones carrying out surveillance operations. On the ground are between 6,000 and 12,000 robots, up from a mere 150 in 2004. Their role is mostly to protect our soldiers by disrupting improvised explosive devices, or to carry out surveillance of dangerous places such as caves and buildings.

Our image of such robots owes a great deal to films – most notably The Terminator or Transformers, both of which have sequels out this month. But the actual models being used are more like miniature tanks, similar to the contraptions seen on the television series Robot Wars. The most popular is the PackBot made by the US company iRobot, which is normally used for bomb disposal. As the company started out making robotic vacuum cleaners known as Roombas, the 18kg PackBot is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Roomba of doom” or “Doomba” – much to the displeasure of the firm’s management, who would clearly hope to keep the two brands separate.

Recently, iRobot joined forces with Taser International to mount the allegedly non-lethal weapons on the “bots”. But that pales in comparison with the ordnance that comes with the Talon, a larger device made by Foster-Miller, a US subsidiary of the British firm QinetiQ. It comes with chemical, gas, temperature and radiation sensors and can be mounted with a choice of grenade launcher, machine gun, incendiary weapon or 50-calibre rifle. Its bigger brother, the MAARS robot, ups the stakes with a tanklike turret.

Despite planned cutbacks in spending on conventional weapons, the Obama administration is increasing its budget for robotics: in 2010, the US Air Force will be given $2.13 billion for unmanned technology, including $489.24 million to procure 24 heavily armed Reapers. The US Army plans to spend $2.13 billion on unmanned vehicle technology, including 36 more Predators, while the Navy and Marine Corps will spend $1.05 billion, part of which will go on armed MQ-8B helicopters.

Of course, when the military describes such systems as “unmanned”, it is stretching the truth very slightly. At the moment, all the armed robots in the Middle East are remote-controlled by humans – there is a “man in the loop” to control them and to decide when and whether to apply lethal force.

But that makes very little difference to villagers in Waziristan, where there have been repeated Predator strikes since 2006, many of them controlled from Creech Air Force Base, thousands of miles away. According to reports coming out of Pakistan, these have killed 14 al-Qaeda leaders and more than 600 civilians.

Such widespread collateral damage suggests that the human remote-controllers are not doing a very good job of restraining their robotic servants. In fact, the role of the “man in the loop” is becoming vanishingly small, and will disappear. “Our decision power [as controllers] is really only to give a veto,” argues Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. “And, if we are honest with ourselves, it is a veto power we are often unable or unwilling to exercise because we only have a half-second to react.”

As Dyke Weatherington, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force, points out: “There’s really no way that a system that is remotely controlled can effectively operate in an offensive or defensive air combat environment. The requirement of that is a fully autonomous system.”

Sure enough, plans are well under way to develop robots that can locate and destroy targets without human intervention. There are already a number of autonomous ground vehicles, such as the seven-ton “Crusher” developed by DARPA, the US military’s research agency. BAE Systems, a British defence contractor, recently reported that it had “completed a flying trial which, for the first time, demonstrated the co-ordinated control of multiple Unmanned Aerial Vehicles autonomously completing a series of tasks”. The Israelis are already fielding autonomous radar-killer drones known as Harpy and Harop, and the South Koreans use lethal autonomous systems to defend their border with the North.

Many in the military are enthusiastic about such developments. “They don’t get hungry. They’re not afraid. They don’t forget their orders,” says Dr Gordon Johnson, of the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command. “Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.”

Dr Johnson insists that “there are no legal prohibitions against robots making life-and-death decisions”, adding: “The US military will have these kinds of robots. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

The problem, however, is that no autonomous robots or artificial intelligence systems have the necessary capabilities to discriminate between combatants and innocents. Compared with the robots in the Terminator films, they suffer from artificial stupidity. Allowing them to make decisions about who to kill falls foul of the fundamental ethical precepts of the laws of war set up to protect civilians, the sick and wounded, the mentally ill and captives. We are already overreaching the technology and stretching the laws of war.

“Unless we end war, end capitalism and end science, the use of robots will only grow,” says Peter Singer. “We are building and using machines with more and more autonomy because they are viewed by militaries as useful for war, and viewed by companies as profitable business.” Spending on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is expected to exceed tens of billions of dollars over the next 10 years, and more than 40 countries – including Russia and China – now have their own programmes.

Amid this robotic arms race, there is a sliver of hope. Professor Ron Arkin, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, believes that humans do not have the time to make rational ethical decisions in the modern battlefield. “There appears to be little alternative,” he says, “to the use of more dispassionate autonomous decision-making machinery.” He has funding from the US Army for research on how to programme ethical rules into robots to stop them causing excessive collateral damage. But this does not get around the problem of how to discriminate between innocents and combatants – and Arkin admits that the technology to fully support his system may not be available for 25 years.

The problem is that it is not just a matter of developing adequate sensors. In complex wars, complex human reasoning is often needed to decide when it is appropriate to kill. Robots do not feel anger or seek revenge – but they also don’t have sympathy, empathy, remorse or shame. Nor can they be held accountable for their actions. In subcontracting our wars to our robotic creations, we are abdicating moral responsibility, too.

Argentine glacier advances despite global warming

Argentina Patagonia

In this May 18, 2009 file photo, tourists walk on Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina’s Patagonia region. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

AP | Jun 14, 2009


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier is one of only a few ice fields worldwide that have withstood rising global temperatures.

Nourished by Andean snowmelt, the glacier constantly grows even as it spawns icebergs the size of apartment buildings into a frigid lake, maintaining a nearly perfect equilibrium since measurements began more than a century ago.


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“We’re not sure why this happens,” said Andres Rivera, a glacialist with the Center for Scientific Studies in Valdivia, Chile. “But not all glaciers respond equally to climate change.”

Viewed at a safe distance on cruise boats or the wooden observation deck just beyond the glacier’s leading edge, Perito Moreno’s jagged surface radiates a brilliant white in the strong Patagonian sun. Submerged sections glow deep blue.

And when the wind blows in a cloud cover, the 3-mile-wide (5 kilometer) glacier seems to glow from within as the surrounding mountains and water turn a meditative gray.

Every few years, Perito Moreno expands enough to touch a point of land across Lake Argentina, cutting the nation’s largest freshwater lake in half and forming an ice dam as it presses against the shore.

The water on one side of the dam surges against the glacier, up to 200 feet (60 meters) above lake level, until it breaks the ice wall with a thunderous crash, drowning the applause of hundreds of tourists.

“It’s like a massive building falling all of the sudden,” said park ranger Javier D’Angelo, who experienced the rupture in 2008 and 1998.

The rupture is a reminder that while Perito Moreno appears to be a vast, 19-mile-long (30 kilometer) frozen river, it’s a dynamic icescape that moves and cracks unexpectedly.

“The glacier has a lot of life,” said Luli Gavina, who leads mini-treks across the glacier’s snow fields.

Police target youths with no criminal record for arrest to increase DNA samples on database

Daily Mail | Jun 4, 2009

Youths with no criminal record are being targeted for arrest so their DNA can be logged on a database in the event they commit crimes.

A total of 386  under-18s had their DNA taken and stored by police last year in one north London borough – more than one a day.

An experience officer working for the Metropolitan Police admitted the DNA was being stored as part of a ‘long-term crime prevention strategy’.

The officer said: ‘We are often told that we have just one chance to get that DNA sample and if we miss it then that might mean a rape or a murder goes unsolved in the future.’

He added: ‘Have we got targets for young people who have not been arrested yet? The answer is yes.

‘But we are not just waiting outside schools to pick them up, we are acting on intelligence.

‘If you know you have had your DNA taken and it is on a database then you will think twice about committing burglary for a living. Already this year some 169 under-18s have had their profiles uploaded.’

The officer, who asked not to be named, made the astonishing admission after a Freedom of Information request reveal the startling figures in Camden in London.

LibDem parliamentary candidate for Holborn and St Pancras, Jo Shaw, obtained the figures and was shocked at the findings.

Ms Shaw said: ‘Storing the DNA of innocent people as young as 10 is unlikely to solve Camden’s crime problems, but is a costly way of stigmatising young people.

‘If you’re innocent, you shouldn’t have your data kept for years. DNA samples, which are taken by police after an arrest is made, are turned into a number known as a profile and are kept on a national database indefinitely.’

Camden’s representative at the national Youth Parliament, Axel Landin, said: ‘Building a catalogue of people they think will be prominent criminals in the future sounds like a renegade justice system.

‘Someone who is not convicted of a crime is no more guilty in the eyes of the law than someone who has never been investigated so their DNA should be destroyed.

Chief Inspector Sean Wilson, of Camden Police, said: ‘The DNA database is a nationwide one.

‘Legislation governing the recording and retention of DNA is fully adhered to by Camden Police.’

New Government proposals state that youngsters who have only been arrested once for minor offences and been found not guilty will have their DNA profiles destroyed when they reach 18.