Daily Archives: October 3, 2009

Test of Tactical Laser from a C-130 gunship burns hole in hood of vehicle

Test of laser from C-130H melts hood of car

Air Force Times | Oct 2, 2009

By Bruce Rolfsen

New video released by the Air Force and Boeing Co. show what happens when a C-130H Hercules aims the Advanced Tactical Laser at the hood of car.

In the video recorded Aug. 30 during a test flight at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., the laser melts the hood and sparks a fire. A press statement from Boeing said the laser “killed the vehicle.”

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The weapon uses a chemical laser that fills the cargo hold of C-130 to produce a laser beam fired from a turret mounted in the belly of a C-130.

If the size of laser can be reduced, the Air Force could one day fly laser versions of the AC-130 gunships.

The future of the project is in doubt as it competes for funding with other weapons, but a Boeing official said he is optimistic.

“The bottom line is that ATL works, and works very well,” Gary Fitzmire, program director of Boeing Missile Defense Systems’ Directed Energy Systems unit, said in a release. “ATL’s components — the high-energy chemical laser, beam control system and battle manager — are performing as one integrated weapon system, delivering effective laser beam energy to ground targets.”

Working with Boeing on the $200 million project, which began in 2002, is the Air Force Research Lab’s Directed Energy Directorate.

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Boeing Advanced Tactical Laser In Action

This video shows the effect of the high-energy laser beam from the Boeing Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL), fired at a stationary truck from a US Air Force NC-130H flying over White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, on August 30, 2009. The ATL is a chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL), and is a scaled-down version of the megawatt-class high-energy laser in the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser (ABL).

The Use of Photographs in Psychological Operations

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Secrecy News | Oct 1, 2009

by Steven Aftergood

The Supreme Court has not yet indicated whether it will review a Freedom of Information Act ruling requiring the Department of Defense to disclose certain photographs of alleged detainee abuse to the American Civil Liberties Union.  If it declines to do so, a federal appeals court order that directed release of the photographs will stand.

Though not strictly a legal consideration, there is a potency to photographic images that can make them weapons in the struggle for popular opinion as a foundation and an adjunct to military operations.  In opposing their release, the government contends that the photographs sought by the ACLU could be used to incite violence against U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.

An old 1979 U.S. Army manual on psychological operations (large pdf) observed that images of brutal behavior committed by enemy terrorists can “reverberate against the practitioner, making him repugnant to his own people, and all others who see the results of his heinous savagery.”  Distribution of such images among the population “will give them second thoughts about the decency and honorableness of their cause [and] make them wonder about the righteousness of their ideology.”

“The enemy may try to rationalize and excuse its conduct, but in so doing, it will compound the adverse effect of its actions, because it can never deny the validity of true photographic representations of its acts,” the Army Manual explained (at page I-10, PDF page 252).  “Thus, world opinion will sway to the side of the victimized people.”

This kind of propaganda technique could not be used against the U.S., the now obsolete 1979 Army manual stated, because “The United States is absolutely opposed to the use of terror or terrorist tactics.”  See “Psychological Operations,” U.S. Army Field Manual 33-1, August 31, 1979.

FM 3-05.30, the current U.S. Army Field Manual on Psychological Operations, does not address the tactical use of photographic images.

TSA Body Scanning Technology Strips Away Privacy

One More Step Toward Mandatory Virtual Strip Searches, Says ACLU

commondreams.org | Oct 2, 2009

WASHINGTON – October 1 – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has revealed plans to install 150 body scanning machines for primary security screenings at airports across the country. The American Civil Liberties Union strongly opposes the expanded use of this invasive technology, which amounts to a virtual strip search and reveals strikingly graphic images of passengers’ bodies, including intimate medical details like colostomy bags or evidence of mastectomy.

By expanding the use of body scanning technology, the TSA is backing away from numerous assertions that it would use these machines only for secondary screenings. There are no laws or regulations limiting how the TSA uses these virtual strip searches, only policies they choose to adopt, and nothing to prevent the TSA from making it mandatory for all passengers to submit to these invasive and embarrassing searches, having their privacy stripped away in order to board a plane.

The following can be attributed to Christopher Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel for technology and privacy:

“This new body scanning technology is a frontal assault on personal privacy, with virtual strip searches revealing private body parts and intimate medical details. This degree of examination amounts to a significant – and for some people humiliating – attack on the essential dignity of passengers that citizens in a free nation should not have to tolerate. Passengers expect privacy underneath their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies in order to fly.

“The House has already passed language that would instill common-sense protections on the use of these devices, including penalties for screeners who illicitly copy or distribute images and a bar on body scanners as a primary enforcement tool. The Senate should do the same.”

EU mulls carbon tax to fight climate change

www.chinaview.cn | Oct 2, 2009

GOTHENBURG, Sweden, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) — European Union (EU) finance ministers on Friday discussed the idea of introducing a carbon tax across the 27-nation bloc as a way to help fight climate change.

“Today, there were few reactions, but all the reactions were positive,” Laszlo Kovacs, EU Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, told reporters after presenting the idea to EU finance ministers at an informal meeting in the Swedish port city of Gothenburg.

Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, said there had been a constructive exchange of views and that the European Commission was encouraged to make a formal proposal, possibly next year.

He said a number of ministers welcomed the idea of introducing a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sectors outside the EU Emission Trading Scheme.

The EU currently runs the world’s largest Emission Trading Scheme, which imposes emission caps on certain EU industries, including power generators and some heavy industrial plants, and requires them to buy extra permit if they want to emit more.

The new carbon tax is likely to be applied to transport, agriculture, forestry, households and others.

In fact, several EU member states have already introduced such tax on national basis.

Borg said Sweden’s carbon tax had proved “very successful” since it was introduced at the start of the 1990s.

Denmark, Finland and Slovenia also have taxes on household carbon emissions resulting from heating and electricity use. France is planning to introduce a carbon tax on gasoline or diesel fuel for cars next year, hoping it can bring more revenue for the government.

But Kovacs admitted it would not be easy to reach a deal since taxation is reserved for national sovereignty under EU rules and any change requires unanimity among 27 member states.

“Introducing a new tax in the EU has never been easy, and particularly it is not easy in the time of a financial and economic crisis,” he said.

“But it is evident that the climate change is an even more disastrous global challenge than the current financial and economic crisis. It’s a question of life or death for the population of the globe,” he added.

Kovacs said the tax would not only help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, but also its revenues could be used in financing the fight against climate change in the developing world.

The revenues “should be used for climate change purposes (and) to finance the climate change efforts of the developing countries, because they need some support and we need revenues to support them,” he said.

EU finance ministers also had an “active and constructive” discussion on the issue of climate financing today, according to the Swedish EU presidency.

World governments are expected to reach a new deal on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012 at a United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen this December, but current negotiations have been deadlocked, with climate financing proving to be a stumbling block.

Developing countries have called for generous financial support from rich countries to help them cut greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impact of global warming, for which industrialized nations are historically responsible.

In early September, the European Commission unveiled a blueprint for scaling up international finance to help poor nations, proposing that the EU would contribute some 2 to 15 billion euros (2.9 to 22 billion U.S. dollars) a year by 2020, a sum criticized by developing countries as not enough.

Calling All Transhumanists

metropolis

Scene from the 1927 film Metropolis where a woman is used by a mad scientist to create a robot replica to serve his evil plans.

Forbes | Oct 2, 2009

by Courtney Boyd Myers

Technology futurists love to talk about the Singularity as the point in time when technology starts to progress so rapidly that machine intelligence melds with and surpasses human intelligence. It is to futurists what the Rapture is to fundamentalist Christians.

Those who welcome or fear this eventuality are gathering this weekend in New York City for the fourth annual Singularity Summit. Speaking at the summit are some of the better-known tech soothsayers, including author and programmer Ray Kurzweil; Steve Wolfram, the founder of the novel search engine Alpha; and Aubrey de Grey, an expert on anti-aging science. Also giving talks are Australian philosopher David Chalmers, whose idea inspired the Matrix film series, and Pay-Pal co-founder Peter Thiel, who has donated in the six figures to the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, the organization putting on the event. Last year, the summit drew 1,000 curious academics and entrepreneurs in San Jose, Calif. (See our story on the 2007 Summit here.)

Michael Vassar, the president of the institute, gives the Singularity just under a 25% chance of happening by 2040 and a 70% chance by 2060. When we do cross that line, Vassar says nothing will be the same. “Humans living in the post-Singularity world will be as powerless as jellyfish are in today’s world,” he says. His odds don’t take into account the chances of the world plunging into rapid technological decline due to a nuclear war or a worldwide collapse into barbarism.

Vassar’s six staffers at the Singularity Institute, including Kurzweil, publish papers with titles such as, “Uncertain Future Project,” “Global Catastrophic Risk Project” and “Economics and Machine Intelligence,” and have developed software that supposedly predicts technology’s trajectories and generates odds on the occurrences of global catastrophes like nuclear war and global warming.

Singularists fall into optimist and pessimist camps. Optimists, such as Kurzweil, look forward to living in an age in which human intelligence is enhanced by brain implants that extend our memories, enhance our senses and allow us to solve problems faster and with greater accuracy.

The pessimists, and Vassar is one of them, see threats to humanity from the rise of an unfriendly machine intelligence that will want to enslave humans (think The Matrix) and use our brain matter for endless computation, much as we’ve used computers in the past 60 years.

Vassar says he and his colleagues at the Singularity Institute are working on seeing that a Matrix-like future never happens. Institute research fellow Eliezer Yudkowsky coined the term “Friendly AI” to describe an AI that could be built to have a moral conscience. One of the institute’s chief goals is to encourage other scientists to create this Friendly AI. (Read “Vassar’s Machine Minds” in the AI Report.)

Many computer scientists and engineers remain very skeptical of the Singularity and the cargo-cult enthusiasm that surrounds it. They don’t believe in humanity’s ability to reach a point at which technology will be so complex as to render us inconsequential. It’s also likely that for economic reasons, technical progress and computer hardware performance will never accelerate at the speed required to reach the Singularity.

Will Wright, the creator of The Sims videogame series, has gone on record saying that machines will never achieve the kind of intelligence and creativity of which humans are capable. But he does believe that machines will one day be able to make themselves more intelligent, effectively reprogramming themselves until the first real AI achieves its own sort of sentience, one that is very alien to our own human cognizance.

Ariel Rabkin, a third year Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkley’s Computer Science program, doubts that many technical people take the Singularity seriously. “Human-comparable AI is really hard,” he says, “And we’re nowhere close to achieving it.” He adds, “I can tell you that nobody I work with at Berkeley or elsewhere has ever mentioned it. And just to be clear, I don’t just mean, ‘We don’t talk about it in courses.’ I mean, nobody mentions it, at all, ever. We don’t think about it.”

But the Singularity continues to pique the curiosity of the layman. Over the next 12 months, Hollywood will release several movies with trans-humanist themes, such as Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates, James Cameron’s Avatar, Barry Ptolemy’s Transcendent Man and The Singularity is Near, with a script by Ray Kurzweil. In a time when the publishing industry is struggling, Better Humans LLC has just launched a new magazine called H+ covering the trans-humanism scene for fans of radical technological change.

It’s possible that because the Singularity is a relatively new idea, it’s embraced mostly by the youth and dismissed as a counter-cultural trend by an older generation of professors and scientists. “I’m the older side of the Singularists,” says Vassar, who is 30 years old.

The Singularity probably won’t destroy humanity in our lifetime, but it’s productive to keep asking the question of whether technology is serving us or if things are the other way around.

Montana attorney general probes secretive American Police Force

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USA Today | Oct 2, 2009

by Doug Stanglin

We posted an item yesterday about a secretive California security company called American Police Force that was set to take over operation of a never-used jail in Hardin, Mont.

APF raised eyebrows in town after Mercedes SUVs belonging to the company arrived bearing decals that read, “City of Hardin Police Department.”

The company, and the city’s economic development arm that has negotiated a deal with APF, refused to give details about its plans, including where it expects to get prisoners to put in the jail.

Today comes word from The Billings Gazette, which has been following the story closely, that Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock has launched an investigation into APF to find out what’s going on.

That came after the newspaper and the Associated Press published stories saying that Michael Hilton, the apparent founder of APF who claims to be a military veteran, has a lengthy criminal record and has served time in prison in California.

The attorney general has sent a nine-page demand letter to Becky Shay, a former Gazette reporter who is now spokesman for APF. The paper says Shay did not respond immediately to its inquiries.

According to the document, Bullock is launching a civil investigation to determine if APF is violating the Montana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act.

Bullock is demanding that the company provide proof for some of the claims on its website, such as having contracts with the U.S. government and operations in all 50 states.

The newspaper says it has turned up no record of APF contracting with the federal government.

Bullock also requested a copy of the agreement between APF and Two Rivers Authority, the Hardin economic development arm that built the white elephant jail two years ago.

The Gazette also reports that the state’s three-man congressional delegation and the governor have raised concerns about APF project.

Glenn Beck Warns of ‘Reichstag Event’

Glenn Beck Exclusive: Warns of ‘Reichstag Event’

Newsmax | Sep 29, 2009

Media phenomenon Glenn Beck recently sat down with Newsmax for an exclusive interview offering his take on everything from President Obama, to the threat to talk radio and even a worry that our Constitutional government may disappear after a “Reichstag” event takes place.

The candid, wide-ranging interview appears in the October issue of Newsmax magazine, and is included in the special report “Glenn Beck Wants You!” that takes an in-depth look at the TV host whose Fox News show has been breaking ratings records since it burst on the scene in January.

Beck, who is also thriving on the radio, in bookstores and on the comedy circuit, sat down with Newsmax magazine’s Editor in Chief Christopher Ruddy and voiced his concerns about a coming attack on talk radio.

But his real worry is that many Washington elitists really don’t like our form of government and want to see it abolished.

“I fear a Reichstag moment,” he said, referring to the 1933 burning of Germany’s parliament building in Berlin that the Nazis blamed on communists and Hitler used as an excuse to suspend constitutional liberties and consolidate power.

“God forbid, another 9/11. Something that will turn this machine on, and power will be seized and voices will be silenced.”

Beck has also been a fierce critic of President Obama. Still, he said he’s open to a meeting with Obama. Beck doesn’t believe the president “necessarily would” speak directly to him, adding: “I don’t know very many politicians that speak directly.”

Beck also talked to Newsmax about his critics, his best-selling book “Common Sense,” his condemnation of George W. Bush’s presidency, government control of the media and “the only thing that will save this country.”