Drone Hijacking? That’s Just the Start of GPS Troubles By Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai July 6, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: Crime and Homeland Security, Drones
The University of Texas Radionavigation Laboratory drone, an Adaptive Flight Hornet Mini. Photo: Courtesy Todd Humphreys
On the evening of June 19, a group of researchers from the University of Texas successfully hijacked a civilian drone at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico during a test organized by the Department of Homeland Security.
The drone, an Adaptive Flight Hornet Mini, was hovering at around 60 feet, locked into a predetermined position guided by GPS. Then, with a device that cost around $1,000 and the help of sophisticated software that took four years to develop, the researchers sent a radio signal from a hilltop one kilometer away. In security lingo, they carried out a spoofing attack.
“We fooled the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) into thinking that it was rising straight up,” says Todd Humphreys, assistant professor at the Radionavigation Laboratory at the University of Texas.
Deceiving the drone’s GPS receiver, they changed its perceived coordinates. To compensate, the small copter dove straight down, thinking it was returning to its programmed position. If not for a safety pilot intervening before the drone hit the ground, it would have crashed.
But for Humphreys playing the part of an evil genius in a thriller movie, everything worked exactly to plan. “It was beautiful,” he tells Danger Room.
The rogue takeover exploited a vulnerability in GPS to take control of the drone. It was, by Humphreys’ accounting, the first time somebody proved a civilian drone could be hijacked. Last year, when the CIA lost a drone in Iran, there were reports indicating the Iranians might have launched a spoofing attack and tricked it into landing, but we’ll never know for sure. Also, in September 2011, North Korea reportedly forced a U.S. spy plane to land with a jamming attack.
With the planned integration of civilian drones in the American airspace, these problems might be coming to the U.S. The FAA must come up with new rules to allow for a freer use of drones in America by 2015 and, apart from worrying about possible collisions between manned and unmanned aircrafts, now the FAA might have to worry about people hijacking drones with spoofing devices.
What’s worse, the experiment at White Sands shows that drone-jacking is “just the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger security issue we have in this country,” according to Logan Scott, a GPS industry consultant who has worked for defense giants like Lockheed Martin.
In other words, it’s not only about drones, it’s GPS in general that is not safe.
The Global Positioning System, commonly referred to as GPS, is a space-based satellite navigation system. It’s what allows you to get turn-by-turn directions to the mini-mart in your automobile. But most people don’t know that it also has countless other crucial applications. Among others, it’s the backbone of the global air traffic system. It is also used to control the power grid, to power banking operations (for instance, ATMs depend on it) and to keep oil platforms in position. And virtually all communications systems, like the world’s cellular networks, rely on it.
“It’s a stealth utility,” says Scott, “meaning that we don’t necessarily know it’s even in the system until something is wrong.”
GPS is also free, unauthenticated and unencrypted. Its open nature has been its biggest strength. Now, it could be its biggest flaw.
“The core problem is that we’ve got a GPS infrastructure which is based on a security architecture out of the 1970s,” Scott tells Danger Room. “From a security point of view, if you look at GPS’s current status, is more or less equivalent to operating computers without firewalls, with no basic checks.”
Since its signals comes from satellites at very high altitude, GPS relies on very weak signals that are extremely vulnerable not only to spoofing attacks but also to jamming – the deliberate or accidental transmission of radio signals that interfere with regular communications.
This weakness has already been exposed in a few incidents in the past. In late 2009, GPS receivers at Newark Airport were going down intermittently every day and no one understood why. It took two months to track down the source of the interference: a driver had installed in his truck an illegal GPS jammer – which can easily be bought online for $50– so that his employer couldn’t track his every move. In 2001, a boat’s television antenna preamplifier took out GPS over the entire harbor town of Moss Landing, just south of San Francisco, for weeks.
There is no reliable system to spot, let alone prevent, this kind of incidents. If you think of jamming incidents as fires, “what we have today is not quite as archaic, but think of the old forest ranger in the fire tower with his binoculars looking for smoke,” says Milton Clary, an aerospace policy analyst at Overlook Systems, a company that specializes in GPS services. “He sees a smoke column out across the horizon, but he knows nothing regarding the size or source of the fire, and all he can do is feed the information back to the headquarters.”
To improve the situation, the Department of Homeland Security and Overlook have been working since 2009 on a program called Patriot Watch, a network of sensors that would be able to detect, characterize and locate interference sources. Unfortunately, according to Clary, the program is underfunded and, at this point, it’s nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation.
The problem, says Clary, is that it probably would be too expensive to lay down a network of devices over the entire country. And there hasn’t been a huge-headline-generating incident to push the nation’s bureaucracies to make it a a priority.
“We certainly don’t want a GPS Pearl Harbor, but probably it’s gonna take a GPS Mogadishu to get people’s attention,” he says. Meanwhile, other solutions have been proposed. For instance, Navsys is working for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on an app that would make Android cellphones able to detect GPS jamming sources.
There are already drones in use in the country that are plausible targets for jamming – think of the drones being used to monitor the border between the U.S. and Mexico for drug smuggling and border jumping.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) wrote in an email to Danger Room that “the unmanned aircraft used for the test are a different class and type than what CBP operates. CBP will not comment on specific aircraft capabilities or vulnerabilities, but this test does not have any bearing on our Predators’ security.” Another CBP official says that the drones used by the agency “have the same protections as the Department of Defense variants and are not subject to spoofing.” However, both the Department of Homeland Security and the FAA declined to comment on Patriot Watch or any other programs that will integrate UAVs into America’s airspace.
Logan Scott believes that, apart from a warning system like Patriot Watch, manufacturers need to make GPS receivers safer.
“Receivers need to know what’s going on and be able to, at a minimum, identify the fact that they are being spoofed and or jammed,” he says. A solution could be to encourage the production of certified receivers that are equipped with spoofing or jamming detectors. Another alternative is encrypting GPS signals, like the military does. The military’s drones use a “Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module” which decrypts GPS signal. It protects drones in Afghanistan or Yemen — and also the ones used by CBP — from spoofing.
Despite these issues, Humphreys cautions against thinking that drones will be hijacked and turned into weapons on American soil. Even though the drone they hijacked is much like any other civilian one currently available on the market, hijacking a drone is tougher than one might think..
“You may be able to do certain things in a laboratory than in real life are much more difficult to do,” Clary tells Danger Room. However, he warns, it’s something that the feds should be looking at. And he is not the only one to believe it.
“I think this would be a gaping security vulnerability,” says Humphreys. And, although he believes it’s a problem that can be fixed, “I don’t want to see drones coming into the national airspace before we patch this problem.”
Til that fixes comes, keep your head down and wear a helmet.
Weinstein Co. Holds Confidential Movie Screening in $50M Legal Dispute (Exclusive)
Tony Leech and Brian Inerfeld, who are suing over the "sabotaged" release of "Escape From Planet Earth," will see the latest version of the animated film at a Weinstein-hosted private screening.
3:23 PM PDT 7/5/2012 by Eriq Gardner
Harvey and Bob Weinstein have hosted a number of movie screenings in their career, but perhaps none like the private screening about to be held for Escape From Planet Earth.
The animated film is about an alien prison break, originally from writer-director Tony Leech and film producer Brian Inerfeld. For several years, the movie has been in development hell, triggering a vicious lawsuit from Leech and Inerfeld on the eve of the 2011 Oscars, just as the Weinsteins were about to win best picture for The King's Speech. The $50 million lawsuit claimed that the Weinsteins were "two out-of-control movie executives ... who sabotaged what should have been a highly profitable movie through a potent combination of hubris, incompetence, profligate spending and contempt for contractual obligations."
The Weinstein Co. hit back by saying that Leech and Inerfeld were "vindictive Hollywood talent." The Weinsteins then announced in August that the film would come out in 2013 and would be directed by Cal Brunker from a story written by "Brunker and Bob Barlen based on an original screenplay by Tony Leech and Cory Edwards."
Last week, the parties quietly revealed in court papers that they were in the midst of settlement discussions. But insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter that the chances of settlement are pretty scant. The talks are coming with an unusual stipulation: Leech, Inerfeld and their lawyers are getting a chance to see a draft version of the film at a private, confidential screening arranged by the Weinsteins. From what we hear, the Weinsteins are intent on releasing the film, and the duo are being given the opportunity to make a claim for credits.
The development marks the latest in a flurry of nasty moves and countermoves over Escape From Planet Earth.
To review: Leech and Inerfeld were behind the 2005 Weinstein hit Hoodwinked. Following that success, they signed a deal for Escape From Planet Earth. According to the original complaint, the duo were to receive at least 20 percent of Escape's adjusted gross profit, which they estimated would be worth close to $50 million in backend participation alone.
But Leech claims that the Weinsteins repeatedly rejected script and forced him to rewrite it no fewer than 17 times. The Weinstein Co. also allegedly interfered with his choice of casting Kevin Bacon, paying the actor to walk away. And as the budget purportedly ballooned with 200-plus animators on payroll, the Weinsteins supposedly mortgaged its copyright on Escape to obtain fresh capital. Leech and Inerfeld say they were told they would have to give up gross participation to get their film released.
But what really set things off was the plaintiffs' claim that on the eve of the Oscars, they were offered $500,000 in "hush money" to keep the dispute quiet so it wouldn't impact the awards race. They sued anyway and called the Weinsteins "a real life version of Bialystock & Bloom."
In reaction, the Weinsteins first tried to get the case transferred to California and also attempted to sanction the plaintiffs for breaching a confidentiality agreement and attempting to disqualify famed attorney David Boies from representing the company. The judge kept the case in New York and rejected the requested sanctions.
Since then, the case has been proceeding along as the parties go through discovery and fight over issues including whether the financing vehicle of JTM Escape Co. has a security interest on the film that is superior to the plaintiffs' contractual rights.
Now, Weinstein Co. is getting ready to release its version of Escape From Planet Earth, which could set up some intrigue about authorship. The movie is under the stewardship of Brunker, who worked on Despicable Me and Horton Hears a Who! The voice cast includes Brendan Fraser, Jessica Alba and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Is this Leach's film? A source tells us that Weinsteins think that what Leach turned in was not in workable shape for a film. Only those who have seen it know for sure how much it resembles whatever Leach and Inerfeld produced. But they'll be seeing the movie soon at a special Weinstein-hosted screening.
Lawyers on both sides declined comment for confidentiality reasons.
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's conflict spilled further into Lebanon on Saturday when mortar fire from President Bashar al-Assad's forces hit villages in the north, killing five people after rebels crossed the border to seek refuge, residents said.
Rebels fighting to unseat Assad have used north Lebanon as a base and his forces have at times bombed villages and even pursued insurgents over the border, threatening to stoke tension in Lebanon, whose sectarian divisions mirror those in Syria.
Residents of Lebanon's Wadi Khaled region said several mortar bombs hit farm buildings five to 20 km (3 to 12 miles) from the border at around 2 a.m. At midday villagers reported more explosions and said they heard gunfire close to the border.
In the village of al-Mahatta, a house was destroyed, killing a 16-year-old girl and wounding a two-year old and a four-year old, family members told Reuters. A 25-year-old woman and a man were killed in nearby villages, residents said.
Two Bedouins were killed in the village of Hishe, which straddles a river demarcating the border, when two rocket-propelled grenades fired from within Syria hit their tent, according to local residents.
Lebanon's army confirmed one of the deaths and said several Syrian shells had landed in Lebanese territory, but had no further information. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman issued a statement regretting the deaths and promising an investigation.
Syria's bloodshed has also encroached on the territory of Turkey, a much bigger and more militarily powerful neighbor. Ankara, a former Assad friend turned foe, reinforced its frontier and scrambled fighter aircraft several times after Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet on June 22.
The diplomatic stalemate that has frustrated international efforts to bring about a peaceful transition in Syria persisted on Saturday as China joined Russia in rejecting a U.S. accusation that Beijing and Moscow were obstacles to a solution.
In Syria, the army bombarded towns across northern Aleppo province on Saturday in a concerted effort to root out insurgents who have taken control of some areas, the anti-government Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"The bombing is the heaviest since the start of military operations in rural Aleppo in an attempt to control the region after regular Syrian army forces suffered heavy losses over the past few months," the British-based activist group reported.
It said three people had died, including two rebels.
The official Syrian news agency SANA said troops foiled infiltration attempts by armed men from Turkey and Lebanon on Friday. It said one clash "resulted in the killing, injury of dozens of the infiltrated gunmen".
In Idlib province, SANA said, an armed terrorist group was prevented from infiltrating from Turkey in Harem region. It quoted a source as saying a number were killed "while the rest managed to flee back into the Turkish territories".
The Observatory said many families had been displaced and water, electricity and medical supplies were running short.
DANGER AROUND ALEPPO
Aleppo, Syria's second largest city and commercial hub, has been largely spared of the violence. But the outskirts of the city and the wider province have seen rebels gaining territory since the uprising began 16 months ago.
SANA reported a clash "with an armed terrorist group in Azaz area north of Aleppo as it was attacking the citizens and perpetrating killings". It said eight gunmen were killed and six cars equipped with machineguns plus a stolen ambulance were destroyed. The agency named the dead.
Opposition activists say at least 15,000 people have been killed since the uprising began. Assad says the rebels are foreign-backed terrorists who have killed thousands of army and police troops in hit-and-run attacks and roadside bombings.
The Observatory said 93 people, mostly civilians, were killed across Syria on Friday, when protesters took the streets to call for a "people's liberation war."
CHINA BRISTLES AT CLINTON'S ACCUSATION
Russia and China have repeatedly used veto power at the U.N. Security Council to block international attempts to push Assad to leave power to make way for a democratic transition in the pivotal Arab country.
At a "Friends of Syria" meeting grouping Assad's Western and Arab opponents, Clinton urged them to make Russia and China "pay a price" for helping the authoritarian leader stay in the office he, and his late father before him, have held for 42 years.
On Saturday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin shot back: "Any words and deeds that slander China and sow discord between China and other countries will be in vain."
Russia and China say they are committed to the peace plan of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan that prescribes national dialogue, but reject the position of Western powers and their Gulf Arab allies that Assad must step down to enable reform in Syria.
News on Friday that one of Assad's personal friends had defected and was headed for exile in France was hailed by Clinton as proof that members of the Damascus leadership were starting to "vote with their feet" and leave a sinking ship.
Manaf Tlas, a Republican Guard brigadier and son of the longtime defense minister under Assad's father Hafez, has yet to surface abroad or clearly to throw his lot in with the rebels.
But his desertion, leaked by family friends, was confirmed by the French government, giving a boost to the "Friends of Syria" conference it hosted in Paris.
Western powers and Sunni Muslim Arab rulers opposed to Assad, whose minority Alawite sect - an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam - has dominated Syria for decades, agreed to "massively increase" aid to the Syrian opposition.
Deadlock in global diplomacy has left the Western powers casting about to give an impression of momentum growing against Assad. They have held a series of meetings, touting defections to try to pile psychological pressure on Assad's ruling elite.
(Additional reporting by Roula Naeimeh and Nazih Siddiq; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Mark Heinrich)
World's Fastest Camera Used to Detect Rogue Cancer Cells
ScienceDaily (July 6, 2012)
The ability to distinguish and isolate rare cells from among a large population of assorted cells has become increasingly important for the early detection of disease and for monitoring disease treatments.
Circulating cancer tumor cells are a perfect example. Typically, there are only a handful of them among a billion healthy cells, yet they are precursors to metastasis, the spread of cancer that causes about 90 percent of cancer mortalities. Such "rogue" cells are not limited to cancer -- they also include stem cells used for regenerative medicine and other cell types.
Unfortunately, detecting such cells is difficult. Achieving good statistical accuracy requires an automated, high-throughput instrument that can examine millions of cells in a reasonably short time. Microscopes equipped with digital cameras are currently the gold standard for analyzing cells, but they are too slow to be useful for this application.
Now, a new optical microscope developed by UCLA engineers could make the tough task a whole lot easier.
"To catch these elusive cells, the camera must be able to capture and digitally process millions of images continuously at a very high frame rate," said Bahram Jalali, who holds the Northrop Grumman Endowed Opto-Electronic Chair in Electrical Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Conventional CCD and CMOS cameras are not fast and sensitive enough. It takes time to read the data from the array of pixels, and they become less sensitive to light at high speed."
The current flow-cytometry method has high throughput, but since it relies on single-point light scattering, as opposed to taking a picture, it is not sensitive enough to detect very rare cell types, such as those present in early-stage or pre-metastasis cancer patients.
To overcome these limitations, an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Jalali and Dino Di Carlo, a UCLA associate professor of bioengineering, with expertise in optics and high-speed electronics, microfluidics, and biotechnology, has developed a high-throughput flow-through optical microscope with the ability to detect rare cells with sensitivity of one part per million in real time.
This technology builds on the photonic time-stretch camera technology created by Jalali's team in 2009 to produce the world's fastest continuous-running camera.
In the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jalali, Di Carlo and their colleagues describe how they integrated this camera with advanced microfluidics and real-time image processing in order to classify cells in blood samples. The new blood-screening technology boasts a throughput of 100,000 cells per second, approximately 100 times higher than conventional imaging-based blood analyzers.
"This achievement required the integration of several cutting-edge technologies through collaborations between the departments of bioengineering and electrical engineering and the California NanoSystems Institute and adds to the significant technology infrastructure being developed at UCLA for cell-based diagnostics," Di Carlo said.
Both Jalali and Di Carlo are members of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.
Their research demonstrates real-time identification of rare breast cancer cells in blood with a record low false-positive rate of one cell in a million. Preliminary results indicate that this new technology has the potential to quickly enable the detection of rare circulating tumor cells from a large volume of blood, opening the way for statistically accurate early detection of cancer and for monitoring the efficiency of drug and radiation therapy.
"This technology can significantly reduce errors and costs in medical diagnosis," said lead author Keisuke Goda, a UCLA program manager in electrical engineering and bioengineering.
The results were obtained by mixing cancer cells grown in a laboratory with blood in various proportions to emulate real-life patient blood.
"To further validate the clinical utility of the technology, we are currently performing clinical tests in collaboration with clinicians," said Goda, also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute. "The technology is also potentially useful for urine analysis, water quality monitoring and related applications."
The study was funded by the U.S. Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) and by NantWorks LLC and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
Giddyup, Robot Doggies! Autonomous Soldiers Square Off at Army Robotics Rodeo By David Axe July 6, 2012 | 4:30 pm Categories: robots
Wearable Computer Keeps Hands Free
For 10 sweltering days in mid-June, a small army of crawling, rolling, hopping and hovering robots invaded Ft. Benning, Georgia, a sprawling training post near the Alabama border. The occasion: the U.S. Army's Robotics Rodeo, a competitive evaluation of the latest ground-combat robots.
The Robeo, as it's affectionately known, is the third since 2009. The 2012 Robeo was the first to include competitions -- "vignettes," the organizers called them -- in which robots went head-to-head on a mock battlefield. Alongide the vignettes, robot developers showed off their latest software and hardware in a shopping mall-style exhibit hall, part of the event co-hosted by the Army's Manuever Battlelab; the Detroit-based Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center; and the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization.
Forty-four companies and five universities brought 74 technologies to the Robeo. These included upgraded versions of today's ground 'bots plus brand-new models preparing for their first deployments and even a few experimental 'bots. Robot developers were encouraged to take chances with unproven designs.
The point was to be as open-minded as possible, according to Ed Davis from the Maneuver Battlelab, who channeled his inner Donald Rumsfeld. "Sometimes we don't know what we don't know until we see it in action," he said.
In all, TARDEC oversaw three complex vignettes -- one each for three different robots respectively specializing in autonomous supply missions, automatic foxhole-digging and reconnaissance in which the 'bots raced the clock rather than each other.
Compared to TARDEC's elaborate, single-player scenarios, JIEDDO's vignettes were free-for-alls. Eighteen different robots faced off in four vignettes scripted by the bomb-defeating organization. The JIEDDO events focused on different aspects of the counter-IED mission, including patrol endurance, reconnaissance, and bomb detection and disruption.
The final results of 10 days of competition are still being tallied. "In general we're very pleased with what we saw," TARDEC's Jim Parker said. What follows is a sampling of the dozens of robotic technologies that squared off at the 2012 Robotics Rodeo.
Pentagon cuts $1 billion from funding for Afghanistan’s national security forces
By Carlo Munoz 07/07/12 06:00 AM ET
The Defense Department has decided to siphon off $1 billion from Pentagon accounts dedicated to building up Afghanistan's national security forces and shift those dollars to other military priorities.
The move was included in a Pentagon request that was sent to Capitol Hill to shift roughly $8 billion across various service and departmental accounts. Congressional lawmakers were sent copies of the so-called reprogramming request on June 30.
Significant changes to the training and equipment needs of Afghan forces over the past few years has allowed DOD number crunchers to free up the $1 billion from those accounts, according to the reprogramming notice.
Despite the drop, U.S. military leaders assured lawmakers that the $2.3 billion now set aside to support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) "will still leave adequate funding to provide full support" to the country's military and police forces, DOD officials say.
A portion of that money taken from ANSF support accounts will be used to outfit the Navy's fleet of unmanned aerial drones with weapons, according to the reprogramming notice.
The Pentagon will shift an additional $8 million into Navy accounts to weaponize the service's arsenal of Shadow aerial drones. The armed Shadows will help Marine Corps units on the ground in Afghanistan track and kill "rapidly … fleeting targets," according to DOD.
Specifically, the armed Navy drones will be used to take out small teams of Afghan insurgents who plant roadside bombs on routes used by American and coalition forces.
The $1 billion reduction comes at a time when American and coalition commanders are beginning to transition the bulk of security operations in Afghanistan to local forces.
In April, Washington and Kabul finalized a deal to give Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government full oversight of night raids launched by American and Afghan special forces.
That same month, American commanders officially transitioned control of all terror detainee operations in the country to the ANSF. The deal, finalized on April 2, included transferring control of the massive Parwan detention facility at Bagram Air Force base to Kabul.
The deals were a critical step toward the goal of transitioning all military operations under Kabul's control by 2014, when U.S. troops are scheduled to be out of the country.
Despite marked progress by the ANSF, American military commanders on the ground are still coping with troop desertions from Afghan units and growing instances of so-called "blue-on-green" violence.
In 2012, there have been 19 attacks where Afghan troops turned their weapons on U.S. and coalition advisers, resulting in the death of 13 American troops, DOD spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Thursday.
On Tuesday, an individual dressed in an ANSF uniform opened fire on Afghan troops at a military installation in Wardak province in Eastern Afghanistan.
"It's a very difficult problem to get your hands around," Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. "You can't always know, and, in fact, in most cases, you don't know what motivated it."
There have been more than 40 such attacks since 2007, the Pentagon told Congress at a hearing in February, although the department said the majority were the result of “personal” issues, not infiltration by insurgent groups.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in March that the incidents were “sporadic” and did not represent a pattern of any kind.
UFO Sightings Are 3,615 Times More Common than Voter Fraud
By Life's Little Mysteries Staff LiveScience.com – 20 hrs ago
People are 3,615 times more likely to report a UFO sighting than they are to commit in-person voter impersonation, according to national data.
The striking statistic has surfaced at the same time as the news that a new voter ID law in Pennsylvania could render nearly 10 percent of the state's residents ineligible to vote in the presidential election this fall.
National UFO Reporting Center records show there were 47,000 reports of UFO sightings between 2000 and 2010. During the same period, just 13 people were convicted of impersonating someone else in order to vote in their name, according to research by Justin Levitt, associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. [UFO Quiz: What's Really Out There]
Mother Jones assembled the numbers in order to fact-check claims by many Republican lawmakers that their states are facing rampant voter fraud.
Since 2011, 24 voting restrictions have passed in 17 states. This fall, new laws could affect more than 5 million voters in states representing 179 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, Mother Jones reports. Studies indicate low-income and minority voters are most often disenfranchised by laws requiring voters to have government-issued photo IDs. For example, 25 percent of voting-age African-Americans don't have valid IDs.
Following Mother Jones' lead, Comedy Central's Indecision blog rounded up a few more national statistics to help put the 13 confirmed cases of voter impersonation into perspective:
Each year, 15 Americans are crushed to death by their furniture or televisions. Fourteen are injured by exploding toilets, and 100 are accidentally set on fire by their doctors during surgery. And Americans are 3 million times more likely to have a favorable view of North Korea than to commit voter fraud.
Having the latest and greatest in technology is becoming more important in the modern battlefield. Reconnaissance and strategy are important and having certain technological advantages could make or break the fight. Melissa Anderson brings us to McKenna MOUT site, where high tech vendors are showing off gadgets that could help our fighting force.
U.S. Firms Spending More On Lobbying Jul. 7, 2012 - 09:10AM By ZACHARY FRYER-BIGGS
U.S.-based prime contractors may be looking for ways to cut costs in a difficult defense market, but they’re not skimping on lobbying.
The top five U.S. defense contractors increased spending on lobbying by a combined 11.5 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same quarter in 2011, a review of lobbying disclosure forms by Defense News found.
The increase, following a down year in 2011, brought lobbying investment for Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman to a combined total of $15.9 million for the quarter ending March 31. The number represented a new combined high in the four years that all five companies have been filing disclosures.
Lobbying disclosure filings are required under the Open Government Act of 2007, with quarterly data available going back only to 2009. The forms represent lobbying on Capitol Hill, as well as the Defense Department and the White House.
As spending on lobbying tends to be seasonal, coinciding with the legislative calendar, the review compared only first-quarter numbers from 2009 to 2012. The first quarter of the year includes the annual release of the Pentagon’s budget request to Congress, along with posture hearings on Capitol Hill involving senior military leaders.
Northrop Grumman led the charge, increasing its spending by 51 percent compared to 2011, followed by Lockheed Martin, which increased spending by 25 percent.
“Northrop got a whole new shop, they cleaned house,” said a lobbyist who has worked with large defense companies. “They moved their headquarters out here so their CEO is much more focused on Washington than he was before.”
The company — which moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Falls Church, Va., in 2011 — would not detail its legislative goals but wrote in an email that it values interaction with government.
“As a leader in global security, Northrop Grumman believes it is important that the company participate in the democratic process at the federal, state and local level, to help ensure that support for a strong national defense is well-represented,” the statement said.
The lobbying spike is partially attributable to the election year, said Loren Thompson, an industry consultant and chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, Arlington, Va.
“Election years often see a surge in lobbying activity as companies try to posture themselves to be supportive of key legislators,” Thompson said.
The last election year for the House of Representatives, 2010, also saw a large increase in spending compared to 2009. Combined first-quarter 2010 spending was $15.5 million, up 18.3 percent from 2009. In 2011, a non-election year, spending fell by 7.9 percent.
The ongoing discussion about the future of defense spending and the specter of automatic budget cuts is also leading to interest in lobbying, the companies said.
“We’ve never seen a more problematic economic and global security environment in the U.S. and in so many economies around the world,” Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Jennifer Allen wrote in an email. “That means the political leaders around the globe, and especially here at home, are going to have to make some very tough decisions. In this environment, there are many voices being raised, particularly in an election year, and we believe it is critical to have our voice heard on issues that are important to our future.”
Lockheed’s first-quarter spending had declined the past two years, before the sizable 2012 increase.
While companies may be pointing to larger economic trends, lobbying has been much more focused on individual programs, the defense lobbyist said. Lockheed in particular is likely gearing up for fights about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, he said. “They’re not pushing for general budget lobbying, nobody is; they should be, but they aren’t.”
Northrop’s lobbying pattern follows the arc of recent spending decisions. The company increased its spending by 61 percent for the first quarter of 2010, when it was heavily involved in the U.S. Air Force’s competition for a new aerial refueling tanker plane, before announcing in March of that year that the company would bow out.
The company’s 2011 spending fell by 35 percent with no major programming decisions on the horizon, and 2012 corresponds with discussion of canceling the Air Force’s Block 30 Global Hawk UAV order, which the Pentagon announced it would do in February.
“What happened in 2011, with the passage of the Budget Control Act, the discussion of where defense spending was headed shifted from a program focus to an overall budget focus, which doesn’t lend itself as well to lobbying,” Thompson said.
Both Boeing and Raytheon saw small increases in 2012 spending, growing by 1 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
“Boeing continually advocates on behalf of its businesses in both the commercial aviation market and the defense market,” Boeing spokesman Marcellus Rolle wrote in an email. “The objective of our lobbying efforts is to strategically and tactically interact with the legislative and executive branches of federal, state and local governments to urge support on issues of interest to Boeing.”
General Dynamics was the lone company to decrease spending, likely attributable to the end of an aggressive lobbying campaign for the updated Stryker troop-carrying vehicle for the Army.
Raytheon declined to comment for this article, and General Dynamics did not immediately return calls for comment. All three companies that commented emphasized that the companies comply with all lobbying disclosure requirements.
The magnitude of the numbers, on average about $3 million per company, pales in comparison to the totals they actually spend advocating for legislative action, Thompson said.
“What these numbers show is that government records only capture a portion of the money spent to influence politicians,” he said. “The definition of lobbying is quite precise, and therefore, things that might legitimately be regarded as influencing government policy sometimes do not fall under the category of lobbying for purposes of the law.”
Lockheed, like all major defense contractors, has a variety of interactions with government officials, Allen said.
“With 82 percent of our company’s sales derived from U.S. government customers, we naturally have interactions with virtually every standing committee in the United States Congress who has oversight authority over the budgets and policies of all federal agencies, and by extension, the products and services that Lockheed Martin provides to them,” she said.
As budget pressures increase, lobbying may soon take a hit, the defense lobbyist said. “A lot of the contractors have been reducing the number of consultants that they have, avoiding fee increases, but we haven’t had the fights that we had in previous years.”
July 8, 2012 9:56 AM Almanac: 65th anniv. of Roswell UFO
And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac . . . July 8th, 1947, 65 years ago today - a day many believe was truly out of this world.
For that was the day Public Information Officer Walter Haut of the Roswell Army Air Field in New Mexico told the local press about an object recently found in the desert:
"On July 8th, 1947, he issued a press release under orders from Col. William Blanchard, saying basically, 'We have in our possession a flying saucer.'".
Julie Shuster is the daughter of Haut, and the director of the International UFO Museum in Roswell.
Just one day later, she says, came an official change of tune: "General Rayme out of Fort Worth issued the story that, 'No, it was a weather balloon.'"
To little avail. Countless people quickly came to believe that a UFO had crashed near Roswell . . . that alien bodies had been recovered . . . and that the government was covering it all up.
In the mid-1990s the Air Force was moved to issue a report with the subtitle "Case Closed" in an effort to shoot down the rumors of UFOs and aliens:
"Bodies observed in the New Mexico desert were probably test dummies that were carried aloft by U.S. Air Force high-altitude balloons for scientific research."
To which claim at least one UFO believer had a simple response: "It takes a dummy to know a dummy."
Hollywood producers - being no dummies - have made millions in the years since Roswell with movies about UFOs and alien invasions.
And Roswell has done well for itself by promoting its UFO connection, highlighted each July by a festival that attracts enthusiasts from around the world - and the spot in the desert where it all began continues to attract its pilgrims:
"Many times I've looked up in the sky and said, 'Come and get me!'"
No takers yet. Still and all . . . be careful what you wish for.
July 7, 2012 Groups Shield Political Gifts of Businesses By MIKE McINTIRE and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
American Electric Power, one of the country’s largest utilities, gave $1 million last November to the Founding Fund, a new tax-exempt group that intends to raise most of its money from corporations and push for limited government.
The giant insurer Aetna directed more than $3 million last year to the American Action Network, a Republican-leaning nonprofit organization that has spent millions of dollars attacking lawmakers who voted for President Obama’s health care bill — even as Aetna’s president publicly voiced support for the legislation.
Other corporations, including Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical and the drugmaker Merck, have poured millions of dollars more into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a tax-exempt trade group that has pledged to spend at least $50 million on political advertising this election cycle.
Two years after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the door for corporate spending on elections, relatively little money has flowed from company treasuries into “super PACs,” which can accept unlimited contributions but must also disclose donors. Instead, there is growing evidence that large corporations are trying to influence campaigns by donating money to tax-exempt organizations that can spend millions of dollars without being subject to the disclosure requirements that apply to candidates, parties and PACs.
The secrecy shrouding these groups makes a full accounting of corporate influence on the electoral process impossible. But glimpses of their donors emerged in a New York Times review of corporate governance reports, tax returns of nonprofit organizations and regulatory filings by insurers and labor unions.
The review found that corporate donations — many of them previously unreported — went to groups large and small, dedicated to shaping public policy on the state and national levels. From a redistricting fight in Minnesota to the sprawling battleground of the 2012 presidential and Congressional elections, corporations are opening their wallets and altering the political world.
Some of the biggest recipients of corporate money are organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, the federal designation for “social welfare” groups dedicated to advancing broad community interests. Because they are not technically political organizations, they do not have to register with or disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission, potentially shielding corporate contributors from shareholders or others unhappy with their political positions.
“Companies want to be able to quietly push for their political agendas without being held accountable for it by their customers,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has filed complaints against issue groups. “I think the 501(c)(4)’s are likely to outweigh super PAC spending, because so many donors want to remain anonymous.”
Because social welfare groups are prohibited from devoting themselves primarily to political activity, many spend the bulk of their money on issue advertisements that purport to be educational, not political, in nature. In May, for example, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a group co-founded by the Republican strategist Karl Rove, began a $25 million advertising campaign, carefully shaped with focus groups of undecided voters, that attacks Mr. Obama for increasing the federal deficit and urges him to cut spending.
The Internal Revenue Service has no clear test for determining what constitutes excessive political activity by a social welfare group. And tax-exempt groups are permitted to begin raising and spending money even before the I.R.S. formally recognizes them. Two years after helping Republicans win control of the House with millions of dollars in issue advertising, Crossroads GPS’s application for tax-exempt status is still pending.
During the 2010 midterm elections, tax-exempt groups outspent super PACs by a 3-to-2 margin, according to a recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Center for Public Integrity, with most of that money devoted to attacking Democrats or defending Republicans. And such groups have accounted for two-thirds of the political advertising bought by the biggest outside spenders so far in the 2012 election cycle, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, with close to $100 million in issue ads.
The growing role of issue groups has prompted a rash of complaints and lawsuits from watchdog organizations accusing groups like the American Action Network, Crossroads and the pro-Obama Priorities USA of operating as sham charities whose primary purpose is not the promotion of social welfare, but winning elections. Efforts in Congress to force more disclosure for politically active nonprofit organizations have been repeatedly stymied by Republicans, who have described the push as an assault on free speech.
“These groups are being used as a conduit to hide from voters the identity of people and corporations who are bankrolling these television ads, which are designed to influence the outcome of elections,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.
But Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Crossroads, said, “Individuals and organizations have a First Amendment right to promote their beliefs through advertising, be that advertising against the Iraq war, against climate change or, in the case of Crossroads, advocating for free markets and limited government.”
Labor unions — themselves among the beneficiaries of Citizens United — have also donated millions of dollars to national super PACs and state-level nonprofit groups involved in battles over government spending, collective bargaining and health care.
Donations from corporations and unions alike must be disclosed if they go to expressly political groups like super PACs.
In April, for example, the air traffic controllers’ union contributed $1 million to a pro-Obama super PAC. But other contributions are harder to trace. Last year, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $100,000 to Advancing Wisconsin, a tax-exempt group that supported labor’s fight with Republicans in that state; the donation was reported nowhere in Wisconsin, but it emerged in an annual financial report that unions must file with the federal Department of Labor.
Among the largest beneficiaries of corporate donations in recent years have been trade organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which largely backs Republican candidates. As a nonprofit “business league” under the tax code, the chamber does not have to disclose its supporters, who helped finance its $33 million in political ads in the 2010 midterm elections.
But voluntary disclosures by corporations — usually at the prodding of shareholder advocacy groups — shed some light on the use of trade groups for lobbying or as pass-throughs for political spending. A search of voluntary disclosures, some collected by the Center for Political Accountability, which advocates for transparency in corporate political spending, found more than $6 million in chamber donations by 10 companies last year.
Two of the largest came from Prudential Financial and Dow Chemical, which each gave $1.6 million, while Chevron, MetLife and Merck each gave at least $500,000. Some of the donations were directed to the chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which lobbies for limits on liability suits.
Some contributions are disclosed by accident. Aetna’s check to the American Action Network, along with a $4.5 million contribution last year to the chamber, was mistakenly included in a filing with insurance regulators. The disclosure was first reported by SNL Financial, a trade publication. Even where companies pledge voluntary disclosure of political contributions, they often make an exception for donations to tax-exempt groups.
In 2007, Aetna signed an agreement with the Mercy Investment Program, a shareholders group, to disclose trade associations to which it made large contributions. On regulatory filings, the company initially described its $3 million contribution to the Chamber of Commerce as a lobbying expense, but the company now says it was intended to finance “educational activities.”
An Aetna spokesman would not say whether the chamber donation would appear on the company’s 2011 voluntary disclosure. Sister Valerie Heinonen, the director of shareholder advocacy for Mercy Investment Services, said that a failure to do so would violate the company’s pledge.
Beyond the contributions to large, established nonprofits like the chamber and American Action Network, corporate money is also quietly shaping the political discourse through more obscure groups, none of which are required to disclose their donors.
In Minnesota last year, Express Scripts, a major drug benefit manager, gave $10,000 to a Republican-linked group, Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting, involved in a partisan fight over redrawing legislative boundaries. Express Scripts made the donation, previously unreported, because the “electoral maps in Minnesota were in doubt and we supported efforts to bring certainty to Minnesota voters,” said Brian Henry, a spokesman for the company, which is based in St. Louis. He added that the firm has a facility in Bloomington, Minn.
Natalie Wood Death Case 'Open and Ongoing,' Police Say Published: July 07, 2012 @ 12:12 pm By Tim Kenneally
Nearly nine months after re-opening the investigation into the death of actress Natalie Wood, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is still looking into the case, the Sheriff's department said Friday night, noting that their investigation is "open and ongoing."
"We have received many calls from the news media today asking about the status of the Natalie Wood death investigation case," the Sheriff's Department said. "It remains an open and ongoing investigation. There are no further details."
TMZ reported on Friday that the Los Angeles County Coroner had filed papers in late June to change the cause of Wood's death from "accidental" to "undetermined," and that detectives from the Sheriff's Department visited family members on Friday, telling them that bruises on Wood's body were inconsistent with death by drowning. According to the family members, detectives could not say for certain whether Woods' drowning resulted from an accident or foul play.
A spokesman for the coroner's department confirmed to TheWrap that Wood's case is on "security hold," and that the coroner's office is cooperating with law enforcement.
"The case is currently on security hold at the request of the Sheriff’s Dept. It is an open investigation and we are cooperating fully with the Sheriff’s Department," the spokesman said. "This Department is making no comments at this time."
Wood drowned near Catalina Island in Southern California on November 29, 1981 at the age of 43. She had been vacationing with her husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken, her co-star in the film "Brainstorm," which was in production at the time. Her drowning was reportedly preceded by a drunken argument between Wagner and Walken. It has been theorized that Wood was either trying to leave the Splendour, the yacht that the trio was staying on, or may have been trying to secure a rubber dinghy that had been banging against the hull of the boat when she drowned.
The coroner's department determined that Wood had consumed numerous glasses of wine before her death.
The Sheriff's Department re-opened the investigation in November, shortly before the 30th anniversary of Wood's death, in part because of increased media interest in the case. CBS' "48 Hours" was preparing to air a segment on her death. Dennis Davern, who had earlier co-authored a book questioning the account of Wood's death, had also begun making the interview rounds.
Though a Sheriff's Department spokesman said that Davern's book, "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour" did not "have an impact in the decision" to re-open the case, Davern claimed in an interview with NBC's "Today" that Wagner was responsible for Wood's death. Davern's account of the night of her drowning has been hazy, however, and he has admitted to drinking heavily that night.
UFO spotted over Batemans Bay sparks alien theories
By Neil Keene From: The Daily Telegraph July 09, 2012 12:00AM
Man films bright light flashing on horizon
UFO investigator says it's a genuine sighting "In world terms it has been a very busy year"
Ben Roberts captured the image and says it was definitely not a star
According to Sydney UFO investigator Doug Moffett, a bizarre shining orb filmed hovering near Batemans Bay on the New South Wales south coast late last month is a genuine unidentified flying object.
Eurobodalla resident Ben Roberts filmed more than eight minutes of footage early on June 21 tracking the bright sphere of light flashing and moving above the horizon.
He said he was "amazed" by how bright the UFO appeared.
"It was not a plane," he said.
"There were no flashes and it was way too slow. Same for a helicopter - no flashes and too slow."
That doesn't necessarily mean it was a spacecraft full of alien lifeforms paying south coast residents an early morning visit.
But Mr Moffett, an investigator from UFO Research NSW, said it meant there was no reasonable explanation.
"It doesn't fit any of the usual suspects, such as Venus, planes, weather balloons or military flares," he said.
"I really don't see it being a remote controlled aircraft with LEDs because if someone was doing that they're probably not going to do it at night. It's what I would call a genuine UFO."
Mr Moffett said the planet Venus, which often shines brightly in the night sky, was often mistaken for a UFO because as its light penetrated the atmosphere it sometimes twinkled and appeared to move - a phenomenon known as scintillation.
However, the light captured on Mr Roberts' footage did not fit that scenario.
The south coast sighting is just one of dozens of UFOs reported above Australia every year.
Mr Moffett said another UFO, reportedly shaped like a half-dome with tentacle-like protrusions beneath, was spotted over the Central Coast last month.
Mr Moffett said the number of local sightings appeared to be on the rise.
"Certainly in world terms it has been a very busy year," he said.
Originally published July 9, 2012 at 4:42 AM Page modified July 9, 2012 at 7:02 AM
Greece: Deputy minister quits over debt talks
A deputy labor minister resigned on Monday from Greece's new coalition government, saying it should have pressed harder to renegotiate the terms of the country's bailout agreements.
The Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece —
A deputy labor minister resigned on Monday from Greece's new coalition government, saying it should have pressed harder to renegotiate the terms of the country's bailout agreements.
Nikos Nikolopoulos announced his resignation hours after the new conservative-led government won a confidence vote in parliament.
In a letter, Nikolopoulos, argued that the government should have taken a tougher line with international debt inspectors in Athens last week to "correct serious distortions in the labor, pension and benefit systems."
Nikolopoulos was considered a close ally of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who named a replacement shortly after the resignation was announced - U.S.-trained economist Nikos Panagiotopoulos.
Greece, in its fifth year of recession, has been surviving on international rescue loans for more than two years. The conservatives won June 17 elections on a campaign pledge to improve the terms of austerity measures demanded by creditors.
Since winning the election, Samaras has been plagued by Cabinet problems, replacing his finance minister due to illness, losing a deputy merchant marine minister over a business conflict of interest, and finding himself forced to cut down his schedule after eye surgery for a detached retina.
Backed by the traditional rival Socialists and the small Democratic Left party, the government late Sunday won the confidence vote in parliament required for it to formally begin its four-year term, with votes from 179 coalition party lawmakers in the 300-member assembly.
Pakistan Boosting Capacity at Crossings for NATO Cargo Jul. 9, 2012 - 09:41AM By LEHAZ ALI, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
TORKHAM, Pakistan — Pakistan is doubling the capacity for NATO trucks at a key border crossing, officials said July 9, to speed up processing for an expected influx of supplies for troops in Afghanistan.
Customs officials at Torkham border crossing in the country’s troubled northwest saud that work had begun to expand dedicated parking space for NATO containers.
Islamabad agreed to reopen overland routes to NATO convoys on July 3 after a seven-month blockade sparked by a botched U.S. air raid on a border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
“After expansion the parking capacity for NATO trucks will be doubled,” said Obaidullah Khan, a customs official at Torkham, the closest border crossing to Kabul. “Prior to the closure the terminal had a parking capacity of 250 vehicles and now we are expanding it to 500.”
Khan said work was also underway on two dedicated rooms for customs officers dealing with paperwork for NATO vehicles, to speed up their transit into Afghanistan.
The terminal remained quiet July 9 as no NATO supply trucks were able to reach Torkham from the Arabian Sea port of Karachi, where they have languished for the past seven months.
A bulldozer had begun work at the site, uprooting trees while workers spread barbed wire around the back of the terminal, a reporter said.
Security at the crossing is being boosted, Khan said, to foil Taliban militants who have vowed to attack NATO trucks and kill their crews.
Four checkpoints are being set up around the Torkham terminal, and the number of security personnel will be raised from the previous level of 550.
“No NATO supply vehicle will be allowed to pass a night at Torkham, even if we need to work for extra time,” Khan said.
A reporter saw the expanded area of the terminal enclosed with barbed wire from three sides and tribal policemen standing guard.
“We are ready to receive any NATO truck here, you will see more arrangements after the trucks reach here,” said Meraj Khan, the administrative official at Torkham.
The land routes into Afghanistan are vital as the United States and NATO withdraw troops and equipment that has built up since the 2001 invasion.
The blockade forced the United States and its allies to rely on longer, more expensive routes through Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus, costing the U.S. military about $100 million a month, according to the Pentagon.