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Autonomous rendezvous: autopilot, cargo delivery, satellite servicing, space reconnaissance, disablement short of kinetic kill


A technology clearly valuable for autopilot support to human spacecraft, cargo-carrying resupply vessels, and the remote servicing of in-orbit satellites is equally valuable to orbital reconnaissance of opposing satellites (to a degree that ground-based radar imaging cannot achieve) and to various forms of plausibly deniable disablement such as selective blinding, damage to solar arrays, or the depositing of a package that will immediately or at a future time, under equally autonomous or ground control, destroy or degrade the vehicle short of a kinetic kill which produces an evidentiary trail with repercussions.

DART (Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology) has the capacity for the former and could effortlessly include the capacity for the latter. In the relative terms of manned space flights, $110 million dollars is almost a rounding error, indeed a "flight experiment within a budget." It is certainly within the range of "mission cost" of an exoatmospheric military effort.

DART was designed from the outset to be a relatively cheap flight with no ground commanding capability, built with batteries lasting just 24 hours, and limited ground station coverage, versus much broader, perhaps near-continuous communications via NASA's network of space-based Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

I do not think that this first autonomous test should be discredited for flying against a retired US satellite "outfitted with optical retro reflectors specifically designed for use with a video guidance system [and was] continually [broadcasting] GPS-based information that the DART vehicle will receive and use with its own guidance systems to calculate rendezvous maneuvers." While predecessor guidance systems had previously been flight tested on the Space Shuttle, flying passively during manned rendezvous and docking operations in order to prove "practical requirements for guidance systems that are based on visual physical determinations of relative attitude and range," DART was the first autonomous rendezvous conducted without any human involvement. There was, in fact, no ability for human intervention in its effort to chase down a target satellite and maneuver within and around it by a matter of feet:

"DART has the ability to fire lasers, calculate precise distances down to millimeters to bring two objects together in space. Currently we don't have the technology to do that with a high degree of autonomy and accuracy, and six degrees of freedom so that we can know the X, Y and Z coordinates and be able to have vehicles with pitch, yaw and roll and bring those together with precise accuracy in space."

The magnitude of the series of maneuvers closing with the target satellite, culminating in a series of proximity operations that included station keeping, docking axis approaches and circumnavigation that were cut short by exhaustion of its thruster propellant (possibly due to efforts to counteract guidance errors early in the mission) were remarkable:

  • Autonomous proximity operations while in the vicinity of the target vehicle
  • Minus V-bar approach [velocity vector] and station keeping to 15 meters
  • Docking axis approaches and station keeping to 5 meters
  • Collision avoidance maneuver (CAM)
  • Plus R-bar approaches [Radius vector - an imaginary line radiating from the center of the Earth to the orbiting target] and station keeping to 50 meters
  • Transfers from plus R-bar to minus V-bar (circumnavigation)
  • Forced motion retreat to quantify range
  • Autonomous departure at end of mission

The technically curious can visit Shuttle Rendezvous and Proximity Operations, Orbital Maneuvering and Fly-By Approach and Guidance for Uncontrolled Rotating Satellite Capture for depth as to what is being accomplished in this autonomous rendezvous "using only data provided to the chase vehicle at time of launch or data acquired autonomously while on-orbit."

As it was, the aircraft-launched Pegasus launch vehicle inserted DART into a circular parking orbit, then through a transitional phasing orbit, and into the low-earth target orbit where it acquired the target and approached to within 92 meters before the low fuel state properly instructed DART to disengage and commence its deorbit.

An autonomous rendezvous capability is indeed valuable, even essential, for "future reusable manned and unmanned launch vehicle operations [that] include cargo delivery, space operations for the International Space Station (ISS) and other on-orbit activities such as satellite retrieval and servicing missions."

An autonomous rendezvous capability is equally valuable, even essential, for reconnaissance and interdiction of satellites deemed hostile or potentially hostile. One wonders about the countermeasures that many satellites will have to adopt to counter such uninvited "house calls."

Many friend and foe applications will emanate from this achievement.

NASA autopilot test suffers crippling flaw
April 16, 2005

NASA's Robotic DART Mission Ends in Mishap
By Justin Ray Now
APRIL 16, 2005


Orbital Maneuvering: Principles of Space Systems Design
David Akin
University of Maryland

Gordon Housworth

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Loss of bin Laden: the perils of supply chain outsourcing


While many have observed the perils of uncontrolled outsourcing, August Hanning, president of the German BND intelligence agency, has become the highest ranking official to specifically state that Osama bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and that the US "subcontracting" the taking of Tora Bora to Afghan militia rather than use US forces, especially on the critical border towards Pakistan, allowed bin Laden to bribe his way out.

Interviewed by the financial daily Handelsblatt, Hanning said "the US made a major error in late 2001 by trying to capture bin Laden in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan using local militias rather than American troops."

"The principal mistake was made already in 2001, when one wanted bin Laden to be apprehended by the Afghan militias in Tora Bora... There, bin Laden could buy himself free with a lot of money"

In confirming the accuracy of the Handelsblatt interview, a spokesman for Hanning said that "Afghan forces informed the leader of Al Qaeda that they knew his whereabouts and that he would be arrested, but they allowed him safe passage in exchange for a bribe." The Kuwaiti Arab Times said:

Military experts warned at the time that many Afghan tribal leaders were working first to consolidate their own power, viewing the American goals of capturing al-Qaeda figures as secondary. The failure to catch bin Laden quickly allowed the terrorist leader... to slip away and insulate himself, [creating] his own infrastructure in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area...

A seminal misunderstanding of Afghan behavior (combat, valor, and revenge are one thing, money in sufficient quantity is quite another) allowed bin Laden an exit. I am on record in 2001 as stating that the US was wrong to rely on Afghan irregulars in an effort to minimize US casualties and somehow forestall the war coming to be seen as an "American war." In losing sight of the critical path of capture, and the assets needed to achieve it, we lost bin Laden while none now doubt that it was our war. Hanning was equally critical in his 2005 remarks although he later tried to soften his comments, deemed by observers as critical of the US, by stressing, "What the Americans did in Afghanistan was necessary, right and important."

Until March 2005, the US had repeatedly issued statements similar to that of Gen. Tommy Franks who had "stated repeatedly it was not at all certain that bin Laden was in Tora Bora. He might have been there or in Pakistan or even Kashmir." A FOIA request produced a summary of evidence document, derived from classified materials, presented against a Guantanamo Bay prisoner in Dec 2004 in order to validate his detention as enemy combatant. Stating that the detainee was senior as evidenced by the presence of bodyguards and his collaboration "with regional al-Qaida leadership" and that the "detainee was one of Osama bin Laden's commanders during the Soviet jihad," the document went on to state that the detainee had "assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora." "The assertion about his efforts and bin Laden's escape is made as a statement of fact."

On a related point, few papers are reporting Hanning's later comments at a Berlin security conference in which he "presented a likelihood ranking for weapons of mass destruction which could be in the hands of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network":

  • Access to "basic poisons" and "basic poison gas", "certainly"
  • Radiological devices, "probably"
  • Anthrax and plague, "maybe"
  • Sarin, "maybe"
  • Ebola and smallpox, "unlikely"
  • Nuclear weapons, no, no progress 

At the same conference, Eric Luiijf, of the Netherland's Clingendael Centre for Strategic Studies, addressed European infrastructure vulnerabilities and noted that Europe's greatest vulnerability was electricity followed by water.

US decision to let Afghans chase Laden was mistake
Arab Times (Kuwait)
14th-15th Apr 2005 : Web Edition No: 12160

German spy chief lists possible al-Qaeda WMDs
Expatica (Germany)
13 April 2005

Intelligence chief criticises US over war on terror
Expatica (Germany)
12 April 2005

Bin Laden Bribed Afghan Militias, German Officials Says
New York Times
April 12, 2005

BND-Chef: Bin Laden konnte sich freikaufen
Kritik an den USA
HANDELSBLATT, Dienstag, 12. April 2005, 07:46 Uhr

Detainee Helped Bin Laden Flee, Document Says
Associated Press
March 23, 2005

Hand it to the warlords
By Pepe Escobar
Asia Times
Oct 9, 2004

Escape from Tora Bora
The Guardian
September 4, 2002

Gordon Housworth

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Keeping Sharon alive long enough to effect withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank


Keeping Ariel Sharon alive long enough to oversee settlement withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank is the highest priority of the Shin Bet protective security department, a group completely overhauled and reinforced after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli rightist.

Worse, the attacker is mostly likely to be a mirror image of Shin Bet's protective security department:

a handful of people, maybe a dozen, who served in elite units in the army and the Shin Bet, in the Mossad and the police, who know how to blend into their surroundings and attack, some of them perhaps second-generation underground, sons of members of the special units, maybe also former fighters who served under Sharon in the prestigious Unit 101 and in the Paratroops. The participation of security personnel in terrorist attacks is known from the period of the Jewish underground, and in a political assassination, from the affair of Jaber Muadi against Hamid Abu Rabia.

It is interesting that the demographic time bomb of Arab absorption of Israeli Jews by the Palestinians vastly higher birthrate is utterly absent among the reasons a combination of Israeli nationalists, rightists, and religious seek Sharon's death:

  • Religion: withdrawal from the Promised Land of Judea and Samara (Israel and the West Bank)
  • Ideology: unilateral reduction of Greater Israel without Palestinian quid pro quo
  • Terrorism: ability for insurgents to operate with greater freedom on Israel's borders
  • Public distress: Israel is one of the world's 'largest small towns' and so any distress to a citizen reverberates immediately and forcefully - relocating 9,400 of them is akin to moving a major US metropolitan city, a equally herculean task

To call these 'reasons of the past' is not meant to be dismissive of the power that such ideas can hold over a society, but is intended to point out the common failure to rank a relatively unknown but rapidly moving 'reason of the future' into societal calculus. (While some Israeli rightists do acknowledge a demographic problem, their 'solution' is draconian and fraught with its own extreme secondary effects.)

Once Sharon secured Knesset approval of the long-overdue 2005 state budget, thereby sidestepping resignation with the subsequent delay, even cancellation, of the removal of 21 settlements from Gaza and 4 from the West Bank, Gaza and West Bank settlers can now only resist withdrawal by extralegal means. Settler leaders say this will take the form of mass demonstrations "and even civil war":

Security officials fear increasingly desperate settlers will resort to violence to disrupt the pullout, including possibly attempting an attack on a disputed holy site in Jerusalem or to assassinate Sharon.

The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) is taken no chances and has already crafted contingency plans against militant settlers in armed resistance down to fatality forecasts for army and settler. The precautions that Shin Bet is taking in the safeguarding of Sharon border on the extraordinary, no less so as the prime adversary is a group as skilled and committed as they, able to blend into that 'largest small town' as easily as they:

In the interlocked effort to torpedo the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, the fall of the political alternative means the rise of the brute-force option, and it is now reaching its highest level, from which it will not decline. Because if Sharon implements the withdrawal plan in July-August, attempts to assassinate him will continue, in case he should try to repeat the move in the rest of the West Bank.

The group of people who have appointed themselves emissaries of divine providence and want to attack Sharon physically is not necessarily organized and may not have members in the usual sense of some sort of structure, cells and a chain of command. Moreover, its center, if it has one, need not necessarily be located in the area earmarked for evacuation. But for the purpose of deploying against it, it should be dubbed the "Katif underground," [which] enjoys the advantage of being the initiator and the assailant, is the most dangerous adversary of the Shin Bet and particularly of its protective security department.

It is worth reading Inside Track / Anxiety attack to get a flavor of the security envelope around Sharon. While the July Palestinian parliamentary elections may bring an expected increase of Hamas authority in the Palestinian National Authority and all the complications to Israeli-Palestinian relations that implies, the primary threat to Sharon and the settlement withdrawal is a dedicated, internal Jewish threat.

Israeli Police Guard Temple Mount
BBC News
8 Apr 2005

Inside Track / Anxiety attack
By Amir Oren
April 01, 2005 Adar2 21, 5765

Israel Approves State Budget
30 Mar 2005

Israel Approves Funds for Settler Pullout
By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post
February 17, 2005

Suppose Israel simply abandons the Gaza settlers?
January 17, 2005 Edition 3

Gordon Housworth

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Israel's zugzwang between indefensible military borders and absorption from within


I heartily second Benjamin Schwarz's admonition that casual observers should not "be seduced by the recent hopeful signs: in the long run the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain a problem without a solution." Jumping to his close, "the century-long Palestinian-Zionist conflict is a story of two peoples, each with reasonable claims to the same piece of earth; and nearly every aspect of that story suggests that in the end—and to the detriment of those peoples, their region, and perhaps the entire world—their aspirations are not amenable to compromise."

Think zugzwang. When you are "in zugzwang", any move you make worsens your situation. From the German, zwischenzug, a 'compulsion to move' or 'compelled to move,' zugzwang is a term that I increasingly associate with the Israeli condition and the implications are poor for the long term. In chess, it is used to denote a move that instead of recapturing an opponent's piece, one player makes a move that creates a larger threat to himself, such as a mate, while hoping to recover his position later. In general, it is a position in which the side to move loses because he is compelled to move and surrenders an advantage to his opponent.

Schwarz and I can agree even as Schwarz comments that "the most heartening recent development in Israeli-Palestinian relations [is that] forces on both sides now wish their own leader [Sharon and Abbas respectively] dead," i.e., that each are now seeking a peace so tangible that their respective militant wings are outraged.

Mass Jewish immigration in the 1940s and 1950s coupled with Arab expulsion, euphemistically called "transferring" by voluntarily and involuntary means, temporarily created a demographically Jewish state from the theoretically Jewish state that UN Resolution 181 had proclaimed in 1947 when Jewish and Arab populations were at a 5:4 ratio. That changed with the inclusion of Gaza and the West Bank, along with their vastly higher birthrates, in the 1967 war, so much so that Schwarz intimates that Jews may have already become a demographic minority. (Factor in the "basic tenet of Palestinism," the right of return of those displaced Arab Palestinians and their descendants and we have a demographically instant Arab state.)

There is precedent for this jiggery-pokery in the Levant as Lebanon long proclaimed itself a Christian state based upon an aging census gathering that all parties tacitly agreed not to update. The impact of that annexation has now become increasingly clear to all but the Jewish militant right (who would merely 'solve the problem' differently) as in the last five years:

a consensus has emerged within the Israeli political, military, and intelligence communities that the country must withdraw from much of, most of, or essentially all of the territories..., lest Israeli Jews be forced to choose between living in a democracy and living in a Jewish state: Palestinians will demand not their own state but a single binational state, based on the principle of one man, one vote. And at that point, Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has said despairingly, "we will lose everything."

From this point rises Sharon's intent to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza and partially withdraw from the West Bank behind a Security Wall now being sold as an anti-terrorist device. The truth is that the Wall was designed far earlier, and its purpose may have originally been "a means of detaching Israel politically and economically from the growing and impoverished Palestinian population." Arnon Soffer, a geographer at Haifa University who has produced some useful policy papers (abstracts here) on the political implications of Palestinian population growth, has called the Wall a "last desperate attempt to save the state of Israel." Yet, even if Israel is able to prevail against internal and external resistance to the Wall, it will watch its pre-1967 Israeli Arabs, who now comprise some 20% of Israel's population, grow to around 30% by 2050.

I refer readers to two earlier notes that draw heavily on annual World Bank and Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) sources that paint the downward spiral of a Palestinian exclave:

In those, I state that Israel will create what I call a "Paltustan," a Palestinian Bantustan across the Wall, that is nothing more than an "economic septic tank" whose economic conditions, population growth by birth and return, and water access will be so parlous as to force it to renegotiate the Green Line, in reality a tactical truce, or hudna, now being forced upon it, or expand into Jordan, or both.

Doubtless these Arabs will come to, and may already quietly be there in, agreement with:

A host of realistic Israeli observers, including Israel's national security adviser, General Giora Eiland, [that] doubt that the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan contains enough land and resources to sustain two viable sovereign states. In few places in the world do conditions more demand that two peoples develop a symbiotic relationship; in no other place are the chances of building such a relationship more remote.

Will Israel Live to 100?
by Benjamin Schwarz
The Atlantic Monthly
May 2005

Preventing the Unthinkable
by Leslie Susser
The Jerusalem Report
December, 2003

The Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR)
Additional policy papers of interest on a number of issues affecting the Levant and the Maghrab

Gordon Housworth

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Fun on both sides of the Golden Shield: escape & evasion applicable to civil libertarians and terrorists alike


In Finding Zhao Ziyang through the Golden Shield , part 2 of "If you want food, find Ziyang"; If you want Ziyang, pierce the Golden Shield, I noted that the response to Chinese media restrictions on state-run TV and newspapers of the death of Zhao Ziyang was a spike of activity on internet bulletin boards, chat rooms, and blogs.

Chatroom monitoring, both self-imposed and external) is part of the Golden Shield, called the Great Firewall of China by its detractors, a "communication network and computer information system for police to improve their capability and efficiency." At the time it was described as employing:

a variety of methods starting with Chinese backbone routers that blocked a list of objectionable web addresses combined with filtering technology searching for objectionable words and a tracking system to identify offenders. Failed searches with sensitive terms do not even send back error messages. Internet-service firms add "their own censoring, removing provocative comments and blocking messages deemed sensitive." Moving on, newer Chinese instant-messaging services are allegedly requiring users "to download software to their PCs that contains a filtering mechanism"… Having been barred from China, Google responded with a version that disabled its cache function, blocked objectionables, becoming "a form of geolocation filtering since users who access Chinese Language Google News from anywhere but China are not subjected to the filtering and receive full search results."

From such comments and personal experience, it was a modest leap for a Chinese civil rights activist, Issac Mao, to craft a diagram of the Golden Shield's filtering mechanism, Guess on China's Great Firewall Mechanism, whose posting and linking to it as an April Fool's jest was apparently enough to have Chinese authorities to instruct ISPs to not resolve requests to his primary blog. Global Voices notes that they and others have offered to host Mao's blog outside China, but that Mao is "planning on keeping it in China, seeing situations like this as an excellent chance to learn more about internet filtering in China":

To my personal blog, I’m not so eager to move my blog to oversea’s hosting. It’s so good to study this space with more local experience.

Mao has a backup blog for such occasions where he is able to announce the blocking and continue his research, but other bloggers, Falun Gong perhaps, might not receive such permissiveness, and there might be interest as to who such insiders spoke to on the outside beyond national jurisdiction.

Enter the Onion Routing program designed by US Naval Research Laboratory to create net-based anonymous communications systems "that resist traffic analysis, eavesdropping, and other attacks both by outsiders (e.g. Internet routers) and insiders (Onion Routers themselves). Onion Routing prevents the transport medium from knowing who is communicating with whom -- the network knows only that communication is taking place. In addition, the content of the communication is hidden from eavesdroppers up to the point where the traffic leaves the OR network"

This protection is given independent of whether the identity of the initiator of a connection (the sender) is hidden from the responder of the connection, or vice versa. The sender and receiver may wish to identify and even authenticate to each other, but do not wish others to know that they are communicating. The sender may wish to be hidden from the responder. There are many ways that a web server can deduce the identity of a client who visits it; several test sites can be used to demonstrate this. A filtering proxy can be used to reduce the threat of identifying information from a client reaching a server.

Onion routing can be non-invasive when unmodified Internet applications use proxies or can be moderately or highly-invasive when a computer's network protocol stack is modified. Note that encryption is not mentioned here as body text encryption does not defeat traffic analysis that can divine who is talking to whom and when.

Now supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an offshoot of the Onion project called Tor, a network of virtual tunnels, is now available to anonymize the likes of web browsing and publishing, instant messaging, IRC, and SSH with the goal to defeat or complicate traffic analysis by "preventing eavesdroppers from finding out where your communications are going online, and by letting you decide whether to identify yourself when you communicate."

I recommend that readers investigate Tor from two aspects, the first being the use of Tor as a means of masking critical communications and/or using Tor as an investigative and market analysis tool, and the second being to determine how Tor might be used against you, your firm, your employees and your suppliers:

[T]he German "Diabetes People" organization recommend Tor for safeguarding their members' online privacy and security. Activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are supporting Tor's development as a mechanism for maintaining civil liberties online. Corporations are investigating Tor as a safe way to conduct competitive analysis, and are considering using Tor to test new experimental projects without associating their names with these projects. A branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor for open source intelligence gathering, and one of its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle East recently.

[O]nline advertising company Doubleclick uses traffic analysis to record what web pages you've visited, and can build a profile of your interests from that. A pharmaceutical company could use traffic analysis to monitor when the research wing of a competitor visits its website, and track what pages or products that interest the competitor. IBM hosts a searchable patent index, and it could keep a list of every query your company makes. A stalker could use traffic analysis to learn whether you're in a certain Internet cafe.

Now think how much fun terrorist groups could have with Tor, both for sheltered communications and for target analysis, personal and corporate.

P.S. Visit the privacy test sites that Onion recommends. You will likely be startled to see how vulnerable you are.

Gordon Housworth

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The world is flat save for the depression that we occupy: Friedman on global opportunity and competition


The head of Infosys (India) told Tom Friedman that "the playing field is being leveled" as decades of massive investment in technology, computers, global broadband connectivity, education, communication and information processing tools created a condition in which "countries like India were now able to compete equally for global knowledge work as never before -- and that America had better get ready for this."

Friedman made a great tag line leap from 'leveled' to 'flattened' to 'flat' with the observation that:

When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate.

The impacts are enormous in terms of economic, political, military, and demographic changes at the level of shocks - and an inability to predict when and where those leaps will occur. Citing Marc Andreessen:

"Today, the most profound thing to me is the fact that a 14-year-old in Romania or Bangalore or the Soviet Union or Vietnam has all the information, all the tools, all the software easily available to apply knowledge however they want. That is why I am sure the next Napster is going to come out of left field. As bioscience becomes more computational and less about wet labs and as all the genomic data becomes easily available on the Internet, at some point you will be able to design vaccines on your laptop."

Or bioweapons.

Friedman sees the advances in "people-to-people and application-to-application connectivity" producing "flatterers" that in turn produced six more: outsourcing, offshoring, open-sourcing, insourcing, supply-chaining, and informing. His last "flattener" is accelerated communications in the form of wireless access and VoIP. I am not certain that I agree with his chain of causality, but I agree that all these enablers are present.

I can only wholeheartedly agree with his prediction that the US and Europe are lagging and whining while Asia is roaring. "Meeting the challenges of flatism requires as comprehensive, energetic and focused a response as did meeting the challenge of Communism... We have been slow to rise to the challenge of flatism":

When it comes to responding to the challenges of the flat world, [we] have to dig into ourselves. We in America have all the basic economic and educational tools to do that. But we have not been improving those tools as much as we should. That is why we are in what Shirley Ann Jackson, the 2004 president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, calls a ''quiet crisis'' -- one that is slowly eating away at America's scientific and engineering base.

Jackson makes the understatement of the quarter century in noting, ''If left unchecked, this could challenge our pre-eminence and capacity to innovate.'' The challenge is already well underway and we are not distinguishing ourselves in the innovation of new technologies, products, services and firms that hire domestic employees and pay domestic taxes.

Friedman sees this quiet crisis as a product of three gaps:

  • An "ambition gap": "Compared with the young, energetic Indians and Chinese, too many Americans have gotten too lazy."
  • A numbers gap: insufficient numbers of engineers and scientists that were compensated for by importation from India, China and elsewhere, but "in a flat world, where people can now stay home and compete with us, and in a post-9/11 world, where we are insanely keeping out many of the first-round intellectual draft choices in the world for exaggerated security reasons, we can no longer cover the gap."
  • An education gap: A gap so startling that US firms outsource not merely because of lower salaries but because they "can often get better-skilled and more productive people than their American workers."

Friedman cites Microsoft's Bill Gates comment that the US high-school education system is "obsolete": "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations."

Gates also addresses the matter of numbers: "In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind."

Friedman closes in his signature style, and while I have been cross of late with some of his international commentary as being excessively preachy, I believe that he is spot on here, and at the top of his game:

We need to get going immediately. It takes 15 years to train a good engineer, because [this] really is rocket science. So parents, throw away the Game Boy, turn off the television and get your kids to work. There is no sugar-coating this: in a flat world, every individual is going to have to run a little faster if he or she wants to advance his or her standard of living. When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, ''Tom, finish your dinner -- people in China are starving.'' But after sailing to the edges of the flat world for a year, I am now telling my own daughters, ''Girls, finish your homework -- people in China and India are starving for your jobs.''

A signature trend of US technological slippage is our declining performance in the Olympics of programming, the 2005 world finals of the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest. Reflecting a "gradual ascendance of Asian and East European schools during the past decade," the first three winners were China's Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and two from Russia, Moscow State University and the St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics. The nearest US performance was a tie for 17th. Commenced in 1970, the US historically dominated this ACM contest, and dominated it in depth.

The technological and weapons systems that we have today are the product of designs twenty years earlier created by engineers and scientists educated a decade or more earlier still. Today we are coasting without a "moon shot" plan to resuscitate our scientific base and educational system. Worse we are trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy in which US technology firms conduct basic research and development activities in Asia as US student interest in computer science declines amid the dot-com collapse and the well-advertised offshoring by US tech firms to low-wage countries like India.

I took the effort to look at the last 15 years of the ACM contest, not only for the winning school and nation, but the number of teams competing, and US standing towards the top of the rankings. The net results are worse than losing the title as it reflects a lack of US depth and bench strength in comparison to its scholastic competitors:

2005 Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China (second win), USA 17

2004 St Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics, Russia, from 3,150 teams, USA 5,7,9

2003 Warsaw University, Poland, from 3,850 teams, USA 13

2002 Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China, from 3,082 teams, USA 2,5,8

2001 The St. Petersburg State University, Russia (second win), from 2,700 teams, USA 2,7,10

2000 The St. Petersburg State University, Russia, from 2,400 teams, USA 9

1999 The University of Waterloo, Canada, from over 1,900 teams, USA 5,6,7,8

1998 Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, from 1,250 teams, USA 5

1997 Harvey Mudd College, USA, from over 1,100 teams, USA 2,9

1996 University of California, Berkeley, USA, from 1,001 teams, USA, 2,5,7

1995 Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg, Germany, from over 900 teams, USA, 2,4,5,6,7

1994 University of Waterloo, Canada, from 628 teams, USA, 3,4,6

1993 Harvard University, USA, from over 600 teams, USA, 2,3,4,6,7

1992 University of Melbourne, Australia, from over 600 teams, USA, 2,3,4,5,6,7

1991 Stanford University, USA, from over 500 teams

1990 University of Otago, New Zealand, from 459 teams

It's a Flat World, After All
New York Times
April 3, 2005

U.S. slips lower in coding contest
By Ed Frauenheim
April 7, 2005

Students saying no to computer science
By Ed Frauenheim
August 11, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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On the verge of political oblivion, Mahmoud Abbas acts within and without


One wonders if Abbas would have acted against Palestinian militants had not Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade members allied to his own Fatah faction given him an opportunity that he could not refuse: First, 6 members of Al Aksa infuriated over expulsion from the Muqaata, Abbas' presidential headquarters, after years of sanctuary from Israeli arrest in 2002, after being told to "stop their racketeering activities and join the security forces, or hand over their weapons" retrieved their weapons and shot up the compound with Abbas in it (he was not injured); second, this group now some 15 strong went on a rampage through Ramallah thoroughly terrorizing high street cafes and restaurants; and third, over 20 Al Aksa members the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, attempting to disrupt elections said to be leaning to Hamas, and claiming the election "invalid." Amazingly, while there was much property loss, no one was killed despite many being treated to a muzzle-eye view. Restraint in Palestine is a relative thing, but the message was clear:

"This is a message to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]. It's a challenge to Abu Mazen - who's going to run the show? Him or the gunmen?"

Already close to self-marginalization, Abbas had not established his authority in Palestinian territories, had not dispelled the growing belief that the Palestinian Authority was "crippled," had not restored order to people that "need security as they need bread," and had done nothing to slake the gains by Hamas in local elections that presage a Hamas victory in the July parliamentary elections. I submit that Hamas had to do little to win other than to let Fatah confirm its corruption and fecklessness:

"This chaos is harming the Palestinian Authority and Fatah totally, and if they don't reform now, you can say farewell to Fatah. Hamas is powerful, and Fatah is fighting a battle with itself and is at the same time unable to bring law and order to the streets."… Gang rule in the West Bank "is the primary problem today that is holding up moving forward on the process of peaceful reconciliation."

In lieu of an independent power base capable of command, Abbas is said to have instead believed that a policy of co-optation would draw militants into joining the Palestinian security forces. Fatah inaction was blamed on Israeli predation on Palestinian security forces without addressing continued corruption by Fatah cadre faithful and security force members that were serving militants of dissident groups - such as Al Aksa - groups that they were ostensibly expected to control. It didn't help when the prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, was asked when the Palestinian security services would be reformed that, "He just shrugged his shoulders, lifted his hands and walked away." As it was, militants inadvertently achieved what US and Israeli demands to suppress armed groups could not achieve.

It still took weeks for Abbas to act, but act he did, forcing out the corruption-tainted West Bank security chief Ismail Jaber, appointing in Jaber's place the untainted Nablus security commander Maj. Gen. Nadal Asoli, firing Younis al-Aas, the local Ramallah commander that failed to contain the Al Aksa rampage, setting a mandatory retirement age in order to force out dubious security staff and military commanders, and floating names for new senior security positions.

Abbas must now restrain Al Aksa and Islamic Jihad and demonstrate to Hamas and the Palestinian people that he can govern.

For reasons of his own, Ariel Sharon wants a functional Palestinian entity that disarms, or as you prefer, regulates the militants and so presents itself as a secure partner to which Israel can return control of more Palestinian cities.  Despite its rhetoric and history, Hamas could be that entity. One wonders if Abbas and Fatah can be.

Abbas Moves to Challenge Militant Groups
Associated Press
4 Apr 2005

Abbas Moves to Control West Bank Security Forces
New York Times
April 3, 2005

Abbas Orders Crackdown After Attack
The Associated Press
31 Mar 2005

Palestinian President Orders Crackdown on Street Chaos
New York Times
March 31, 2005

Palestinian Groups Extend Truce
BBC News
17 Mar 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Considering plausibly deniable cryptography as a response to a Distributed Networking Attack


In Staying off the Wall of Sheep, the first lesson of Defcon was "the importance of using encryption, not just at Defcon but in all network traffic." For most users; however, unencrypted cleartext is the order of the day for transmitting UIDs, passwords, and body text as users do not equate their email with post cards, except that it is likely that more can read an email than the post card. Outside government systems, encryption tends to belong to legitimate commercial confidential business, criminal and terrorist enterprises, and the randomly paranoid.

The US Secret Service is responding to the widening use of encryption software by criminals in "higher profile and higher value targets [where] from an evidentiary standpoint they have more to hide" by harnessing its employees PCs (4,000 to date, extending to all 10,000 in 2005) in a Distributed Networking Attack (DNA) program running in background using a fractional part of each CPU's cycle time. As even networks far larger than that of the Secret Service would have great difficulty in brute force decryption of a 256-bit key, the authorities are turning their attention not to the encrypted text but to the encryption passwords

User generated passwords or passphrases are usually flawed, not random, and have some relation to an aspect of their personal or professional life. Information about the "suspect's personal life and interests collected by field agents" is blended with cleartext (email, documents, browser cache, frequented URLs, et al) resident on the suspect's PC hard drive, then submitted to DNA to create a tailored password/passphrase set specific to the PC's owner that is then tested to determine the password. (Criminal gangs that employ multiple languages and alphabets - an increasingly common condition of transnational criminal gangs - add additional complexity.)

As DNA may be expanded to larger parts of DHS, I would expect to see a renaissance in deniable cryptography systems such as Rubberhose (apparently not now available) and StegFS as criminals seek a counter response. Consider the case in which:

A spy travelling with a laptop [with traditionally encrypted files] is arrested by a foreign government, detained, and tortured until he gives up the keys to his data… Encrypted filesystems fail against the Rubberhose Attack [because] traditional encrypted filesystems leak information. While the Bad Guy doesn’t know what the encrypted data is, he is able to see that there -is- encrypted data. Thus, he can beat our spy until all encrypted data has been decrypted.

Deniable cryptography allows a captive or defendant that does not wish to disclose the plaintext corresponding to their cyphertext to be able to that there is more than one interpretation of the encrypted data, i.e., an investigator will likely know that encrypted material exists on the drive, but will not know how much as so there is an opportunity to keep the existence of the most essential data hidden. Designed by Julian Assange, co-author of The Underground, Rubberhose is named after the decryption tactic it attempts to defeat: Rubberhose Cryptanalysis, in which suspects are exposed to repeated beatings or torture until their password is surrendered.

Rubberhose was originally conceived [as] a tool for human rights workers who needed to protect sensitive data in the field, particularly lists of activists and details of incidents of abuse… Human rights workers carry vital data on laptops through the most dangerous situations, sometimes being stopped by military patrols who would have no hesitation in torturing a suspect until he or she revealed a passphrase to unlock the data.

In some cases the inquiring governmental agency does not have to be a third world satrap when it comes to demanding access to private encrypted data. (I often tell US nationals that the Patriot Act is modest in terms of many English laws.) The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 of the UK (commonly called RIP) allows UK law enforcement agencies:

the right to demand decryption keys from anyone, and it imposes prison sentences on those that refuse to hand them over. The RIP Act also forbids people, under threat of prison, from telling anyone that they have been asked to hand over their key.

Rubberhose thwarted this by allowing a large number of encrypted messages to be stored on the same drive, each encoded with a different password. As the total number of levels is unknown, the captive can surrender one or more levels with some confidence that the arresting entity cannot easily discern that they do not have access to all the data on the drive. Rubberhose had a modular architecture, self-test suite, employed information hiding (both steganography and deniable cryptography), worked with any file system, had freely available source, and supported ciphers such as DES, Blowfish, Twofish and CAST. Rubberhose could deter forensic disk-surface analysis as a portion of disk blocks from file systems would be randomly repositioned on the drive so as to defeat a statistical analysis of the more frequently used "real" file system.

With Rubberhose down, users can look to StegFS (Steganographic File System) for Linux (also here and FAQ):

StegFS looks like a [completely standard Linux file system (ext2)], except that all free blocks are immediately written over with random data when they are deleted [and] a small portion of files are written to random free areas… Additional directories... appear for each security level… Each hidden file belongs to one of 15 security levels. There are also 15 security contexts, each giving access to a subset of all security levels and protected with its own password. Outsiders can see that a drive is StegFS enabled, but cannot see how many layers of encryption there are on the disk. Users can plausibly deny the number of files stored on disk. The installation of the driver can be justified by revealing one lower layer, and denying the existence of any additional layers.

DNA Key to Decoding Human Factor
By Brian Krebs
Washington Post
March 28, 2005

Defending against Rubberhose Attacks
Christopher Soghoian
JHU Systems Seminiar
March 9 2004
SPAR instance scrolled off

StegFS: A Steganographic File System
HweeHwa PANG, Laboratories for Information Technology; Kian-Lee TAN, Xuan ZHOU, , National University of Singapore, Singapore

Hiding Data Accesses in Steganographic File System
Xuan ZHOU, Kian-Lee TAN, National University of Singapore; HweeHwa PANG, Institute for Infocomm Research, Singapore

Warning over e-mail snooping
BBC News
1 June, 2001

Gordon Housworth

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Weblogs, better intelligence and more efficient warfighting, part 2


Part 1

A reserve military intelligence officer offers a problem statement for the intel community and a solution as per the US Army:

It's an open secret that the US intelligence community has its own classified, highly secure Internet. Called Intelink, it's got portals, chat rooms, message boards, search engines, webmail, and tons of servers. It's [good] … for four years ago. While I was serving as an intelligence analyst at the US Central Command in Qatar during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in 2003, my team and I analyzed hundreds of messages and reports each day. We created briefings used by generals Tommy Franks and John Abizaid. A vast amount of information was available to us on Intelink, but there was no simple way to find and use the data efficiently… And while there were hundreds of people throughout the world reading the same materials, there was no easy way to learn what they thought. Somebody had answers to my questions, I knew, but how were we ever to connect? The scary truth is that most of the time analysts are flying half blind.

It doesn't have to be that way… Launched in 2001, Army Knowledge Online is Yahoo! for grunts. All the things that make life on the Net interesting and useful are on AKO. Every soldier has an account, and each unit has its own virtual workspace. Soldiers in my reserve unit are scattered throughout Texas, and we're physically together only once a month. AKO lets us stay linked around the clock… The first step toward reform: Encourage blogging on Intelink.

Spies and Bloggers continues:

"You get a lot of these obsteperous guys [writing blogs] who don't defer to hierarchy, but smart executives all over the place now are trying to figure out ways to capitalize on people like me [David Stephenson]. It's just dumb to filter out that potential information just because the people who are offering it are not like you."

I concur with John Robb's comment that the "intelligence community should blog for the same reasons companies have begun doing so: Large organization have found that their top-down methods for organizing massive amounts of information simply don't work. "It's too big of a task… It can't be done."

Stephenson was specific in outlining the choices facing a government that has lost control of its flow of information:

"Individuals have access to all of this decentralized technology that's almost impossible for the government to control… It seems to me that the government is faced with some stark choices. They can 'get with the program' -- realize they have lost control and try to capitalize on that -- or they can pretend they still control the flow of information and enact all sorts of Draconian regulations that aren't going to work anyway."

Do not make the mistake that Ira Winkler does in saying:

"What this sounds like to me is, 'Blogs are cool, let's use a cool technology,' is responsible for some of the most confusing information that the Internet has ever seen."

What Winkler has done is expose his lack of understanding of the blogosphere in that bloggers ultimately rate other bloggers and that, just as I have, one can tease out the good ones, and for sites where dross is injected into its stream (such as conservative spoiling into Daily KOS) there are means for recognized privileged users (by their contributions and peer ranking) to expunge the bad.

Just as with any other intel data stream, the validity of source (the blogger) and validity of datum from source (a specific blog entry) will shortly become apparent. Weblogs will work especially well when there are commanders such as General James Cartwright who say this in their Command and Control Blog:

"The metric is what the person has to contribute, not the person’s rank, age, or level of experience. If they have the answer, I want the answer. When I post a question on my blog, I expect the person with the answer to post back. I do not expect the person with the answer to run it through you, your OIC, the branch chief, the exec, the Division Chief and then get the garbled answer back before he or she posts it for me. The Napoleonic Code and Netcentric Collaboration cannot exist in the same space and time. It’s YOUR job to make sure I get my answers and then if they get it wrong or they could have got it righter, then you guide them toward a better way…but do not get in their way."

Gordon Housworth

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Weblogs as a means of overcoming institutional conservatism, collecting better intelligence and affecting more efficient warfighting


We owe much to Donald Schon (properly Schön) for his innovations in learning that have reframed much of the language of education, not the least of which are the learning society, double-loop learning and reflection-in-action has become part of the language of education. For our purposes, I will focus on Beyond the Stable State in which Schon stated that institutions are characterized by a "dynamic conservatism" defined as a "tendency to fight to remain the same," all of which rise from a strong and abiding belief in a stable state, "the unchangeability, the constancy of central aspects of our lives, or belief that we can attain such a constancy." While dynamic conservatism is a false "bulwark against uncertainty," it is a strong and unrelenting one that persists in the face of increasingly rapid technological change whose frequency was "uniquely threatening to the stable state":

The loss of the stable state means that our society and all of its institutions are in continuous processes of transformation. We cannot expect new stable states that will endure for our own lifetimes. We must learn to understand, guide, influence and manage these transformations. We must make the capacity for undertaking them integral to ourselves and to our institutions. We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation.

Written in the early 1970s, institutions and bureaucracies are still with us and are just about as stable and as resistant to change as when first Schon penned the idea. In fact, it is a common axiom in change management that quantum change often comes from the outside - from an outsider or maverick - who has nothing to lose by upsetting the status quo. (Witness Xerox's fatal clinging to consumables as a cash flow staple as it squandered the venture capital of its nascent PCs, desktop printing, user interfaces, and computer networks.)

If change comes from the outsider (who often departs or is driven out to form a new firm), where does that leave the rest of the organization? I am not alone in submitting that weblogs are one very good way despite their messiness and informality. I find it painful to reflect on the changes that better communications (in terms of accuracy, completeness, currency, consistency) would have made in my 19-part series that started with Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF): analysis and prediction for a year-end After Action Report on 29 Dec, 2004 and ended with "Why are they doing this to us?" on 14 Jan, 2005. In commencing the series, I observed that:

The picture will not be an attractive one, the needed changes will be wrenching and likely rejected, the outcome - a loss already in progress - will be difficult to absorb, and an amelioration, if possible, will require some extraordinarily gifted diplomacy and geopolitical footwork to recover.

James Fallows now asks many of the same questions in Getting Out Right, citing Fourth Generation Warfare and OODA Loop Implications of The Iraqi Insurgency as an example of a means of asking the right questions, questions that were long overlooked and thus populated the pages of the After Action Report (AAR) Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) and related analyses.

I think that weblogs are a very effective means of getting answers back up, even reframing a partially or poorly phrased question and then getting its answer back up. With the right encouragement from the top, it just might overcome Frank Voehl's apt admonition:

All established social systems work very hard to survive. They often, at a great cost, maintain their boundaries, work methods, and patterns of interaction and involvement. The more they are pressed from the outside, the more they push back. This need for social equilibrium is very strong and is frequently self-reinforcing. For many of us, this parallels the common biological perspective on what keeps organizations cohesive: Namely, any tendency towards change is automatically met by the increased effectiveness of the factors that resist change.

Many organizational change agents make the mistake of writing off this phenomenon as simple resistance to change, which they feel can be overcome either by ignoring it and plowing straight ahead, by trying to pacify it with several well-crafted motivational speeches, or by a quick hitting series of team meetings.

Part 2

Getting Out Right
by James Fallows
The Atlantic Monthly, April 2005

It’s Good to Know Leadership Gets It
Posted By: Timmer @ 0610 on 20050323
The Daily Brief

We Need Spy Blogs
By Kris Alexander
Wired, Issue 13.03, March 2005

Spies and Bloggers
By John P. Mello Jr.

Fourth Generation Warfare & OODA Loop Implications of The Iraqi Insurgency
G.I. Wilson, Greg Wilcox, Chet Richards
Defense and the National Interest
Dec 2004

Beyond the Stable State
Donald A. Schon
ISBN: 0393006859
Norton, 1973

Gordon Housworth

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