One would think that without a security clearance, the Director of Naval Intelligence would lose his job. In the case of Navy Vice Adm. Ted Branch, that didn’t happen.
Branch was caught on the periphery of the “Fat Leonard” scandal, due to his actions while commanding officer of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
You’ve probably heard of it by now. Numerous Navy officers and individuals tied to a contractor in the Far East have been indicted for all sorts of charges, including retired Navy Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, whose indictment was unsealed on March 14, according to a Defense News report.
Branch had his security clearance suspended in 2013, months after he became Director of Naval Intelligence. A March 2016 report by USNI News noted that then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus discussed the situation with the Senate Armed Services Committee in a hearing.
“When I was informed in late 2013 that Adm. Branch was possibly connected to the GDMA case, I thought because of his position I should remove his clearance in an excess of caution. I was also told — assured — at that time that a decision would be made in a very short time — in a matter of weeks, I was told — as to whether he was involved and what would be the disposition of the case,” Mabus explained to Senator Joni Earnst (R-IA).
Branch’s situation had languished for almost two and a half years at that point.
“Naval intelligence is OK. The whole situation is less than optimal and frustrating, but we are where we are,” he told Military.com in Feb. 2016. “And we will persevere. And I will lead in this capacity until somebody tells me to go home.”
Branch retired on Oct. 1, 2016, upon the confirmation of his successor, Vice Adm. Jan Tighe.
During Branch’s time as captain of the Nimitz, the 10-part PBS documentary series “Carrier” was film on the vessel. The series was produced by Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions, the same company that did the Oscar-winning film “Hacksaw Ridge.”
In the wake of a recent spate of terrorist attacks in London, the government of Prime Minister Theresa May has turned to the country’s elite Special Air Service counter-terrorist forces to blend into the city’s landscape in hopes of stopping another attack before it starts.
While they’re reportedly deploying alongside police units wearing special uniforms and carrying the latest commando gear, the SAS troopers are also said to be disguising themselves as homeless people and sleeping on city streets.
“The threat level is still assessed by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre as severe and that means an attack is highly likely so we must be ready,” a military source told the Daily Mail. “These soldiers provide a very good layer of immediate response at least to minimize casualties or stop injuries or deaths if they react quickly.”
Other SAS operators posing as civilians are offering handouts to the “homeless” commandos to keep them fed and supplied, the paper said.
Unlike the United States, the United Kingdom doesn’t have a Posse Comitatus Act that prohibits the deployment of military forces within the country at the direction of the government. While this might have some scratching their heads, it has many feeling much safer in the wake of recent terrorist attacks which have left scores wounded and killed.
In order to diminish the threat to UK residents and citizens, May has not-so-subtly authorized the British military to turn the SAS loose throughout the country in an effort to prevent further attacks and to hunt down would-be terrorists before they can carry out their dastardly plans.
Soon after initial reports on the May 22 bombing in the lobby of the Manchester Arena surfaced, Blue Eurocopter Dauphins belonging to the British Army Air Corps’ 658 Squadron appeared on rooftops of the city, offloading kitted-out SAS troops, armed to the teeth with assault rifles and sub-machine guns.
In the days since, news media across the UK have noted that these SAS warfighters have been assisting British police teams in assaulting the hideouts of terrorists around the country, sweeping for accomplices who may have been involved in the planning and execution of various terror attacks this year.
According to The Mirror, troops from the SAS’s G-Squadron and Counter Revolutionary Warfare Wing have also been posted in the UK’s largest cities, walking among the general public without anybody the wiser in the hopes of catching terrorists unawares while they attempt to attack unassuming civilians going about their daily lives. These fully operational troops have been trained to blend in, only stepping out with their weapons drawn if the need arises.
The Special Air Service was formed during the Second World War in Africa, an asymmetric warfare detachment of the British Army equipped with jeeps and machine guns to harass German military units when they least expected it. First led by eccentric officer and adventurer, Sir David Stirling, the SAS proved its worth and began operating in the European theater during the war.
In the Cold War, its mission evolved along with the threats the rest of the world faced, and counter-terrorism became a priority, remaining its top directive to this very day.
Recruits vying for a shot at joining the SAS and earning its coveted beige beret face an arduous journey ahead, involving grueling physical tests, sleep and meal deprivation, and a long-distance forced march across a mountain in Wales which has to be accomplished within a time limit. The attrition rates have consistently been incredibly high throughout the selection course’s history and, controversially, the course has even claimed the lives of a few of its attendees.
Upon being selected to the SAS, candidates are trained to be master marksmen, expert drivers, free-fall skydivers and more in a diverse array of climates and environments.
By the end of their training, these soldiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the very best special operations forces in the world.
This is not the first time the SAS has seen action inside British borders. In early 1980, the unit was deployed to London to take down the Iranian embassy after terrorists seized control of the diplomatic house, taking a number of civilians hostage. After negotiations failed, SAS teams assaulted the embassy, killing all but one of the perpetrators while arresting the sole survivor. This event is recounted in vivid detail in the upcoming movie “6 Days.”
In the years since the Iranian embassy siege, the SAS has been sent to a number of combat zones throughout the world, operating from the Falklands in the early 1980s to the Middle East in the present day. In Iraq, members of the SAS served as part of a joint multinational hunter-killer unit known as Task Force Black/Knight, systematically rooting out and eliminating terrorists in-country. More recently, it has been rumored that the SAS is once again active in the Middle East, functioning alongside allied partners with the goal of destroying ISIS through both pinpoint attacks and brute force.
While British citizens can sleep well at night, now knowing that their nations’ finest walk incognito in their midst, potential terrorists will likely quiver with the knowledge that these elite operators stand ready in the shadows to visit violence upon those who would do their countrymen harm.
The House has unanimously approved legislation that makes it a crime for U.S. service members to distribute intimate photos or videos of people without first getting their consent.
The measure is a direct response to a nude-photo sharing scandal that has rocked the Marine Corps. Lawmakers voted 418-0 to pass the bill Wednesday.
The scandal came to light after it was discovered that sexually explicit photos of female and male Marines were being shared on a secret Facebook page.
Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, the bill’s sponsor, says the “Neanderthals” who posted the photos aren’t emblematic of the vast majority of U.S. troops. But she says the idea that any one in uniform thinks it’s acceptable to upload and comment on nude photos is a problem that must be fixed.
Among the first Americans to enter Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks were members of the Central Intelligence Agency’s shadowy Special Activities Division, along with elite special operations personnel from the US military’s various branches.
Tragically, it would be one of the CIA’s Special Operations Group – the armed paramilitary branch of the SAD – who would be the first to lay down his life in the War on Terror, becoming the first American casualty in Afghanistan.
In November 2001, Johnny “Mike” Spann, an SOG operative, found himself at Qala-i-Jangi, a century-old fortress positioned near Mazar-i-Sharif, where hundreds of Taliban fighters were held prisoner by Afghan Northern Alliance militia, having been captured during the Siege of Kunduz that same month.
Spann was a graduate of Auburn University and a former Marine, having served six years as an artillery officer before being recruited to the CIA in 1999. He later went on to join the SAD’s SOG soon afterwards, delving deeper into the world of black operations.
The CIA tasked Spann and another officer – an Uzbek language specialist – with interrogating the captives to glean intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda activity. The prisoners, as one might expect, were extremely uncooperative, and were additionally very poorly screened by their Afghan captors.
In a matter of minutes, the situation devolved into chaos.
A number of the prisoners rebelled against their captors, pulling out hidden hand grenades and detonating them in suicide attacks. Prisoners crowded around Spann during his questioning session began lunging at the SOG officer.
Spann and a fellow CIA operative immediately brought their guns to bear – the former pulling a pistol, and the latter grabbing an AK-47 from a Northern Alliance guard. In the blink of an eye, Spann was mobbed from all sides and disappeared under a mass of Taliban fighters, while his colleague attempted to make his way to his fallen comrade.
Reports estimate that Spann put down anywhere between three to seven enemy fighters with his pistol, before succumbing to the onslaught. The remaining CIA officer systematically dropped more Taliban fighters who had, by now, killed a number of Northern Alliance troops and took possession of their weapons, before running over to warn Red Cross and other civilian workers in the area to escape.
After contacting US diplomatic services in Uzbekistan, a quick reaction force consisting of American and British special forces hailing from Task Force Dagger was assembled and deployed to the area. The QRF established contact with the sole remaining CIA agent, while digging in for a long fight.
American fighter aircraft were directed to drop smart bombs on the fortress, while a pair of AC-130 Spectre gunships, operating under the cover of night, arrived on station, pounding the resistance into submission with concentrated fire.
After a two-day siege, the fort was retaken and most of rebels had escaped to the fort’s main dungeon.
The prisoners holed up in the dungeon finally surrendered after it was flooded with cold dirty irrigation water from nearby fields. Spann’s body was recovered with care in the aftermath of the battle, having found to be booby trapped by Taliban fighters. Of the 300-500 Taliban prisoners taken captive at the fortress, only 86 were recaptured alive.
Spann’s remains were repatriated to the US , and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star – equivalent to a Silver Star – and the Exceptional Service Medallion.
Today, a memorial still stands today at Qala-i-Jangi, commemorating Spann – the first American casualty in Afghanistan post-9/11.
Earlier this year, a French publisher had to issue an apology after a huge social media backlash emerged against their undergraduate-level history textbook which claimed that the attacks on 9/11 were “orchestrated by the CIA.” “This phrase which echoes conspiracy theories devoid of any factual basis should never have been used in this work,” the publisher said. “It doesn’t reflect the editorial position either of Ellipses publications or the author.”
Despite the incredible oversight of the publisher, it’s worth noting that the French have stood in solidarity with the United States in remembering 9/11 with a temporary memorial on its 10th anniversary. However, other nations across the free world have erected permanent memorials. After all, 9/11 began the War on Terror that freedom-loving countries have been fighting for 19 years. Here are some memorials that stand out.
(Dr. Avishai Teicher—Public Domain)
1. 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza—Jerusalem, Israel
Opened in 2009, the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza is a cenotaph remembering and honoring the victims of the attacks. It measures 30 feet tall and is made of granite, bronze, and aluminum. A piece of melted steel from Ground Zero forms part of the base on which the monument rests. The names of all the victims, including five Israeli citizens, are embedded on metal plates and placed on the circular wall. It is also the first and only monument outside of the United States to list all the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks.
(Memoria e Luce)
2. Memory and Light—Padua, Italy
Inaugurated on the 4th anniversary of the attacks, Memoria e Luce, as it’s known in Italian, was a gift from the United States to the Italian city of Padua. It features a six meter long, twisted steel beam recovered from Ground Zero. The structure in which it is housed mimics an open book and is reminiscent of the facades of the Twin Towers. The book is also open in the direction of the Statue of Liberty, further cementing the relationship between our two nations.
(SINCE 9/11 Charity)
3. Since 9/11—London, England
Throughout the War on Terror, Britain has been one of our strongest allies in combating those who wish harm on the West and the free world. Located at the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park, the memorial sculpture was a gift from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the United Kingdom. It is made entirely out of steel recovered from Ground Zero. The memorial is cared for by the SINCE 9/11 charity. Founded on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the charity’s focus is educating British students on 9/11 to “ensure that the legacy of 9/11 is one that builds hope from tragedy.”
4. Twin Towers and Lost Dogs Monument—Ontario, Canada
Located in the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society Park, this stone sculpture represents the Twin Towers. The towers rest on a pentagonal base and honors both the human and canine rescuers who took part in the search and rescue effort following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The memorial is particularly dedicated to a Yellow Labrador police canine named Sirius who died in the collapse of the South Tower. The plaque on the memorial reads, “This plaque honors the devotion and bravery shown by the many K-9 police units during the search, rescue, and recovery of victims of these attacks. Their heroic deeds will not be forgotten.”
5. Donadea 9/11 Memorial—Donadea, Ireland
Dedicated in 2003, the Donadea 9/11 Memorial was crafted by a local stonemason and sculptor. The structural representation of the Twin Towers features the names of victims inscribed on the stone. Though it serves as a memorial to all 9/11 victims, it is dedicated to Irish American firefighter Sean Tallon, whose father was born in Donadea. Tallon was a Corporal in the USMC Reserves and probationary firefighter at Ladder 10, the fire station directly across from the World Trade Center. He was one of the first people on scene when the first plane hit and was killed when the towers fell.
After 9/11, Americans swore that we would never forget. The beautiful and touching memorials listed here show that good people around the world won’t forget either.
U.S. Army Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was captured with thousands of others during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge in 1944. In all, he spent 100 days as a prisoner of war at Stalag IXA POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany.
As the highest ranking non-commissioned officer, he spoke for the group. When it came time for the Nazis to implement the policy of separating the Jewish prisoners and sending them off to labor camps where their survival was unlikely, Edmonds would have none of it. He ordered all his men to step forward and self-identify. The camp commander didn’t believe it.
“We are all Jews here,” he said.
Even when his captors put a gun to his head, the Tennessee native wouldn’t budge. His will was stronger than the Nazi’s threats. Edmonds continued, telling the Nazi camp commandant:
“If you are going to shoot, you are going to have to shoot all of us because we know who you are and you’ll be tried for war crimes when we win this war.”
His defiant stand saved 200 Jewish lives. He posthumously received the highest honor Israel gives non-Jews who risked their lives to save those of Jewish people during WWII. He is one of four Americans, and the first GI, to receive this honor.
“Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds seemed like an ordinary American soldier, but he had an extraordinary sense of responsibility and dedication to his fellow human beings,” said Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial. “The choices and actions of Master Sgt. Edmonds set an example for his fellow American soldiers as they stood united against the barbaric evil of the Nazis.”
The names of those who risked it all to save the Jewish people during the Holocaust are engraved down an avenue in a Jerusalem memorial called Yad Vashem. It is the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, safeguarding the memories of the past and teaching the importance of remembering to future generations.
The honor the Jewish nation bestows on such people is “Righteous Among the Nations,” created to convey the gratitude of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Edmonds joins the ranks of 25,685 others, including German industrialist Oskar Schindler and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
Edmonds died in 1985. While in captivity, Master Sgt. Edmonds kept a couple of diaries of his thoughts, as well as the names and addresses of some of his fellow captors.
Air Force pilots of the 1980s-era stealthy B-2 Spirit bomber plan to upgrade and fly the aircraft on attack missions against enemy air defenses well into the 2050s, service officials said.
“It is a dream to fly. It is so smooth,” Maj. Kent Mickelson, director of operations for 394th combat training squadron, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
In a special interview designed to offer a rare look into the technologies and elements of the B-2, Mickelson explained that the platform has held up and remained very effective – given that it was designed and built during the 80s.
Alongside his current role, Mickelson is also a B-2 pilot with experience flying missions and planning stealth bomber attacks, such as the bombing missions over Libya in 2011.
“It is a testament to the engineering team that here we are in 2016 and the B-2 is still able to do its job just as well today as it did in the 80s. While we look forward to modernization, nobody should come away with the thought that the B-2 isn’t ready to deal with the threats that are out there today,” he said. “It is really an awesome bombing platform and it is just a marvel of technology.”
The B-2 is engineered with avionics, radar and communications technologies designed to identify and destroy enemy targets from high altitudes above hostile territory.
“It is a digital airplane. We are presented with what is commonly referred to as glass cockpit,” Mickelson said.
The glass cockpit includes various digital displays, including one showing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) information which paints a rendering or picture of the ground below.
“SAR provides the pilots with a realistic display of the ground that they are able to use for targeting,” Mickelson said.
The B-2 has a two-man crew with only two ejection seats. Also, the crew is trained to deal with the rigors of a 40-hour mission.
“The B-2 represents a huge leap in technology from our legacy platforms such as the B-52 and the B-1 bomber. This involved taking the best of what is available and giving it to the aircrew,” Mickelson said.
The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both conventional and nuclear weapons.
The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.
“Taking off from Whiteman and landing at Diego Garcia was one of the longest combat sorties the B-2 has ever taken. The bomber was very successful in Afghanistan and very successful in the early parts of the wars in Iraq and Libya,” Michelson added.
The B-2 crew uses what’s called a “long-duration kit,” which includes items such as a cot for sleeping and other essentials deemed necessary for a long flight, Mickelson explained.
As a stealth bomber engineered during the height of the Cold War, the B-2 was designed to elude Soviet air defenses and strike enemy targets – without an enemy ever knowing the aircraft was even there. This stealthy technological ability is referred to by industry experts as being able to evade air defenses using both high-frequency “engagement” radar, which can target planes, and lower frequency “surveillance” radar which can let enemies know an aircraft is in the vicinity.
The B-2 is described as a platform which can operate undetected over enemy territory and, in effect, “knock down the door” by destroying enemy radar and air defenses so that other aircraft can fly through a radar “corridor” and attack.
However, enemy air defenses are increasingly becoming technologically advanced and more sophisticated; some emerging systems are even able to detect some stealth aircraft using systems which are better networked, using faster computer processors and able to better detect aircraft at longer distances on a greater number of frequencies.
The Air Force plans to operate the B-2 alongside its new, now-in-development bomber called the Long Range Strike – Bomber, or LRS-B. well into the 2050s.
B-2 Modernization Upgrades – Taking the Stealth Bomber Into the 2050s
As a result, the B-2 fleet is undergoing a series of modernization upgrades in order to ensure the aircraft can remain at its ultimate effective capability for the next several decades, Mickelson said.
One of the key upgrades is called the Defensive Management System, a technology which helps inform the B-2 crew about the location of enemy air defenses. As a result, if there are emerging air defenses equipped with the technology sufficient to detect the B-2, the aircraft will have occasion to maneuver in such a way as to stay outside of its range.
The Defensive Management System is slated to be operational by the mid-2020s, Mickelson added.
“The whole key is to give us better situational awareness so we are able to make sound decisions in the cockpit about where we need to put the aircraft,” he added.
The B-2 is also moving to an extremely high frequency satellite in order to better facilitate communications with command and control. For instance, the communications upgrade could make it possible for the aircraft crew to receive bombing instructions from the President in the unlikely event of a nuclear detonation.
“This program will help with nuclear and conventional communications. It will provide a very big increase in the bandwidth available for the B-2, which means an increased speed of data flow. We are excited about this upgrade,” Mickelson explained.
The stealth aircraft uses a commonly deployed data link called LINK-16 and both UHF and VHF data links, as well. Michelson explained that the B-2 is capable of communicating with ground control stations, command and control headquarters and is also able to receive information from other manned and unmanned assets such as drones.
Information from nearby drones, however, would at the moment most likely need to first transmit through a ground control station. That being said, emerging technology may soon allow platforms like the B-2 to receive real-time video feeds from nearby drones in the air.
The B-2 is also being engineered with a new flight management control processor designed to expand and modernize the on-board computers and enable the addition of new software.
This involves the re-hosting of the flight management control processors, the brains of the airplane, onto much more capable integrated processing units. This results in the laying-in of some new fiber optic cable as opposed to the mix bus cable being used right now – because the B-2’s computers from the 80s are getting maxed out and overloaded with data, Air Force officials told Scout Warrior.
The new processor increases the performance of the avionics and on-board computer systems by about 1,000-times, he added. The overall flight management control processor effort, slated to field by 2015 and 2016, is expected to cost $542 million.
B-2 Weapons Upgrades
The comprehensive B-2 upgrades also include efforts to outfit the attack aircraft with next generation digital nuclear weapons such as the B-61 Mod 12 with a tail kit and Long Range Stand-Off weapon or, LRSO, an air-launched, guided nuclear cruise missile, service officials said.
The B-61 Mod 12 is an ongoing modernization program which seeks to integrate the B-61 Mods 3, 4, 7 and 10 into a single variant with a guided tail kit. The B-61 Mod 12 is being engineered to rely on an inertial measurement unit for navigation.
In addition to the LRSO, B83 and B-61 Mod 12, the B-2 will also carry the B-61 Mod 11, a nuclear weapon designed with penetration capabilities, Air Force officials said.
The LRSO will replace the Air Launched Cruise Missile, or ALCM, which right now is only carried by the B-52 bomber, officials said.
Alongside its nuclear arsenal, the B-2 will carry a wide range of conventional weapons to include precision-guided 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, 5,000-pound JDAMs, Joint Standoff Weapons, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and GBU 28 5,000-pound bunker buster weapons, among others.
The platform is also preparing to integrate a long-range conventional air-to-ground standoff weapon called the JASSM-ER, for Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Extended Range.
The B-2 can also carry a 30,000-pound conventional bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, Mickelson added.
“This is a GBU-28 (bunker-buster weapon) on steroids. It will go in and take out deeply buried targets,” he said.
During the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, elements of the 3rd Infantry Division had come under fire from Iraqi forces, including T-72 tanks. That’s when the boots on the ground called for air support.
Thornton came within 1,000 yards of the enemy, using his A-10’s GAU-8 cannon in some cases. Ultimately, he and the other pilot would be credited with killing three T-72s, six other armored vehicles, and a number of other targets.
Fourteen years after that battle, Thornton, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, will receive the Silver Star in a ceremony in July that will be presided over by Gen. Mike Holmes, the commander of Air Combat Command. The ceremony will take place at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
“This courageous and aggressive attack, while under withering fire and in poor weather, along with Capt. Thornton’s superior flying skills and true attack pilot grit, allowed Task Force 2-69 Armor to cross the Tigris River with minimal combat losses and successfully accomplish their objective of linking up with coalition forces completing the 360-degree encirclement of Baghdad,” the citation that outlined the award reads.
Thornton had been assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron at Pope Field, near Fort Bragg, prior to his retirement. At the time of the incident, Thornton was a captain in the Air Force.
MOSCOW — You might think governments seeking digital oversight of their citizens would avoid invoking the author who coined the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” and implanted the nightmare of total state surveillance in the imaginations of millions of readers.
Think again, because Russian officials appear to disagree.
According to the business daily Vedomosti, contracts exceeding 2 billion rubles ($29 million) have been signed for the procurement and installation in schools across Russia of surveillance cameras linked to a system that has facial-recognition capability and is called Orwell, after the British author of dystopian novels 1984 and Animal Farm.
The company tasked with executing the project on behalf of regional governments is the National Center of Informatization (NCI), a subsidiary of state defense and technology conglomerate Rostec, Vedomosti reported on June 15.
The video surveillance systems have been delivered to 1,608 schools across Russia, an unnamed representative of the company told the newspaper, adding that the equipment was intended to keep tabs on students’ comings and goings and identify strangers who attempt to enter school grounds, among other things.
Elvis-Neotech, a subsidiary of state nanotechnology company Rosnano, is responsible for preparing the systems for sale, according to Yevgeny Lapshev, a representative of that company. Lapshev told Vedomosti that the Orwell system will become a security feature in all of Russia’s schools in the coming years — more than 43,000 in all.
On June 16, the media outlet RBK cited an anonymous NCI representative who disputed aspects of the Vedomosti report, saying that the company had not signed contracts for the delivery of video equipment to 43,000 schools.
The representative told RBK that NCI had taken part in a pilot program to equip 1,600 Russian schools with video surveillance systems that were not equipped with facial recognition, and that a decision on expanding the program to all Russian schools was yet to be made.
The reported plans come after a rise in recent years in violent incidents at Russian schools, including a spate of stabbings in late 2017 and early 2018 that prompted renewed calls from lawmakers for increased security measures and strict monitoring of visitors.
“The requirements for training and certifying employees of private security organizations, especially those guarding schools and kindergartens, must be as strict as possible,” Vasily Piskarev, chairman of parliament’s Committee on Security and Corruption Control, said after a knife incident in October 2019.
But amid the push to expand monitoring capabilities and beef up security at schools, rights activists in Russia are warning that facial recognition and other surveillance technologies are being used much more widely and with minimal oversight, leading to a curtailment of freedom of speech and movement and ultimately toward a loss of data privacy.
Since March, when Russia’s coronavirus epidemic began, the authorities have used facial-recognition technology to identify and fine quarantine violators, deploying — in Moscow alone — a network of over 100,000 cameras that link to a central database accessible to thousands of law enforcement officials at any time.
In addition, a range of smartphone apps and digital passes unveiled since March — some of which remain mandatory for people with COVID-19 symptoms despite the lifting on June 9 of many lockdown restrictions — have prompted fears among data-privacy campaigners that those and other new digital tools may integrate into a ratcheted-up, post-pandemic surveillance apparatus.
Alyona Popova, an activist who launched a lawsuit in October 2019 against Moscow’s use of facial-recognition cameras, warned that “under the guise of fighting the coronavirus,” officials are working to implement “total surveillance.”
Last fall, Russia’s Education Ministry clarified the criteria under which facial recognition could be used in schools. All parties, including school employees and the parents of students, would have to give permission, the newspaper Izvestia quoted an official as saying.
About 5,000 U.S. troops are sailing toward the Middle East with an F-35B detachment, marking the first time the American Joint Strike Fighters are likely to conduct real-world combat operations.
Sailors and Marines with the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit left San Diego in July 2018 for a six-month deployment to the Middle East and Western Pacific. The three-ship ARG includes the amphibious assault ship Essex, amphibious transport dock Anchorage and dock landing ship Rushmore.
The 13th MEU includes an F-35B detachment from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, based out of Yuma, Arizona.
“This is the newest and most lethal aircraft that the Joint Force has, and the fact that it’s coming into the [U.S. Central Command] theater and potentially seeing some combat operations is a big deal,” Lt. Col. Jaime Macias, chief of plans at Marine Corps Forces Central Command, said in a Marine Corps news release leading up to the deployment.
ARG-MEU deployments are typically publicized by the Defense Department, but this one — the first to leave the U.S. with an F-35 attack squadron detachment — was not. Citing operational security, officials declined to explain the change in policy.
The F-35B Lightning II
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
“The Essex Amphibious Ready Group with embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit got underway from San Diego, July 10, 2018,” Lt. Tim Gorman, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman, said in a statement. “For reasons of operational security, we are not publicly disclosing any additional details.”
The sailors and Marines conducted a six-month-long certification process before departing. The team is ready to respond to crises that erupt during their deployment, according to aMarine Corps video about the workup.
The Marine Corps’ variant of the Lightning II stealth jet is designed for sea deployments since it can take off and land vertically.
“Throughout the training, we’ve seen this platform increase our ability to gain a foothold for our operations,” the video states. “This is the most capable aviation platform to support our riflemen on the ground.”
In addition to the F-35 detachment, the MEU also includes Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines; Combat Logistics Battalion 13; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166; and a command element.
This marks the second time in four months that the F-35B has deployed aboard a Navy ship. In March 2018, members of the Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121patrolled the Pacific from aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp.
The East Coast-based Iwo Jima ARG and 26th MEU are slated to wrap up a Middle East deployment in August 2018 as these Marines and sailors move in.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Japan’s military will practice deploying anti-missile batteries at three US bases in Japan as concern grows about the North Korean missile threat.
The exercises will take place August 29 at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo and at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in western Japan. They will be repeated on September 7 at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan.
The US military says the drills will test the ability of Japanese and US forces to work together and assess firing locations at the bases. They will also allow Japan to practice rapid deployment of its PAC-3 anti-missile system.
North Korea has conducted a series of test launches to develop its missile capability and recently threatened to send missiles over western Japan and into waters near the US territory of Guam.
North Korea may be planning one of the most powerful nuclear explosions in history, if the nation’s foreign minister is to be believed.
Ri Yong Ho, the foreign minister of the isolated nation, reportedly told journalists that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is considering such a test blast.
“It could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific,” Yong Ho told reporters at the United Nations in New York on Thursday, according to a story by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. “We have no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong Un.”
The suggestion came in response to bellicose rhetoric exchanged between US President Donald Trump and Jong Un.
In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump called Jong Un a suicidal “rocket man” and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the US is “forced to defend itself or its allies.” Jong Un allegedly responded with a written statement, in which he called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” and said that “a frightened dog barks louder.”
Many experts have denounced Trump’s speech, suggesting his words could provoke Jong Un to take dramatic action.
“Trump is basically creating audience costs for Kim to back down,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Vox. “If you dare Kim, it creates pressure for him to respond with his own provocation.”
North Korea has set off several powerful nuclear test blasts in recent years, but they all occurred deep inside a mountain. A nuclear explosion in the air, on the ground, underwater, or in space has not happened in decades.
If the nation sets off an above-ground nuclear explosion — and the most powerful ever detonated in the Pacific — the Cold War’s rich history of test blasts suggests what might happen.
Why atmospheric nuclear tests are dangerous
The US, Russia, China, and other countries have set off more than 2,000 nuclear test blasts since 1945.
More than 500 of these explosions occurred on soil, in space, on barges, or underwater. But most of these happened early in the Cold War — before the risks to innocent people and the environment were well-understood. (Nearly all countries now ban nuclear testing.)
Only a fraction of a nuclear weapon’s core is turned into energy during an explosion; the rest is irradiated, melted, and turned into fine particles. This creates a small amount of fallout that can be lofted into the atmosphere and spread around.
But the risk of fallout vastly increases when a blast occurs close to the ground or water. There, a nuclear explosion can suck up dirt, debris, water, and other materials, creating many tons of radioactive fallout — and this material rises high into the atmosphere, where it drifts for hundreds of miles.
Yong Ho did not specify where or how high North Korea’s hypothetical Pacific “H-bomb” test might occur. However, the foreign minister did reportedly suggest it could be the most powerful ever detonated in the Pacific.
If this is not a matter of imprecise wording, such a blast would exceed the US’ strongest-ever nuclear test explosion.
On March 1, 1954, the US military set off the “Shrimp” thermonuclear device on a platform in the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands (about 2,300 miles southeast of Japan and 2,700 miles southwest of Hawaii).
This was part of the US military’s Castle Bravo test series, and the blast was equivalent to exploding 15 million tons of TNT, or roughly 1,000 times as powerful the US attack on Hiroshima that inflicted some 150,000 casualties.
While the military considered Shrimp and Bravo a success, its repercussions were disastrous. Researchers underestimated the device’s explosive power by nearly three-fold — and many were nearly killed when an artificial earthquake shook their concrete observation bunker 20 miles away.
“About ten seconds after Shrimp exploded, the underground bunker seemed to be moving. But that didn’t make any sense. The concrete bunker was anchored to the island, and the walls were three feet thick.
“‘Is this building moving or am I getting dizzy?’ another scientist asked. ‘My God, it is,’ O’Keefe said. ‘It’s moving!’
“O’Keefe began to feel nauseated, as though he were seasick, and held on to a workbench as objects slid around the room. The bunker was rolling and shaking, he later recalled, ‘like it was resting on a bowl of jelly.’ The shock wave from the explosion, traveling through the ground, had reached them faster than the blast wave passing through the air.”
The scientists ultimately escaped alive, but Marshall Islanders located 100 miles from the blast were not so lucky.
Shrimp’s four-mile-wide fireball destroyed about 200 billion tons of Bikini Atoll coral reef, turning much of it into radioactive fallout that spread all over the world. The worst of it sprinkled over atolls to the east, killing many people by causing radiation sickness.
Today, the 250-foot-deep, 1-mile-wide crater left by the blast is visible from space.
If North Korea decides to blow up a hydrogen or thermonuclear device — and the most powerful in the Pacific — we could only hope it is not close to the ground.
Missile or no missile?
All of these scenarios assume North Korea sets off a thermonuclear device in a controlled way — via airplane, barge, balloon, or some kind of stationary platform.
But the risk to people also largely depends on whether or not North Korea launches a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile or a shorter-range rocket, such as one launched from a submarine.
If successful, such a missile test would show North Korea has miniaturized its weapons. And if the blast appears to be caused by a hydrogen bomb, it would show North Korea could pull off a devastating thermonuclear strike on US soil.
But missiles are prone to failure in multiple ways, especially those in early development. A North Korean ICBM tipped with a nuclear warhead might miss its target by a significant distance, or explode en route. This could lead to detonation in an unintended place and altitude.
This is especially true if the missile has no self-destruct capability — ICBMs maintained by the US don’t. In that case, only hacking the missile’s software in mid-air, or destroying it with another weapon, could stop the launch.
“The stakes and heat in this conflict have not been this high since the Korean War,” Tristan Webb, a senior analyst for NK News, said in a story published by the outlet on Friday. “Kim Jong Un said in July that the … showdown was entering its final phase. He appears psychologically prepared for conflict.”