A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea's Olympic cheer squad - We Are The Mighty
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A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

A man dressed to impersonate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un walked through Pyongyang’s cheer squad at the Olympics — and they looked unimpressed to say the least.


Though it’s unclear if this is the same impersonator who crashed the games’ opening ceremony, the man was rushed away from the squad, much as the earlier impersonators were shoed away on Feb. 9, 2018.

Also read: This is why no one in North Korea is celebrating Kim Jong Un’s birthday

The cheerleaders looked less than thrilled to see a likeness of Kim before them. The squad is hand-picked for meeting stringent physical requirements, they are unpaid and train for months at a time, and have been imprisoned in the past for talking about the world they see outside of North Korea.

To get a feel for the pictures, check out Star.OhMyNews.com, which first reported the incident. Anna Fifield, Tokyo bureau chief for The Washington Post, also tweeted an image of the incident:

MIGHTY TRENDING

Hackers are trying to bring down entire countries, and it’s a matter of time

Gatwick Airport is Britain’s second busiest by passenger volume, and Europe’s eighth. And yet it was brought to a standstill for two days by two people and a single drone.

Its vulnerability reminded me of a conversation I had two years ago, at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon with cybersecurity investor Sergey Gribov of Flint Capital. He was talking up one of his investments, an industrial cybersecurity firm based in Israel called CyberX. Half-bored, I girded myself for his pitch. They usually go like this: “The internet is full of hackers! They want to steal your data and your money! If only companies used my company’s awesome product, we would all be safe!”


I have heard hundreds of pitches like this.

But my conversation with Gribov was different. It was … extreme. The criminals who break into the web sites of banks or chainstores and steal personal data or money are not the scariest people out there, he told me. The hackers we really ought to be worrying about are the ones trying to take entire countries offline. People who are trying to take down the internet, switch the lights off, cut the water supply, disable railways, or blow up factories.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

(Flickr photo by Richard Patterson)

The West’s weakness is in the older electronics and sensors that control processes in infrastructure and industry. Often these electronics were installed decades ago. The security systems controlling them are ancient or non-existent. If a hacker can gain control of a temperature sensor in a factory, he — they’re usually men — can blow the place up, or set it on fire. “The problem people don’t realise is it becomes a weapon of mass destruction. You can take down a whole country. It can be done,” he said.

And then, how do you respond? Does the country that was attacked — the one struggling to get its power grid back online — launch nukes? Probably not, he said, because “you have no idea who did it.”

“You can have a team of five people sitting in a basement and be just as devastating as WMDs,” he said. “It’s really scary. In some sense it’s a matter of time because it’s really easy.”

At the time, I discounted my conversation with Gribov. His VC fund was invested in CyberX, so he had an obvious interest in propagating the idea that the world is full of bad guys.

But in the years since we talked, two unnerving things happened.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

The scope of the 2016 internet outage after the attack on Dyn.

(Wikimedia, CC)

“Someone is learning how to take down the Internet,” Bruce Schneier, the CTO of IBM Resilient believes

Both attacks were conducted by relatively unsophisticated actors. The Dyn attack was done by three young men who had created some software that they merely hoped would disable a competitor’s company, until it got out of control. The Mauritania attack was probably done by the government of neighbouring Sierra Leone, which was trying to manipulate local election results by crippling the media.

Apparently, it is possible to take the world offline.

It’s not merely that “someone” out there is trying to figure out how to take down the internet. There are multiple someones out there who want that power. In June 2018, Atlanta’s city government was hobbled by an attack that wiped out a third of its software programs. The FBI told Business Insider earlier this year that it believed terrorists would eventually attempt to take America’s 911 emergency system offline.

Someone is learning how to take down the Internet,” Bruce Schneier, the CTO of IBM Resilient believes.

Three major power suppliers simultaneously taken over by hackers

Next, I talked to Nir Giller, cofounder and CTO of CyberX. He pointed me to the December 2015 blackout in Ukraine, in which three major power suppliers were simultaneously taken over by hackers. The hackers gained remote control of the stations’ dashboards, and manually switched off about 60 substations, leaving 230,000 Ukrainians in the cold and dark for six straight hours.

The hack was almost certainly done by Russia, whose military had invaded Crimea in the south of the country in 2014.

“It’s a new weapon,” Giller says. “It wasn’t an accident. It was a sophisticated, well-coordinated attack.”

The fact that the hackers targeted a power station was telling. The biggest vulnerabilities in Western infrastructure are older facilities, Giller believes. Factories, energy plants, and water companies all operate using machinery that is often very old. New devices and software are installed alongside the older machinery, often to control or monitor it. This is what the industrial “internet of things” looks like. Hackers don’t need to control an entire plant, the way they did in Ukraine. They only need to control an individual sensor on a single machine. “In the best-case scenario you have to get rid of a batch” of product, Giller says. “In the worst case, it’s medicine that is not supervised or produced correctly.”

CyberX has done work for the Carlsbad Desalination Plant in California. It claims to be the largest seawater desalination plant in the US. And it serves an area prone to annual droughts. Giller declined to say exactly how CyberX protects the plant but the implication of the company’s work is clear — before CyberX showed up, it was pretty easy to shut down the water supply to about 400,000 people in San Diego.

2010 was the year that cybersecurity experts really woke up to the idea that you could take down infrastructure, not just individual companies or web sites. That was the year the Stuxnet virus was deployed to take down the Iranian nuclear program.

“Stuxnet in 2010 was groundbreaking”

The principle behind Stuxnet was simple: Like all software viruses, it copied and sent itself to as many computers running Microsoft Windows as it possibly could, invisibly infecting hundreds of thousands of operating systems worldwide. Once installed, Stuxnet looked for Siemens Step7 industrial software. If it found some, Stuxnet then asked itself a question: “Is this software operating a centrifuge that spins at the exact frequency of an Iranian nuclear power plant that is enriching uranium to create nuclear weapons?” If the answer was “yes,” Stuxnet changed the data coming from the centrifuges, giving their operators false information. The centrifuges stopped working properly. And one-fifth of the Iranian nuclear program’s enrichment facilities were ruined.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

Anti-aircraft guns guarding Natanz Nuclear Facility, Iran.

“Stuxnet in 2010 was groundbreaking,” Giller says.

Groundbreaking, but extremely sophisticated. Some experts believe that the designers of Stuxnet would need access to Microsoft’s original source code — something that only a government like the US or Israel could command.

Russia is another state actor that is growing its anti-infrastructure resources. In April 2017 the US FBI and the British security services warned that Russia had seeded UK wifi routers — the little boxes that serve wireless internet in your living room — with a hack that can read all the internet traffic going through them. It’s not that Vladimir Putin wants to see what you’re looking at on Pornhub. Rather, “What they’re doing there is building capability,” says Andrew Tsonchev, the director of technology at Darktrace Industrial, a London-based cybersecurity firm that specialises in artificially intelligent, proactive security. “They’re building that and investing in that so they can launch attacks from it across the world if and when they need to.”

A simple extortion device disabled Britain’s largest employer in an afternoon

Then, in 2017, the Wannacry virus attack happened. Like Stuxnet, Wannacry also spread itself through the Microsoft Windows ecosystem. Once activated, it locked up a user’s computer and demanded a ransom in bitcoin if the user wanted their data back. It was intended as a way to extort money from people at scale. The Wannacry malware was too successful, however. It affected so many computers at once that it drew attention to itself, and was quickly disabled by a security researcher (who ironically was later accused of being the creator of yet another type of malware).

During its brief life, Wannacry became most infamous for disabling hundreds of computers used by Britain’s National Health Service, and was at one point a serious threat to the UK’s ability to deliver healthcare in some hospitals.

The fact that a simple extortion device could disable Britain’s largest employer in an afternoon did not go unnoticed. Previously, something like Stuxnet needed the sophistication of a nation-state. But Wannacry looked like something you could create in your bedroom.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

A screenshot shows a WannaCry ransomware demand.

Tsonchev told Business Insider that Wannacry changed the culture among serious black-hat hackers.

“It managed to swoop across, and burn down huge sectors in different countries for a bit,” he says. “In the course of that, the shipping industry got hit. We had people like Maersk, and other shipping terminals and operators, they went down for a day or two. What happened is the ransomware managed to get into these port terminals and the harbours that control shipping … that intrigued attackers to realise that was something they could deliberately try and do that wasn’t really in their playbook at that point.”

“Oh look, we can actually start to do things like take down manufacturing plants and affect the global shipping industry”

“So this year, we see follow-on attacks specifically targeting shipping terminals and ports. They hit the Port of Barcelona and the Port of San Diego and others. That seemed to follow the methodology of the lessons learned the previous year. ‘Oh look, we can actually start to do things like take down manufacturing plants and affect the global shipping industry.’ A couple years ago they were just thinking about stealing credit card data.”

Another scary thing? The Wannacry attack was in May 2017. By December 2017, the US government confirmed that the North Korean government was responsible for the attack. The North Koreans probably just wanted money. The hermit-communist state is chronically poor.

But it may have taught North Korea something more useful: You don’t need bombs to bring a nation to its knees.

Oddly, you have a role to play in making sure this doesn’t happen. The reason Russia and North Korea and Israel and the US all got such devastating results in their attacks on foreign infrastructure is because ordinary people are bad at updating the security software on their personal computers. People let their security software get old and vulnerable, and then weeks later they’re hosting Stuxnet or Wannacry or Russia’s wifi listening posts.

National security is, somehow, about “the absurdity of the mundane,” says Tsonchev. “These little annoying popups [on your computer] are actually holding the key to national security and people are just ignoring them. Individuals have a small part to play in keeping the whole country safe.”

So if you’re casting about for a New Year’s resolution right now, consider this one: Resolve to keep your phone and laptop up to date with system security software. Your country needs you.

Featured image by Ivan David Gomez Arce.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This is the Marine who will now lead the US Navy

Seven months after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, he has installed a new civilian leader for the Navy and Marine Corps.


Banker and Marine veteran Richard V. Spencer was sworn in as the 76th secretary of the Navy August 3 in a quiet, early-morning ceremony at the Pentagon, officials said, less than 48 hours after he was confirmed by the Senate in a late-night session August 1.

Spencer most recently served for a decade as the managing director of Fall Creek Management, a management consulting company in Wilson, Wyoming. Prior to that, according to a biography provided by officials, he worked on Wall Street for 16 years in roles centered on investment banking.

He has held numerous board of directors posts at private organizations, including the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, where he serves as vice chairman. He has also served the Pentagon as a member of the Defense Business Board and as a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel.

After graduating from Rollins College in 1976 with an economics degree, Spencer spent five years in the Marine Corps, working as a CH-46 Sea Knight pilot.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
CH-46 Sea Knight. (Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Yesenia Rosas)

According to service records obtained by Military.com, he was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Ana, California. While his awards include a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with one star, his records are incomplete and do not indicate where he deployed.

Spencer left the Marines in 1981 to work on Wall Street, but remained in the Reserves, where he was eventually promoted to captain.

He received few challenges at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, where he was introduced and warmly endorsed by former Navy secretary and US senator John Warner.

He indicated a desire to apply his business knowledge to help manage growing personnel costs that continue to challenge the Pentagon.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
Richard V. Spencer is sworn in as the 76th Secretary of the Navy by William O’Donnell, Department of the Navy administrative assistant. (Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan B. Trejo)

Spencer was the second nominee for the post put forward by the Trump administration. The first choice, financier and Army veteran Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration early this year, citing difficulties divesting his financial interests in order to take the position.

After previous Navy secretary Ray Mabus left the position in January when Trump took office, Sean Stackley, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition, had served in the role.

A spokesman for the office, Capt. Pat McNally, said Stackley resumed his previous title after Spencer was sworn in but has not announced any future plans.

Articles

Two U.S. troops killed in 2 days of war operations

Two U.S. troops have been killed in two days of fighting, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, according to press releases from the Department of Defense.


A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
(U.S. Army photo by Spc.Christopher Brecht)

The Pentagon has not released the names of the casualties. It is standard policy to not release names until 24 hours after the notification of the next of kin.

On Oct. 19, a military service member was killed in Kabul when an attacker fired on an entry control point at Camp Morehead, according to a U.S. Central Command Press release. The incident is currently under investigation.

“Anytime we lose a member of our team, it is deeply painful,” said Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces – Afghanistan and Resolute Support. “Our sympathies go out to the families, loved ones and the units of those involved in this incident.

Then, on Oct. 20, another U.S. service member died from wounds sustained in Northern Iraq. The Operation Inherent Resolve press office released the following tweet:

Reuters has reported that an anonymous official said that the wounds were sustained near Mosul where the U.S. is supporting a massive offensive by the Iraqis, the Kurds, and other local forces. Most U.S. troops there are staying away from the front lines, but ISIS has attempted to take the fight to Americans in artillery and logistics camps according to notes in the Operation Inherent Resolve strike releases.

Articles

Russian allies want to be trained by Steven Seagal

Steven Seagal, Actor:


Environmentalist.

Internationalist.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
Seagal in Chechnya

Humanitarian:

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

Now, he may extend his resumé to include drill sergeant. He recently spent three days in Serbia as a guest of the Serbian government. While in Belgrade, Seagal met with Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic. It went much better than the time Seagal met Eastern Europeans in Driven to Kill.

The Serbians had another offer for him. They offered the actor and producer a job training Serbian special police forces in Aikido, the Japanese martial art for which Seagal is famous.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
Which is strange, because he doesn’t believe in your authority.

He was in Serbia to be honored for his work with the Brothers Karic Foundation, a Serbian nonprofit dedicated to promoting tolerance and coexistence while promoting Serbian culture abroad.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
(Photo: Aleksandar Vucic/Twitter)

The 63-year-old action film actor is one of many celebrities openly socializing with Russian President Vladimir Putin who once received the same honor.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
They aren’t shaking hands, they’re both trying to break the other’s arm. (Kremlin photo)

Seagal’s affinity toward the Russians and Serbia — a longtime traditional Russian ally — is well documented. The actor’s response is not known, but the chances of someone’s arm being broken was high.

Articles

Former NSA contractor allegedly stole docs seemingly far more sensitive than Snowden’s

Former National Security Agency contractor Harold Martin allegedly stole documents that seem far more sensitive than what has come from the Snowden leaks.


For more than two decades, Martin allegedly made off with highly-classified documents that were found in his home and car that included discussions of the US military’s capabilities and gaps in cyberspace, specific targets, and “extremely sensitive” operations against terror groups, according to an indictment released Wednesday.

Martin was arrested by the FBI at his home on August 27, 2016. Agents found thousands of pages and “many terabytes of information” there, according to court documents reviewed by The New York Times.

With the release of the indictment, it has become more clear of what was apparently in those files.

The indictment charges Martin with 20 counts of having unauthorized possession of documents from not only the NSA, but also from US Cyber Command, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the Central Intelligence Agency. While many of the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were top-secret, they mostly consisted of PowerPoint presentations and training materials.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
The National Security Operations Center (NSOC). | NSA photo

Top-secret documents allegedly stolen by Martin, however, offer much more specific and damaging details to potential adversaries. Here’s a sampling (via the indictment):

  • A 2014 NSA report outlining intelligence information regarding foreign cyber issues, containing foreign cyber intrusion techniques
  • A 2009 draft of a United States Signals Intelligence Directive, which outlined specific methods, capabilities, techniques, processes, and procedures associated with [computer network operations] used to defend the United States.
  • An NSA anti-terrorism operational document concerning extremely sensitive US planning and operations regarding global terrorists.

With just those three documents, an adversary would have details on how the NSA stops hackers from penetrating its networks and what kind of gaps still exist, along with how the agency plans operations against terror groups. Though it’s not apparent from the indictment that Martin passed the documents along to anyone, if he did so it would be a huge setback to the intelligence community.

Soon after Martin’s arrest, his lawyers told The New York Times that he “loves his family and his country. There is no evidence that he intended to betray his country.” A US official described him as a “hoarder.”

The indictment continues (emphasis added):

  • An outline of a classified exercise involving real-world NSA and US military resources to demonstrate existing cyber intelligence and operational capabilities.
  • A description of the technical architecture of an NSA communications system.
  • A USCYBERCOM document, dated August 17, 2016, discussing capabilities and gapsin capabilities of the US military and details of specific operations.
  • A USCYBERCOM document, dated May 23, 2016, containing information about the capabilities and targets of the US military.
  • A 2008 CIA document containing information relating to foreign intelligence collection sources and methods, and relating to a foreign intelligence collection target.

For at least a portion of Martin’s career, he served in the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit, an elite group of government hackers tasked with breaking into foreign networks. Some US officials told The Washington Post that Martin allegedly took more than 75% of TAO’s library of hacking tools, a potentially massive breach of an outfit that has been shrouded in secrecy.

According to The New York Times, some investigators suspect Martin may possibly be the source of the trove of TAO hacking tools that were posted online last year by a group calling itself “The Shadow Brokers.” Those disclosures likely spurred “a lot of panic” inside the agency, according to a former TAO operator who spoke with Business Insider last year.

“The FBI investigation and this indictment reveal a broken trust from a security clearance holder,” Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the FBI’s Baltimore Division said in a statement.

“Willfully retaining highly classified national defense information in a vulnerable setting is a violation of the security policy and the law, which weakens our national security and cannot be tolerated. The FBI is vigilant against such abuses of trust, and will vigorously investigate cases whenever classified information is not maintained in accordance with the law.”

Martin faces a maximum sentence of 200 years in prison. His initial court appearance is scheduled for February 14.

Articles

Hurricane Matthew unearths Civil War-era cannonballs

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
Cannonballs from the Civil War unearthed on a South Carolina beach by the storm surge of Hurricane Matthew. (Photo: ABC News)


Hurricane Matthew, in addition to all the damage caused by high winds and flooding, also unearthed a number of old cannon rounds from the Civil War.

Civil War-era rounds have been discovered across the country, including a few in Washington state in 2015. Also that year, tourists at the Manassas Battlefield Park brought a shell that they had found to the visitor’s center. That prompted an evacuation until the round was confirmed to be inert. In 2013, a Confederate soldier’s souvenir from the Second Battle of Manassas caused kerfluffle near Mountain Home Air Force Base.

Unexploded ordnance is one of the realities from after any major war. In fact, one shouldn’t be surprised. In World War II, Allied bombers dropped over 1.4 million tons of bombs – the equivalent of 5.6 million Mk 82 500-pounders.

With those sort of numbers, it is easy to imagine that some of the bombs didn’t explode when they hit. And the Allies weren’t the only ones who dropped bombs in that war. As a result, random discoveries of unexploded ordnance (abbreviated in military circles as “UXO”) have been common in Europe. In fact, the ordnance has been traced to other wars as well. In France, farmers have come across World War I ordnance while plowing their fields, including some that contained poison gas.

In the case of South Carolina, these cannonballs were detonated in place by EOD after the tide receded. Nobody got hurt, and there was no damage. Residents in the area only heard the controlled detonation. The first cannonballs of the Civil War were fired in nearby Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

ABC News reports that Hurricane Matthew brought a nearly 6-foot storm surge and torrential rain that totaled 14 inches in spots of South Carolina, and is being blamed for two deaths there and at least 21 across four southeastern states.

When it comes to UXO, the best advice is not to touch it. Get a safe distance away, then call 911. Playing around with UXO, no matter how “safe” it might appear to be, is a good way to get a Darwin Award.

MIGHTY TRENDING

ISIS has finally been defeated in Raqqa

U.S.-backed Syrian forces liberated the city of  on Oct. 17 from Islamic State militants, a senior commander said, in a major defeat for the collapsing extremist group that had proclaimed it to be the capital of its “caliphate.”


Although clashes in  have ended, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are in control, combing the city in northern Syria for land mines and searching for any IS sleeper cells, Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo told The Associated Press.

Sillo said a formal declaration that  has fallen would be made soon, once troops finish their clearing operations in the city on the banks of the Euphrates River.

Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said it has not yet received official reports that the city was cleared, describing mines and booby traps throughout  that have killed returning civilians and senior Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commanders in recent days. One of those killed Oct. 16 was the head of the internal security force affiliated with the SDF.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
SDF fighters at the mouth of a tunnel used by ISIS at Jabar Castle in Raqqa. (Photo from VOA.)

Another challenge for the troops is searching the tunnels that were dug by the militants around the city, Dillon said.

“This will take some time, to say that the city is completely clear,” he told AP. “We still suspect that there are still (IS) fighters that are within the city in small pockets.”

The loss of  will deprive the militants of a major hub for recruitment and planning, Dillon said, because the city attracted hundreds of foreign fighters and was a place where attacks in the Middle East and Europe were planned. He added that the militants remain active in Syria, farther south around the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.

“This has been the wellspring of (IS) as we know it,” he said. But he stressed that the military defeat of the militants “doesn’t mean the end of (IS) and their ideology.”

Dozens of militants who refused to surrender made their last stand earlier Oct. 17 in  sports stadium, which the group had turned into a notorious prison in the more than three years it held the city.

The SDF forces earlier captured  main hospital, the other last remaining IS holdout that had served both as a medical facility and an IS command center. The SDF fighters have not gone through it to clear it, Dillon said.

Also read: This is how the US decides when and where to drop bombs on ISIS

Dillon said the coalition has not carried out any airstrikes in the past three days to allow civilians to leave. The SDF has also called on IS fighters to surrender, and about 350 have turned themselves in, he said, adding that none were high-value targets.

In recent months, the Islamic State has steadily lost territory in Iraq and Syria, including Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul.

After the group seized  from other Syrian rebels in early 2014, it transformed the one vibrant metropolis into the epicenter of its brutal rule where opponents were beheaded and terror plots hatched.

IS militants had been cornered in and around the stadium, and it was not immediately clear after Sillo’s statement whether any were still inside it.

“The stadium is a huge structure with underground rooms and tunnels. There are also buildings around it” still under the control of IS, said SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali.

A senior Kurdish commander said later that the stadium has been checked and cleared of land mines. SDF forces raised their own flag in the stadium, he added.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
ISIS used to patrol the streets of Raqqa, Syria. (Image from Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.)

Earlier, he said 22 IS militants were killed in the advance on the hospital.

On Oct. 17, the SDF captured “Paradise Square,”  infamous public square that was used by the militants to perform beheadings and other killings in front of residents who were summoned by loudspeakers and forced to watch. Bodies and severed heads would be displayed there for days, mounted on posts and labeled with their crimes, according to residents, who later dubbed it “Hell Square.”

With the capture of the hospital, the last black IS flag was taken down, according to the Kurdish-run Hawar news agency. A video released by the news agency showed the clashes around the hospital, which appeared riddled with bullets and partly blackened from a fire.

A senior Kurdish commander said there was no sign of civilians in the stadium or around it, but he added that his troops were being cautious because of possible land mines. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

The battle for  began in June and has dragged for weeks as the SDF fighters faced stiff resistance from the militants. The city suffered devastating damage, with most of its buildings leveled or in ruins. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 1,000 civilians were killed in the campaign.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA enhances mental health treatment with measurement based care

How do we measure mental health?

Mental health treatment can be complicated, and adjustments are often needed to make it as effective as possible. When treatment isn’t meeting the Veteran’s goals or leading to improvement, VA encourages the Veteran and provider to discuss potential reasons and consider modifications or alternative treatments that better meet the patient’s needs.


To help, VA uses standardized questionnaires to measure change along the way. This process, known as measurement-based care (MBC), transforms the way VA delivers mental health care. MBC involves the following steps:

  • The Veteran routinely completes brief questionnaires about their symptoms and progress toward treatment goals.
  • The provider and the Veteran review and talk about the results together, using the questionnaire as a starting point for discussing what’s working in treatment — and what’s not. The provider explains what the findings mean and may offer ideas for changing treatment based on the results.
  • Based on these conversations and considering the Veteran’s perspective, the provider and Veteran work together to select the best treatment options.

Benefits of MBC

Data from MBC questionnaires can signal when treatment isn’t working. It also helps the clinician and Veteran develop a plan to get back on track. MBC helps foster an open dialogue between Veterans and their providers, ensuring that the treatment process is progressing toward each Veteran’s mental health goals. This dialogue may include meaningful conversations about personal goals, collaborative development of treatment plans, assessment of progress over time, and joint decisions about adjustments to the treatment plan. Veterans’ participation in developing their treatment approach has the added benefit of helping them to actively engage in their care.

Change can be challenging

Using MBC can be a pretty big adjustment for many mental health providers. Changing a health care practice is challenging even when the new method is simple, and the MBC approach involves several steps and many considerations. That’s why VA is rolling out MBC in phases, so that along the way we can learn from providers’ experiences the best ways to put MBC into practice.

Members of the VA Center for Integrated Healthcare, the VISN 4 MIRECC and the Behavioral Health QUERI are studying how providers at 10 sites are implementing MBC into their primary care and mental health integration programs. Their goal is to understand what it takes to help providers shift their practice to the MBC approach. Their results will be used to help providers at other VA sites figure out how to adopt MBC.

Coming to a VA location near you

Veterans in VA care may have already had MBC interactions with their providers. For those who have not, MBC is coming to a VA facility near you! VA is continuing to expand measurement-based care across its many medical centers, clinics and other facilities.

To learn more about MBC, download this handout.

For more information about the mental health treatment options offered at your local VA facility, visit the Mental Health Community Points of Contact Locator.

Interested VA providers can check out MBC resources, including handouts and trainings, on our MBC SharePoint page.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Veterans and songwriters will come together for live PBS taping in Nashville

Award-winning songwriters, veterans, and service members will come together to share music at the Songwriting With Soldiers concert on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, at Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium.

The concert will feature musicians performing original songs shared by nonprofit organization Songwriting With Soldiers. Performers include Bonnie Bishop, Gary Burr, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Radney Foster, Mary Gauthier, James House, Will Kimbrough, Georgia Middleman, Gary Nicholson, Maia Sharp and Darden Smith.

Their songs have been recorded by the likes of Garth Brooks, Jimmy Buffett, Cher, Kelly Clarkson, Emmylou Harris, Fleetwood Mac, Reba McEntire, Willie Nelson, John Prine and Ringo Starr.


This performance shines a light on two important things – the power of music to help us connect, and the need to listen to today’s veterans and military families. These are the war stories of our times, and they have much to teach us,” said Songwriting With Soldiers co-founder Mary Judd.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

Photo courtesy of Stacy Powell.

Many veterans struggle with reintegration. Songwriting With Soldiers holds weekend retreats across the country, pairing service members with professional songwriters to craft songs about their experiences in combat and coming home. The creative songwriting process is life-changing for participants as it offers a unique outlet to tell their stories, rebuild trust, release pain and forge new bonds.

The one-hour television special, “Songwriting With Soldiers,” will premiere nationally in prime time on PBS on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, at 10 p.m. (check local listings).

The program, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, will be taped for national broadcast on PBS this fall.

Tickets are on sale now for to the general public and are free to active military, veterans and their families. Tickets are available only at www.songwritingwithsoldiers.org/pbsconcert/.

This collaboration of Songwriting With Soldiers, PBS and WCTE Upper Cumberland PBS is produced by Todd Jarrell Productions and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) with additional underwriting from Sweetwater Music Instruments and Pro Audio.

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This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Army recruits from southern states ‘are significantly less fit’

Army recruits from 10 Southern states are the most unfit and prone to injury in training compared to other regions of the country, according to a new study.


The study finds that recruits from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas “are significantly less fit, and consequently are more likely to encounter training-related injuries [TRI] than recruits from other U.S. states.”

Although the South is the top recruiting region, the study, based on U.S. Army data, shows that “male and female soldiers coming from these states are 22 to 28 percent more likely to be injured” in training.

The study was released by the Citadel, the military school in Charleston, South Carolina, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Public Health Center and the American Heart Association.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
Soldiers assigned to Schofield barracks are doing THIS for PT.  (U.S. Army photo by Kristen Wong, Oahu Publications)

“Our results suggest that the [Southern] states identified here pose a greater threat to military readiness than do other states,” the study says.

“Each recruit lost to injury has been estimated to cost the Department of Defense approximately $31,000,” says the study, published Jan. 10 by the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

A Citadel release said the study is the result of a four-year effort led by Citadel Health, Exercise, and Sports Science professor Daniel Bornstein, Ph.D.

Other participants in the study include Laurie Whitsel, Ph.D., of the American Heart Association and Keith Hauret and Bruce Jones, M.D., of the U.S. Army Public Health Center. Participants from the University of South Carolina include George Grieve, Morgan Clennin, Alexander McLain, Ph.D., Michael Beets, Ph.D., and Mark Sarzynski, Ph.D.

Read Now: Army goes dark with new PT uniform

“It is our hope that the states identified through this analysis, along with federal entities, work to establish policies and environments proven to support physically active lifestyles,” Bornstein said in a statement.

“If such actions were taken, physical fitness levels among residents of these states would rise and each state’s disproportionate burden on military readiness and public health could be minimized,” he said.

The report says, “Many states in the southern region of the United States are recognized for higher rates of obesity, physical inactivity, and chronic disease. These states are therefore recognized for their disproportionate public health burden.”

In addition, the 10 Southern states “are also disproportionately burdensome for military readiness and national security,” the report states.

The study notes the presence of “high physical inactivity and obesity prevalence” in the South, and says “physical inactivity and obesity are well recognized among the most critical public health challenges of the 21st century.”

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
US soldiers lift a heavy log over their heads 20 times while competing in the Ivy Heptathlon during Iron Horse Week, January 28, 2015. Photo courtesy of the US Army

The study warns that the overall recruiting pool for the military is dwindling and cites estimates that 27 percent of Americans aged 17-24 are too overweight to qualify for military service, “with obesity being the second-highest disqualifying medical condition between 2010 and 2014.”

In comments to the Citadel on the study, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said the findings provide “critical insight into the real national security issues posed by recruits who are less physically fit and less prepared for military service than they have ever been in our history.”

“I know firsthand the challenges faced in addressing the fitness levels of our youth after having served as commander of all U.S. Army basic training units,” said Hertling, now a CNN analyst.

“While commanding in combat, I saw the effect training-related injuries had on mission accomplishment,” and “in basic training, the number of unfit recruits forced changes to our physical training procedures and dining menus,” he said.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How the Army will revolutionize long-range precision fires

In kick-starting its efforts to prepare for future high-end conflicts, in late 2017, the U.S. Army identified six modernization priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next Generation Combat Vehicles, Future Vertical Lift, the Network, Air and Missile Defense, and Soldier Lethality. To support this plan, the Army stood up Cross-Functional Teams (CFTs) for each of these areas focused on speeding up the process of developing requirements and ensuring that the programs in each of these areas are achievable, affordable and effective. The bulk of the Army’s Science and Technology resources were refocused on these six priorities.


But not all priorities are equal. In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Secretary Mark Esper revealed that Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF) is his service’s top priority. The criticality of LRPF to the future of the Army’s future ability to dominate in a high-end conflict was made clear by Brigadier General Stephen Maranian, the leader of the CFT for long-range fires:

The Army has got to modernize our surface-to-surface fire capabilities at echelon to guarantee that we have clear overmatch in the close fight, in the deep fight, in the strategic fight. If we are unable to do that we will not be able to do for the joint force what it is that surface-to-surface fires do; which is to open those windows of opportunities to allow our joint and Army aviation forces to exploit deep.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
German soldiers assigned to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1 fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO Missile Firing Installation.

Creating overmatch in long-range fire is about more than merely increasing the range of artillery and surface-to-surface rockets and missiles. Dr. Thomas Russell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology, defined the key elements of a plan for LRPF: “The Army’s top modernization priority is to regain dominance in artillery and missile system range, lethality, and target acquisition with respect to strategic competitors.” Success in these areas could well return the artillery to its erstwhile status of queen of the battlefield.

Currently, the Army has a multi-phased program designed to first improve and then transform the capabilities of its artillery, rocket and missile systems. The need for volume fires, particularly in the close battle, makes it vitally important to modernize the Army’s artillery systems.

In the near-term, this means increasing the supply of precision rounds such as Excalibur and providing jamming-resistant precision-guidance kits for 155 mm artillery projectiles. It also requires the rapid completion of the program to upgrade the Army’s fleet of Paladin self-propelled howitzers.

The Army should consider ways of expanding its inventory of mobile artillery tubes, regardless of what kinds of rounds they fire. One option is to equip infantry and Stryker brigade combat teams with the Hawkeye, a version of the widely deployed Humvee, carrying a modified version of the M20 105 mm howitzer designed by the Mandus Group.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
Humvee-Mounted Howitzer

The Army hopes that by the early 2020s it can substantially increase both the range and lethality of tube artillery with the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) program involving the Army’s Picatinny and Watervliet Arsenals. ERCA involves both a new projectile, the rocket-assisted XM1113 and a longer barrel for existing 155mm artillery pieces.

Together these improvements could increase the system’s range to as much as 70 km. The Navy has a program, the Multi Service-Standard Guided Projectile (MS-SGP), which is expected to extend the range of five-inch naval guns and Army and Marine Corps 155 mm howitzers out to a range similar to that of the ERCA.

For the longer-term, the Army is looking at the possibilities for land-based extremely high-velocity artillery systems. There are several paths being explored including hypervelocity or ramjet rounds fired from ERCA artillery or a rail gun. Not only would such systems fire shells out to ranges of 100 km or more, but their high velocities also make them potential candidates for engaging air-breathing and even short-range ballistic targets.

With respect to guided rockets and missiles in the near-term, the Army is seeking an extended range variant of its currently deployed, highly effective Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) that would provide an area strike capability out to 150 km. This would cover some of the targets now the responsibility of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) which has a range of up to 300 km. The Army is considering upgrading the ATACMS with a new seeker and warhead thereby expanding its capabilities to include a land-based anti-ship capability.

Finally, the Army has initiated the Precision Strike Missile (PRSM) program as a longer-range replacement for the ATACMS. The desire is for a missile smaller than the ATACMs so that two can be carried in a single GMLRS launch cell but with a range approaching 500 km and a precision targeting capability.

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad
The Army’s new Long-Range Precision Fires modernization effort is looking at how to increase the range of cannon artillery among a variety of other efforts.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Gabrielle Weaver)

The Army is currently planning to test prototype PRSMs designed by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin in 2019 with plans to deploy an initial version in the mid-2020s. There have been suggestions that a PRSM program also will look at longer-range options, so-called strategic fires, in the event the U.S. withdraws from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

An issue the Army needs to address is the high-quality targeting information needed by these new long-range, precision strike systems. The Air Force wants to cancel the Joint Surveillance Targeting Attack Radar replacement program. Neither the Air Force nor the Army has an unmanned aerial vehicle that can survive in a high threat air defense environment. It makes no sense to develop long-range fires that can strike deep if the Army cannot see that far.

The Army vision for LRPF would fundamentally transform land-based fires and counter Russian and Chinese efforts to achieve dominance in indirect fires. The question is how rapidly the Army can implement this vision. While the CFT is suggesting that new capabilities could be rolled out in as little as five years, the Army is only asking for $1.6 billion over the Future Years Defense Program for its number one modernization priority, well below the amounts requested for next-generation combat vehicles or improvements to the network. One way to save money is by speeding up the acquisition process.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet the crews who make sure fellow Marines can fight from ship to shore

It is a tough job and not everyone is lining up to work at their pace.

Combat cargo Marines have one of the most demanding jobs aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). This is especially evident during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).

Combat cargo’s mission is to support the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (MEU) logistical requirements across the three classes of ships featured in MEU operations.

“We are in charge of anything and everything that comes on and off the Bataan,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon Novakoski, combat cargoman with the 26th MEU.


A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

Combat Cargo Marines with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group wait for a Landing Craft, Air Cushion to give the signal it is safe to board to prepare for training operations during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 26, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

US Navy Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class James Thomas, with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, signals a Landing Craft, Air Cushion while US Marines and sailors wait to retrieve cargo to prepare for training operations during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York off the coast of North Carolina, on Aug. 26, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

A fake Kim Jong Un greeted North Korea’s Olympic cheer squad

Combat Cargo Marines with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group finish off-loading a Landing Craft, Air Cushion during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, off the coast of Virginia, Aug. 23, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

“Combat cargo is a vital part of daily ship life,” said Novakoski. “If we didn’t have Marines to work the long hours in combat cargo, ship supplies would struggle and missions wouldn’t be completed.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.