Congress is hurtling toward yet another government shutdown deadline on Jan. 19 and while the focus for this round of negotiations is on immigration, there is one key issue that will determine whether the deadline comes and goes without an agreement.
Congress must still decide exactly how much funding to provide for defense and non-defense functions of the government. So far this fiscal year, short-term funding bills passed before the few shutdown deadlines maintained last year’s spending levels for federal programs — but Congress wants to increase spending for the new year.
There are limitations on how large the funding increases can be because of the spending caps triggered in 2013 by the 2011 Budget Control Act. These caps on the amount the government can increase spending for defense and non-defense spending from year to year are much lower than lawmakers want.
Both Democrats and Republicans want to come to an agreement in order to increase those levels beyond the current limits for next year. Going above the Budget Control Act’s limits can be done with a congressional action, but first Congress must get over the substantial disagreement on the size of the increases.
Republicans want a bulk of the spending increase to go to defense spending instead of non-defense spending. Democrats, on the other hand, want to increase defense and non-defense spending by an equal amount.
The initial offer from the GOP in December was to boost defense spending by $54 billion and non-defense spending by $37 billion for 2018 and 2019. Democrats rejected this, calling for parity between the two by raising both sides by $54 billion.
Despite being in the minority, Democrats have substantial influence on the issue because some Republicans concerned about government spending — such as Sen. Rand Paul — could vote against any bill that substantially increases spending above the caps.
Additionally, Democrats could filibuster any spending bill in the Senate that does not meet their demands.
Sen. John Cornyn, the second-highest ranking GOP senator, said that setting these caps has been difficult so far because Democrats are attempting to attach codification of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program, which prevents the deportation of undocumented immigrants that entered the country as minors, to the bill setting the caps.
Despite the complication of the DACA fight, Democrats have additional leverage on the spending cap issue since no party has had the government shut down while controlling both Congress and the White House since 1979.
The most likely scenario in the coming days, according to reports, is that Congress passes a short-term funding extension with new cap levels, giving appropriators — staffers who do technical budgetary work — time to hash out exactly where to spend the money.
“In our minds, the only question is the size of the deal — we had initially ball-parked a $300 billion deal over two years, though ~$200 billion over two years (equal amounts to defense and non-defense) now seems more likely,” said Chris Kreuger, a policy strategist at Cowen Washington Research Group. “The Republicans have offered $54 billion for defense and $37 billion for non-defense, though the Democrats are demanding 1:1 parity (which they are likely to get).”
US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria hit record levels in August, dropping 5,075 bombs during close-air-support, escort, or interdiction operations.
That was the highest monthly total recorded during Operation Inherent Resolve, the three-year campaign against ISIS.
The amount of bombs dropped in each of the first eight months of 2017 exceeded the total of any other month during the campaign.
The 32,801 weapons deployed by coalition aircraft through August 2017 is more than the 30,743 dropped all last year, which was the previous annual high for Operation Inherent Resolve.
The sustained uptick in bombing during the first months of President Donald Trump’s administration seems to fulfill his campaign promise to “bomb the s— out of” ISIS. But the increase in bombings is also likely driven by intense operations in Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS’ last major urban strongholds in Iraq and Syria, respectively.
Close-quarters fighting against determined ISIS militants in reinforced positions often necessitates close air support from Iraqi and coalition aircraft. (Not all aircraft active over Iraq and Syria are under US control, so the total number of weapons used is likely higher.)
Calls for airstrikes “would come from forces on the ground that an enemy’s been identified, say, in this house,” US Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge, director of the Combined Joint Operations Center in Baghdad, told Business Insider earlier this month. CJOC, as it’s called, liaises with Iraqi security forces and government officials and is one of two strike cells in Iraq that manage such engagements, Sofge said.
“The enemy’s been in a house, and that enemy’s firing from this structure,” Sofge said, describing a potential strike scenario. “So the first thing we do in a strike like that, we become aware of it, and we know where it is with great precision, 10-digit grids, down to the meter.”
Coalition personnel and their local partners have a database of “category-one structures” that they will avoid targeting because they have infrastructural or historic value, including religious centers or hospitals. ISIS fighters are known to make use of those structures for that reason, Sofge said.
“If it’s not that, it’s still a [category two] structure that we would have to go through a rigorous process to say, ‘Hey, this structure can be removed from its inherent protected status because of what’s going there on now. There’s fighters in there shooting at the Iraqi security forces.’ So first we establish that we can go engage with this thing,” Sofge told Business Insider.
“Then we apply a some fairly strict criteria of positive identification: How do we know who that is and what they’re doing, and we have multiple intelligence requirements — it can’t just be one thing; we have multiple indications that that is in fact what’s going on from that place,” he said, adding:
“And then we have a legal review that says that engaging this target comports with the laws of armed conflict and that engaging in these circumstances is permissible according to those laws, and once we’ve established all of those things we go to the government of Iraq and ask them for permission to strike that building, and they’ll say yes or no, and they do say both, depending on the structure. They do a pretty thorough review themselves.”
Sofge said coalition personnel will then, “within the bounds of proportionality,” do engineering analysis to see what will be damaged in a strike and what effect it would have on nearby structures. That’s followed by the weapon-selection process.
“We have an array of weapons available in support of the Iraqi security forces,” he said. “We’ll choose from among those and then use them in order to make sure that we do enough damage to kill the target and kill what it is that’s attracted the Iraqi Security Forces’ attention.”
Sofge, who stressed coalition forces’ efforts to avoid civilian casualties, said the actual process likely takes less time to complete than it does to describe, in part because of the experience they have doing it and because parts of it happen concurrently.
The US-led coalition’s air campaign against ISIS has attracted intense scrutiny for the number of civilian casualties it is believed to have caused.
According to Airwars, a UK-based independent monitoring group, between Trump’s inauguration and mid-July, more than 2,200 civilians appeared to have been killed in coalition airstrikes — almost as many as the 2,300 likely killed by coalition strikes under Obama.
That works out to 80 civilian casualties a month under Obama and 360 a month during the Trump administration.
Civilian deaths under Trump peaked in March, with nearly 700 confirmed or likely casualties. They have declined since June and July, when fighting in Mosul wrapped up.
Concerns about the air campaign were also piqued by reports the coalition had loosened its rules of engagement, allowing US and other coalition personnel on the ground to move closer to the front line and call in strikes and artillery fire directly, rather than going “through a whole bureaucracy and through Baghdad,” one embedded US adviser told the Associated Press at the time.
A coalition spokesman told the AP the rules of engagement had been “adjusted” in December, “empowering” more coalition forces “to call in airstrikes without going through a strike cell.”
The Pentagon contested that report, saying in March that overarching guidelines about such strikes had not changed, even as US personnel were being embedded at lower levels within Iraqi Security Forces units and appeared to be closer to direct combat.
Asked if the process to carry out strikes had changed during the fighting in Mosul, Sofge said “not appreciably,” adding that the process did see “refinements” regarding Iraqi permission for airstrikes.
“Some of the processes tend to be centralized, and in effort to decentralize them while still retaining the integrity of an Iraqi permission [it] was tweaked by the Iraqi government, not by the strike cells, as to who’s the Iraqi giving you the thumbs-up that the government has given permission,” Sofge told Business Insider.
“I know in some cases [it] was lowered a level in an effort to streamline the process so it was more effective to the fighters on the ground,” he added, “but there was no change from a coalition perspective in the process — only who was the person saying ‘yes’ to the strike on the Iraqi side.”
Such an adjustment may have given Iraqi commanders on the front line more say in when and where strikes took place.
The Iraqi government declared the liberation of Mosul in early July, though cleaning up munitions left there by the fighting could take a decade or more.
ISIS fighters remain in some pockets of Iraq, mostly in the north-central part of the country and in the far western desert.
Iraqi forces, backed by the coalition, have launched assaults on those positions in recent days.
In Syria, the months-long fight in Raqqa has gained ground, according to US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a coalition spokesman.
More than 75% of the city is now cleared of ISIS fighters, he said on Thursday, adding that Syrian Democratic Forces, a mainly Kurdish force partnering with the coalition, “have made clear progress and we are seeing ISIS begin to lose its grip on their self-declared capital in Raqqa.”
The stated goals of the Marine Corps‘ newest rotational force in Norway are to enhance partnerships with European allies and improve the service’s ability to fight in cold weather.
But on a brief visit to the 300-member unit ahead of Christmas, the commandant and the sergeant major of the Marine Corps both described the strategic role the small unit fills — and the fact that a peacetime mission can be preface to combat if circumstances change.
The Norwegian Home Guard base near Trondheim that houses the Marine rotational force was the first stop on Gen. Robert Neller’s annual Christmas tour.
The stop was a new one for the tour. The first Norway rotation, from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, deployed in January and was replaced by a new unit from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, in late August.
Neller emphasized to the Marines that they should remain ready to fight at all times, predicting a “big-ass fight” on the horizon.
“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” Neller said. ” …You’re in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence.”
Neller later told the Marines that he expects the Pacific and Russia to be the service’s operational points of focus as the nation looks beyond the fights in the Middle East that have stretched into the better part of two decades.
The United States’ position that Russia presents a major threat was re-emphasized in the new National Security Strategy released Dec. 25th. The document discusses Russia’s practice of “using information tools” to interfere with other nations’ democracies and militant aggression that crosses borders.
“With its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia demonstrates its willingness to violate the sovereignty of states in the region,” the strategy states.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green put the Marines’ role starkly.
“Just remember why you’re here,” he said. “They’re watching. Just like you watch them, they watch you. We’ve got 300 Marines up here; we could go from 300 to 3,000 overnight. We could raise the bar.”
The rotational force itself is much more circumspect about its role in the region. On a visit to the unit in May, Military.com found troops assigned to the unit had even been instructed not to use the word “Russia” in interviews with the media.
In large part, this is due to regional sensitivities.
The rotational unit is in Norway at the invitation of the Norwegian government, which maintains an economic relationship with Russia and shares a 120-mile border on its northeastern edge with the country.
While Norwegian feedback on the Marines’ presence has been generally positive — then-Norwegian Defense Minister Ina Eriksen Søreide announced in June that the rotation had been extended for a year, until 2018 — others have cited misgivings.
Though Green did not name Russia, he referred to its displeasure at the Marines’ presence nearby.
“They don’t like the fact that we oppose them, and we like the fact that they don’t like the fact that we oppose them,” Green said. “Three hundred of us, surrounded by them, we’ve got them right where we wanted, right? We’ve done this before.”
At outposts in Afghanistan and Iraq, on all the ships at sea, and wherever troops serve worldwide, flags are being flown at half-staff to honor the passing of former First Lady and military spouse Barbara Bush.
President Donald Trump called Mrs. Bush a “woman of character” in issuing the order that flags be flown at half-staff at all military installations.
“On this solemn day, we mourn the loss of Barbara Bush, an outstanding and memorable woman of character,” Trump said. “As a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, military spouse, and former First Lady, Mrs. Bush was an advocate of the American family.”
Bush, wife of the former President George H.W. Bush and mother of former President George W. Bush, died April 17, 2018, at age 92 at the family home in Houston, Texas. She was a Navy wife in World War II as her husband served in the Pacific.
Mrs. Bush was only the second woman in American history to have a son follow his father to the White House. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy Adams, was the first.
In his statement, Trump said he was ordering flags flown at half-staff “at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations,” and “throughout the United States and its territories and possessions until sunset, on the day of interment.”
“I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same period at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations,” he said.
Content warning: the following article features an open and frank discussion about suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255.) There’s not a damn thing wrong with asking for a helping hand when you need it most.
Times are rough right now. We’re at the brink of a global pandemic, schools and places of work are closing and people are panic buying things that aren’t usually in short demand. But the factor that is hitting the closest to home for most folks is, well, everyone staying home.
This is what is known at social distancing. It’s an important step in ensuring that the most vulnerable of our population stays away from anyone who may have contracted the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. It’s a drastic measure that’s annoying to most, but it’s going to save lives in the long term. And that’s not something that should ever be understated.
Yet, there’s also an unseen side effect that could potentially harm another group if it’s not handled properly. The disruption of a daily rhythm, potential loss of work and social isolation could impact a vast number of people already fighting through depression and that ever present thought of suicide: veterans.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions lists two determining categories for depression – biological and psychological. Genetics, hormones and neurotransmitters all play their part in making someone more likely to be genetically predisposed to depression but loss, stress and a sense of unfulfillment can hit anyone. At this moment, there’s plenty of that going around.
Even going back a few months before COVID-19 took the world stage, finding a steady paying job wasn’t that easy. Bills can pile up and somehow it feels we’re always just one paycheck above water. But at least some of us had a handful of buddies we could go out to drink with or to see a movie with. Now, it feels like all of that was swept away and we also have to worry if we’ll have enough toilet paper to get through the week.
Right now, many people have lost their jobs or had their hours cut drastically. Even if you haven’t, you’re probably working from home without seeing anyone but the ones you live with. You might be kicking yourself in the butt because you didn’t go to the grocery store before it turned into a scene from The Walking Dead. Thankfully, this isn’t the end times and the internet can still connect us while we’re standing more than six feet from anyone.[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2FJZP-ebOe0UsmSOlFfx-ZfSK_kjHJYNlYtsKgqF9pcHBDg-KTQd6WrP7GrC6yOOEmkEOZgfG7-23RF-6K-55opWeLwa3lLvpZjENRl93zQRfL6dyNpY4lkV71IyGukrJg2nKxFxeSCDcXW9fmPQ&ho=https%3A%2F%2Flh3.googleusercontent.com&s=298&h=e86267c4c48c91b3d540173ed586769b65668149f0538cb5eebc136b98f92f20&size=980x&c=744452975 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252FJZP-ebOe0UsmSOlFfx-ZfSK_kjHJYNlYtsKgqF9pcHBDg-KTQd6WrP7GrC6yOOEmkEOZgfG7-23RF-6K-55opWeLwa3lLvpZjENRl93zQRfL6dyNpY4lkV71IyGukrJg2nKxFxeSCDcXW9fmPQ%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Flh3.googleusercontent.com%26s%3D298%26h%3De86267c4c48c91b3d540173ed586769b65668149f0538cb5eebc136b98f92f20%26size%3D980x%26c%3D744452975%22%7D” expand=1]
Quick sidenote: toilet paper is something that is typically used at a set rate. Unless you’re planning on hiding for months or TPing your neighbor’s place, you don’t need to stockpile TP.
(Photo by Ingrid Cold)
I urge you, please keep in regular touch with anyone you love who’s been hit hard by this social isolation. Chances are they’re not doing so well. Check up on them. Call to see how they’re doing.
Depression is a real disease and the final symptom could be suicide.
This advice goes for everyone but us in the veteran community already had compounding factors before the outbreak. The “22 a day” is still thrown around, albeit those often-cited numbers come from a 2012 study and they’re more accurately at around 17 a day after a much needed cultural shift within our community. That’s still not great; it’s still far above the national average. Often, we’ve been able to find the one ember that kept our flame burning. But for a lot of veterans, that fire could be extinguished with social distancing.
Don’t take this out of its intended context. Social distancing is crucial at this moment. We just need to adjust to the shift in how things are done. Hotlines are still open. The VA Mental Health facilities are still open. And if you’re concerned and feel symptoms of the coronavirus, there are always video conference calls available to connect you with a mental health specialist or doctors.
For health and safety reasons, the hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. For good reason.
(U.S. Navy photo by Diana Burleson)
I say all of this… because I found myself in that dark place. The part where I wrote about how people are feeling is mostly pulled from what’s going on with myself.
I recently attempted to end my own life. I’ve been fighting through my own depression for some time now and it reached its boiling point. It probably wouldn’t be wise to go into details, but I will share the thought that got my feet back on the ground. It was the thought that no one would ever be able to explain to my cat why I’m never coming home. Make of it what you will, but thoughts like that can help pull you out of an irrational moment.
I mean, I love my family and friends. But I wouldn’t ever want to hurt this good boy.
(Picture by Eric Milzarski)
It was through the help of my buddy from the Army and my loving wife that I was able to come back. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still in that damn tunnel. I’m now seeing a mental health specialist at the VA regularly and I can honestly say that it was the right choice. No judgement. No negative consequences. And I feel silly for hesitating this long. Just open arms –metaphorically speaking, of course. I kept my six feet of distance and sanitized my hands, because the VA also houses elderly and immuno-vulnerable veterans. And if need be, they’re still doing video calls for anyone feeling any symptoms.
If you know anyone who’s in that dark place, reach out to them. Go in person if you have to, but there’s always the phone. There are always online video games. There’s always a meme you can tag them in. Anything will help. It may not feel like it while we’re self-isolating until things go back to normal, but we are never truly alone.
The U.S. Navy abandoned efforts to convict a Taiwan-born Navy officer of spying for China or Taiwan, striking a plea deal on May 4 that instead that portrays him as arrogant and willing to reveal military secrets to impress women.
The agreement was a marked retreat from last year’s accusations that Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. gave or attempted to give classified information to representatives of a foreign government.
But it still appears to end the impressive military career of a man who came to America at 14. joined the staff of an assistant secretary of the Navy in Washington, and later was assigned to a unit in Hawaii that flies spy planes.
Then Lt. Lin about Navy vessel. (Photo from UNSI.org)
, 40, now faces dismissal from the Navy and up to 36 years in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for early June.
During the day-long court-martial in Norfolk, admitted that he failed to disclose friendships with people in Taiwan’s military and connected to its government. He also conceded that he shared defense information with women he said he was trying to impress.
One of them is Janice Chen, an American registered in the U.S. as a foreign agent of Taiwan’s government, specifically the country’s Democratic Progressive Party.
said he and Chen often discussed news articles she emailed him about military affairs. He admitted that he shared classified information about the Navy’s Pacific Fleet.
He also divulged secrets to a woman named “Katherine Wu,” whom he believed worked as a contractor for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She actually was an undercover FBI agent.
“I was trying to let her know that the military profession in the United States is an honorable and noble one,” told Cmdr. Robert Monahan, the military judge. said the military is less prestigious in Taiwan.
also had friends with other connections, including a woman living in China whom he met online, and a Chinese massage therapist who moved to Hawaii.
said he gave the massage therapist a “large sum of money” at one point, although he didn’t say why.
also admitted to lying to superiors about flying to Taiwan and planning to visit China. But he said he did it only to avoid the bureaucracy that a U.S. military official must endure when traveling to a foreign country.
“Sir, I was arrogant,” he told the judge.
A Navy press release about attendance at his naturalization ceremony in Hawaii in December 2008 said he was 14 when he and his family left Taiwan.
“I always dreamt about coming to America, the ‘promised land,'” was quoted as saying. “I grew up believing that all the roads in America lead to Disneyland.”
Governments across the world are galvanizing every surveillance tool at their disposal to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Countries have been quick to use the one tool almost all of us carry with us — our smartphones.
A live index of ramped up security measures by Top10VPN details the countries which have already brought in measures to track the phones of coronavirus patients, ranging from anonymized aggregated data to monitor the movement of people more generally, to the tracking of individual suspected patients and their contacts, known as “contact tracing.”
Samuel Woodhams, Top10VPN’s Digital Rights Lead who compiled the index, warned that the world could slide into permanently increased surveillance.
“Without adequate tracking, there is a danger that these new, often highly invasive, measures will become the norm around the world,” he told Business Insider. “Although some may appear entirely legitimate, many pose a risk to citizens’ right to privacy and freedom of expression.
“Given how quickly things are changing, documenting the new measures is the first step to challenging potential overreach, providing scrutiny and holding corporations and governments to account.”
While some countries will cap their new emergency measures, otherwise may retain the powers for future use. “There is a risk that many of these new capabilities will continue to be used following the outbreak,” said Woodhams. “This is particularly significant as many of the new measures have avoided public and political scrutiny and do not include sunset clauses.”
Here’s a breakdown of which countries have started tracking phone data, with varying degrees of invasiveness:
The US is reportedly gathering data from the ads industry to get an idea of where people are congregating
Sources told The Wall Street Journal that the federal, state, and local governments have begun to gather and study geolocation data to get a better idea of how people are moving about.
In one example, a source said the data had shown people were continuing to gather in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and this information had been handed over to local autorities. The eventual aim is to create a portal for government officials with data from up to 500 US cities.
The data is being gathered from the advertising industry, which often gains access to people’s geolocation when they sign up to apps. Researcher Sam Woodhams says using the ad industry as a source poses a particular problem for privacy.
“Working closely with the ad tech industry to track citizens’ whereabouts raises some significant concerns. The sector as a whole is renowned for its lack of transparency and many users will be unaware that these apps are tracking their movement to begin with. It is imperative that governments and all those involved in the collection of this sensitive data are transparent about how they operate and what measures are in place to ensure citizens’ right to privacy is protected,” Woodhams told Business Insider.
South Korea gives out detailed information about patients’ whereabouts
South Korea has gone a step further than other countries, tracking individuals’ phones and creating a publicly available map to allow other citizens to check whether they may have crossed paths with any coronavirus patients.
The tracking data that goes into the map isn’t limited to mobile phone data, credit card records and even face-to-face interviews with patients are being used to build a retroactive map of where they’ve been.
Not only is the map there for citizens to check, but the South Korean government is using it to proactively send regional text messages warning people they may have come into contact with someone carrying the virus.
The location given can be extremely specific, the Washington Post reported a text went out that said an infected person had been at the “Magic Coin Karaoke in Jayang-dong at midnight on Feb. 20.”
Some texts give out more personal information however. A text reported by The Guardian read: “A woman in her 60s has just tested positive. Click on the link for the places she visited before she was hospitalised.”
The director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeong Eun-kyeong, acknowledged that the site infringes on civil liberties, saying: “It is true that public interests tend to be emphasized more than human rights of individuals when dealing with diseases that can infect others.”
The map is already interfering with civil liberties, as a South Korean woman told the Washington Post that she had stopped attending a bar popular with lesbians for fear of being outed. “If I unknowingly contract the virus… that record will be released to the whole country,” she said.
The system is also throwing up other unexpected challenges. The Guardian reported that one man claiming to be infected threatened various restaurants saying he would visit and hurt their custom unless they gave him money to stay away.
Iran asked citizens to download an invasive app
Vice reported that Iran’s government endorsed a coronavirus diagnosis app that collected users’ real-time location data.
On March 3, a message went out to millions of Iranian citizens telling them to install the app, called AC19, before going to a hospital or health center.
The app claimed to be able to diagnose the user with coronavirus by asking a series of yes or no questions. The app has since been removed from the Google Play store.
“The goal is to stop people from running around and spreading the infection,” said Jyan Hong-wei, head of Taiwan’s Department of Cyber Security. Jyan added that local authorities and police should be able to respond to anyone who triggers an alert within 15 minutes.
Even having your phone turned off seems to be enough to warrant a police visit. An American student living in Taiwan wrote in a BBC article that he was visited by two police officers at 8:15 a.m. because his phone had run out of battery at 7:30 a.m. and the government had briefly lost track of him. The student was in quarantine at the time because he had arrived in Taiwan from Europe.
Austria is using anonymized data to map people’s movements
On March 17 Austria’s biggest telecoms network operator Telekom Austria AG announced it was sharing anonymized location data with the government.
The technology being used was developed by a spin-off startup out of the University of Graz, and Telekom Austria said it is usually used to measure footfall in popular tourist sites.
Woodhams told Business Insider that while collecting aggregated data sets is less invasive than other measures, how that data could be used in future should still be cause for concern.
“Much of the data may remain at risk from re-identification, and it still provides governments with the ability to track the movement of large groups of its citizens,” said Woodhams.
Poland is making people send selfies to prove they’re quarantining correctly
Google has also indicated it is taking part in discussions.
Sky News also reported the NHS and NHSX (the digital wing of the NHS) have been working on an opt-in contact tracing app. The app would work similarly to Singapore’s, using Bluetooth and self-reporting to establish whether you’ve been near someone with suspected coronavirus.
According to Sky, alerts will be sent out on a delay to stop individuals from being identified. The app will be released either just before or just after Britain’s lockdown is lifted.
In April, US President Trump ordered a review of the suspension of sanctions on Iran related to the nuclear deal.
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Sept. 11 Iran was playing by the rules set out in a nuclear accord it signed with six world powers in 2015, after Washington suggested it was not adhering to the deal.
The State Department must notify Congress every 90 days of Iran’s compliance with the deal. The next deadline is October, and President Donald Trump has said he thinks, by then, the United States will declare Iran non-compliant.
Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran had not broken any promises and was not receiving special treatment.
“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the [deal] are being implemented,” he said in the text of a speech to a quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors.
Most sanctions on Iran were lifted 18 months ago under the deal and, despite overstepping a limit on its stocks of one chemical, it has adhered to the key limitations imposed on it.
In April, Trump ordered a review of whether a suspension of sanctions on Iran related to the nuclear deal, negotiated under President Barack Obama, was in the US national security interest. He has called it “the worst deal ever negotiated.”
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, traveled to Vienna last month to speak with Amano about Iran and asked if the IAEA planned to inspect Iranian military sites, something she has called for.
Iran dismissed the US demand as “merely a dream.”
Iran has been applying an Additional Protocol, which is in force in dozens of nations and gives the IAEA access to sites, including military locations, to clarify questions or inconsistencies that may arise.
“We will continue to implement the Additional Protocol in Iran… as we do in other countries,” Amano said.
In addition, the IAEA can request access to Iranian sites including military ones if it has concerns about activities or materials there that would violate the agreement, but it must show Iran the basis for those concerns.
That means new and credible information pointing to such a violation is required first, officials from the agency and major powers say. There is no indication that Washington has presented such information.
In November 2018, I completed a grueling three-day training for journalists and aid workers heading into countries with tenuous security situations and war zones.
I learned a ton during the training — what worst-case scenarios look like, how to avoid them, and, perhaps most important, how I might act when it hits the fan. But the most important thing I picked up was an easy-to-learn tactic anyone could use.
Held at a nondescript warehouse in suburban Maryland, the training was led by Global Journalist Security, an organization founded in 2011 to help people going to dangerous places acquire what it calls the “physical, digital, and emotional aspects of self-protection.”
I had some vague idea of what I was getting myself into. I’m traveling to Egypt, Nigeria, and Ethiopia over the next couple of months, and fellow journalists had recommended the course as preparation for the worst-case scenarios: kidnappings, terrorist attacks, active-shooter situations, and war zones. How a three-day course in suburban Maryland could credibly do that was anybody’s guess.
Training prepares people not to freeze or panic in worst-case scenarios
The chief trainers Paul Burton and Shane Bell, a former British Army sergeant and a former Australian Armed Forces elite commando respectively, are experts at putting people in distressed mindsets. The two have accompanied journalists and aid workers in the world’s most dangerous places, been kidnapped, and negotiated kidnapping releases. They know what they’re talking about.
Female war correspondents during World War II.
Over the course of the training, Bell, Burton, and the rest of the GJS team thrust attendees — yours truly, included — into simulations designed to trigger your adrenaline.
“You want to give people skills to stay in the moment and not freeze or go into panic mode,” Smyth told Columbia Journalism Review in 2013. “Some people will forget to yell, ‘Hey, she’s being dragged away — we have to help her!’ [The training] plants seeds, things to remember.”
I had to save a fellow aid worker from an “arterial puncture wound” that was squirting a fountain of (very real-looking) “blood” from a gaping “flesh wound.” Hooded actors interrupted PowerPoint presentations firing blanks into the class as we scrambled to find cover and escape. There was a kidnapping during which I was told to “slither like the American snake that I am.” And finally we were put through a final course across fields and hiking trails designed to mimic a war zone with grenades thrown, artillery shelling, landmines, and snipers.
My 13-year-old self thought it was pretty wicked. My 28-year-old self was shook. By the end, I was praying I would never have to use any of it, particularly after I “died” in the first active-shooter scenario.
But that scenario came before I learned the most valuable skill Burton, Bell, and company imparted upon us: tactical breathing.
U.S. Army Spc. Chad Moore, a combat medic assigned to 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Dustin Biven)
Combat troops, police officers, and first responders are trained in tactical breathing
The idea behind it is simple: When you enter high-stress situations, your sympathetic nervous system throws your body into overdrive. Adrenaline kicks in, your body starts to shake, and your mind races to solve the problem.
It doesn’t just happen in war zones. If you hate public speaking, it’s likely to happen before you get onstage. If you’re nervous about an important exam, it may kick in as the timer starts.
What Burton and Bell hammered home is that you can’t prevent this response. It’s instinctual. Your brain’s three options are fight, flight, or freeze. And while you may know enough about yourself to know how you’ll react when you have to make the big speech, you probably have no idea what your reaction will be during an active-shooter situation or in a war zone.
Usually, in that state, you aren’t thinking logically, if you are thinking at all. Flubbing the speech may not be a big deal, but if you enter that state in a war zone, it could get you killed.
Tactical breathing overrides that stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down your heart rate and calming you down so you can make a rational decision.
It works like this: Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and exhale for four seconds. Repeat as necessary until your heart rate slows and your mind calms. Yes, it is very similar to yogic meditation breathing.
Once your mind calms, you can make a rational decision about whether it is best to keep hiding or whether you need to run, rather than flailing in panic.
A fight broke out during the first session of Afghanistan’s new parliament after disagreement on the election of a speaker.
Online video showed lawmakers fighting on May 19, 2019, over the seating of businessman Mir Rahman Rahmani as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga. The body was meeting for the first time since controversial elections held last year.
Rahmani received 123 votes the previous day to defeat challenger Kamal Nasir Osuli, who had 55 votes, for the speaker’s post.
But Rahmani was one vote short of the simple majority of 124 votes in the 247-seat Wolesi Jirga that is needed to secure the speakership.
Rahmani’s supporters declared him the the new speaker and insisted he take the post.
“He has secured a majority of the votes and one vote is not an issue, so he is our new chairman,” said Nahid Farid, a lawmaker from the western city of Herat.
But opponents of Rahmani — the father of Ajmal Rahmani, a wealthy businessman known in the Afghan capital for selling bulletproof vehicles to Kabul’s elite — refused to let him sit in the speaker’s chair.
“We will never accept the new speaker and there must be a reelection with new candidates,” said Mariam Sama, a parliament deputy from Kabul.
Ramazan Bashardost, a deputy from Kabul, told Tolo News that the controversy over the new speaker could be resolved through legitimate means but lawmakers “are not willing to address the issue through legal channels.”
The results of the Oct. 20, 2018 parliamentary elections were officially finalized this month after months of technical and organizational problems.
Meltdown and Spectre, which take advantage of the same basic security vulnerability in those chips, could hypothetically be used by malicious actors to “read sensitive information in the system’s memory such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications,” as Google puts it in a blog post.
The first thing you need to know: Pretty much every PC, laptop, tablet, and smartphone is affected by the security flaw, regardless of which company made the device or which operating system it runs. The vulnerability isn’t easy to exploit — it requires a specific set of circumstances, including having malware already running on the device — but it’s not just theoretical.
And the problem could affect much more than just personal devices. The flaw could be exploited on servers and in data centers and massive cloud-computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud. In fact, given the right conditions, Meltdown or Spectre could be used by customers of those cloud services to actually steal data from one another.
Though fixes are already being rolled out for the vulnerability, they often will come with a price. Some devices, especially older PCs, could be slowed markedly by them.
Here’s what Meltdown and Spectre are. And, just as important, here’s what they’re not.
Am I in immediate danger from this?
There’s some good news: Intel and Google say they’ve never seen any attacks like Meltdown or Spectre actually being used in the wild. And companies including Intel, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are rushing to issue fixes, with the first wave already out.
The most immediate consequence of all of this will come from those fixes. Some devices will see a performance dip of as much as 30% after the fixes are installed, according to some reports. Intel, however, disputed that figure, saying the amount by which computers will be slowed will depend on how they’re being used.
The Meltdown attack primarily affects Intel processors, though ARM has said that its chips are vulnerable as well. You can guard against it with software updates, according to Google. Those are already starting to become available for Linux and Windows 10.
Spectre, by contrast, appears to be much more dangerous. Google says it has been able to successfully execute Spectre attacks on processors from Intel, ARM, and AMD. And, according to the search giant, there’s no single, simple fix.
It’s harder to pull off a Spectre-based attack, which is why nobody is completely panicking. But the attack takes advantages of an integral part of how processors work, meaning it will take a new generation of hardware to stamp it out for good.
Despite how they’ve been discussed so far in the press, Meltdown and Spectre aren’t really “bugs.” Instead, they represent methods discovered by Google’s Project Zero cybersecurity lab to take advantage of the normal ways that Intel, ARM, and AMD processors work.
To use a Star Wars analogy, Google inspected the Death Star plans and found an exploitable weakness in a small thermal exhaust port. In the same way two precisely placed proton torpedoes could blow up the Death Star, so, too, can Meltdown and Spectre take advantage of a very specific design quirk and get around (or “melt down,” hence the name) processors’ normal security precautions.
In this case, the design feature in question is something called speculative execution, a processing technique that most Intel chips have used since 1995 and that is also common in ARM and AMD processors. With speculative execution, processors essentially guess what you’re going to do next. If they guess right, then they’re already ahead of the curve, and you have a snappier computing experience. If they guess wrong, they dump the data and start over.
What Project Zero found were two key ways to trick even secure, well-designed apps into leaking data from those returned processes. The exploits take advantage of a flaw in how the data is dumped that could allow them — with the right malware installed — to read data that should be secret.
This vulnerability is potentially particularly dangerous in cloud-computing systems, where users essentially rent time from massive supercomputing clusters. The servers in those clusters may be shared among multiple users, meaning customers running unpatched and unprepared systems could fall prey to data thieves sharing their processors.
What can I do about it?
To guard against the security flaw and the exploits, the first and best thing you can do is make sure you’re up-to-date with your security patches. The major operating systems have already started issuing patches that will guard against the Meltdown and Spectre attacks. In fact, fixes have already begun to hit Linux, Android, Apple’s MacOS, and Microsoft’s Windows 10. So whether you have an Android phone or you’re a developer using Linux in the cloud, it’s time to update your operating system.
Microsoft told Business Insider it’s working on rolling out mitigations for its Azure cloud platform. Google Cloud is urging customers to update their operating systems, too.
It’s a good idea to stay current with your Windows updates. (Screenshot from Matt Weinberger)
It’s just as important to make sure you stay up to date. While Spectre may not have an easy fix, Google says there are ways to guard against related exploits. Expect Microsoft, Apple, and Google to issue a series of updates to their operating systems as new Spectre-related attacks are discovered.
Additionally, because Meltdown and Spectre require malicious code to already be running on your system, let this be a reminder to practice good online safety behaviors. Don’t download any software from a source you don’t trust. And don’t click on any links or files claiming you won $10 million in a contest you never entered.
Why could the fixes also slow down my device?
The Meltdown and Spectre attacks take advantage of how the “kernels,” or cores, of operating systems interact with processors. Theoretically, the two are supposed to be separated to some degree to prevent exactly this kind of attack. Google’s report, however, proves the existing precautions aren’t enough.
Operating system developers are said to be adopting a new level of virtual isolation, basically making requests between the processor and the kernel take the long way around.
The problem is that enforcing this kind of separation requires at least a little extra processing power, which would no longer be available to the rest of the system.
Intel disputes that the performance hits will be as dramatic as The Times suggests.
Some of the slowdowns, should they come to pass, could be mitigated by future software updates. Because the vulnerability was just made public, it’s possible that workarounds and new techniques for circumventing the performance hit will come to light as more developers work on solving the problem.
What happens next?
Publicly, Intel is confident the Meltdown and Spectre bugs won’t have a material impact on its stock price or market share, given that they’re relatively hard to execute and have never been used (that we know of). AMD shares are soaring on word that the easier-to-pull-off Meltdown attack isn’t known to work on its processors.
But as Google is so eager to remind us, Spectre looms large. Speculative execution has been a cornerstone of processor design for more than two decades. It will require a huge rethinking from the processor industry to guard against this kind of attack in the future. The threat of Spectre means the next generation of processors — from all the major chip designers — will be a lot different than they are today.
Google is urging customers of its Google Cloud supercomputing service, hosted from data centers like this, to update their operating systems. (Image via Google)
Even so, the threat of Spectre is likely to linger far into the future. Consumers are replacing their PCs less frequently, which means older PCs that are at risk of the Spectre attack could be used for years to come.
As for mobile, there has been a persistent problem with updating Android devices to the latest version of the operating system, so there are likely to be lots of unpatched smartphones and tablets in use for as far as the eye can see. Would-be Spectre attackers are therefore likely to have their choice of targets.
It’s not the end of the world. But it just may be the end of an era for Intel, AMD, ARM, and the way processors are built.
Ingenuity and collaboration were the keys to success as a group of Air Force Research Laboratory engineers took a series of tests to new heights.
At the request of NASA, AFRL rapid-response systems support researchers delved into the realm of space to help determine the effects of unintended electrical arcing on astronaut space suits during extravehicular maintenance.
NASA researchers came to the AFRL team with a simple question. How does an electrical arc behave in a vacuum? Although this may seem like a fairly simple question, it was a concept that had not been explored fully before.
“What was not understood were the ramifications of an arc in space,” said Brett Jordan, electrical and electronic materials evaluation team lead. “What are the mass and velocity of the particles produced by the arcing, and what would be the effects of those metal particles flying off the arc in that environment?”
To answer this question, AFRL began by determining how to build fixtures for a low-pressure test and performing proof-of-concept testing to determine the best method to reliably create an arc in the planned lab setting. This initial series of tests helped the researchers understand the materials, positioning and current needed to successfully generate the arc, as well as the proper test setup to use for an Earth-orbit vacuum environment.
The Air Force Research Laboratory materials evaluation team generates an electrical arc fault in a vacuum chamber in support of a NASA research effort to determine the effects of arcing in Earth-orbit conditions.
With this initial data in hand, the team then began to prepare for low-pressure testing. Reaching out to fellow AFRL materials and electronics researchers, the team acquired a low-pressure chamber and secured a laboratory for conducting the tests.
“It really was a team effort,” said Corey Boltz, electrical engineer and project lead. “We received assistance from many different teams throughout AFRL to make this happen.”
After another round of experimental tests and setup, the team was ready to begin the final round of testing and data collection. With the assistance of NASA engineers, the AFRL team performed a series of 35 tests in the low-pressure chamber. Each test run was a careful exercise in control and precision. For each individual test, the team followed a rigorous process that involved precise placement of the test fixture, calibration of multiple high-speed data capture cameras and pumping the chamber down to extreme low-pressure atmospheric conditions.
The team completed the tests quickly, despite the complex setup required between each test run. From start to finish, the low-pressure test runs were completed in nine days. Jordan says this was possible because the AFRL test chamber offered capabilities that were not immediately available to the NASA team. Because of the chamber’s design, its pressure could be lowered to the necessary test conditions in about half the time it takes a typical chamber to achieve the same conditions. As a result, more test runs could be completed in a shorter period of time.
“For us, it was all part of our rapid-response mission, and the customer appreciated that quick turnaround,” Boltz said.
The data gathered from the testing provided important data that NASA is using to structure their own set of tests.
“This data-rich testing enabled the optimization of tests being performed at three other facilities, which are adding various other factors related to the extra vehicular activity scenario,” said Amri Hernandez-Pellerano, NASA technical lead. “The AFRL pathfinder tests enabled us to properly plan resources in this study.”
Jordan added that since these tests were the first space vacuum work the group had performed, the testing event benefited AFRL as well by expanding the base of knowledge for electrical arcing in low-pressure environments. He said the data and processes established will be useful for the project researchers and other AFRL teams as they tackle future endeavors.
“As the systems support rapid reaction team, that’s what we do,” said Jordan. “We’re proud of our mission. We take it seriously, we enjoy it, and when we need to come up with good answers quickly, we make it happen quickly.”