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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Marines test Google's latest military robot

The latest version of a walking, quadruped battlefield robot from Boston Dynamics, the military robotics maker owned by Google X, was tested by U.S. Marines last week.

Spot weighs about 70kgs, is electrically operated and walks on four hydraulically-actuated legs. It's controlled via wireless by an operator who can be up to 500 meters away.

It underwent trials and testing at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia as part of evaluations by the Marines on future military uses of robotic technology. In a series of missions, it was evaluated in different terrains including hills, woodlands and urban areas.

Boston Dynamics Spot robot and operator at QuanticoERIC KEENAN/DOD

Ben Swilling, a roboticist from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency operates Spot, a quadruped prototype robot developed by Google's Boston Dynamics, during a demonstration at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 16, 2015.

Spot is the latest in a line of robots developed by Boston Dynamics and compared to those earlier robots, called LS3 and Big Dog, Spot is said to be more agile and quieter.

The U.S. military is interested in the use of robots in combat because they can more confidently be sent into dangerous situations without the worry of loss of life.

In one of the tests at Quantico, the robot was sent into a building ahead of Marines to simulate looking around corners for enemies and threats.

Boston Dynamics Spot robot with Marines at QuanticoERIC KEENAN/DOD

Spot, a quadruped prototype robot developed by Google's Boston Dynamics, aids Marines in clearing a room during a demonstration at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 16, 2015.

In addition to its robotics technology, Spot includes a small LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) laser imaging sensor that's similar to the sensor installed on the top of Google's self-driving cars to give them an all-around view of the world.

The trials were held by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has provided funding to Boston Dynamics to research and build the robots.

In the past, the U.S. military has talked about using such robots as automated pack mules, following soldiers or heading to preprogrammed points with heavy equipment on their backs.

"We want to continue to experiment with quadruped technology and find ways that this can be employed to enhance the Marine Corps warfighting capabilties," said Capt. James Pineiro, the branch head for Marine Corps Warfighting Lab., in a press release.

Boston Dynamics Spot robot at QuanticoERIC KEENAN/DOD

Spot, a quadruped prototype robot developed by Google's Boston Dynamics, maneuvers through ditch during a demonstration at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 16, 2015. 

Media group with ties to the CIA and DHS wants to create a 'global fact checking network'


Poynter Insitute

 claims to be starting up a 'global fact checking network' but they should be a little more transparent about who's really doing the fact checking.

The Poynter Institute also claims to be a global leader in journalism education 

but works with the Gannett Co., Inc., the nation’s largest news publisher.

Kawika Riley is a Fellow of the Poynter Institute and 

volunteers to work with DHS.

The Poynter Institute is supported by the 

Knight Foundation

 which has close ties DHS...

"Even in the fast-changing digital age, a survey of 1,118 newspaper journalists conducted by The Poynter Institute with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shows that training varies wildly between newsrooms."

Caitria O’Neill, Knight Foundations Chief Executive Officer has close ties to DHS, click 


 to read more.

Sandra Ylisastigui, Knight Foundations Grant Associate worked with 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement with DHS


The Century Foundation Homeland Security Project is a project of the 

Century Foundation

, and is supported by the 

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

 and the 

James L. and John S. Knight Foundation



Gannet company

 proudly boasts their 

Sightline Media Group

 (SMG), formerly Gannett Government Media, works closely with DHS...

Dan Vetron works with SMG and founded "

Homeland Security Television

". The SMG also runs a website that works closely with DHS called the 



Funded by grants from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, the Omidyar Network and a CIA front the 

National Endowment for Democracy

 the Poynter Institute will be allegedly be 'FACT CHECKING' our news?

The misnamed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is nothing more than a costly program that takes US taxpayer funds to promote favored politicians and political parties worldwide. The NED injects "soft money" into the domestic elections of foreign countries in favor of one party or the other.  

Is this another CIA/DHS sick joke on a gullible world?

The Ron Paul Institute calls the NED a new kind of CIA:

After covert CIA backing of Radio Free Europe and other organizations was exposed in the 1970s, a group of neoconservatives decided to create a new kind of CIA to do in the open that which had been done in secret: the National Endowment for Democracy. More than 30 years later, even though the Cold War is a distant memory, the NED is still a $100 million per year, taxpayer-funded worldwide "regime change" operation. 

FYI, the Gannett company employs the largest force of journalists in the United States. All they're really interested in doing is training thousands of Gannett’s journalists to fall into line and report only the way DHS and the CIA instruct them. Sorry I meant the way the Gannet company instructs them. 

"The training supports a strategic transformation in Gannett’s newsrooms. Each news organization — and each job — has been reshaped and revitalized to serve readers better."

The Omidyar Network is also a leading investor in DHS's 


 which claims to 

"believe that every child should have access to an exceptional, personalized education that enables them to be happy and successful in an ever-changing world." 

"Exceptional education"? Yeah, if they want to be run by what appears to be another DHS front company.

San Francisco-based AltSchool is pioneering a new model of K-8 education with a proprietary technology platform that includes data analysis, wearable devices and small class sizes to emphasize individualized learning. In other words more spying!

AltSchool was founded in 2013 by former Googler Max Ventilla, the school has already raised $33 million in funding from

Founders Fund


Andreeseen Horowitz

. FYI, Ventilla is a co-founder of 



Andreseen Horowitz works closely with the Department of Defense:

"He's one of us, he understands our language," Margit Wennmachers, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said of Ash Carter U.S. Secretary of Defense. "He's trying to make the walls between Silicon Valley and the DOD a bit more porous. That's just a really smart way to go, because the next big thing in security will likely come out of a startup, not a big company."

More about AltSchool:

From AltSchool's "

in the top talent joins AltsSchool

" section they brag about DHS's involvement...

"Michael Ginty was previously Head of Global Security at Uber, the lead for executive security at Apple and a consultant with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Michael possesses a prescient ability to get to the heart of security concerns and quickly implement new systems to create a safe and secure environment. He brings expansive experience from years spent as a military officer and federal agent, alongside tenure at leading technology companies. Michael joins AltSchool to roll out a whole new vision for keeping children safe in the classroom – both for AltSchool and for all schools.""This fall, AltSchool will open new schools in California and New York to accommodate 500 students in 2015."

Can anyone really trust any media group with apparent ties to the CIA and DHS?  How will Americans and the world find out what's really going on when the CIA & DHS have their hands in what's being passed off as independent news?

George W. Bush Tried To Retroactively Declare Illegal, Unconstitutional NSA Surveillance Legal, Because He Said So

When it comes to the NSA, we've been discussing just how dangerous it is when the government gets to put in place its own secret interpretation of laws that, when read by the public, appear to say something quite different than the secret interpretation. Otherwise you have secret laws, and that's no way to run an open Constitutional democracy. For many years, it's been known that in March of 2004 there was a hospital room showdown between then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (with White House Chief of Staff Andy Card) and (at the time, quite ill) Attorney General John Ashcroft and acting Attorney General James Comey, over whether or not to reauthorize some sort of surveillance program. Comey, Ashcroft, and then FBI Director Robert Mueller all threatened to resign over the issue, and eventually, we were told, President Bush overruled Gonzales and Card. We knew at the time that the dispute was over domestic surveillance and whether or not it was legal. More recently, it came out that it was over domestic collection of internet/email metadata. This was a program similar to the phone metadata program that was revealed by Ed Snowden, but for email/internet information. 

However, in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the NY Times, late on Friday, the government declassified some more information about what happened, and it appears that George W. Bush tried to first retroactively "legalize" this pretty clearly unconstitutional domestic surveillance, by saying that he'd always meant that while the NSA could sweep up all metadata, it didn't technically "acquire" it until it did a search on it. Again, this is in direct contrast to what most people thought the law (and the 4th Amendment) says the government could do. 

This happened on March 11th, the day after the hospital showdown. President Bush signed a new authorization for the mass surveillance of internet records, but first decided that the White House Counsel, Gonzales, could certify it by himself, rather than having the Attorney General sign it, as in the past. This new authorization, though, directly claims that the President can simply override the law, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was put in place to limit the Executive Branch's ability to spy on Americans in the first place.

Then there's the added language saying that the information is only actually "acquired" when its searched for even thoughit has already "retained" all the data. In other words, to get around the whole Constitution, Bush apparently just redefined the word acquire.

And, to make this all the more obnoxious, while this language was only included for the first time on March 11th, the authorization claimed that Bush had really meant this to be the case all along.

In short, the day after being told that the surveillance on Americans' internet metadata was likely unconstitutional, President Bush (though put together by Dick Cheney's top legal beaver David Addington) decided to fix all that by signing a new authorization that redefined a basic English word ("acquire") and then retroactively say that this new definition applied backwards on all previous authorizations to spy on Americans, pretending that this magic incantation suddenly made it all Constitutional. 

Apparently these legal shenanigans were enough to make then NSA Director Michael Hayden perfectly happy to keep spying on Americans in violation of both the FISA law and the Constitution.

This whole thing seems pretty horrific all around. The whole point of FISA was to restrict the government from spying on Americans. And, yes, we know that the past two administrations have basically tapdanced their way around that, but now we're getting more details on exactly how. It starts with John Yoo insisting that the President can basically do whatever the fuck he wants because it's "wartime" (never mind that Congress never officially declared war...), and then that the President can just override FISA because he says so. Then, let's add into that the fact that the President (with help from David Addington) can apparently just redefine plain English words, in order to make illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of Americans appear legal, but, even more crazy, is that he can claim this new definition applies retroactively, after people realize that they may be on the hook for a few years worth of unconstitutional surveillance. 

And, again, the folks who did all this keep telling us that we should just "trust them" because they're doing everything to keep us safe. 

There are some things that it's entirely reasonable to keep secret if you're a government. But your secret definition of a law that anyone can read -- as well as your actions retroactively pushing that unique definition back historically, do not seem like the kinds of things that should be kept secret.

2,000 Russian Troops Head To Syria For “First Phase” Of Mission To Support Assad

Initially, it seemed likely that Moscow would go the Ukraine route by providing logistical support and lurking behind the scenes while officially denying – or at least downplaying – its role in the conflict. Over the course of the last two weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that Russia now intends to make no secret of its intention not only to stabilize the Assad regime but in fact to turn the tide completely with the provision of advanced weapons and equipment including combat aircraft, tanks, and drones.

The only remaining question was how long it would be before Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem made an official request for ground troops, allowing Moscow to abandon all pretense that Russia isn’t officially at war and while we may not have reached that point yet, you can’t very well build a forward operating base and not staff it which is why now, according to FT, Moscow is set to send 2,000 troops to Latakia as part of the mission’s “first phase”. Here’s more:

Russia is to deploy 2,000 military personnel to its new air base near the Syrian port city of Latakia, signalling the scale of Moscow’s involvement in the war-torn country.

The deployment “forms the first phase of the mission there”, according to an adviser on Syria policy in Moscow.

The force will include fighter aircraft crews, engineers and troops to secure the facility, said another person briefed on the matter.

Three western defence officials agreed that the Russian deployment tallied with the numbers needed to establish a forward air base similar to those built by western militaries in Afghanistan.

Here’s more, from The New York Times, on the buildup at Latakia:

The deployment of some of Russia’s most advanced ground attack planes and fighter jets as well as multiple air defense systems at the base near the ancestral home of President Bashar al-Assad appears to leave little doubt about Moscow’s goal to establish a military outpost in the Middle East. The planes are protected by at least two or possibly three SA-22 surface-to-air, antiaircraft systems, and unarmed Predator-like surveillance drones are being used to fly reconnaissance missions.

Russia has military presences near Latakia and in Tartus.Russian Moves in Syria Widen Role in MideastSEPT. 14, 2015

“With competent pilots and with an effective command and control process, the addition of these aircraft could prove very effective depending on the desired objectives for their use,” said David A. Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general who planned the American air campaigns in 2001 in Afghanistan and in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

In addition, a total of 15 Russian Hip transport and Hind attack helicopters are also now stationed at the base, doubling the number of those aircraft from last week, the American official said. For use in possible ground attacks, the Russians now also have nine T-90 tanks and more than 500 marines, up from more than 200 last week.

“The equipment and personnel just keep flowing in,” said the American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence reports. “They were very busy over the weekend.”

On Monday, the Russian embassy in Damascus came under mortar fire. That attack, Moscow says, did not emanate from ISIS but rather from other anti-Assad forces backed by “external sponsors”:

The Russian foreign ministry said a shell, which landed near its embassy on Sunday but caused no casualties, came from Jobar, which is held by anti-Assad fighters who were not allied with Isis and had “external sponsors”.

“We expect a clear position with regard to this terrorist act from all members of the international community, including regional players,” the ministry said. “This requires not just words but concrete action.”

It added that the fighters’ “foreign sponsors” were responsible for using their influence on “illegal armed formations”.

Clearly, “foreign sponsors” is a reference to Assad’s US-backed regional enemies including the Saudis, Qatar, and Turkey among others and this certainly seems to indicate that the Russians will not be prepared to tolerate attacks on their assets by groups who enjoy the support of the US-backed coalition. Of course quite a few of the groups battling for control of Syria are supported either directly or indirectly by the US and its regional allies which means that even if Russia manages to avoid direct confrontation with the handful of troops the US overtly backs, avoiding confrontations with the troops covertly supported by the US and other state actors will be impossible by definition, as they, just as much as ISIS, are angling for the ouster of Assad.

Meanwhile, the French took the absurdity to a whole new level on Monday when Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius claimed that the country’s plans to begin bombing Syria were born out of concerns for “self defense”. Here’s the quote:

“We received specific intelligence indicating that the resent terrorist attacks against France and other European nations were organized by Daesh [Arabic derogatory term for IS] in Syria. Due to this threat we decided to start reconnaissance flights to have the option for airstrikes, if that would be necessary. This is self-defense.“

And so, as the violence escalates and Syria looks set to become the stage for a not-so-cold war pitting Russia and its regional proxies against the US and its regional proxies, we close with the following graphic which (partially) quantifies the human cost of geopolitical wrangling gone horribly awry:


Millions of job seekers' fingerprints will now be searched for criminal investigations, says FBI

For years the FBI has performed federal criminal background checks for employers and state governments, amassing tens of millions of biometric records on people accused of no crime. If you want to be a lawyer, teacher, or even bike messenger in many parts of the United States, you'll need to submit your fingerprints to the FBI. Every single federal employee must submit their prints before employment. Until recently, the FBI claimed it would not search these civil prints when conducting criminal print matching; a wall between the civil and criminal fingerprint databases kept these distinct sets of information separate, the Bureau claimed. But in February 2015, that all changed—very quietly.

EFF's Jennifer Lynch:

The change, which the FBI revealed quietly in a February 2015Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA), means that if you ever have your fingerprints taken for licensing or for a background check, they will most likely end up living indefinitely in the FBI’s [Next Generation Identification] database. They’ll be searched thousands of times a day by law enforcement agencies across the country—even if your prints didn’t match any criminal records when they were first submitted to the system.

This is the first time the FBI has allowed routine criminal searches of its civil fingerprint data. Although employers and certifying agencies have submitted prints to the FBI for decades, the FBI says it rarely retained these non-criminal prints. And even when it did retain prints in the past, they “were not readily accessible or searchable.” Now, not only will these prints—and the biographical data included with them—be available to any law enforcement agent who wants to look for them, they will be searched as a matter of course along with all prints collected for a clearly criminal purpose (like upon arrest or at time of booking).

This seems part of an ever-growing movement toward cataloguinginformation on everyone in America—and a movement that won’t end with fingerprints. With the launch of the face recognition componentof NGI, employers and agencies will be able to submit a photograph along with prints as part of the standard background check. As we’ve noted before, one of FBI’s stated goals for NGI is to be able to track people as they move from one location to another. Having a robust database of face photos, built out using non-criminal records, will only make that goal even easier to achieve.

The FBI's decision to start using civil prints in criminal investigations demonstrates that we should be very skeptical of all government efforts to collect and retain sensitive information about us. Today they say they won't do X, Y, or Z with that information. But that can change very easily, and without many of the millions of people affected taking much notice.

Read more about the FBI's plans to amass biometric information on all of us. 

Hackers Launch Balloon Probe Into the Stratosphere to Spy on Drones

The group’s DIY probe was built with three software defined radios, three antennae all listening to different parts of the radio frequency spectrum, a Gopro camera, a GPS module, temperature and pressure sensors, a SIM card for communicating with the team via SMS, and an insulated battery. All of that is integrated with an Arduino board, a USB hub, an Intel Edison minicomputer and open-source software. The cheap design is intended to encourage other amateurs to build high-flying probes of their own: Oliver says the entire setup cost less than $300—though they hope use even cheaper components in future versions—with another $200 for the balloon plus the helium to fill it.The hacker group's one-foot-diameter probe hanging from a weather balloon as it floats into the clouds above Germany. The hacker group's one-foot-diameter probe hanging from a weather balloon as it floats into the clouds above Germany.  JULIAN OLIVER, BENGT SJÖLEN AND DANJA VASILIEV

FOR GOVERNMENTS SEEKING to hide controversial programs from their citizens, there are few better directions to transmit secret military and espionage communications than straight up. Unlike here on earth, no pesky amateur radio eavesdroppers or curious hackers monitor the open sky between ground control and a drone—not to mention between that drone and its communication satellite perched miles higher up.

The Deep Sweep probe, which uses a shell made from two mirrored acrylic surveillance camera covers.

The Deep Sweep probe, which uses a shell made from two mirrored acrylic surveillance camera covers.  JULIAN OLIVER, BENGT SJÖLEN AND DANJA VASILIEV

One small crew of hackers is trying to pierce that stratospheric secrecy zone with a high-altitude flying—or at least floating—machine of their own. The three members of a socially motivated movement of technologists known asCritical Engineeringhave developed and begun testing an “aerospace probe” they call the Deep Sweep. The invention, described in their own detailed writeup, is a 1-foot-diameter acrylic orb packed with radio equipment and attached to a 8.2-foot diameter helium-filled weather balloon. As it floats up more than 15 miles into the earth’s atmosphere, the probe’s antennae are designed to record a wide range of radio data to be analyzed when the probe is recovered hours or days later. The project’s goal: to pioneer a new form of public, crowd-sourced data collection for tracking the communications of a secret layer of government sky machines—drones, satellites and high-altitude planes.

“The core point of the project is to build a low-cost platform for high-altitude signals intelligence for the rest of us,” says Julian Oliver, a Berlin-based artist and hacker who launched the project along with fellow creators Bengt Sjöle and Danja Vasiliev. “It’s about creating an interface to read the signals in the skies above us, to understand what’s going on up there.”

Russia to Start Bombing in Syria ASAP

The Kremlin’s jets have landed in Syria. The drones are flying. And now, Russian combat forces are on the cusp of fighting to save what’s left of the Damascus regime from ISIS.

Russian combat operations on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are likely to begin “soon,” three U.S. officials told The Daily Beast. And Russian drone flights to spot targets for potential airstrikes are already underway.

That concession by U.S. officials of growing Russian influence marks a shift from previous statements by officials who said they weren’t sure whether Russia intended to use force in Syria and enter into the country’s long and brutal civil war. There already are early signs that Russia plans to target moderate forces that threaten the Assad regime, not the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which has been the focus of a year-long U.S.-led air campaign.

And yet, the recent Russian moves, which threaten to undermine U.S.-led efforts over the last year, were met with hardly a shrug in some circles in Washington.

“There are not discussions happening here about what this means for U.S. influence on the war against ISIS,” one defense official told The Daily Beast.

That’s despite the fact that some unverified online videos indicate that the opening phases of such operations may have already begun.

A video posted September 15 to YouTube appears to show Russian military forces in tanks alongside Syrian forces in the Lattakia region, a traditional Assad stronghold that has come under threat from anti-regime forces. 

The Kremlin’s jets have landed in Syria. The drones are flying. And Russian forces are poised to fight to save what’s left of the Damascus regime from ISIS.

Since last Friday, Moscow has sent two dozen additional fighter jets to Syria, bringing the total number in the country to 28. The same day, Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke by phone to his Russian counterpart about what the Pentagon called “mechanisms for deconfliction,” a strong indication that Russia intended to conduct airstrikes in the same areas that U.S. forces and their coalition partners are now operating against ISIS.