North Korea Fires Off Missile As Kim Jong-Il Dies

The nuclear weapons enthusiast and pornography aficionado who inherited the Stalinist state known as North Korea from his daddy is dead. And no sooner did Kim Jong-il pass from the earth than his military practiced the belligerence Kim preached: it test-fired a missile. Subtle.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports that the “short-range” missile was fired into “into the sea off [North Korea’s] east coast” just hours after the announcement of Kim’s death. No one appears to be hurt, and it seems that the test was planned in advance. But the message is clear enough: North Korea wants the 28,000 U.S. troops on its southern frontier to know that now is not the time to mess with it.

The South Koreans are on the same paged. In the hours since Kim died, they’ve beefed up airport security, banned their citizens from travelling north, and stressed “peace and stability” with their northern neighbor. No one wants to provoke the new Pyongyang leadership at a time when its grasp on power might not be absolute, a situation that lends itself to violent miscalculation.

At the same time, North Korea has been preparing for this moment for years. The state propaganda mouthpiece dubbed Kim Jong-un, the 20-something son of Kim Jong-il, the “Great Successor” — perhaps not as catchy as his father’s Dear Leader or grandfather’s Great Leader aliases, but clearly meant to dispel the notion that Kim Jong-un has any rivals for power. No one knows if that’s actually true, because North Korea is such a closed society. But ever since the elder Kim’s 2008 stroke, Kim Jong-un has been groomed for succession, gradually gaining control of the ruling party, the military — he’s now a four-star general, despite never having served a day in uniform — and the rest of the North Korean governing apparatus.

Still, the White House isn’t leaving much to chance. A statement very early Monday morning reiterated Washington’s “strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea.” Both countries’ national security teams are in “close coordination” to dissuade North Korea from acting out — as it did this time last year, provoking a mini-crisis over a South Korean military exercise.

But the North Korean missile launch and the Seoul-Washington responses make it seem like both sides are trying to intimidate the other out of acting rashly.

“North Korean armed forces probably are at semi-war state of alert to ensure a prompt response in the event any enemy attempts or is perceived as attempting to take advantage of a period of grief or judges the North is weakened by leadership change,” writes analyst John McCreary in his influential NightWatch security newsletter. “The longer term concern is the pressure on the new leader to prove himself.”

In other words, don’t expect North Korea’s new boychik-in-charge to suddenly agree to restart talks on giving up his father’s prized nuclear weapons program. The cost of running Stalinist regimes is knowing there’s always someone ready to kill you if you look weak.

Especially if you’re young and untested. McCreary notes that for the first time in North Korea’s history, its “new key people have no direct ties to the three wars — the anti-Japanese war before World War II; World War II, and the Korean War, which has been the cachet for leadership — and have no military training or experience.”

That kind of continuity was perhaps the one thing Kim Jong-il couldn’t guarantee. But he accelerated his own father’s legendary bellicosity. Under Kim Jong-il’s watch, North Korea became a nuclear power and an even more erratic threat to the U.S., South Korea and Japan. He exported his nuclear technology to fellow rogues Iran and Syria.

In his personal life, Kim enjoyed copious amounts of pornography and haute cuisine while his people starved. The official North Korean propaganda arm claims Kim died “from a great mental and physical strain” while traveling “on a train during a field guidance tour,” whatever that means. Now the strain is on his son not to blunder into a war.

Photo: Flickr/Rapid Travel Chai

Source: Danger Room

Posted in Latest Update

Video: Drone Watches Last U.S. Convoy Leave Iraq

On March 19, 2003, U.S. ground forces crossed the concertina wire in Kuwait that marks Iraq’s southern border, beginning one of America’s most controversial wars. On December 17, 2011, at 11:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the last military convoys rolled off Iraqi soil, back to Kuwait. This time, a U.S. Air Force Predator drone loitered overhead, bearing witness.

This is what a U.S. withdrawal looks like to a robotic plane in the sky. An orderly, blue-tinged column of trucks — 125 of them, according to the U.S. Air Force — moves along a stretch of road. The Predator doesn’t see any of the accomplishments or the sacrifice that U.S. troops achieved, endured and earned in Iraq for the past nine years. Nor does it see the suffering, the bitterness and the loss.

But it does record a minor success. The Predator video feed does not show chaos at the border. There is no insurgent assault seeking to chase the U.S. military out. Nor is there a panicked helicopter flight from an embassy rooftop. Instead, as the final trucks calmly cross into Kuwait, the Predator watches border guards shut a gate, providing a sense of finality.

It may not be so final. The U.S. leaves behind a massive embassy in Iraq guarded by up to 5,500 armed security contractors. Little is known about that hired army — when, for instance, it can open fire on Iraqis to protect U.S. diplomats — but it amounts to a privatized residual U.S. force. And in addition to Iraq’s lingering political problems, the country is still a battleground for competing U.S. and Iranian interests. Still, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little tweeted on Sunday morning that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has “approved the order officially ending the Iraq war: EXORD 1003 Victor, Mod 9.”

And the Predators? They won’t exactly leave Iraq after the pullout. On Friday, Panetta secured Baghdad’s approval to allow the drones to fly — unarmed — over northern Iraq from Turkey’s Incirlik air base. They’ll be spying for Kurdish terrorists.

Beyond that, after December 31, when the pullout must legally be complete, drones — armed and otherwise — will be in reserve at the U.S.’ constellation of bases near Iraq in Persian Gulf states.

“Any operation of any aircraft of any type into the sovereign airspace over Iraq after that date would need to comply with Iraqi laws and policies,” Capt. Melissa Milner, chief spokeswoman for the U.S. Air Force in the Middle East, told Danger Room in October. “We are not aware of any special arrangements or exceptions for any aircraft, and are not aware of any ongoing discussions with [the Iraqi defense ministry] on the matter.”

By: Danger Room

Posted in Latest Update

Iran’s Alleged Drone Hack: Tough, but Possible

Take everything that Iran says about its captured U.S. drone with a grain of salt. But its new claim that it spoofed the drone’s navigational controls isn’t implausible. Although it’s way harder to do than the Iranian boast suggests, it points to yet another flaw with America’s fleet of robot warplanes.

On Thursday, the Christian Science Monitor published an interview with an Iranian engineer who claims that Iran managed to jam the drone’s communication links to American operators by forcing it to shift into autopilot mode. With its communications down, the drone allegedly kicked into autopilot mode, relying on GPS to fly back to base in Afghanistan. With the GPS autopilot on, the engineer claims Iran spoofed the drone’s GPS system with false coordinates, fooling it into thinking it was close to home and landing into Iran’s clutches.

Again: Iranian feats of technological excellence deserve skepticism. (See the Taiwanese animation above for that.) But GPS spoofing is certainly doable. And if it’s true, it builds on a recent history of security flaws with the drones, from their unencrypted video feeds to their vulnerability to malware.

It’s possible to spoof unencrypted civilian GPS systems. But military GPS receivers, such as the one likely installed on the missing drone, use the encrypted P(Y)-code to communicate with satellites. The notion that Iran could have cracked through the encryption “sounds like a made-for-TV movie” says John Pike, a satellite expert and president of ”If they could overcome the sorts of of crypto systems that would protect this drone, they would not waste their time on surveillance drones. They would be breaking into banks.”

But Iran might not have had to break the encryption on the P(Y) code in order to bring down a drone. According to Richard Langley, a GPS expert at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, it’s theoretically possible to take control of a drone by jamming the P(Y) code and forcing a GPS receiver to use the unencrypted, more easily spoofable C/A code to to get its directions from navigational satellites.

“GPS satellites transmit on two legacy radio frequencies,” Langley explains. The unencrypted C/A code used by most civilian GPS unit “is transmitted only on the L1 frequency. The encrypted P code for so-called authorized military users is transmitted on both the L1 and L2 frequency.”

Translated: If the Iranians could selectively jam the encrypted military code on the L1 and L2 frequencies — and that’s a big “if” — the drone’s GPS receiver might reach out to use the less-secure C/A code in a last ditch attempt to get directions. Without the extra protection of encryption, it would be relatively simple for Iran to spoof the receiver using the C/A code and fool the drone into thinking it was back home in Afghanistan.

However. For that scenario to work, the drone’s GPS unit would have to be programmed to use the C/A code in the event the P(Y) code becomes unavailable.

It’s also difficult to jam a drone’s GPS. “They’ve got defenses against these kinds of spoofing attacks,” says Todd Humphreys, who has researched GPS spoofing at the University of Texas’ Radionavigation Laboratory. “They mount their antennas on the top of the drones and sometimes the antennas have the ability to null out jamming or spoofing signals.”

Humphreys isn’t buying the Iranian engineer’s explanation of why the apparent RQ-170 Sentinel’s underbelly appeared damaged in the footage released by Iran. The engineer told the Monitor that the drone’s underbelly was scuffed because of a slight difference between the altitude of its actual home base in Afghanistan and the location where it allegedly landed in Iran.

“This is nonsense,” says Humphreys. If the Iranians had been able to spoof the GPS unit in the precise way they claimed, they also would have also been able to control its altitude. “That opens up two scenarios. Either [the engineer] is a user of equipment he’s got from abroad” and doesn’t understand its capabilities, “or he’s making it up.”

The spoofing danger isn’t new. “On the military side,” says Humphreys, “they’ve known about this threat for 20-30 years.”

And this isn’t the first time Iran or its proxies have exploited a long-known vulnerability on an American drone. In 2008, the U.S. military discovered Iranian-backed insurgents in Iraq had managed to intercept unencrypted video feeds from drones using widely available commercial software. That flaw was known to the Air Force as far back as 1996.

Other drone vulnerabilities have also highlighted security fears. In October, Danger Room broke the news that the cockpits at the Air Force’s drone fleet based out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada were infected with a virus. Malware had apparently made its way onto computers because someone had been using one to play the Mafia Wars game — a stunning security faux pas.

It’s by no means clear that Iran really did spoof the drone’s GPS. But if they did. “If this was really that easy, I’m disappointed,” Humphreys says, “because a lot of very smart people have put a lot of time into this.”

Photo: Via Secret Projects

Via: Danger Room

Posted in Latest Update

No Fear: Memory Adjustment Pills Get Pentagon Push

The Pentagon hasn’t come close to solving the PTSD crisis plaguing the current generation of troops. And the top brass looks like it’s ready to try anything — like a major push into a cutting-edge, controversial realm of treatment. One that’d see military personnel popping a pill to wipe away the fear they associate with traumatic memories.

The Pentagon this week announced an $11 million grant doled out to three research institutions, all of them long-time hubs for the military’s ongoing PTSD investigations. Experts at Emory University, the University of Southern California and New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center will study the effectiveness of D-Cycloserine (DCS). DCS is a pharmaceutical thought to help extinguish fearful memories. It’s usually taken right before exposure therapy, a process that involves recalling traumatic experiences in an effort to nullify the menacing associations that accompany them.

“We already know that exposure therapy is an effective [therapy] for PTSD, and we want to figure out how to optimize it,” Dr. Barbara Rothbaum, who will lead the Emory team’s research, told Danger Room. “I really think that this study will move beyond the theoretical. We can rescue people.”

Exposure therapy is thought to work by allowing patients to revisit traumas in safe settings. Every time the mind remembers an event, it “rewrites” that recollection. By helping a patient rewrite traumatic memories to be less frightening, studies suggest that exposure therapy can significantly improve symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks.

Adding DCS seems to hasten that process, targeting the precise brain pathways responsible for regulating fear responses.

Researchers will look at two different kinds of exposure therapy: Virtual reality, where a patient is fully immersed in digital combat scenarios, and prolonged imaginal exposure therapy, which asks them to simply remember and recount fearful memories. A total of 300 patients, all of them veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, will partake. They’ll undergo seven individual weekly sessions of one of the therapies. Before each session, half will receive DCS, and the rest will get a placebo.

Experts have already spent plenty of time figuring out how DCS works. It’s been around since the 1960s, when it was used to treat tuberculosis. Now, however, researchers are more excited about the drug’s potential ability to alleviate symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and, of course, PTSD — without a lifetime of pill-popping.

“Most drugs, you dose every day,” Rothbaum says. “But DCS is only useful during exposure therapy, so you’re taking the drug right before the session. And when your series of sessions end, the medication ends too.”

DCS seems to enhance the brain’s learning process. For PTSD treatment, the drug could, ostensibly, help patients more quickly internalize that, say, driving down a suburban American highway is far different — and less dangerous — than driving on a Baghdad street. The drug also binds to receptors in the amygdala, the region of the brain that governs fear response. So by blocking out fearful reactions while a patient revisits trauma, experts think DCS can, literally, “extinguish” fear right at the source.

Emory researchers have already tried using DCS and virtual reality in humans with PTSD, fear of heights and obsessive compulsive disorder. Since 2006, Rothbaum and a team of experts have been comparing exposure therapy, used along with DCS, Xanax or placebo, in patients. “Results so far are positive,” Rothbaum says, though they haven’t finished analyzing the data.

That said, results from other human studies on DCS aren’t encouraging. Just last year, several disappointing trials using DCS were presented by researchers assembled at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies conference. “The early results are not as positive as we [had] hoped,” noted Dr. Charles Marmar, head of the psychiatry department at NYU, of his team’s study that combined DCS with cognitive behavioral therapy.

But even a glimmer of hope seems to be enough for the Pentagon. So far, what they’ve tried to treat PTSD — which afflicts at least 250,000 of this generation’s soldiers — isn’t working. Conventional approaches, like antidepressants and behavioral therapy, have been a massive failure. So it makes sense that military officials are increasingly open to out-there ideas: They’re already funding research into yoga and acupuncture, neck injections and “digital dream” computer programs — although promising approaches taking advantage of “illicit” substances, like marijuana and ecstasy, have thus far been nixed.

Of course, this latest study will be bigger and more thorough than its failed predecessors. It also builds on years of animal research suggesting that DCS has potential. And there’s no doubt the project is calling on some of the Pentagon’s top civilian scientists. Dr. Rothbaum has been evaluating PTSD treatments, including preliminary studies on DCS, for decades. And Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, from the University of Southern California, pioneered the use of virtual reality therapy to mitigate PTSD symptoms.

Not to mention that this research team will also be conducting genetic tests on every patient. In particular, they’ll be looking at a gene dubbed “BDNF.” Experts already know that a variant of the BDNF gene can make fear extinction tougher. By comparing patient results to genes, Rothbaum says they hope to “figure out what’s the best treatment approach, and whether DCS can really rescue those patients, where maybe therapy alone can’t.”

Of course, the idea of using drugs to tweak memories isn’t without controversy: An online debate flared last year among two camps of neurologists and neuroethicists, arguing over whether the existence of such drugs would “alter something that makes us all human,” or open a Pandora’s Box of illicit use “by people doing things they’d like to forget themselves, or that they would like others to forget.”

Then again, those debates hinge on DCS, or some other memory extinguisher, actually working. DCS’s efficacy is far from proven. And earlier research efforts that tested supposed “fear-extinguishing” drugs, most notably a series of much-touted, Pentagon-funded studies on Propanolol at Harvard, have all been disappointments.

Photo: U.S. Army

Via: Danger Room

Posted in Latest Update

Air Force Blames Pilot in Suspicious Stealth-Jet Crash

When an F-22 Raptor malfunctioned in mid-flight, leading to a crash that killed its pilot, the Air Force went into damage-control mode. Gen. Norton Schwartz, the chief of staff, insisted there was no way that the oxygen generator on his prized stealth jet — a system widely suspected of being dangerously flawed — caused the crash. And even now that an internal inquiry seems to contradict Schwartz, the Air Force is still blaming Capt. Jeffrey Haney for the crash that cost Haney his life.

The most important discovery in the Air Force’s official report on the Nov. 10, 2010 accident in Alaska: The oxygen system in Haney’s F-22 failed in mid flight. Haney was running out of air. And yet the report concludes the crash was Haney’s fault, not the plane’s.

That downplayed discovery could be the latest evidence of a potentially fatal design flaw in the Raptor — and a sign that the world’s most fearsome jet fighter probably hasn’t moved past its recent safety-related groundings. In any event, the Alaska crash was a major embarrassment in a long chain of them for the radar-evading F-22, which costs $377 million per plane.

The then-170-strong Raptor force was grounded for four months starting in May, following more than a dozen reports of blackouts and disorientation by pilots, possibly consequences of oxygen shortages. When investigators failed to identify the root cause of the problem, the Air Force ordered the F-22s back into the air — only to briefly sideline them again in October following yet another complaint by an out-of-breath pilot.

In Haney’s case, the so-called On-Board Oxygen Generating System, or OBOGS, was at the very least a critical link in a chain of errors that sent his F-22 hurtling to the ground. And while the OBOGS failure on Haley’s jet could, in theory, have no connection to all those air-deprived pilots, it seems more likely to us that the crash and the oxygen deprivation are somehow related. It seems implausible that a crash involving a failing oxygen generator would have nothing to do with widespread reports of air shortages by other pilots.

Haney’s problem started when a system that channels air from the F-22′s engines began leaking, initiating an automatic safeguard that forced air-dependent systems, including the OBOGS, to shut down. According to the report, which is based on an examination of the Raptor’s black box and wreckage, Haney tried to turn on his emergency oxygen, contained in a bottle wedged beside the ejection seat.

Apparently while fumbling with a tiny green ring that a pilot pulls to start the oxygen flow, Haney didn’t notice that his aircraft had rolled over and pointed towards the ground. “It was most likely the [mission pilot] channelized his attention on restoring airflow to his oxygen mask,” the report states.

Three seconds before striking the ground, Haney apparently realized his error and tried to pull up. But it was too late. The F-22 plowed into the snowy earth, digging a deep crater, throwing debris a quarter-mile and killing Haney instantly.

Amazingly, the Air Force blames the accident on pilot error. But the same report also praises Haney as “one of the top pilots in the squadron,” undermining the conclusion that the crash must have been his fault. The report mentions that investigators considered the possibility that Haney briefly blacked out, just like some of the pilots who reported oxygen shortages. But the fact that Haney tried to pull up in the final seconds of his life rules out a black-out, the report claims.

Which means in this case, the OBOGS’s failure only created the conditions leading to Haney’s loss of control. In the cases that prompted the Raptor groundings, the OBOGS apparently directly caused pilot disorientation. That distinction was apparently enough for Schwartz to clear the oxygen-generator entirely in Haney’s death. But if one of the top pilots in the 525th Fighter Squadron didn’t have enough oxygen to fly his plane, that distinction offers cold comfort to every other fighter jock who’ll have to climb into the cockpit.

Schwartz’s exoneration of Haney’s F-22 doesn’t mean the flying branch is any closer to figuring out the other Raptor-related air shortages. The Air Force has paid F-22-maker Lockheed Martin $24 million to, among other things, figure out the Raptor’s oxygen problem and fix it. So far, no luck.

In the meantime, Lockheed has finished the 196th and final F-22 after 14 years of production. Each of those planes “is a reflection of the dedication, hard work and professionalism of our workforce,” company vice president Jeff Babione said, commemorating the last jet’s roll-out. But if you can’t breathe while flying them, well, apparently that’s your fault.

Photo: Lockheed Martin

Origin: Danger Room

Posted in Latest Update

Space Planes, Psyops, Secret Prisons: 9 Secret Military Programs You Shouldn’t Know

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The USS Jimmy Carter

Make no mistake: The Pentagon’s got plenty of secrets you probably don’t even want to know about. But there are at least a handful they likely wish had stayed a bit more covert.

Some of ’em have been talked about for years — and new intel is still creeping out. Old documents from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program, which plied unwitting participants with mind-altering drugs, have been released as recently as last year. And the Pentagon Papers, officially declassified just this past summer, reveal disturbing details about U.S. activities during in the Vietnam War.

Try as they might, it seems top brass just can’t keep every classified program entirely under wraps. And in this Internet era, it’s arguable that we know more than ever about their covert activities. A combination of insider leaks, sly reporting and grainy photographs — all distributed online — have shed plenty of light on some of the military’s biggest secrets. From stealth helicopters to undisclosed prisons, check out nine recent Pentagon programs you never should have been privy to.

The Navy’s Souped-Up Sub

It’s the most covert submarine in the American arsenal. Since the sub’s 2004 launch, experts have speculated that USS Jimmy Carter was designed with classified spy missions in mind. Allegedly, the sub is able to slip into enemy ports undetected and even tap into the underwater fiber-optics of foes to listen in on undersea chatter. USS Jimmy Carter may have done just that last year, when it was quietly deployed to spy on North Korea — one of the only known missions the sub has ever taken.

What else can USS Jimmy Carter, one of the Navy’s three Seawolf-class Submarines, accomplish? Nobody’s quite sure, because Navy officials haven’t commented on exactly what kinds of tech the seafarer is equipped with. But the Jimmy Carter does boast unprecedented hull space, to store unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles for whatever deadly missions our former president’s namesake needs to embark on.

Photo: Department of Defense

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Via: Danger Room

Posted in Latest Update

Hero Marine Drops Lawsuit Against Defense Giant

It turns out Dakota Meyer won’t sue his former employer for smearing his reputation after all. Barely two weeks after the first living Marine to win the Medal of Honor since Vietnam filed suit against defense giant BAE Systems, BAE announced late Thursday that they had settled their dispute “amicably.”

“BAE Systems has the highest respect for Sgt. Dakota Meyer, who exemplifies the qualities that make the men and women of our armed services the best in the world,” BAE said in a statement. “We owe him and the many thousands of others who have served and sacrificed for our country our deepest thanks.”

The terms of the settlement were not mentioned in the statement. BAE spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said they’re “confidential.”

Meyer claimed in his lawsuit that his old BAE supervisor, Bobby McCreight, disparaged Meyer’s mental health and his sobriety to a Defense Department official, which resulted in a competing company declining to hire him. Meyer further claimed that his dispute with McCreight arose from Meyer’s dissatisfaction at the prospect of BAE selling advanced rifle sights to the Pakistani military, which Meyer distrusts.

The lawsuit was a P.R. disaster for BAE, one of the world’s leading defense corporations. Roehrkasse said there had been “a lot of erroneous information” put out about the case. When asked if BAE was implicitly conceding any of Meyer’s allegations, he said he “can’t comment beyond what we’ve said in the statement.”

For his part, McCreight denied Meyer’s charges — strenuously. “Mr. Meyer’s accusation of retaliation has been fabricated,” lawyers for McCreight alleged in a motion before a Bexar County, Texas court this month, “and added to this lawsuit to gain publicity.” McCreight, who describes himself in the filing as a mentor to Meyer, further said he encouraged Meyer to share his concerns about the prospective Pakistan sale to BAE higher-ups.

But the issue would appear to be moot. In the statement, Meyer said he was “gratified” to learn that BAE “did not ultimately sell and does not intend to sell advanced thermal scopes to Pakistan.” He will drop his lawsuits against both BAE — which he said performs “important work… to protect the men and women of the U.S. military” — and McCreight.

It is not clear from the statement what compelled Meyer to change his mind. The lawsuit was not primarily about the scope sale, but rather about the slander and retaliation charges. Those go unmentioned in the statement.

Meyer’s public image took an unexpected hit this week when McClatchy alleged that some of his exploits in Afghanistan resulting in his Medal of Honor were exaggerated or fabricated. Both the White House and the Marine Corps ardently defended Meyer on Thursday.

Meyer did not return a message seeking comment. His main attorney was unavailable when we called. We’ll update this post if we hear back from Meyer’s camp.

Via: Danger Room

Posted in Latest Update