Power

White House Reportedly Exploring Wartime Rule To Help Coal, Nuclear (arstechnica.com) 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950. The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost U.S. industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said "an interagency process is underway" at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

If the DOE decides not to invoke Section 202(c), the president may turn to the Defense Production Act. According to a 2014 summary report (PDF) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the act would allow the president to "demand priority for defense-related products," "provide incentives to develop, modernize, and expand defense productive capacity," and establish "a voluntary reserve of trained private sector executives available for emergency federal employment," among other powers. (Some even more permissive applications of the Act were terminated in 1957.) Using the Act to protect coal and nuclear facilities would almost certainly be more controversial, as the link between national defense and keeping uneconomic coal generators running is not well-established.
The Administration could apply the Act to "provide or guarantee loans to industry" for material-specific deliveries and production. "The president may also authorize the purchase of 'industrial items or technologies for installation in government or private industrial facilities,'" reports Ars.
Government

Government Accidentally Releases Documents On 'Psycho-Electric' Weapons (popularmechanics.com) 87

schwit1 shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The government has all kinds of secrets, but only a true conspiracy theorist might suspect that "psycho-electric weapons" are one of them. So it's odd that MuckRock, a news organization that specializes in filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with state and federal government bodies, received mysterious documents about mind control, seemingly by accident. Journalist Curtis Waltman was writing to the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC), a joint operation between Washington State law enforcement and the federal government to request information about Antifa and white supremacist groups. He got responses to the questions he asked, but also a file titled "EM effects on human body.zip." At least some of the images appear to be part of an article in Nexus magazine describing a 1992 lawsuit brought by one John St. Clair Akewi against the NSA. Akewi claimed that the NSA had the "ability to assassinate U.S. citizens covertly or run covert psychological control operations to cause subjects to be diagnosed with ill mental health" and was documenting their alleged methods.
Government

North Korean Leader Says He Will Suspend Arms Tests, Shut Nuclear Test Site (cnn.com) 240

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced early Saturday morning that the regime no longer needs nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Kim said Saturday that "under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, mid-range and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests, and that the nuclear test site in northern area has also completed its mission," state-run KCNA reported Saturday. CNN reports: A North Korea source told CNN that Kim has finally decided to open up a new chapter for his nation. Kim has committed himself to the path of denuclearization and will now focus solely on economic growth and improving the national economy, the source said. The North Korean leader has realized the best path forward is to normalize relations with other countries, the source added. He is finally being recognized by the international community, and this is a historic, timely opportunity, the source said. The decision to halt nuclear and missile testing comes just one week before the leaders of South and North Korea are due to meet at the demilitarized zone between the two countries. U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the news, tweeting: "North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit."
The Military

Robots Replace Soldiers In First of Its Kind Obstacle-Breaching Exercise (military.com) 23

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: U.S. and British troops have completed a first-of-its-kind exercise using robots for breaching a complex anti-tank/anti-personnel obstacle as part of what was titled the "Robotic Complex Breach Concept demonstration" at the Grafenwoehr training area in Germany. The exercise included a number of robotic systems, including remotely controlled British Army Terrier engineering vehicles (five cameras, including thermal imaging), UAVs for reconnaissance and chemical agent detection, and the M58 Wolf under remote control and used to provide smoke screens...

British Warrant Officer Robert Kemp stated that breaching enemy obstacles is one of the most dangerous tasks on a battlefield, and that, "Any breach like this will have enemy weapons trained in on the area... Roboticizing breach operations takes away the risk of life and makes clearing enemy obstacles much safer." U.S. Army officer 1st Lt. Felix Derosin said, "As an engineer, this means a lot to me... The casualty rate for a breach is expected to be 50 percent. Being able to take our guys away from that, and have some robots go in there, is a very positive thing for us. In the future, this can save engineers' lives."

The engineer added later that "Being able to see it, eyes on, shows me what the future is going to be like, and it's pretty good."
AI

The US Military Desperately Wants To Weaponize AI (technologyreview.com) 179

Artificial intelligence is a transformative technology, and US generals already see it as the next big weapon in their arsenal. From a report: War-machine learning: Michael Griffin, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, signaled how keen the military is to make use of AI at the Future of War 2018 conference held in Washington, DC, yesterday. Saber rattling: "There might be an artificial intelligence arms race, but we're not yet in it," Griffin said. In reference to China and Russia, he added, "I think our adversaries -- and they are our adversaries -- understand very well the possible future utility of machine learning, and I think it's time we did as well."
United States

Emergency Alert Systems Used Across the US Can Be Easily Hijacked (helpnetsecurity.com) 44

A vulnerability affecting emergency alert systems supplied by ATI Systems, one of the leading suppliers of warning sirens in the USA, could be exploited remotely via radio frequencies to activate all the sirens and trigger false alarms. From a report: "We first found the vulnerability in San Francisco, and confirmed it in two other US locations including Sedgwick County, Wichita, Kansas," Balint Seeber, Director of Threat Research at Bastille, told Help Net Security. "Although we have not visited other locations to confirm the presence of the vulnerability, ATI Systems has customers in the US and overseas from the military, local government, educational and energy sectors.

"ATI features customers on its website around the US including One World Trade Center, WestPoint Military Academy and Entergy Nuclear Indian Point which are all in New York State, UMASS Amherst in Massachusetts, Eastern Arizona College, University of South Carolina and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, amongst others." The vulnerability stems from the fact that the radio protocol used to control the sirens is not secure: activation commands are sent "in the clear," i.e. no encryption is used.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: Google Should Not Help the US Military Build Unaccountable AI Systems (eff.org) 110

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Peter Eckersley writes: Yesterday, The New York Times reported that there is widespread unrest amongst Google's employees about the company's work on a U.S. military project called "Project Maven." Google has claimed that its work on Maven is for "non-offensive uses only," but it seems that the company is building computer vision systems to flag objects and people seen by military drones for human review. This may in some cases lead to subsequent targeting by missile strikes. EFF has been mulling the ethical implications of such contracts, and we have some advice for Google and other tech companies that are considering building military AI systems.
The EFF lists several "starting points" any company, or any worker, considering whether to work with the military on a project with potentially dangerous or risk AI applications should be asking:

1. Is it possible to create strong and binding international institutions or agreements that define acceptable military uses and limitations in the use of AI? While this is not an easy task, the current lack of such structures is troubling. There are serious and potentially destabilizing impacts from deploying AI in any military setting not clearly governed by settled rules of war. The use of AI in potential target identification processes is one clear category of uses that must be governed by law.
2.Is there a robust process for studying and mitigating the safety and geopolitical stability problems that could result from the deployment of military AI? Does this process apply before work commences, along the development pathway and after deployment? Could it incorporate the sufficient expertise to address subtle and complex technical problems? And would those leading the process have sufficient independence and authority to ensure that it can check companies' and military agencies' decisions?
3.Are the contracting agencies willing to commit to not using AI for autonomous offensive weapons? Or to ensuring that any defensive autonomous systems are carefully engineered to avoid risks of accidental harm or conflict escalation? Are present testing and formal verification methods adequate for that task?
4.Can there be transparent, accountable oversight from an independently constituted ethics board or similar entity with both the power to veto aspects of the program and the power to bring public transparency to issues where necessary or appropriate? For example, while Alphabet's AI-focused subsidiary DeepMind has committed to independent ethics review, we are not aware of similar commitments from Google itself. Given this letter, we are concerned that the internal transparency, review, and discussion of Project Maven inside Google was inadequate. Any project review process must be transparent, informed, and independent. While it remains difficult to ensure that that is the case, without such independent oversight, a project runs real risk of harm.
Google

Google Workers Urge CEO To Pull Out of Pentagon AI Project (nytimes.com) 283

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company's involvement in a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). From a report: The letter, which is circulating inside Google and has garnered more than 3,100 signatures, reflects a culture clash between Silicon Valley and the federal government that is likely to intensify as cutting-edge artificial intelligence is increasingly employed for military purposes. "We believe that Google should not be in the business of war," says the letter, addressed to Sundar Pichai, the company's chief executive. It asks that Google pull out of Project Maven, a Pentagon pilot program, and announce a policy that it will not "ever build warfare technology."

That kind of idealistic stance, while certainly not shared by all Google employees, comes naturally to a company whose motto is "Don't be evil," a phrase invoked in the protest letter. But it is distinctly foreign to Washington's massive defense industry and certainly to the Pentagon, where the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, has often said a central goal is to increase the "lethality" of the United States military.

The Military

Military Documents Reveal How the US Army Plans To Deploy AI In Future Wars (thenextweb.com) 141

In a just-released white paper, the Army describes how it's working to make a battlefield network of machines and humans a reality. The Next Web reports: "Most of such intelligent things will not be too dissimilar from the systems we see on today's battlefield, such as unattended ground sensors, guided missiles (especially the fire-and-forget variety) and of course the unmanned aerial systems (UAVs)," reads the paper. "They will likely include physical robots ranging from very small size (such as an insect-scale mobile sensors) to large vehicle that can carry troops and supplies. Some will fly, others will crawl or walk or ride."

The paper was authored by the Army's chief of the Network Science Division of the Army Research Laboratory, Dr. Alexander Kott. It outlines the need to develop systems to augment both machines and people in the real world with artificially intelligent agents to defend the network: "In addition to physical intelligent things, the battlefield -- or at least the cyber domain of the battlefield -- will be populated with disembodied, cyber robots. These will reside within various computers and networks, and will move and acts in the cyberspace."

Kott takes pains to underscore the fact that the AI powering U.S. war efforts will need to be resilient in ways that today's AI simply isn't. He states: "The intelligent things will have to constantly think about an intelligent adversary that strategizes to deceive and defeat them. Without this adversarial intelligence, the battle things will not survive long enough to be useful." Ultimately, aside from outlining what the future battlefield will look like, the paper's conclusion is either disappointing or a giant relief, depending on your agenda: "Clearly, it is far beyond the current state of AI to operate intelligently in such an environments and with such demands. In particular, Machine Learning -- an area that has seen a dramatic progress in the last decade -- must experience major advances in order to become relevant to the real battlefield."

The Military

Britain's Plan To Build a 2,000 Foot Aircraft Carrier Almost Entirely From Ice (bbc.com) 78

dryriver writes from a report via the BBC: In World War 2, Britain was losing the Battle of the Atlantic, with German U-boats sinking ship after ship. Enter Project Habakkuk, the incredible plan to build an aircraft carrier from ice. The British government wanted a better way of battling German U-boats and needed an aircraft carrier invulnerable to torpedoes and bombs. Inventor Geoffrey Pyke came up with the idea of using solid blocks of ice, strengthened with sawdust, creating the material Pykrete, to build a ship big enough for bombers to land on. Winston Churchill became interested in the plan after Pyke pitched it to him. The proposed ship was to be 610 meters (2,013 feet) long and weigh 1.8 Million tons, considerably larger and heavier than today's biggest ships. It would have hull armor 12 meters (40 feet) thick. Work on building a proof-of-concept prototype started at Patricia Lake, Canada. But when it became clear that the finished aircraft carrier would take until 1945 to build, and cost 10 million pounds, the British government cancelled the project in 1943, and the prototype in Canada was scuppered.
Sci-Fi

UFO Disclosure Group Releases Newest Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet UFO Encounter Video (cnn.com) 242

alaskana98 writes: CNN and other media outlets are reporting that the "To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science" group has released the third in a series of videos purportedly showing an encounter between Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots and an object moving at seemingly impossible speeds off the East Coast of the United States. The video was captured by the Raytheon: Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod and includes audio of the pilots excitedly observing this object from far above as it zooms over the ocean surface. The ATFLIR system has trouble getting a lock on the object at first but then gets a lock on it eventually demonstrating that whatever this this was it wasn't a figment of the pilots imaginations. If the video is authentic there are indeed some strange things flying in our skies. The video can be viewed here.
Facebook

Facebook Has Turned Into a Beast in Myanmar, UN Says (bbc.com) 96

UN investigators have accused Facebook of playing a "determining role" in stirring up hatred against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. From a report: One of the team probing possible acts of genocide said Facebook had "turned into a beast." About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar's military launched an operation in August against "insurgents" in Rakhine state. Facebook has said there is "no place for hate speech" on its platform. "We take this incredibly seriously and have worked with experts in Myanmar for several years to develop safety resources and counter-speech campaigns," a Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC.

The UN's Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar announced the interim findings of its investigation on Monday. During a press conference the chairman of the mission, Marzuki Darusman, said that social media had "substantively contributed to the level of acrimony" amongst the wider public, against Rohingya Muslims. "Hate speech is certainly, of course, a part of that," he added.

Piracy

US Navy Under Fire In Mass Software Piracy Lawsuit (torrentfreak.com) 121

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Navy began using BS Contact Geo, a 3D virtual reality application developed by German company Bitmanagement. The Navy reportedly agreed to purchase licenses for use on 38 computers, but things began to escalate. While Bitmanagement was hopeful that it could sell additional licenses to the Navy, the software vendor soon discovered the U.S. Government had already installed it on 100,000 computers without extra compensation. In a Federal Claims Court complaint filed by Bitmanagement two years ago, that figure later increased to hundreds of thousands of computers. Because of the alleged infringement, Bitmanagement demanded damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. In the months that followed both parties conducted discovery and a few days ago the software company filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to rule that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement. According to the software company, it's clear that the U.S. Government crossed a line. In its defense, the U.S. Government had argued that it bought concurrent-use licenses, which permitted the software to be installed across the Navy network. However, Bitmanagement argues that it is impossible as the reseller that sold the software was only authorized to sell PC licenses. In addition, the software company points out that the word "concurrent" doesn't appear in the contracts, nor was there any mention of mass installations. The full motion brings up a wide range of other arguments as well which, according to Bitmanagement, make it clear that the U.S. Government is liable for copyright infringement.
Government

Leaked Files Show How the NSA Tracks Other Countries' Hackers (theintercept.com) 66

An analysis of leaked tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) gives us a glimpse into the methods used by the organization to detect the presence of other state-sponsored actors on hacked devices, and it could also help the cybersecurity community discover previously unknown threats. The Intercept: When the mysterious entity known as the "Shadow Brokers" released a tranche of stolen NSA hacking tools to the internet a year ago, most experts who studied the material honed in on the most potent tools, so-called zero-day exploits that could be used to install malware and take over machines. But a group of Hungarian security researchers spotted something else in the data, a collection of scripts and scanning tools the National Security Agency uses to detect other nation-state hackers on the machines it infects. It turns out those scripts and tools are just as interesting as the exploits. They show that in 2013 -- the year the NSA tools were believed to have been stolen by the Shadow Brokers -- the agency was tracking at least 45 different nation-state operations, known in the security community as Advanced Persistent Threats, or APTs. Some of these appear to be operations known by the broader security community -- but some may be threat actors and operations currently unknown to researchers.

The scripts and scanning tools dumped by Shadow Brokers and studied by the Hungarians were created by an NSA team known as Territorial Dispute, or TeDi. Intelligence sources told The Intercept the NSA established the team after hackers, believed to be from China, stole designs for the military's Joint Strike Fighter plane, along with other sensitive data, from U.S. defense contractors in 2007; the team was supposed to detect and counter sophisticated nation-state attackers more quickly, when they first began to emerge online. "As opposed to the U.S. only finding out in five years that everything was stolen, their goal was to try to figure out when it was being stolen in real time," one intelligence source told The Intercept. But their mission evolved to also provide situational awareness for NSA hackers to help them know when other nation-state actors are in machines they're trying to hack.

Privacy

Google Is Helping the Pentagon Build AI for Drones (gizmodo.com) 95

Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analyzing drone footage, a move that set off a firestorm among employees of the technology giant when they learned of Google's involvement, Gizmodo reported on Tuesday. From the report: Google's pilot project with the Defense Department's Project Maven, an effort to identify objects in drone footage, has not been previously reported, but it was discussed widely within the company last week when information about the project was shared on an internal mailing list, according to sources who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the project. Some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, sources said, while others argued that the project raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning.
Microsoft

Microsoft To Offer Governments Local Version of Azure Cloud Service (reuters.com) 28

Microsoft on Monday said it will soon make it possible for government clients to run its cloud technology on their own servers as part of a concerted effort to make Azure more appealing to local and federal agencies. From a report: The pairing of Azure Stack, Microsoft's localized cloud product, and Azure Government, the government-tailored version of Microsoft's cloud, comes as competition against Amazon.com Inc for major clients in the public sector ramps up. The new offering, which will be made available in mid-2018, is designed to appeal to governments and agencies with needs for on-premise servers, such as in a military operation or in an embassy abroad, said Tom Keane, Microsoft Azure's head of global infrastructure.
Government

US Response 'Hasn't Changed The Calculus' Of Russian Interference, NSA Chief Says (npr.org) 126

An anonymous reader shares an NPR report: The admiral in charge of both the nation's top electronic spying agency and the Pentagon's cybersecurity operations would seem a logical point man for countering Russia's digital intrusions in U.S. election campaigns. But National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday there is only so much he can do. That is because, according to Rogers, President Trump has not ordered him to go after the Russian attacks at their origin. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee's ranking Democrat, asked Rogers, "Have you been directed to do so, given this strategic threat that faces the United States and the significant consequences you recognize already?" "No, I have not," Rogers replied. But the spy chief pushed back on suggestions that he should seek a presidential signoff. "I am not going to tell the president what he should or should not do," Rogers said when Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal pressed him on whether Trump should approve that authority.

"I'm an operational commander, not a policymaker," he added. "That's the challenge for me as a military commander." Rogers agreed with Blumenthal's estimation that Russian cyber operatives continue to attack the U.S. with impunity and that Washington's response has fallen short. "It hasn't changed the calculus, is my sense," the spy chief told Blumenthal. "It certainly hasn't generated the change in behavior that I think we all know we need."

United States

California Scraps Safety Driver Rules for Self-Driving Cars (nytimes.com) 200

California regulators have given the green light to truly driverless cars. From a report: The state's Department of Motor Vehicles said Monday that it was eliminating a requirement for autonomous vehicles to have a person in the driver's seat to take over in the event of an emergency. The new rule goes into effect on April 2. California has given 50 companies a license to test self-driving vehicles in the state. The new rules also require companies to be able to operate the vehicle remotely -- a bit like a flying military drone -- and communicate with law enforcement and other drivers when something goes wrong. The changes signal a step toward the wider deployment of autonomous vehicles. One of the main economic benefits praised by proponents of driverless vehicles is that they will not be limited by human boundaries and can do things like operate 24 hours in a row without a drop-off in alertness or attentiveness. Taking the human out of the front seat is an important psychological and logistical step before truly driverless cars can hit the road. "This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California," said Jean Shiomoto, director of California's D.M.V. "Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California."
United States

Russian Spies Hacked the Olympics and Tried To Make it Look Like North Korea Did it, US Officials Say (washingtonpost.com) 71

Ellen Nakashima, reporting for the Washington Post: Russian military spies hacked several hundred computers used by authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], according to U.S. intelligence. They did so while trying to make it appear as though the intrusion was conducted by North Korea, what is known as a "false-flag" operation, said two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Officials in PyeongChang acknowledged that the Games were hit by a cyberattack during the Feb. 9 Opening Ceremonies but had refused to confirm whether Russia was responsible. That evening there were disruptions to the Internet, broadcast systems and the Olympics website. Many attendees were unable to print their tickets for the ceremony, resulting in empty seats.
China

China Reassigns 60,000 Soldiers To Plant Trees In Bid To Fight Pollution 126

According to The Independent, citing the Asia Times, China has reassigned over 60,000 soldiers to plan trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country's forest coverage. The soldiers are from the People's Liberation Army, along with some of the nation's armed police force. From the report: The majority will be dispatched to Hebei province, which encircles Beijing. The area is known to be a major culprit for producing the notorious smog which blankets the capital city. The idea is believed to be popular among members of online military forums as long as they can keep their ranks and entitlements. It comes as part of China's plan to plant at least 84,000 square kilometers (32,400 square miles) of trees by the end of the year, which is roughly equivalent to the size of Ireland. The aim is to increase the country's forest coverage from 21 per cent of its total landmass to 23 per cent by 2020, the China Daily newspaper reported.

Slashdot Top Deals