Tag Archives: defense technology

The Nuclear Tide Comes In

by Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

[From American Thinker, http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/09/the_nuclear_tide_comes_in.html]

President Obama’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly contained his annual diplomatic overtures to the government of Iran, pointing to letters he has written to Iran’s supreme leader and to President Rouhani and disavowing “regime change.”  Declaring “our” preference for the diplomatic path, President Obama enjoined Secretary of State Kerry to meet directly with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to begin the process of improving relations.  His own attempt at diplomacy, however, was rebuffed when Iranian President Rouhani declined the American president’s offer of a meeting at the U.N., calling it “complicated.”

At the same time, the president told the General Assembly, “We are determined to prevent [Iran] from developing a nuclear weapon.”  But his “determination” carries little weight following the on-again-off-again American response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and the broad sense that Russia is the rising power in an area that had been America’s domain.  With a weakened United States, the impact of its newest diplomatic overture is likely to be a scramble for nuclear weapons — with important consequences for global stability.

Iran has already announced that it will not give up its quest for nuclear capability.  It has invested far too much; it has a huge supporting infrastructure and a large set of international technology feeders, as well as a strongly ingrained belief that it is entitled.  President Obama doesn’t entirely disagree, saying it is “weapons,” not “capabilities” that he forbids, insofar as he can forbid anything.  But as enrichment continues and Iran’s missile program continues, the space between nuclear capability and nuclear weapons capability shrinks.  Iran is closing in on what Israel called “the zone of immunity,” the point at which Iran no longer needs outside assistance to pursue its nuclear goals.

The first country likely to react to Iran’s nuclear progress and America’s regional diminution is Saudi Arabia, presently locked in a proxy battle with Iran in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.  Sunni and virulently opposed to Shi’ite Iran, the Saudis will do everything they can to acquire nuclear weapons.  Expect them to hook up with countries that already have nuclear know-how.  After all, if Pakistan could get nuclear support from corrupt European governments and predatory companies, and Iran gets similar support, why not Saudi Arabia?  Thanks to “diplomacy,” the chances of American military intervention against Iran have gone to zero, and of Israeli intervention nearly to zero, leaving the Saudis on their own.  While Saudi Arabia is still more likely to trust Israel than to put any faith in the United States, if it is to survive, it has to have a counterpunch.

Other American dependencies are also reading the tea leaves.  Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman all fear Iranian hegemony. If the U.S. is not going to defend its vital Middle Eastern interests, and has recklessly abandoned a large and important client such as Egypt, how can smaller states and sheikdoms expect the United States to guarantee their security?  Oddly enough, American pressure on Israel at the behest of the Palestinians also makes the Gulf States nervous.  If the U.S. won’t protect its political, social, and religious ally, Israel, how can states with essentially only a shared interest in oil claim American attention?

Any country that wants to survive will have to figure out how to do it on its own, or expect that its days will be numbered.

Farther east, Afghanistan will fall to the Taliban, and fairly soon.  The Afghan government is engaged “peace talks” while the Taliban continues to attack both government and allied installations.  Without Western troops and money to prop up President Karzai in Kabul, he is on his way out, whether he like it or not.  Iraq, which is fissured, may explode in a new civil war unless a new dictator emerges and the Iraqi army is strong enough to beat back its “enemies.”  In Syria, Assad will likely hold a third or more of the country, and the rest will remain in chaos.  He will keep his chemical arsenal.

In Asia there will be some surprises.  The United States sees China — like Russia — as a superpower competitor in economic and military terms.  But China, like Iran, operates not only at the level of superpower confrontation.  China, like Russia, has a “near abroad.”  Its regional interests are the capture of resources in the Western Pacific and the ouster of the United States from its “backyard,” as Iran hopes to oust American from the Persian Gulf.  China has begun to build on a disputed shoal in Philippine-claimed waters.  Manila hopes the U.S. will deter China’s sprawl in the region, but with the U.S. Navy shrinking, additional resources and a firm posture from the U.S. are unlikely.  With that, democratic Taiwan may be forced by circumstances to make a final deal with the mainland and end its independent journey.

These are conventional responses to China’s conventional rise, but Japan poses a different set of issues.  It will need to reconfigure itself to deal with China and take into account America’s failure to divest North Korea of its nuclear program; both China and Korea are historic adversaries of Japan.  Although it is living through a disaster in its nuclear power industry, Japan has lots of plutonium and solid-fueled long-range rockets, and may not be far from being able to become a nuclear weapons power.  This can happen only with a right-wing political revolution in Japan, but Japanese sources note that conversations have already taken place in the government.

A U.S. “deal” that leaves Iran capable of producing nuclear weapons will serve as a warning to the Japanese.

The Koreas, too, may see the American retreat as opening the possibility of a deal between North and South, as far-fetched as that may seem.  North Korea is rapidly becoming a nuclear power, and satellite imagery shows that the Yongbyon reactor, capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, has been restarted.  China appears concerned and has announced restrictionson nuclear-related exports to North Korea.  Rather than remaining a Chinese protectorate, the North Korean military could overthrow the Kim regime and look for a deal for power-sharing with the wealthy South, leading to reunification.  Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle during the Reagan administration predicted that ultimately, North and South Korea would merge into an economically powerful, nuclear-armed, united peninsula.  The decline of the United States in Asia might make South Korea more amenable.

These changes are massive, and it is unlikely that they all will happen, but with the absolute retreat of the United States, the natural inclination of smaller countries is to seek self-preservation and to maintain regional and local balances of power.  Each country will weigh its weapons programs — conventional and non-conventional — and its alliances against the understanding that the American protective umbrella is folding.  President Obama insisted to the U.N. General Assembly that the United States will not withdraw and not retreat.

Whether he is believed is another matter.

Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/09/the_nuclear_tide_comes_in.html#ixzz2gNgSGpXp

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All Shook Up –National Security, the Patriot Act and PRISM

by Stephen Bryen

[The views are solely those of the author.]

The United States has been shaken up by the news of pervasive U.S. government spying that touches millions of American citizens.  The first swing of the bat was news that Verizon Business Services was providing on a daily basis a dump of all its land line and mobile metadata to the NSA as a result of a secret type of court order.  While the Verizon story was a leak, it is easy to figure that all the other Verizon phone services, and their competitors such as AT&T, Spring and T-Mobile (and the lesser players) are also coughing up their meta data.
Just as the Verizon story was peaking, another story hit the wires, also originating from the London Guardian.  This, much bigger story, said that pursuant to another court order, all the social media including VOIP favorites such as Skype, were being mass downloaded by the government.  All the stories about these channels being encrypted, turn out to be only partly the truth.  The encryption is not a problem, it seems, if you are inside the servers at Microsoft or Google or Amazon or any of the other players.  And NSA, according to its PRISM program (which was revealed by the Guardian) was clearly inside the servers.  Of course all the “biggies” immediately denied this: but the truth is that they are under a legal obligation to give such denials.
How does this come about?  Public officials, to the extent they will tell, say that the Patriot Act is the authority under which they are authorized to conduct surveillance “suspected terrorists, those suspected of engaging in computer fraud or abuse, and agents of a foreign power who are engaged in clandestine activities.”  While terrorism is the explanation most often given, the mandate is much broader than that, and it is highly subjective.
In fact, the U.S. government has made a decision that to effectively maintain coherence in government and protect national security, the full-blown Patriot Act is an essential component. We live in an age of rapidly proliferating Internet connectivity, social media, and communications globalization.  In this exponentially growing sector, nation states survival may be threatened as never before.
Consider, first of all, the security of leaders in government and industry.  They live in a fishbowl environment where their every move can be tracked and every sentence they write or speak intercepted.  Not only, but the actions of leaders can open important information doors for cyber thieves by outlining connections such as relationships and alliances that can be exploited.  On top of all this, leaders can be represented fraudulently by impostors  fakers, and “mal-verts.”  This can lead to significant mistakes, errors, frauds and disasters.
Consider also the security of technology and the protection of intellectual property.  There are credible studies that show that U.S. technology is being stolen of huge value, estimated as some $300 billion annually.  The U.S. spends roughly $645 billion annually on defense, which includes all war spending and personnel costs.  About $128 billion is spent on procurement each year. So the cyber thefts of defense designs are double what is spent on what is being purchased.  When you add what is being sucked out of the private sector, it is clear that trying to prevent these crimes is, and must be, a priority if the country’s prosperity is to continue, its social compact preserved, and its security safeguarded.
Finally physical threats to America and American citizens also is a major worry.  The Patriot Act is concerned in the first instance with terrorism.  There is broad agreement that the United States is engaged in what is called sometimes the “long war” against terrorism threats.  It should not surprise that a significant part of the “long war” originates in radical Islam, which sees the United States as the Great Satan.  Attacks on Americans, and American allies, is considered a religious duty.  Western values are off the table.  Attacks on churches, synagogues, airlines, communities, public places, is part of the long war.  And the long war is on the verge of getting far worse, not better.  By setting a standard for viciousness and ferocity, the long war is being taken up outside Islam by other radicals and anarchists, right and left.  Fascism is again starting to spread in Europe, and anarchism is rising again in America.  Trying to get a handle on these threats and deal with the broadening threat is a critical duty of government.  The Patriot Act sets the framework for this.
What we don’t know is whether the Patriot Act is being used fairly and honorably.  As it is set up today, there is no satisfactory way to prevent abuses, and it is fairly likely there have been more than some.  If you can go looking for “foreign agents” and “spies” you have a free hand to use these means for intimidating people and for ruining reputations and careers.  There have been enough examples in recent years to make us more than wonder how often this occurs.
So if it is agreed we need a Patriot Act, we should also put in place some independent safeguards.  Without them, there is a great risk that the system will run a muck, out of control, sucking up information that will wind up being used nefariously.  This can’t be 100% prevented, but Congress and the Administration need to figure out a way to put serious controls in place to stop abuse in its tracks and punish those who do that.
The alternative could be public revulsion so great that the Patriot Act and the agencies it feeds will be changed significantly and our security the worse off.
Posted in cyber security | Taggedby Stephen Bryen[The views are solely those of the author.]

The United States has been shaken up by the news of pervasive U.S. government spying that touches millions of American citizens.  The first swing of the bat was news that Verizon Business Services was providing on a daily basis a dump of all its land line and mobile metadata to the NSA as a result of a secret type of court order.  While the Verizon story was a leak, it is easy to figure that all the other Verizon phone services, and their competitors such as AT&T, Spring and T-Mobile (and the lesser players) are also coughing up their meta data.
Just as the Verizon story was peaking, another story hit the wires, also originating from the London Guardian.  This, much bigger story, said that pursuant to another court order, all the social media including VOIP favorites such as Skype, were being mass downloaded by the government.  All the stories about these channels being encrypted, turn out to be only partly the truth.  The encryption is not a problem, it seems, if you are inside the servers at Microsoft or Google or Amazon or any of the other players.  And NSA, according to its PRISM program (which was revealed by the Guardian) was clearly inside the servers.  Of course all the “biggies” immediately denied this: but the truth is that they are under a legal obligation to give such denials.
How does this come about?  Public officials, to the extent they will tell, say that the Patriot Act is the authority under which they are authorized to conduct surveillance “suspected terrorists, those suspected of engaging in computer fraud or abuse, and agents of a foreign power who are engaged in clandestine activities.”  While terrorism is the explanation most often given, the mandate is much broader than that, and it is highly subjective.
In fact, the U.S. government has made a decision that to effectively maintain coherence in government and protect national security, the full-blown Patriot Act is an essential component. We live in an age of rapidly proliferating Internet connectivity, social media, and communications globalization.  In this exponentially growing sector, nation states survival may be threatened as never before.
Consider, first of all, the security of leaders in government and industry.  They live in a fishbowl environment where there every move can be tracked and every sentence they write or speak intercepted.  Not only, but the actions of leaders can open important information doors for cyber thieves by outlining connections such as relationships and alliances that can be exploited.  On top of all this, leaders can be represented fraudulently by impostors  fakers, and “mal-verts.”  This can lead to significant mistakes, errors, frauds and disasters.
Consider also the security of technology and the protection of intellectual property.  There are credible studies that show that U.S. technology is being stolen of huge value, estimated as some $300 billion annually.  The U.S. spends roughly $645 billion annually on defense, which includes all war spending and personnel costs.  About $128 billion is spent on procurement each year. So the cyber thefts of defense designs are double what is spent on what is being purchased.  When you add what is being sucked out of the private sector, it is clear that trying to prevent these crimes is, and must be, a priority if the country’s prosperity is to continue, its social compact preserved, and its security safeguarded.
Finally physical threats to America and American citizens also is a major worry.  The Patriot Act is concerned in the first instance with terrorism.  There is broad agreement that the United States is engaged in what is called sometimes the “long war” against terrorism threats.  It should not surprise that a significant part of the “long war” originates in radical Islam, which sees the United States as the Great Satan.  Attacks on Americans, and American allies, is considered a religious duty.  Western values are off the table.  Attacks on churches, synagogues, airlines, communities, public places, is part of the long war.  And the long war is on the verge of getting far worse, not better.  By setting a standard for viciousness and ferocity, the long war is being taken up outside Islam by other radicals and anarchists, right and left.  Fascism is again starting to spread in Europe, and anarchism is rising again in America.  Trying to get a handle on these threats and deal with the broadening threat is a critical duty of government.  The Patriot Act sets the framework for this.
What we don’t know is whether the Patriot Act is being used fairly and honorably.  As it is set up today, there is no satisfactory way to prevent abuses, and it is fairly likely there have been more than some.  If you can go looking for “foreign agents” and “spies” you have a free hand to use these means for intimidating people and for ruining reputations and careers.  There have been enough examples in recent years to make us more than wonder how often this occurs.
So if it is agreed we need a Patriot Act, we should also put in place some independent safeguards.  Without them, there is a great risk that the system will run a muck, out of control, sucking up information that will wind up being used nefariously.  This can’t be 100% prevented, but Congress and the Administration need to figure out a way to put serious controls in place to stop abuse in its tracks and punish those who do that.
The alternative could be public revulsion so great that the Patriot Act and the agencies it feeds will be changed significantly and our security the worse off.
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Will China Stop Cyber-Espionage? Absolutely Not.

by Stephen Bryen and Rebecca Abrahams

2013-06-06-images.jpeg

No matter what President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping agree this week, China will not stop cyber espionage.

China may decide, as a result of the upcoming summit meeting, to crack down on hackers who operate independently, or who moonlight for profit in the hours they are not working for either China’s government or China’s military. That will be a bone to try and lower the tension that has been building between China and the U.S. on the issue of cyber theft. But it won’t really make a big difference.

There are, roughly speaking, five kinds of cyber crime.

The first is based on vicarious hacking by groups of computer geeks who want to show off their prowess and gain bragging rights for successfully attacking important institutions and organizations. The “thrill” involved is to show how smart they are, how brilliantly they can defeat the CIA or the Pentagon.

The second group grows out of the first but it has become ideological. Ideological hacking is hacking for a political purpose. Many of the ideological hackers are really anarchists in modern dress. This kind of hacking has been growing and is illustrated by phenomena such as Wikileaks and its leader Julian Asange, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London while wanted by Sweden where he has been charged with rape.

The third type of hacking is “For Profit.” Information is stolen, bank accounts and money machines are pilfered, sometimes blackmail is used. For Profit hacking is not always separable from ideological hacking or from vicarious hacking.

Fourth is cyber crime against individuals and political groups carried out by governments. Sometimes this is pursuant to law and follows a legal process, but not always (even in the U.S. where phones can be tapped and computers can be invaded without a warrant or clearance by a court).

Fifth is cyber crime for national security reasons. This is a specialty of China. Recent information says that China is annually stealing $300 billion worth of national security information, much of which is weapons designs.

Why? There are essentially three reasons why China is doing this.

The first is that stealing the information is easy to do. There are hardly any credible barriers to scooping up defense information, government data, and the proprietary information of private companies.

The second reason is that there are not any consequences. This is crime without punishment. And because China owns a large part of the U.S. Treasury, the enthusiasm by U.S. government leaders to crack down is tempered by concern that our own economy would unravel if we push too hard. On top of that, a lot of our top industry people are making money on China.

And the third reason is that China cannot be a superpower without U.S. technology. There is very little innovation in China, despite large investments, the presence of foreign companies, a strong electronics industry, and a huge number of Chinese nationals educated abroad (subsidizing plenty of American graduate schools of engineering, science and cyber studies).

Taken together this put the U.S. in a bind. Lacking a credible strategy to confront the losses, the U.S. defense posture is at risk thanks to the China thieves. And more and more companies will also feel the heat as China’s clones of their products swamp the U.S. market.

Meanwhile, one thing Xi Jinping will not do is allow China to be anything less than a superpower, so he must continue robbing the U.S. blind. And he will.

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Finding a Cure for China’s Technology Theft

by Stephen Bryen with Rebecca Abrahams

The news is out –semi-officially– thanks to a report by the Defense Science Board. The Board, which was established in 1956, is made up of civilians who advise the Pentagon on a variety of technology-related subjects. It has released a report, Resilient Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat, which makes it clear that the Pentagon’s cyber “hygiene” is weak and U.S. defense technology has been effectively targeted by foreign governments. The result is that most advanced U.S. weapons systems, from the F-35 stealth fighter to the most advanced underwater torpedoes, and everything in-between, has been stolen. While the word “China” is not mentioned, everyone knows that it is China that is systematically purloining our technology.

PLA Insignia

Department of Defense

The fact is, we can say we have two defense budgets –one for us and one for them. Indeed, as things stand today, the technology pipeline to China is wide open, and we are losing billions and billions of dollars of investment and seriously compromising our security.

While the Report of the DSB is serious and important, unfortunately it is not “news.” The fact of the matter is that China’s rip off of America’s defense technology assets has been going on for a number of years. There are numerous public reports about it, and the intelligence community has been watching this happen for an even longer period.

It is fair to ask a straightforward question. Why have we let this go on?

We believe the answer is that we have approached the problem with a fundamentally flawed concept on how to stop Chinese cyber theft.

The Pentagon’s idea, which is more or less shared across the government, is that the answer is to build better cyber defenses. While cyber defenses are certainly important, so far implementation of effective cyber defenses remains incomplete and, to some degree, elusive. Technology is moving so fast, and hacking has become so extreme, that keeping up is nearly impossible. The DSB is pushing for more and better cyber defense measures, but the jury remains out whether this tactic can succeed.

Defense technology is shared between government organizations and the military on one side, and industry on the other. Millions upon millions of pages of documentation are associated with every defense program, and much of this documentation is not classified.

The reason for this is operational. It is probably impossible to classify all defense department documents since doing so would limit the number of engineers and technicians who can work on defense programs, make sharing with allies and friends extremely difficult, and create a massive supervisory burden that today’s system cannot manage.

If information is not classified, typically it is stored on computers that also are not classified. What does this mean? It means that the information is not encrypted or scrambled. In turn that means that if the information is stolen, it is readily accessible by the thieves.

What has to change is the ground rule on encrypting sensitive, but not classified information.

Most government information is poorly protected because it is not encrypted –information such as tax forms, social security data, health and human services documents to name a few. The bulk of defense system information is not encrypted.

The classical division between classified information and unclassified information is no longer functional. We need to implement encryption, not classification, for all government materials that are not accessed by the public, and particularly for defense information. Defense contractors should be directed to do the same.

Good encryption will block the Chinese from using stolen information. While it won’t prevent cyber attacks (we still need good cyber defense for that), it will blow up China’s effort to use our defense systems against us.

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“Incapacitating” Agents and Hostage Taking Raids

The Amenas Gas Field in Algeria is seen in this October 8, 2012 handout image courtesy of DigitalGlobe

By Stephen Bryen

News reports from Algeria tell us that the hostage siege at the Ain Amenas Gas Plant in the Sahara is now over, but the final list of casualties remains uncertain. So far we know that the operation resulted in the escape or release of some 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners.  Current information says that 23 hostages are confirmed dead; another 25 bodies, presumed to be hostages, have so far been found in buildings.  There are probably more deaths as a number of vehicles were struck by Algerian Air Force helicopters and destroyed, and these vehicles are said to have been carrying both hostages and terrorists. The Algerians report that “all” 32 terrorists were killed.

There has been serious criticism of the Algerian Army and Special Forces raid and claims they did a poor job resulting in an excess of civilian deaths. From information so far that is available, about 6% (six percent) of the hostages died during the operation.  Possibly the number will rise, but it is unlikely to exceed 10%.

Is this a bad result or a good result?

In October, 2002, Chechen terrorists took over the Dubrovka theater in Moscow. There were some 850 hostages trapped in the theater and around 40 to 50 Chechen terrorists. The Russians tried to negotiate, over the course of a number of days, with the Chechens but no solution was found.  Meanwhile the Chechens had executed a few of the hostages for various reasons.

On October 26 Russian Special Forces flooded the theater with a chemical agent, pumping it in through the ventilation system.  Following this the Russian forces poured into the building and killed all the terrorists.  Of the hostages 117 died as a result of the gas.

The incapacitating agent has never been officially identified but it is something called by the Russians Kolokol-1.  Kolokol-1 is likely a morphine derivative that is aerosolized and based on fentanyl.  The actual compound is 3-methylfentanyl.

In evaluating the Russian operation it can be seen that the number of civilian casualties was particularly high –roughly 15%.  Many of the hostages, when freed, required urgent medical treatment.  There is an antidote for Kolokol-1, but it must be administered quickly to work.

Poison gases intended to maim or kill are regarded as chemical agents and are banned under the Geneva Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Kolokol-1 straddles the fence of legality, because while it is not intended to kill, it is a potent substance (1,000 times stronger than morphine) and, as the Moscow theater case shows, can be quite lethal.

Physically, the Moscow theater episode occurred in a closed building that was barricaded and filled with 40 or 50 heavily armed killers equipped with explosives, automatic weapons, grenades and RPG’s. If the Russian Special Forces had operated in the same way as the Algerian forces, and attacked with conventional arms, it is likely that the death count may have been higher than it was because of the lack of space to pick out targets. Perhaps other weapons, such as stun grenades, may have helped; but it is unlikely to have been effective given the mass of people and the determination of the Chechens.

If comparisons are used, the Algerians did “better”(6% to 10% versus 15%) than the Russians.   Of course, the physical space of operations was markedly different.

Just last month the U.S. Consul in Turkey reported in a “secret” cable (which was leaked) that the Syrians used chemical weapons in Homs on December 23rd.    The chemical weapon identified is called by the Syrians Agent 15 and, in fact, it is a CX-level incapacitating agent that causes some temporary sickness and disorientation. The agent is probably 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate, which is a compound related to atropine (which itself is an antidote for nerve gas).  This compound is “controlled” under the Chemical Weapons Convention although Syria is not a signatory to the convention.   States who signed the convention should have destroyed chemical weapons and weapons manufacturing by last year, but Level 2 materials are not actually required to be destroyed.  (Level 2 or Schedule 2 chemicals supposedly have legitimate small-scale applications. Manufacture must be declared and there are restrictions on export to countries which are not CWC signatories.)

The issue of incapacitating agents is not resolved under the Convention and most countries have them, including the U.S.  Probably for this reason the State Department was encouraged to not denounce the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons in Homs.

Would a more effective incapacitating agent have been better than the military assault carried out by the Algerians?   It is far from clear, but it may be that more research into less lethal, but more effective, incapacitating agents that can work in open areas rapidly and effectively would make sense (especially if the lethal characteristics of such materials can be mitigated). Of course this means that chemically based incapacitating agents can be an important element in future counter terror operations.  While there is no public discussion as yet, research in this area seems warranted and urgent.

No one should fault either the Russians or the Algerians for standing up to a terrorist attack and doing their best under extremely difficult circumstances.   Perhaps in future they will have even better tools and such incidents will result in fewer casualties.

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How to Beat the Chinese Rare Earth Embargo –Turn to Science

by Stephen Bryen

CEO, SDB Partners LLC

The London Telegraph is reporting that China is sitting on a strategic stockpile of rare earth material.   (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/china-business/9377535/China-stockpiling-rare-earths-for-strategic-reserves.html )

The so-called rare earth minerals –there are 17 of them– are important for industry and for the military.  Rare earths are used in computers, in lasers, in magnets, for radars, for television and computer screens,  in batteries for hybrids, and for catalytic converters.

Ninety percent (90%) of rare earths are produced by China and China has started stockpiling rare earths and restricting overseas sales.  This has caused alarm in the industrialized countries, especially Japan as the Japanese understand far better than others that China is a very strong commercial competitor and also very powerful militarily.

As a result, there has been a lot of scrambling around to replace potentially lost supplies from China including re-starting old mines outside of China (including the U.S.) and looking for other alternatives.  The Japanese say they have found rare earth that can be pumped out from deep water off shore wells, but how cost effective this is remains to be proven.

A big commercial risk is that China will zig and then zag, and dump rare earth into the market at low prices, killing off non-Chinese commercial exploitation.

Is there an alternative?

In fact, there well may be.  It is very likely that functional equivalents of rare earth can be produced synthetically and manufactured at very competitive costs, with little or no environmental impact.

How can this be done?  It can be done with supercomputers and some advanced technology that was developed primarily in Canada by a small, innovative company called Innovative Materials Technologies (IMT).

Founded in 2004, IMT designs and engineers of advanced materials through unique quantum computational methods.

IMT leverages quantum mechanics, cluster computing, and proprietary databases to develop high efficiency materials and processes at the atomic scale, specifically designed to optimize engineering properties at higher length scales.

IMT’s proprietary Quantum Informatics Platform enables the foremost IMT Crystallographic Database to target and expedite the discovery of high performance materials for high value end-markets in various industries.

IMT has a Strategic Partnership with the National Research Council of Canada

to collaborate on research and development opportunities.

IMT already holds one patent for development of an analog rare earth material.  With the right financial backing, there is reason to believe that IMT’s engineers and scientists could do for the rare earth sector what the company is already well along on doing for the aerospace industry where IMT  engineers unique coating materials for jet engines and other aircaft components.

How does this come about?  Combining different materials and figuring out how the combined materials will perform was, in the past, a trial and error problem.  Once the number of materials grows, it becomes impractical to try and analyze how the combinations will likely perform, and the process is costly. However, much of the trial and error and experimentation can be eliminated by using supercomputers and materials databases to assess different combinations to arrive at the right result.  IMT is one of the few organizations in the world that has mastered how to do this kind of work and has a proven track record of success.

It would make sense for both industry and government to develop an alternative to Chinese rare earth and to insulate themselves from price manipulation. IMT’s technology holds out this promise and assures that under all conditions rare earth material analogs will be available.

Full Disclosure: SDB Partners LLC is working with Innovative Materials Technologies.  We are very proud of this relationship.

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Use C-27J’s For Firefighting –We Already Own Them and They Are Better

by Stephen Bryen

CEO, SDB Partners LLC

[Editor’s Note: Since this was written early on July 2nd, 2012, the Air Force has decided to ground ALL C-130’s used in firefighting pending a review of the latest accident.]

An Air Force C-130 attached to Northern Command crashed on Sunday night, July 1st, while on a firefighting mission in South Dakota.  The reason for the crash remains to be determined.  The plane belonged to the Air Force National Guard based in California –eight of the aircraft have been equipped with a system called MAFFS –Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System–which can spray some 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant.

MAFFS is a successful system and the C-130′s supported by the Guard and the Air Force are well maintained.  The models with MAFFS are the C-130E and the C-130H.    The C-130H first entered service in 1956, and the C-130E entered service in 1962.  Even though the airplanes were manufactured over a number of years, those in service are old.

The main vulnerability of all C-130′s is the wing structure and cracking in the wing box has been a major problem for many years.  When these cracks appear, the entire wing box must be replaced –work that takes a long time and which costs millions of dollars.

An older model, C-130A, in private use had its wings shear off in a fire fighting operation in California.

In the United States fire fighting is typically done by private companies who provide services to the U.S. Forest Service. Many of the aircraft are old and maintenance is an issue.  The Air National Guard and the Forest Service, with MAFFS, hoped to solve part of that problem by making the National Guard C-130′s available by having a modular, removable kit for C-130 E’s and H’s that otherwise performed cargo operations.

Today the Air Force is under pressure by the Air National Guard units around the country to retain the C-130′s smaller brother, the C-27J.  Using C-27J’s for fire fighting would make great sense and MAFFS can easily be adapted to them.

The C-27J is a twin engine aircraft, but it uses exactly the same engines and has a cockpit very similar to the modern C-130J (that is not used for fire fighting).  But the really special feature of the C-27J is the wing.

Unlike the C-130′s which have a single spar wing that puts all the stresses on the wing box, where cracking is a problem, the C-27J has a triple spar wing that has never had a cracking problem (it is the same wing design as the venerable G-222 that saw some 30 years of service in the Italian Air Force).

It is true that the C-27J carries less than the C-130 –but not that much less.  Other than specialized “only use” fire fighting aircraft, the C-27J is a capable cargo and support aircraft already combat proven.

We cannot do without modern fire fighting aircraft -and we already own C-27J’s.  What we don’t want is another accident, risking the lives of our pilots and crew members.   We never want to see a crash where the wings come off.

(A video of the C-130A crash can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-A4QZAxrb28 )

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Former State Department Special Representative for Commerce and Business Joins SDB Partners LLC

The former principal representative of the U.S. Department of State to the global business community , J. Frank Mermoud, has joined SDB Partners LLC of Washington DC as Senior Vice President.

Mermoud, a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and the University of Paris, School of Political Science, brings his extensive government trade, financial and business background to SDB Partners.

During 2002-2009 Mermoud led an aggressive transaction-oriented team at the State Department and other U.S. government departments and agencies, facilitating an annual $20 billion in U.S. global commercial successes in areas including financial services, energy, technology, telecommunications, defense and security, and infrastructure. He advised U.S. and foreign companies on commercial transactions, privatizations, projects, tenders and investment opportunities.

Former Senior Trade Official, Department of State

J. Frank Mermoud, Former Senior Trade Official

Upon leaving the State Department, Mermoud joined TD International , a strategic investment advisory firm where he remains on the Board of Advisors.

In May, 2010 and 2011 Mermoud managed fund raising efforts and created and implemented a business development strategy for the Monument Capital Group . Monument Capital is an alternative asset management firm with a focus on the global security and defense sectors. Monument Capital Group’s Advisory Board that includes James A. Baker, III , former Secretary of State and former Secretary of Treasury; Frank C. Carlucci , Chairman Emeritus of The Carlyle Group and former Secretary of Defense; Mustafa V. Koç, Chairman of Koç Holding, Turkey’s largest conglomerate and one of Europe’s largest companies, and Thomas F. McLarty, III, former White House Chief of Staff, President of McLarty & Associates and former Chairman of Arkala Inc., the United States’ largest distributor of natural gas.

“I am very pleased that Frank Mermoud has joined SDB Partners,” said Dr. Stephen Bryen , CEO and President of SDB Partners. “Frank’s extensive knowledge of the international business community and his access and knowledge of the U.S. government and how to turn trade promotion into concrete business is a big plus for SDB Partners’ clients. There are very few people working in government that are financial and trade experts and who understand both the private and public sectors,” said Bryen. “There are even fewer with proven track records of success like Frank’s.  We are privileged to have him on board.”

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New Legislative Proposal Focuses on China

There are occasions -maybe too many of them- when Congressmen introduce legislation just to be able to say to their constituents that they are taking action and doing things.  The legislation goes no where in particular, and after a few press releases aimed at their district, the legislation disappears into the vast Congressional hopper.

But in the case of the Wolf-Forbes Resolution 616 introduced on April 16th,  the proposal may have legs.  There has been a great reluctance in Congress to address the issues posed by China, affecting American security, America’s economy, and U.S. technological leadership.

There are reasons to hope that China, if it can democratize itself and put in a truly fair and equitable “rule of law” system, can be an exciting and positive factor in future.  Likewise, there is reason to believe China may go the other way, become aggressive and dangerous.

Congressmen Wolf and Forbes (both from Virginia) are really putting these questions on the table.  Probably after the Presidential elections, the time will arrive for Congress to finally do its job and lead an inquiry framed around the questions and suggestions made in Resolution 616.

Below please find links to the Wolf and Forbes proposals.

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Congressmen Frank R. Wolf (VA-10) and Randy Forbes (VA-04) announced today they have introduced House Resolution 616 <http://forbes.house.gov/Components/Redirect/r.aspx?ID=241504-36683564> , to provide a comprehensive strategic framework of key objectives to guide the U.S. House of Representatives in developing policy with regard to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Their statement:

In the past decade we have watched as China has grown to become the world’s second largest economy, the world’s largest manufacturer and has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in modernizing its military capability.  For the first time in our nation’s history one of our largest trading partners, and the single largest holder of our foreign debt, is an aspiring peer competitor. Faced with this challenge, the U.S. government has failed to develop a strategic vision to guide an integrated, government-wide approach to U.S.-China relations.  Lacking a forward-thinking framework, our government has been relegated to a position of reactionary policymaking.  This is why we have identified key outstanding issues in U.S.-China relations and resolved to implement nine strategic objectives to address them.

Listed below are summaries of several strategic objectives included in H. Res. 616, introduced by Congressman Forbes and Congressman Wolf, for legislators to consider when creating new foreign, economic and defense policies. 

*       That the U.S. sustains and deploys unambiguous defense and intelligence capabilities to foster deterrence and resists coercion in the Asia-Pacific region.

*       To encourage the PRC to support political reform, the rule of law, transparency, democratization, human rights, and religious freedom.

*       To convey to Beijing that responsible behavior will create the possibility for a genuine partnership between the U.S. and the PRC, while unacceptable behavior will incur costs that far outweigh any gains. 

For background of recent significant developments in the U.S.-China relationship, click here. <http://forbes.house.gov/Components/Redirect/r.aspx?ID=241505-36683564

To read the bill, click here. <http://forbes.house.gov/Components/Redirect/r.aspx?ID=241506-36683564

To see the work as Chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, who share a common interest in the emergence of China as a political, economic, and military actor on both the regional and global stage, click here. <http://forbes.house.gov/Components/Redirect/r.aspx?ID=241507-36683564>

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King David and the Supercomputers

by Stephen Bryen

Presented by SDB Partners LLC

 

In the Book of Samuel we read: “Now there was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, ‘lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears,’ but every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his ax, or his sickle.”

 

The emergence of a united Israel under King David is difficult to explain, particularly given the backwardness of the Israelite economy and what seems a lack of incentives for integration.  While we do not know all the reasons, it seems the military emergence of Saul first and David after can be explained by the transfer of critical iron making technology to the Hebrew tribes in Judah.

 

Saul and David emerge as the first national leaders after Israel adopted the Kingship model to consolidate power and to defeat its enemies.  But the Kingship model, while centralizing power and creating an administrative system for taxation and military organization, is not enough to explain the great change that swept over ancient Israel.

 

The southern part, Judah, was mountainous and hilly with little in the way of exploitable resources.  In the context of the times, it was agriculturally poor, lacking in settled cultivation, and supported itself through animal herding and aggressive raids on its neighbors. Saul and David are both formidable adversaries against their primarily non-Hebrew neighbors.

 

But the biblical text makes clear that some of their neighbors had superior military capability, particularly the Philistines who controlled the coastal lowlands. In Judges 1:19 we read: “And the LORD was with Judah; and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.”

 

The chariots seem to have been able to operate even in relatively rough terrain because their wheels were strengthened and improved with iron, scythes were attached to the chariot to cut down opposing foot soldiers, and the charioteers were protected by iron armor covering the “basket” from which they operated the chariot and fired or threw weapons (arrows and spears, javelins and axes respectively).  We know from the Bible that once David became King, one of his major military preoccupations was the acquisition of “iron chariots” in order to dominate his enemies. References to the manufacture of large quantities of iron nails and fittings used in construction in Jerusalem also make clear the importance of iron in the period by linking the production directly to King David.

 

Until then, the Philistines* absolutely controlled iron production – both the forging of iron and the smiths who worked the iron either into weapons or for agriculture (plow shares, axes) and construction (nails, fastenings, brackets, pins). Archaeological evidence shows that the technology was found in Philistine border towns and the Biblical text points us to David’s presence in there.

 

David had been pushed out of the Hebrew-controlled areas by a jealous Saul. When he heard that Ahimelech, a leading priest, had sheltered David and given him food, Saul had Ahimelech and some 85 priests at Nob killed. He then destroyed the town, slaying the women, children and infants and with them the oxen, donkeys and sheep. David and his men were in a dangerous and exposed position as they fled into Philistine territory, outnumbered by and inferior to Saul’s forces. David and his men stayed under Philistine protection and David was hired out to the Philistine King, Achish.

 

It seems likely that the transfer of iron technology took place during this time.

 

Iron technology had immediate military significance, since the dominant weapons and armor protection then in Hebrew hands were bronze and copper, and replacement supplies were very hard to come by because of raw material supply problems. The Biblical commentary notes the lack of weapons in the hands of David and his men. The entire region, wherever possible, was learning to substitute iron for copper and bronze.

 

Iron spears and iron tipped javelins, and iron swords as well as iron armor layered onto shields, conferred almost immediate military superiority. One can recall that it was the huge, iron-tipped spear of Goliath, and his iron sword, as well as his huge size, that frightened off all challengers, except David.

 

Iron production in the ancient period was a combination of technology for properly operating the furnaces and the manner in which the furnaces were heated but not over-heated (which would result in brittle wrought iron or an iron that was too soft to be of use), and how the materials was worked (through a hammering and quenching process).** Learning the technique would have taken time. According to the texts, David and his men were with the Philistines for sixteen months – sufficient time to learn.

 

Supercomputers

 

If iron production and the technology and know-how helped ensure the first united Kingdom of Israel, a fact still celebrated today, what can we say about supercomputers 3,000 years later? Why is the linkage of any conceivable relevance?

 

U.S. military superiority, what has been called the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), comes from microelectronics and computers. America’s ability to not only field “smart weapons” but also to design advanced equipment, means a strong base of dedicated high speed computers.

 

An important reason why the United States “won” the Cold War was superiority in electronics and computers. Massive investments by the Soviet Union were unable to compensate for the growth of American military superiority based on a “qualitative edge,” of which a good part was due to computers and electronics.

 

Another key benefit of computers and electronics is that fast computers can crack enemy codes. The supercomputer was largely an American invention pioneered by major companies such as IBM and by scientists such as Seymour Cray, Gene Amdahl and Steve Chen (born in Taiwan).

 

The United States, therefore, has spent uncountable sums on a massive infrastructure of supercomputers to crack encryption codes and for related intelligence tasks. On top of what already has been invested, next year the U.S. will open NSA’s new Utah Data Center in Bluffdale. According to Wired News, “This is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official … [which is] critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US.

 

The U.S., therefore, depends on supercomputers for designing and building military equipment, for code breaking, and also for designing and “testing” nuclear weapons.

 

And for years U.S. supercomputers have been the target of potential adversaries, particularly the Soviet Union (now Russia) and China.So far as is known, Russia does not have supercomputers.  But China does, and the number and capability is growing.  How did this come about?

 

Like King David’s sojourn to Gaza and his time with King Achish, the United States decided to allow China to purchase from the U.S. increasingly sophisticated supercomputers, and permitted the transfer of the underlying know how and the algorithms essential for modern supercomputers.

 

The transfer of supercomputer technology to China from the United States started in the 1990’s and continues to this day. Apace with it is the access Chinese scientists have to America’s supercomputing industry and scientific community. While Chinese scientists are not invited to visit NSA, they do visit U.S. supercomputer centers and visits are reciprocated by top U.S. scientists going to China, such as the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory visits to their supercomputer counterparts in China. Today China claims to have the world’s fastest supercomputer, and has a very large installed base of supercomputer machines now used for both scientific, commercial, military and intelligence work.

 

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (“China’s Not-So-Super Computers”, March 23, 2012) tries to argue that China is not getting much value out of its supercomputers and that the country lags behind the U.S.

 

The article is based on wishful thinking; on the order of King Achish believing that David’s stay in Philistine territory and the help David gave to the Philistine Army in battling their enemies was benign.  David had a strategic objective and so do the Chinese.

 

The truth is the majority of China’s supercomputer program, which is probably analog to the U.S., is not in plain view to outside observers.  What we do see is growing Chinese aggressiveness represented in part by highly successful computer hacking against highly secret U.S. programs (such as the Joint Strike Fighter), with the supercomputers behind the effort in allowing the Chinese to hack encrypted as well as open networks and systems.

 

We know the result. King David, with access to iron-making, took control over the Hebrew tribes, created a singular state, and pushed back the Philistines. His success was based on trust given him by King Achish.

 

The U.S. Government, over multiple administrations, must have a unique trust relationship with China, since the effusive transfers of technology, especially the case of supercomputers, is hard to explain otherwise.

 

So it seems there is a linkage between King David and Supercomputers. The question that still remains is whether the net result for the United States will be to end up as did the Philistines.

 

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*The Philistines are thought to have acquired Iron-making technology from Cyprus and/or Greece. The notion of an “iron chariot” is not a chariot composed of iron, but a chariot with key parts using iron for strengthening. This may include parts of the axle, particularly the hubs, wheel struts and the wheel “tire” which may have been strapped with iron. Some experts also speculate that the term “iron chariot” the the Bible also concerns the iron military equipment in the hands of the Philistines. Egypt, it appears, got its chariot technology from the Canaanites, and chariots first appear in Egypt in the Hyksos period. Roughly 1600 B.C. Hyksos were probably of Canaanite origin and Egyptian technical terms of the chariot and its components are all borrowed Caananite words. Along with the chariot the Hyksos introduced the composite bow, greatly improving the range and lethality of archers. The Egyptian chariots precede the Iron-age period and did not use iron in their construction. (King David died around 970 B.C. ). Iron making developed because of severe shortages of copper and tin, a crumbling geopolitical situation that made trade and commerce in this particular period extremely hazardous, meaning copper and tin could not be imported reliably. Recent discoveries in Tel Beth Shemesh in Israel (probably then a Philistine controlled town) of an iron smithy, and in Jordan at Tel Hammeh of an iron foundry dating from around the time of the death of King David (both using almost identical technology), demonstrates the accuracy of the Biblical claims in the Book of Samuel regarding iron making.


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