Category Archives: Technology and Security

Intelligence Agencies Are Happy As Clams Thanks to Heartbleed “Bug”

The Heartbleed “bug” which has affected millions of computer systems and countless hardware devices ranging from telephones, to video conferencing systems, to routers and firewalls –was the result of work done by a German software developer named Robin Seggelmann. Seggelman says it was a coding error that caused Heartbleed, and the error was not “caught” by an auditor inside the Open SSL Project. Open SSL is the security code that is widely used by industry to support encrypted connections on the Web, and to manage encryption on everything from wireless telephones to Cisco routers.

At the time of this writing, we do not know the full “team” who produces the Open SSL software.

The Open SSL Project works on a voluntary basis. Its headquarters is in Maryland but, according to their own description, the participants are on three continents and cover 15 time zones. If there are “rules” regarding membership in the Open SSL project, they are not transparent to the outsider.

The theory behind Open SSL is that if you gather together the “best” community of programmers to tackle a hard problem, you will get the best result that benefits everyone. Underlying is a sort of philosophical notion thatpeople in the “community” join together out of good will, and everything they contribute will be based on pure altruism. The Open SSL project is, by far, not the only community based programming project.

In his interview with the London-based Telegraph newspaper, Seggelmann admits “it was possible that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies had used the flaw over the past two years to spy on citizens.”

There is no reason to suppose that intelligence organizations would not have discovered the bug in their routine scanning of the Internet.*** Today the Internet carries much more than data traffic; it is increasingly how telecommunications are managed. The fact that we now know that some of the top VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) telephone systems made by Cisco are infected with the “Bug” makes this crystal clear. You can add to this a large number of Cisco routers (the world’s most popular router system), video conferencing systems, multiple servers used to manage communications traffic, and even firewalls that protect internal networks.

While a good deal of focus has been put on the NSA, thanks mainly to the leaks and revelations coming from Edward Snowden, the truth is that intelligence agencies around the world try to spy on just about everything they can. The British, French, Germans, Italians, Russians, Chinese, Israelis, Iranians and many others have built massive capabilities. It would be foolish to think they are not taking advantage of damaged encryption systems such as Open SSL.

In short, there is big possibility that, aside from causing untold computer damage, people may have lost their lives because of the Open SSL “Bug.” Say you were an Iranian dissident and you send what you thought was a secret message to your compatriots. The knock on the door comes, and the Iranian government arrests you and accuses you of being an Israeli spy. You know the rest.

There is also clearly a link between some foreign intelligence organizations and general criminal activity. Anytime money is involved in spying, as is the case with the Open SSL breach (which affects credit card transactions, banking and other forms of trading information), some intelligence agencies and their criminal colleagues exploit the opening to make money, lots of money. For years we have been watching the Russian mafia carry out these exploits and attack banks in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. How much they have stolen is anyone’s guess, because banks don’t like to let on about their security failures.

A critical question is why anyone would rely on a misty group of international volunteers for security? Keep in mind that one of the sponsors of the Open SSL is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security! (Whoever in DHS supported this endeavor ought to find work elsewhere.)

An additional problem today is that the agencies we rely on domestically for security, NSA and NIST (the National Institute for Standards and Technology) have, themselves, been caught bugging security codes so they could exploit computers and communications globally, including the PC’s, tablets and phones of Americans. NSA’s and NIST’s bugging activity has compromised them fatally.

Today in the United States we lack an independent security agency that can provide guidance on security for Americans, public and private. Thanks to NSA and NIST the U.S. government has thoroughly bugged itself, as well as everyone else. A critical task for Congress, aside from investigating the various NSA escapades, is to come up with a new, independent government organization that supports security for Americans.  The Agency should have nothing to do with spying and should be prevented by law from cooperating with spy agencies.

 

***Bloomberg is now reporting that NSA exploited the Open SSL bug for two years.

Tagged , , , ,

Sometime Privacy Rules Lead to Murder -The Fort Hood Case

The shooting a Fort Hood could have been prevented.  The shooter,  34 year old Ivan Lopez, a soldier who spent around three months in Iraq, was under treatment for severe mental distress.  He was receiving anti-depressant drugs and other medications.  While his full medical record remains secret, the information about his illness and the fact he was being evaluated for PTSD (although his minimal combat experience suggests that was not his problem) tells us this was a solider that had a problem that should not have been left alone.  But he was.

Under Army procedures, as I understand them, someone being treated by the doctors with severe mental health issues, other than being hospitalized would normally be recommended for a Medical Board review.  It is not clear that Lopez was recommended for a medical board, but even if he was it takes a considerable time to convene such a board and then gather all the evidence and information needed to reach a determination.  Meanwhile the subject continues his or her service in the Army.

That is clearly an operational loophole that is unacceptable.  To let someone loose who is having difficulty coping with normal life issues is to put a walking time bomb on the street and among fellow soldiers and personnel on a military base.  It is even worse in real operations.

The loophole largely exists because of medical privacy rules, which apply not only to the military but in the society at large.  But in the Army, which operates in a certain proscribed space, it seems especially unacceptable to have someone on the loose with so severe a condition as Specialist Lopez.

We can’t blame the doctors here, because the problem is clearly a big hole in the system.  Lopez met all the criteria of a big risk, but coping with that risk is terribly limited by privacy restrictions and lack of alternative procedures.

It does not end there.  Specialist Lopez was able to go to a gun store and buy a Smith and Wesson .45 caliber handgun.  He also was able to buy many ammunition clips for the weapon, which he may have bought at the store where he purchased the weapon, or elsewhere.

Under current rules, the gun store is obliged to check out the applicant and to ask him to declare whether or whether not he was recently hospitalized.  Other than that and a police check, if the purchaser is clear of the law, he gets the gun.  The information about his mental condition is not used in any way in checking him out, mostly because the privacy rules disallow it.

This is a big flaw.  Someone with depression and paranoia often will play out his imagining by buying a weapon to confront those he fears are threats.  If there is no way to prevent that from happening, there will be more Ft. Hoods in future, and more gun crimes committed by people with severe mental illness.

It would make sense that a database of people under strong medication for mental illness should not be allowed to purchase guns. This information could be held by the police or FBI and used in background checks when guns are purchased.  Today that is not the case.

So, our concern with privacy has some deadly loopholes that need fixing.

Our thoughts and prayers go our to those who lost loved ones at Ft. Hood, and to those who were wounded we hope for a speedy recovery.  We salute the female military policewoman who confronted Lopez.  She is a brave woman who, by doing her job, saved many lives.  She is a hero.

Most of all, it is time to reassess how we handle the severely mentally ill and guns, and it is time to modify our privacy rules to protect the public and our military forces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , ,

Italy Must Decide on F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

by Dr. Stephen Bryen***

Italy must decide whether to stay in the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35) program.  The F-35 is America’s newest fighter aircraft and it is going to be a vital defense asset globally.  The new Italian government is getting in the mood to trash the program in that country.  Their idea is based on a badly flawed ideology. A wrong decision will expose Italy to considerable risk in the future. Italian politicians have not been honest with the Italian people about the significance of this program for Italian national security, nor have the told the truth about the economic and employment implications of dropping out.

Italy is a member of the NATO alliance.  NATO, which has been gradually weakening over the years as the existential threat to Europe lessened, is again in the spotlight because of the turmoil in the Ukraine and the risk that the disease of instability might spread.  Today there are clear echoes of Munich in the air; the consequences of weakness at this critical juncture are plain for all to see.  Europe talks and does nothing. America does the same.

But a weak and indecisive, wobbly American government is exactly why Europe should be trying to shore up its main patron and protector.  In the end NATO is only viable with American leadership.  But if the European instinct is to “Let George Do It” meaning George Washington, then that is a true assurance of risk and failure.

The reality is that the European front line will always be the European countries, not the United States.  And Europe must be strong.  In times of austerity, this is hard to achieve, and the Europeans have over the years left most of the responsibility to Washington while they charged off their defense programs to social welfare and industrial subsidies.

This is no longer possible for two reasons: America no longer has the infinite resources it seemed to once have.  It has squandered trillions on peripheral wars, and the American economy is not what it once was.  American largess and willingness to carry more than its fair share of the burden is, now, over.

Italy has a fine air force and a top notch aerospace industry.  It not only produces aircraft and equipment for its own use, but its products are sold abroad.  Today the Italian C-27J is flying with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Special Forces.  Its hot-stick advanced trainer called the M-346 in Italy (the TF-100 in the US) is the leading candidate to replace the old trainers in the U.S. inventory.  These programs are good for both countries, because they create jobs and save defense dollars in the U.S. that would otherwise have to go into platform development (so called nonrecurring R&D expenses).  But if Italy opts out of the F-35 program, can Italy hope to win the trainer competition?  Will Italy be regarded as a reliable partner?

Italy has sticker shock on the cost of acquisition of the F-35.  Americans have the same sticker shock.  How can it be mitigated?

As an investor in the JSF program ($1 billion+), Italy has already gained support for producing parts of the aircraft and for a final Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility.  But buying the aircraft does put a tremendous burden on the country which cannot be denied.

Israel recently bought the Italian M-346 advanced trainer in an offset deal.  A wise Italian government could pursue the same idea with the United States.  While America “officially” does not support offsets, deals like this happen all the time.

The new government of Italy is being pushed around by a bunch of ideologues who don’t want to spend a Euro or a Lira or a Dollar on defense.  They are leading Italy’s new Prime Minister into a black hole.  Ruining Italy’s reputation and diminishing its position in NATO is not the way to kick start a non-elected government.  Mr. Renzi, the new Prime Minister, should think before he jumps.

_______________________

***Full disclosure: The author is a former senior official in the U.S. Department of Defense and the former President of Finmeccanica North America, Italy leading defense, aerospace and high technology company.  The author is not currently connected in any way with the U.S. Defense Department, Finmeccanica, or any other organization with any interest in the JSF program.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Noah -Hollywood Missed the Big Story

Hollywood missed a great opportunity to make a powerful movie about Noah and the deluge. Instead they made a flashy film with little real substance. The Noah story is actually part of a puzzle that has been with us as long as has the Bible. Thinking through the puzzle can help us understand our ancestors. I am strongly of the view that when we understand our past (as opposed to having idealized notions that are abstracts devoid of reality) we help define our future and gain a chance to influence what happens to us and our descendants.

There are a number of ways to visualize the Noah story. One way is to simply consider the story of Noah and the deluge as folklore. But how to explain the folklore?

The key passage in Genesis reads: “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. ” If this passage means exactly what it says, then it is very difficult to explain. While man’s sins can be understood to have angered God, the destruction of all the animals on earth is not understandable from a moral point of view.

This leads to the thought that the story of the deluge or flood is not a folk tale. It is something that happened. Noah is in the story to help explain how some survived and the rest did not. And it manages the thought for man; but not for the animals that died. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. … Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. ” There is a presumption that animals don’t count in God’s eyes, something that offends our modern sensibilities.

If the story of the deluge has historical truth, how can we be sure? As Immanuel Velikovsky explains to us, the story of the deluge is found in traditions all over the earth, and many of the cultures that have this memory have had no contact with western religion. There is so much evidence behind the story of the deluge, both from historical memory preserved in religions and in cultural traditions, and physical evidence, is it possible that the world was inundated by rainfall sufficient to cover all of the earth except some high mountain peaks?

Before answering the questions, we need to consider the condition of mankind before the deluge, accepting that a deluge did in fact occur.

Generally speaking, most contemporary science and archaeology thinks of man as slowly evolving technologically, starting out living in caves and opportunistically hunting, eventually moving to a more settled life, cultivating trees and vegetables and managing herds of animals. Along with these developments, man starts using stone impelements, then learns to fashion copper, then bronze and eventually iron.

There are some significant problems with this comfortable analytic view of man’s “progress.” To begin with, the changes in technology, in animal husbandry, in cultivation and farming did not occur evenly in all places. There were clusters where development was rapid; in other places there was hardly any change. Embedded in the Biblical texts, in writings from ancient Summaria and Babylonia and elsewhere, there is a suggestion that something dramatic happened, essentially changing mankind and vesting him with considerable technological tools that he hitherto lacked. Perhaps this is what is meant in Genesis which declares, “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God (bnei Elim) came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

Plenty of people have been looking for evidence of these giants, called Nefilim in Hebrew. Nefilim are the sons of Gods and man. The idea that they were actual giants is either accepted for what it is, or hotly disputed even by Rabbinic authorities. In particular Rabbi Akiva (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, 100-160 AD) would actually curse anyone who made this translation. But one way to view it that bridges both the literal translation and the various interpretations offered by authorities on the matter is that Nefilim certainly means very wise men who came from afar, an image that carries on down into Christianity’s three wise men. Velikovsky thinks that it was an encounter with beings from another planet that transferred a block of knowledge that transformed mankind. As he says, “But if we are today on the eve of interplanetary travel, we must not declare as absolutely impossible the thought that this Earth was visited, ages ago, by some people from another planet. “

There is one feature in the Bible, that may be an actual give away. It has to do with the life span of man. In Genesis God says, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Noah on the other hand is given a life span of over 900 years. As one author writes: “the Bible teaches quite plainly that the early patriarchs often lived to be nearly 1,000 years old and even had children when they were several hundred years old! Similar claims of long life spans are found in the secular literature of several ancient cultures (including the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Indians, and Chinese).”

A year is measured today as 365 days. In ancient times it was variously measured as 360 or 365 days. It would be obvious to anyone in ancient times, that attaining even a life span of 120 years would be something of a miracle. So what is going on here? Is it possible that others living on the earth (those with wisdom and power) had different biological clocks than we? And can be think that assigning extremely long lives to the founders of the Hebrew religion and many others was intended to directly associate them with the Nefilim?

Most cultures report that the period before the deluge was one of great prosperity. There was more than enough food to supply mankind’s needs, and the climate was reported as excellent. Before the deluge there was no environmental disaster.

So was the deluge some kind of climate change? Maybe, but not the way environmentalists would lead you to believe.

As many scientists have pointed out, even if it rained and rained, there is simply not enough water, hydrogen or oxygen on earth that if it all spilled down at once could cover the earth more than a foot or two.

Thus if the deluge happened, something extraordinary occurred.

It is Velikovsky’s contention, which I accept, that what happened as a startling interplanetary event that impacted the earth. Vastly simplified the story is that Saturn and Jupiter essentially were twin stars that formed a kind of super nova. In ancient times Saturn was an extremely bright planet. Over a number of encounters the nova exploded. As Velikovsky explains: “The prevalent view is that a nova results from the interaction of two stars in a binary system when the two members disrupt one another on close approach. In such a case filaments of the disrupted star are torn out of its body and hurled in great spurts, to be absorbed by the companion star. The sudden transfer of matter is thought to set off the star’s cataclysmic explosion.”

From the earth looking out, the prelude to the vast explosion went on for some seven days, marked by a immensely bright light in the sky. When the explosion happened, the earth was thrown into disarray, its orbit was disrupted, and the fallout from the planetary collision was immense amounts of hydrogen and water coming from the nova raining down on earth. This caused massive flooding, changed the boundaries and size of the sea, and may also affected nearby planetary objects including the moon. For Saturn it meant a result in a greatly diminished size, a further out orbit from the sun, and it was seen as much dimmer.

It is possible during the ancient time when Saturn was in orbit much closer to the earth, its rings were observed by astronomers, because (as far as we know) the ancients did not have the optical technology needed to see Saturn’s rings in its present-day orbit. However we do know that most ancient cultures relied heavily on astronomical observations, and what they recorded was generally highly accurate.  Saturn’s rings, or “chains,” are depicted on many ancient sculptures.   Saturn was also worshiped by many cultures, including Middle Eastern.  Names for Saturn included Kronos, Osiris and Tammuz; also Kevan and Adonis.  Speaking of both Saturn and Jupiter as binary stars they were referred to as Adonoi (“my lords”).

Hollywood missed the big story.  

 

tom4

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

MY THEORY OF WHAT HAPPENED TO MH-370

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this was written the search for MH-370 continues with some potential satellite sightings of debris that are now followed up.  The London Daily Mail (http://goo.gl/Tf1JvP) has a major story that supports and likely confirms "my theory" as to what happened to MH-370.  In a nutshell,  the newspaper reports on March 24th : " The missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 dropped to as low as 12,000ft in what could have been a cabin emergency before it disappeared from the radar, it has emerged. As the exhaustive search continues in the Indian Ocean for the missing Boeing 777-200, an official revealed the doomed passenger jet made a sharp turn over the South China Sea which ‘seemed to be intentional’."  It is important to emphasize, as I did below in my original story, that there were not any cell phone calls because the passengers and crew were almost certainly unconscious after an instant depressurization at 45,000 feet or higher.  To add to the matter, I don't believe the story that the pilot committed suicide or deliberately crashed the plane.  If he wanted to do that all he had to do was set the nose on a downward path and drive the plane into the ocean.  End of story.  I think it is important to stay close to the few facts that we have in trying to frame what happened. Only time will tell, perhaps, the actual sequence of events.]

 

It is the middle of the night.  The cabin lights are dimmed, most of the passengers have dozed off.  A large “bang” is heard, rousing the passengers.  Within a second or two, oxygen masks drop from above.  Eerily, there is no message.  The flight attendants say nothing. All the lights are now out, the temperature has dropped, and the oxygen is not flowing through the tubes.  The plane at first ascends a few thousand feet from its established pathway, in fact well above its safe altitude. Then it begins to turn and almost doubles back on its original course.  But now it is descending slowly so that by the time it crosses back over the Malaysian mainland, it is down to around 10 to 15,000 feet above sea level.  It now seems to stabilize and hold its altitude, as it flies on.

Observers on oil rigs at first saw the plane, a great distance away, and there seemed to have been a fire.  But after some 15 seconds, the fire was out, probably blown out by the jetstream.

The plane can fly like this for many hours.  But the passengers all were made unconscious by the depressurization.  Some of them might remain alive, but none of them, including the flight crew staff, can function.

The pilots are both dead.  The transponder went off when the explosion in the cabin area happened.  We now know that the story that the transponder was off when the pilots made their last call to ATC (Air Traffic Control) was false.  The transponder went off after the call.

There were no cell phone calls.  This tells us unequivocally that everyone was unconscious or dead. Otherwise calls could have been made at any time as the plane flew on.  At the plane’s altitude over Malaysia, there is no doubt calls could be received.  But there weren’t any.

Years ago when I was learning to be a pilot my IP (Instructor Pilot) told me to take my hands off the stick and my feet off the rudder. “Just watch what happens,” he said, as I reluctantly let go of the yoke.  The plane flew on, in fact it was more level and stable than my piloting allowed it to be.  “An airplane wants to fly,” said the IP, “and it will fly if there is sufficient air speed.”

A wounded airplane, where the controls are mainly destroyed by a bomb, can still fly and can even seem to be on course.  Now when the plane was wounded, it could have turned sharply as the blast hit and the pilots grabbed or pulled at the controls.  But once the explosion was over and the pilots unable to do anything, the plane could go on for some time.  The evidence tells us the plane flew for some number of hours.

How far would it have gone?  If there was a rupture in the plane’s skin, as was probably the case, over time it would get bigger and incoming wind would eventually further damage the plane’s systems.

My guess is that there was a bomb on the plane.  Probably in one of the forward cabins.  Remember that the 9/11 hijackers and some of the wannabe hijackers, booked first or business class seats.  Whether there was any attempt to hijack the plane remains uncertain. It does not seem too likely, because some commotion in the plane’s cabin probably would have been detected.  The idea that sophisticated hijackers, or the pilot and copilot together, somehow flew the plane to a secret runway seems far fetched and unproven.

Eventually the plane will be located.  Probably it is deeply embedded in the ocean bottom.  It could have “landed” itself on the water and slowly drifted to the bottom, without breaking up.  That will make it hard to find.

Is such a self-landing possible?  With empty fuel tanks (no oil slicks) and gently descending, the plane could have put down safely, much like US Airways Flight 1549 that was brilliantly piloted to a safe landing on the Hudson river.  Readers will recall that the plane stayed afloat for some time as it drifted down the Hudson river.  There was no debris. Eventually it was stopped and salvaged.   Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370, with no one conscious on board, could have laid on top of the waves and eventually filled with water and sank.

Without finding the airplane, it is impossible to demonstrate any theory.  No one so far is claiming to have blown up the plane or attempted to hijack it.  Military “primary” radars have not reported “seeing” the plane where it could have entered someone’s airspace. That does not prove it did not anyway happen.  A number of experts in Israel think it was an Iranian operation.  And Israeli air defense systems are on alert if in fact the plan is to use the plane as in a suicide attack on Israel, a replicate of 9/11. But right now there isn’t any convincing evidence for this kind of hijack.  And from the few facts we know –a plane at a very high altitude, calm pilots, and no cellular phone calls, points in a different direction.

There have been reports that some shoe bombs have been designed to blow up the cabin door of an aircraft.  Such a bomb might do a lot more damage, such as blowing out the windshields of the cockpit and depressurizing the aircraft.

Perhaps we will soon find out the answer to the mystery of the missing plane and lost passengers and crew.

Tagged , , , ,

The Klos-C Missiles-Target Israel or Egypt?

On early Wednesday morning (Israel time), March 5th, an Israeli commando force known as Shayetet 13 (Flotilla 13) stormed on board a freighter, the Klos-C, in the Red Sea sailing under a Panamanian flag.  Shayetet 13 is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Navy Seals –its motto is Never Again.   Jamie Frater counts this naval commando force as one of the “Top Ten Badasses of the World’s Special Forces.”    The raid on the Klos-C was the result of extensive intelligence gathering including close cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.

The Klos-C shadowed by an Israeli naval vessel

The Klos-C shadowed by an Israeli naval vessel

Hidden on board the vessel, sandwiched under bags of cement with “Made in Iran” stamped on them, were some forty M-302 missiles, 181 120mm mortars and 400,000 rounds of 7.62 ammunition.

According to Israel and fully supported by the U.S., the missiles originated in Syria.  They were air-shipped to Iran (probably on Russian-made IL-76 aircraft), put on the Klos-C freighter, which departed Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas, sailed on to Iraq and planned to drop off the weapons on the Sinai coast where they would eventually be smuggled to Gaza or, alternatively, set up in the Sinai but aimed at Israeli cities.   According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from launching sites in Gaza or Sinai, the rockets are in range of most of Israel.

The M-302 covers most of Israel if launched from Gaza

The M-302 covers most of Israel if launched from Gaza

The M-302 is manufactured in Syria and previously was supplied to Hezbollah.  In 2006 a number of these rockets were fired at northern Israel.  The M-302 is available in different versions, has a range in excess of 125 miles, and a fairly large warhead coming in at over 144kilograms (318 pounds).

The M-302 is otherwise known as the Khaibar.  Khaibar (or Khaybar) is an Oasis located near Medina in Saudi Arabia. Khaybar itself was the scene of an important series of battles starting in a.d. 629 between the Jewish community living in that area and an invasion force launched under the guidance of Mohammed.  Known as the Battle of Khaybar, it is an interesting and complex story that resulted in the defeat of the Jewish community and a negotiated surrender.  Under the surrender terms, the Jews were to be allowed to continue living in the Khaybar area, said protection agreed under a signed treaty. However, in a.d. 642 the Jewish community was expelled from the area, violating the treaty terms.

It is hard to miss the significance of the name of the missile.

Ruins of the expelled Jewish Community of Khaybar, Saudi Arabia

Ruins of the expelled Jewish Community of Khaybar, Saudi Arabia

Still unanswered is why Iran sponsored such a hostile operation directed against Israel at this particular moment in time.

Iran is sponsoring the Syrian regime, along with the Russians, against insurgent groups and seem to be gaining the upper hand in the conflict.  Thanks to a weak and indecisive U.S. administration, and the shadow of nuclear negotiations with Iran, the Obama administration has not intervened in Syria (despite so-called red lines) and has provided only cursory support to the rebels.  The U.S. all but jettisoned its vital oil-producing ally, Saudi Arabia, who supported the rebels in Syria, creating a potential vulnerability that also has untoward echoes in the Ukraine, where the Russians were bold enough to occupy the Crimea, and have threatened to cut off oil supplies to the Ukraine as another step in trying to dismantle the Ukrainian revolution.

So why take a chance on toppling the apple cart –especially when the cart is tilted so much in favor of the Iranians and their Russian backers?

Some have suggested that the Iranians were trying to check mate a possible Israeli raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities and thus the placement of these rockets either in Gaza or Sinai could be aimed at Israel’s strategic systems including its reactor at Dimona.  This is a possibility, but the chosen tool –the M-302– is a wobbly choice because the rockets are inaccurate and the warheads would need pinpoint accuracy to destroy strategic targets.

Other have also said that the M-302 rockets exploit a vulnerability in Israel’s rocket defense system based on the Iron Dome system.  The Iron Dome intercepts incoming rockets.  Whether it is capable of destroying the rather larger size M-302 compared to the typically small rockets fired off by Hamas or by Hezbollah, is unclear.  But Israel’s Air Force could rapidly obliterate the launch sites for these rockets, making their strategic value less than planned by Iran.

There is an outside chance that these rockets were not destined to attack Israel at all.  They could, for example, be used against Egyptian military installations or even hit Cairo.  In this case it would be the Egyptians on the wrong end of the stick, not Israel.

One would think there would be a lot less risk for Iran, Syria and Russia if Egypt instead of Israel was the target.  But right now the Israeli leadership thinks they are the target and that this Iranian provocation may have crossed the line.  If that is the case, for sure Israel will retaliate, which will also please Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  It could be a step in the right direction in restoring the balance of power in the region,  a step that is sorely needed.

Many years ago (1978 to be exact) I wrote an article suggesting that Israel was a strategic asset for the United States.  A cartoonist for the Camden NJ Courier Post that ran the article, drew a map of Israel to look like an aircraft carrier, with fighter jets coming off its deck.   I continue to believe in the fundamental thesis I advanced then.  Right now, with America making so many wrong moves and with American global credibility at an all time low. the aircraft carrier could come in handy.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

A Nice Story in a Sea of Pain and Distress

by Stephen Bryen

A few years ago I had the privilege to meet with Dr. Rafi Beyar, Director, Rambam*** Health Care Campus and Professor, Biomedical Engineering and Medicine, at the Technion. The Rambam Health Care Campus and the Technion are both located in Israel. The meeting, arranged by my wife, included Hal Koster, the head of the Aleethia Foundation, a group working with wounded soldiers in the United States. The topic of conversation was how to “compare notes” between what the Israelis have done dealing with traumatic injuries caused by war and what has been done in the United States.

In the hands of Rambam

In the hands of Rambam

For more than ten years my wife Shoshana and I have been working with Hal Koster who today heads the Aleethia Foundation. We first met Hal through a friend of ours, Maarten Singelenbeg. Maarten has been one of the leading marketing experts in the food trade in Washington DC. One of his clients was a restaurant located a few blocks from the White House, called Fran O’Brien’s. Fran O’Brien was a Cleveland Browns and later a Washington Redskins football player (he was an offensive tackle). His son Marty and Hal Koster operated the restaurant. They were friends with “the milkshake man,” ‘aka’ Jim Meyer, who was visiting wounded soldiers at the then Walter Reed Army Medical Center, located further up 16th street. Jim would bring trays of frozen milkshakes to the wounded guys. Inevitably they would ask why he was doing that, and what he knew about war and the trauma of being wounded and losing limbs. Meyer, in reply, would lift both his pant legs showing two prosthetic limbs. Jim was wounded in Vietnam. He realized that you can recover and live a full and complete life****, but you need help and care, and most of all a feeling that you still have an important role to play in the world. It was this idea that got Jim to speak to Hal and Marty. They concocted the notion that they would bring the wounded soldiers, somehow and someway, to their restaurant and give them an amazing evening away from the hospital wards and therapy rooms. A steak dinner. A beer or two. Maybe some young ladies?

That is what got the Fran O’Brien dinners going. What Maarten learned on his visit to Hal and Marty, that it was hard for them to keep their restaurant profitable and support 30 or more free guests every Friday night. So my wife and I, and later many others, started raising money because we saw the huge benefit of the dinners.

Hal Koster

Hal Koster

It was attending many of the Friday night dinners that I got to see some of the medical miracles performed to help our guys (and later a few military gals too) return to a normal life. The caregivers were extraordinary, and the new technology, at least what I could see of it, was amazing. Even more amazing was what we saw from the wounded warriors themselves: grit, determination, huge spirit, and a desire to return to their units as soon as they could (the Army, Marines or other service permitting). The dinners also attracted leaders from the Pentagon such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, and the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and his successor Gordon England. Not only did these high level visits raise spirits and provide a connection “right to the top,” but it paved the way for the Pentagon to start employing wounded warriors and encouraging others to do the same.

Dr. Beyar and Hal had a lot to talk about the day we met for lunch.

Rambam does for Israeli soldiers and for others affected by war what Walter Reed Army Medical Center (now co-located at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center) does for our troops.

Today the Jerusalem Post and other news outlets feature a compelling story about a Syrian child with a severe head injury being rushed across the border with his 11 year old brother and his father. His mother and sister were killed in the same blast that wounded the two boys. Crossing the border and on the road to Rambam, the 11 year old also passed. This left the father and his barely surviving son. The boy was comatose, and his father was asking the hospital to do whatever they could to save his son, telling them “he is all I have left.”

Israel treats wounded children from Syria

Israel treats wounded children from Syria

The boy required emergency brain surgery to relieve pressure on the brain caused by swelling. Without the surgery he could not live. The extensive surgery was carried out, the boy was kept in an induced coma, and then, as he recovered, more surgery was needed to replace the parts of the skull that were removed and then to start therapy, including physical recovery and speech retraining. Some weeks after he entered the hospital, he walked out with his father.

Dr. Rafael ("Rafi") Beyar

Dr. Rafael (“Rafi”) Beyar

The story is very moving, very sincere, but not unusual. For decades Israeli hospitals have been open to treat the dire medical needs of their neighbors. Israel has been terrific in emergency medicine and trauma care. That is why, whether it is the Philippines or Haiti, the Israeli teams have performed so well in saving lives and restoring hope.

Can we take a lesson from this? Dr. Beyar and Hal Koster understood immediately what they have in common. The mission.

_____________________

***”Rambam” is an acronym of the Hebrew name of Moses Maimonides (1135-1204).  Rambam was a rabbi, a philosopher and a renowned physician.  

****Jim Meyer holds an “Alive Day” every year, a well attended event where funds raised go to support wounded soldiers.

 
Tagged , , , ,

Obamacare and Belarus– Follow the Money?

Bill Gertz, one of the leading national security reporters in the United States, broke the story that the Obamacare web software was developed in part in Belarus.   Belarus became an independent country in 1991.  While on paper the country is supposedly democratic, in fact it operates as a kind of dictatorship where the military, police, government and media are controlled.  The OECD calls the country “un-free.  The U.S. relationship to Belarus is somewhat strained, but Belarus has been a way-point for supplies to the ISAF in Afghanistan.

Gertz raised the issue of possible backdoors planted in the software for the Obamacare system.  A backdoor would make it possible for personal information stored on an Obamacare site to be secretly collected by an intruder or hacker.  No one has yet determined whether the software provided has been corrupted, but as Gertz reported, U.S. intelligence agencies warned DHS of the potential risk and news reports say that DHS is investigating the HealthCare.gov web software.  In addition to the government web site, the same software is also being used by all American medical insurance companies and most medical facilities in the U.S.

There have been numerous reports and complaints that the Obamacare websites lacked security.  The lack of security is a major design flaw.  On top of the design problem, the system has been plagued with technical problems.  Sloppily made software can account for many errors, but clumsy backdoors inserted into otherwise operable software can also cause multiple points of failure when the system operates.

Why would software development be outsourced to a foreign country?  The reason is cost.  Belarus is a low cost provider of software services, with prices that are far below costs in the United States.

The U.S. government when it writes a contract agrees in advance to how services are priced.  Usually the standard is provided by the GSA.

Below you will find a comparison of costs for software programming in Belarus and U.S. GSA pricing:

Average software development rates for Belarus in 2010 were:

  • 29 USD/hour – Project Manager
  • 26 USD/hour – Senior developer
  • 22 USD/hour – Middle developer
  • 18 USD/hour – Junior developer

GSA Hourly Rates

Applications Software Subject Matter Expert $141.41
Business Systems Analyst $65.66
Database Admin (DBA) $80.81
Desktop Support Engineer $50.51
ERP Software Subject Matter Expert $237.37
Help Desk Support $38.38
Junior SQA Engineer / Software Quality Assurance $39.39
Network Administrator $56.57
Principal Software Engineer $116.16
Project Manager $63.64
Release Engineer $111.11
Senior Business Systems Analyst $110.10
Senior Database Admin (DBA) $126.26
Senior Network Engineer $101.01
Senior Project Manager $116.16
Senior Software Engineer $85.86
Senior SQA Engineer $70.71
Software Engineer $68.69
Software Programmer/Analyst $80.81
SQA Engineer $50.51
Technical Writer $73.74

Clearly there is a huge difference between U.S. prices and those in Belarus.

The Obamacare website, developed by the company CGI, cost $630 million.   This is a staggering price, and could be one of the largest expenditures ever for any health insurance system.

The CGI contract was a sole source contract.  After much controversy, CGI was fired and another contractor, Accenture, was hired for one year at $91 million.  In all these contracts there was no competition and little or no visibility on the contract parameters.  Thus, for example, we don’t know if the contract permitted subcontracting outside of the United States, and we don’t know if foreign contracting was allowed, whether the contractor was still able to charge DHS at GSA rate levels.

One would think that the Justice Department, as well the the DHS Inspector General, should be examining the CGI contract and considering how charges were made for contract performance.

Don’t hold your breath on any investigation, though.  There is no sunshine in Obamacare.

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , ,

The SodaStream Factory and Peace in the Middle East

It is an industrial park located about ten minutes drive from Jerusalem. This industrial park is named Mishor Adumim. The name denotes a plain or flat area made up of red earth. This industrial park is in the West Bank and it is the home of SodaStream.

SodaStream is the largest private employer of Palestinians on the West Bank, and it also employs Jews drawn mainly from the nearby settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Ma’ale Adumim’s name is taken from the book of Joshua in the Bible, and literally means the Red Ascent, meaning the trek up from the Dead Sea where the rock faces are red in color. The population of the town is over 39,000 and the place was historically the border area between the Jewish tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

SodaStream has now become famous principally because its spokesperson, the attractive actress Scarlett Johansson, came under attack from Oxfam International on the grounds that supporting SodaStream violated Palestinian rights. The result of the argument was that Johansson resigned from Oxfam as their “ambassador” and continues her support of SodaStream. This was highlighted by a SodaStream advertisement during the Super Bowl.

Whatever one wants to say pro or con on the relationship between Israel, the Palestinians, and the West Bank territories, there is no way one can say that Palestinian rights are being violated by SodaStream. The company goes out of its way to treat all its employees equitably. Palestinians and Jews make the same money and enjoy the same benefits in the company. The Palestinian employees are, in some cases, taking home three times the pay of their counterparts in the West Bank, that is if their counterparts have employment. Unfortunately unemployment is discouragingly high in the West Bank. The Palestinian authority puts the current overall unemployment level at 27.1%, but the unemployment level of young people between 20 and 24 is 43.1%. If one adds in under-employment which is more the norm, the average person is having a hard time in the West Bank and, without a good job, is at risk.

It follows that part of the solution is more employment for Palestinian workers either in Israel or in companies located at or near Israeli West Bank settlements. And, in fact, that is the trend. Again, as reported by the Palestinian Authority and noted in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, “the number of Palestinians employed in Israel and the West Bank settlements increased in the third quarter (2013) over the second, to 103,000 from 96,000… Of that total, 51,000 Palestinians had work permits [in Israel]; another 34,600 were working without permits, and 17,600 had an Israeli identity card or foreign passport. Some 20,000 of them were working in West Bank settlements, the rest in Israel, the bureau said.”

What hinders the growth of employment for Palestinians is the pressure put on potential workers by Palestinian officials and by various pressure groups inside and outside the West Bank, by incessant anti-Israel propaganda in the West Bank, especially in the media and in all schools, by threats from shadowy terrorist organizations, and by security concerns on the Israeli side that a worker coming from the West Bank may intend harm against Israel.   We can add to this the fact that European and American organizations, who should know better, are stirring up trouble.  Oxfam is one of them.

Even so, the picture is a little brighter than what happened in the Erez Industrial Zone in the Gaza strip. The Erez Industrial Zone in the Gaza strip housed 187 businesses including carpentry shops, textile factories, metal works and garages and employed about 5,000 Gazans. The trouble started well before the Israeli unilateral pullout from the Gaza strip starting in 2004. It was largely due to the Palestinian Intifada (or uprising) and the murder of numerous Jewish businessmen and workers in the Erez Industrial Zone. In turn this sparked the shutdowns of businesses in the Zone. At the same time, thanks to the Intifada and attacks launched by terrorists coming from Gaza into Israel, the border between Gaza and Israel, where thousands of Palestinians crossed everyday to work, was closed.  Tens of thousands of Gazans were out of work as a result.

The general academic theory is that economic cooperation is a necessary prerequisite for normal political relationships. Many intellectuals have long believed that when people have jobs they are more likely to work out any differences that, if not settled, would cause them to lose their jobs.

In short, employment is an incentive for peace while unemployment is the enemy of peace.

The problem with the theory is that a small minority can destroy economic advances and set back the chance for political dialogue, perhaps indefinitely. That is precisely what happened in Gaza, and it is what threatens in the West Bank.

What is most peculiar, is that the trouble making is not only local and it is hardly limited to Palestinians or even Arab pressure groups who sympathize with their cause. The fact is that groups in Europe and the United States, especially among academics, are lobbying governments to boycott Israeli business in the West Bank. Effectively their lobbying, if successful, denies Palestinians good jobs and brings them irreparable harm.

Even the U.S. Secretary of State has threatened Israel saying that if it did not cooperate with him on his terms, Israel would end up suffering boycotts.  This, in fact,  creates incentives for boycotts and harms Palestinians much more than Jews.   No matter how the Secretary tries to explain his “observation,” the damage is huge.  

Daniel Birnbaum, the CEO of SodaStream, took over the company after it was acquired by outside investors. He has told journalists that it would not have been his first choice to support a manufacturing plant in Mishor Adumim, because of the implied investment risks for his company, and the threats and dangers to his employees and their families, Jewish and Palestinian. But since the factory was already there, he has worked hard to make it the best manufacturing facility it can be with the best employment opportunity for all its workers. He was incredibly lucky or really smart to have chosen as his spokesperson the gutsy Scarlett Johansson.

Let’s hope the example will spread.  Only good can come from it.

Tagged , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,733 other followers