Surveillance

  • A very big concept lifts off

    In 2010, a group of defense contractors led by Northrop Grumman received a contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to create a so-called Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) — a super-sized surveillance aircraft that had the capability of spending days in the air on a single mission. The first test flight of the Airlander took place in August 2012. In 2013, however, budget cuts led to the cancellation of the project, and U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), which was part of contractors group, bought the Airlander back from the DoD at effectively scrap value. So the Airlander came back to the United Kingdom, where it lives in a giant hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire. It is there because it is the only place in the United Kingdom that can house it, having been built for airship manufacture in 1915. HAH has big plans for it.

  • Airship maker suing the U.S. Navy for loss of an advanced blimp in roof collapse

    Aeroscraft Aeronautical Systems has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy following the destruction of their Aeros airship. It was destroyed when a roof a 300,000 square foot Second World War-era hanger at Tustin Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California, collapsed. Aeroscraft is seeking to reclaim all losses as well as an unspecified amount meant to compensate the company for the $3 billion capital financing plan which was halted after the airship was destroyed. The base closed in 1999, but the property is still owned by the Navy, which leased buildings and hangars on the base to private companies.

  • FBI needs to improve intelligence capabilities, hire more linguists: Report

    The FBI needs to improve its intelligence capabilities and hire more linguists to counter evolving threats to the United States, according to a 9/11 Review Commission reportexamining the bureau’s progress since the 9/11 attacks, which was released Wednesday. “Many of the findings and recommendations in this report will not be new to the FBI,” the report said. “The bureau is already taking steps to address them. In 2015, however, the FBI faces an increasingly complicated and dangerous global threat environment that will demand an accelerated commitment to reform. Everything is moving faster.”

  • A first: UAV inspects energy pipeline route in rural Virginia

    The first Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech test flight using a fixed-wing unmanned aircraft to inspect an energy pipeline route — with a piloted chase plane following behind to ensure safety beyond the ground observers’ sight line — was completed last week. The flight was a step toward making aerial inspections of energy pipelines safer and more economical, researchers say. The flight lasted about ninety minutes and covered about eleven miles over a Colonial Pipeline Company right of way near Fork Union in rural Virginia.

  • Privacy concerns potentially an obstacle to 1 June Patriot Act reauthorization

    With the USA Patriot Act set to expire on 1 June, lawmakers are debating whether the bill, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk metadata of U.S. phone records, should be extended. The act was last renewed in 2011, before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the U.S. intelligence agency’s surveillance activities. The debate around the reauthorization of the Patriot Act focuses on Section 215 of the law, used by the NSA to mass collect phone records in an effort to locate terrorists who might be calling supporters in the United States.

  • Justice Department takes first step toward expansion of search warrants’ reach

    The Justice Department has taken a first step toward allowing judges to grant warrants for remote searches of computers located outside their district, or when the location is unknown. On Monday, the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules approved an amendment to Rule 41 by an 11-1 vote. The existing provision allows judges to approve search warrants only for material within the geographic bounds of their judicial district, but the FBI has said it needs the rule updated to address the increasingly complex digital realities of modern day.

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  • Encryption for the masses

    In the wake of the revelations that intelligence agencies have engaged in mass surveillance, both industry and society at large are looking for practicable encryption solutions which protect businesses and individuals. Previous technologies have failed in practice because they were too expensive or not user-friendly enough. German scientists have launched an open initiative called Volksverschlüsselung, which aims to bring end-to-end encryption to people.

  • New House caucus to promote blimps as cost effective means for cargo transport

    To the general public, airships are familiar for their use as advertising blimps, but transportation engineers see airships as large, low-emissions transportation vessels which can carry large amounts of cargo into areas that lack infrastructure such as runways.The newHouse Cargo Airship Caucus aims to increase financial support for the use of lighter-than-air vehicles for carrying military cargo and humanitarian aid. “The unrealized potential [of blimps] is vast,” says one expert.. “Lack of funding is a big killer.”

  • Drones to help assess post-disaster infrastructure damage

    Drones can be used for a number of applications including civilian and military purposes. Monitoring and surveillance are two of the biggest uses for drones. Now, researchers are utilizing similar technology to develop an operational prototype that will use innovative remote sensing approaches and cameras mounted on low cost aircraft or unmanned drones to detect and map fine scale transportation infrastructure damage such as cracks, deformations, and shifts immediately following natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. The researchers hope the technology becomes the new, Department of Transportation approach to monitoring infrastructure after natural disasters.

  • Clapper: Congress would be blamed if Section 215 is not renewed -- and “untoward incident” occurred

    James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that if Congress failed to reauthorize a controversial provision of the Patriot Act by June, then lawmakers who opposed the renewal of the provision – Section215 – would bear the blame if a terrorist attack, which could have been prevented by actions Section 215 permits, happened. Clapper said that if Congress decided not to renew the Patriot Act, or decided to renew it without Section 215, and an “untoward incident” occurred as a result, he hopes “everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility” and does not just blame the intelligence community.

  • FISA court reauthorizes NSA’s bulk metadata collection until 1 June

    More than a year after President Barack Obama announced that he will work with Congress to curb the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet surveillance program which collects large amounts of U.S. phone metadata, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved last week a government request to continue allowing the agency to operate its bulk data collection until 1 June, when the legal authority for the program is set to expire. The required reauthorization of the program every ninety days has already been granted four other times — March, June, September, December — since Obama made his announcement in January 2014.

  • Original inhabitants of Diego Garcia may be allowed to return

    Following close to two decades of controversy and legal battles, the original inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago territories in the India Ocean, many of whom forcibly removed between 1967 and 1973 in order to allow the construction of military bases by Britain and the United States, may soon see their homeland again after the results of a new feasibility study. More than half of the 1,800 Chagossian people who were removed have died, but many of those remaining would like to return to the island chain, which includes a CIA base at Diego Garcia, one of the main islands.

  • School surveillance on the rise

    Invasive school surveillance practices are the norm in the United Kingdom and the United States, and according to an Australian criminologist, such practices are becoming increasingly popular in Australian schools. “An estimated 1.28 million students are fingerprinted in the United Kingdom, largely for daily registration purposes; there is an excess of 106,000 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed in English, Welsh and Scottish secondary schools; while students in a U.S. high school use pedometers to ensure that they meet their gym class’s physical activity requirement,” he says.

  • U.S. drone companies: FAA’s proposed rules “onerous”

    A week after the Federal Aviation Authority(FAA) released its proposed rulesfor the commercial operation of small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, several American companies are considering moving their existing or future drone operations to Europe, where, these companies contend, regulations governing drone use are less onerous.

  • Kouachi intelligence failure: The struggle to balance security, privacy, budgetary concerns

    About seven months before the attacks on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, French domestic intelligence agency monitored Saïd Kouachi for at least two years, and his younger brother Chérif Kouachi for at least a year. The surveillance of both brothers had led nowhere, and was later considered a non-priority for intelligence officials. The Kouachi brothers did not appear to be an imminent threat, and it would have taken twenty-five agents to monitor the two brothers around the clock. Experts say that the failures and missteps by French law enforcement in the Kouachi case should be a lesson to other Western governments which may have relaxed surveillance practices targeted at would-be terrorists in order to comply with budget cuts or out of genuine concern for civil liberties.