Friday, December 26, 2014

The Dubliners - Molly Malone

NSA reports detail decade's worth of privacy violations - The Hill

The National Security Agency has quietly released more than a decade of reports detailing surveillance activities that potentially violated U.S. citizens' privacy rights.
Covering NSA activities from mid-2001 to 2013, the heavily-redacted reports document possible abuses, including instances of employees emailing classified information to unauthorized recipients or issuing “overly broad or poorly constructed data queries that potentially targeted” Americans.
The agency, required by executive order to submit the reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board, posted the information publicly on Christmas Eve in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the American Civil Liberties Union.... http://thehill.com/policy/technology/228107-nsa-reports-detail-privacy-violations

-bth: usually the US government takes out the trash, unfavorable news, on a Friday and if its really bad its done around a holiday or simultaneous with some other major headline event. So the NSA was spying on Americans for the last decade illegally, nothing to see here, just move along. Sad.

Thoughts on Russia as we enter 2015

News this week out of Russia has focused on its use of currency reserves to support the Ruble and bail out its banks. But a few things are bothering me.

First, Putin has put a price freeze on cheap vodka at about $4 per half liter.http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/putin-orders-government-to-keep-vodka-cheap-as-russian-inflation-soars/513854.html Keeping vodka cheap was an old trick of the Soviet era with disastrous effects on longevity.

Second, Putin has canceled vacations for bureaucrats from January 1-12 which is a big deal in Moscow and he says that they know why they need to stay on the job. Well, so with no vacation to Cyprus or wherever and access to cheap vodka why is Putin requiring them to stay in country during this period?

Third, Ukraine intermittently cut off electricity yesterday to Crimea and cut off train service claiming security concerns.  So what does that really mean?  Are the Russians going to try to use trains in a manner detrimental to Ukrainian security all the sudden?

Fourth, Belarus' president gave a bizarre speech this week saying that prices would not float after mid-January as people expected but would be locked into place permanently.  This is old school state run communism and is totally detached from modern reality.  But what bothered me is that the reference to mid-January.

So my fear is that Putin may have nothing to lose at this point and might go for broke in the Ukraine while the ground is frozen for tank movement and the economy is in the shitter for the new year. There is nothing to indicate Putin is or ever was self sacrificing and if sanctions offer a dead-end for him with the current situation, one option he always has is to put the army he has on the payroll into gassed up tanks and send them west a few hundred kilometers through Ukraine, Belarus or into the Baltic States.  I think there is real reason to be concerned in the very short term that one of his snap drills won't be a drill after all.

US think tank proposes shake-up of Taiwan defense - AP

"...
For a fraction of the cost of building eight large diesel submarines that Taiwan is also planning, it could produce a fleet of 42 "midget submarines" similar in size to craft that North Korea and Iran have, the report says. These submarines could provide warning and targeting data for anti-ship cruise missiles deployed on mobile launchers resembling trucks hauling shipping containers.
To combat Chinese fighter planes, the report proposes "guerrilla" air defense, using hundreds of surface-to-air missiles — a tactic it says proved effective for North Vietnam against the United States during the Vietnam War. And if Chinese forces make it on land, guerrilla tactics to harass the occupying forces would slow their advance toward Taipei. It says cyberwar against Chinese battle networks would also be one of Taiwan's viable deterrents and "cost-imposing strategies."
The report's authors say asymmetric approaches toward defense would reduce Taiwanese dependence on U.S. armaments, and should also appeal to other neighbors concerned over China's military buildup.
Nations like Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia "have territorial disputes with China and face many of the same challenges responding to the rapid Chinese military modernization looming over Taiwan," the report says...."http://news.yahoo.com/us-think-tank-proposes-shake-taiwan-defense-000829159.html

-bth: I wonder about this approach.  It probably makes sense, but Taiwan is hopelessly outmatched by mainland China and I doubt it has the political will to fight that it once had.  Also its all volunteer army is now under strength and does not enjoy the popular support it once did.  Perhaps the asymmetric approach is the right one, but to what end?  To buy time for US military support?


Iranian-Made Mohajer Drones Fly in Army Drills -Tasnim News Agency (Iran)





...
It is equipped with a range of modern apparatus and systems that have boosted its capabilities for diverse missions.
The drone can be employed for a range of military and civil operations, including aerial reconnaissance and patrol missions, traffic control, rescue and relief, cartography and oil pollution control at the sea.
Equipped with a 360-degree camera on the nose gear, M2-N can record and send back instantaneous high resolution images.
It can also be armed with missiles thanks to the launchers installed beneath its wings.... http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/598727
-bth: the overall construction and structure of these latest Iranian drones shows improvements over prior published versions.  Note the engine, a separate article says that they are now exporting drone engines http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/579205 The link shown is to an article that says the new drone engines are rotary, available for export, and have 3000 km range.
And this article http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/599451 claims that they are making suicide drones which can crash and presumably explode into fixed and mobile targets.  There is no picutre shown of this but it is not hard to imagine a small drone with explosives.
Frankly these aren't new concepts in Iran or in the world in general, but what I am noting is that the air frame, the mounting of cameras, radios and gps systems on the frames and the motors all appear more rugged and well engineered than earlier models.  They also claim to have taken software from the US drone brought down in December 2011.  All hard to tell but it is a pretty impressive surge in activity for Iran in drones and they appear to be flexible in application and doctrine.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Putin Cancels New Year's Holiday for Government Workers - The Atlantic

Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled the extended New Year holiday for government ministers because of the ongoing financial crisis, informing the agencies they must work to help strengthen the economy and take protectionary measures in the face of a combination of governmental mismanagement, dropping oil prices, and economic sanctions that have caused considerable panic in Moscow in recent weeks.
In a televised government session, Putin told ministers that they could not take off the customary period from January 1st through the 12th, saying,  "For the government, for your agencies we cannot afford this long holiday, at least this year—you know what I mean."....http://news.yahoo.com/putin-cancels-years-holiday-government-workers-154950983--politics.html

-bth: this can't be popular

‘They want to win and they are ready to die’: Lessons from 10 days with the Islamic State

‘They want to win and they are ready to die’: Lessons from 10 days with the Islamic State