Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Was TOP SECRET ZUMA satellite lost in space?


SpaceX launched a rocket in Florida on Sunday carrying a secret military satellite dubbed “Zuma,” which was likely worth billions of dollars. The mission has been largely shrouded in secrecy—everything from the purpose of the payload to the identity of the government department that commissioned it is classified. And now, in the days after the launch, the public has been kept in the dark about what happened to the satellite. All we really know is that something went wrong.

Various news outlets are reporting that the satellite, built by Northrop Grumman and reportedly belonging to the United States, is now lost because it did not detach as planned from the Falcon 9 rocket and thus failed to reach orbit.

However, because the mission was classified, accounts of the bungled mission have conflicted about what exactly occurred. Even the livestream of the launch offers few answers, because SpaceX cut the broadcast before the satellite’s separation from the rocket to maintain a level of confidentiality.

The Wall Street Journal’s is reporting, based on interviews with industry and government sources, that the satellite was dragged back down into atmosphere when it didn’t separate properly from the upper part of the rocket, either due to problems with the timing of the release or damage to the payload. Members of Congress and staffers were then briefed on the situation. The report, however, acknowledges the murky nature of the events and contains a caveat: “The lack of details about what occurred means that some possible alternate sequence of events other than a failed separation may have been the culprit.”

Spokespersons for the companies involved offered the Journal very little by way of on-the-record information. Northrop Grumman did not provide a comment due to the “classified” nature of the launch, and a spokesman from SpaceX told the Journal, “We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally.”

Bloomberg cited a U.S. official and two congressional aides in its account of what went wrong, which is roughly the same as the Journal’s.
One of the aides told the reporters that the satellite was lost, while another claimed that it crashed into the sea.

Yet, SpaceX’s chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell gave Bloomberg an even stronger statement concerning the success of the operation, which reads, “After review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately.” She added that “no design, operational or other changes are needed.”



After some 24 hours of total silence from all parties involved, dubious rumors began to trickle out on the afternoon of January 8 suggesting that SpaceX’s launch of Northrop Grumman’s highly secretive Zuma payload had somehow failed. Without hesitation, otherwise reputable outlets like CNBC and the Wall Street Journal immediately published separate articles claiming that lawmakers had been updated about the mission and told that the satellite had been destroyed while reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Having completely failed to both make it to orbit and “perfectly” separate from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 second stage, these articles implicitly placed the blame on SpaceX.

Claims of Zuma’s failure to properly separate from the second stage of the rocket led immediately to suggestions that SpaceX was at fault. The satellite’s manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, also refused to comment due to the classified nature of the mission, and the company may well have had their hands tied by requirements of secrecy from their customer(s). Immediately following these quick revelations, SpaceX was understandably bombarded with requests for comment by the media and furnished a response that further acknowledged the off-limits secrecy of the mission. However, SpaceX also stated that the company’s available data showed that Falcon 9 completed the mission without fault.

Without any background knowledge of spaceflight, this flurry of reporting and corporate comments would seem to be perfectly reasonable and unsurprising. However, the barest application of simple logic and orbital mechanics (what is actually involved in launching satellites to orbit) would have almost completely invalidated the information purportedly given to them.

Around the same time as claims of complete failure and satellite reentry were published, amateur spy satellite trackers had already begun the routine task of tracking and cataloging Zuma’s launch and orbit. 

Following Ars Technica’s breaking (and thankfully even-keeled) article on whispers of failure, reputable journalist Peter B. de Selding corroborated the rumors with reports that Zuma could be dead in orbit after separation from SpaceX’s upper stage. These facts alone ought to have stopped dead any speculation that Zuma had reentered while still attached to the Falcon 9 upper stage, and this was strengthened further by Dr. Marco Langbroek, who later published images provided to him that with very little doubt showed the second stage in a relatively stable orbit similar to the orbit that might be expected after a nominal launch.

While current information almost unequivocally suggests that SpaceX is in the clear, there has yet to be any official confirmation that the Zuma satellite is in any way dead or has actually failed. This is par for the course of classified government launches, and Zuma’s launch campaign was even more secretive and eccentric than usual – we still have no idea what government agency or agencies are responsible for the mission. And the satellite’s manufacturer was explicitly provided only a few minutes before its launch. Any publication with experience dealing with military topics and news would explicitly understand that any ‘leaked’ information on highly classified topics is inherently untrustworthy and ought to be handled with the utmost rigor and skepticism.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Do new revelations about latest Pentagon UFO study rule out extraterrestrial contact in the past?

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WASHINGTON — In the $600 billion annual Defense Department budgets, the $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was almost impossible to find.

Which was how the Pentagon wanted it.

For years, the program investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, according to Defense Department officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by The New York Times. It was run by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, on the fifth floor of the Pentagon’s C Ring, deep within the building’s maze.

The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.

The shadowy program — parts of it remain classified — began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid’s, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.

On CBS’s “60 Minutes” in May, Mr. Bigelow said he was “absolutely convinced” that aliens exist and that U.F.O.s have visited Earth.

Working with Mr. Bigelow’s Las Vegas-based company, the program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift.Continue reading the main story

Officials with the program have also studied videos of encounters between unknown objects and American military aircraft — including one released in August of a whitish oval object, about the size of a commercial plane, chased by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004.

Mr. Reid, who retired from Congress this year, said he was proud of the program. “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” Mr. Reid said in a recent interview in Nevada. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”

Two other former senators and top members of a defense spending subcommittee — Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, and Daniel K. Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat — also supported the program. Mr. Stevens died in 2010, and Mr. Inouye in 2012.

While not addressing the merits of the program, Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at M.I.T., cautioned that not knowing the origin of an object does not mean that it is from another planet or galaxy. “When people claim to observe truly unusual phenomena, sometimes it’s worth investigating seriously,” she said. But, she added, “what people sometimes don’t get about science is that we often have phenomena that remain unexplained.”


Thursday, December 21, 2017

"Project Maven Is Already Hunting Terrorists

DEFENSE ONE: After less than eight months of development, the algorithms are helping intel analysts exploit drove video over the battlefield.

Earlier this month at an undisclosed location in the Middle East, computers using special algorithms helped intelligence analysts identify objects in a video feed from a small ScanEagle drone over the battlefield.

A few days into the trials, the computer identified objects — people, cars, types of building — correctly about 60 percent of the time. Just over a week on the job — and a handful of on-the-fly software updates later — the machine’s accuracy improved to around 80 percent. Next month, when its creators send the technology back to war with more software and hardware updates, they believe it will become even more accurate.

It’s an early win for a small team of just 12 people who started working on the project in April. Over the next year, they plan to expand the project to help automate the analysis of video feeds coming from large drones — and that’s just the beginning.

“What we’re setting the stage for is a future of human-machine teaming,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T.“Jack” Shanahan, director for defense intelligence for warfighter support, the Pentagon general who is overseeing the effort. Shanahan believes the concept will revolutionize the way the military fights.

“This is not machines taking over,” he said. “This is not a technological solution to a technological problem. It’s an operational solution to an operational problem.”

Called Project Maven, the effort right now is focusing on helping U.S. Special Operations Command intelligence analysts identify objects in video from small ScanEagle drones.

In coming months, the team plans to put the algorithms in the hands of more units with smaller tactical drones, before expanding the project to larger, medium-altitude Predator and Reaper drones by next summer.

Shanahan characterized the initial deployment this month as “prototype warfare” — meaning that officials had tempered expectations. Over the course of about eight days, the team refined the algorithm, six times.

“This is maybe one of our most impressive achievements is the idea of refinement to the algorithm,” Shanahan said.

Think of it as getting a new update to a smartphone application every day, each time improving its performance.

Before it deployed the technology, the team trained the algorithms using thousands of hours of archived battlefield video captured by drones in the Middle East. As it turned out, the data was different from the region where the Project Maven team deployed.

“Once you deploy it to a real location, it’s flying against a different environment than it was trained on,” Shanahan said. “Still works of course … but it’s just different enough in this location, say that there’s more scrub brush or there’s fewer buildings or there’s animals running around that we hadn’t seen in certain videos. That is why it’s so important in the first five days of a real-world deployment to optimize or refine the algorithm.”

While the algorithm is trained to identify people, vehicles and installations, it occasionally mischaracterizes an object. It’s then up to the intel analyst to correct the machine, thus helping it learning.

The team has paired the Maven algorithm with a system called Minotaur, a Navy and Marine Corps “correlation and georegistration application.” As Shanahan describes it, Maven has the algorithm, which puts boxes on the video screen, classifying an object and then tracking it. Then using Minotaur, it gets a georegistration of the coordinates, essentially displaying the location of the object on a map.

That’s new, it’s different and it’s much needed for an analyst because this was all being done manually in the past,” the general said.

“Having those things together is really increasing situational awareness and starts the process of giving analysts a little bit of time back — which we hope will become a lot of time back over time — rather than just having to stay glued to the video screen,” Shanahan said.

After the Predator and Reaper video feeds get the algorithms, the plan is to put them to work on Gorgon Stare, a sophisticated, high-tech series of cameras carried by a Reaper drone that can view entire towns.

“When you look at the data labeling that has to go on, the algorithms that have to be trained and refined, that’s really what I would call the PhD-level problem that we have up next,” Shanahan said of pairing the algorithms with Gorgon Stare.

Right now, the algorithms reside in the computers that receive the video from the drones. At some point down the road, the goal is to put the technology “at the edge” on the drones themselves as well.

“The combination of those two is very powerful,” Shanahan said. “We see redundancy as important in a future world in which you may lose the ability to communicate back to big enterprises in the United States.”

The algorithms use commercial technology, which has allowed the project to move quickly — lightning fast by government standards.

“We are not trying to do something over in the department that is already being done incredibly successfully in the commercial world,” Shanahan said.

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work stood up the project in April. Two months later, they received funding from Congress and six months later the first algorithms were used on the battlefield, delivering on a promise to reach combat by year’s end.

“We are learning lessons every day for the first time about how do you actually integrate AI into Department of Defense operationally fielded programs, not research and development, not test beds, but capabilities that are being used by warfighters day in and day out,” Shanahan said.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

DOE sheds light on why a suspended agent still had access to nukes.


A report, once closed to the public, sheds more light on a security mishap at the federal agency responsible for transporting nuclear weapons across the United States.

The Department of Energy inspector general inspection report, released to E&E News under a Freedom of Information Act request made more than two years ago, provides fresh detail on a troubling incident from 2011. It centered on a suspended agent with the Office of Secure Transportation (OST) gaining "unauthorized access" to a nuclear weapons storage area.

The 19-page document — its "OFFICIAL USE ONLY" classification crossed out, lined with redactions under FOIA exemptions for privacy and law enforcement matters — describes a July 14, 2011, episode when the OST agent inappropriately gained access to a secure facility.

The agent was "not weapons qualified" and had been temporarily removed from OST's Human Reliability Program (HRP), which is "designed to ensure that those who meet the highest standards of reliability, physical and mental suitability can gain access to nuclear weapons," according to the updated IG report, which is dated September 2015.

The agent gained inappropriate access to the weapons storage area primarily because he chose to disregard "specific orders" not to take part in duties that required certification under the HRP. OST officials, however, indicated to the IG's investigators that the suspended agent never had "unescorted access" to the weapons storage area.

It took until July 20, 2011, to officially launch an investigation into the security incident. That is contrary to DOE policy that says a probe of a suspected breach should be initiated within 24 hours, according to the IG.

"Characterization and review of this incident was not initiated in a timely manner," said the report.

In addition, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages OST, could not provide evidence to investigators that it officially notified "the customer agency" that a suspended agent had unauthorized access to its facility — again, not in line with department policy.

Along with reviewing allegations focused on the suspended agent, the IG also received two complaints with similar concerns, including charges of "questionable management practices" by OST officials in Amarillo, Texas, one of the agency's command posts.

The mission of OST agents is one of the most sensitive in the federal government. They drive modified tractor-trailer trucks with armed escorts to shuttle nuclear weapons and their components from DOE facilities and military bases dotted across the country.

The report had an ominous warning for OST that uncertified agents could gain access to nuclear weapons unless the agency acts.

"Unless OST takes actions to ensure that agents without active HRP certifications are clearly identified on [redacted] the risk remains that an agent who lacks required certifications could improperly gain access to certain materials, nuclear explosive devices, facilities, and programs," said the report.

The inspector general also found that certain OST officials knew the agent in question was suspended and appealed to an individual — whose identifying information is redacted in the report — to intervene. That person told investigators he didn't intervene partly because he had already ordered the agent not to enter the secure facility.

The IG had several recommendations for the nuclear transport agency, such as making sure all OST personnel know their obligations to report security incidents, drafting written policies on how to handle such incidents and ensuring that only agents with HRP certification are on missions.

Management agreed with those recommendations and took action to fix those issues, according to the IG.

In response to written questions, Greg Wolf, an NNSA spokesman, provided a statement to E&E News.

"OST works diligently to ensure a safe, secure working environment in which all employees are treated with respect, and updates policies and procedures as needed so that issues or concerns — such as those in this report — are swiftly resolved," Wolf said. "As this report indicates, NNSA took corrective action in response to the 2011 incident. The HRP program is only one element of a comprehensive approach to ensuring the safety and security of OST operations."

The NNSA spokesman noted, "No nuclear facilities or material were damaged or otherwise put at risk as a result of the incident."

He added: "NNSA cannot comment further on the details of the 2011 incident due to operational security and the privacy of personnel."
Report initially withdrawn

The inspector general's initial report on the breach at the nuclear weapons facility came under scrutiny from NNSA.

The IG issued a summary of its investigation in September 2014. But within months, NNSA questioned the accuracy of parts of the report, and the DOE watchdog also received another complaint that raised issues about the report's accuracy.

The IG then decided to remove the report and put it under internal review. The report was then updated, and a summary of its findings was released in September 2015 while the full report remained closed to the public until its release to E&E News.

The nuclear transport agency has had a history of problems catalogued by the inspector general.

A November 2014 report by the IG, also obtained by E&E News under FOIA, found that over a decade, OST agents were repeatedly getting into fights with each other. One squad commander in Oak Ridge, Tenn., another of the agency's command posts, was alleged to have threatened to kill an OST official (Greenwire, April 1, 2015).

The IG also uncovered OST agents getting drunk while on duty.

The DOE watchdog said in one memo issued in November 2010 that there were 16 incidents involving OST personnel and alcohol between 2007 and 2009. One OST agent was arrested for public intoxication in 2007, and two agents were handcuffed and detained by police after an incident in a local bar in 2009.

Wolf said despite past problems, OST agents are prepared extensively for their serious job.

"The personnel of NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation (OST) are an elite force of highly trained national security personnel. Due to the sensitive and demanding nature of their work, OST agents are subject to rigorous security and safety standards," said the NNSA spokesman.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Trump statement confirms capture of Mustafa al-Imam

A statement by President Donald J. Trump on the Apprehension of Mustafa al-Imam for His Alleged Role in the September 11, 2012 Attacks in Benghazi, Libya Resulting in the Deaths of Four Americans

"Yesterday, on my orders, United States forces captured Mustafa al-Imam in Libya. Because of this successful operation, al-Imam will face justice in the United States for his alleged role in the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods—four brave Americans who were serving our country.

To the families of these fallen heroes: I want you to know that your loved ones are not forgotten, and they will never be forgotten.

Our memory is deep and our reach is long, and we will not rest in our efforts to find and bring the perpetrators of the heinous attacks in Benghazi to justice.

I want to thank our law enforcement, prosecutors, intelligence community, and military personnel for their extraordinary efforts in gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and tracking down fugitives associated with the attack, capturing them, and delivering them to the United States for prosecution.

The United States will continue to support our Libyan partners to ensure that ISIS and other terrorist groups do not use Libya as a safe haven for attacks against United States citizens or interests, Libyans, and others.

Libya’s long-term stability and security are linked to its ability to form a unified government and military, and we encourage all Libyans to support the ongoing reconciliation process facilitated by the United Nations and to work together to build a peaceful and stable country."


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