FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day June 20 through 25, 2017

Friends of FOD

A bit delayed on this edition.  I’ve been moving the last few days.  It’s a pain in the butt.  And it doesn’t get easier with age or with the number of moves made in my lifetime.  Suffice it to say I’ve traded a great lake view for a great mountain view.   So things have gotten a bit behind.  Plus I had to wait until today to get my internet installed.  I know – excuses will be listened to, but not tolerated!


US Companies Providing Russians with Security Source Code

We have known for quite some time the Russians are employing every possible cyber tactic to undermine US computer systems, establish hacker networks and steal millions of dollars on a recurring basis.  So where are they getting some of the most critical product security secrets you might ask?  From the very companies developing the software.  Cisco, IBM and SAP have all acknowledged and acceded to the demands by Russia to review source code for security products such as firewalls, anti-virus applications and software containing encryption before permitting these products to be imported to and sold in Russia.  This, according to Reuters, has been going on for quite some time and those requests have increased since 2014.  Supposedly these requests are done to ensure foreign spy agencies have not hidden and “backdoors” that would allow them to borrow into Russian computer systems.  But in doing so Russian inspectors have the opportunity to find vulnerabilities in products’ source code and instructions that control both basic and advanced operations of computer equipment.  While a number of U.S. firms say they are playing ball to preserve their entree to Russia’s huge tech market, at least one U.S. firm, Symantec, told Reuters it has stopped cooperating with the source code reviews over security concerns. That halt has not been previously reported.  Symantec said one of the labs inspecting its products was not independent enough from the Russian government.  U.S. officials say they have warned firms about the risks of allowing the Russians to review their products’ source code, because of fears it could be used in cyber attacks. But they say they have no legal authority to stop the practice unless the technology has restricted military applications or violates U.S. sanctions.  (photo above left is the Russian Security Service Building).  From their side, companies say they are under pressure to acquiesce to the demands from Russian regulators or risk being shut out of a lucrative market. The companies say they only allow Russia to review their source code in secure facilities that prevent code from being copied or altered.  I wish I were making this up.  My recommendation – don’t sell them anything – let ’em rot.

How and Why is AI Making Decisions

Modern artificial intelligence (AI) is growing by leaps and bounds.  Not a day goes by when we don’t see AI understanding speech, beating humans at chess and now driving a car, not my cars, but somebody’s.  But one area where machine-learning algorithms still struggle is explaining to humans how and why they’re making particular decisions. That can be fine if computers are just playing games, but for more serious applications people are a lot less willing to trust a machine whose thought processes they can’t understand.  If AI is being used to make decisions about who to hire or whether to extend a bank loan, people want to make sure the algorithm hasn’t absorbed race or gender biases from the society that trained it. Actually I never thought of that one.  If a computer is going to drive a car, engineers will want to make sure it doesn’t have any blind spots that will send it careening off the road in unexpected situations. And if a machine is going to help make medical diagnoses, doctors and patients will want to know what symptoms and readings it’s relying on.  “If you go to a doctor and the doctor says, ‘Hey, you have six months to live,’ and offers absolutely no explanation as to why the doctor is saying that, that would be a pretty poor doctor,” says Sameer Singh, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of California at Irvine.  Singh is a co-author of a frequently cited paper published last year that proposes a system for making machine-learning decisions more comprehensible to humans. The system, known as LIME, highlights parts of input data that factor heavily in the computer’s decisions. In one example from the paper, an algorithm trained to distinguish forum posts about Christianity from those about atheism appears accurate at first blush, but LIME reveals that it’s relying heavily on forum-specific features, like the names of “prolific posters.”  Developing explainable AI, as such systems are frequently called, is more than an academic exercise. It’s of growing interest to commercial users of AI and to the military. Explanations of how algorithms are thinking make it easier for leaders to adopt artificial intelligence systems within their organizations—and easier to challenge them when they’re wrong.  “If they disagree with that decision, they will be way more confident in going back to the people who wrote that and say no, this doesn’t make sense because of this,” says Mark Hammond, co-founder and CEO of AI startup Bonsai.  Last month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency signed formal agreements with 10 research teams in a four-year, multimillion-dollar program designed to develop new explainable AI systems and interfaces for delivering the explanations to humans. Some of the teams will work on systems for operating simulated autonomous devices, like self-driving cars, while others will work on algorithms for analyzing mounds of data, like intelligence reports.


Marines Set To Launch 3-D Printed Drone Into Combat Operations

And speaking of computer geek stuff and AI, the Marines are set to launch a 3-D-printed drone into combat zones in the coming weeks, reports 3D Printing Industry. The drone, nicknamed the “Nibbler,” is the first drone of its kind to be used in a combat theater by conventional forces.   The Nibbler’s simple design is comprised of a few prefabricated components including a motor, batteries and a spool of filament. The body of the drone is printed using 3-D technology.  “Our team is very enthusiastic about the Nibbler, but even more enthusiastic about what it represents for the future,” Capt. Chris J. Wood told Defense Systems. “Imagine being in a forward deployed environment, and just like Amazon, you can ‘order’ the weapons and equipment you need for the next day’s mission from an entire catalog of possible solutions,” Wood said to Defense Systems. “These solutions can all be upgraded literally overnight, in order to integrate new components or adapt to new requirements. On a very small scale, Nibbler shows us that this is possible right now with the group 1 UAS family of systems.” And now that Amazon has purchased Whole Foods maybe Marines in the field will be able to include some choices from the Whole Foods olive bar in their order.  War is hell but then every once in awhile, you get olives!


Data Recorder From ACX Crystal Being Reviewed

Navy Times is reporting the Japanese Transportation Safety Board (JTSB), equivalent to the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has obtained the data from the ship’s voyage data recorder, similar to the flight data recorder on a commercial aircraft. The JTSB is an independent organization assigned to investigate the collision between the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal,and the  USS Fitzgerald DDG-62, on 17 June 2017 and reported in the 15 through 19 edition of FOD.  The safety board is focusing on the cause of the collision and the lessons to be learned, while Japan’s coast guard is investigating possible professional negligence in the accident.   About 1:30 a.m. on 17 June 2017, Fitzgerald collided with ACX Crystal, a Philippine-flagged container ship] measured at 29,060 gross tons and almost 40,000 tons deadweight. Most of Fitzgerald‘s 200 crew were asleep at the time. And perhaps some were asleep on duty. The collision occurred about 56 nautical miles southwest of her homeport of Yokosuka, Japan.  The starboard side of Fitzgerald was seriously damaged. The container ship’s bulbous bow penetrated the destroyer’s hull below the waterline, flooding a machinery space, the radio room, and two crew berthing spaces.  The captain’s cabin was crushed.  Seven crewmen were reported missing after the collision, and their bodies were found the next day after rescue workers gained access to flooded compartments.  Several others were injured, including the ship’s commanding officer and two sailors whom the Japanese evacuated by helicopter.  Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the US 7th Fleet, said that the Navy would conduct an investigation, led by a flag officer, to determine what happened and apportion responsibility, and a separate safety investigation to learn lessons from this incident. The US Coast Guard will conduct a marine casualty investigation, because there was a commercial ship involved.



US Constitution Ratified

New Hampshire becomes the ninth and last necessary state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, thereby making the document the law of the land on June 21, 1788.  . By 1786, defects in the post-Revolutionary War Articles of Confederation were apparent, such as the lack of central authority over foreign and domestic commerce. Congress endorsed a plan to draft a new constitution, and on May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention convened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. On September 17, 1787, after three months of debate moderated by convention president George Washington, the new U.S. constitution, which created a strong federal government with an intricate system of checks and balances, was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates present at the conclusion of the convention. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states.  Transmitted to the United States in Congress Assembled then sitting in New York City, the new Constitution was forwarded to the states by Congress recommending the ratification process outlined in the Constitution. Each state legislature was to call elections for a “Federal Convention” to ratify the new Constitution. They expanded the franchise beyond the Constitutional requirement to more nearly embrace “the people”. Eleven ratified in 1787 or 1788, and all thirteen had done so by 1790. The Congress of the Confederation certified eleven states to begin the new government, and called the states to hold elections to begin operation. It then dissolved itself on March 4, 1789, the day the first session of the Congress of the United States began. George Washington was inaugurated as President two months later.  It was within the power of the old Congress of the Confederation to expedite or block the ratification of the new Constitution. The document that the Philadelphia Convention presented was technically only a revision of the Articles of Confederation. But the last article of the new instrument provided that when ratified by conventions in nine states (or two-thirds at the time), it should go into effect among the States so acting.  Then followed an arduous process of ratification of the Constitution by specially constituted conventions. The need for only nine states’ approval was a controversial decision at the time, since the Articles of Confederation could only be amended by unanimous vote of all the states.  Three members of the Convention – MadisonGorham, and King – were also Members of Congress. They proceeded at once to New York, where Congress was in session, to placate the expected opposition. Aware of their vanishing authority, Congress, on September 28, after some debate, resolved unanimously to submit the Constitution to the States for action, “in conformity to the resolves of the Convention”, but with no recommendation either for or against its adoption.  Two parties soon developed, one in opposition, the Anti-Federalists, and one in support, the Federalists, of the Constitution; and the Constitution was debated, criticized, and expounded upon clause by clause. HamiltonMadison, and Jay, (painting below right)  under the name of Publius, wrote a series of commentaries, now known as The Federalist Papers, in support of ratification in the state of New York, at that time a hotbed of anti-Federalism. (The Federalist Papers is a very good read in and of itself – but you need to maintain the perspective of the time-frame involved).  These commentaries on the Constitution, written during the struggle for ratification, have been frequently cited by the Supreme Court as an authoritative contemporary interpretation of the meaning of its provisions. The dispute over additional powers for the central government was close, and in some states ratification was effected only after a bitter struggle in the state convention itself.  Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve undelegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. In June, Virginia ratified the Constitution, followed by New York in July.  The Continental Congress – which still functioned at irregular intervals – passed a resolution on September 13, 1788, to put the new Constitution into operation with eleven states.   North Carolina and Rhode Island ratified by May 1790.



Last BUFF Rolls Out the Door 

22 June 1962: The last of 744 Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers, B-52H-175-BW, serial number 61-0040 nicknamed Big Ugly Fat ‘Fellow’ (BUFF), was rolled out at the Boeing Military Airplane Company plant in Wichita, Kansas.  The U.S. Air Force contracted 62 B-52H Stratofortresses, serial numbers 60-0001 through 60-0062, on 6 May 1960. A second group of 40, serials 61-0001 through 61-0040, were ordered later. All were built at the Boeing Wichita plant.  The B-52H, like the B-52G, is a re-engineered aircraft, structurally different from the XB-52, YB-52, and B-52A–B-52F Stratofortress variants. It is lighter, carries more internal fuel, giving it a longer unrefueled range, and is strengthened for low-altitude flight. The shorter vertical fin is intended to prevent the losses caused by the original tall fin in turbulent air. The B-52H is equipped with quieter, more efficient turbofan engines.  102 B-52Hs were built by Boeing Wichita. Beginning in 2009, eighteen B-52H bombers were placed in climate-controlled long term storage at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. As of December 2015, fifty-eight of the bombers remained in the active fleet of the United States Air Force and eighteen are assigned to the Air Force Reserve. In 2014, the entire fleet began a major avionics upgrade.  Recently, a B-52H-156-BW Stratofortress, 61-0007, Ghost Rider, was returned to operational status after eight years in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona. 45,000 man-hours were required to restore the bomber.  The B-52H is expected to remain in service until 2040.  55 years after roll-out, 61-0040 is still in service with the United States Air Force, assigned to the 23rd Bomb Squadron, 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.  And the crews flying her were not even born when she first flew.


FDR Signs G.I. Bill

On June 22, 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill, an unprecedented act of legislation designed to compensate returning members of the armed services–known as G.I.s–for their efforts in World War II.  The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill, was a law that provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans (commonly referred to as G.I.s). It was designed by the American Legion, who helped push it through Congress by mobilizing its chapters (along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars); the goal was to provide immediate rewards for practically all World War II veterans. It avoided the highly disputed postponed “cash bonus” payout for World War I veterans that caused political turmoil for a decade and a half after that war.  Benefits included dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college or vocational/technical school, low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business, as well as one year of unemployment compensation. It was available to all veterans who had been on active duty during the war years for at least 90 days and had not been dishonorably discharged—exposure to combat was not required.  By 1956, roughly 8.8 million veterans had used the G.I. Bill education benefits, some 2.2 million to attend colleges or universities and an additional 5.6 million for some kind of training program.  The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after World War II. Only 20 percent of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education. Low interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban centers and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs. Over 50 years, the impact of the G.I. Bill was enormous, with 20 million veterans and dependents using the education benefits and 14 million home loans guaranteed, for a total federal investment of $67 billion. Among the millions of Americans who have taken advantage of the bill are former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, former Vice President Al Gore and entertainers Johnny Cash, Ed McMahon, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood.  I used later versions of the bill to fund my graduate school degree and to buy my first house with Friend of FOD Tokyo.


Germany Launches Operation Barbarossa

The occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany started with the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 Operation Barbarossa and ended in August 1944 with the Soviet Operation Bagration.  Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. The military action started on Sunday 22 June 1941. The operation stemmed from Nazi Germany‘s ideological aims: to conquer the Western Soviet Union so that it could be repopulated by Germans, to use Slavs as a slave-labor force for the Axis war-effort, and to seize the oil reserves in the Caucasus and the agricultural resources throughout the Soviet territories.  In the two years leading up to the invasion, Germany and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Nevertheless, the German High Command began planning an invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1940 (under the codename Operation Otto), which Adolf Hitler authorized on 18 December 1940. Over the course of the operation, about four million Axis personnel, the largest invasion force in the history of warfare, invaded the western Soviet Union along a 1800 mile front. In addition to troops, the Wehrmacht employed some 600,000 motor vehicles, and between 600,000 and 700,000 horses for non-combat operations. The offensive marked an escalation of the war, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalitionOperationally, German forces achieved major victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union, mainly in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and inflicted, as well as sustained, heavy casualties. Despite these Axis successes, the German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow and subsequently the Soviet winter counteroffensive pushed German troops back. The Red Army repelled the Wehrmacht‘s strongest blows and forced the unprepared Germans into a war of attrition. The Wehrmacht would never again mount a simultaneous offensive along the entire strategic Soviet–Axis front. The failure of the operation drove Hitler to demand further operations of increasingly limited scope inside the Soviet Union, such as Case Blue in 1942 and Operation Citadel in 1943 – all of which eventually failed.  The failure of Operation Barbarossa proved a turning point in the fortunes of the Third Reich. Most importantly, the operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in world history. Western historians have not fully examined the Eastern Front.  The Eastern Front became the site of some of the largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties for Soviet and Axis units alike, all of which influenced the course of both World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies captured 5,000,000 members of the Red Army, who were not granted the protection stipulated by the Geneva Conventions. A majority of Red Army men POWs never returned alive. The Nazis deliberately starved to death, or otherwise killed, 3.3 million prisoners, as well as a huge number of civilians through the “Hunger Plan” that aimed at a vast substitution of the Slav population with German settlers.  Nazi death squads (Einsatzgruppen) and gassing operations murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust.  Exactly 129 years and one day before Operation Barbarossa, another “dictator” foreign to the country he controlled, invaded Russia–making it all the way to the capital. But despite this early success, Napoleon would be escorted back to France–by Russian troops.


H.R. Halderman Urges President Nixon to Obstruct Justice

And speaking about history repeating itself, let’s pause to consider some events in the news today with those years ago when on June 23, 1973, President Richard Nixon’s   White House Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, (photo below left) tells the president to put pressure on the head of the FBI to “stay the hell out of this [Watergate burglary investigation] business,” in what has become known as the Watergate Affair.  In essence, Haldeman was telling Nixon to obstruct justice, which is one of the articles Congress threatened to impeach Nixon for in 1974.

In audio tapes of that day’s conversation in the Oval Office, Haldeman tells Nixon that the press and FBI investigators have come close to linking the men who burglarized the Democratic National Committee headquarters in 1972, housed in the Watergate building, to the White House. They specifically mention funds diverted to the burglars, many of whom were Cuban, by members of Nixon’s re-election committee. Halderman’s intimate role in the Watergate cover-up precipitated his resignation from government, subsequent to which he was tried on counts of perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice and found guilty and imprisoned for 18 months.


X-15 Hits Mach 5

23 June 1961: Major Robert Michael White, United States Air Force, became the first pilot to exceed Mach 5 in an aircraft. This was the 38th flight of the X-15 Program. I covered some information about the X-15 and its flight program in the June 7 through 9 edition of FOD.

Maj. Robert M. “Bob” White is helped out of the cockpit of an X-15 rocket plane at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., He became the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, 5 and 6 in the X-15 in 1961. On July 17, 1962, he became the first to fly it in space. (Courtesy photo) Someone needs to talk to these Air Force guys about appropriate callsigns.  “Bob” – come on.

Flights during this phase incrementally increased the speed and altitude of the X-15 up to its design limits of Mach 6 and 250,000 feet.  The second North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, was air-dropped from the NB-52A Stratofortress mothership, 52-003, over Mud Lake, Nevada at 2:00:05.0 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time (21:00 UTC). White fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 engine for 78.7 seconds, reaching Mach 5.27 (3,603 miles per hour, 5,799 kilometers per hour) and climbed to 107,700 feet (32,827 meters). 10 minutes, 5.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52, White touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base.  Bob White was the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He also flew an X-15 to an altitude of 314,750 feet (95,936 meters), qualifying for U.S. Air Force astronaut wings.  After leaving the X-15 program, Major White flew 70 combat missions in the Republic F-105D Thunderchief fighter bomber during the Vietnam War. He lead the attack against the heavily-defended Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi, 11 August 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.


Battle of Little Bighorn

On June 25,1876, Native American forces led by Chiefs Crazy Horse,  Chief Gall (below left) and Sitting Bull defeat the U.S. Army troops of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle near southern Montana’s Little Bighorn River.  The Battle of the Little Bighorn, known to the Lakota and other Plains Indians as the Battle of the Greasy Grass and commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand, was an armed engagement between combined forces of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes and the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. The battle, which occurred June 25–26, 1876, along the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory, was the most significant action of the Great Sioux War of 1876.  The fight was an overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho.  The U.S. 7th Cavalry, including the Custer Battalion, a force of 700 men led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, suffered annihilation. Five of the 7th Cavalry’s twelve companies were eliminated; Custer was killed, as were two of his brothers, a nephew, and a brother-in-law. The total U.S. casualty count included 268 dead and 55 severely wounded (six died later from their injuries), including four Crow Indian scouts and two Pawnee Indian scouts.  Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River–which they called the Greasy Grass–in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.  In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer’s 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.  At mid-day, Custer’s 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer’s desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldier were dead.  The Battle of Little Bighorn–also called Custer’s Last Stand–marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty. Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.  There are several good accounts of both the battle itself and more importantly studies of Custer. I’ve visited the battlefield twice and the interpretation of the events has shifted dramatically.  It’s worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.