Monday, November 19, 2012

US to scan status updates and tweets for bioterrorism evidence

This was taken from WIRED.

The US department of Homeland Security has commissioned a one-year contract to investigate the efficacy of using social networks to identify instances of bioterrorism, pandemics and other health and security risks.
It is paying Accenture Federal Services $3 million (£1.8 million) to scan the networks' for key words in real time to see if growing threats or health trends can be distinguished. So if an individual flags up a nasty cough in a Facebook update, for instance, the software will be looking to see if key medical terminology is repeated in connected groups or from other individuals posting from the same location.
"This is big data analytics," said John Matchette, managing director for Accenture's public safety department, who admits the technique is yet to be proven. "In theory, social media analytics would have shown timely indicators for multiple past biological and health-related events." Mobile data mapping has been used in the past to track and predict population movements following natural disasters and algorithms can use data to track disease hotspots after the event. However, this latest experiment could provide real time information to help stem disease spread, develop early warning systems and help emergency services coordinate react in a timely fashion
According to a company statement from Accenture, the software will constantly scan blogs, as well as the usual outlets, but not all networks and channels have been decided upon. It's no surprise that national security departments monitor social networks to look out for threats (Paul Chambers' arrest after a tongue-in-cheek faux bomb tweet threat being a perfect example of when that monitoring goes very wrong), however Homeland Security is already being sued by civil liberties group Electronic Privacy Information Centre and is under pressure to answer questions about setting up fake social networking accounts to search for key words such as "virus" and "trojan". The department has been accused of violating the public's free speech and constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. No one would disagree there needs to be better systems in place to monitor and protect against the spread of infectious disease, however how data is monitored to do this has come under fire.
"The information won't be tracked back to individuals who posted it," stated Matchette.
Not everyone is convinced. "Even when data is in aggregate, we don't have any clear policies around how data will be used and how it can be traced back, including if and when there are signs of an illness outbreak," Deven McGraw, director of the health privacy project at the Centre for Democracy and Technology, told WebProNews. "I think it's a legitimate question to ask [Homeland Security] what the guidelines are for using this data. I'd prefer they have a plan in advance for dealing with this, rather than waiting."
A statement on guidelines from Homeland Security -- which has begun aggregating data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and collecting urban air samples as points of reference -- is somewhat vague, but does admit there is room to home in on specific persons of interest. Information that is already "accessible on certain heavily trafficked social media sites" is analysed without gathering personal specifics on an individual, "with very narrow exceptions".

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review-Stronger Than Dirt

Stronger Than Dirt
 by Kimberly Schaye and Christopher Losee

How one urban couple grew a business, a family, and a new way of life -  from the ground up.
I just finished the book Stronger than Dirt. I checked it out from the public library and knew nothing of the book or the authors, but I thought it looked intriguing.

The book is about a couple in New York City who decide over a period of time to buy land in upstate New York and become farmers.  Chris has run his father's fence business but with the economy caused him to have to close the business down. Kimberly is a reporter for a New York paper.

The book describes their adventure in finding a piece of land and then buying it.  Chris takes on the challenge of building their house by himself.  As time goes by he finally has to have some help and learns a
great deal from the people who help him.  As they are preparing to seed for their first season, they come to understand that the farm is not ready yet for seeding plants.  So they prepare the first season's
crop in their rented apartment.  Chris built racks and grow lights for them in their bedroom!

The book takes you through the struggles of people who know little about homesteading but have a desire to learn.  Chris reads and researches everything he can to get the answers he needs to make a go
of it in upstate New York.  You will learn of their journey of selling their flowers and produce at the markets in New York, always wondering if this is going to pay off.

This story is about a dream and the pursuit of that dream and never giving up.  As you come to the end you are encouraged that you too can live your dream.

To sum it up, this is a good, easy read.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Russian Sub Skirts U.S. Coast

Russian Sub Skirts Coast
Posted By Bill Gertz On November 5, 2012 (5:05 pm)
A Russian nuclear-powered attack submarine cruised within 200 miles of
the East Coast recently in the latest sign Russia is continuing to
flex its naval and aerial power against the United States, defense
officials said.

The submarine was identified by its NATO designation as a Russian
Seirra-2 class submarine believed to be based with Russia's Northern
Fleet. It was the first time that class of Russian submarine had been
detected near a U.S. coast, said officials who spoke on condition of
anonymity because of the sensitive nature of anti-submarine warfare

One defense official said the submarine was believed to have been
conducting anti-submarine warfare efforts against U.S. ballistic and
cruise missile submarines based at Kings Bay, Georgia.

A second official said the submarine did not sail close to Kings Bay
and also did not threaten a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group that
was conducting exercises in the eastern Atlantic.

Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, north of Jacksonville, Fla., is
homeport for two guided missile submarines and six nuclear missile
submarines. The submarines are known to be a target of Russian attack

Meanwhile, the officials also said that a Russian electronic
intelligence-gathering vessel was granted safe harbor in the
commercial port of Jacksonville, Fla., within listening range of Kings

The Russian AGI ship, or Auxiliary-General Intelligence, was allowed
to stay in the port to avoid the superstorm that battered the U.S.
East Coast last week. A Jacksonville Port Authority spokeswoman had no
immediate comment on the Russian AGI at the port.

"A Russian AGI and an SSN in the same geographic area as one of the
largest U.S. ballistic missile submarine bases—Kings Bay—is
reminiscent of Cold War activities of the Soviet navy tracking the
movements of our SSBN's," said a third U.S. official, referring to the
designation for ballistic missile submarines, SSBN.

"While I can't talk about how we detected it, I can tell you that
things worked the way they were supposed to," the second official
said, stating that the Russian submarine "poses no threat whatsoever."

According to naval analysts, the Russian attack submarine is outfitted
with SS-N-21 anti-submarine warfare missiles, as well as SS-N-16
anti-submarine warfare missiles. It also is equipped with torpedoes.

The U.S. Navy deploys a series of underwater sonar sensors set up at
strategic locations near the United States that detected the submarine
sometime late last month.

The submarine is currently believed to be in international waters
several hundred miles from the United States.

The official said the deployment appeared to be part of efforts by the
Russian navy to re-establish its blue-water naval power projection

Naval analyst Miles Yu, writing in the newsletter Geostrategy Direct,
stated that Russia announced in February it is stepping up submarine
patrols in strategic waters around the world in a throwback to the
Soviet period.

"On June 1 or a bit later we will resume constant patrolling of the
world's oceans by strategic nuclear submarines," Russian Navy
Commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky was quoted as saying Feb. 3.

During the Cold War, Moscow's submarine forces carried out hundreds of
submarine patrols annually to maintain its first- and second-strike
nuclear capabilities. By 1984, the Soviet Union was declining but its
naval forces conducted 230 submarine patrols. Today the number is
fewer than 10 patrols.

Richard Fisher, a military analyst with the International Assessment
and Strategy Center, said Russian submarine patrols in the Atlantic
have been reduced but remain "regular."

"As was their primary mission during the Cold War, Russian SSNs
[nuclear attack submarines] would likely be trying to track U.S.
nuclear missile submarines deploying from Kings Bay, Ga., and to
monitor U.S. naval deployments from Norfolk, Va.," Fisher said in an

While the Sierra-2 is comparable to the U.S. Los Angeles-class attack
submarine, Russia is building a new class of attack submarines that
are said to be comparable to the latest U.S. Virginia-class
submarines, Fisher said.

The submarine deployment followed stepped-up Russian nuclear bomber
activity near U.S. borders last summer, including the transit of two
Bear-H strategic bombers near the Alaska air defense zone during
Russian strategic bomber war games in arctic in late June.

Then on July 4, in an apparent Fourth of July political message, a
Russian Bear-H flew the closest to the U.S. West Coast that a Russian
strategic bomber had flown since the Cold War when such flights were

In both incidents, U.S. military spokesmen sought to downplay the
threat posed by the air incursions, apparently in response to the
Obama administration's conciliatory "reset" policy of seeking closer
ties with Moscow.

U.S. and Canadian interceptor jets were scrambled to meet the Russian
bombers during the flights last summer.

The officials did not provide the name of the Russian submarine.
However, the sole Sierra-2 submarine still deployed with Russia's
Northern Fleet is the nuclear powered attack submarine Pskov that was
first deployed in 1993.

Confirmation of the recent Sierra-2 submarine deployment followed a
report from U.S. national security officials who said a more advanced
and harder-to-detect Russian Akula-class attack submarine had sailed
undetected in the Gulf of Mexico in August.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, in response to
the report first published in the Free Beacon, stated in a letter to
Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) that "based on all of the source
information available to us, a Russian submarine did not enter the
Gulf of Mexico."

Navy spokesmen did not say whether an Akula had been detected
elsewhere in the Atlantic around that time period.

A Navy spokesman said later that the last time an Akula was confirmed
as present near the United States was 2009.

The U.S. is not the only country responding to increased Russian
strategic bomber activity.

Norway's military has detected an increase in Russian strategic bomber
flights near its territory, the most recent being the flight of a Bear
H bomber on Sept. 11 and 12 that was shadowed by NATO jet fighters.

Norwegian Lt. Col. John Espen Lien told the Free Beacon in an email
that the number of Russian bomber flights this year was more than in
the past, with 55 bombers detected.

According to Norwegian military data, Russian aircraft flights near
Norwegian coasts began increasing in July 2007 and increased from 14
flights in 2006 to 88 in 2007. There were 87 in 2008 and 77 in 2009
and a decline to 37 in 2010 and 48 in 2011.

"Most of these strategic flights are … Tupolev TU-95 Bear [bombers],"
he stated. "In 2007 (and partly 2008) we also identified some TU-160
Blackjack. Lately we have also identified some TU-22 Backfire."

Article taken from Washington Free Beacon -
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