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[graphic: Hurricane Maria, 20SEP2017, via NASA GOES]

Three Things: Was Slow Response to Hurricane Maria Deliberate?

NB: First, a call to action at the bottom — come back and read this after you’ve read the call. Don’t let last night’s tragedy swamp effective action; Congress continues its work no matter what tragedies befall the rest of us.

Having worked in both site and systems administration with responsibility for business continuity, I can’t help wonder why the post-hurricane response to Puerto Rico’s devastation was so bad — so bad it looks deliberate.

~ 3 ~

As an administrator, I looked ahead a year or more to mitigate both costs and risks to my employer and stakeholders. Budget roof repairs expenses for this year, budget roof replacement capital next year; replace the analog alarm system with digital system, budgeted last year. It’s pretty dull stuff but all it takes is one break-in, or one bad storm, and the losses from damage and business disruption could easily surpass capital and expense budgets combined.

But what of states and territories? State/territory, local and federal governments do what they can within the plodding framework of legislation, regulation, and budgetary requirements and restraints. Sometimes things just can’t be addressed preemptively, like major storms. Fortunately, there’s adequate monitoring to help predict when they will hit and what the likely impact will be, and there’s the awesome power of the largest military in the world to deploy as needed.

We have monitoring like NASA’s GOES satellite imaging, which visually tracked Hurricane Maria from birth to death as a weakened tropical storm.

And NOAA’s Hurricane Center, which makes accurate assessments of timing and strength of a storm’s impact.

Not to mention whatever additional monitoring and reporting the Defense Department had to offer.

We know with certainty the U.S. government was aware from NASA and NOAA reporting that Maria was a Category 5 storm as it approached Puerto Rico. The National Hurricane Center issued 17 reports over four days warning of the storm’s size, strength, and timing of landfall. I can’t imagine government agencies offering any less now than they did under the last administration.

And yet the Trump White House did virtually nothing to prepare for storm response.

You’d think that a guy with experience managing real estate and businesses for continuity would have utilized these best-on-earth notifications to mitigate and recover injury and damage to Puerto Rican Americans and their property. But for some reason this same guy now occupying the White House spent his time harping about NFL players and golfing instead.

~ 2 ~

This tweet thread crossed my timeline last week; I wondered who leaked and why there was so little followup, because the claim it makes is quite serious. (Click to expand the thread in Twitter.)

If this claim is accurate, the Trump White House sat on its tiny mittens and did absolutely nothing to approve a response to a major catastrophe which was expected with a very high degree of certainty to devastate an American territory home to ~3.5 million citizens.

If this happened five days AFTER landfall, was nothing done by the White House BEFORE Maria made landfall?

It’s not as if taking proactive action was difficult, either. I am certain government agencies and the Defense Department were ready to move with plans they’ve had prepared for some time, tweaked for this particular event. All it would take is a simple verbal Yes to proceed.

Or an executive order which we all know this White House can produce like so much facial tissue.

~ 1-a ~

All the monitoring and reporting provided to the White House, from NOAA and NASA to Defense Department, was budgeted and authorized by Congress for the purposes of serving American citizens. The public expects a level of performance for the taxes they pay; monitoring and reporting on weather and risks from weather are but part of their expectations.

American citizens expect and pay for their government to deliver effective and timely response when their domestic tranquility and general welfare are disrupted, whether nation-state or weather- and climate-based threats. They do not expect to be left without clean water, no minimum shelter, no emergency health care, let alone an empty wallet depleted by taxation which paid for common defense they didn’t receive.

Why have Puerto Rican Americans not received the same level of government responsiveness and services their fellow citizens have received post-hurricane Harvey and Irma?

Why can’t we get a straight answer about the White House’s planning in response to Hurricane Maria two to three days after landfall? Is it because the lack of any response is as bad as the lack of preparation — utterly missing, perhaps deliberately so?

At some point this isn’t about the White House and its executive function. It’s about Congress which has failed to ensure the executive knows exactly what is expected of it and what action should be nearly automatic from the executive office.

Oh, but that’s too much legislation, conservatives will say. No — it’s inadequate existing legislation which has incorrectly assumed for too long a competent manager will execute U.S. laws. It’s too many sick, injured, dying, dead Americans in the wake of ineffective governance.

And it’s inadequate action on the part of Congress to tolerate an incompetent executive.

To be concise, more than one branch of government failed Americans.

And those branches now have blood on their hands.

Do something about this before more Americans die. Do more than hold a hearing.

~ 1-b ~

By the way, FEMA’s Brock Long has proven himself an idiot. He should be given the boot.

An under-funded agency could land two rovers successfully on Mars and operate them for years to conduct research, but humanitarian response to a predicted hurricane utilizing the largest standing military on earth is too complicated? Fuck that.

And fuck this guy — I don’t even know who this pasty slack-handed suit is, but he can take his lies and shove them sideways. The storm did NOT cause you and your co-workers to be idiots and liars, boy.

~ 0 ~

Call to Action: Congress continues to work on bills regardless of the tragedy in Las Vegas or the growing catastophic death toll in Puerto Rico. Your efforts helped kill the last ACA repeal attempt formerly known as Graham-Cassidy. These are our next challenges.

CHIP expired at midnight Saturday night. Congress left for the weekend allowing health care funding for 9 million American children to expire. Not much better than President Cheeto going golfing while ignoring Puerto Rico. Call your representatives and demand CHIP funding be addressed immediately. Script for the Wyden-Hatch bipartisan CHIP bill here — note also you may need to call your state officials as well.

Net Neutrality is back on the bubble. FCC chair Ajit Pai has consistently attacked it throughout his brief tenure, sucking up to the telecom industry while ignoring the public’s best interests. Call your representatives and demand net neutrality be assured by voting NO on another five-year term for Pai as chair. Script for your call here. VOTE IS SCHEDULED TODAY — HURRY. Get a leg on this before AT&T persuades the Supreme Court to wade in.

Guns on schedule this week: a bill to approve the sale of gun silencers. Las Vegas’s mass shooting last night should be proof enough that “hearing protection” for shooters is the last thing Congress should worry about. The bill also allows the sale of armor-piercing ammunition. Hell, no. Script for your House rep, and script for your Senators.

A vote to make abortion illegal at 20 weeks on tap tomorrow. No. No freaking way. You may not like abortion, but read this piece — imagine the emotional and physical horror for a woman and her family as she is forced by law to carry a non-viable fetus to term. This decision should be between her, her partner, and her doctor. Make the call.

Congress’ switchboard number is (202) 224-3121. Don’t be like the guy in the White House when you can see action is needed.

[Photo: Paul Rysz via Unsplash]

Three Things: Eclipsed, Killer Robots, Back to the Salt Mines [UPDATED]

I’ve been trying to write all morning but I’ve been interrupted so many times by people looking for information about eclipse viewing I’m just going to post this in progress.

Mostly because I’m also helping my kid rig an eclipse viewer — lots of tape, binder clips and baling wire.

~ 3 ~

As you’ve no doubt heard, much of the U.S. will experience a solar eclipse over the next three hours. It’s already begun on the west coast, just passing totality right now in Oregon; the eclipse started within the last 25 minutes in Michigan. And as you’ve also heard, it is NOT safe to look directly at the sun with the naked eye or sunglasses. A pinhole viewer is quick and safe to make for viewing. See NASA’s instructions here and more eclipse safe viewing info here.

You can also watch NASA’s live stream coverage on Twitch TV.

We are also experiencing one of NASA’s most important services: public education about our planet and science as a whole, of particular value to K-12 educators. We can’t afford to defund this valuable service.

At this point you may imagine me on my deck holding a Rube Goldberg contraption designed to view the early partial eclipse we’ll see in Michigan — only 77% or so coverage.

~ 2 ~

KILLER ROBOTS: There’s been a fair amount of coverage this week touting Elon Musk’s call to ban ‘killer robots’. Except it’s not just Elon Musk, it’s a consortium of more than 100 technology experts which published an open letter asking the United Nations to restrain the development of ‘Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems’ (LAWS).

I’ve pooh-poohed before the development of new military technology, mostly because DARPA doesn’t seem to be as fast at it as non-military researchers. Exoskeletons are the best example I can think of. But whether DARPA, the military, military contractors, or other non-military entities develop them, AI-enabled LAWS are underway.

More importantly, we are very late to dealing with their potential risks.

Reading about all the Musk-ban-killer-robots pieces, I recalled an essay by computer scientist Bill Joy:

… The 21st-century technologies – genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) – are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them.

Thus we have the possibility not just of weapons of mass destruction but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD), this destructiveness hugely amplified by the power of self-replication.

I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals.

Nothing about the way I got involved with computers suggested to me that I was going to be facing these kinds of issues. …

He wrote this essay, The Future Doesn’t Need Us, in April 2000. Did we blow him off then because the Dot Com bubble had popped, and/or our heads hadn’t yet been fucked with by post-9/11’s hyper-militarization?

This part of his essay is really critical:

… Kaczynski’s dystopian vision describes unintended consequences, a well-known problem with the design and use of technology, and one that is clearly related to Murphy’s law – “Anything that can go wrong, will.” (Actually, this is Finagle’s law, which in itself shows that Finagle was right.) Our overuse of antibiotics has led to what may be the biggest such problem so far: the emergence of antibiotic-resistant and much more dangerous bacteria. Similar things happened when attempts to eliminate malarial mosquitoes using DDT caused them to acquire DDT resistance; malarial parasites likewise acquired multi-drug-resistant genes.2

The cause of many such surprises seems clear: The systems involved are complex, involving interaction among and feedback between many parts. Any changes to such a system will cascade in ways that are difficult to predict; this is especially true when human actions are involved. …

The Kaczynski he refers to is Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski, who Joy believes was a criminally insane Luddite. But Kaczynski still had a valid point. Remember StuxNet’s escape into the wild? In spite of the expertise and testing employed to thwart Iran’s nuclear aspirations, they missed something rather simple. In hindsight it might have been predictable but to the experts it clearly wasn’t.

Just as it wasn’t obvious to computer scientists over more than a decade to close every possible port — including printer and server maintenance ports — regardless of operating system so that ransomware couldn’t infect systems. Hello, WannaCry/Petya/NotPetya…

We’ve already seen photos and videos of individuals weaponizing drones — like this now-five-year-old video of an armed quadrotor drone demonstrated by a friendly chap, FPSRussia — the military-industrial complex cannot and should not believe it has a monopoly on AI-enabled LAWS if these individuals have already programmed these devices. And we don’t even know yet how to describe what they are in legal terms let alone how to limit their application, though we’ve received guidance (read: prodding) from technology experts already.

The genie is out of the bottle. We must find a way to coax it back into its confines.

~ 1 ~

SALT MINES: On a lighter note, molten salt may become a cheaper means to reserve energy collected by alternative non-fossil fuel systems. Grist magazine wrote about Alphabet’s X research lab exploring salt as a rechargeable battery as an alternative to the much more expensive current lithium battery systems. Lithium as well as cobalt have challenges not unlike other extractive fuels; they aren’t widely and cheaply available and require both extensive labor and water for processing. Salt — sodium chloride — is far more plentiful and less taxing on the environment when extracted or collected.

One opportunity came to mind as soon as I read the article. Did you know there was a salt mine 1200 feet below the city of Detroit for decades? It’s a source of road salt used on icy roads. It may also be the perfect place for a molten salt battery system; the Grist article said, “Electricity in the system is produced most efficiently when there is a wider temperature difference between the hot and cold vats.” A salt mine underneath Detroit seems like it could fit the bill.

Could Detroit become an Electric Motor City? Fingers crossed.

~ 0 ~

I feel for you folks in states with cloud cover — no good excuse today to take a break outside and slack off beneath the eclipse.

This is an open thread.

Tuesday: One String

There aren’t enough words to describe this genius who can do so much with a lone string. Brushy One String is the stagename of Andrew Chin, son of Jamaican musician Freddie McKay. McKay died in 1986 in his late 30s, leaving behind a body of work representative of the rocksteady (ex: Rock-a-Bye Woman) and reggae genres. While Brushy inherited his father’s musical talent, he’s parlayed into an interesting Rhythm-and-Blues-meets-Roots-Reggae crossover. Check out his website when you have a chance.

Wheels

  • Volkswagen and USDOJ talking about criminal investigation (Deutsche Welle) — Up in the air yet whether DOJ goes with deferred prosecution or asks for a guilty plea from the lawmaker for criminal activity related to the promotion and sale of its so-called “Clean Diesel” passenger vehicles during the last decade. Criminal fines are estimated at $1.2 billion. VW claims to be cooperating, but the company’s failure to disclose the additional cheat software in the 3.0L engines suggests some problems understanding what “good faith” means.
  • Volkswagen’s Australian manager believes diesel fix “imminent” (CarsGuide) — And “Under Australian law, we don’t believe there’s anything on our car which is illegal.” Uh-huh. Hence the fix for 80,000 1.6L and 2.0L passenger diesels. It’s true that Australia is not as strict about NOX as the U.S., but VW’s passenger diesels didn’t meet EU or AUS limits on other pollutants.
  • Ford expects to offer self-driving car without steering wheel within five years (Detroit News) — Well, then. Better hope regulations don’t require a steering wheel, huh? Ford has also invested $75M in LiDAR-maker Velodyne; Chinese search engine company Baidu has likewise made a $75M investment. LiDAR is expected to provide navigational assistance for these self-driving vehicles.

Way Up There

Words

  • Univision’s bid wins Gawker Media (Recode) — Of the two known bidders — Ziff-Davis and Univision — the latter’s $135M bid won bankrupt Gawker Media and its brands. Gawker’s lineup joins The Onion and The Root, purchased by Univision, and Fusion which Univision originally created jointly with Disney and now owns outright. Founder Nick Denton seems pleased with this outcome as his brands and workers continue without disruption; billionaire Pete Thiel gets partial revenge on Denton for outing him by forcing the bankruptcy and sale. Univision’s editorial policy will be less personal in its coverage — probably a good thing. Let’s check back in a year.
  • ‘Not a good fit’ says Barnes & Noble as CEO shown the door (GalleyCat) — Whoa. You don’t see such blunt statements about CEOs, especially one with less than a year under their belt. The company’s stock has been up though retail sales continued to struggle in competition against Amazon. Feels like there’s more to this story. In the mean time, Ron Boire is out the door and executive chairman Leonard Riggio will delay his retirement until a new CEO is found. Hope the next one can salvage NOOK tablet platform because I can’t stand Amazon’s Kindle.
  • Turkish court closes pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem (Business Standard) — Claiming the paper was a propaganda outlet for Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), labeled a terrorist organist organization by Turkey, EU, and the US. The court said the closure was not related to the government’s post-coup purge of media believed to be sympathetic to Gülen movement. An appeal is possible.

I-Spy: Cyber Edition
You’ve probably heard about the alleged hacking of a NSA server and the subsequent attempt to auction contents from that server. Edward Snowden offered his perspective on the situation — I’ve Storify’d the tweet thread for your reading ease.

The disclosure and attempted auction were likely done by Russia for political reasons given the timing. Hacking and accessing the contents of the server should be expected — it’s ordinary spying, same as the U.S. does. But the revelation is a new tack; Snowden suggests it’s a warning to the U.S. about potential future disclosures. Read the thread for yourself.

I don’t think this hacking and disclosure happened in a vacuum. There’s a much bigger game to puzzle out — add the meeting between Russia and Saudi Arabia to “achieve oil market stability” as well as Russia’s express interest in Saudi Arabia’s plans to build as many as 16 nuclear reactors. Factor in a change in relationship between Iran and Russia now that Russia has deployed long-range bombers from Iran for the first time against ISIS. Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran have some of the largest proven oil reserves in the world, all three in the top 10 and in Saudi’s case, influence over OPEC. Is Russia preparing for asymmetric economic pressure?

Late adder: #BlueCutFire in San Bernadino County, CA is very bad, now 82,000 ordered to evacuate.

That’s it for now, still Tuesday in the next time zone. Let’s see if I can make it over the hump earlier tomorrow.

Other Priorities: Another Launch Today – Blue Origin Reusable Rocket

Hurry, we’re less than three minutes from launch, all systems go. I’ll add more remarks in a moment.

11:20 a.m. EDT — Wow. What a picture-perfect launch and landing. This is the most excitement out of West Texas since some lousy bird hunter shot his friend in the face a few years back. Today’s mission by Blue Origin, an aerospace company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, had several objectives. The reusable rocket’s fourth mission included testing of backup and safety systems intended for future manned flights as well as multiple scientific project payloads. At least one project required the microgravity conditions (video) this mission would realize as the ship approached, reached, and left apogee at 331,501 feet (roughly shy of 63 miles above earth).

I’ve replaced the live feed of the mission with a video summary of the same New Shepherd rocket’s third flight from April this year. Compare and contrast with Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s recent reusable rocket launches; I am completely in awe of SpaceX’s attempts to stick a landing repeatedly on a puny drone raft at sea. (Video embedded here is from SpaceX launch last Wednesday carrying Eutelsat/ABS telecommunications satellites.)

If we have to endure gross inequality and a siphoning plutocracy, this space race is the kind of crazy oligarchs’ spending I love to see. Granted, Bezos is probably checking out future warehousing for Amazon facilities in space, crewed by robots — there’s no rent in space, right? But the opportunities for aerospace development and accessibility to the public have increased greatly with these two companies working fast and hard on this implicit competition. They also offer opportunities for us to save costs on government-funded missions — SpaceX has already won contracts formerly awarded to companies with an oligopolistic hold on launches.

I still want NASA to do all this and more as well; space shouldn’t be the domain of corporations after all. But if NASA has to work with fewer resources thanks to anti-science GOP-led Congress, at least they have a much larger hiring pool of experts to drawn from when they look for aerospace folks to add to their team, thanks to Blue Origin and SpaceX.

Explaining his refusal to serve in the military, that aforementioned sloppy hunter who shot his friend in the face said he had other priorities. It’s amazing in contrast what other rich guys do with their other priorities.

Jeff Bezos had one helluva Father’s Day already. Hope yours is just as exciting.

Tuesday Morning: Guidance to Be True

Now an oldie but goodie, this Fiona Apple ditty. The subtle undertow of irony seems fitting today.

Speaking of guidance…

Google’s self-driving car went boom
Oops. Autonomous vehicles still not a thing when they can’t avoid something the size of a bus. Thank goodness nobody was hurt. Granted, until now Google’s self-driving test cars were not the cause of accidents — human drivers have been at fault far more often. In this particular accident, both the car and the human test driver may have been at fault.

VW’s CEO Mueller spins the (PR) wheels on agreement with U.S.
This is now a habit: before every major international automotive show, VW’s Matthias Mueller grants an interview to offer upbeat commentary on the emissions standards cheating scandal, this time ahead of the 2016 Geneva International Auto Show. Not certain if this is helping at all; there’s not much PR can do when no truly effective technical fix exists while potential liability to the U.S. alone may approach $46 billion. Probably a better use of my time to skip Mueller’s spin and spend my time slobbering over the Bugatti Chiron. ~fanning self~

Apple all the time

#YearInSpace ends this evening for astronaut Scott Kelly
Undocking begins at 7:45 p.m. EST with landing expected at 11:25 p.m. EST, barring any unforeseen wrinkles like negative weather conditions. NASA-TV will cover the event live. Can’t wait to hear results of comparison testing between Scott and his earth-bound twin Mark after Scott’s year in space.

Department of No

That’s enough for now. I’m off to be a bad, bad girl. Stay safe.

Was Quantum Entanglement Experiment Behind “Classified Cryptographic Equipment” Confusion After Antares Crash?

Yesterday evening, an Antares rocket built and operated by Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded shortly after liftoff. The rocket was intended to ferry supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. Orbital and Spacex have taken over some of the duties supplying the space station since the termination of NASA’s shuttle program.

In the early aftermath of the explosion, word came out that the crash site had to be secured because sensitive cryptographic equipment was on board:

The Cygnus mission was non-military, but the company’s Antares program manager, Mike Pinkston, said the craft included “some classified cryptographic equipment, so we do need to maintain the area around the debris in a secure manner”.

That initially struck me as odd. The International Space Station has a large number of cooperating countries, including Russia. It’s hard to imagine that the US would put sensitive equipment into the hands of cosmonauts right now, given the cool state of US-Russian relations. Of course, it would make sense for ISS communications to be encrypted in order to prevent meddling by hackers, but movement all the way to classified (and presumably military or NSA-level) encryption seems to be excessive.

This morning, we are seeing walk-back on the presence of classified equipment:

Shortly after the explosion, CNN quoted a launch director as saying that the spacecraft contained classified “crypto” equipment, but early Wednesday a NASA spokesman said by email that “We didn’t have any classified items on board.”

In trying to make sense of what could have been behind these strange statements, I ran across this interesting announcement of a new cryptographic technology that European scientists have proposed evaluating in an experiment on the space staion:

A team of European researchers have proposed a series of experiments that, if successful, could turn the International Space Station into a key relay for a quantum communications network.

The key basis of physics underlying quantum communications is entanglement. Entangled particles are connected in a way that pretty much defies common sense. If you change the spin of one of the particles, the spin of its entangled counterpart will change – even if they’re miles apart. And that change happens nearly instantaneously – at least four orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light, according to a recent experiment.

Another remarkable aspect of this technology that sounds almost too good to be true is its potential security. After noting that quantum networks are quite fragile, the Forbes article continues:

But why bother with these networks at all if they’re so fragile? The answer is pretty simple – because they’re almost perfectly secure. Here’s how it works. Let’s say that I want to send a message to New York City. My message is going to travel through normal channels, but it will be encrypted with a key. That key is transmitted via the entangled photons – so the changes I make to entangled particles on my end almost instantly show up in the particles in New York. We then compare the measurements of what I changed in my photons to those states in New York City.

Those measurements then comprise an encryption key for our communications. So even if our communications are bugged, nobody can read them without knowing that encryption key. And here’s the important thing: if somebody were to try to eavesdrop on the quantum entanglement, they would alter the spin of the photons. So the measurements I make and the measurements made in New York would be out of sync – thus letting us know that we have an eavesdropper. It also prevents us from creating an encryption key, so we don’t send any communications. Theoretically, a quantum encrypted network is almost perfectly secure. (That said, they’re not perfect, and there are some exploits.)

The announcement from the European group that they wished to carry out the experiment based on what Einstein called “spooky action over a distance” came last April. Then, in June, it was announced that China had carried out a key demonstration of concept experiment back in 2010 but waited four years to publish the result.

With China announcing progress on the technology, one would think that the West would want to accelerate its work in the area, so it would not be at all surprising if equipment for the European experiment was among the items lost when the rocket exploded. Further, one would expect that Orbital would have been told that security for that equipment would be of the very highest level. In discussing the issue of sensitive equipment among the Antares wreckage, PCWorld this morning mentioned the incident of China perhaps examining the wreckage of the US stealth helicopter that was left behind after the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. It could well be that for this crash site, keeping the debris away from prying eyes from China is behind the call for security. Note also that the experiment quite likely would have been coordinated by the European Space Agency on behalf of the European scientists, so NASA’s claim that “We didn’t have any classified items on board” could be parsed as not applying to any classified items that ESA might have had on the rocket.

Google’s Payoff from DOD: 20 Cheap Fuel Flights to Tortola

Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 1.47.45 PMGiven that I’m very interested in the carrots and sticks the government uses to get tech companies to help spy on us, I find it rather interesting that from 2007 until August 31, DOD was allowing Google to pay for jet fuel at Moffett Field near Google’s HQ in Mountain View at DOD’s substantially discounted rate.

Granted, this arose because Google provided a light airplane to perform scientific flights for Ames Research Center.

NASA officials have pointed to a related agreement by the Google executives to perform scientific flights and other NASA-related transport. That mostly has involved flights by an Alpha jet, a small trainer bought by the Google executives and used by NASA to measure atmospheric greenhouse gases and ozone.

[snip]

[T]he contract between H211 and the Pentagon stated that the fuel was supposed to be used only “for performance of a U.S. government contract, charter or other approved use,” and said violations could trigger civil or criminal penalties. There is no indication of any such investigation.

Flight records from the Federal Aviation Administration suggest that the vast bulk of the flights by the Google executives’ fleet have been for non-NASA purposes.

The main jets in the fleet—a Boeing 767, Boeing 757 and four Gulfstream V’s—have departed from Moffett a total of 710 times since 2007, FAA records show. The most frequent destinations were Los Angeles and New York, but the planes also flew 20 times to the Caribbean island of Tortola; 17 to Hawaii; 16 to Nantucket, Mass.; and 15 to Tahiti.

This agreement went into place before Google joined PRISM, for example (though I’m sure Google was already helping NSA on its storage challenges before that). Though I really look forward to Google defending these fuel purchases because so much of what they do is “for performance of a U.S. government contract.”

This is peanuts to a company as rich as Google; access to the airport is probably worth more to Google execs than the cheap gas.

Still, it’s a perk. The kind of perk that might explain why Eric Schmidt believes all this spying is just the nature of society. (h/t Kevin Gosztola)

There’s been spying for years, there’s been surveillance for years, and so forth, I’m not going to pass judgment on that, it’s the nature of our society.

Spying is the nature of society in the same way as special perks for those who help in it, after all.

If Domestic Drones Are All Civil, Then Why Are They in the Defense Authorization, Too?

I’m working my way up to a post on the cognitive dissonance the government’s treatment of Hedges v. Obama seems to have created over at Lawfare. But first I want to note something odd about this Ben Wittes post, calling Conor Friedersdorf’s endorsement of Charles Krauthammer’s opposition (!) to domestic drones, “silly.” After excerpting what they said, Ben writes,

All of which provokes one question: Do either of these men have the slightest idea what they’re talking about?

[snip]

More fundamentally, the issue before the FAA right now is not the flying of “instruments of war” over the United States. It is, as Congress put it (see Section 332), the development “of a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.” The key word in there is “civil.” We’re not talking here about standing armies or using the military domestically. We’re not even talking about weapons at all. We’re talking about crop dusters. We’re talking about traffic-monitoring UAVs. We’re talking about journalism. We’re talking, in the longer run, about unmanned civilian cargo transport and, I suspect, air travel. And yes, we’re talking about law enforcement.

Now, like ACLU’s Catherine Crump, I’m not opposed to some domestic uses of drones, like disaster response and climate change response.

But I’m struck by the focus of Wittes’ so-called rebuttal. He seems to be focusing on the requirement–with a 270 day deadline–to set up a plan for civil drones in the national airspace.

(1) COMPREHENSIVE PLAN.—Not later than 270 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with representatives of the aviation industry, Federal agencies that employ unmanned aircraft systems technology in the national airspace system, and the unmanned aircraft systems industry, shall develop a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system. [my emphasis]

He seems to be ignoring the other part of the section that requires FAA–with a 180 day deadline–to set up a program involving 6 test sites.

(1) ESTABLISHMENT.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall establish a program to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system at 6 test ranges. [my emphasis]

Which is curious, because this requirement specifically involves DOD and includes “public” drones, as well as civil ones.

(C) coordinate with and leverage the resources of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense;

(D) address both civil and public unmanned aircraft systems; [my emphasis]

So the first thing that’s happening is the roll-out of these test sites including “public” (DOD, NASA, and DHS) drones, not the plan for the roll-out of “civil” drones.

Not only that, but this requirement appears not just in the FAA reauthorization, but also–as Section 1097–in the Defense Authorization.

SEC. 1097. UNMANNED AERIAL SYSTEMS AND NATIONAL AIRSPACE.

(a) ESTABLISHMENT.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall establish a program to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system at six test ranges.

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