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Trump should use more pressure against North Korea, senators and experts say

Experts say that Trump should be tougher on Kim Jong Un to reduce his nuclear program and stop his human rights abuses.

Activists demand Trump administration prevent deaths of American detainees in Egypt

The Trump administration should act to help at least four Americans detained in Egyptian prisons under dire conditions.

New U.S.-Taliban agreement suggests possible end of the longest war in American history

President Donald Trump said he will start withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban upholds their promise to reduce violence over a seven-day test period.

U.S. security assistance to Mexico not working, say House Subcommitee members

U.S. has made efforts to fight organized crime in Mexico but there are little signs of improvement.

Democrats Murphy, Khanna discuss progressive foreign policy ahead of 2020 election

At a panel about defining progressive foreign policy, Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Ro Khanna discussed the relationship between domestic and global issues, as well as the U.S. relationship with Iran,

U.S. Lessons Learned In Afghanistan: Disincentives to Tell Truth

WASHINGTON – The United States has spent $900 billion on the war in Afghanistan, $132 billion for reconstruction of the Afghan government, but much of the reconstruction money was wasted, stolen or failed to address the problems it was meant to fix, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction told a House committee Wednesday.

“The problem is there is a disincentive to tell the truth” by the military leaders, civilian leaders and Afghans, said SIGAR John F. Sopko.

Sopko outlined for the House Foreign Affairs Committee his report making recommendations to Congress and agencies on ways to improve efforts in current and future reconstruction operations.

“We need a better understanding of historical, social and legal conditions of the host nation,” Sopko said.

The inspector general also said an actionable plan for what happens directly after a declaration of peace is crucial.

U.S. troops have been stationed in Afghanistan for 19 years, the longest war in the history of the United States.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said that although U.S. troops have supported democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, countered the drug trade, promoted economic growth, and fought corruption, they have yet to successfully stabilize the Afghan government so that it could resist being overthrown or further influenced by Taliban forces.

McCaul argued the “lack of coordination, the misuse of funds and insufficient training for Afghans” are the reasons for failure.

President George W. Bush sent troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban allowed al-Qaida to operate, in response to the 9/11 attacks.

According to top military officials, the U.S. currently has about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., attributed the long war to the “lack of honest conversation.”

Last month The Washington Post published “The Afghanistan Papers,” consisting of previously unpublished notes of interviews with those who had direct involvement in the war, such as war generals, diplomats and aid workers to Afghan officials.

“The Post article laid out the facts that we [Congressmen] don’t even know,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.

Special Inspector General Sopko said one reason for Congress’ lack of information is overclassification of documents.

“A lot of the facts you need you’re not being given,” said Sopko. “Anything that has been bad news has been classified over the past few years.”

House Committee on Financial Services explores tackling domestic terrorism with finance

WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of last year’s increase in domestic extremist violence, government officials said Wednesday they need to work more closely with banks to find new ways to root out domestic terrorism.

A study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found that in 2018, “domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., a sharp increase from the 37 extremist-related murders documented in 2017.”

Speaking before the House Committee on Financial Services, Rena Miller, a specialist in financial economics at the Congressional Research Service, said greater transparency between banks and governmental agencies can make it easier to track the finances of suspicious groups and individuals.

Banks are required to report suspicious activities and cash transactions. But Jared Maples, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said they often only report physical threats that directly involve hard drives and technology, ignoring less tangible financial threats that appear on wire transfers and on paper.

Maples said tighter guidelines on what banks must report would help. He also said that getting more information from local banks, complete with “clearer articulations” about the nature and effects of suspicious activities, could enhance the training and trust of financial safety teams across the nation.

Many acts of domestic terrorism are committed by what Maples characterized as “lone wolves,” individuals not associated with groups or networks who are usually self-funded, making purchases difficult to track. The cryptocurrencies they sometimes use complicate matters further.

Mary B. McCord, director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, said Congress can better combat lone wolf attacks by reclassifying domestic terrorism as legally equivalent to foreign terrorism. This would provide more flexibility for law enforcement to surveil suspicious groups and allow for the use of specialized investigators.

“The investigators who have specialized in terrorism, particularly post-9/11, but throughout our history, are those that study terrorist groups, terrorist motivations, terrorist tactics and techniques,” McCord said.

Due to the lack of a law defining domestic terrorism, officers usually prosecute such incidents as hate crimes and illegal weapons charges. McCord said this results in “inaccurate and inadequate data about instances which could be used to develop measures to counter the threat.”

But several House committee members expressed concern about protecting the First Amendment rights of extremist groups. By classifying some extremists as domestic terrorists, law enforcement agencies could surveil them without cause.

George Selim, senior vice president of programs at the Anti-Defamation League, said that Congress should exercise oversight to make sure law enforcement agencies do not misuse any new authorities the bill would provide to go after extremist groups unjustly.

“The ADL believes very firmly in protecting the right of free speech of any person or any group in the U.S, irrespective of how abhorrent those beliefs can be,” Selim said. “But there is indeed a line which we have seen crossed in recent years where hate speech leads to hate violence and violent extremism.”

As tensions escalate, destructive Iran cyberattacks a “certainty,” experts say

WASHINGTON — An Iranian cyberattack against the United States is a certainty and could possibly impact water supply systems or businesses, counterterrorism experts told the House Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday.

Iranian adversaries will likely attack through the weakest U.S. targets — American civilians who forget to practice basic security measures online like two-factor authentication, Atlantic Council senior fellow Tom Warrick said.

“Every American needs to realize they are a source of cyber vulnerability or a source of cyber strength,” said Warrick.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the committee has $350 million dollars to allocate and is considering the most effective use of the funds.

Rep. John Katko, D-N.Y., highlighted the need for cybersecurity proficiency across the country and the vulnerability of smaller businesses, which likely cannot afford sophisticated cybersecurity.

He compared the hearing to discussions Congress had about terrorism before 9/11.

“We didn’t do enough before 9/11 to stop it from happening,” said Katko. “We now have this metastasizing problem of cybersecurity…it’s the greatest threat to our country right now.”

Vincent R. Stewart, special adviser to the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute, said the Iranian government has about 2,000 people organized from a strategic and tactical point. For Iran, the cost to enter cyberspace was surprisingly low, according to Stewart.

Stewart also said social media makes it easier for Iranians to play on the political divisions in America.

“I’m not afraid of Russians, Chinese, Iranians or anyone else in the world,” Stewart said. “I am afraid of the divide in our country.”

Warrick noted that Iran has historically followed “a peculiar sense of symmetry.” After the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani earlier this month, for example, Iran launched missiles at two U.S. bases in retaliation. If U.S.-Iran tensions continue to escalate, the Iranian government could retaliate through a cyberattack.

Warrick said the American public needs to take cybersafety more seriously and suggested schools teach cybersafety.

Members of Congress call on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Egyptian officials responsible for American’s death

WASHINGTON— Several Democratic and Republican members of Congress on Wednesday called on President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on those responsible for the death of Mustafa Kassem, an American citizen who died Monday in an Egyptian prison after being detained in 2013.

Rep. Jim Mc Govern, D-Mass., said that the current administration did not do enough to save Kassem’s life. Several members of Congress had called on Egypt directly to release Kassem.

“It is time for a debate on our foreign policy with Egypt,” said McGovern. “We cannot continue to provide massive military support to an authoritarian leader that imprisons American citizens and tens of thousands of its own citizens in trumped up charges.”

Egypt is the world’s second largest recipient of American military aid. In 2019, the U.S. provided Egypt with $1.4 billion in bilateral assistance, according to the Congressional Research Service.

An Egyptian-American, Kassem was on a home visit to Egypt when he was arrested during a military crackdown and faced more than five years in pretrial detention. The Egyptian government believed Kassem was linked to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s political opposition. After a mass trial, Kassem was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison, but died earlier this week after going on hunger strike.

While in prison, Kassem sent letters to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence urging the administration to secure his release. It is unclear whether the president and vice president read his letters.

“These guards keep insulin from me and do not treat my basic medical needs. My body now shakes and has become frail and weak. I no longer recognize myself,” Kassem wrote in a letter to the president. “I don’t want my children to remember me this way, but I am going on a hunger strike because I am losing my will and don’t know how else to get your attention. President Trump, from one American to another, I need your help.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who organized Wednesday’s event and the other members of Congress criticized Trump for calling el-Sisi his “favorite dictator.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., acknowledged that the Trump administration rightfully sanctioned Iranian officials responsible for committing similar acts against American citizens in Iran, and urged Trump to act as forcefully toward Egyptian officials who are infringing on human rights.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., urged the administration to use laws that permit sanctions against foreign officials who infringe on human rights and that allow a president to cut aid to countries that don’t honor human rights to limit Egyptian aid.

“We need to take a harder line with the Egyptian government and Congress has given the president the tools to do that,” said Murphy.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who represented Kassem in Congress, said he sent letters to the Trump administration about Kassem’s imprisonment. Although he acknowledged the importance of maintaining a good relationship with Egypt to fight al-Qaida and ISIS, the New York representative also called on Trump to impose sanctions on individuals responsible for Kassem’s death.

“I don’t see this as being a partisan issue. To me, all Americans should be united behind this issue,” said King. “We cannot have American citizens, let alone innocent American citizens, being arrested overseas, held under the most inhumane conditions.”

Diane Foley, whose son James, a journalist, was abducted and killed in Syria by ISIS in 2014, said that the Obama and Trump administrations had leverage to release Kassem.

“This administration and the previous knew who Mustafa was,” said Foley. “They knew he was innocent and so this makes this an incredible tragedy because we could’ve done better and we must do better. So I call on the Trump administration to save the Americans that are still being held.”

On Tuesday, the Egyptian foreign minister was at the White House for a meeting.

Sanctions to Soleimani: House Foreign Affairs Committee discusses Iran

WASHINGTON — At a hearing Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee probed the recent tensions in Iran.

Witnesses questioned whether the targeted strike was in response to an “imminent” threat, as President Trump has asserted.

Notably absent was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) said the Committee will further press for information regarding Maj. Gen. Soleimani’s death.

House approves resolution limiting Trump’s war power against Iran

WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives passed legislation to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to go to war against Iran without congressional approval Thursday, but it still needs approval by the Republican-controlled Senate.

The measure, approved 224-194 on a largely party line vote, would prohibit using the military to engage in hostile actions in or against Iran, except with congressional approval or in case of an imminent attack against the US.It is a reaction to Trump’s decision to use a drone strike last Friday to kill Iranian Gen. Quasem Soleimani.

During a three-hour debate in the House chamber, Republicans and Democrats sparred over the killing of the Iranian general, with the GOP congressmen emphasizing his involvement in terrorist activities.

“General Soleimani was the head of one of the most advanced terrorist communities in the world,” said Rep. Den Crenshaw, R-Texas.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., argued that the bill was “appeasing Iran.”

However, the resolution acknowledges the Iranian government as a “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and also calls Soleimani “the lead architect of much of Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the world.”

The Trump administration argued that Congress was not warned about the attack on Soleimani due to its confidential nature. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded by saying Congress can be told confidential information without exposing it.

“We deserve respect from the administration,” said Pelosi.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz was one of three Republicans to vote in favor of the document. He emphasized Congress’ role in declaring war and urged his colleagues to be at the forefront of decisions on war and peace.

“I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that we are impairing the troops from doing their job by not doing our job articulated in the Constitution to speak to these matters of war and peace,” said Gaetz. “I support the president. Killing Soleimani was the right decision and engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision and that is why I’m voting for this resolution.”

Trump-Iran policy panned as ‘Naïveté on Steroids’: Global oil and U.S. influence at stake

WASHINGTON – A continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq is vital to U.S. interests, and President Donald Trump’s insistence that America doesn’t need Middle East oil is misguided, the head of the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations said Thursday.

“The thought of the United States not needing Middle Eastern oil is naivete on steroids,” said NCUAR Executive Officer John Anthony.

In 2018, the Department of Energy reported that 21% of all the world’s oil flowed through the Strait of Hormuz connecting the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

Anthony Cordesman, chair of strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said continuing U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf provides several strategic advantages by supplying more effective coordination and leadership to limit Iranian influence and maintaining the stable flow of oil to the global market.

“By securing Gulf oil, the U.S. is given the upper hand in dealing with Russia, a nation dependent on oil and gas exports, and China, who is dependent on oil imports,” Cordesman said.

A loss of U.S. bases and presence in the Gulf in conjunction with a major crisis in the region would raise U.S. prices that could damage the U.S. economy and affect U.S. employment and investment income, he said.

 

“We need a coherent strategy for Iran,” said Thomas Mattair, executive director of the Middle East Policy Council.

Iran fired 16 ballistic missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq early Wednesday morning, following its promise to retaliate against the U.S. after President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last week. Later Wednesday, Trump said he would refrain from military escalation against Tehran but threatened to increase economic sanctions against the nation.

The House passed a resolution Thursday that prohibits the president from taking further military action against Iran without authorization from Congress.

Iran’s strike against the U.S. base was “asymmetric low-level warfare designed to send a message rather than cause damage,” said National Defense University Professor David Des Roches.

He explained that Iran continually chooses airstrikes, artillery raids and proxy attacks rather than assassination and bombing because it does not have the money or regime power necessary.

“Disruption is cheaper than domination,” Des Roches said.

He explained that dominance requires manpower and resources, which are expensive.

More money needed to protect states and cities from terror threats, NYPD official says

James Pollard

WASHINGTON — New York City had to undertake an “immense response” to ensure its security after the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani by U.S. armed forces, Deputy Police Commissioner John J. Miller told a House committee Thursday.

The New York Police Department relies heavily on federal funding to strengthen such capabilities, Miller told a hearing of the House Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Subcommittee.

Amid rising levels of anti-Semitic violence and the increased risk of a terrorist attack, the federal government needs to provide more funding for state and local security, according to Subcommittee Chairman Donald Payne, D-N.J., and New York Rep. Peter King, the top Republican on the subcommittee.

Payne emphasized that one city’s safety is connected to that of the neighboring localities.

“These areas are so interconnected,” Payne said. “Somehow we have to get the Department (of Homeland Security) to understand the connectivity of this to make sure the funding stays robust for the entire nation.”

Michael Masters, national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network, said funding the nonprofit security grant program makes communities feel safer. His nonprofit provides strategies and training to help Jewish groups protect themselves. It has placed electronic locks on community center doors, cameras in synagogues and panic buttons in school classrooms, Masters said.

Recently, organizations in rural and suburban areas have been able to use the program’s funding — “an important expansion,” Masters said, noting recent anti-Semitic attacks in places like Overland Park, Kansas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Still, Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., said rural and suburban communities like hers — which face a “real resource gap” in defending against threats of terrorism — need to be made more aware of the funding that exists.

Another grant program, the Urban Areas Security Initiative, helps high-threat, high-density urban areas prevent and respond to terrorism. Michael Sprayberry, a top official in North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety Division, took issue with Charlotte’s removal from the list of funded jurisdictions. North Carolina’s most populous jurisdiction, Charlotte is also hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention.

“With major mass gatherings and public events occurring almost weekly in the jurisdiction and with the 2020 Republican National Convention scheduled for August, the ability to respond to known threats and hazards has been diminished,” Sprayberry said in a prepared statement.

Democrats and Republicans on the committee criticized President Donald Trump’s cuts to state and local emergency management programs. King said it “sends a bad signal” when administrations don’t recognize the danger presented by unknown threats. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, connected the president’s rhetoric t0 the increase in domestic terrorism.

“It’s ironic that the president is cutting these grants and some of the acrimony that we are experiencing is exacerbated by his commentary,” Green said. “His commentary at the top sets a tone and tenor that’s unacceptable.”

Voting machine vendors testifying on election security

WASHINGTON – The CEOs from the three biggest voting systems companies appeared before the House Administration Committee on Thursday as Chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren said current voting technologies are vulnerable to foreign hackers whose attacks pose serious threats to democracy.

“Election security is about upholding a democracy of, by and for the people—the American people, be they Republican, Democratic, third party,” the California Democrat said in her opening statement. “Our democracy is resilient, but it relies on everyone having their vote counted as cast.”

Thursday’s meeting came in the wake of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last July, when he passionately cautioned Congress to be aware of sustained Russian efforts to influence American elections.

The leaders of companies that supply at least 80% of the country’s voting system manufacturing market were witnesses at the hearing, including Tom Burt, CEO of Election Systems & Software, Julie Mathis, CEO of Hart InterCivic and John Poulos, CEO of Dominion Voting Systems.

All three companies are confident in the amount of resources they devote to ensuring there is no corruption or nefarious behavior interfering with their systems. However, they are still looking for ways to improve efforts, partnering with federal agencies to better mitigate risk.

“Our effort I can honestly say is as strong as we are capable of,” Burt said.

Georgetown University law professor Matt Blazesaid despite the best efforts of major companies, voting equipment can be “easily compromised” without adequate safeguards outside of the voting systems.

“It’s ultimately a reflection of the nature of complex software,” Blaze said. “It’s simply beyond the state of the art to build software systems that can viably withstand targeted attack by a determined adversary in this kind of an environment. The vulnerabilities are real.”

Several House Administration Committee members expressed concern about voting machine supply chains. The CEOs of the voting machine companies said that it is not possible to build machines entirely from U.S. products. All three companies use materials from China. A December 2019 study by Interos, a supply-chain monitoring company, showed that one fifth of voting machine parts came from companies based in China.

“Do you see why that concerns all of us up here?” said Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the committee. “Because we have a global supply chain, you’re not able to comprehend a machine built right now with completely U.S. products.”

The CEOs of the companies expressed a willingness to work with the federal government to improve the security of their systems. Mathis said she is open to feedback from the Department of Homeland Security to understand capabilities and opportunities to source alternative parts.

But committee members noted that as privately owned companies, they don’t need to report some important financial information such as their profit margins.

“I believe it is in the public interest for Congress to better understand who could financially benefit from the administration of our elections,” Lofgren said.

For Election Security, Experts Say Paper May Still Be The Answer

WASHINGTON — Experts say electronic voting machines pose a threat to the security of American elections, but Congress has shown little interest in requiring more secure machines nationwide despite Russian hacking in the 2016 and 2018 elections. The states that have relied on the machines, though, are moving to back them up with paper records or replace them outright before the 2020 elections.

Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright, who labeled the machines — called DREs —a “clear and present danger,” said that in his home state of Pennsylvania, 83 percent of voters use direct-recording electronic voting machines when they go to the polls. Nationally, 24 states used at least some DREs in the 2018 midterm elections in addition to paper ballots, and five states used them exclusively. The remaining 21 states relied entirely on paper ballots, according to data from the Verified Voting Foundation.

According to University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman, the machines are “particularly vulnerable” to hacking and interference by foreign actors, and he should know: he’s hacked them himself.

“My colleagues and I have hacked them, repeatedly,” Halderman told a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June 2017. “We’ve created attacks that can spread from machine to machine like a computer virus and silently change election outcomes.”

There are lots of ways to make an election more secure and resilient, but one of the simplest is to make sure the vote is auditable. The problem, according to Halderman: 11 states do not have auditable ballots.

Of those, four states — Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Delaware — rely not just entirely on electronic voting machines, but on electronic voting machines that don’t produce an audit trail. A fifth state, New Jersey, also relies DREs but in some cases uses a voter-verified paper audit trail system.

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“Anyone who wants to advance an electoral system that has no non-electronic records is just nonsensical, frankly,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow for cybersecurity at the R Street Institute.

He calls paper records a “mandatory minimum” when it comes to election security.

“There has to be an external way of checking that the system has not been manipulated, otherwise there’s no way of checking that the system has not been manipulated. That’s period, full stop,” Rosenzweig said.

According to Rosenzweig, paper records and a type of post-election audit called a risk-limiting audit are consensus priorities for “almost everybody” when it comes to improving election security.

Richard Andres, a professor of national security strategy at the National War College and member of the American Enterprise Institute Global Internet Strategy Advisory Board, agrees that paper could be central to election resilience in a worst-case cyberattack.

“A really serious attack on the integrity of the election, which [Russia] probably could accomplish if they wanted to, would require paper ballots to recover from,” he said. “If you can go back and you can actually physically count ballots, that’s a way to assure the American people that you will never be able to do digitally.”

Andres says that Congress should take up the issue of paper voting records. It’s an idea that’s been proposed before, but like a battery of other federal election security efforts, it’s getting nowhere fast.

Most recently, it was introduced by House Democrats as part of the For The People Act, H.R.1. The bill passed the House earlier this month, but is unlikely to make headway in the Senate.

The idea also was put forth by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who introduced bills to mandate paper ballots in the 115th Congress.

In addition to mandating paper ballots, the Wyden bill would have made risk-limiting audits, which Halderman listed as his top priority after replacing paperless voting machines, compulsory.

According to a Center for Strategic and International Studies report, despite a dearth of federal legislation many states are moving in the right direction as the 2020 election approaches. It says that, in 2020, 38 states will be using either paper ballots or electronic machines with a voter-verified paper audit trail, and six more will be in the process of implementing a voter-verified paper audit trail.

Even Georgia, which William Carter, deputy director of the CSIS technology policy program, called one of the “usual suspects” when it comes to election security flaws and is currently being sued for problems during the 2018 midterm elections, has made progress. In January, the state legislature passed a bill that dedicates $150 million to purchasing voting machines that print paper ballots.

Some states lack the funding to follow Georgia’s lead, however.

Illinois, which in 2016 saw Russian hackers gain access to its voter database, is one such state. Steven Sandvoss, the executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, described the state’s voting machines as “ancient” and in need of replacement in a committee hearing last month. However, he said, “with the current budget situation, money is probably not going to be forthcoming any time soon.”

That means that not all of the election security problems from the last two years will be fixed in 2020. Several states, including Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Indiana, still have no plans to implement a voter-verified paper audit trail system and will remain paperless in 2020. However, progress has been made.

“A lot of work has actually been done to improve the security of voting machines and voting infrastructure in the last few years as awareness of election security threats has grown and that’s where the attention of defenders is focused,” Carter said.

And according to Rosenzweig, achieving a secure election system is possible. “It’s the same as any other infrastructure system,” he said. “We’ve been doing it in the electric grid for 20 years. We just need to do it in this system.”

ARMY FUTURES COMMAND LEADS WAY IN MODERNIZING FORCE

WASHINGTON — The Army is undergoing its greatest overhaul in over 40 years as it works to modernize its fighting capabilities.

Army Futures Command, the first new Army command since 1973, was established in July 2018 to help the Army become more efficient as it transitions its focus to Russia and China. The unit plans to become fully operational with a staff of 500 by July.

“Our antiquated processes are outpaced by the technology refresh rate of the information age,” AFC commander Gen. Mike Murray told the House Armed Services Committee in September.

The new command was necessary, Army leaders said, to improve efficiency — and therefore increase battlefield readiness — because the service’s development and acquisition processes were too cumbersome when spread across the force, material and training commands.

“Army Futures Command will identify and develop prototypes and technologies to deliver them to warfighters faster than ever,” AFC communications director Col. Patrick Seiber said in an email.

One such project is the Enhanced Night Vision Goggles-Binocular, which will allow soldiers to see targets more clearly during night and low-visibility conditions through thermal imaging.

Seiber said the goggles will be used in the field only two years after the Army first identified a need for them.

“We aren’t interested in dragging timelines along,” he said.

AFC will try to find innovative solutions that address the Army’s modernization priorities, including more precise surface-to-surface missiles, stronger combat vehicles and improved communications networks.

Seiber said AFC is seeing progress, having already awarded a $2 billion contract for future unmanned aircraft prototypes.

“Once the command reaches full operational capacity this summer,” he said, “we can expect more contracts and partnerships to occur.”

AFC is headquartered in Austin, Texas, making it close to technology development at the University of Texas and tech companies.

It operates more like a Silicon Valley firm than a military unit. Instead of being located on an Army base, it is run out of an office building in downtown Austin. Storefront space on the first floor allows anyone to walk in and pitch ideas. Soldiers wear civilian clothes instead of uniforms, and many are embedded with tech and industrial companies.

The Army is the only service branch to establish a future-oriented department. At a defense industry conference last week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said that the Navy’s development and acquisitions programs work well.

Seiber said AFC is open to any idea that can modernize the force and is pursuing partnerships with tech startups and small businesses, companies that would have previously been ignored by an archaic acquisition system.

“We’re not interested in turning away a good idea because of the source,” he said. “If it helps us become a better Army, then there is value there for us.”

3D PRINTERS, GUN BLUEPRINTS COULD POSE NATIONAL SECURITY RISK

WASHINGTON – In August 2015, Eric McGinnis was arrested for violently attacking his girlfriend. A judge issued a protective order that said McGinnis could not own a gun for two years.

Less than a year later, the Dallas native tried to purchase a gun, but a background check by the gun shop thwarted his attempt. Then, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas, McGinnis obtained various gun parts and created the firing mechanism through 3D printing, giving him a fully functional homemade AR-15 assault rifle.

In July 2017, police arrested him as he was firing the gun in the woods. They also found a “hit list” of politicians, both Democrat and Republican, hidden in his backpack.

McGinnis was sentenced in February to eight years in prison for unlawful possession of a gun and ammunition.

The growing use of 3D printers and rising number of 3D gun blueprints posted to the internet are likely to make such schemes more common, lawmakers and national security experts fear.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., last month announced an effort to keep the Trump administration from transferring control of foreign arms sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department, a move he said would ease restrictions on the online distribution of 3D gun blueprints.

“These changes defy common sense, undermine public safety and undercut our national security,” Menendez said in a statement.

Under the proposed change, the State Department would no longer regulate small arms exports, under which 3D gun blueprints are categorized, meaning its strict rules would not apply to the transfer of blueprints online. The Commerce Department’s rules regarding the dissemination of such information are more lax.

Menendez introduced legislation to maintain State Department control over the blueprints and prohibit people from posting them online. He and the five co-sponsors of the bill, all Democrats, said their main concern is to keep homemade weapons out of the hands of criminals.

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“We need to stop the spread of these firearms before they become a public health crisis,” said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey.

Increased access to 3D printers and weapons blueprints also could allow terrorist groups and foreign nations to begin printing their own guns and explosive devices, according to a report released by the RAND Corporation last May,

The report highlights how the growth of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has “the potential to dramatically disrupt the prevailing state system and international order.”

But the RAND researchers caution that terrorists are not yet capable of building effective weapons, saying the cost of a 3D printer capable of producing a weapon would be prohibitive.

“There’s got to be a lot of things that happen before 3D printing is more cost-effective,” said J. Luke Irwin, assistant policy researcher at RAND and a co-author of the report.

Irwin predicted it would take at least a decade for terrorists to develop the capacity to print fully functional weapons because the technology is still unreliable.

Right now, Irwin said, “anything they make could be dangerous (for them) to use.”

He also said hackers, whether terrorists, countries or criminals, could disrupt 3D printers to create flaws in their products.

“It’s not unlikely,” Irwin said, giving an example of someone inserting a flaw or change into the printing of an airplane part with potentially deadly consequences.

However, according to Mike Beltran, director of the 3D printing lab at Northwestern University, most industrial printers have procedures that would prevent someone from remotely printing a part.

“In order to actually print something, I need to hit a couple sequences of buttons right in front of the machine,” he said. “None of these machines will allow me to just directly” print an object.

While lawmakers are working to restrict access to gun blueprints, Irwin said the government is unlikely to restrict access to the 3D printers themselves because it would stifle innovation. He suggested that a system be created to identify an attacker through his printer. Each printer would have a unique identification associated with the raw materials it uses so anything created by that printer could be traced back to it.

“It would be a stronger deterrence than keeping printers out of people’s hands,” Irwin said.


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Medill Today // February 25, 2020